Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)

“Dear Emma bears everything so well”

Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Emma for the television may have suffered by being released in the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film version but it is infinitely superior, a much better observed version blessed with an excellent cast, many of whom have gone on to bigger things indeed. Emma herself is played by Kate Beckinsale, Mr Knightley is the recently-returned-to-our-stages Mark Strong, Samantha Morton is the willing Miss Smith and the ever-superb Olivia Williams stars as the inscrutable Miss Fairfax.

Star-spotting aside, it really works as a piece of drama. There’s a real warmth behind the whole affair which keeps it entirely engaging, Beckinsale’s Miss Woodhouse is the personification of charm and her gaucheness feels genuinely couched in innocence as she leads Morton’s Harriet a merry dance with her misguided match-making and eventually learns more about the world than her Highbury blinkers ever allowed. And Mark Strong’s pragmatically strong (ba-dum-tish) Knightley is a perfect match for her, practical in every sense as a hands-on landlord. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)”

Re-review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic

 

“You’ll see, you’ll get a blessing for this”

Too often, I leave a play thinking I really want to see it again and never quite manage to get round to booking for it. But I loved Ivo van Hove’s extraordinary take on A View from the Bridge so much on first viewing that I knew there was no chance I wouldn’t make sure a repeat visit would be inked into the diary. And it was just glorious getting to experience this transcendent production of Arthur Miller’s classic play again, to really soak in its textures and further appreciate the acute psychological insight it brings to the work.

There’s not too much more that I can say about the play that wasn’t already mentioned in my original review and being a part of it again simply reaffirmed how I felt that first time. The tension that it creates in the Young Vic almost immediately is exquisitely painful, the knowledge of that final scene coming an additional pleasure, that central scene between Phoebe Fox and Luke Norris (I noticed this time that the way she jumps on him here is identical to the way she jumps on Eddie at the beginning of the play, showing just how complex these relationships are) – I really can’t imagine a better piece of theatre emerging in this country this year. 

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Tristam Kenton
Booking until 7th June, sold out but day seats and return are available from 10am on the day – you will kick yourself if you miss this

Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic

 

“Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better”

And so one of the theatre industry’s best kept secrets is blown wide open – Ivo van Hove is one of the most exciting directors in the world at the moment. I have been near-evangelical about his Dutch-spoken work for a while now (2 of his productions have been shows of the year for me) – booking six hours of Shakespeare here, four hours of Ingmar Bergman there, even going to Amsterdam to see his work with the Toneelgroep Amsterdam company he has so gloriously led for 14 years. So it is a bit of a coup for the Young Vic to secure him for this production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge which sees him work with British actors for the first time.

From the slow rise of its beautiful opening to the excoriating tragedy of a final montage that will live long in the memory, this production simply confirms van Hove as a man whose theatrical vision is just extraordinary. Here, he takes an already magisterial play, strips it of all theatrical fripperies and pretensions, and distils it into a blisteringly acute psychodrama that is just devastatingly precise in its forensic detail. The experience of watching it in akin to taking a deep breath and then being unable to exhale until the very end, its interval-less momentum carrying the audience right through its two hours and it is hard to see how this will be beaten by any other piece of theatre this year. Continue reading “Review: A View from the Bridge, Young Vic”

DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)

 “I need to know if he still loves me”

Joe Wright’s film version of Anna Karenina was, for me, a hugely under-rated piece of work, a sumptuous feast for the eyes in his inimitable style. But I can see it might not be to everyone tastes, which is where the 2000 mini-series should step in as an ideal replacement. Stretching out luxuriously over four hours, David Blair’s production of Tolstoy’s classic, adapted by Allan Cubitt, is something quite close to triumphant, not least for a desperately compelling performance from Helen McCrory as Anna but from a detailed realisation of so many aspects of the novel.

For though the tragic love triangle of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky is the best known strand of the story, Levin and Kitty’s relationship is just as significant in the grand scheme of things and there’s also room here for a fully-fleshed version of Anna’s brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. The way in which the multiple lines are followed is expertly done and begins to do some justice to the weight tome that is the piece of literature on which it is based. Continue reading “DVD Review: Anna Karenina (2000)”

DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

“Things aren’t always what they seem”

My anticipation levels for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were rather high, I didn’t make it to the cinema but its award-winning pedigree backed up by several people recommending it to me, assured that I would love it. And though it is a genre I have neglected, I do love a good spy thriller. That said, I’d not read the 1974 John Le Carré novel it was based on or seen the TV show, so I was coming to it with completely fresh eyes. I’d been warned that I’d need to concentrate so I took care to ensure that distractions were kept to a minimum as I watched the DVD, but I have to say that I really wasn’t carried away by the film or swept up into its world of intrigue.

When an MI6 agent is gunned down mid-meet in Hungary, the head of the secret service Control and his lieutenant George Smiley resign in acknowledgement of the failure, but Smiley is soon covertly rehired to look into the possibility that it was a mole that gave the game away. With the help of two colleagues, he begins to investigate the shortlist of suspects to find out who is the one who has betrayed his country. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson brings a measured solemnity to the densely complex plot which comprises of a bewildering number of characters and details which I struggled to take in and sustain the requisite level of interest. Continue reading “DVD Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”

DVD Review: The Young Victoria

“Do you ever feel like a chess piece being moved around in a game against your will”

Much as my favourite genre of theatres is old-school musicals, my favourite type of film is a lavish costume drama, especially and since I’m nicely ensconced at my parents’ house with their flash new television, I’m going to blog a few of them. First up is The Young Victoria, the 2009 film detailing the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria and the beginnings of her grand romance with Albert. I have a serious girl crush on Emily Blunt, she was the highlight of The Devil Wears Prada for me but I really fell in love with her whilst watching the bloopers from the film, she has the kind of irresistible laugh I could listen to all day but I do think she is becoming a really interesting actor (who someone should get on the stage!).

Written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and including producers like Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson – a major force behind getting it made apparently – the film starts off with Victoria as heir presumptive to her uncle King William IV and trying to fend off the avaricious advances of her mother the Duchess of Kent and the hugely ambitious comptroller of her household Sir John Conroy. Matters are complicated by her other uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, who wants to use his family connections to build a British/Belgian alliance, but his decision to use his nephew to seduce his way into her affections has unexpected repercussions for everyone, as the nephew is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Young Victoria”