Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

A starry Mary Queen of Scots proves an intriguing if a little frustrating film debut for Josie Rourke

“The world will decide for itself”

An intriguing, if a little frustrating one this. Josie Rourke is a titan in the world of theatre and Mary Queen of Scots marks her cinematic debut. But despite a classy pair of lead performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as diametrically opposed queens Mary and Elizabeth, an ensemble consisting of the cream of British acting talent, and the sweeping beauty of the Highlands to frame every other shot, the film never really quite sparks into life.

Beau Willimon’s screenplay, based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, dances around historical accuracy with its own determination, building in a climactic meeting between the two which although visually striking, dramatically brings precious little. Before then, the film is plotted as a strategic confrontation between two monarchs, two women, who are battling the worlds around them as much as each other. Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)”

Film Review: On Chesil Beach (2017)

On Chesil Beach proves a most painful watch indeed

“Minor seventh might be better”

Dominic Cooke’s theatrical résumé includes such triumphs as Follies and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom so a measure of anticipation about his feature film debut was surely not unexpected. But I should have remembered he was also responsible for the challenges of The Low Road and In The Republic of Happiness and for me, it was to this end of the scale that On Chesil Beach tips.

An adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2007 novella by the man himself, we’re in the world of classic 1960s English sexual repression. New graduates Edward and Florence come together in a theoretically perfect courtship but when they come together disastrously in marriage, their sexual inexperience on their Dorset honeymoon proves utterly and completely life-changing. Continue reading “Film Review: On Chesil Beach (2017)”

Oscar Week Film Review: Lady Bird

Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is rather brilliant – will it make her only the second woman to ever win Best Director? And should Metcalf get the win as well…? (Yes, to both).

“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
‘What if this is the best version?'”

It seems scarcely credible that Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman to be recognised with an Academy Award nomination for directing a film – a statistic that is nothing but utterly shameful in so many ways. But nominated she is, and for the gloriously funny and undoubtedly excellent Lady Bird.

A coming-of-age story that matter-of-factly puts the emotional lives of its leading – female – characters front and centre to create a rich and poignant tale of mothers and daughters. And in the hands of Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf – also both Oscar-nominated – Lady Bird soars all the way home. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Lady Bird”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre

“I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder 

I heard the phrase avant-garde mentioned several times in reference to Ivo van Hove whilst in New York and every time I bristled – the connotations in my head leaning towards a dismissive pretentiousness aimed at someone who I think is one of the most exciting theatre directors currently working. And it did make me wonder, especially in light of the reports of Katie Mitchell being booed at the Royal Opera House last week, about what feels like an instinctive resistance to ‘change’ from established audiences that just feels a bit sad.

Granted, with Broadway ticket prices you may well want to minimise the risk but it would be hard to get excited about another traditional production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible even with big names like 2-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in the cast. As it was, I was just as excited at the prospect of seeing Sophie Okonedo and Jenny Jules – both too rarely on the London stage in recent years – and of course, the chance to see van Hove at work once again was irresistible, especially since I’d let Lazarus pass me by. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre”

DVD Review: Hanna

 “Hanna, what did your mum die of?
‘Three bullets'”

 I have a deal of affection for Joe Wright’s Hanna, a film I saw at the cinema as part of a birthday treat back in 2011 and so watching it again for the first time has that special layer of extra memory attached to it. Which it kind of needs as I’d forgotten how loopy the revenge thriller is. Saoirse Ronan’s Hanna has been raised as a crack assassin since birth by her ex-CIA father Eric Bana but hidden away in the isolated Arctic tundra as current CIA supremo, Cate Blanchett’s insanely fruity Marissa, wants them both dead to protect a secret they possess.

One day, Hanna declares that she’s ready to take on their nemesis and the ensuing cat-and-mouse chase takes our characters from Finland to Morocco, Spain to Germany, all to the beats of a thumping soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers. Wright folds in elements of The Brothers Grimm into the story too to evoke a very dark fairytale feel. And it’s one that works intermittently, the hyper-stylised violence hits hard and provides the energy that is sorely needed in some of the quieter sequences. Ronan is a mesmeric screen presence as this impossible girl and proves a dab hand at doing her own stunts.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hanna”