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)”

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor from Justin Stokes on Vimeo.

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”

Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4

“If only money were not an obstacle”

With fortuitous timing, given how much Trollope I’d read and watched at the tail end of 2012, came this radio adaptation, by noted author Rose Tremain, of The Eustace Diamonds. The manipulative Lizzie Eustace claims ownership of a marvellous diamond necklace, a family heirloom which she claims was given to her by her late husband Florian. As the Eustaces close rank in an attempt to reclaim what they believe should not have left the family, Lizzie looks to find another situation to keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to but finds that the case of these precious stones follows her and blights all her attempts to form new attachments.

We’re 2 episodes in, with one left, and I am really enjoying it this far. Whether the novel is simpler in terms of its dramatis personae or if Tremain has simplified the plot in her adaptation (I’ve not read the novel myself…), it feels like the easiest of Trollope’s stories to follow of the three I have encountered recently, yet it doesn’t suffer for it. Pippa Nixon’s Lizzie is a wonderfully ambiguous figure, an inveterate fibber and yet one doesn’t want to quite dismiss her as a complete liar and as she works her way through the smitten men in her life – Joseph Kloska’s Frank and Jamie Glover’s Lord Fawn, and later Adrian Scarborough’s cheeky Lord George – one can imagine exactly why they fall for her charms. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4”

DVD Review: All or Nothing

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”

Review: Grief, National Theatre

“I don’t want some lovely pink lemonade, I want a sherry”

Mike Leigh’s new play for the National Theatre was finally entitled Grief after going under ‘A New Play’ for what felt like the longest time and sees him reunited with frequent collaborator Lesley Manville. I was quite looking forward to it as my first ‘new’ Leigh stage experience, the revival of Ecstasy having whetted my appetite quite considerably. Manville plays Dorothy, widowed in the war and frozen in the past, who lives with her stroppy teenage daughter Victoria and also her older brother Edwin, a complete creature of habit who is coming to the end of 45 years working at the same insurance firm. A set of visitors offer a little relief to this suffocating routine in Alison Chitty’s drab suburban living room set, Edwin’s brusque doctor friend and Dorothy’s old colleagues who love a good natter but it is the cleaner who gets more of a view into the quietly toxic atmosphere of this household which gradually gets worse.

It is acted well, extremely well in most places. Marion Bailey and David Horovitch are striking in the vividness of their characterisations as two of the visitors; Ruby Bentall’s sullen teenager captures the tragedy of wasted potential, stymied by her surroundings and unable to break free; Sam Kelly’s retiree is a powerfully effective study in near-paralysis and Lesley Manville is utterly superb as a woman who seems unable to move on from the past, yet not even really gaining succour from singing old songs with her brother any more. Continue reading “Review: Grief, National Theatre”

Review: Remembrance Day, Royal Court

“They’re old men…
‘But they’re still Nazis.’”

The second half of the International Playwrights Season at the Royal Court shifts its focus to new Eastern European writing. I attended the first reading last week, of Pavel Pryazkho’s The Harvest, but the main show, playing upstairs, is Latvian-based playwright Aleksey Scherbak’s Remembrance Day, presented here in a translation by Rory Mullarkey.

On 16th March, veterans of the Latvian Legion of the Waffen SS march through the capital Riga, increasingly being joined by other native Latvians as a celebration of their national independence against Soviet oppression. The complicating factor though, being that in order to fight the Soviets, they had to align themselves with the Nazis. The march therefore is a focal point for tensions as both anti-fascist and fascist movements in the country seek to capitalise on the emotions provoked here to promote their own agendas. Sherbak’s play uses the tensions in a Russian-speaking family to explore this struggle as teenage Anya finds herself becoming more and more radicalised as a political activist whilst her father’s attempt to preach a calmer message of tolerance is misinterpreted and whips up an intense fervour of damaging extremism. Continue reading “Review: Remembrance Day, Royal Court”

Review: When We Are Married, Garrick Theatre

“Marriage isn’t perfect”
J.B. Priestley’s farcical comedy When We Are Married arrives at the Garrick Theatre in London for a limited season with a substantially star-studded cast donning their finest Edwardian gear. Set in 1908, three middle-class couples in Cleckleywyke, Yorkshire have their world turned upside-down when, in preparing to celebrate their silver wedding anniversaries, the validity of their marriages is called into question and they face certain social ruin but also huge personal issues as the very nature of their relationships is called into question.

There’s no doubt that it is extremely strongly cast with stalwarts of screen and stage forming the ensemble, especially in its six leads. I enjoyed Susie Blake and David Horovitch as the Helliwells with a particularly believable partnership, but the most fun is had by Maureen Lipman as the redoubtable Clara and Sam Kelly’s hen-pecked Herbert who have great fun playing out the role reversal when he is freed from the shackles of her imperious gaze and withering put-downs. Michele Dotrice does well as the long-suffering Annie who revels in her freedom from her dour councillor husband as played by Simon Rouse with some delicious comic timing, but is then slightly compromised by the need for a neat happy ending to the play.

There are constant hints of something more: the beginnings of revolution in the serving classes; the potential for female emancipation; even domestic violence, but none are explored for this is indeed a comedy, a rambunctious farce which is fine for the most part but a little frustrating for me and I personally struggled find the humour in a man slapping his wife. As for the rest of the play, I found there were just too many extraneous characters: the presence of Helliwell’s young niece is completely unnecessary and her relationship with Forbes is not used to counterpoint any of the marriages so I struggled to see why they were there and others like the Reverend and the reporter simply cluttered the stage. And I wasn’t really a fan of the broad comedy essayed by Roy Hudd’s drunken photographer with his end-of-the-pier routine and Rosemary Ashe’s brash, vulgar Lottie, but this is thoroughly old-school stuff.

It is uncomplicated fun and at times quite amusing, but ultimately it does have to be said that this is aimed at the upper age bracket. Whereas it was a entertaining diversion for me, it was rapturously received with rounds of applause coming at the end of every flourish by an actor, even the set got a good clap as the curtain rose at the beginning but to be honest, I was by far the youngest person in the stalls as far as I could see. All in all, if you appreciated 1970s sitcoms, or indeed enjoy watching re-runs of them these days, then this will be the perfect show for you.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 26th February 2011
Note: some smoking of cigars and cigarettes onstage

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”

Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it’s always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked at the Apollo Victoria.

Purporting to tell the hidden story behind The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them. Continue reading “Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”