DVD Review: An Education

“Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?”

Lone Scherfig’s film An Education was one of my top films back in 2009 and rightly saw Carey Mulligan nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars. Watching it again reminded me of how good it is, a great showcase for British film and one of my favourite depictions of 1960s Britain I think I’ve ever seen. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is based on Lynn Barber’s memoirs of her schoolgirl years, spent mainly pleasing her father’s desire for her to be an excellent student and get into Oxford. That is, until handsome stranger David offers her a lift one day. That he’s twice her age is no matter, the world of sophistication he inhabits seduces her entirely from her humdrum Twickenham existence and changes her life completely.

Mulligan is brilliantly cast as the 16 going on 17 Jenny Mellor, the combination of her youthful looks and soulful eyes captures much of the teenage precocity that leads her to think she’s more mature than she is, especially in the face of such rowdy schoolgirl friends like Ellie Kendrick’s Tina and as she rushes headlong into this adult world of jazz clubs, stolen nights in hotels and weekends away in Paris, she brilliantly shows how her self-assuredness is slowly stripped away as she comes to see what she has sacrificed in order to follow her heart. Olivia Williams’ brilliant Miss Stubbs is the perfect counterpoint, a spinster teacher who encourages Jenny’s academic dreams yet perversely epitomises the height of ambition for an educated woman. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Education”

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)”

DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage

“We rubbed along alright”

Master of televisual adaptation Andrew Davies turned his hand to Angela Lambert’s novel A Rather English Marriage in 1998 and watching it back now, it seems to harken back to an even earlier age, one of uncomplicated classic quality with a resolutely unfashionable straight-forwardness that we simply don’t see that much at all these days. The tale is a simple one of two retired veterans who, after being widowed on the same day, are placed together by a well-meaning social worker who reckons the companionship will do them both a world of good.

They’re an odd couple though. Albert Finney’s Reggie was an air squadron leader and having married into money, is used to a wealthy life. By comparison, Tom Courtenay’s Roy was a mere NCO and became a milkman after the war so as they move into together, Reggie naturally assumes a dominant position with Roy slipping easily into the habit of calling him Sir as their relationship settles into something imbalanced. Ultimately, both men recognise the private pain they are hiding as long-held secrets come to light but it is the return of women to their lives that proves to be the most significant change. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage”

DVD Review: Made In Dagenham

“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”

I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.

Made in Dagenham very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… – in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: Made In Dagenham”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Oxford University Dramatic Society at Southwark Playhouse

“Your town is troubled with unruly boys”
 

With alumni such as Rory Kinnear, Rosamund Pike and Julian Ovenden, the Oxford University Dramatic Society seems as good a place as any to spot potential stars for the future and obliging with their now customary summer tour, I only had to nip up the road to the Southwark Playhouse to go and see them in their short run of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. As he alludes in his programme note, companies often try to take a different route into such familiar work and director Christopher Adams has relocated this play to the modern day ex-pat community living in the Spanish city of Málaga. Wisely, it’s a choice that the production wears lightly and thus is quite effective, if a little reminiscent of Propeller’s own recent reimagining.

The debauched world of the Costa del Sol serves as a splendid stand-in for Ephesus – a surfeit of sex, sun and sangria seduces the newly-arrived and much-wearied Antipholus of Syracuse into temporarily abandoning the search for his long-lost brother, and the easy hedonism of his city allows Antipholus of Ephesus to pursue a self-destructive path as he struggles to deal with a loss he doesn’t understand. As the latter, Artemas Froushan delivers excellently the cocksure swagger of a man used to having his way completely and so raging violently once things start to go awry. David Shields as his more serious brother revels in the madcap capers but could perhaps have layered in a little more of the strait-laced characteristics instead of abandoning them completely, and their reunion lacked the emotional heft it ought to punch with.

Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, Oxford University Dramatic Society at Southwark Playhouse”

DVD Review: Women In Love

“Find love that burns your very soul”

A BBC4 television adaptation of the two DH Lawrence novels The Rainbow and Women In Love, although named solely after the latter, the Women In Love DVD was one I had been looking forward to delving into, mainly due to the presence of such luminous actresses as Rachael Stirling, Rosamund Pike and Saskia Reeves. Imagine my surprise, and indeed pleasure to a certain degree, to find that naked male wrestling was also part of the bargain in this William Ivory-directed two-parter. 

Centred on the lives and loves of the two Brangwen sisters, Guthrun and Ursula, as they react against the staid lives of their parents with stridently independent action, yet each end up in relationships with men that are endlessly complicated, not least by the feelings between those two men, Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin. The first part dealt with these lives individually in England and only slowly brought them together, leaving much of the second half to take place in the Southern African diamond mines and deserts (replacing the Tyrolean Alps of the original) where the partnerships literally reached boiling point. Continue reading “DVD Review: Women In Love”

Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4

“Gold attracts the most ingenious criminals”

I’ve now figured out the best way for me to listen to plays on the radio, which is whilst recovering from a hangover in bed, and not doing anything else. So it was thus that I took in this all-star production of the James Bond story Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel having been dramatised by Archie Scottney, and Ian McKellen recruited to take on the iconic villain against Toby Stephens’ secret agent. But I have to say, it was my least favourite of the radio plays that I have taken in recently, partly due to the terribly dated writing but also due to the way in which it was presented, being partly narrated by Martin Jarvis (also the director) as Fleming.

The narration made it seem really rather old-fashioned, a very traditional way of telling a story and that is how it came across, as a story rather than a play, a piece of drama. It felt rather flat and lacked excitement, despite the quality of the cast, but I think it also suffered a bit by comparison. No sound effect could ever replicate the visual of Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat (yet simultaneously, without that visual it would barely have any impact, a whooshing sound alone inspires little), likewise John Standing’s M’s gagdetry, and the constantly changing locations, within a short space of time, do not really lend themselves to effective drama – explanations needed too often. Continue reading “Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4”

Review: Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre

“Let’s all just cheer up and start enjoying ourselves”

It would appear that the punishment for appearing in Madame de Sade last year is banishment to South-West London: Dame Judi is currently doing time in Kingston and Rosamund Pike has now surfaced in Richmond, in this latest version of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: should we expect Deborah Findlay to surface in Wimbledon sometime soon? (actually I’d go pretty much anywhere to see her, I think she’s ace!)

But I digress. Ibsen’s tale of the conflict between how a woman feels and behaves and how she is expected by society to feel and behave, is told in the form of the newly married Hedda, resigned to a safe and loveless marriage yet still yearning for a life of passion and willing to manipulate anyone anyhow in order to feel something. And it is told extremely well here with a dark humour that I have never seen before in an Ibsen which made me love it, and an incredibly strong ensemble who have gelled extremely well. The interactions between the characters are quite something to behold, their conversations feel so incredibly real, sparking off each other with ease, and breathing a life and urgency into the text that made a much welcomed, stark contrast to the dour recent Ghosts. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre”

2009 Best success in the face of adversity, and Damehood

Best success in the face of adversity

Helen Dallimore, Too Close To The Sun
Cynics might think I created this category specifically so that Too Close To The Sun could win something, and they might be right. The particular performance that I witnessed involved what can only be described as “tablegate”, so not only did they have to put up with delivering one of the worst musicals ever created, the cast in particular Helen Dallimore, had to contend with a collapsing wicker chest and the funniest case of ongoing corpsing I’ve ever seen. It made what would have been a tragedy into an ‘event’ and one which I feel privileged to have been part of!

Honourable mention
The cast of Madame de Sade
Miranda Richardson, Grasses of a Thousand Colours
When the Donmar West End season was announced, my eyes were immediately drawn to the third play, the only one to feature an all-female cast and one of such calibre that Iwas eagerly anticipating Madame de Sade. What a shame that this was the only mis-step in a excellent season: a turgid, laborious piece that not even a Dame could rescue.
And there needs to be some recognition of the indignities suffered upon Ms Richardson, cast as a lover of Wallace Shawn in a play written by the self-same Wallace Shawn, he had her pretending to be a cat and licking his bald head.

Closest move to damehood

Imelda Staunton
Parading all her wares us to laugh at in Entertaining Mr Sloane, Imelda Staunton showed great fortitude and continued a legacy of fine fine performances on the stage (which, combined with her efforts in Cranford) means that a place on the Queen’s list must surely be hers soon.

Celia Imrie
Fiona Shaw
Juliet Stevenson

Review: Madame De Sade, Donmar at Wyndham’s

The third play in the Donmar’s residency at the Wyndham’s Theatre is Madame de Sade, a slightly obscure work by the Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima, which fulfils Michael Grandage’s promise to bring lesser-known works into the West End alongside the classics. Unfortunately, as many reviews have already said, this is not really a play that stands up to the exceptionally high standards already set by this season, despite the efforts of an excellent cast.

The play tells the story of the life of the Marquis de Sade just before the French Revolution in three short acts, moving a few years through time with each act, but tells it through the eyes of six different women who have varying relationships with him, and the Marquis himself does not actually make an appearance. The women are his wife, his mother-in-law, his sister-in-law, a servant in his house and two other ladies and they each represent a single viewpoint which rather limits the opportunities for the actresses to display their talents.
Continue reading “Review: Madame De Sade, Donmar at Wyndham’s”