66 Reviews
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The Krays (1990)
Could do better
14 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I preferred Hale and Pace as "The Management". This film is episodic, and slow. Some scenes are like tableaux in which nothing much happens. It was made in the 80s, so tribute had to be paid to feminism with plonking speeches about the war being much harder on women, and Violet's part being padded. Her dialogue is embarrassingly poetic and grammatical - she talks nothing like an East Ender. Also she and her mates/family never have ordinary conversations. Much more could have been made of the way she served tea and biscuits to violent gangsters. Kate Hardie is very good as Reggie's wife Frances - but in reality the marriage only lasted a few weeks. The clothes and settings, though, are brilliant, getting the look of the 50s/60s absolutely right. I rather fancy Violet's "trees" wallpaper and multicoloured teacosy. Many episodes of the Krays' life are left out, and where are their famous friends? Surely they could have got someone to play Diana Dors?
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Sitting Ducks (1980)
Yet another take on the Pardoner's Tale
2 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Pardoner's Tale - that's the one where some ill-assorted characters get their hands on some free money (it usually ends with banknotes wafting away across the desert sands). I saw this ages ago and as far as I can recall nobody dies in a desert in this one, though the main characters don't end up living happily ever after on the dough (they never do). I do remember it being a wacky kind of road movie as short, plain Michael Emil and the other guy drive off with a fortune stuffed in their hub caps. They run into two girls in a motel who'd like to take some of those banknotes off them. I'll never forget one of the girls' favourite pickup line: "I think you're a really sweet person. Would you like to have sex with me?" Why didn't it catch on?
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Forbidden (1949)
Interesting minor British noir
18 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I found Douglass Montgomery a bore. The setup is good, though. He's a chemist who's forced to manufacture and sell patent medicines from a fairground booth in Blackpool to keep his sluttish wife. She's the best thing in the movie, played well by Patricia Burke in a succession of alarming costumes. When she dresses up for best she puts a couple of cabbage roses on her head, plus a veil, drapes a dead fox round her neck and sticks a large bow on her bottom. Her love rival, played by Hazel Court, is far more stylish. Hazel makes only the faintest attempt to sound anything other than stage school ("I'll stick with me own kind.") She's meant to be a soft drink and candy floss seller with a lot of shady mates. She lives in a terrace house, but Montgomery and Burke live in a rather wonderful art deco block. What's interesting, though, is that it's quite clear that Burke is sleeping with an older admirer in order to get a part in a play. And when Montgomery gets off with Court they make love in the sand dunes and he then practically moves into her place. And we think we invented sex! Or as Philip Larkin wrote, "sexual intercourse began in 1963" - a long way after this movie.
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Murder One (1995–1997)
The best performance ever from a Venetian blind
1 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Objection! Overruled! Can we take a sidebar? I love American courtroom dramas. Just rewatching the first series on DVD - at last. The show would never be made this way today. No hand-held cam? No high speed editing? No rushing down corridors? What we've lost! I love the way Daniel Benzali sits on a leather sofa, his head in the middle of the shot, against those Venetian blinds (it was their best work), and sits there utterly unmoving - and TALKS! Sidney Greenstreet in the Maltese Falcon? Just a touch. Then I'm the only one in the wide, sweet world... The "cell door slams shut" noises were stolen by the BBC's recent Bleak House. And if you don't have your head silhouetted against the blinds, they cast their shadow on the floor. Like prison bars, don't you know. I love it! I love it! I love them all, especially the gay secretary.
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In my top 10
9 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
One thing I love about this film is its strangely cosy atmosphere, and the way it's confined almost completely to people's homes (Guy and Rosemary, Hutch, the Castevets). In those homes people do ordinary things - they dish up food, they grow herbs, wash up, redecorate. It's like a page out of Good Housekeeping. And Rosemary is surrounded by sweet, kindly older people (Hutch, the Castevets, Laura Louise). But then they turn out to be... waah, waah, waah waah! On watching it again (and again, and again) I noticed that the camera is right in among the actors a lot of the time, the frame sometimes cutting off their head or half their body. This makes you feel you're really there with them, not watching them on a stage or through a picture frame. And everybody speaks naturally - not a method "naturalistic" mumble, but the real thing. All the characters have their own way of speaking ("Call me - not your Aunt Fanny!"), and for a lot of the time they are talking about mundane things like making a window seat or picking up eggs from the store. The setting is fabulous (I keep trying to work out the plan of the apartment and how it fits onto the Castevets'). The casting is brilliant. Ruth Gordon, Sydney Blackmer, Elisha Cook Jr., Patsy Kelly, Maurice Evans, Mia and John. As someone else pointed out, Guy is much older than Rosemary, and though handsome he's short, and he's never made it as an actor. Are they living on her money? Even his attempts at taking off the neighbours ("on account of it's one of her specialitays") are lame. He constantly laughs at things that aren't funny. The music, even when it's just a descending chromatic scale, is brilliantly creepy, and I love the theme song (sung beautifully by Mia).
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One of the good 80s Christies
8 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The 50s setting is effortlessly done, right down to the genteel faded chintz of Miss Marple's "sitting room, Cherry dear, not lounge". Angela Lansbury made a great Miss M and I wish she'd reprised her role. The story is streamlined and told well, with characters filling each other in on background (in the book it was all dug up by Miss M from old movie magazines). Don't watch the terrible Evil Under the Sun, whose makers must have thought Christie+hasbeen stars+witty insults = box-office smash. Mirror's makers have taken the same formula, but the stars do a good job, and (this is the magic ingredient) the witty insults are actually witty. (He takes his job seriously! So did Attila the Hun!) However, the reasons why X killed Y are both clunkily telegraphed, and muffed in the revelation. Christie's own wartime (both world wars) dispensary and nursing experience is given to Miss Marple - and it is odd to see Miss M smoking!

By the way, Dermot asks Fenn what "the N" in his name stands for, not "The End"! Dermot is not that thick.
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Secret Agent (1936)
John Gielgud as you've never seen him before
11 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Actually Gielgud is not bad at all as the novelist turned soldier turned spy. He has a fine, brittle way with a one-liner. Madeleine Carroll is excellent. This being Hitch, there are some tense scenes, like the one where the alleged baddie's wife is giving Madeleine a German lesson. As she stumbles over "Was kostet es...?" she can't help thinking about what's happening to the woman's husband. So the gossip is that Gielgud was persuaded to play the role because it was "Shakespearean", and his disappointment shows through? What an incredibly silly theory. Next you'll be telling me that you can see ghostly figures in the net curtains. But I can believe Hitch told Gielgud the character was like Hamlet. What happened to Hamlet? (Now listen carefully, this could help with your English essay.) He was told by a mysterious figure that it was absolutely necessary for him to kill a man. He spends a lot of the play wondering if he should, and wondering about the moral implications, and incidentally kills an innocent bystander. Now d'you get it?
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One of the early, funny ones
27 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The girls (Liz Fraser, Joan Sims) stand out (cue laugh). Liz gets to model some undies and Joan dolls up to greet guests at a wine-tasting with predictable results. Mainly the cast wander round London of the 60s meeting a lot of eccentrics and chimpanzees. Kenneth Williams shines as usual as a toffee-nosed language expert who is the only one who can understand Unwinese (as gibbered by Stanley Unwin). Of course the jobs get mixed up, Joan Hickson gets to reprise her hospital Sister role and Kenneth Connor gets sent off on a 39 Steps parody where he bumps into rarely-seen radio star Betty Marsden (why wasn't she made a Dame?). The non-plot descends into slapstick when the team are sent to renovate Unwin's country house (which would now be worth millions). And is that German or Yiddish the mismatched couple are speaking?
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Mona Lisa (1986)
Typical of 1986
29 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's typical of the 80s because it's preachy. Prostitution is bad and causes suffering to the people involved. Well, who would have guessed? This is a patchy film, and what others see as great acting I often see as shouting. As well as the shouting, there's a lot of grabbing people by the arm and hustling them along. There are some very good bits, though, including Hoskins' visit to a clip joint, his meeting with the girl in a grim cafe near Kings Cross (now long gone, as are most cafes like it). Another good bit is his rescue of the girl from the clutches of a horrible pervert in a room with a two-way mirror. (Did you enjoy that? You weren't meant to!) Robbie Coltrane is meant to be a bit of light relief but he is embarrassingly sentimental and unfunny in a peculiarly eighties way. I think "quirky" is the word I want.
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The Detective (1954)
Gently comic?
6 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's odd that "gently comic" (as another reviewer put in) usually means "quite unfunny". Or rather, it means "we laugh at a harmless, good character". This film could have done with trying less hard to make us laugh. I can't stand seasickness jokes (tho I rather liked Flambeau's line when disguised as a priest "I must partake of the suffering of others"). And the bit where Brown and the librarian keep dropping/stepping on spectacles - I watched it stone-faced. Brown is quite bumbling enough without being "blind as a bat without my glasses" as well. The film opens well with Brown apparently robbing a safe (of course he's putting the money back). Sid James and Cecil Parker give sterling support, and the friendship between Brown and Lady Warren is touching, and I love the garage man who whisks the priest into the dance. This could have been a good film. Occasionally Guinness becomes entirely serious about saving Flambeau's soul and we glimpse what it might have been. It's based on the first Father Brown story in which Flambeau appears, and some of the plot is retained - the chase across town/country, the swapping of parcels, the wrestling holds, the man who's unmasked because he gives the wrong answer about... in the original story it's sin, not drive shafts. Read the story, it's one of the best (also read the one about the silver forks and the extra waiter). And it whisks you through a wild vision of Victorian London (Camden Town is as benighted as Darkest Africa, and they end up on Hampstead Heath - standing in for the high place where the Devil tempted Christ).
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Embarrassing farrago
21 May 2007
I love Ustinov's Poirot, seen at his best in Death on the Nile. (Don't watch this, watch that.) This film is so embarrassingly bad I've never been able to sit all the way through it. The makers seem to have thought "Death on the Nile was a hit - Christie, Ustinov, star cast, jokes - we'll do it again." The "hilariously catty dialogue" between Rigg and Smith is vulgar, unfunny smut, as is James Mason's dialogue. Rigg is forced to humiliate herself in a terrible song. Oh goody, the audience will laugh when Poirot goes for a swim in an antique bathing suit - he's fat, you know! And if you hadn't noticed, we'll put a tuba on the sound track! The script was written by someone who had never seen a joke, but had once heard one described. The Poirots Ustinov made with Jonathan Cecil, which are much more low-rent and set in the present day (the 80s) are far preferable, and actually, you know, not half bad.
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Excellent Christie adaptation
4 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I haven't seen the McEwan version but can't believe it comes anywhere near this one. This cast definitely do not ham up the story, which is a good one. Christie was parodying the kind of cliché'd tale that starts off with a body in the library of the manor house - she takes us right out of that static, country-house setting (which ignorant critics often accuse her of being stuck in) to the rather louche setting of an expensive seaside hotel. The hotel is full of people who aren't quite ladies or gentlemen (which makes them all the more amusing). And film man Basil Blake is actually living in St. Mary Mead with a blonde, without benefit of clergy (or so he'd have everybody think). This adaptation sticks pretty faithfully to the book and the cast are good, especially Styler, Horovich, Watford and of course Joan Hickson. I only have a few minor nitpicks. I miss the exit line of the tennis-playing gigolo, his upper class background exposed as a sham and his rich widow an item with an old admirer: "Dance, dance, little gentleman!" He was quoting a popular tune "Dance, Dance, Little Lady" but audiences couldn't be expected to know that. The dignity of the missing Girl Guide's parents is not as vivid as in the book. And Ruby's hair and makeup are all wrong: she wouldn't have had long fluffy hair in the 30s, and her rouge makes her look feverish. In the book, Basil turns out to have a heroic civilian WW I record, too. Christie reflected her times, and had a great sense of humour she's not always given credit for. The Body in the Library is the title of a book by her fictional avatar, Ariadne Oliver. Perhaps she thought she might as well write it herself. Someone should give us The Clue of the Crimson Goldfish...
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Bergerac: What Dreams May Come? (1985)
Season 4, Episode 3
Homage to a classic
24 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This episode is a homage to the great film The Devil Rides Out, based on the book by Dennis Wheatley, in which Charles Gray plays the chief Satanist. Gray reprises his role with his usual charm. The dialogue is unexpectedly witty. The mortuary attendant claims his wife says his job has made him hard while simultaneously chomping a sandwich and displaying a body. Says Bergerac to Gray: "You don't mince your words, do you!" Gray: "My words are too valuable to be minced." There's a slight whiff of sulphur from the pit but the forces of good are represented only by solid policemen and their decent wives. Malcolm Tierney puts in an appearance as a gay landlord.

A particularly good episode of a wonderful series. Where is the Robert Banks Stewart of the new millennium?
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Awful, awful, awful
7 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This episode was as terrible as people say. It's one of my favourite Agatha Christies. She hated it because she had to write it to fulfil a contract even though her marriage was breaking up. Some of her feelings come through in the book as Lenox sees Derek go off with Katherine. Poirot comforts her with some platitudes about the Train of Life: "Trust ze train, mademoiselle! It is the Bon Dieu who drives it." It's a great book full of wonderful characters like the drama queen Mireille, the old jewel dealer, the self-styled Count and the old lady back in the English village who gives Katherine good advice. ("Of course he's in love with you - he makes a face like a sheep when he looks at you.") This farrago is nothing like the book. In fact it has torn up the book and replaced it with a lot of Great Stars with nothing to do but go "Look at me, I'm acting!" To some people this may represent "Christie with a modern twist" (that we can sell to Young People and the Americans who everyone knows are Crude). To me it's a waste of talent and opportunity. I gave up when they discovered someone's long-lost mother in a mental hospital run by nuns. So vulgar! The BBC radio drama version did the book justice.
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Victim (1961)
As good as people say
30 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's not just Dirk Bogarde's central performance but the noir photography, the location shooting, the suspense plot and the ensemble cast that make this a great film. I love films where a group of disparate characters band together to run down a criminal or right a wrong. Here barrister Farr gets together with a Cockney ticket clerk to track down the blackmailers who drove his "friend" boy Barrett to suicide. One by one others turn out to be connected, and the web runs from an elderly barber to an aging matinée idol to a sleek car salesman to the head of a photographic agency (his mews flat is just a little too tasteful). All are victims of the blackmailers. Hanging around the periphery are another camp couple ("I wish we could go home to Cheltenham, PH.") who turn out to be running another scam altogether. Bogarde wanted to escape his own matinée idol box and deliberately flouted filmic rules he felt were stifling him. He insisted on keeping in takes where he cleared his throat mid-sppech, and talking with his back to the camera - naturalistic tropes that now seem clichés, but were unusual for the time. It does mean, though, that characters spend a lot of time unburdening their hearts while leaning on mantelpieces.
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Worth watching - more than once
29 January 2007
A wonderful picture of London in the 50s, and an insight into the way people behaved, and were treated, during the war - patient crowds sitting on railway platforms waiting to be evacuated (Come along, ma! No, lad, you can't take that chicken!). I can't see or hear the married couples calling each other "darling" that another reviewer complained of - there's an engaged couple and he calls her "darling" about twice. Watch out for Joss Ackland as an eager copper and Jonathan Cecil as a young officer. The aging "actress" is simply wonderful and the relationship between her and Prof. Willingdon quite touching. ("He was a gentleman and I treated him as such - as he did me!") Lovely to see Joan Hickson as a cat-loving landlady, living in a house untouched for fifty years and crammed with Victorian nicknacks. What would they be worth now!
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China Seas (1935)
Worth a second, third, fourth look
23 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favourite films and is as great as people say. It's got a lot of plot, some I think lifted from other sources. The gold in the steam-engine - wasn't that a story by Kipling? (Notice how the runaway engine is mirrored by the runaway piano in the saloon where the posh people have taken refuge.) And the "fake" pearls are definitely Somerset Maugham - they turn up again in a film that's a compendium of his short stories. I love Jean Harlow, and she only betrays Gable because she thinks she's lost him. Surely she redeems herself and switches sides again. (And was her real-life husband murdered? His motiveless "suicide" is one of those Hollywood mysteries that have a hundred solutions.) Harlow died tragically young of untreated kidney disease - her mother was a Christian scientist. Or is that another legend?
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Schtonk (1992)
Not a patch on the UK TV version
29 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The Germans took a real-life farce and blew it up into a broad pantomime, telegraphing every joke and turning every character into a gurning caricature. It also demonstrates the bizarre fact that Germans think simpering is funny. Why does Armin Mueller Stahl do a tapdance (while simpering)? The UK TV version was much, much better than this and starred Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor Roper, the British historian who was fooled by the diaries. If you ever suspected that the Germans had no sense of humour, here's your proof. Perhaps the Germans are capable of understated wit, but they don't often show it in public. Do not see this so-called "funny" film but read the book (there must be one). xxxxxxx
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Dance Hall (1950)
If you like Strictly Come Dancing, you'll like this
31 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Four girls visit the local "palais" or dance hall, and find romance. Even though some of the working class characters are surprisingly well spoken, the story is quite gritty for the time. One of the girls has an affair with a local lothario before she marries the Right Man who later yells at her "He didn't have to marry you, did he!" Meaning that she slept with the other man without thought of marriage - supposedly unheard of in 1950. Everyone is excellent: the young bride, Eve; her friend Mary who yearns for Eve's husband; Petula Clark as the teenage dance wannabe; Diana Dors who's always swearing off men is lovely (though her voice is dubbed). Bonar Colleano gives his no-good character depth (I thought I was clever, not caring for anybody - then I realised nobody cared for me). What a good actor he was. This film is more than just a bit of fluff.
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Not as good as it should have been
23 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It was brave of the director and cast to make this story, but I keep seeing glimpses of the excellent film it could have been if only the cast would stop yelling and screaming and running about. I suppose this is an attempt to be farcical, and inspires the many comments about what a hilarious laugh riot it is. I want to sympathise with Christine, Dolly and the other woman played excellently by Shirley Stelfox, but I keep being distracted by their method acting - particularly from Julie Walters, who employs her usual tricks and giggles and shouts when she can't think of anything else to do (and when there's nothing to laugh at - but maybe that's the point). Her naivety is a running gag (I thought he was making us a cupboard for us to hang our coats in!), but one that wears thin. The Carry On films at their best were full of English wit - this has none. (Though I liked this exchange: Mr Papazoglou (in see-through negligee) I love my wife! Christine: That's nice.) An opportunity missed.
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Dirty Dancing (1987)
Yes, the dancing's great, but
17 October 2006
"somebody who's taught me that there are people willing to stand up for other people no matter what it costs them; somebody who's taught me about the kind of person I wanna be." What a piece of American feelgood tosh! Unfortunately it keeps interrupting the excellent dancing. DD was made in 1987, so the heroine has to be a politically aware young woman who stands up for the underdog. American movies love teaching lessons, and the lessons of the 80s are made to sound like something from the Reader's Digest. You don't think that's all they were all along??? Plus Baby falls into bed with Johnny far too quickly and easily for a 17-year-old in 1963. We barely knew the facts of life back then. But the clothes are nice, and little details like Mr Kellerman dancing with Honi Coles.
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A Bit of a Do (1989– )
Great drama, funny with it
12 October 2006
I have just caught up with this and it is as brilliant as people said it was at the time. But nearly 20 years have passed, and some things now jar. Nothing is as distant as the recent past. Paul and Jenny as the right-on, ideologically sound, politically correct couple are great, especially the way Jenny is boring and humourless and manipulates everybody by constantly bursting into tears and rushing from the room. People like that certainly were around back in those days. But they were hard to send up – possibly because they were so earnest and smug they could never see a joke, let alone one against themselves. I like the way Liz begs Jenny to stop the "progressive preaching". But there's something wrong about Jenny. Her clothes and hairdo are too conservative (though they're dull and unsexy because fashion is a capitalist plot, and being sexy is pandering to patriarchy...). Maybe they thought the audience wouldn't get it if she spoke like that, or wore the kind of clothes a feminist eco-protester would have worn. Her constant sermons seem to be a way of explicating her far-out ideas to an audience who may never have heard them before. Another false note is struck by Rita's conversion from downtrodden, shy, unconfident wife and mother to liberated single woman (with big, big hair and a ghastly shiny outfit) – just by having her husband leave her for another woman. She too starts spouting political sermons and reveals that she met her new boyfriend at a CND rally. She is a heroine for the late 80s and we're not meant to laugh at her as we laugh at Paul and Jenny.

I'd forgotten that way back then ideas that are now being embraced by the Conservative Party genuinely divided people. Conventional people had conservative ideas; if you wanted to go vegetarian or campaign against nuclear weapons you became a weirdo, a lefty, an unconventional person. Your original social group would look at you askance or possibly eject you. You might have to join another.

These are flaws that time has revealed. The rest stands up as great drama, acting and observation. Looking forward to catching up with the second series.
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Critique of 1913 attitudes burdened with 1985 attitudes
10 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's difficult not to see the past through the spectacles of the present, and this is more obvious 20 years after this film was made. The beautiful Lady Olivia has the opinions of an educated, liberal woman of 1985 - she likes the socialist Ruskin! How flattering to ourselves as we identify with her. How smug we feel as we tut tut over the class ridden society of pre WWI England! Sorry, folks, English society is still just as class ridden, and rich people still have servants - they just don't dress them in white caps and aprons or call them parlourmaids. Am I alone in finding Lady Olivia and her admirer unspeakably wet? And surely nobody said "nothing in common", "keep in touch" or "competitive" in 1913? (They certainly did in 1985.) In the Shooting Party, tragedy occurs because the soppy Ruskin-reader and Edward Fox try to outdo each other. This is not only ungentlemanly, it is competitive. In the 80s competitiveness was evil. We had to believe that we are all the same, and different skills and talents are due to environment, education, empowerment and access. So if anyone excels it is due to competitiveness. People went right on being competitive, though, especially when it came to trading Marxist pieties. Despite those reservations, though, this is an excellent film with some great acting, costumes and atmosphere. PS The real Cornelius Cardew was a communist British composer.
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Gosford Park (2001)
Great setting and acting, poor story
5 September 2006
Agatha Christie would have been ashamed of a story this soapy and simplistic. What this film shows brilliantly is the way a big house like Gosford Park worked, who ran it and how. As the rich get richer, butler seems like a sensible career goal. We learn far more about the Downstairs crew than the Upstairs - I never worked out who was who, let alone who was married to whom. What did the fair bloke with the "common" wife have on the daughter of the house? Who was having relations with the kitchenmaid? Not one of the Upstairs crowd, I think - he was wearing a tail coat and must have been one of the footmen. The revelations about Lord McC's past in Isleworth are clunky to say the least. One thing we do find out: these people may be rich, but they're not noble. Lord McC, it's hinted, is a war profiteer, and his guests talk business at the dinner table. Real toffs don't do that - they don't have jobs. As for the "funny" detectives - they just aren't, and they don't hack it as parody.
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Cartoon version of a great book
31 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This could have been a wonderful film with it's Gothic atmosphere and well-researched period detail (clothes, interiors). But it's hammy, cartoony and over-simplified. Jean Simmons is simpering and wet - oh, sorry, of course I mean cute and vulnerable, Uncle Silas and his son crude and her admirer wooden. Why must Christmas scenes of the 19th century always involve those tedious mummers? Jean Simmons' skirts are far too light and filmy, and young ladies in them days didn't run about at top speed showing lots of leg clad in pantalettes. They wore nothing under those petticoats and had to move more circumspectly. Read the book!
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