Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand

Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage

Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.

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Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)

Despite a mostly good cast, Tulip Fever proves a punishingly dull film – not even self-isolation should drive you to this one

“Amsterdam was captivated by a flower”

The signs weren’t good. Tulip Fever was filmed in 2014 but was pushed and pulled around the schedules before it finally surfaced in 2017, notorious producer Harvey Weinstein clearly hoping that some post-production magic would win over reluctant test audiences. Safe to say though, such an amount of chopping and changing does no-one any favours as Justin Chadwick’s film remains punishingly dull. 

Based on Deborah Moggach’s book, with screenplay by Moggach and Tom Stoppard, the story (mainly) centres on Sophia, an orphan whisked out of convent life by a wealthy merchant who wants her essentially as a brood mare, But things ain’t clicking in the bedroom, so Sophia tumbles into an affair with the artist her husband has commissioned to do their portrait. And competing for screentime, tulip mania has hit the Netherlands. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (2005)

 

 “A Mrs Bennett, a Miss Bennett, a Miss Bennett and a Miss Bennett, sir.”

I deliberately chose to rewatch this version of Pride and Prejudice as Joe Wright’s film was the last I saw and I wanted to remind myself of it on its own merits, before returning to the iconic BBC television adaptation. Joe Wright seems to inspire a strength of feeling in some people which is almost akin to that which his frequent collaborator Keira Knightley is (IMHO) unfairly subjected and I don’t imagine his choice to take on Austen’s beloved story in an abridged film format and to cast Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett would have endeared him to anyone new. 

But Wright’s visual eye cannot be doubted as he has a clear gift for condensing and crystallising the key emotional moments of a story. He captures beautifully the informality of a public dance where the people actually talk, contrasted with the private moments of secrets and passions for all concerned; his customary flowing tracking shots are present and correct and there’s a hugely romantic feel. This really comes through in his composition of scenes – the first touch between the pair as Darcy lifts Elizabeth into her carriage is powerfully charged, the sense of emotional freedom that comes for the girls when they are allowed to dance is always convincing and there’s a clever reinterpretation of the wet shirt scene that tips the nod to the original but stands on its own two feet – Macfadyen wins my vote over Firth for those that are interested.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Pride and Prejudice (2005)”

Short Film Review #9

It’s been a little while since I’ve watched any short films but I had a few link sent to me last week so I thought I’d cast my ever-beady eye over them to see what treasures might be unearthed. As ever, click on the ‘film’ tag to see more short films.

First up was Babysitting, written by Lucan Toh and Sam Hoare and also directed by the latter, but most attractive for its cast including Romola Garai, Dan Stevens and Imogen Stubbs. And from its opening shots of a bedraggled Garai and a super-glam Stubbs, it is rather a bundle of subversive fun. There’s a bit of a twist to the title that I won’t reveal here but it is one that sends Garai’s Maggie on a bit of a journey, where she bumps into arrogant ex Spencer, Stevens in fine West London toff mode and her priorities are pulled skewiff as old feelings rise to the surface. The pair are well-matched and amusingly styled and if the film as a whole comes across as a little slight, it is highly entertaining.    Continue reading “Short Film Review #9”

Short Film Review #8

The best cultural experiences, no matter the medium, is the way that it can make one feel. So where classic Broadway-inspired choreography makes my soul soar, musical comedies make me laugh helplessly and my painstakingly curated iTunes collection can fit any mood I want, this group of shorts contains two films that made me weep for days, I’m welling up just thinking about one of them now, and so I am pleased to be able to them with you. The first and the last are the weepies, with a smattering of less sad films mixed in the middle.

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Film Review: Anna Karenina

 

”I’d rather live life wishing I hadn’t rather than wishing I had”

Today I was lucky enough to catch an early screening of Joe Wright’s new film, Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role, which is certain to be divisive with its unique approach. Tom Stoppard has been employed to distil Tolstoy’s weighty tome into something more manageable and his adaptation clocks in at a shade over 2 hours. Remaining largely faithful to the novel, Stoppard’s focus is on exploring different kinds of love, and so whilst the focus is mainly on Anna herself as she negotiates the tumultuous affair with a young cavalryman that sets her against her husband and the might of Russian society, he also ensures that the subplot featuring the agrarian Levin’s attempts to woo the object of his affections is kept in to provide a neat counterpoint.

Presented with a classic of literature and wanting to avoid predictability as far as period dramas are concerned, Wright’s main conceit has been to reconceptualise the whole thing in a deeply theatrical manner, literally. He treats the story as a piece of theatre, sometimes being played out in front of an audience, sometimes as backstage drama, but always with a defined fluidity and through-line. This exceedingly stylised and highly choreographed approach has a huge cinematic sweep which I adored, but it does soon calm down into something more measured and at key moments, it opens out with some breath-taking transformations.  Continue reading “Film Review: Anna Karenina”

Short film reviews #1

This post was originally meant to be the out-of-office message that went on here before I went on holiday, but time ran away from me as I left myself much too much to do and so it was left unfinished. But I liked it too much to abandon it completely, as my entrée into the world of watching short films was far too much fun to go unmarked. So here is a collection of short videos, many of them featuring familiar faces from the theatre, that should hopefully entertain you as much as they did I. Continue reading “Short film reviews #1”