My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench
“You did this, didn’t you”
Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.
She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”
Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie
“I want everything to stop being a struggle”
To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.
For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”
With a mostly new cast, Nina Raine’s deeply considered and thought-provoking Consent transfers from the National to the Harold Pinter
“It’s a fight between two opposing narratives”
Nina Raine’s Consent is yet another play to make the West End transfer out of the National Theatre’s Dorfman space. And a well-timed one it is too as even though it is only a year since it ran, the landscape when talking about how aspects of society deal with sexual assault and rape is significantly different. Read my 4 star review for Official Theatre here.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Consent is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11th August
“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”
“The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race”
The biggest shame about the long awaited return of Nicole Kidman to the London stage is that it has given many a lazy hack an excuse to rehash ‘that’ Charles Spencer quote without considering just what they are reducing this Academy Award-winning actor to. Which perhaps is an irony that is suited to Photograph 51, the play that has brought her here, a portrait of British scientist Rosalind Franklin whose role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, of “the secret to life” itself as the publicity breathily puts it, is one that has been shamefully sidelined.
Anna Ziegler’s play explores the life of the research scientist with surprising depth and clarity – there’s no danger of being blinded by science here – as she follows the two rival teams trying to crack the code of the double helix. Franklin was the only woman working on either team and there is no hiding of the fact that she was strong-willed to the point of being obstinate and innately distrustful of those around her, even her King’s College colleagues, and thus showing how personality as much as intelligence had a role to play in the discoveries that were to come. Continue reading “Review: Photograph 51, Noël Coward”
“I’m looking for the Tank Man”
There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.
At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher. Continue reading “Review: Chimerica, Almeida Theatre”
“What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”
So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.
And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”
“Like sands through the hourglass…”
The quote above is not actually from Alan Hollinghurst’s new version of Racine’s 1670 play Bérénice, but to be honest, no lines from it stuck in my head long enough over a post-show drink for me to record them and thus we have Days of our Lives… The reason that that came into my mind is because the predominant image of Lucy Osborne’s striking design of Josie Rourke’s production is of streams of sand tumbling from the ceiling even as we enter the auditorium, which has been partially reconfigured into the round, with stalls right being shifted 45 degrees to where the stage usually is but the circle seats remaining where they are.
Bérénice has long been in love with Titus, but as she is a Palestinian queen and he is the new Emperor of Rome, theirs is not an easy romance. He decides to finally take her as his wife now that power is his but when he discovers that the Roman public are not that keen on the prospect of a foreign queen, Titus is forced to weigh his personal feelings against his imperial duties. He sends his best friend Antiochus to comfort Bérénice though it soon becomes apparent that he is also in love with her and so a tangle of pained feelings and unfulfilled passion plays out between the trio. Continue reading “Review: Bérénice, Donmar Warehouse”
“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”