Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”

It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.

Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis. Continue reading “Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”

Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida

“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”

Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.

And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her. Continue reading “Review: Little Eyolf, Almeida”

Review: Creditors, Young Vic

“You’re drawing my secrets from me. You’re pulling out my guts and when you go you’ll leave nothing but an empty shell around you.”

The Genesis Future Directors Award aims to nurture promising talent by plugging them into the creative network of the Young Vic and using this opportunity, 2015 winner Rikki Henry has chosen to present David Greig’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Creditors in the Clare Theatre there. Truth be told I’m not the biggest fan of the Swede and so I’ve never actually seen this play before but I know enough to know that Henry has tinkered with it to gay it up just a little.

So Tekla becomes a man and the play becomes a study of the corrosive effects of love gone awry, the love that used to dare not speak its name that is, refracted through the prism of gay marriage. Creative souls Adolph and Tekla are seemingly loved up but their marriage comes under scrutiny when the enigmatic Gustav appears on the scene whilst Tesla is away to successfully plant seeds of doubt in Adolph’s mind and expose what it truly means to give yourself to someone.  Continue reading “Review: Creditors, Young Vic”

Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4

“No decent woman will be able to say suffrage without blushing for another generation”

Part of a series of radio dramas looking at contemporary responses to the increasing emancipation of women at the turn of the twentieth century, Votes for Women is a 1907 suffragette play by Elizabeth Robins, one of the most forthright actresses of the time who allegedly pulled a gun on George Bernard Shaw when he made a pass at her. Her play looks at women who were equally bold at a time when the movement for women’s suffrage was beginning to stagnate, paralysed by the filibustering efforts of the men in Parliament. Where some were content to continue the same path and attempt to win them over, others were adamant that direct action was the only course of action and Robins neatly explores this schism in the movement.

In Marion Nancarrow’s production, Zoë Tapper plays Vida Levering, one of the activists determined to take things further whose zeal sweeps up those around her, including the youthful heiress Jean Dunbarton, voiced by the delicately effervescent Charity Wakefield, who is newly engaged to Sam West’s Tory MP Geoffrey Stoner, who in turn has his own connection to Vida. This tangled relationship provides the melodramatic meat for the final third of the play and if not quite brilliant, it is certainly engaging. Robins is much more successful at the dramatisation of the crusading spirit and enthusiasm of the time. Continue reading “Review: Votes for Women/The Magnificent Andrea, Radio 3/4”

Review – A Larkin Double, Radio 4

“His impulse is to run away, but there’s nowhere to run to”

Philip Larkin is well known as a poet but fresh out of university at Oxford, he wrote two novels, both of which have been dramatized for Radio 4 into hour-long dramas. First up was Jill, adapted by Robin Brooks, a rites of passage tale of the experiences of introverted Huddersfield boy John Kemp as he is thrust into university life also at Oxford – Larkin clearly drawing on personal experiences to paint a gorgeously sensitive portrayal of a young man struggling to come to terms with his place in this world and following his journey into a more seasoned maturity.

Fiona McAlpine’s production works so well mainly due to the pitch-perfect casting of Samuel Barnett as Kemp, the main figure and narrator of much of the story. His melodious voice – always sounding one part on the verge of wonder, one part matter-of-fact honesty – is well suited to radio, full of character and conveying much of the social discomfort of a man both languishing out of his milieu in terms of class and dealing with the intensity of first-flush homosexual longings for his roommate, the charismatic scoundrel Christopher Warner, into whose elevated societal orbit he finds himself locked.       Continue reading “Review – A Larkin Double, Radio 4”

Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre

“The army is not a game”

Director David Grindley’s first London job was as an ASM on the original 1993 award-winning production of Jonathan Lewis’ army hospital-based Our Boys so there is a pleasing circularity to him being the director of the play’s first West End revival. It is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich, with five soldiers at various stages in their recovery from injuries suffered in the line of duty who have their easy dynamic changed by the arrival of Potential Officer Menzies into the mix. 

His presence shakes things up initially but he is soon assimilated into the group which kills the endless stretches of time with the recreation of barracks humour – strident banter that is close to the bone, searching for female company in want ads, illicit drinking games based on The Deer Hunter. But try as they might, they can’t escape from the ugly reality of their situation as their various torments rear their heads and it becomes apparent that this is a place where mental recovery is just as vital as physical recuperation. Continue reading “Review: Our Boys, Duchess Theatre”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I

“Then would I have his Harry, and he mine”

The Hollow Crown continues with Henry IV Part I, directed by Richard Eyre who also does the ensuing Part II (but not Henry V, though the productions are cross-cast). But where Rupert Goold’s Richard II embraced the form to create something more cinematic (although not to everyone’s tastes), this is an altogether more traditional affair and not necessarily the better for it. 

What Eyre brings out is the father-son relationships. Tom Hiddleston’s carousing Prince Hal, partnered extremely well by David Dawson’s Poins in what was an excellent performance I thought, is movingly forced towards maturity on the battlefield, as King Henry, Jeremy Irons in impassive form and making the presence of what is admittedly quite a secondary character really stand out, laments the fecklessness of his heir. This is contrasted of course by the gumption of young Hotspur, Joe Armstrong oozing rugged charisma and forming the highlight of the whole thing for me, and in a lovely piece of casting, his real father, Alun Armstrong has been cast as his onscreen father which added poignancy to their moments.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I”

Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s

“We’ve got some of the best sperm in the country in this room”

The Royal Court have adopted the Duke of York’s theatre for the next few months and will be feeding it with a steady stream of its recent successes. Jumpy and Constellations are yet to come, but the season starts off, a little oddly perhaps, with a remounting of Laura Wade’s Posh which first played in Sloane Square two years ago. Then, we were in the run-up to a general election in which Cameron, Osborne et al were the prospective new boys; now of course, they are in power, albeit in a far-from-cosy coalition and Laura Wade has updated her play to reflect the changes in the political and indeed the economic circumstances in this country and beyond.

In some ways, this feels like a fresh lick of paint which brings Posh bang up to date but in others, it also felt like a somewhat unnecessary updating as it focuses the attention on the play being absolutely ‘of the moment’ when it is better than that, its over-riding message is one that withstands the period details around it (surely it won’t be rewritten every time it is produced…or is this just part of the natural evolution of a new play, in which case this is the first time I think I’ve experienced it). That message is a rather pernicious one about the enduring influence of the old boys’ network in the corridors of power and the way in which our ‘finer’ educational institutions inculcate this sense of entitlement and the abdication of any real sense of responsibility. Continue reading “Re-review: Posh, Duke of York’s”

Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea

“Hester, what have they done to you?”

2011 marked the centenary of the birth of Terence Rattigan and theatres across the country have paid their tribute to this oft-neglected playwright with a range of productions which have arguably pulled him back into fashion. London saw Flare Path and Cause Célèbre amongst others, Chichester devoted much of their season to his work, commissioning two new dramatic responses to his plays as well as South Downs (alongside The Browning Version) and Rattigan’s Nijinsky. But perhaps one of his greatest works is The Deep Blue Sea, of which I have seen two productions this year – one in Leeds with Maxine Peake and the other with Amanda Root in Chichester. And it is this play that has received the silver screen treatment in a film version by Terence Davies.

Davies has definitely taken the adage quality over quantity to heart – having produced just 4 dramatic feature films in a career that began in the mid-70s – but one of those is the Gillian Anderson starring The House of Mirth which is one of my all-time favourite films so I was intrigued to see what he had made of this story, of which I have grown uncommonly fond. Too fond as it turned out, because I was completely unable to judge the film as its own artistic entity and found myself constantly referring back to how it was differing from the play. Continue reading “Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea”