Film Review: Cruella (2021)

Emma Stone and Emma Thompson have lots of fun in the entertaining Cruella, which is only just a little bit too long

“Darling, if I’m going to need to repeat myself a lot, this isn’t going to work out”

There’s something a little curious about a film that simultaneously wants to highlight one of cinema’s most iconic villains yet also neuter her most defining attributes. So we can rest assured that no dalmatians are harmed in the telling of this story (or presumably making of this movie) nor is there a cigarette holder to be seen. So what’s left for Cruella to do?

A fair amount as it turns out. Craig Gillespie’s film finds an origin tale for her in 1970s London (story by Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel, and Steve Zissis), locating her at the vanguard of the nascent punk movement (or at least a Disneyfied version of it). It’s a nifty move that forefronts her creative endeavours, whilst adding to a notorious canon of fashion geniuses gone ‘woo-hoo’. Continue reading “Film Review: Cruella (2021)”

TV Review: The Bletchley Circle Series 1

Rachael Stirling and Anna Maxwell Martin are fantastic in Series 1 of The Bletchley Circle, which I’ve finally gotten round to watching 

“You really think that just by listening to the wireless, you can tell the police where to look for a murder victim”

I don’t really know how I have left it this late to finally watch The Bletchley Circle, just nine years since series 1 first aired in the UK. It is tailor-made for my interests too: Rachael Stirling, Anna Maxwell Martin, women in wartime(ish), oh and Rachael Stirling 😍 and with the show being on one of my streaming services, I finally took the plunge. This miniseries was written by Guy Burt and directed by Andy De Emmony, with Julie Graham and Sophie Rundle rounding out the lead cast.

And but of course, I loved it. An all-too-brief three episodes take us through the crime-solving exploits of four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park but now, in 1952, find their talents ignored by a resumption of traditional societal values. As a serial killer murders young women across London and the police fail to take their warnings sufficiently seriously, the foursome start to delve into the investigation themselves despite the intense danger that emerges. Continue reading “TV Review: The Bletchley Circle Series 1”

Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre

“I suppose his…fortune had some bearing”

The choice to adapt Jane Austen’s endlessly popular novel Pride and Prejudice for the stage, as Simon Reade as done for this version at Regents Park’s Open Air Theatre, may well be one universally acknowledged as a good business decision. And whilst it may naturally lose some of the linguistic acuity that characterises the best of Austen’s work and provide a stately and solid, rather than superlative, piece of theatre, Deborah Bruce’s production has an undeniable elegance and a rather irresistible charm that many may find hard to resist.

There are few surprises in Reade’s adaptation apart from the skill with which he has compressed and filleted the story, so that it keeps an entirely recognisable shape, populated by all the well-loved characters doing what they do best, over the 2 and three quarter hour running time. Daughters of a country gentleman who hasn’t quite kept up his responsibilities to them and a mother all-too-keen to sort them our, the five Bennett sisters find themselves in need of securing their position in society in the only way they can, through marriage.  Continue reading “Review: Pride and Prejudice, Open Air Theatre”

Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street Theatre

“Don’t forget about the goblin in the attic”

Written early in his career in 1852, Ibsen’s play St John’s Eve (or St John’s Night as it has been retitled here in this translation by James McFarlane) was so poorly received that it was brushed under the carpet somewhat and not even included in his collected works. Following on from last year’s successful version of another neglected Ibsen piece Little Eyolf, director Anthony Biggs returns to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see if lightning can strike twice by giving St John’s Night its UK premiere. This may have been a preview but for me, I’m not so sure that it did succeed, instead reminding us why some plays are left to collect dust.

This is very much an example of the playwright-in-progress , being unlike any other Ibsen play that I know, as it is a fairy-tale comedy, taking influence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but putting a decidedly Nordic spin on it. The play is set on a Norwegian farm whose ownership is unclear after the death of Mr Berg. Berg’s second wife lives in one house and is trying to secure the inheritance for her daughter by finding a good marriage and she invites her chosen victim Birk, with two of his friends, to join in their midsummer revels. Berg’s ageing father and naïve daughter live in another, older house on the estate which happens to have a resident goblin upstairs and when the young people decide to take their party up to a mystical hill, the goblin – a Puck-like figure – spikes their drink with a potion that unlocks all sorts of hidden memories. Continue reading “Review: St John’s Night, Jermyn Street Theatre”