Film review: The Witches (2020)

Robert Zemeckis takes on Roald Dahl’s The Witches for a new spin but loses his purpose pretty quickly. And Anne Hathaway is no Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch

“That’s how you wanna play, we’ll play”

I swear I went into watching this ‘reimagining’ of The Witches with as open a mind as I could muster but the truth, Nicolas Roeg’s iconic 1990 film looms incredibly large in the mind as I first saw it then as an impressionable 11 year old. The fabulousness of Anjelica Huston’s performance, and Jane Horrocks’ menacing work too, etched themselves on my mind, leaving Robert Zemeckis with lots to do here.

And I’m not sure he really does it. His screenplay, written with Guillermo Del Toro and Kenya Barris, shifts the action to Alabama in the late 1960s but does little with that, aside from casting the excellent Octavia Spencer as Grandma alongside Jahzir Bruno’s Charlie. And in simply retreading familiar ground, there’s little that really gives any sort of compelling reason for this new adaptation to exist. Continue reading “Film review: The Witches (2020)”

Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carters rock though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 3 Episodes 1-3

The Crown returns with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies at the helm, and Helena Bonham Carter stealing the show

“Everyone at the Post Office is delighted with the new profile”

Gotta get those hits…who knows how far behind I am, given I’m 9 hours ahead of the UK at the moment, but I thought I’d jot down my initial thoughts on the first three episodes of series 3 of The Crown (all written by Peter Morgan and directed by Benjamin Caron), as Netflix kindly offered them up as holiday entertainment. (And since I’m away, I’ve been a little insulated from all the Prince Andrew drama, which from over here almost feels like a random bit of guerilla marketing).

  • I wonder if I have a little hangover from just how good Claire Foy was, but I’m 100% feeling Olivia Colman in the role yet. She doesn’t seem quite as subsumed into the character, in the way that Foy’s every minutely detailed movement seemed to be. That said, there’s some scorching moments when Jason Watkins’ Harold Wilson dares to suggest her response to the Aberfan tragedy is lacking.
  • The excellent Tobias Menzies hasn’t really had enough screen time yet to have his Prince Philip make an impact, though I’ve every faith.
  • The casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret is inspired, the extravagance of the character is perfectly suited to her but she’s bringing a real depth at the same time. 
  • And I have to say I miss Matthew Goode’s hugely erotic insouciance as Antony Armstrong-Jones, Ben Daniels’ much more wearied take hasn’t quite ticked my boxes yet.

Elsewhere, the headlong rush through the years means that we’re doomed to the smallest contributions from some excellent actors – Samuel West’s Anthony Blunt and Angus Wright’s MI5 bod were gone too soon, though I live in hope of more from Penny Downie’s Duchess of Gloucester, Aden Gillett as Richard Crossman and Sinéad Matthews as Marcia Williams (seriously, her accent is a thing of pure beauty).

And given the budget is allegedly in the many millions, it certainly looks a treat once again. From glistening palatial lushness to agonisingly destroyed villages, these are fully realised worlds no matter how short a space of time we end up spending in them. Caron’s direction also makes room for a more uncomplicated cinematic as well though, choosing iconic visual to close out each episode – the regal silhouette, juxtapositions of Margarets old and new, the children playing. This is a Crown that has lost none of its lustre.

Photo: Sophie Mutevelian

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar

Featuring the prime of the most excellent Lia Williams, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an undoubted success for the Donmar Warehouse

“Miss Mackay thinks to intimidate me with quarter-hours”

Everyone has that teacher that they never forget. Sometimes it’s because they were brilliant, sometimes it’s because they bent the rules, sometimes it’s because they were so bloody-minded that they remain so unforgettable. For the selected few pupils of Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls who found themselves in the orbit of the entirely charismatic Miss Jean Brodie, it’s all three reasons at the same time that are destined to make her such an iconic figure in their schooling.

Based on the novel by Muriel Sparks, David Harrower’s new stage adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie not only marks the 100th anniversary year of Spark’s birth but provides a scorchingly fantastic opportunity for Lia Williams to inhabit the title role so fully as to sit proudly aside Maggie Smith’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1969 film. It’s a stunning piece of acting – elevated by stunning wig and costume work – that captures so much of that beguiling power that a teacher can possess. Continue reading “Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar”

News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season

It looks like Josie Rourke is getting a little demob happy at the Donmar, as her penultimate season as artistic director sees a fresh twist on gender swapping that feels like a genuine first. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden will star in a new production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which they will alternate the roles of Isabella and Angelo, midway through the show. Heaven knows how it will work but Lord knows I can’t wait to find out.

Brian Friel’s Aristocrats, directed by Lyndsey Turner, is also added to the slate, and this will be Turner’s fourth staging of a Friel play after Faith Healer, Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Fathers and Sons. The cast includes Elaine Cassidy, Daniel Dawson, David Ganley, Emmet Kirwan, Aisling Loftus, Ciaran McIntyre and Eileen Walsh. Continue reading “News: Casting for 2018 Donmar season”

Too-hot-to-re-review: Hamlet, Harold Pinter

“I shall not look upon his like again”

My lack of willpower when it comes to theatre is infamous, even more so on the rare occasions when I get invited to be someone’s plus one, with the responsibility of filing my own review lifted from the shoulders for once. Thus I found myself at the Harold Pinter for the transfer of the Almeida’s Hamlet, a production I enjoyed immensely on the two occasions I saw it in North London and whose charms I wasn’t entirely sure would translate to the larger theatre here. 

Those fears were largely unfounded – the scale of the intimate family drama that Robert Icke has fashioned from Shakespeare’s ever-present tragedy amplifies effectively, and Andrew Scott’s deeply conversational style still resonates strongly (in the stalls at least) through the familiar verse, finding new readings and meanings. If I’m brutally honest, I don’t think I gained too much from this repeat viewing but that’s just my rarified position – it is still a thrilling piece of theatre and it’s a thrill to see it in the West End.

Running time: 3 hours 35 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Booking until 2nd September, Juliet Stevenson leaves the company on 1st July when she is replaced by Derbhle Crotty

 

The Almeida’s Hamlet transfers to the Harold Pinter

“Most fair return of greetings and desires”

As follows many a sold out run with a high-profile cast, Almeida Associate Director Robert Icke’s new production of Hamlet transfers to the West End for a strictly limited season this summer (read my review here) from 9th June to 2nd September.

Starring BAFTA and Olivier Award winner Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Birdland, Cock, Pride) as the Danish Prince, Hamlet is brought to the stage by the critically acclaimed and multi-award winning creative team behind 1984 and Oresteia. And in further excellent news, the entire cast is making the trip to the West End (although Juliet Stevenson only until 1st July, no news yet on who might step into Gertrude’s shoes). Continue reading “The Almeida’s Hamlet transfers to the Harold Pinter”

Review: Hamlet, Almeida

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” 

The enduring image of Robert Icke’s Hamlet is family – the repeated motif of group of three cleaving together haunts the production as much as Hamlet’s father himself. From the instant and intense bond established between Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes, Icke makes striking emotional sense of the respective grief and ferocity of the latter two, powerfully played by Jessica Brown Findlay and Luke Thompson against Peter Wight’s twinkling charm as their father.

And Icke also gives the tragic visual of Andrew Scott’s Hamlet trying to rebuild his original family unit, joining hands with his mother and the ghost of his father in the midst of the closet scene, willing Juliet Stevenson’s Gertrude to see what he sees, to put things back the way they used to be. And in a stunning montage for the final scene, these trios reform, emphasising the innate happiness of one and the deep tragedy of the other. It is deeply, deeply felt. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Almeida”