Film Review: The Invisible Woman (2013)

The Invisible Woman, in which Charles Dickens is a dick, Joanna Scanlan is magnificent and Ralph Fiennes is really rather good as both director and star

“He is a good man…trying to be a good man”

A film I’ve had on my ‘must get round to watching’ list for a wee while now, The Invisible Woman turns out to be an embrassment of riches for pretty much everyone involved. Written by Abi Morgan and adapted from Claire Tomalin’s novel of the same name, its focus is the years-long love affair between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan which had been subject to a superinjunction of its time and thus largely secret.

And directed by Ralph Fiennes who also stars as Dickens, it is a rather fine film indeed, eloquently restrained in its depiction of the emotional impact of him being, well, a cad. We open with Felicity Jones’ Nelly married to someone else at some point in the future but soon flash back to her late teenage years when trying to make it as an actress, her path fatefully crosses with the illustrious writer and his inflated ego. Continue reading “Film Review: The Invisible Woman (2013)”

TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here. Continue reading “TV Review: The English Game (2020)”

TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 2

Laura Carmichael emerges as a late MVP in the second instalment of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess

“Maybe we could have some lemon cake”

Based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, The Spanish Princess was split into two chunks of eight episodes by Starz, a decision which might have made sense for them but didn’t quite come off dramatically. Losing heavy hitters Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort leaves something of a vacuum which is never really replaced as we enter the final straits of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage.

I’m not someone who gets particularly hung up on notions of historical accuracy, particularly with accounts of events of 500 years ago. And when you’re talking about about a Gregory-inspired version which races through 14 years in 8 episodes. that goes double. What is more of an issue here is the fact that Charlotte Hope’s portrayal of Catherine doesn’t really change, physically or emotionally, so that she feels the same as a teenager as she does the 40 year old we end with. Continue reading “TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 2”

TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 1

Series 1 of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess introduces Elliot Cowan and Harriet Walter to the mix with great success

“I won’t be passed around Europe like a colection plate”

Following on from The White Princess, The Spanish Princess is based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, and the first instalment of eight episodes tackles the arrival of Catherine of Aragon to England to meet the man she has been betrothed to since they were both children, Arthur, heir apparent to Henry VII.

The biggest problem, aside from the weather and the racism (members of her court had Moorish and descent), is that the epistolary courtship that had so wooed her teenage heart, was actually written by his younger brother Henry…plot twist. But when Arthur died young, it meant that the plan for peace between England and Spain could still be found in another marriage. Continue reading “TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 1”

Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story. Continue reading “Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)”

Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre

“The fantasy that brings the reality into being”

 As Mike Bartlett’s profile grows and grows, one can’t help but fear that his TV successes will lead to movie commissions but for the moment, he’s not forgotten where he started and with Albion, there’s a ferocious reminder of how theatrically skilled he is. Additionally, there’s one of the performances of the year from Victoria Hamilton so I’d hotfoot it to the Almeida now, there’s no guarantee this one will transfer.

Successful businesswoman Audrey has her world rocked when her son is killed on duty in the Middle East and so she decides to retreat to the countryside, rural Oxfordshire to be precise, where she buys the neglected home of her uncle, along with its once-impressive garden. But what first seems like a fun restoration project snowballs into chaos as her increasingly ambitious plans threaten to push everyone close to her away. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liverpool Everyman

“We will make amends ere long”

After The Faction’s Romeo and Juliet that stretched out beyond the three hour mark, here’s a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that is similarly lengthy – I’m really hoping this isn’t the emergence of a trend because it does no good to anyone in all honesty. Notions of textual fidelity are all well and good but they can also lack dramatic focus – the ever-evolving mutability of Shakespeare’s text is one of its key strengths and it is a mark of directorial nous to be able to harness that potential and deliver it onstage (and if it is going to be long, then it needs not to feel long).

But here, for every innovation that Nick Bagnall comes up with for his production at the Everyman in Liverpool – and there are many of them – there’s an overcooked scene that drags unbearably. It makes for an occasionally difficult piece of theatre but one that also has imaginatively exciting moments too. Ashley Martin-Davis’ design also embodies this conflict in its amorphous undefinability, no particular time or place evoked but rather a vaguely futuristic, dark carnival-esque atmosphere for an unfamiliar Athens and a strange forest of scattered white paper that is a great idea but not quite pulled off. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Liverpool Everyman”