DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

“If we make this coat, it would be as if I was wearing your dog”

One of Close’s most iconic roles is Cruella De Vil from the 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians and not having seen it for many, many years, I was intrigued to see how it had stood the test of time. And surprisingly well was the verdict, from me at least. The live action film does away with voices for the dogs but still captures communication between them most effectively (and I’m not even an animal lover) and charmingly, as Pongo and Perdita join forces to defeat the dastardly scheming of twisted fashion designer De Vil.

And what was interesting seeing the film though adult eyes, was the extent to which Close plays her as genuinely insane, all bwah hah hah cackles wherever possible and wild-eyed stares at whoever happens to be in her path. It’s a gloriously over-the-top performance but she commits entirely and so delivers perfectly, you can’t help but root for her a tiny bit, she makes evil seem such fun. Joely Richardson and Jeff Bridges as the dogs’ owners can’t help but seem a little bland by comparison, though their romance is rather sweetly portrayed. Continue reading “DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)”

Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

DVD Review: Wallis and Edward

Taking the well known story of the Abdication Crisis, Wallis and Edward – an ITV TV movie from 2005 – professes to be the first to tell it from the point of view of Mrs Simpson. It’s potentially an interesting approach but one which emerges to be riddled with difficulties in the telling here. Picking up the story from the point at which the affair started with Edward as the Prince of Wales and Wallis still married to her second husband, it progresses through the 1930s as their affair became more involved and problematic as he acceded to the throne in the knowledge that royal protocol would never allow the relationship to continue.

The problem is that it never really becomes an involving love story. Not all relationships that start from adulterous beginnings are doomed, but they do need to work rather harder to convince of their legitimacy (for want of a better term) and that doesn’t really happen here. Joely Richardson’s Wallis is extremely brittle and Stephen Campbell Moore’s Edward the epitome of clipped English royalty but in Sarah Williams’ writing, there never really emerged a love story that I could get behind and so it became a rather dull watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wallis and Edward”

DVD Review: Anonymous

“Let me offer you a different story”

Any film that contains someone being dragged to the theatre saying “there won’t be puppets will there?” is bound to be a winner with me. And if that film has also courted controversy then my interest is bound to be piqued. But the publicity campaign against Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous was so vociferous that it disappeared from cinemas before I got the chance to see it and so I had to wait for it to emerge on DVD. Why so controversial? Emmerich’s (better known for loud blockbusters like Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow) film is based on the premise that the 17th Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was in fact the true author of the works normally attributed to Shakespeare. Thus a great outcry was launched, by the people and scholars for whom this is the biggest deal, and the film largely scuppered.

Which ultimately is a shame, as I found it to be rather an enjoyable film and somewhat perversely, the authorship question is just one of many strands of story in what turns out to be a historical political thriller, mainly based around the succession to the throne as Elizabeth I’s reign has produced no (legitimate) heirs. That one of the key players in her court just happens to be a playwright on the sly, who is forced to use a surrogate by the name of William to get his plays staged, is taken as a given here and it makes for an entertaining ‘what if’ scenario. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anonymous”

Review: The Lady from the Sea, Rose Kingston

“You’re like the sea, always changing”

Recent weeks have seen a couple of instances where theatre has successfully challenged my preconceptions: A Midsummer Night’s Dream saw me reassess Filter and David Eldridge surprised me with some fantastic writing that really resonated with me in In Basildon. Ibsen however has been a major stumbling block for me – I’ve tried my best, taking in several productions of his work but that connection has never emerged, the reason for his continued popularity completely eluding me. So it would be a lie for to me to say that I went to the Rose Kingston’s new production of The Lady from the Sea with a completely open mind – I was amenable to having my mind changed but it was with a heavy heart that I went there.

I’ve seen the play once before – ironically in a version by David Eldridge at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – and it was not a happy experience. Ibsen’s story focuses on the nymph-like figure of Ellida, settled uneasily in a marriage of convenience to Dr Wangel as memories of her past continue to have a strong pull on her. Wangel tries to facilitate resolution by inviting a man from her past to stay but he stirs up great emotional swells that threaten to pull Ellida back to her beloved sea. Continue reading “Review: The Lady from the Sea, Rose Kingston”