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 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National Theatre

#3 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Well join the radical wing of the movement where to be really queer you have, as it were, to nail your foreskin to the transgressive mast. Literally it seems, on occasion.”

I have to admit to not necessarily being the greatest fan of Peter Gill’s writing and seeing a reading of one of his plays after having partaken of a little of the Pride festivities on Saturday afternoon was definitely not one of my wiser moves. But I wanted the complete set of these readings and so I sat down for 2009’s Certain Young Men.

Following the lives of four gay couples and told predominantly in duologues, it had the slight sense of yet another version of La Ronde as established pairings disintegrate and new ones reform. It is more complex than that, as it seeks to present varied and various forms of gay personalities and relationships, resisting the easy definition of a gay community to present a heterogenous grouping of homosexual men with multiple and conflicting desires. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National Theatre”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea as Lee Chandler
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge as Desmond T. Doss
Ryan Gosling – La La Land as Sebastian Wilder
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic as Ben Cash
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Amy Adams – Arrival as Dr. Louise Banks
Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train as Rachel Watson
Natalie Portman – Jackie as Jackie Kennedy
Emma Stone – La La Land as Mia Dolan
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins as Florence Foster Jenkins Continue reading “23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done”

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, this 1996 film adaptation of Emma may have had a starrier cast than the television version from the same year but it sadly pales by comparison. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brittle, aloof performance as Emma Woodhouse, an almost princessy take on the character which may work for the unthinkingness of her actions but something that also detaches her emotionally from her friends and colleagues, robbing the film of the charming resonance it ought to possess as the romantic trials of Highbury unfold around her matchmaking.

This starchiness is something that affects the whole film – Greta Scacchi’s former governess is too mannered for a good friend, Alan Cumming’s Mr Bates just feels wrongly pitched and whilst I normally love any opportunity to see Juliet Stevenson, her arrival as his wife is unbelievable and underplayed, and the delightful Toni Collette struggles with the meek Harriet, her natural ebullience hemmed in awkwardly. Even the normally reliable Jeremy Northam misses the mark as Knightley. (I won’t mention Ewan McGregor’s Frank Churchill to help to erase it from my memory). Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)”

DVD Review: Gosford Park

“Now, now, we don’t want to be thought unsophisticated”

There’s a rather amusing moment on the Gosford Park DVD extras with a short documentary about how director Robert Altman but particularly writer Julian Fellowes tried to ensure the greatest level of authenticity in representing the world of service. Three people who were actually in service in the 1930s were employed as consultants on the film and their insights are genuinely fascinating and it shows. It’s just a shame that Fellowes took so little of that knowledge into creating the fanciful world of Downton Abbey with its blurred distinctions between masters and servants.

There’s no such problem in Altman’s film where the social divisions are sharply defined between upstairs and downstairs but where Gosford Park really grips is in the hierarchies and snobberies that exist throughout, the vagaries of the English class system permeating at all levels. The murder mystery that forms the biggest plot point is deliberately incidental as what is much more compelling is the intricate web of relationships that percolate through the McCordle’s country pile over a long weekend of shooting and the simply gobsmacking ensemble cast that was put together to portray them. Continue reading “DVD Review: Gosford Park”