TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

Film Review: The Theory of Everything

“One simple, elegant equation to explain everything”

Alongside The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything offers a double whammy of Oscar-baiting, British-biopicing filmic goodness – Benedict Cumberwhatsit’s Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking seem dead certs for Academy Award nominations alongside their respective films – and for my money, it is the latter has the edge on the Cumbersnatch-starring film as something slightly less Hollywoodised and thus more interesting. That’s not to say that James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is all rough edges – it is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir of her marriage after all and both she and Hawking have ‘blessed’ the film – but it is a complex love story that doesn’t shy away from too much challenge.

The focus of the film is in fact the relationship and marriage between physicist Stephen and Jane Wilde, his contemporary at Cambridge University where she studied literature, and the severe pressure that it came under after his diagnosis with motor neurone disease and then his increasing fame as his discoveries broke exciting fresh ground. Redmayne’s physical performance as Hawking is undoubtedly astounding as his condition worsens but there’s something deeper there too that comes across later on, in the merest flicker of the lips and glints in the eye that come before the synthesised voicebox kicks in, an enigmatic level of emotion that we never get to truly discover and that is entirely beguiling.

Continue reading “Film Review: The Theory of Everything”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Not-a-Review: Arcadia, LAMDA at Lyric Hammersmith

“It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter”

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was an unexpected pleasure for me when I first saw it in the summer of 2009 at the Duke of York’s Theatre: I booked not knowing anything about it, easily seduced by the luxury casting, but was blown away by a play of unexpected intelligence and feeling, something of a rarity in the commercial West End. So when it was announced that as part of their final year showcases, LAMDA students were putting on four shows – free of charge – at the Lyric Hammersmith, one of which was Arcadia, the chance to revisit a good play and potentially spot some stars of the future could not be resisted by a [insert correct collective noun for a group of Twitter theatre nerds] of us: I’ve opted to restrict myself to a few remarks rather than an all-out review.

Predictably this production came nowhere near the dizzy heights of the West End production, it was never likely to to be honest, but it did seem a curious choice as a play for showcasing as it didn’t seem like a natural fit for the talent here – too many cases of square pegs being asked to fit round holes especially in trying to portray a wide range of ages from a single cohort. Some of the actors were able to rise above their miscasting to still deliver strong performances but others fell short, unable to convince of the age they were trying to play, mainly through failing to extend their performances right down to the physicality of the characters. Likewise some of the humour of Stoppard’s writing got lost in the delivery and so this Arcadia never really caught fire, never enraptured me to the point where I forgot I was watching a student performance as I have previously done. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Arcadia, LAMDA at Lyric Hammersmith”