Film Review: Molly’s Game 

“This is a true story, but except for my own, I’ve changed all the names and I’ve done my best to obscure identities for reasons that’ll become clear.”

Directed by Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game centers on the real-life memoirs of Molly Bloom, the “poker princess” who rubbed shoulders with Hollywood’s elite while hosting underground games in the basement of clubs and at the homes of her wealthy clients. It’s a poker movie that appeals to the masses, and while the action often takes place at the tables, it’s Molly’s life that is the focal point of the film.

Released in December 2017, Molly’s Game is a story of feminine power and ruthless intelligence, and any viewer who didn’t know better would think they were watching complete fiction. But director Sorkin, who won an Academy Award for directing The Social Network, as well as being well-known for screenwriting plays such as A Few Good Men, sticks closely to Bloom’s memoirs, in addition to drawing on his interviews. What we get is as close to an accurate account of Molly Bloom’s life, and even the seemingly sensationalized moments involving death threats from Russian mobsters draw right from Bloom’s own accounts. Continue reading “Film Review: Molly’s Game “

Film Review: The Favourite (2018)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite offers up a thoroughly human approach to history and three cracking performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

“Don’t shout at me, I am the Queen”

It may seem like casting directors have forgotten that there are other actresses available alongside Olivia Colman but when the work she produces is this irresistible, you can’t help but indulge them. But though she is being pushed as the lead of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, it is important to note that she eagerly shares that spotlight with both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone.

Which is unique enough for Hollywood in general, never mind a mainstream historical film. But here, Lanthimos completely upends convention to produce something unique, compelling and utterly significant. The history of Queen Anne’s reign may be less of an unknown quantity to recent theatregoers although nothing there will have prepared anyone for the affecting and effective novelty of this approach.   Continue reading “Film Review: The Favourite (2018)”

Film Review: On Chesil Beach (2017)

On Chesil Beach proves a most painful watch indeed

“Minor seventh might be better”

Dominic Cooke’s theatrical résumé includes such triumphs as Follies and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so a measure of anticipation about his feature film debut was surely not unexpected. But I should have remembered he was also responsible for the challenges of The Low Road and In The Republic of Happiness and for me, it was to this end of the scale that On Chesil Beach tips.

An adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 novella by the man himself, we’re in the world of classic 1960s English sexual repression. New graduates Edward and Florence come together in a theoretically perfect courtship but when they come together disastrously in marriage, their sexual inexperience on their Dorset honeymoon proves utterly and completely life-changing. Continue reading “Film Review: On Chesil Beach (2017)”

TV Review: Harlots Series 2

Season 2 of Harlots maintains an impressive run for this excellent series

“You let women do this to you?”

I loved the first series of Harlots when I finally got round to catching up with it recently, so I was keen not to let too pass to tackle Series 2. Inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies, creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini have done a marvellous job of conjuring and maintaining a richly detailed world that puts women’s experiences front and centre.

The heart of the show has been the burning rivalry between competing madams Lydia Quigley and Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton remain a titanic force as they do battle with each other while simultaneously battling a corrupt patriarchy that would abuse them and their power for a guinea a time. And with its new additions, this second series widens out that focus to incorporate the experiences of other women. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 2”

Review: Paddington 2 (2017)

I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life

“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”

In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above. 

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 3, Episode 1

I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the first episode of this third series of Sky Atlantic show Fortitude 

“I’m not putting that in my notebook”

The first series of Simon Donald’s Fortitude was a revelation as its ricocheting from style to style cohered into something most effective so Sky Atlantic’s to commission a second was not unexpected but nor was it successful. So it was something of a surprise to discover a third season was in the works but at just four episodes long, to wrap the story, it might just do something to right those wrongs.

On the evidence of this first episode though, I’m not too sure. The mythos of the show has become so convoluted and depressingly nasty that it is hard to work up the enthusiasm for the trials of these (fool)hardy residents in the far north of Arctic Norway. The wasps with their prehistoric parasites are still causing all kinds of trouble for everyone as more and more people are changed and made more violent and, well, watch this space… 

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

Album Review: Keala Settle – Chapter One

Building on the success of The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle releases her debut EP Chapter One

“When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long”

One of the breakout stars of runaway success film The Greatest Showman was rightly Keala Settle. As bearded lady Lettie Lutz, her rendition of the anthemic ‘This Is Me’ provided a real standout moment and it was no surprise to see the song be nominated for an Academy Award and to win a Golden Globe.

But to Broadway nerds, she’s no newbie. A Tony nominee (for Hands on a Hardbody), she shone in the original cast of Waitress and so you can certainly say she has paid her dues. And now Settle is taking the opportunity to release music with the EP Chapter One, which features four self-penned original songs and a cover for good measure. Continue reading “Album Review: Keala Settle – Chapter One”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

DVD Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Despite that title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society proves unremarkable in its gentle cosiness

“Everyone lost someone in this war”

Directed by Mike Newell and written by Don Roos and Tom Bezucha from the novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society really ought to have hit the spot for me. Women-heavy wartime story – check, a cast including Lily James and Katharine Parkinson – check, and a title you can’t help but misremember. 

But it never really clicks into gear as greater than the sum of these parts, sticking at a tone of gently cosy which is never offensive, but rarely remarkable with it.  Set just after the end of the Second World War in 1946, the plot follows a London-based writer who becomes fascinated by the experience of the residents on the island of Guernsey which, lest we forget, was under German occupation. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)”