Film Review: Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”

As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.

But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2

“You haven’t lost your faith in people, have you?”

The problem with using superlatives is that it is so easy to get carried away. And having declared the second series of Unforgotten to be sure of being one of the best pieces of television we’ll see this year, I’m now having to add The Moorside to that same category. The first episode blew me away and the second, directed by Paul Whittington and written by Neil McKay, confirmed the show as a devastating tour de force.

Occupying the slightly hazy ground of docudrama, where real-life events are augmented with highly researched dramatised scenes, The Moorside nevertheless smacks of the ring of truth from start to finish. The second instalment picks up with Shannon Matthews having been found by the police and whilst the community who came together so dramatically to search for her celebrate, questions about Karen Matthews’ involvement in the disappearance of her daughter hang ominously in the air. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2”

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1

“Anyone tells you you’re not a good mother, you can tell them to shove it up their arse”

Coming from the same creative team as the extraordinary Appropriate Adult, it is no surprise that the first episode of new BBC two-parter The Moorside was a superlative hour of TV, leaving me eagerly awaiting the second instalment next week (just like the good old days, none of your stripping a show across consecutive days here). And as they did by looking at the deeds of Fred and Rosemary West through the experience of the social worker drafted in to assist him, the 2008 case of missing Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews is retold here largely through the eyes of Julie Bushby, a friend of Shannon’s mother, who was instrumental in leading the community effort to find the young girl. 

Where Appropriate Adult excelled was in its first-rate casting, securing the services of Emily Watson, Dominic West and a truly fearsome Monica Dolan to lend the work real gravitas. And if The Moorside doesn’t necessarily have an Oscar nominee in its company, it has a no less sensational trio at its core (all with sterling theatrical credits too). Sheridan Smith is the highest profile as Julie Bushby but Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones’ Yara Greyjoy) more than matches her with a frankly terrifying performance of blankness curdling into disturbing strangeness as Shannon’s mother Karen. And following on from her recent high profile turn in Sherlock, Siân Brooke also excels as her increasingly sceptical friend Natalie. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1”

DVD Review: Born Romantic

“Have you never been in love?
‘No, too much choice.’”

Now this is a curious thing – released in 2001 but feeling very much a child of the 90s, Born Romantic is a British rom-com written and directed by David Kane, centring on a salsa club in London and the romantic capers of the men and women to attend. It has a highly personable cast – and there’s always fun in seeing familiar faces with a much fresher hue about them – but this is fairly bog-standard, low-budget stuff. It says nothing new about relationships, metropolitan living or indeed anything exciting, it just putters along in a rather inoffensive manner that makes it hard to recommend.

For those who know their US late-night chat-show hosts, there’s still fun in seeing Craig Ferguson in a straight acting role, one of three main “romantics” of the multi-stranded story. His Frankie is a hapless divorcee, still co-habiting with his ex played by Hermione Norris, and struggling to wangle his way into the affections of emotionally distant art restorer Eleanor, the divine Olivia Williams who like everyone else here is treading water. Kane’s writing hits on some interesting points but rarely gets the opportunity to delve beneath the surface as the narrative skips around the numerous other storylines, barely scratching the surface of any. Continue reading “DVD Review: Born Romantic”

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)”

DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall

“She is a strumpet”

I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this for ages now, having picked up the DVD in Chichester for a snip, and having recently seen Jessie Wallace on stage and a date with Richard Armitage coming soon at the Old Vic, it seemed as good a time as any to delve into this 80 minute drama looking at the life and times of music hall superstar Marie Lloyd. Sadly, it should probably have lingered on the shelf a good while longer along with all the other charity shop bargains as I found it quite a disappointing bit of television.

For me, Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall’s main problem lies in its format. Having avoided being a straight-up biopic, James Hawes’ production (written by Martyn Hesford, although he is curiously uncredited on the DVD) opts for a fantasia, gliding from scene to scene with little connective tissue giving us the context of the 30 odd years that are passing by. So we get the highlights of this remarkable woman’s life but nothing else –marriage, motherhood, divorce, remarriage, industrial action, public ruin, scandalous affair, boom boom boom – everything gets five minutes and then we move swiftly on. Continue reading “DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall”

Short Film Review #22

The opening section of Gavin Toomey’s Drop is just gorgeous – Russell Tovey’s bored security guard illuminated by the screens he’s barely watching, until his attention is drawn by a figure on edge of a rooftop. Roused from his stupor, Ben treks up to the top of the inner-city building and encounters Greg – their meeting is brief but significant, they’re two completely different people yet somehow connected and though Toomey’s screenplay cleverly leaves much unsaid, there’s something achingly gorgeous that still transpires. Tovey and Antony Edridge are both excellent and a string-laden soundtrack captures the elegiac mood perfectly. Continue reading “Short Film Review #22”

Short Film Review #18

Originally included as an extra on the DVD of the first series of The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan’s Hello Friend plays amusingly on the difficulties that can ensue when venturing into the unknown with new internet software for computers. Martin Savage’s John Ward buys “Praemus”, which claims to be a better way to use the internet but soon gets caught up in a horrendous world of huge bills, faceless bureaucracy and email-only customer service which takes over his life completely. It is perhaps a little bit too long, given it is one extended skit but it is nevertheless good fun, not least for the brief cameo from Richard Ayoade’s Moss. Continue reading “Short Film Review #18”