DVD Review: Richard III (1995)

“I am not made of stone”

The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.

Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”

DVD Review: Le Week-end

“Once the kids have gone, what’s left of us?”

Renewing the creative partnership between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (which has included The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother), Le Week-End was released in 2013 to well-deserved, general acclaim. And it really is well-deserved, this is the third time I’ve seen the film and I still find myself hugely enamoured of its bittersweet portrait of a long-married couple trying to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, with the emphasis very much on bitter.

We first meet Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) on the Eurostar, where we first see the niggling signs of discontentment, the tiny behavioural tics that in isolation seem manageable, but over a lifetime, build up to intolerable degrees. Meg’s frustration boils over with a snafu over Nick’s hotel booking and though they soon replace that establishment with a far fancier one they can ill afford, the scene is set for an excoriating examination into the state of their marriage.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Le Week-end”

Review: A Christmas Carol, Noël Coward Theatre

“Bah humbug”

Thing with resolutions is that it is terribly easy to break them. And having resolved to see no Christmas shows this year, Jim Broadbent only went and decided to do A Christmas Carol in the West End. Not having seen him on stage before, I decided to take the plunge just before heading back up north for the 25th and truth be told, I probably should have left it. 

This adaptation (for there are many around) is by Patrick Barlow, him of The 39 Steps, and has much of the same knockabout energy of that recently departed show. And in Tom Pye’s set of a miniature Victorian theatre in which the play is a play-within-a-play, puppets fly in and out and a genteel atmosphere of old-fashioned fun reigns, overseen by the indubitable twinkle in Broadbent’s eye.  Continue reading “Review: A Christmas Carol, Noël Coward Theatre”

TV Review: London Spy

 “People lie Danny, they lie very well” 

Well this was a disappointment wasn’t it, there’s no two ways about it. Tom Rob Smith’s London Spy started its five episode run most promisingly with its forthrightly modern gay love story – between emotionally reclusive Secret Service operative Alex and Danny, a shift worker and regular on the hard-partying Vauxhall gay clubbing scene. Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw made a powerfully effective couple, negotiating their differences beautifully and believably so that by the time Alex went missing, the substance of the emerging conspiracy theories actually meant something.

But as the plot wound vaguely into labyrinthine dead ends and red herrings, it became increasingly hard to get a handle not just on what was happening but what Smith was trying to say. And directed in would-be sepulchral (but actually just frustratingly dark) gloom by Jakob Verbruggen, the joys of recognising bits of my local Vauxhall soon wore off as you realised that such a stunning supporting cast as Adrian Lester, Clarke Peters and Harriet Walter were indeed being criminally underused or landed with heinous dialogue and what started off irresistibly disintegrated into implausibility. Continue reading “TV Review: London Spy”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

DVD Review: Moulin Rouge

“I’m paid to make men believe what they want to believe” 

‘Spectacular, spectacular!’ It’s donkey’s years since I’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 hit film Moulin Rouge, I probably watched it too many times in a short period of time so I remember declaring myself over it but for a goodly while, I was very much under its spell. And giving it another spin now reminded me why. Its bold and brash vision is just as arresting today as it was over a decade ago and the sheer cinematic vision that it indulges in as sumptuous and inventive as any pastiche-jukebox musical (gotta love a Wikipedia descriptor!) made since, managing that rare feat for a musical of being nominated for best film at the Oscars.

From the fiercely romantic and indeed passionate love story between penniless writer Christian (a fresh-faced Ewan McGregor) and ailing star courtesan Satine (a luminous Nicole Kidman, to a soundtrack that iconoclastically cherry-picks musical snippets from the entire 20th century to create a fabuous collage of sonic invention, the film leaps from the screen with glitter and glee. The costume and production design (Angus Strathie, Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch) is lavish beyond belief, the choreography recalls a marvelous sense of Parisian decadence and the whole thing constantly teeters on the brink of overwhelming. Continue reading “DVD Review: Moulin Rouge”

DVD Review: Paddington (2014)

“I’m going to stuff you, bear”

A rather unexpectedly lovely surprise from the end of last year whose key message of acceptance of foreigners feels ever more pertinent in the current circumstances. Paul King’s Paddington, based on Michael Bond’s classic creation, has that warm feel of a classic family film, full of set-pieces and humour and a deal of minor peril, but none so much as to really make you scared. Instead, there’s a glowing happiness that almost (sadly) feels as old-fashioned as a marmalade sandwich.

As if you didn’t know, Paddington comes from darkest Peru and a wittily filmed black and white prologue shows us how a British geographer called Montgomery Clyde befriended his family in the jungle, eventually leaving with a promise of a place to stay should they ever visit London. When circumstances conspire to leave Paddington alone on a railway platform in W2, he’s taken in by the Brown family and capers ensue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Paddington (2014)”

Film Review: Get Santa

“That is one exceptionally clever squirrel”

A slightly odd addition to the festive film slate, Christopher Smith’s Get Santa has a strangely muted sense of Christmas spirit, which viewed through these Brit flick lenses, never really takes off. Rafe Spall’s failed getaway driver Steve is just out of jail and all he wants is to spend Christmas with his son Tom, a cute Kit Connor. But partner Alison has a new fella, his parole officer is out for blood and his kid seems more preoccupied with the bearded man in a red suit he’s found in the shed.

Of course that turns out to be the real Santa, aka Jim Broadbent, who has crashlanded in Richmond Park taking his sleigh for a test run. And in the course of trying to rescue his reindeer from the pound, he ends up in prison (allowing for the film’s one 24 carat joke as the resident barber does his hair and beard up gang-style to help him blend in) and so it is left to Steve and Tom to save Christmas, even if it means breaking his parole. Continue reading “Film Review: Get Santa”

DVD Review: Einstein and Eddington

“We need English science to prove to everyone just how good we are”

A 2008 BBC film, Einstein and Eddington offers limited pleasure to the Lucy Cohu lover as she plays Einstein’s increasingly estranged wife Mileva and is consequently predominantly left to look moody in the background looking after some mopey moppets. But elsewhere it was a surprisingly engaging piece of film-making, bringing a very human aspect to the work of science, the sacrifices necessary, and also showing that nothing, not even ground-breaking scientific discoveries, happen in moral or ethical vaccums.

The focus is pulling together of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and how against the backdrop of the First World War, a correspondence grew between him and British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington which enabled the Brit to use his greater freedom to gather the necessary proof for the theory and catapult the German-born into the history books. But the pursuit of life-enhancing knowledge has its consequences and this Peter Moffat-written drama doesn’t shy away from showing the emotional damage suffered by all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Einstein and Eddington”

DVD Review: Bright Young Things

“Reader, be glad that you have nothing to do with this world. Its glamour is a delusion, its speed a snare, its music a scream of fear.”

Whilst recently sitting through the 1930s-set play I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, I had that frustrating sensation of being reminded of a film that I couldn’t quite recall, mainly in the carefree attitudes of its lead characters. A post-show drink or three finally got me there, the film was Bright Young Things and so I popped it onto my Lovefilm list as it had been quite a while since I last saw it and I was keen for a rewatch.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies which written in 1930, the film marked the screenwriting and directorial debut of a certain Stephen Fry. Positioned as a satire on this section of society, the plot circles around a fast-living decadent set of aristocrats and bohemians living the high life of cocaine and champagne-fuelled parties completely divorced from the realities and responsibilities of the real world around them. Would-be novelist Adam Fenwick-Symes and party girl fiancée Nina Blount are the central couple whose wedding is forever being put off as he keeps losing the money for it, but the Jack and Karen in their lives – the Hon Agatha Runcible and the fey Miles – are much more fun. Continue reading “DVD Review: Bright Young Things”