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”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”

DVD Review: Miss Austen Regrets

“That’s what it says in all of your books”

In 2007, the cinemas got the Anne Hathaway-starring Becoming Jane but television got Miss Austen Regrets, featuring Olivia Williams in extraordinary form as the feted author in the final years of her life. Close to 40 and looking unlikely as ever to get married herself, Jane is the favourite of her beloved niece Fanny who is dipping her toes into the world of liaisons and engagements and can’t think of anything more fabulous than an aunt whose romantic novels ought to make her an expert able to give perfect advice. But as Jane reflects on her life lived, the opportunities missed and rejected, and the perilous state those choices have left her mother and sister in, she is forced to consider if insecurity is too great a price to pay for her ambition.

For though her success is bringing her much renown, financial security eludes her as an unwed woman. She can’t own the property in which she lives, she can’t negotiate a better deal with her publisher, the independence she craves is held frustratingly just at arm’s length. But for all that, this is an unashamedly romantic and sparkily humourous piece of film which holds huge delight. Olivia Williams is impeccable as Austen – the flirtatious glint in her eye as she cuts a swathe through the stuffiness of convention, the nervous hesitation as her status sweeps her up in society, the oceans of emotional intelligence in her eyes as she has to deal with the concerns of the family and the ramifications of her choices – she is endlessly watchable and perfectly cast. Continue reading “DVD Review: Miss Austen Regrets”

DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)

“We’ve been getting phone calls, text messages, emails…can’t trace where or who from”

Another drama about online shenanigans, as should be evident from the titular ‘U’, U Be Dead is an ITV television movie from 2009 and written by Gwyneth Hughes. Jan and Debra are in the midst of preparing for a lavish wedding but when they start to receive threatening messages and anonymous phone calls as part of a systematic campaign of harassment, their lives are thrown into complete turmoil. 

It’s all a bit schlocky to be completely honest (but then it is ITV) though there are some strong performances that shine through. Tara Fitzgerald unravels spectacularly as Debra, the target of the most vitriolic aspects of the stalking and clearly far too good for David Morrissey’s rather taciturn psychiatrist/speedboat racer, whose head is easily turned by pert new arrival Bethan played by Lucy Griffith, even in the midst of the crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)”

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)”

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”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

DVD Review: Easy Virtue

“Dancing with you is like trying to move a piano”

Last up this weekend was the 2008 film of Easy Virtue and though the saying goes last but not least, it’s not really the case here. Adapted by Stephan Elliott and Sheridan Jobbins, their version of the story is practically a rewriting so different is it from the original, but the efforts have largely been in vain as it makes for a lumpen and turgid watch with a distinct waste of the not inconsiderable talent on show. A part of this comes from my own preferences – Jessica Biel is an actress to whom I have never warmed and I love Kristin Scott Thomas far too much to see her reduced to such one-note caricatures – but a larger part comes from the fatally misguided direction which tries far too hard to make this what it is not.

The story flirts between the romantic comedy of an out-of-place American widow newly married into the English aristocracy and battling against the stuffiness of his family, and the more socially astute depiction of the trials faced by the upper classes in the interwar period. But it achieves neither particularly well. There’s nowhere near enough of Coward’s customary bon mots and razor-sharp wit to make it recognisable as anywhere close to his best work and the insistence on maintaining the faux stylings of its chirpy jazz-lite score means that nothing deep is allowed to achieve any resonance. That score may have (disposable) versions of Coward and Cole Porter classics but it also contains horrendous jazzy reinterpretations of songs like ‘Car Wash’, ‘Sex Bomb’, and ‘When The Going Gets Tough’…need I say any more. Continue reading “DVD Review: Easy Virtue”