Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie
“I want everything to stop being a struggle”
To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.
For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”
“You really believe you haven’t been enough for me?
No. I think I was enough for you, I’m just not sure you do.”
Andrew Haigh’s last cinematic work Weekend is easily labelled a gay film, but truly at its heart is an aching love story in its infancy. And the same is true of 45 Years at the other end of the spectrum – a movie about old people but more than that, what happens to love in the course of a long relationship – in this case, a marriage of 45 years between Kate and Geoff Mercer.
Adapted by Haigh from the short story In Another Country by David Constantine, the Mercers reside in placid retirement in the Norfolk they’ve always lived and worked in, plotting a big celebration for their 45th wedding anniversary. Their preparations are disrupted though when a letter arrives from Switzerland, notifying Geoff of the discovery of the body of Katya, his ex-girlfriend who fell into an Alpine crevasse 50 years ago. Continue reading “DVD Review: 45 Years”
“What could be a more innocent or harmless pastime than reading”
Another of Austen’s novels that I haven’t quite gotten round to reading, Northanger Abbey was thus a brand new beast to me and so something of a queer little thing. Its mixture of naïve girlishness and gothic fantasy is winsomely portrayed by Felicity Jones as the ingenuish Catherine Morland and the ever-so-handsome JJ Field as Henry Tilney, but I found it very hard to get into the story or really care for it.
It’s always nice to see Sylvestra Le Touzel, here a friend of the family who introduces the book-obsessed Catherine into Bath society with her husband, the equally kindly Desmond Barrit, and Carey Mulligan is surprisingly fresh as the spirited Isabella. But the use of Geraldine James’ voice as a narrator in the form of Jane Austen herself sits a little oddly and altogether, this was one of my least favourite films in this whole exercise.
“He doesn’t treat me like a princess”
There was a frisson of excitement in putting on the DVD of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana in the knowledge that we were about to watch something that many had declared ‘so bad it is good’, but even I couldn’t have expected just how true that sentiment would turn out in what has to be one of the most hilariously misjudged films of recent years. One now understands a little better why multi-Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, who takes on the eponymous role, had difficulties on the press tour for the film (though not necessarily why she took on the part in the first place).
Written by Stephen Jeffreys and based on an unofficial biography by Kate Snells, it follows the late Princess of Wales in the last two years of her life and claims that an affair with British-Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan blossomed into the real love of her life. But rather than try to tell a story with fleshed-out characters, the film is wedded to a misguided sense of loyalty to Diana, using actual newspaper headlines and speeches as hooks, presumably as a way of trying to stay true to her legacy but falling back on cheesy montages and execrable dialogue for the vast majority of the time as any two-bit biopic has to. Continue reading “DVD Review: Diana”
“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”
I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.
Made in Dagenham very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… – in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: Made In Dagenham”
“Oh we’ll make him suffer, but will he make himself?”
This 2002 BBC2 adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Tony Marchant is a rather good bit of television – it may be a goodly while since I read Dostoevsky’s novel but it struck me as a respectful interpretation of the story, though not overly so, and one which makes the most of the televisual approach. Directed by Julian Jarrold, it employs a vivid array of camerawork – from jerky handheld work to epic sweeps of the St Petersburg location – to really capture the idiosyncrasies of the story.
Jarrold really takes us into the mind of impoverished student Raskolnikov, a man who makes a virtue of his immorality in coming up with a plan to murder an unscrupulous pawnbroker as a justifiable good deed to the world at large. Fevered dream sequences, intensely visceral interactions, we delve right into his highly disorientated state of being as he struggles to ratify his choices in the face of their impact on his friends and family and as the law encroaches in on him. Continue reading “DVD Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)”
“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”
“Stop asking silly questions and eat your egg”
If I’d known more about Rebecca before I watched the 1997 television adaptation as part of my Lucy Cohu marathon, I might not have bothered. Not having seen it before or read it, I assumed that her part – the titular role no less – might have had a little more to do in the story but as the story is about the second Mrs De Winter, this wasn’t the case. At all. The first half, 90 minutes in total, featured one brief shot of her eyebrows and one of her hands. The second not much better with tantalising glimpses of parts of her face and a few snatched lines of dialogue (although Wikipedia informs me I’m lucky to even get this!)
Whether intentional or not, this ends up being a rather fabulously camp thing. From Faye Dunaway’s Mrs Van Hopper, hunting for gossip and celebs on the Riviera, to Jonathan Cake’s scene-chewing Jack Favell, to the utter deliciousness of Diana Rigg’s ominously looming Mrs Danvers, it’s all rather gloriously over the top. The May-to-December romance of Charles Dance and Emilia Fox is played very straight and the increasing mystery of exactly what happened to her predecessor does take hold to create a rather compelling latter third which I was entirely gripped by (if not entirely convinced – the new Mrs De Winter is VERY understanding!). Continue reading “DVD: Rebecca (1997)”
“So wise, so young, they say, do never live long”
I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.
“What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”
So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.
And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”