DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)

“Joseph, please don’t hate me”

As one of those stories that so many of us learnt whilst very young, the tale of the Nativity occupies a near-unassailable position in the cultural consciousness and so it is unsurprising that it has received the odd televisual adaptation or two. But both versions that I watched this week suffered criminally from a po-faced seriousness, trying to create a literal interpretation of the Biblical story despite the ever-so-tiny possibility that it might not necessarily be based in deep realism…

The Nativity Story, the 2006 film version, written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is particularly onerous, deadly serious in tone and mostly traditional in its storytelling, so that Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary unblinkingly accepts the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and the news that she’s gonna be expecting. Yet Hardwicke can’t resist a little of the Bella Swan stroppiness as Mary gets to complain (unrealistically) about her enforced betrothal to Joseph.

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Short Film Review #17

Mockingbird

Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these films comes from nowhere to just punch in the guts with its downright amazingness yet simultaneously leaving unable to really articulate just why it is so. Joe Tunmer’s Mockingbird is such a film – achingly beautiful, gorgeously shot and infinitely moving. William Houston is extraordinary, Eliza Darby refreshingly appealing and there’s bonus Olivia Williams – what more do you want?!

Farrington

A 7 minute clip from Aneil Karia, Farrington is one of the funnier short films I’ve had the pleasure to watch recently. Robert Bathurst plays an investment banker named Henry who opts to take a wee career break to take part in a reality TV show where he will have 12 days to try and learn a whole new craft and convince a panel at the end that he is indeed a master of said skill. The joy comes from what that thing is and I won’t spoil it here, save to say it is refreshingly un-PC and leads to some cracking lines from the team of ‘experts’ set up to help, including Prasanna Puwanarajah and James Garnon. Definitely recommended.

Rover’s Return

The central idea of Rover’s Return – rich person pays someone to babysit their dearest love, who turns out to be a pet – and something goes horribly wrong – is not a new one – I’ve seen at least two other short films execute something similar. It’s clearly not a bad idea and who knows who had it first but coming in now for me, this version felt a little uninspired. Indira Varma is the high-flyer who is heading to Paris for a nookie-filled break and Andrea Lowe her junior colleague who is looking after the mutt in her absence. She’s inexperienced with dogs and predictably things go pear-shaped – it’s all a bit predictable and lacks any particularly unique facet to hook the attention, either in Oliver Ledwith’s direction or Patrick Ledwith’s script. 

The Honeymoon Suite

Possessed of an utterly gorgeous rasping voice, Alexis Zegerman is one of those actors I could listen to all day, but for her short film debut, The Honeymoon Suite, she opted to remain behind the camera. Lola Zidi-Rénier and Tim Key take on the role of a newly-wed Jewish couple who barely know each other, pushed together in some kind of arranged marriage and as they tumble into their hotel room after the ceremony, they get their first moment of quiet together, but it is the worst kind of awkward silence that fills the room. As they painfully tease out detail after detail about each other that seems to make them increasingly ill-suited together, they eventually find a tiny glimmer of hope that things might not be so bad after all. It is well done and nicely understated by all involved.

Veils

Another film funded by the Jewish Film Council is Dan Susman’s Veils, an insightful look into the Jewish/Palestinian conflict through the eyes of impending marriage for a Jewish girl and a Palestinian man in modern-day North London. As each prepare themselves on the wedding day, we see how the intransigent attitudes of some of their extended families are so strongly held that not even the joy of nuptial bliss can sway them, the difficulties of reconciliation laid bare in front of us as grandfather rejects grandson, family friends finding the most obscure of excuses not to attend. It is well-shot and cleverly structured too in the way that it teases the expectations. 

Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle

“I think most of us are walking around in a sort of slumber really”

With a revival of The Pride just announced as the next production in Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Studios residency, it seemed like a good time to visit Alexi Kaye Campbell’s latest play Bracken Moor at the Tricycle. That said, I have to admit to not being the greatest fan of this ambitious mash-up of political/economic drama and ghost story which is co-produced by Shared Experience and directed by their own Polly Teale. In the midst of the 1930s financial crisis, Yorkshire landowner Harold and his wife Elizabeth are still shell-shocked by the ghastly death of their young son Edgar ten years since and only now are they acquiescing to an extended visit from their old friends Vanessa and Geoffrey. But as they retrace their old friendship, the presence of the visitors’ son Terence awakens something more sinister.

Terence was Edgar’s boyhood best friend and within a few nights, appears to become possessed by Edgar’s restless spirit. This provokes his parents to finally start to deal with their buttoned-up grief but in hugely different ways. Helen Schlesinger’s extraordinarily affecting Elizabeth clings to every possible shred of hope that she could actually be communicating with her lost son and the rawness of her grief is spell-binding. And the much more pragmatic Harold, Antony Byrne in classically old-school English mode, finds himself questioning the decisions he has to make about a dispute over pit closures, his capitalist certainties challenged by this brush with the unknown. Continue reading “Review: Bracken Moor, Tricycle”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2

“Fools tell the truth”

Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.

I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”

DVD Review: The Way We Live Now

“We’ll be making history gentleman, and money too”

I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now mid-November and as my first Anthony Trollope novel, I rather enjoyed reading it. So with time on my hands for once over Christmas, I decided to watch the 2001 BBC adaptation which I didn’t watch at the time. Prolific period adaptor Andrew Davies was on hand to turn this lengthy novel into a four parter (just about 5 hours in total) and I found it to be a rather effective rendering of a most complex world of plots and subplots which, although a tad disappointing in its ending, was well worth the time to savour and enjoy.

If it were on the stage, it would be labelled all over as a ‘timely revival’ as Trollope’s main thrust concerns the deviousness of financiers and politicos and the depths that society will sink to in order to maintain its position. There’s also love and good natured people involved to and the balance between the ever-spinning storylines is very well done. At the heart of it all is David Suchet’s Augustus Melmotte, surely one of his best ever performances, a foreign businessman who attempts to reinvent himself as a Englishman of pedigree by buying his way into business, society, property, the House of Commons, his ambitions know no bounds. And as he does so, many around him attempt to jump on his coat-tails for the ride up, not least the aristocratic but impoverished Carburys.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Way We Live Now”

Review: Fireface, Young Vic

“There’s a naked man in here who says our children should be committed”

Tucked away in the intimate Clare studio at the back of the Young Vic is Fireface, a 1997 work by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, directed by Sam Pritchard, the winner of the 2012 JMK Award for visionary new theatre directors. And with the aid of an intriguingly strong cast and Amanda Stoodley’s wide chipboard frame of a set, forming a timber cage for a dysfunctional family to play out their not-inconsiderable dramas, Pritchard has certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Quite how one judges his measure of success though is a matter of debate. He clearly has a keen eye for the highly theatrical: switching from having the actors sitting facing the audience and speaking their lines out to us rather than to each other to a more naturalistic style with a dizzying frequency and overlapping the scenes to increase the disconcerting effect of estrangement. It initially feels apt as a way to evoke the disquiet at the heart of this family home where Kurt and Olga are seething with teenage injustice, railing against their distracted parents and exploring an increasingly too-close bond full of burning desire. Continue reading “Review: Fireface, Young Vic”

Review: Skåne, Hampstead Downstairs

“It all got too much and we did something we shouldn’t have”

Continuing the season of new writing downstairs at the Hampstead Theatre is Pamela Carter’s play Skåne. I was particularly interested in this when it was first announced as having previously lived in Sweden, I was able to recognise the title ‘Skåne’ as the southernmost region in Sweden – basically the equivalent of calling a play Dorset – and advise all and sundry on the correct pronunciation: it sounds something like Skor-ner with the emphasis on the first syllable. But sadly there wasn’t the shedload of Swedish references that I could have nodded sagely at nor the attention to detail with props that I longed to recognise. Instead, there’s a tale of the repercussions of a heady affair as both parties belatedly decide return to their respective partners and families.

We open in the midst of a joint family conference, called by the wronged partners, Siri and Kurt, to allow the adulterous Christian and Malin to explain to their children and spouses exactly why they disappeared off together, and more significantly, why they have opted to return. It is a fascinating beginning, full of tension and intrigue, contrasting family dynamics and whole worlds of emotions as everyone reacts differently to the news that things will be returning to just as they were. What then follows is [spoiler alert] a journey back in time as scenes play out showing how the characters had been affected by the impact of the affair and how they all interacted – in some cases, providing surprising revelations – ending up at the beginning of the liaison in all its bare sexuality. Continue reading “Review: Skåne, Hampstead Downstairs”

Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court

“What’s an agnostic?”

Last up in the set of rehearsed readings for the International Playwrights Season was the play Pagans by Ukrainian Anna Yablonskaya. This reading was overlaid with great sadness when it was revealed that the playwright was killed in the Moscow Domodedovo Airport bombing on 24th January 2011 on her way to collect a prize for the screenplay of this very play. It had been scheduled well before her tragic death and the decision was never in doubt to continue with it as a beautiful tribute to her life and work.

Directed by Simon Godwin and translated from the Russian in which she wrote by Rory Mullarkey, Pagans follows the impact of the return of Natalya Stepanovna, long-estranged from her son Oleg, on his family, in particular his over-worked wife Marina and awkward university-dropout daughter Kristina, and other people in their life. They are all non-believers but she is fervently religious and though they are initially sceptical of her desire to bring Jesus into their lives to save them, they soon find out that the Lord (or is it Natalya) works in mysterious ways. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Pagans, Royal Court”

Review: Blue/Orange, Arcola

“Why do you think you’re here?”

Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange is the penultimate production to be played in the main space at the Arcola Theatre before their enforced move to new premises. Celebrating its tenth anniversary with its first London revival, Tiata Fahodzi, a UK theatre company set up to provide an African cultural perspective to British theatre, have reworked this three-hander into an all-female production, changing the gender of all three of its protagonists. This is a review of the final preview performance.

Set in October 2002 in an NHS psychiatric hospital in London, Juliet, a young black woman, has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and is coming to the end of her period of commitment. Emily, her psychiatrist who is in her first year of practising has her doubts about Juliet’s suitability to be released, suspecting that she may have schizophrenia and has invited her superior, Hilary, to witness her final interview with her patient with the hope of having her recommitted. What we soon come to realise though is that Juliet’s interests are not necessarily at the forefront of the minds of the doctors as there is much more at stake here for these two women. Continue reading “Review: Blue/Orange, Arcola”

Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“I feel like my soul has been bathed in acid”

You know there is a problem when a phrase like the above resonates strongly with you during a play… After a successful take on events post-Macbeth in Dunsinane comes Dennis Kelly’s The Gods Weep which is very heavily inspired by Kurosawa’s film Ran, which was in turn was influenced by King Lear. Admittedly this was a first preview, but at close to four hours long, and full of chaotic fighting, much blood, dead cats and squirrels and an inordinate amount of swearing, this had the amazing effect of making me actually want to watch paint dry instead: it’s not only the gods who will be weeping by the end of this run.

Replacing the feudal kingdoms of Lear/Ran with its modern-day equivalent, a multi-national corporation, the CEO Colm decides that after a lifetime of building an empire through brutal and savage means, it is time to relinquish power to his two subordinates. However in doing so, he unleashes a bloody power struggle between the two rivals with truly devastating consequences and ramifications which force Colm to face up to a lifetime of questionable decisions. Continue reading “Review: The Gods Weep, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”