Film Review: Saint Maud (2019)

Intensely disturing and superbly acted, the psychological horror of Saint Maud is a stunning debut film from Rose Glass, 

“To save a soul, that’s quite something”

I don’t often reach for a horror film myself but the critical buzz around Saint Maud proved irresistible, along with the presence of Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle in the lead roles. And I’m glad I did, even if it proves to be a genuinely disturbing and perturbing filmic experience (and bravo to whoever is designing the artwork, the film’s posters are just stunning).

Clark plays Maud, a private agency nurse who has found herself in Scarborough in the midst of some kind of crisis. She believes that God is talking to her and when she takes on the role of caring for the terminally ill Amanda, a gregarious former dancer played with biting relish by a fantastic Ehle, she believes herself to be called to divine action to save a lost cause. Continue reading “Film Review: Saint Maud (2019)”

Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Armando Iannucci’s rollicking adaptation of The Personal History of David Copperfield is huge amounts of fun to watch

“You can’t complain about a nice bit of kipper”

You might not have picked a Charles Dickens adaptation for an Armando Iannucci big screen feature but evidenced in The Personal History of David Copperfield, it’s a pretty darn fantastic match. It’s a rollicking romp through the story, absolutely refreshed by this treatment as its warm comedy is sprinkled with notes of ruminative reflection on class and identity and just a touch of satirical bite. And by employing a truly diverse and talented ensemble, there’s something special here. 

For all the magnificence of Tilda Swinton’s Betsey Trotwood (truly exceptional), Peter Capaldi’s Mr Micawber and Ben Whishaw’s malevolent Uriah Heep, the real joy in the casting comes from the opportunities now given. Nikki Amuka-Bird is fantastic as the starched Mrs Steerforth, the kind of role she just hasn’t gotten to play before; so too Benedict Wong as Wickfield, it’s great to see such talent stretch their acting muscle this way, and so well too. Continue reading “Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)”

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: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”

Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National Theatre

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

“My God, I wanted three daughters like the Brontes and I ended up with a family fit for a Channel Four documentary”

There was a special currency for Sarah Daniels’ Neaptide being the opening play in the #ntQueer season as this 1986 drama was actually the first by a living female playwright at the National Theatre – an astonishing fact all told. And it is perhaps sadly predictable that Daniels now finds herself somewhat neglected as a writer, despite being prolific in the 80s and 90s.

Neaptide proved a strong choice too, a powerful exploration of the extent to which lesbian prejudice permeated society and institutions even as late as this, and indeed how little we’ve moved on – in some ways. Daniels presents us with three generations of lesbians and explores how they deal with working or studying at the same school when a scandal threatens to upturn all of their lives. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Neaptide, National Theatre”

Review: King Lear, Old Vic

“’Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind”

Though no spring chicken myself, I’m not quite the right age to be truly excited about Oscar winning actress-turned politician-turned actress again Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage. I was more intrigued than truly excited when she was announced in the title role of Deborah Warner’s King Lear for the Old Vic for though I’m well aware of who she is, her film and TV credits never broke through into what I was watching either back then or since. (Feel free to recommend her must-see performances – I’ll add them to the list of things I’ll get round to watching one day.)

But I’m always here for casting decisions that shake the established order somewhat and with Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks and Rhys Ifans in the cast too, there was no chance I wouldn’t go see this. Full disclosure though, I went to the final £10 preview so treat this review how you will. For it is simultaneously an effortful and frustratingly vague production that never truly convinces of the attempted scope of its artistic vision. Fortunately, this often-times ephemeral and occasionally perplexing Lear is anchored by a striking performance from Jackson. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Old Vic”

A new audiobook adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses

“It’s beyond my control”

Just a quick note to say that an original audio adaptation of the love letters of Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been released by Audible UK. Christopher Hampton’s own adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel is currently running in a well-received production by Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse (here’s my review), and this audio recording has been designed to complement that show. Directed and edited for audio by Zoé Ford, and translated by Jack Sain, this selection of letters featured within the original book sheds new intimate light onto the complex web of relationships in the play and best of all, it is free and downloadable from audible.co.uk/Donmar!

DVD Review: The Falling

“What’s a man I’ve never met got to do with all of this?”

Having cast an eye over the reviews for Carol Morley’s The Falling, I was interested to see how well it has been received by real cinephiles, their writing suffused with cinematic references to the likes of Lucrecia Martel and Lucile Hadžihalilović, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Wicker Man. I was interested because the film really turned me off, despite containing many things that I love – not least a cast with Monica Dolan and Maxine Peake and a score by Tracey Thorn, late of Everything But The Girl.

Set in 1969, The Falling concerns an outbreak of what we now call mass psychogenic illness, aka hysterical fainting at an English girls’ school. At the heart of it are best friends Lydia and Abbie, the latter’s exploration of her sexuality (namely by sleeping with the former’s brother) sparking an intensification of feeling which leads to tragedy. And as a result, an epidemic of fainting spells sweeps the school, affecting even staff, unleashing its own torrent of private truths about Lydia’s family circumstances. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Falling”

Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

“The longer I live, the more I’m tempted to think that the only moderately worthwhile people in the world are you and I”

It’s 30 years since Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ extraordinary epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses premiered in Stratford, took the West End and Broadway by storm and was turned into the most seductive of period movies in Dangerous Liaisons. Since then, the emotional war games of former lovers the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont have rarely been seen but Josie Rourke’s has revived them just in time for Christmas at the Donmar.

The decaying grandeur of the French aristocracy in 1782 – just a few years away from révolution breaking out remember – is neatly suggested by the peeling walls and dust sheets that litter Tom Scutt’s set. And their enduring decadence remains obvious in the still-luxurious quality of their clothing (some gorgeous costume work here) but Scutt and Rourke make clear that the lifestyle being pursued by Merteuil, Valmont and their ilk is doomed, regardless of how their games play out. Continue reading “Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse”