Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”

TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. I’m sure it’s just another false alarm”

Oh The Halcyon – shafted by the overwhelming desire for it to be the new Downton, or maybe the unfriendly Monday evening slot, or maybe the fact that Charlotte Jones’ serial never quite honed in on what it wanted to be. Following the fortunes of a luxury London hotel during the first couple of years of the Second World War, it took all possible opportunities to explore a society on the cusp of major change. But between the aristocrats who owned it, the aristocrats who stayed there, the lower classes who work there, and the multitudes of people affiliated to all these lives, the canvas was far too wide.

The hints were there right from the off in episode 1 which struggled to introduce even just its leading players in its running time, whilst still proving most tantalising, due to its cracking cast and its sumptuous design (those costumes!). At the heart of The Halycon lay the antagonistic relationship between Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton and Steven Mackintosh’s Mr Garland, owner versus manager as they butted heads over practicalities in the face of an ensuing Blitz but though their scenes were electric, they were given too little too late together to exploit this to its fullest.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1”

TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1

“Gin please.
‘Of course.'”

Billing something as the new Downton Abbey is all well and good but for someone who only ever watched the Christmas specials because his parents commandeered the telly on Christmas Day, it’s not actually that much of a pull. What I can’t resist however is Olivia Williams, and Olivia Williams in a period drama in particular, and so I put on ITV for what feels like the first time in ages for The Halcyon.

Set in a swish London hotel of the same name in 1940, The Halcyon looks to be your regular upstairs-downstairs as the aristocratic residents lounge about talking about Nazi sympathisers and swigging gin, while the honest-guv staff scurry around being decent and hard-working and dull and thoroughly unbelievable in the way that they chat so easily with their employers and clientele (just one of the things that bugged me about the little of Downton that I saw). Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1”

DVD Review: The Mother

Would you come to the spare room with me?” 

It is remarkable that even now, 10 years after it was released, it is difficult to name another film aside from The Mother which has dealt so openly with the sexuality of older people, specifically older women. Can it really still be something of a taboo subject? One would like to think not but a sneaking suspicion remains that this might just be the case. Thus this film, directed by Roger Michell from Hanif Kureishi’s story, is all the more special, not least because it is also a rather spectacularly good piece of work.

Anne Reid plays May, a Northern grandmother in her sixties who finds herself bundled down to London where her two children live, after the sudden death of her husband. But metropolitan life leaves her nonplussed and in the face of her children’s disinterest in her welfare over the dramas of their own lives, she finds herself spending more and more time with Daniel Craig’s Darren. He’s building a conservatory for her son and is sleeping with her daughter, but an irresistible connection grows between the pair which eventually turns into a sexual affair, the fallout from which scatters its shockwaves far and wide. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Mother”

Short Film Review #35

Knowledgy

Another Icelandic short (it’s a slippery slope once I start on these things…) and this time it’s a jet black comedy. Hrefna Hagalín and Kristín Bára Haraldsdóttir’s Knowledgy follows a naïve Icelandic couple as they get suckered into an LA-based cult by the charismatic leaders (and the example of Ashton Kutcher). Following their every move is their lodger who is filming their story for his film project and provides an excellent external view into this ever-darkening tale.


Audiobook

Another short and sharp clip, James Spinney’s Audiobook is a wryly funny look at the recording of an actor’s memoirs. Daniel Ings’ arrogant Aussie is a volatile presence who threatens to completely overwhelm Oliver Stevens’ young sound technician with his over-inflated and easily-pricked ego. Stevens also wrote the film, which may be short but has a punchy sense of humour about it.


Eddie Loves Mary

A dinky little thing, Hannah Rothschild’s Eddie Loves Mary is a lovely sweet-natured film that wears its sentimental heart proudly on its sleeve. Kevin McNally and Gina McKee lead the cast but there’s a host of brief appearances from familiar faces like Steven Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin and Stephen Mangan as we get closer to the mystery of who is spray-painting Eddie Loves Mary all over the place.


Grow Up

Ivan Madeira’s Grow Up serves as a really nice companion piece to Kate Tempest’s Wasted starring as it does Cary Crankson who appears in both. Grow Up is the precursor, a 10 minute blast through the trials of getting through the mundaneness of young adulthood and the onset of real life and responsibility. Lots of fun and full of astute observations.

TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale

Do you believe in ghosts”

The BBC having decided that we needed to be scared this Christmas put on this ghost story, adapted from a novel by Diane Setterfield. In many ways, The Thirteenth Tale ticks the boxes of the stereotypes of the genre – ginger people, creepy twin girls, a haunted house, a spooky housekeeper not telling the new governess everything, a disembodied girl’s voice singing nursery rhymes. But putting a twist in, it also adds Vanessa Redgrave in a ginger wig and Olivia Colman with her serious face on to make a melodramatic but somewhat unsatisfying piece of television.

Redgrave plays Vida Winter, a dying novelist whose most famous work was called Thirteen Tales despite only containing twelve, and whose biographical details have long been surrounded by obfuscation and contradictions. As the wolf comes baying at the door, as she describes her end-stage pancreatic cancer, she summons biographer Margaret Lea to her home to finally tell the truth about her life. But Vida’s choice was no accident and as Margaret peels through the impenetrable layers of the thirteenth tale, she is forced to face up to her own stories. Continue reading “TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale”

TV Review: What Remains

“Something bad always happens when you go upstairs”

Something is in the water of British crime drama that is making it more interesting than it has been for quite some time. Tony Basgallop’s What Remains, directed by Coky Giedroyc, has thrilled across four weeks on BBC1 making the kind of whodunnit that genuinely had one guessing right till the very end with its carousel of hugely unlikeable personalities remarkably all remaining in the mix for the crime for a very long time. Set in an inner-city townhouse split into flats, it plays on the anonymity of metropolitan life – the fact that we can live next door to people and remain strangers, dissociated from their lives entirely. Such is the fate of Melissa Young, whose decaying body is found in the loft of a building yet whose absence for two years has gone unnoticed. 

She owned the top flat but as soon we get to know the rest of the inhabitants, we soon see why this wasn’t the happiest of houses. A cranky maths teacher lives in the basement with something of a dirty secret, on the ground floor is a recovering alcoholic journalist whose romance with a colleague is under threat from his self-possessed teenage son, above them are lesbian graphic designers gripped in a psychotically abusive relationship and above them are a newly-arrived and heavily pregnant young couple. Throw in a widower detective on the brink of retirement and no life outside of work and the scene is set for cracking four-parter What Remains. Continue reading “TV Review: What Remains”

DVD Review: Luther Series 1

“You don’t need to be thinking about Alice Morgan right now”

By the time that the television series Luther started on BBC1, I was already keen on Ruth Wilson as an actress but the first episode of the first series – which now ranks as one of my all-time favourite pieces of television ever – confirmed her as one of the most exciting people we have working in this country. The show is a high-quality detective drama featuring Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a member of the Serious Crime Unit, whose unconventional and often controversial methods frequently sets him at odds with his colleagues and his estranged wife who end up paying the price for his uncompromising genius. 

Entirely written and created by Neil Cross, there’s a most pleasing continuous feel to the six-part series which combines a ‘story of the week’ format featuring some extremely gory and plain icky crimes with larger story arcs which build to the shockingly climactic finish of Episode 6. Ruth Wilson stars as research scientist Alice Morgan, who is involved in the former in Episode One but soon turns into the latter as a wonderfully twisted kind of relationship builds between her and Luther. It is hard to say much more without revealing too much for those who haven’t seen it – shame on you if you haven’t, go and watch it now! – but the way in which Wilson slowly subverts our expectations in that first hour is nothing short of superlative, the gradual reveal completely compelling, the way she says the word ‘kooky’ deserves an award category of its own.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 1”