DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn

“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff” 

I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole. 

Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’

“What in the hell is going on?” 

It could just be a matter of coincidence but it does rather seem that the deal with the devil in order to get the Best Actor and Best Actress Academy Award was to also play a camp villain in a middling sci-fi/fantasy film. Eddie Redmayne’s cape-swirling alien aristocrat Balem Abrasax threatens the earth’s very safety in Jupiter Ascending and in Seventh Son, Julianne Moore plays cape-swirling uber-witch Mother Malkin who probably also threatens the earth although I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what her endgame was. There’s something rather hilarious about watching these performances in light of the Oscar bait that was The Theory of Everything and Still Alice, which is kind of necessary as neither is particularly great shakes.

 

Jupiter Ascending sees the Wachowski siblings eschew the profundity of much of their oeuvre delve into the realm of the straight-up blockbuster or space opera, but without sacrificing any of the complexity of the cinematic universes they love to create. Problem is though, it’s all rather dense and dull despite the visual grandeur of the special effects – the Wachowskis’ screenplay is complex and unwieldy and frankly just not that interesting. The only thing that kept me going was the bizarrely theatre-friendly supporting cast and cameos – blink and miss Vanessa Kirby here, wonder if that is Tim Pigott-Smith there, ponder if Bryony Hannah’s presence is a nod to Call the Midwife and marvel too at the randomness of Samuel Barnett’s arresting turn(s).

And then there’s Redmayne, oh Eddie Redmaybe with your lovely Oscar. His villainous Balem is a bizarre confection and marked by a vocal delivery that sounds like he’s receiving a blowjob, all the time (or so I would imagine) it is hypnotically so-good-it’s-bad. But it’s not enough to save the film, which relishes its laborious set pieces far too much with over-extended chase sequences put in to show off the VFX rather than serve the story. For my money, Seventh Son was a more effective piece of fantasy storytelling, based as it is on the first book in Joseph Delaney’s The Wardstone Chronicles (retitled The Last Apprentice in the US) although Matt Greenberg, Charles Leavitt and Aaron Guzikowski’s screenplay similarly turns its potential into tedium.

Continue reading “Film Review: Jupiter Ascending / Seventh Son, or ‘What you had to do to win an Oscar in 2014’”

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”

Short Film Review #39

WOW 2014 – A Day In Detention

 

Not a short film as such, but utterly essential. The Women of the World Festival took place at the Southbank Centre in early March and A Day In Detention was part of that event. A piece of verbatim theatre pulled together by Nell Leyshon and directed by Jessica Swale, it looks at varying experiences of refugee women in the UK asylum system with an unblinking eye and a near-shocking straightforwardness. The harsh reality of what they are forced to go through, after escaping untold horrors in their own country, is appallingly bleak but there’s a beautiful dignity to the way in which their stories are told, both in the way they have been captured and also in the stunning performances of Juliet Stevenson, Bryony Hannah and an unbearably moving Cush Jumbo.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #39”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

The 2011 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Cush Jumbo, for Rosalind in As You Like It (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

Second prize

Damien Molony, for Giovanni in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

Third prize

Jodie McNee, for Masha in Seagull (Arcola Theatre)

Commendations

Hiran Abeysekera, for Valère in Tartuffe (English Touring Theatre)
Jade Anouka, for Ophelia in Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Globe)
Mark Arends, for Malcolm in Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)
Sebastian Armesto, for Wendoll in A Woman Killed with Kindness (National Theatre)
John Heffernan, for Richard II in Richard II (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory)
Ffion Jolly, for Luciana in The Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory)
Ben Mansfield, for Sebastian in Twelfth Night (National Theatre)
Sam Marks, for Friar Peter, Froth, and Gentleman 2 in Measure for Measure (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Matthew Needham, for Nero in Britannicus (Wilton’s Music Hall)
Eddie Redmayne, for Richard II in Richard II (Donmar Warehouse)
Lara Rossi, for Myrrha and Macrina in Emperor and Galilean (National Theatre)
Sara Vickers, for Annabella in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

Critics’ Circle Awards 2011: the winners in full

Best New Play
One Man, Two Guvnors by Richard Bean

The Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
London Road

Best Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein

Best Actress
Sheridan Smith in Flare Path

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Eddie Redmayne in Richard II

Best Director
Mike Leigh for Grief

Best Designer
Mark Tildesley for Frankenstein

Most Promising Playwright
Tom Wells for The Kitchen Sink

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Blanche McIntyre in Accolade & Foxfinder

 

Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse

“Such is the breath of kings”

After nearly a decade as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage is bowing out to let Josie Rourke take up the reins and his final production for this theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard II, most notably starring Eddie Redmayne. As the audience enter the auditorium, Redmayne is already poised in high state on his throne, the air heavy with incense in Richard Kent’s gilded Gothic set but we soon see how this regality is but a superficial veneer on a deeply flawed character.

This Richard is a petulant, nervy presence – a little prone to over-gesturing, acting out too many of the lines for my liking “make pale our cheek” is the example that sticks in the mind – as he is more effective in the subtle characterisations, the intensity of his eyes that nervously twitch throughout. This capriciousness is aired most perfectly in the reluctant coronation scene but as a whole but it ends up being rather one-note and missing some complexity, therefore it means that this isn’t a Richard that engenders much sympathy. Only in his final scenes, bereft of crown, sceptre and trappings of state, does he really fly and give beautiful voice to the verse. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Donmar Warehouse”

fosterIAN awards 2010

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMichelle Terry, TribesNancy Carroll, After the DanceZoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park
Best Actor in a PlayJohn Heffernan, Love Love LoveBenedict Cumberbatch, After the DanceJacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRachael Stirling, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Rose, Kingston)Jemima Rooper, All My SonsJessica Raine, Earthquakes in London
Sylvestra Le Touzel, Les Parents Terribles
Clare Higgins, Hamlet (NT)
Madeleine Potter, Broken Glass
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRobin Soans, Palace of the EndNigel Lindsay, Broken GlassAdrian Scarborough, After the Dance
Eddie Redmayne, Red
Stephen Campbell Moore, All My Sons
William Gaunt, Henry IV Part I + II
Best Actress in a MusicalTracie Bennett, End of the RainbowEmma Williams, Love StoryCora Bissett, Midsummer
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Harrison, Salad DaysJon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon a Time at the AdelphiJohn Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalHannah Waddingham, Into the WoodsJodie Jacobs, State FairKaren Mann, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Siobhan McCarthy, The Drowsy Chaperone
Jill Halfpenny, Legally Blonde
Twinnie Lee Moore, Flashdance
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Into the WoodsMatthew James Willis, IolantheTom Parsons, Avenue Q
Michael Howe, The Drowsy Chaperone
Liam Tamne, Departure Lounge
Earl Carpenter, Les Misérables