Film Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)

Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman cast a starry glow over Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl

“When was it that people stopped thinking of ambition as a sin and started thinking of it as a virtue?”

There’s something almost anarchic about the way in which The Other Boleyn Girl casually disregards history in favour of melodrama. But there’s no other way in which Justin Chadwick’s film could reasonably play it, concertinaing some 15 years of tumultuous history into less than two hours of really rather enjoyably trashy entertainment.

Peter Morgan’s screenplay adapts Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name, and fully embodies the bodice-ripping nature of the historical fiction on which she has made her name. They reimagine Mary Boleyn as a virtuous, wholesome younger sister for Anne, thereby creating an unexpectedly complicated rival for Henry VIII’s affections. Continue reading “Film Review: The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)”

Film Review: Notes on a Scandal (2006)

A marvellously against-type Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett score a huge hit in Notes on a Scandal

“Lasagne irritates my bowels, I’ll ask for a small portion”

Intelligently adapted from Zoë Heller’s novel by Patrick Marber, you get the feeling that Notes on a Scandal would be good even if anyone was acting in it. But since Richard Eyre’s film boasts Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett as its leads, it is something extraordinary.

Barbara and Sheba both teach at the same Islington secondary school. Barbara a long-serving history teacher, Sheba a brand new recruit to the art department, an unlikely friendship develops between the pair, one which detonates when the latter starts an affair with a pupil. Continue reading “Film Review: Notes on a Scandal (2006)”

Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)

Despite a mostly good cast, Tulip Fever proves a punishingly dull film – not even self-isolation should drive you to this one

“Amsterdam was captivated by a flower”

The signs weren’t good. Tulip Fever was filmed in 2014 but was pushed and pulled around the schedules before it finally surfaced in 2017, notorious producer Harvey Weinstein clearly hoping that some post-production magic would win over reluctant test audiences. Safe to say though, such an amount of chopping and changing does no-one any favours as Justin Chadwick’s film remains punishingly dull. 

Based on Deborah Moggach’s book, with screenplay by Moggach and Tom Stoppard, the story (mainly) centres on Sophia, an orphan whisked out of convent life by a wealthy merchant who wants her essentially as a brood mare, But things ain’t clicking in the bedroom, so Sophia tumbles into an affair with the artist her husband has commissioned to do their portrait. And competing for screentime, tulip mania has hit the Netherlands. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)”

Not-a-TV Review: Dracula

Three feature-length episodes of a new take on Dracula prove an indulgence too far

“One can have too much of a good thing”

I found episode 1 to be a bit of a drag and the subsequent two parts of Dracula were no better, worse in fact, as Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel takes the daddy of all vampires to places (and times) new for no good reason at all. Dolly Wells’ casting as the continuation of the Van Helsing bloodline had some great moments due to some witty writing and her wonderfully dry interpretation but there’s only so much the charismatic Claes Bang could do with the lord of darkness himself.

 

TV Review: Dracula, Episode 1

I get through Dracula, mainly due to the #Heffklaxon but there’s some issues to address moving forward…

“I’ve been dying to meet you”

Eesh! The much-trumpeted return of Dracula to our TV screens wouldn’t have interested me quite so much if it hadn’t been John Heffernan’s central presence in the cast as Jonathan Harker. Any chance to sound the #Heffklaxon is much appreciated and with Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat at the helm, a certain measure of schlocky entertainment feels guaranteed.

And I think it gets there, just about. Wise-cracking nuns called Agatha, a highly self-aware script and a barnstorming lead performance from Claes Bang as an entirely seductive count go a long way to making this a success. But it is a long way, the pacing over the hour and a half running time felt perilously slow at times, Jonny Campbell’s direction could possibly use some tightening up although he nails many a scare very well. Continue reading “TV Review: Dracula, Episode 1”

TV Review: No Offence Series 3

After a brilliantly brutal opening, the third series of No Offence twists into something different as the team face off against the far-right

“We’ve all led each other to each other”

The third series of No Offence started with a real bang as they kept us all on our toes by offing one of its lead characters. And though things calmed down considerably, the ongoing main story of Friday Street’s battle against the rising far-right threat offered an interesting spin for the series.

Paul Abbott’s writing always excels when it puts its characters in the forefront and it’s no different here. Dealing with grief (in their own inimitable way) only added to the portrayals, as Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy and Will Mellor all rose to the occasion, and it was great to see more of Paul Ritter’s maverick forensics guy. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3”

TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1

The third series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns to Channel 4 in brilliantly unsentimental form

“What the f*** just happened?”

No Offence makes a welcome return to our television screens but with a quirk of timing, finds itself occupying some of the same space as Bodyguard. Who knows whether Paul Abbott and Jed Mercurio met in a pub to compare storylines and in any case, when they’re both done as compellingly as this, it really doesn’t matter.

We return to Friday Street police station and the big concern for the Manchester Met is currently local politics, a mayoral race potentially being derailed by the efforts of a far right pressure group. And during a hustings event, things go terribly, tragically wrong in a way that seems set to shape the emotional palette for the entire series to come. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1

“A police presence is non-negotiable”

Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.

And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”

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)”