Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

Fancy three and a half hours of Ingmar Bergman? At least the Old Vic’s seats are comfortable for Fanny and Alexander with  a marvellous Penelope Wilton 

“I’d really like to know what anyone else thinks”

I can’t think of Fanny and Alexander without thinking of the phrase sweet Fanny Adams (which, sidebar, has quite the horrific origin). But more to the point, I have to say the idea of another adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film didn’t quite fill me with enough joy to be rushing to the Old Vic (the extraordinary Scenes From A Marriage aside, I’ve not had the best of times with him).

So with Stephen Beresford (he of The Last of the Haussmans) adapting and Max Webster (he of The Lorax) directing, it was with a little reluctance that I devoted a swathe of my Easter Saturday to this drama. And while I’d love to say that it was totally worth it, as a way to wait for the Resurrection it left me feeling a little like Pontius Pilate must have done way back when. Continue reading “Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Film Review: Pride (2014)

“To find out you have a friend you never knew existed, well it’s the best feeling in the world”
 
I kind of knew that I would like the film Pride, I hoped that I would really like it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how much I loved it – the kind of joyous, timeless film-making that makes you want to trot tired old clichés like Great British Classics. But it’s true, it really is. And it is also factually true – based on the real story of an unlikely alliance between a group of gay activists from London and a small Welsh mining community in the heart of the 1984 strike.
 
Written by Stephen Beresford (whose Last of the Haussmans probably ranks as one of my favourite new plays of recent years), there’s something just straight up lovely about the culture clash that emerges between the two groups, but also in the way that the assortment of odds and sods on both sides who are completely changed by the experience. I don’t think a coda has ever affected me quite so much in the revelation of finding out what actually happened to these people in real life.

Continue reading “Film Review: Pride (2014)”

DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook”

Review: Gibraltar, Arcola

“Is that the truth, or you interpretation of it?”

In the midst of the Troubles, the 1988 shooting of three Provisional IRA terrorists outside a petrol station in the rocky outcrop of Gibraltar might have just been one amongst many atrocities but a number of factors conspired to turn it into an even more controversial event. Alastair Brett – a former Sunday Times lawyer who was intimately connected to the media storm that erupted – has co-written Gibraltar with Sian Evans, to relook at the killings and the press coverage that followed to examine the point where journalistic ethics crossed swords with both the British political establishment and the IRA itself to become responsible for, they argue, a huge obfuscation of the truth. But the resulting play, and James Robert Carson’s production of it which currently sits in the smaller of the Arcola’s studios, is as rough as the bare brick of the theatre’s walls.

An uncertainty about the play’s dramatic purpose is evident from the outset. Based as it is on real events and using the direct testimony from Parliamentary debates, legal offices and official reports from police and magistrates, Gibraltar seems to spring from the verbatim tradition, a feeling reinforced by short scenes and the small company covering a multitude of different roles. But bolted onto this is a contemporaneous, fictionalised retelling of events from the journalistic perspective – the seasoned old hack contrasted with the ambitious eager rookie – trying to demonstrate how their varied attempts to pursue the best story possible and/or uncover the truth play out. Continue reading “Review: Gibraltar, Arcola”

DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky

“En-ra-ha, EN-RA-HA!”

This was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw at the cinema and I absolutely loved it, so it was interesting revisiting it on DVD, especially so in the context of his other films. To my eye Happy-Go-Lucky sticks out as being a bit different to the others, and not just because it doesn’t feature Lesley Manville (or Imelda Staunton for that matter), but because its general aesthetic feels in a different key.

Sally Hawkins’ Poppy is a permanently chirpy primary school teacher whose life we follow throughout the film and though Hawkins is exceptional, as ever is the way of things with me, it is the second female lead that really grabs me and it is Alexis Zegerman’s Zoe Poppy’s best friend and flatmate that really wins me over with her drawled-out, deadpan delivery proving surprisingly alluring. That said, there is endless comedy gold in Hawkins’ face throughout the film, whether trampolining, the reactions to having her back massaged to find out where some pain is coming from, or responding to Flamenco teacher’s request, it is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky”

DVD Review: Another Year

“On a scale of one to ten, how happy would you say you were”

Mike Leigh’s most recent film split my friends – you can read a lengthy and less than enthusiastic review of Another Year here, but others really enjoyed it and I have to say that I found it to be a warm, perceptive and affecting drama that fits in perfectly to his work in the 2000s. Initially it seems to come from the same mould as Happy Go Lucky as we focus on engineer Tom and therapist Gerri, a long-married couple who are still deeply affectionate for each other and appear to live lives untroubled by major concerns and more than happy with their lot.

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent fit together beautifully, their affability shining through as they tend to their beloved allotment or entertain their son Joe, Oliver Maltman in a seemingly permanent flirtatious mood. But it seems that happiness is something of a lottery and as we progress through the four acts of the film, taking place over the seasons of a year, we see that the lives of the people living around this couple are substantially less than idyllic. Whether it is Gerri’s client, a devastatingly pinched Imelda Staunton; Tom’s old pal Ken who has hit the booze and pies incredibly hard, Peter Wight in great desperate bedraggled form; David Bradley’s shell-shocked Ronnie, Tom’s brother with a tearaway nightmare of a son, Martin Savage crackling with vicious energy, it seem that happiness has passed them all by. Continue reading “DVD Review: Another Year”

Review: Edgar and Annabel, National Theatre

As mentioned in the main review for Double Feature 1, of which this is the opening play, the less you know about Edgar and Annabel in advance the better, as this really is one of those watching experiences that benefits hugely from being allowed to unfold in front of us without any forewarning. So this is your last warning, I will try to avoid too many spoilers but if you’re thinking about going to see this, stop reading (and then come back afterwards!)

Sam Holcroft’s tightly-crafted new play takes place in a land gripped in a police state, with people under constant surveillance in their own homes, where a brave few are attempting to stand up to the ‘Orwellian establishment’. In their kitchen, young married professionals Edgar and Annabel go about their daily business, but it is soon apparent that not all is what it seems. Continue reading “Review: Edgar and Annabel, National Theatre”

Review: There is a War, National Theatre

Tom Basden’s There is a War makes for a more entertaining second half of Double Feature 2, at least for the first few scenes. Occupying the kind of slightly surreal version of reality he has become known for, it is set in a non-specific domain where a civil war is being waged between the Blues and the Greys.

When he is being sharply satirical, Basden is at his best and it shows in the great opening third of the show and the way he skewers the group mentalities that emerge. Whether it is the meaningless bureaucracy of the military, the lengths some people are driven to to avoid certain things, the hypocrisy of the peace protestors, or the sheer ridiculousness of a conflict that no-one is 100% sure about – exactly how different is blue from grey anyway… – yet they all take part in it anyway, he mines a brilliantly dark shaft of humour through the brief appearances of some hilarious characters. Kirsty Bushell’s fantastically-unprepared dance-drama teacher, Trevor Cooper’s Big Dave – advising Richard Hope’s Field Commander Goodman on military strategy, the imprisoned yet chirpy soldier (I think played by Richard Goulding): they all help play up the absurdity of the situation. Continue reading “Review: There is a War, National Theatre”