Film Review: Ammonite (2020)

Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan deliver committed performances in Francis Lee’s Ammonite but the film rarely excites

“You know you can always ask me for help”

Francis Lee follows up the exceptional God’s Own Country with another story about hard labour in LGBTQ+ lives, this time focusing on the first letter of the acronym. Ammonite follows the life of 18th century fossil hunter Mary Anning, a woman working hard in her chosen field but stifled by Victorian attitudes which resulted in her discoveries being shown without any credit being given to her in her lifetime.

Lee couples this narrative of historical misogyny with a love story of his own making, a speculative romance that sees a growing connection build with Charlotte Murchison. Their ‘meet-cute’ comes at the behest of Murchison’s husband, a geologist wanting to learn from Anning’s practices and when he opts to take a trip away which conveniently coincides with his wife falling into a depression, a period of convalesence under Mary’s care in Lyme Regis is prescribed. Continue reading “Film Review: Ammonite (2020)”

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)”

Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Review: Curtains, Rose Theatre Kingston

As our ageing population continues to, well, age, Stephen Bill’s Curtains at the Rose Theatre Kingston puts euthanasia in the spotlight.

“Fourteen more years and you’ll get your telegram from the Queen”

Stephen Bill’s 1987 play Curtains feels at once a curious choice to revive and yet an appropriate play for the Rose Kingston, a theatre that often seems to be searching for its audience, or at least the right material to put in front of it. Curtains has a play-of-the-day feel to it as it seeks to deal with its big issue and in some ways, achieves a measure of success.

The issue at hand is euthanasia. Ida’s family is celebrating her 86th birthday around her but it’s her party, she’ll cry if she wants to, for old age has ravaged her pain-wracked body and dementia is starting to take its toll. And as her three daughters and associated friends and family members gather round, cracks begin to show in their determination to have a good time.  Continue reading “Review: Curtains, Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m not trying to justify it…that’s the fucking point”

The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well – Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished – Sam Hoare’s debut play – that is occupying the experimental space.

In Polly Sullivan’s starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she’s being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter. Continue reading “Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: The Crimson Petal and the White

A strong cast can’t persuade me about literary adaptation The Crimson Petal and the White

“Here, people go to sleep as soon as the gin takes effect”

This TV adaptation of Michael Faber’s 2002 novel dates back to 2011 but despite having the kind of cast that normally attracts me like a moth to a flame, I never quite got round to watching The Crimson Petal and the White. And in all honesty, I should have stuck with my initial sixth sense…

Set in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, the story follows Romola Garai’s courtesan Sugar and the relationship she develops with feckless perfume heir William Rackham, a persuasive Chris O’Dowd. From a flop of a first night, he soon becomes entirely infatuated with her, not letting the fact that he has a mentally ill wife get in the way. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crimson Petal and the White”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”