Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk

Nominated for 8 Oscars, can Chrstopher Nolan’s Dunkirk change my mind about war films…?

“The tide’s turning now.
‘How can you tell?’
The bodies are coming back.”

I’m not really a fan of war films, hence having avoided Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk until now. ‘It’s not a war film’ they said, tempting me to overcome my natural antipathy but they lied. It may not be a conventional war film but it remains a punishing film with a whole lot of war in it and so really not my thing at all.

Nolan is a bravura film-maker, that much is true. And this is an audacious take on a much-filmed, much-explored moment in world history. Free from context, meaningful dialogue, narrative thrust, this becomes a study in the desperate struggle for survival of the Allied forces on that beach in Northern France. And all the waiting they did. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk”

23rd Critics’ Choice Awards nominees

Best Picture
The Big Sick
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me by Your Name
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Spielberg – The Post Continue reading “23rd Critics’ Choice Awards nominees”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

Not-a-review: The Undone Years, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Just a quickie to cover this reading of a new play. The Pitch Your Play initiative run by Masterclass offers the opportunity for young writers aged 17-30 to showcase their new and unpublished work in front of an audience. Simon Cotton has had a busy time of it recently as part of Action to the Word’s A Clockwork Orange but he’s also made room to write The Undone Years, a play which looks at the immediate aftermath of the First World War on British family life.

I’m not going to review, this post is mainly for completeness of my theatre trips, but I did think that it was an interesting approach to looking at the enduring effects of war on the day-to-day living, not only on those who survived the battlefield but those who were left behind. And how whole aspects of life had to be reconfigured in light of the huge shadow of the war – how important can one make one’s individual concerns in light of such loss.

Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

“I’ve got the evacuee to prove it”

Now that Blood Brothers has now finished its lengthy London run, the Phoenix Theatre is opening up its doors to new productions: Midnight Tango and Once will come in the new year but first up is Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Goodnight Mr Tom ahead of a UK tour. Michelle Magorian’s novel belongs to the similar strong tradition of children’s literature as Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, that contextualises the Second World War evacuee experience for many children. And David Wood’s adaptation wisely does not attempt to sugar the pill, though billed as a family show and with a beautifully sensitive story of personal awakening at its heart, there is no escaping the brutal shadow of war which ensures the production is never in danger of becoming twee. 

The story brings out a wonderful sense of the potential for emotional growth at any age: Oliver Ford Davies’ gruff but kind Tom encourages the bruised soul that is Will, played here by Ewan Harris (one of three young actors sharing the role), to come out of his shell as the young Londoner is billeted to a Dorset village where he experiences the countryside for the first time, learns to read and write and generally flourishes now away from the troubled, abusive mother left in London. But Will provides a similar service for Tom, releasing him from the emotional paralysis that has gripped him for nigh on 40 years and Ford Davies’ depiction of the slow release of his suppressed paternal instinct is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre”

Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre

“I may have been a brilliant scholar, but I was woefully ignorant of the facts of life.”

Given that last year was the first time I had made the trip to Chichester and took in the vast majority of their 2011 Festival, it is perhaps a little ironic that of the five plays I saw there, a third one has now opened in London. But I have no problems revisiting quality theatre and the double bill of South Downs and The Browning Version is certainly that. As part of the Rattigan centenary celebrations at CFT, David Hare was invited to write a response to The Browning Version and the two public school-set plays were mounted together in the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre to great effect. It has now transferred to the Harold Pinter Theatre (surely forever destined to be known as ‘formerly the Comedy…’) where I caught the last preview with my Aunty Jean who was down for the night.

And it was a great decision. I enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s South Downs again, but to my mind it is The Browning Version, directed by Angus Jackson, that has become richer, deeper and thus even more heartbreaking and by any rights, ought to become one of the hottest tickets in town. My original review of the plays can be read here and the cast has transferred almost in its entirety (I think just one boy has been replaced for the West End run) so I won’t say too much more here aside from a few further reflections. Particularly, I don’t think I gave enough credit to Alex Lawther’s Blakemore and Liam Morton’s Taplow first time round, who both made their professional debut at the Minerva and who both produce empathetically balanced schoolboys with nuanced mixes of eagerness, thoughtlessness and naïveté, boyhood crushes and unaffected good-naturedness. Continue reading “Re-review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva

“You’re 14 and you know what effeminate means, this does not bode well for you Blakemore.”

There have been quite a few revivals of Terence Rattigan shows in theatres across the country to mark his centenary year but leading them all has been Chichester Festival Theatre’s summer season which has paid tribute to the dramatist by both putting on productions of his plays and commissioning new works that have been inspired by his writings. This double bill incorporates both of those by pairing Rattigan’s one-acter The Browning Version with David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a response to the former.

Both plays take place inside public schools, dealing with issues of insecurity and identity in such institutions and the loneliness that can strike whether through failing to fit in or losing oneself so thoroughly in dry academia. South Downs takes the pupils as a starting point, John Blakemore being a precocious 14 year old on a scholarship who doesn’t fit in with his upper-class contemporaries and whose budding intellectualism and refusal to abide by convention rattles his teachers: a nicely irascible Andrew Woodall and a kindly Nicholas Farrell. Continue reading “Review: South Downs/The Browning Version, Minerva”