Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour

No amount of prosthetics can stop this from being my…Darkest Hour

“The deadly danger here is this romantic fantasy of fighting to the end”

Eesh. The world already has too many Churchill films, never mind the fact that two big ones were released in the same year (Brian Cox’s Churchill was the lower profile one here). And for me, there’s nothing here in Joe Wright’s direction or Anthony McCarten’s writing that merits the retread over much-covered ground.

That is not the prevailing opinion obviously, as the film’s seven Oscar nominations testify, but it is what it is. No amount of latex makes Gary Oldman’s performance palatable (and isn’t it odd that he’s getting such acclaim for a role in which he is unrecognisable), and it is a crime in the ways in which the likes of Patsy Ferran and Faye Marsay are under-utilised, nay wasted. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Darkest Hour”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:1

“She didn’t know it was fake”

On the fourth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…Hayley Atwell and a Humans protoype

Be Right Back, the first episode of Series 2 of Black Mirror, finds all sorts of interesting pre-echoes in Series 2 of Humans which has just finished airing this month on Channel 4. There, Carrie-Anne Moss’ grieving scientist was looking at ways in which to effectively transfer the consciousness of her comatose daughter into the digital realm and here, Brooker imagines a possibility where the process has been exploited into something one can buy.

Hayley Atwell’s Martha is devastated when her husband Ash, Domhnall Gleeson, is killed in a car crash in the remote area where they live, all the more so when she discovers she is pregnant. Lost in the throes of grief, an acquaintance – a brilliantly gobby Sinéad Matthews – offers to sign her up to something that will help her cope and Martha finds it impossible to resist. For it is an online service that collates the digital footprint of the deceased, their social media profiles and suchlike, to create a virtual replica of the deceased with whom you can ‘communicate’. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:1”

DVD Review: Grace of Monaco

“The idea of my life as a fairytale is itself a fairytale”

The recent biopic Diana is a highwater point in films-that-are-so-bad-they’re-good and when Grace of Monaco was similarly lampooned by the unforgiving Cannes audiences, my hopes were raised for an enjoyable time of it. But sadly, Grace of Monaco fails at even being entertaining in its shitness, it is just seriously, badly, dull. Olivier Dahan’s direction is preposterous (those close-ups) and ill-thought-through (more of those close-ups!) and Arash Amel’s script is lazy in the extreme (it plays fast and loose with historical fact for no appreciable gain) and utterly misguided (it asks us to root for the protection of Monaco as a tax haven, save the poor rich people…).

Set at a time of constitutional crisis for the principality as Charles de Gaulle sought to incorporate it into mainland France, the film asks us to believe that Princess Grace, whilst selflessly turning down a return to the Hollywood career that made her name, was able to solve all these crises by winning the hearts of the people with a few French lessons and breaking the French government’s resolve (and apparently solving the war in Algeria) with some simpering speech-making. Never mind that the most of it has been made up by Amel, it is just frightfully dull in the telling of it. Nicole Kidman looks suitably like the epitome of Old Hollywood glamour but cannot do anything to inject any life here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Grace of Monaco”

Review: Blue Fence, Pleasance

“How can we help?”

Blue Fence is a play by Heather O’Shea about an artist whose life is drastically affected when she suffers a stroke. Having been commissioned to create a piece of sculpture for the 2012 Olympics, she is forced to reassess her position as her condition renders her a ‘disabled artist’ in the eyes of the authorities, though this isn’t a change she has accepted or identified in herself. Thus we see how she has to change how she relates to others, and to her art, and how they deal with someone newly ‘disabled’ in their lives.

As Claire, Flora Nicholson has clearly put huge effort into creating an authentic physical performance as a woman recovering from a stroke and the painstaking way in which her recovery slowly progresses is expertly portrayed, all credit to Movement Advisor Imogen Knight there. But it is not just about the movement, she shows a woman who is determined from the outset and when forced to channel that frustration into her recovery and dealing with the way the world sees her now, she shows the sacrifices and the single-mindedness that become necessary, but also the painful effect that it can have on personal relationships with family, friends and loved ones as all become accustomed to this new reality.

Around her, Thomas Hunt and Antonia Kinlay play all the supporting characters in Claire’s life with varying degrees of success. Kinlay succeeds the better here at creating 3 clearly defined characters with the minimum of effort, building up a genuine emotional connection as best friend Karen and evoking a world of faceless bureaucrats as funding officer Astrid whose concerns lie mainly with the progress of the project. Hunt fared less well at delineating his three characters, boyfriend Tom was done well but it was sometimes hard to distinguish between him and the others, emotionally distant but eager to help brother Chris with whom he could have done more to establish their relationship and self-interested gallery assistant Benji who ultimately served little purpose in the play other than showing the self-consciousness that can come with having to deal with disabled peoples’ needs.

It is always interesting to see a play which has a direct resonance, last year’s Tribes at the Royal Court was an emotional experience the like of which I’ve never had in a theatre, and the issues around how disability relates to personal identity is something that many people have to deal with. The tricky thing though, and this is alluded to here in Blue Fence but not really explored enough, is that it isn’t an issue that can be dealt with in a single story, every journey is ultimately individual, different disabilities place different pressures on people and even within a single cohort, for want of a better word, there’s a vast variety of experience which kind of precludes any useful extrapolation of Claire’s experience to a wider community (indeed, her final decision went exactly the opposite way of my own choices!)

That is not to deny the effectiveness of much of O’Shea’s writing and the strength of Nicholson’s performance, indeed the point where it ended felt more appropriate for an interval as the development of the central idea there felt like a springboard for continuation and an examination of what it is like to live with that identity once it has been determined. So, probably one to class as a work-in-progress and I would be keen to see it again if/when it is further developed.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 12th March