DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender

“He might like some of my bottled pears”

A world where the purchase of pilchards instead of coley is the height of excitement seems about right for Ladies in Lavender, the 2004 film written and directed by Charles Dance, from a short story by William J Locke. In a sleepy Cornish fishing village, sisters Janet and Ursula Widdington are living out their days in content co-habitation but the discovery of a shipwreck victim on the beach near their house rumples their quiet existence as they nurse the foreigner back to health.

It’s all very genteel and formally unexciting, the writing veers from soapy contrivances to unsatisfying denouements and it’s hard to get too excited about the film. Where Ladies in Lavender delivers in bucketloads is in casting Maggie Smith and Judi Dench as the sisters, allowing them to work wonders with the slightest of material. Smith’s forthright war widow and Dench’s more wistful spinster imbue their scenes with such aching grace, that you almost forgive the plotting.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Ladies in Lavender”

Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre

“Is there no room for love in your philosophy of life?”

One of the reasons Fawlty Towers remains so highly respected is because it managed that rare feat of going out on a high after making just 12 episodes. And though the reasons for the relatively limited dramatic output of Anton Chekhov may be more to do with his untimely demise, the ethos seems to me to remain similar – the handful of plays that he left behind should be celebrated as such. But he was also a prolific writer of short stories and spotting an opportunity to enrich the canon, novelist William Boyd has fashioned a new play – Longing – from two of them, directed by Nina Raine (her of the astounding Tribes) at the Hampstead Theatre.   

Boyd has used one of Chekhov’s longest stories My Life and “taken its core and impacted it on” one of his most obscure A Visit to Friends and what results is a story of distinctly Chekhovian flavour but one calls to mind numerous of his other plays rather equalling them in their depth and richness. Kolia is invited the summer estate of some old friends but what he thinks will be a relaxing break turns into something much more complex as long-buried emotions come up against current dramas in typically tragicomic fashion. And there’s much to recognise: an ageing woman laments the summer estate she is no longer in possession of, another dares to dream of the love she has sacrificed for a working life, somebody longs to get back to Moscow…these are all highly familiar themes and though they are skilfully woven together by Boyd, there is rarely a sense of dramatic impetus compelling this particular story to be told or ultimately justifying the exercise at large. Continue reading “Review: Longing, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Cornelius, Finborough

“So all the time, while you were pretending to work, you’ve been having the most astonishing adventures in that corner?”

Continuing their well-trodden path of delving into the dusty shelves of neglected British plays, the Finborough have come up trumps yet again with this neatly amusing and unpredictable little curiosity Cornelius. Written in 1935 by J.B. Priestley, especially for his friend Ralph Richardson, it was something of a flop and consequently remains little produced – this will be the first time in over 70 years that the play has been seen in London – but Sam Yates’ production flows with an undeniably persuasive energy to make this a revival worth paying attention to.

Set in the Holborn office of an aluminium import firm that is struggling to avoid bankruptcy, junior partner Jim Cornelius sets about trying to keep the creditors sweet and the office spirits from flagging, in the hope that salvation will come at the last minute from the firm’s senior partner. He suspects it is a vain hope though and as he swings from poignant reflections on lives that have been lived and exuberant positivity in the potential that still remains out there, a delicately touching portrayal of office life emerges which is hard to resist. Continue reading “Review: Cornelius, Finborough”

DVD Review: Housewife, 49

“What actually is mass observation?”

I have no earthly idea how this passed me by first time round containing as it does, two of my favourite things: the experience of everyday people in the Second World War and national treasure Victoria Wood. That Housewife, 49 was also written by Wood makes it even more remarkable I missed it, but catching it on the tv was one of those experiences that simply filled me with warmth, joy and a fair few tears as I utterly loved it.

It is based on the real-life wartime diaries of Nella Last (played here by Wood herself) , a Barrow-in-Furness housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown who participates in a national scheme to document the lives of normal people – Mass Observation – as a way of helping her recovery. Society is rather unforgiving of her inability to ‘cope’ especially as war starts, her marriage to the taciturn ’Daddy’ is constrictive and it is only when she is persuaded to give voluntary work a try by her younger son, that she finds the opportunity to slowly flourish as her confidence is built and she becomes an integral and vital part of the community. Continue reading “DVD Review: Housewife, 49”

Review: The Tempest, Jericho House at St Giles Cripplegate

“Come unto these yellow sands and then take hands”

Multiple productions of so many of Shakespeare’s works are never far away and in its 400th anniversary year, London has already seen The Tempest tackled at great length by Trevor Nunn and Ralph Fiennes at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and reimagined in the most effective and revelatory of ways by Cheek By Jowl’s Russian company at the Barbican. It is now the turn of Jericho House to make their mark on this play, also under the aegis of the Barbican but playing at the neighbouring church of St Giles Cripplegate. There’s double-casting, gender-swapping, even omission of one character and a clear infusion of Middle Eastern influence into the world of disputed territory and clashing cultures that is created inside St Giles’ – nominally “mid-way between Europe and the East”. This connection has been reinforced by a pre-London tour of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Haifa where the show has played to both Palestinian and Israeli audiences.

Given the truncated running time of 105 minutes straight through and the approach taken to the whole interpretation, this does at times come across as a rather different Tempest. Purists may baulk at Gonzalo’s non-appearance or the gender conversion to Antonia and Stephanie, but I enjoyed the playful aspect that was employed here and the doubling by Nathalie Armin and paired by Stephen Fewell as Sebastian and Trinculo, worked mostly well. Ruth Lass’ strident Ariel was superb, her haunting yelps stalking the invaders and Nabil Stuart made for a more ‘human’ Caliban who one feels for in being oppressed but whose role also feels somewhat reduced here. Cox’s Prospero was very well spoken but sometimes felt a little bit too much of a spectator, not fully invested in the events unfolding at his behest, especially concerning his daughter, an inquisitive Rachel Lynes matching well with Gabreen Khan’s Ferdinand. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Jericho House at St Giles Cripplegate”