Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

Film Review: 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is undoubtedly an technically excellent film but the focus on format ends up detracting from the depth of the storytelling

“You’ll be wanking again in no time!
‘Wrong hand’.”

There’s no doubting the technical audacity of Sam Mendes’ 1917. With its ostensibly one-shot, real-time structure (with necessary caveats that it is neither), it is a bravura piece of film-making that elevates this movie from just your average Oscar-baity war flick (cf Dunkirk).

It is clearly a labour of love for Mendes, who directed, co-wrote (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced 1917, and whose grandfather’s own war experiences inspired the film. And its driving force, following 2 British soldiers tasked with delivering a vital message beyond enemy lines. Continue reading “Film Review: 1917 (2019)”

Film Review: Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”

As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.

But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”

Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie

“I want everything to stop being a struggle”

To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.

For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”

Film Review: Mrs Lowry & Son (2019)

Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall are always watchable but Mrs Lowry & Son lacks the quality they deserve

“Anything’s possible living in Pendlebury”

Mrs Lowry & Son has two things going for it, in the shape of up-and-coming names Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in its two leading roles. Watch out for them, they’re bound to go far etc etc… What this biopic-of-sorts lacks though, is a film to match their talents.

Martyn Hesford has adapted his own radio play for the screen here and Adrian Noble’s direction does little to disguise the static staginess of its very nature. It covers the relationship between renowned artist LS Lowry and his unsupportive bed-ridden mother, at the point where his artistic career has yet to truly flourish. Continue reading “Film Review: Mrs Lowry & Son (2019)”

Film Review: Wild Rose (2018)

A Brit-flick with a difference as Wild Rose serves up country music via Glasgow, with great performances from Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters

“No-one wants to see a convicted criminal up there.
‘Johnny Cash was a convicted criminal , you ball-bag’.”

There’s a fair bit of the archetypal Brit-flick to Wild Rose, written by Nicole Taylor and directed by Tom Harper, but enough of a distinct flavour to make it very much its own thing. And how could it not be, featuring a Glaswegian ex-con of a leading lady desperate to make it to Nashville and sing in the same room as the rather marvellous Kacey Musgraves.

Jessie Buckley plays Rose-Lynn, just having served 12 months inside and trying to put her life and her dreams back together. She has a prodigious voice and wants to make it as a country singer but she also has two kids, whom her mother has been looking her after, to think of. Possibilities rise up in the form of Susannah, the wealthy woman whose house Rose-Lynn cleans, but when you wear an electronic tag, dreams have to sit next to reality. Continue reading “Film Review: Wild Rose (2018)”

Film Review: Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (2019)

With an all-star cast, Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is a perfectly good piece of family entertainment

“All say yah
Bou-dic-ca”

Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans is my first experience of the multimedia franchise and as a piece of light-hearted entertainment, I thought it was rather good fun. It is especially notable for getting quite the company together to have a rollicking good time of it, Kim Cattrall and Rupert Graves rub shoulders, Sam Spiro pops in for a cameo as do any number of British comics, and no less than Derek Jacobi reprises his (I,) Claudius.

It’s all in aid of a kid-friendly rendition of Boudicca’s rebellion against the Roman rulers, told from the perspective of a dorky Roman kid (Sebastian Croft’s Atti) who finds himself conscripted into the army sent to defend their British territories and Orla (Emilia Jones) a teenage rebel Celt who is determined to be a warrior like her flame-haired rival. And in pairing them up in a rather charming way, it entertains in a pleasingly unexpected way. Continue reading “Film Review: Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (2019)”

Film Review: Animals (2019)

Holliday Grainger excels in Laura Jane Unsworth’s ferociously compelling Animals

“What do you do when you’re not standing around in bars being enigmatic?”

Based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel of the same name, Animals is a pretty darn special film from Sophie Hyde, perhaps a little unassuming at first glance but soon revealing itself as richly layered with something special in every frame, especially when Holliday Grainger – delivering a career-best performance – is in shot.

The film hooks on the friendship between Laura and Tyler, BFFs who have literally painted the town (Dublin) red throughout their twenties, and how their relationship alters once Laura meets handsome pianist Jim and priorities start to shift. All the messiness of friendship is here in a brilliantly complex portrayal of the difficulties that come with having to grow up. Continue reading “Film Review: Animals (2019)”

Film Review: All Is True (2018)

Ben Elton and Kenneth Branagh latter-day Shakespeare biography All Is True is at once precious and poignant

“You spent so long putting words into other people’s mouths, you think it only matters what is said”

A most curious one this, continuing our creative obsession with filling in the biographical gaps in the life of William Shakespeare (cf Shakespeare in LoveAnonymous; Dedication; Will). All Is True is written by Ben Elton, who has (comic) form in the shape of Upstart Crow, the TV show soon to make its own theatrical bow and has as its director, producer and star, one Kenneth Branagh.

In some ways, it is a beautiful film. Branagh eschews a lot of artifical lighting and flickers of candlelight illuminates several interior scenes to gorgeous effect. He also takes pains to find interesting angles for his shots and the opening image of his silhouetted figure against the burning Globe is stunning. And being able to call on the likes of Sir Ian McKellen (the Earl of Southampton) and Dame Judi Dench (Anne Hathaway) to toss off some Shakespeare recital is of course an unalloyed pleasure. Continue reading “Film Review: All Is True (2018)”

Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”