Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story. Continue reading “Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)”

Film Review: Been So Long (2018)

A fatally muddled tone means Been So Long ends up less than the sum of its parts, despite glorious lead performances from Arinzé Kene and Michaela Coel

“People don’t want inclusivity mate, they want exclusivity. And something for the gluten-intolerant”

I really wanted to like Been So Long, and can imagine it having worked well on the stage (it played the Young Vic in 2009) but something has definitely been lost in translation with this screen adaptation here. It is mildly curious as the film is written by Ché Walker, scribe of the original play and the subsequent stage musical, but maybe this was a step too far?

One of the main problems for me is that crucial issue of tone. As a love story set in contemporary Camden, and in which Camden plays a central role, there’s a tendency towards gritty naturalism, particularly in showing the home lives of its protagonists, new ex-con Raymond (Arinzé Kene) and single mum of a disabled daughter Simone (Michaela Coel). Continue reading “Film Review: Been So Long (2018)”

Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

Film Review: Anna (2019)

Luc Bresson’s Anna is totally ridiculous but ultimately proves enjoyable hangover viewing fodder

“I shouldn’t be having conversations like this with anyone”

There’s a time and a place for all sorts and right now, I have to say that I am enjoying a fair bit of mindless culture, aka big, brash popcorn films that allow you to just switch your brain off whilst watching. Which is a long-winded way of introducing the concept that Anna is a trash film but also that it was ideal viewing on a hungover afternoon.

A Luc Besson film whose release last year was kiboshed due to serious allegations made about the director, there’s a slight sense that even without these troubles, Anna wouldn’t have fared too well. Retreading familiar territory in the world of female assassins, a serious case of diminishing returns sets in, exacerbated by a lead performance from model Sasha Luss that leaves her lack of experience cruelly exposed. Continue reading “Film Review: Anna (2019)”

Film Review: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…this British romcom doesn’t do it for my heartbear or my funny bone

“I’m trying to live outside the traditional concept of time”

Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Beatles (I know). Their music wasn’t a part of my childhood soundtrack and my first real memory of it comes from having to learn ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ in primary school choir. So the notion of Yesterday wasn’t one that particularly jumped out at me, even as it posits a world in which no-one has heard of the Fab Four.

Written by Richard Curtis, from a story by Curtis and Jack Barth, and directed by Danny Boyle, it aims squarely for that ineffably British romcom aesthetic and pretty much lands it. Unrequited love interest/friend of the opposite sex, gawky best pal, garrulous inner circle, Himesh Patel’s Jack checks off all the Curtis tropes one by one, with the added twist of twee sci-fi in the mix too.  It should work, right?

Continue reading “Film Review: Yesterday (2019)”

Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)

Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Mr Jones delves deep into a shocking, and underexplored, piece of modern history and asks how we can so easily decide to look the other way

“What’s being done now will transform mankind”

It is remarkable how even now, epochal moments in history in which millions died can remain so unknown in the West. To my shame, I’d never heard of the Holodomor, and I’d wager not many in the UK could tell you what it was –  a man-made famine in the early 1930s, a genocide against the Ukrainian people perpetrated by the Soviet government.

Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr Jones tackles this Western-blindness by exploring the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist/political adviser (how the lines are ever-blurred…) who risked his life to uncover the story and reveal it to the world, only to find that geo-political realities meant that no-one is really listening (nothing ever really changes does it?!). Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)”

Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

Film Review: The Good Liar (2019)

Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren team up for the entertainingly twisty film The Good Liar

“It seems like you’ve had quite a past”

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, The Good Liar marks the first time that British institutions Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren have worked together on screen. And when these two are onscreen together, this is a corking film.

With a twinkle in his eye, McKellen’s Roy is trawling the dating apps and lights upon the widowed Betty (Mirren). soon setting a date. They connect over martinis and bond over not necessarily being who they said they were online but as we discover Roy is a lifelong conman, it’s clear his eyes are set on her not inconsiderable means. Continue reading “Film Review: The Good Liar (2019)”