Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn

“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff” 

I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole. 

Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”

DVD Review: Match Point

“I’m so sick of this acting thing, it’s just not working out”

If Woody Allen’s Match Point had been set in the Hamptons as it was originally meant to be, I think I would really like this film but as it is, its relocation to London proves to be a constant distraction as this glossily cinematic version of my hometown is often ludicrous. Yes it is fiction and yes it is set in the world of the idly uber-rich with all their casual trips to Ralph Lauren and chauffeured cars but as with James Bond surfing down the escalators on the tube in Skyfall it’s the little things that draw the attention. 

From the unrelenting RP accents to scarcely believable dialogue in the “London Police”, the revelation that being “born in Belgravia” is the key to a lifetime of cultural invitations and the insistence on only showing postcard-pretty shots of London, Match Point has little anchoring in the real world and especially not in the city where it is now set. Putting aside the unlikelihood of shop workers being able to afford cabs home everyday and even worse, neighbours actually talking to each other in a friendly manner, it’s all just so superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: Match Point”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”


Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.


But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes.


Indeed, we’re offered very little reason to empathise with either of them, neither is presented in a likeable light but neither actor really makes a convincing case that their emotional turmoil is something we ought to engage with. Fox’s stilted Englishness feels uncomfortably awkward throughout and though Huston is better as the free-wheeling Bruno, their story just doesn’t rouse anything beneath the surface. That the show has to rely so greatly on the volume of Avgoustous Psillas’ sound design to get its shocks is symptomatic of its inherent heavy-handedness. 

Supporting roles offer a little light relief – Imogen Stubbs’ vampish mother, Miranda Raison’s glacial femme fatale, Christian Kay’s intrepid PI – but the bloating running time sees diminishing returns as the melodrama increases, especially as the interminable second half crawls to its dénouement. I would warrant that Strangers on a Train has solid enough credentials to ensure that it will be enough of a success but on this evidence, it is hard to suggest that it is that welcome an addition to the West End. 

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February

Short Film Review #25

Mr John from Julian Kerridge on Vimeo.

Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that are most affecting and Julian Kerridge’s 2005 film debut Mr John is full of gorgeous, intimate details that make it a most charming prospect. Benedict Wong’s Mr John is an agoraphobic television critic but the arrival of a pretty upstairs neighbour, in the form of Nicola Stephenson’s Carol, forces him to look at the limits of his world anew. Their burgeoning relationship is a delight to behold – the gift of a casserole, a love for volcano documentaries, the re-organisation of a video collection – the quirky aspects of what makes her utterly adorable is perfectly played by Stephenson, the wry smile as she walks down the steps at the end enough to melt any heart. And Wong is appealingly nerdish as Mr John, initially disgruntled at the intrusion into his hermit-like existence but soon won over and willing to confront his greatest fear. Just lovely. Continue reading “Short Film Review #25”