“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”
Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.
We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Dorney Court, Berkshire
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women’s roles, especially when there’s no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi – I don’t see why he gets to be one of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward’s fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe’s often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.
CymbelineAs the world’s newest country, there’s something special about the South Sudan Theatre Company forming especially for the Globe 2 Globe Festival, so it’s a bit harsh that they were then lumbered with Cymbeline. Sam Yates splices their show with his newly-filmed clips in a Welsh forest somewhere near Milford Haven but as talented as Hayley Atwell is and Kevin Harvey too, it’s a rather dull experience – I remain unconvinced about the play.
There’s no doubting that Henry VIII is one of the less-exciting plays in the canon and though Mark Rosenblatt ventures into the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace with Danny Sapani as his monarch, struggling to come to terms with his longed-for heir being a girl (Pauline McLynn delivering the news well), it’s never that compelling. Even the clips of the 2010 Globe production remind more of its inertia than anything else.
There have been some pretty sweet gigs on the Complete Walk and Dromgoole’s roadtrip to Rome with Dominic West for Coriolanus has to rank up there. A stylishly shot film that comes close to a perfume ad in its luxuriousness and moody glances, it’s nonetheless most effective.
“A part of love as dreams, sighs, wishes, and tears”
Perhaps taking influence from the roaring success of Kenneth Branagh’s sun-soaked Much Ado About Nothing, Michael Hoffman saw Hollywood’s return to Shakespeare transplant A Midsummer Night’s Dream to a luscious nineteenth century Tuscan setting. So Athens becomes the town of Monte Athena and the soundtrack is suffused with the strains of Verdi, Donizetti and Bellini but in many other respects, it’s a fairly traditional interpretation – a plethora of bicycles aside.
And though it might not seem that big of a deal, it is indicative of Hoffman’s initial approach to tinker where tinkering is not needed. So the heart sinks as the lovers’ comic business is rough-handled onto two wheels and Nick Bottom gains a (mute) wife, but spirits soon rise again as the film begins to trust the text and just enjoy itself. Calista Flockhart proves a revelation as a genuinely emotionally bruised Helena, chasing Christian Bale’s disinterested Demetrius and fending off Dominic West’s magically enhanced interest, much to Anna Friel’s Hermia’s chagrin. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)”
“I am not made of stone”
The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.
Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally. Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”
“It’s beyond my control”
Just a quick note to say that an original audio adaptation of the love letters of Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been released by Audible UK. Christopher Hampton’s own adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel is currently running in a well-received production by Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse (here’s my review), and this audio recording has been designed to complement that show. Directed and edited for audio by Zoé Ford, and translated by Jack Sain, this selection of letters featured within the original book sheds new intimate light onto the complex web of relationships in the play and best of all, it is free and downloadable from audible.co.uk/Donmar!
“The longer I live, the more I’m tempted to think that the only moderately worthwhile people in the world are you and I”
It’s 30 years since Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ extraordinary epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses premiered in Stratford, took the West End and Broadway by storm and was turned into the most seductive of period movies in Dangerous Liaisons. Since then, the emotional war games of former lovers the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont have rarely been seen but Josie Rourke’s has revived them just in time for Christmas at the Donmar.
The decaying grandeur of the French aristocracy in 1782 – just a few years away from révolution breaking out remember – is neatly suggested by the peeling walls and dust sheets that litter Tom Scutt’s set. And their enduring decadence remains obvious in the still-luxurious quality of their clothing (some gorgeous costume work here) but Scutt and Rourke make clear that the lifestyle being pursued by Merteuil, Valmont and their ilk is doomed, regardless of how their games play out. Continue reading “Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse”
“Why don’t you tell me how it began”
A belated UK premiere for this Golden Globe-winning drama over on Sky Atlantic and a much-welcomed one at that, as this is a cracking piece of television. I caught up with The Affair, created by Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi, during my New York trip at New Year, its 10 episodes getting me through a day off sick and the downtime in my hotel, and starring Ruth Wilson as it does, it provided a serendipitous counterpart to her stellar turn in Constellations (more of which anon).
The basic premise of the show is the affair between schoolteacher and struggling novelist Noah (Dominic West) and grieving waitress Alison (Wilson) during his family’s summer holiday in the Long Island resort town where she lives and works. As we see, the effects ripple out well into their extended families but the hook is that each episode is divided in two – each protagonist giving their version of the same events, giving their own different perspective on what actually happened. Continue reading “TV Review: The Affair, Sky Atlantic”
“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”
I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true – based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.
Written by Stephen Beresford (whose Last of the Haussmans
probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life.
Continue reading “Film Review: Pride (2014)”
“It’s brilliant not to be me”
On my way to Bristol to see Filter take on Macbeth, I thought I would take the opportunity to watch What You Will, a mockumentary that follows an innovative theatre company as they put on a touring production of Twelfth Night. It comes off a little like the behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques as actors play actors who are in turn acting, so Ferdy Roberts plays a guy called Greg who plays Malvolio in the show – it’s a disarming and discombobulating approach which never quite settles in my opinion.
This devised approach clearly has great appeal for the Filter company and the way they work but it is hard not to think that it overcomplicates the matter somewhat. For when it just plays out, it is really very amusing. The trials of a touring theatre company – the precious egos, the heavy drinking, the thwarted ambitions, the strained relationships, the poor ticket sales, the last minute crises, all are played out as they travel the country touring their show professionally but barely holding it together personally. Continue reading “DVD Review: What You Will”
“We found Shakespeare tough at school”
What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students.
This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?! Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”