The Hawk (1993)
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Mirren's performance as the uncertain housewife becomes all the more intriguing when the characters history of mental illness is revealed. This leads to a real conflict between her and her husband, and the viewer is never sure who to side with.
Overall I think this is a great bit of British cinema, and for tension and a realistic darkness, matches any Hollywood blockbuster.
Just a useless bit of trivia :)
What do other people think about this film? Did anybody else live in Lilymead Avenue at the time? Does anybody else have a similar experiences? Do you think Helen Mirren should have won the best Actress BAFTA over Judy Dench?
It really is the story and storytelling that make this thriller a weak one. There hardly is any character development. The story itself also at times doesn't make real sense. The story takes some odd and unlikely turns at times. At times it also takes ages before something interesting happens again. And really, if the police were really that dumb and narrow minded, serial killers must really have an easy job.
Yeah sure, it has still got Helen Mirren in it, which is probably also the only reason why I watched this movie in the first place, but come on, why did she ever agreed to appear in this movie in the first place... And besides, a great actress is never a guarantee that the movie is any good or even a watchable one. She is a great actress but she gets very little interesting to do. Besides like I mentioned before, the character development is quite poor, which is all the more reason why this movie falls flat as a thriller.
You're better of watching a good English detective-series episode. There is more development, tension and mystery present in that.
In the film, a serial killer nicknamed "The Hawk" has carried out a number of savage murders, all of them of women, some of them prostitutes. The killings have mainly been carried out in Lancashire (the next county to Yorkshire) and the surrounding area. Annie Marsh, a Manchester housewife, begins to suspect that her husband Stephen, a travelling salesman, might be the killer, because the murders have all occurred while he was away from home on business. The killer has used a hammer to attack his victims (as did Sutcliffe), and Stephen's hammer has mysteriously gone missing from his toolshed. Annie has, however, suffered in the past from mental health problems, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with post-natal depression after the births of her two children, and is therefore concerned that her suspicions about Stephen will not be taken seriously. Her suspicions put her marriage under strain, and eventually they separate. Stephen claims custody of the children, alleging that Annie is unfit to look after them. During a confrontation, she stabs him to death. She is charged with his murder but released on bail and needs to find the evidence that will prove that her suspicions were justified.
What struck me most about this film was the way in which in highlighted the differences between the American and British styles of film-making. Had this been a Hollywood production, it would probably have been made as a standard thriller. The actress playing Annie would probably have been considerably younger than Helen Mirren (in her late forties at the time), Stephen's guilt would have been established at an earlier stage, and there would have been far more tension, culminating in a scene where Annie is threatened by her husband and can only escape from him by stabbing him in self-defence. The actual film, however, although it uses some of the tricks of the thriller (such as spooky music), was made in a very different way. It is not really a thriller at all, but rather a piece of social realism, made in an updated version of what in the fifties and sixties would have been called the "kitchen sink" style. Stephen, as played by George Costigan, does not seem a very threatening individual, and his guilt is not established until the very end. The question we are asking ourselves is not "Will Annie manage to escape from her evil husband?" but rather "Is Annie right to think that her husband is evil?" The only real tension comes at the end when Annie needs to race against time to find the evidence that will prove Stephen was the Hawk.
Although it may seem unpatriotic to say so, I think that in this case the American approach would have been preferable. This is, after all, a classic thriller plot and, if made as such, could have been a good film along the lines of "Sleeping with the Enemy" or "What Lies Beneath", which both featured a woman in danger from a violent husband. It seems rather a waste to have made it in this rather gloomy, downbeat way. There is, moreover, a hole at the centre of the plot. It is not (in English law at least) a defence to a murder charge to prove that the victim was himself a murderer. The defendant can only claim self-defence if she can show that she was, at the time of the killing, in mortal danger from the victim. From what we are shown, it does not seem that this was the case at the time that Stephen was stabbed. The final chase to prove his guilt therefore seems to be irrelevant to the murder charge against Annie. This was, in all, a rather disappointing film. 5/10
A really good movie, and any chance to see Helen Mirram sporting a northern accent is well worth a glance.
Rather than the conventional narrative of following the police investigation, or the killer himself, the story is told predominantly from Annie's point of view. Mirren's performance holds the film together, and despite it's limitations it still manages to keep you guessing right up to the last minute.