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”

CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)

“I feel now the future in the instant”

For one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Macbeth is not one that often appears on film screens but Justin Kurzel’s adaptation set that right in 2015 in blistering style. An utterly cinematic version that on paper should raise many a theatre fan’s hackles, its brooding sense of epic danger releases the film into a new dimension, one which may well irk a purist or three but on its own merits, is most darkly compelling.

Kurzel opts for a medieval Scottish setting, a land somewhere between the mythical and the mundane, using some striking Caledonian vistas for location work. The reality of life is shown by the Macbeths’ castle being little more than a collection of mud huts but sweeping shots of mountains and moorsides from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw pull us away into the ether and the red tinges of crimson flame and scarlet blood paint almost expressionistic frames that are just beautiful to behold. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2015)”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Almeida

“Here’s Johnny”

How do you follow the earth-shattering success of a show like Oresteia? With difficulty it seems. Having deconstructed and reconstructed the Greeks, Robert Icke turns his hand to Chekhov with Uncle Vanya. But the world is hardly suffering from a lack of Vanyas and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Icke is treading a relatively similar creative path in the way that it treats the classic text. Yes, I’m essentially complaining about too much of a good thing, as it is still a very strong production but Oresteia was so extraordinary, that this inevitably pales by comparison

As is his wont, Icke’s Uncle Vanya is presented in a new version by Icke, a new translation aimed at replicating the disrupted rhythms of Chekhov’s Russian speech patterns, a largely successful enterprise. As are the soliloquies that each of the leading players are granted, casting new and interesting light on characters that are familiar (especially Sonya’s Act 4 speech). Jessica Brown Findlay scorches as the unfulfilled Sonya, Vanessa Kirby is exceptional as a passionate Elena, Tobias Menzies’ Michael (Astrov) achingly appealing as the idealist losing the courage of his convictions.  Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Almeida”

DVD Review: Mansfield Park (1999)

“Life seems nothing more than a quick succession of busy nothings”

Eek. So having sampled the more recent ITV version of Mansfield Park. I next turned to Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film adaptation and adaptation is surely the right word for it felt like an entirely different story and not in a good way. Again, there’s a distinct modernisation of the heroine into something which was assumedly palatable for test audiences and/or studio bosses but consequently way misses the mark for anything truly Austenesque, Frances O’Connor isn’t exactly bad as Fanny but it never feels like a good fit.

Elsewhere, there’s a scything of some of the key characters, script changes altering others completely. And strangely, given how much of Austen’s novel has to be concertinaed into feature film length, Rozema opts to add in new material – an overworked strand about slavery is heavy-handed in the extreme, the hints of lesbianism (Embeth Davidtz’s Mary Crawford) a desperate ploy for scandal, opium addiction for Lady Bertram scandalously wasting the presence of Lindsay Duncan.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Mansfield Park (1999)”

Review: The Keepers of Infinite Space, Park Theatre

“A property developer, a fighter and a bookshop owner – of those three, it’s the bookshop owner who finds himself stuck in here. That’s Israel for you.”

There’s an interesting tension at the heart of this production of Omar El-Khairy’s The Keepers of Infinite Space and though it is one that is never really satisfactorily resolved, it is still making me think today. El-Khairy’s play is a no-holds-barred indictment of the prison system in Israeli-occupied Palestine, taking root in the shocking statistic that up to 40% of the male population has been detained under military orders at one time or another. But director Zoe Lafferty’s vision seems to locate it in a less specific context, making its issues about incarceration more universal.

This she does by having her actors speaking in (presumably) their natural accents, so one of the prisoners is a Geordie, the governor a malevolent Scot. But though there are aspects of the story that reach beyond the Middle East – the brutality of torture and its effects on the guards that commit it, the way in which the past is often its own sort of jail that imprisons generations in endless cycles of hate – too much of it is inextricably tied to the details of El-Khairy’s narrative, of an innocuous bookseller caught up in crisis by family connections beyond his ken. Continue reading “Review: The Keepers of Infinite Space, Park Theatre”

Short Film Review: #6

An intermittent feature on here over the last few months has been my discovery of the world of short films (you can read my other collections of reviews by clicking on the tag ‘film’ below) and it has been amazing how many links have been sent to me since I started, recommending this film and the other. It may take me a little while to get round to them all, but do keep the suggestions coming in.
Continue reading “Short Film Review: #6”

Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre

“We have seen better days”

Relevance. From the moment that Timon of Athens was announced as part of the upcoming season at the National Theatre with its look-alike poster image, it was clear that this would be a production straining for resonance in the modern world. This is nothing new of course – the recent Antigone opened with an evocation of the capture of Bin Laden, the RSC have relocated Julius Caesar in a modern-day African dictatorship, numerous Comedies of Errors have touched on people-trafficking – but in his quest to update this neglected Shakespeare problem play for our times, Nicholas Hytner seems to have suffered very much from square peg round hole syndrome. Aspects of this production may well improve as the preview period progresses, my problems with it ran much deeper.

Timon starts the play as a major player on the London social scene, showering the city and his acolytes with his financial largesse and a dubious open door policy. But such cultural and personal philanthropism comes at a serious price when it emerges that Timon is in fact bankrupt and when he turns to those who he has lavished with money and gifts, they turn their back on him and offer no help. He exacts a stinking revenge on them during a feast and then retires from society to become a bag lady. Even then, an unexpected discovery means that he cannot truly escape his former life but his influence is channelled into a darker stream of action as civil unrest is steadily growing. Continue reading “Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre”

2011 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris – Royal Court
End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter – Trafalgar Studios
Sucker Punch by Roy Williams – Royal Court
The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane – Garrick
Tribes by Nina Raine – Royal Court

Best New Musical
Fela – National Theatre Olivier
Legally Blonde – Savoy
Love Never Dies – Adelphi
Love Story – Duchess

Best Revival 
After the Dance – National Theatre Lyttelton
All My Sons – Apollo
King Lear – Donmar Warehouse
When We Are Married – Garrick Continue reading “2011 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”