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)”

Film Review: A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life (2019)

With Katie Brayben in the lead cast and a cameo from Sinéad Matthews, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life has many a visceral treat

“Next stop, inner serenity”

Released digitally earlier this year, A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life is the kind of spunky indie Brit-flick you’d be more than happy to watch of an evening, without necessarily having deliberately searched it out. The debut long-form feature from writer/director Staten Cousins Roe, it’s the kind of short but sharp black comedy that could well find it building cult status.

Stuck in a dead-end life and living with her over-bearing mother, Lou seeks refuge in listening to various self-help gurus but it isn’t until she attends a seminar and meets the alluring life coach Val IRL that things start to change for her. This journey of self-discovery is not your usual fare though, as Val encourages Lou to take no shit as they scythe their way though the wellness industry that has popped up in the Sussex countryside. Continue reading “Film Review: A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life (2019)”

News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation

Headlong and Century Films have today announced a cast of over 50 UK actors taking part in Unprecedented: Theatre from the State of Isolation. A series of new digital plays written in response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic, Unprecedented will be broadcast across the nation during lockdown as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Written by celebrated playwrights and curated by Headlong, Century Films and BBC Arts, Unprecedented explores our rapidly evolving world, responding to how our understanding and experiences of community, education, work, relationships, family, culture, climate and capitalism are evolving on an unprecedented scale. The series will ask how we got here and what the enduring legacy of this historic episode might be. Continue reading “News: cast announced for Unprecedented: Theatre from a State of Isolation”

Lockdown film review: Departure (2015)

Not even Juliet Stevenson and gay French holiday romances can really make this Departure land in a satisfying way

“We’re in France, French people talk about these things”

Near the top of my list of films to finally get around to watching, where it has been for a while, is Departure, written and directed by Andrew Steggall. His is a name that is familiar to me from the days when I regularly reviewed short films, as The Door was one of the more moodily memorable of those. Departure marked his feature film debut and with its heady mixture of gay boys on French holidays and Juliet Stevenson, it’s a wonder it has taken me this long to get round to watching it.

In some ways it does live up to that anticipation. Alex Lawther plays Elliott, a moody teenager marooned in the Languedoc village where his mother is packing up their family holiday home. His attention is far more focused on the strapping Clément who ends up helping with the move  and in turn, offering something for Stevenson’s Beatrice to also be swayed by. Lawther plays the hypersensitive Elliott with a neatly sharp edge of self-absorption and what a joy it must be to have Stevenson in your cast – you can just write *cries in car* and she delivers heartbreaking work. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Departure (2015)”

Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)

Autumn de Wilder offers an Emma. with a contemporary sensibility but not much sense

“Mother, you MUST sample the tart!”

You don’t see Jane Austen much at the theatre. Her situation notwithstanding, over the years I think I’ve only seen a single Pride and Prejudice and a vibrant Persuasion (plus countless Austentatious inventions), adaptations of her work just don’t seem to pop up in theatres with much regularity at all. I wonder why that is for there’s certainly no lack of them on our screens.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film but loved both the TV versions I’ve seen with Kate Beckinsdale and particularly with Romola Garai. This latest iteration of Emma., directed by Autumn de Wilde and adapted by Eleanor Catton, only hit cinemas recently but due to coronavirus restrictions, found its way pleasingly quickly onto on-demand services. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Emma. (2020)”

Film Review: Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)

Arriving on the big screen four years later, Spooks: The Greater Good does little to make the case for its existence

“You can do good, or do well”

Arriving some four years after the end of the TV series, Spooks: The Greater Good was an ill-advised coda to the Spooks experiment, leaving writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent at the helm despite the decidedly mixed results of their ascension to head writers on the show (poor Lucas).

Cinemas are hardly calling out for new spy franchises yet there’s an added sense of ‘what’s the point’ as along with the four year wait, there’s a story with no real connection to the 10 series that preceded it, and a cast sprinkled with the characters who survived but which prioritises brand new ones.  Continue reading “Film Review: Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)”

Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)

Despite a mostly good cast, Tulip Fever proves a punishingly dull film – not even self-isolation should drive you to this one

“Amsterdam was captivated by a flower”

The signs weren’t good. Tulip Fever was filmed in 2014 but was pushed and pulled around the schedules before it finally surfaced in 2017, notorious producer Harvey Weinstein clearly hoping that some post-production magic would win over reluctant test audiences. Safe to say though, such an amount of chopping and changing does no-one any favours as Justin Chadwick’s film remains punishingly dull. 

Based on Deborah Moggach’s book, with screenplay by Moggach and Tom Stoppard, the story (mainly) centres on Sophia, an orphan whisked out of convent life by a wealthy merchant who wants her essentially as a brood mare, But things ain’t clicking in the bedroom, so Sophia tumbles into an affair with the artist her husband has commissioned to do their portrait. And competing for screentime, tulip mania has hit the Netherlands. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)”