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The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
Ealing's trademark anarchy
One of the strength's of this excellent comedy, wonderfully played by Guinness & Holloway as an unlikely criminal duo with support of a cast of other familiar faces, is TEB 'Tibby' Clarke's imaginative script which takes an absurd premise and spins it out to its comedic conclusion.
Very often I enjoy the set-up and premise of a Ealing comedy as they contain lots of characterisation and little details that then find later expression as the plot gathers pace. For instance, the down at heel boarding house filled with little old ladies, one of whom later appeared in 'The Ladykillers'.
It's these little gems of observation as well as the main story that make this film memorable. Early in the film, Holland's ordered existence includes reading pulp thrillers with US criminal slang to one elderly lady as she does her knitting, listening intently and providing commentary on the plot. Later, after the robbery, we see her sitting at tea with two policemen & asking one of them, using contemporary slang, about who they think did the job. The bemused policemen are taken aback, anticipating Mrs Wilberforce talking about 'her aliens' to the desk officers in 'The Ladykillers'.
Behind these apparently quaint English Ealing comedies lies real anarchy & subversive wit.
Le goût des autres (2000)
A clever ensemble piece
I saw 'Look At Me' when it was released which struck me as quite true to life with one lead character, a daughter, coming to terms that her difficult father will never change. Perhaps I should have seen 'The Taste of Others' first as it is the counter-point to Jaoui's follow-up as it is about a slow unwitting change.
After watching 'Taste/Others', I read reviews including a perceptive one by Roger Ebert, though I felt like Peter Bradshaw, that this film didn't leave as strong impression as I thought it would. It was interesting to read about Agnes Jaoui & Jean-Pierre Bacri's style, ensemble pieces with shifting story lines which make their films difficult to categorise after twenty minutes in. And 'The Taste of Others' is a film about individuals who cannot be easily categorised.
It is initially about Castella, an unsophisticated businessman who is drawn to Clara, an actress & part-time English teacher. She appears in Racine's 'Berenice', a play about a lover spurned because of Roman society's disapproval of her, echoing how her coterie of friends disapprove of Castella later. Her impassioned performance leaves Castella moved. This is a subtle film where scenes inform each other. Life imitates art. Later, we see that her performance is not that far off from her own disappointments in life as a middle aged actress going nowhere during a heartfelt confession to her friend Manie. Clearly, Castella possesses a much more sophisticated eye than we first realise in contrast to his sometimes rough manner.
The film then broadens out to become a variant on a theme, examining a number of relationships as a loose collection of characters are drawn together. Castella has a bodyguard, Franck, a former policeman with serious issues about trust (personal & professional) and his chauffeur, Bruno. The film becomes an intricate & deftly written ensemble piece as two apparently disparate, incompatible groups of characters, inhabiting very different social milieus (commerce v art, conventional v bohemian), come into contact, clash and eventually reach some kind of rapprochement.
After a brief fling with Bruno, Manie & Franck become mutually attracted despite themselves, with Bruno more preoccupied with his girlfriend in the US. In a sense, you wonder if Franck's profession as a bodyguard is another comment on the story: he may offer physical protection but the film is about emotional vulnerability, how we are touched despite ourselves and dropping our emotional guards. And in the end, Franck doesn't manage to protect Castella on the one occasion he is needed.
The film is about unlikely romances and friendships (Castella & the gay arty bohemians Antoine & Benoit, his wife Angelique & her long suffering sister-in-law who offers her comfort, even background characters like Valerie, Clara's friend, with a bar-owner). Initially, Castella is drawn both to Clara and her bohemian world with comical results, his ignorance sent up by the cruel mockery of the arty set, but they, too, in a way are guilty of making assumptions by failing to see Castella's hidden depth & open-mindedness.
Clare maintains a wary distance of Castella after he makes a clumsy declaration of his feelings in English, but it is when the businessman resignedly accepts her apparent lack of interest, that Clara begins to realise her own feelings. I did feel that this could have been explored in more detail. For much of the film, she keeps him at arm's length and then towards the end desperately seeks his presence.
I have to admit that I didn't found the film uproariously funny as others. There are amusing moments such as when Manie tells a non-plussed Bruno that they once slept together; the scene where famous tragic playwrights are described as comedians or my personal favourite, the scene in the nightclub where Castella, Franck & Bruno all sit glumly together clearly wishing they could be somewhere else.
'The Taste of Others' deals with emotional themes with a light touch though there is a note of sadness at the end that falls short of tragedy. Franck has long regarded Bruno's attachment to his stuttering long-distance relationship as naïve but it is the bodyguard who ultimately cannot move on or take the leap of faith required when he goes back to Manie to seek a reconcilement. Bruno phlegmatically accepts, with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders, that such is life when his girlfriend ends their relationship.
A bold but flawed adaptation
Trishna, a loose adaptation of Hardy's 'Tess of the Durbervilles', transplants the story from late 19th century England to contemporary India, an interesting switch when one considers the still ingrained patriarchal attitudes to women and the caste system (class in Victorian England).
Michael Winterbottom's bold retelling fails due to the radical act of conflating the Angel & Alec characters into one personage. As other reviewers have written - interestingly, Jay's sudden transformation, from a caring, considerate person interested in Trishna to a man who abuses her and treats her callously, may be a comment because he can due to his economic standing.
Yet, this was Alec Durberville in the book. He was not without charm. Both Angel & Alec fail Tess in different ways: it is hinted that one sexually abuses or at least takes advantage of her in the seduction, whilst the other is guilty of sexual hypocrisy (moral values) and guilty of idealising her: the two views of Victorian woman as either ideal or whore.
Perhaps it might have been a more conventional take on the narrative, but Trishna could have returned to her village and found 'love' with a village teacher etc, who idealises her, but perhaps, again similar to Angel Clare, fails her when she reveals her secret when he confesses his own debauched past, highlighting sexual hypocrisy.
Instead, I found Trishna a terribly passive figure, which probably is true in many senses of women in developing societies, who are subject to economic values & victims of sexual exploitation. The film becomes repetitive, a cycle of abuse that can only end tragically as in the novel.
Interesting, but a flawed experiment, the decision to conflate the love triangle & the two male protagonists into one is radical, but does make Jay's erratic behaviour confusing to the viewer.
Perhaps, ultimately, the film is not as interesting, radical or daring as it thinks itself to be, compared to 'The Square Circle' & the gender politics of that film.
37°2 le matin (1986)
An off-beat, left-field story about a doomed love affair
Betty is a force of nature who enters the dull but seemingly content life of handyman, Zorg. It transpires that he has written a manuscript, but I got the impression that he had dropped out, not to write, but to escape from the pressures of life/writing, to lead a simpler, less complicated life. And the irony is, once Betty enters, he becomes engaged in life and love due to her erratic, restless/damaged personality,which sees them travel across France.
I thought the film was also about escape & frustration. We find Zorg painting shacks as a form of escape (struggling writer). So many of the (minor) characters, Zorg encounters are seeking escape from mundane reality. At the beginning of the film, an elderly guest at the shack shows off to Zorg about his 'girls'; they turn out to be photos from an adult magazine; the young security guard later in the film, reading a porn magazine and becoming transfixed by 'Josephine'; Bob's sexually frustrated wife; even one of the funniest, surreal moments in the film is about escape, when Zorg has to deal with a policeman, following Betty's assault on a publisher, and the two men connect precisely because the policeman is a failed writer who harbours a grudge against publishers.
Zorg, himself, escapes into a fictional world as a writer (& perhaps ultimately this is what preserves his sanity in an absurd world); Betty's tragedy is that she cannot cope with real life and expects it to conform to her wishes& she lashes out, against the world, until this anger is turned upon herself. Zorg comes across as more resigned to the bitter realities of life, that 'life is not tailor-made to suit him' (to paraphrase one exchange with Betty), almost detached from life at the beginning of the film until Betty forces him to engage with love and life. Betty is a romantic, an idealist who finds the petty realities of life a trial; she wants, to paraphrase Zorg,' a world that doesn't exist'.
It was interesting to read one review that suggested events in the film was in Zorg's head. I won't deny this reading, but I thought the ending was about how Betty, her voice, lived on (resonated) within Zorg. At the asylum, he talks to the sedated Betty about how he still hears her voice but then only finds silence.
This may sound bizarre, but films work in clever ways. I found the parrot at the beginning, in Zorg's shack, fascinating. It looks alive at first, but then you realise it is stuffed and fake. And I feel this is what happens to Betty, her tragedy, as she becomes out of control and the doctors fill her full of drugs.
Why does Betty gouge out an eye in particular? Perhaps again, it is to do with how she views the world so differently from others, the conventional, and reflected in the blue floor she gets Zorg to paint in their apartment.
A film about a doomed love affair, doomed by the intrusion of outside forces and Betty's instability. You feel for the two lovers. Left alone in their idylls, the shacks at the resort at the beginning, the rural retreat above the piano shop, you feel that they might have stood a chance, but destructive forces lie both outside and within so that Zorg and Betty's love affair cannot survive.
An unusual film, visually originally, I also saw it as a film of contrasts: city/country, light & darkness, (light & shade), heights of joy and depths of terrible sadness & despair, how these can occur almost as if with a trick of the switch (Eddy & his friends dancing happily drunk & the phone call about his mother). And yet Zorg becomes alive again in his relationship with Betty. Perhaps their story is the one he comes to write at the end of the film in his new novel.
Gave this episode 'Nursemaid', a 7/10 but maybe it even deserves an 8/10.
I went to my local barber's to be surrounded by the ubiquitous noise of wall-to-wall TV and music. Bored, ITV4 (English digital channel) was showing an old episode of 'Kojak'. I grew up in the 70s as a child and was familiar with the lollipop loving detective, but wasn't aware of the subtleties of the show/adult themes as I was still a child.
I have to say I was impressed & the episode quite engrossing which must be a sign that it was entertaining and able to hook viewers through deft characterisation and a fast-moving but plausible plot.
I preferred it to 'Colombo', another 70s era detective show. Both possess the key element of humour to balance the main story, but I liked the human side to 'Nursemaid' & how the plot cleverly developed from a gun-seller being forced to make blank guns live for criminals into a murder story, and how a group of gangsters lose control of the situation. As with strong US drama shows, the supporting cast are vital to the main star, and Kay Medford is excellent as the widow dragged into a dangerous situation as a witness to a crime.
I like the characterisation of Kojak, & the police procedural seemed entwined seamlessly in the plot rather feeling contrived as can often happen in crime dramas.
Unfortunately, I missed the conclusion, just as the mobsters tried to bump off the witness in a hotel, as it was my turn in the barber's chair!
A Serious Man (2009)
Laughter in the dark
I've never been a big fan of the Coens. This weekend, terrestrial TV featured 'A Serious Man' & 'The Big Lebowski'. After watching the latter, I couldn't understand why 'The Big Lebowski' has become such a cult classic (unlike, say, 'Withnail & I'). Like many of their films, it featured a convoluted plot, an array of bizarre characters/ situations & genre-bending. Their films are intellectually smart but emotionally cold.
I struggled with 'A Serious Man' on a first viewing, but something resonated with me. I decided to persist with it and watch it a second time, especially after reading some of the comments here on IMDb.
And I have to say I enjoyed this modern take on 'The Book of Job', which remains accessible but contains many subtle layers.
A prologue, set in 19th century Europe, sets the tone for a film about uncertainty: is what we see real or not? A mystery that is never solved.
Larry Gopnik, a Physics lecturer, suddenly finds his life falling apart, personally & professionally, and all for no reason. He tries to make sense of it all. What does it all mean? And so begins his existential/philosophical search for the truth as signalled at the film's opening by the imaginative use of the 'Jefferson Airplane's' track 'Somebody to Love', a song about alienation and despair.
As Larry is a scientist, there are also allusions to various theories (The Uncertainty Theory). Larry tells his troublesome student, Clive, that even he doesn't quite understand them, that they are 'fables'. His brother Arthur has a curious probability theory on the universe, which appears a curious amalgam of Hebrew (the classroom lesson, Old Testament texts) and scientific formulas & diagrams.
That Larry is a scientist is no accident in the film. For he is someone who believes the world conforms to logic/reason, but has to learn that the ineffable does not conform to logic and that some things remain a mystery. Ironically, Larry's lecture on 'uncertainty' occurs in a dream, where he perhaps finally grasps the true nature of things at a subconscious level.
The film appears to follow no logic, interspersed by random events but loosely structured around Larry's visits to three rabbis. Thus the theme of the film, the uncertainty of things, the unpredictability of life, is reflected in the film's own structure.
Scenes, though, are carefully calibrated. When Larry argues with Clive's father over a supposed bribe & a charge of defamation (another simultaneous paradox, vis Schrodinger's cat, is it alive or dead?), the father denies knowledge, uttering gnomically, "Accept the mystery." And this is what Larry learns through his search.
The meetings with a junior rabbi & rabbi Nachtner are witty, but serious. One tells Larry that he needs to change how he views the world if he can't see God everywhere even in a the car park. Nachtner tells a story about a bizarre sign found in someone's teeth, essentially a shaggy dog story about reading the meaning in things which have no answers, so why bother to drive yourself crazy. Just live instead. But Larry's neuroses leave him unsatisfied. Why does God give us the ability to ask questions, but deny us an answer. And so his futile search continues. For instance, Larry is about to find the answer to a neighbourhood dispute when the attorney drops dead. Again, another answer is withheld from him.
And, ironically, Larry is ultimately frustrated in his efforts to see Marshak as he proves too busy to see him he is 'thinking, though I like to think, though it's not made clear, that he was listening to Danny's confiscated transistor radio/cassette.
Instead, the Jefferson Airplane track is used as a framing device. I did like Danny's meeting with Marshak and Marshak's wise, slow profound utterance, which then turns out to be simply the lyrics from 'Somebody To Love'. He simply tells Danny to simply 'be a good boy'. No pious homily, but a simple admonition. He can only be responsible for himself & his actions in this uncertain world, and, in a sense, Larry already knows this when he counsels his less successful brother, Arthur.
But just as Larry's life seems to settle back into some kind of normality, he receives a phone call from the doctor at the beginning (a metaphor perhaps for a spiritual examination). And once again, the uncertainty begins.
And what of the whirlwind that ends the film to the soundtrack of 'Somebody to Love?' Other helpful reviewers have commented that this is the answer in an uncertain world: 'You better find somebody to love'. Love as an affirmation against uncertainty and a creation in the void (and, towards the end of the film, Larry's brother points out with bitterness, that Larry does have a wife & kids. He does indeed have somebody to love).
Elefante blanco (2012)
The Church in the 21st century
'White Elephant' begins with a prologue about how Julian brings a younger priest Nicolas back to Buenos Aires. It also begins with Julian undergoing a scan, reminiscent of Kurosawa's 'Ikiru', a film about one man trying to make a small difference in the face of death. Both priests begin the film suffering in different ways. One physically from a terminal illness, only known to us the viewer (dramatic irony), and perhaps brought on by overwork/stress; the other, spiritually, from a guilt-ridden conscience after surviving a massacre which left his congregation dead.
Two priests with different approaches: Julian is a latter-day St Francis of Assisi, a man who has given up his wealthy background to work in the slums and who tries to make a difference by battling political bureaucracy (inefficiency & indifference) & the hierarchy of his own church authorities, who appear more interested in 'talk' than action. Nicolas works on the front line, mediating between warring gangsters & working alongside his secular counterpart, a social worker, Luciana, with a mutual attraction developing between them.
The 'White Elephant' of the film's title is a huge unfinished hospital, now occupied by drug addicts, and which acts as a metaphor for the stunted development of the slum as a whole- and the failure of a new smaller development (the workers go on strike after not being paid) emphasises the continued failure by the next generation of politicians to address these issues. As one reviewer put it well, it is as if the slum has also been 'forgotten' by God, too. And the people of the slum finally reach breaking point after yet more bureaucratic inefficiency leads them to taking matters into their own hands (to finish the development for themselves) and a confrontation with the authorities.
The film adopts a visceral approach, more an edgy, fast-paced social drama than an examination of faith in, say, the poetic manner of Bresson. It contains a number of plots, such as the relationship between the two priests fighting crime, poverty and despair (including their own), a love story, the attempt to help a young delinquent as well as a social critique. Perhaps this is one of the flaws of the film. It contains too many plots and tries to cover so many issues, making it feel disjointed.
For a film about priests, it didn't have many moments of 'transcendence', but it seemed, to me, to be more about what a priest/church should be in the 21st century & a damaged world.
Instead, the film-maker, Trapero, imaginatively uses imagery to make biblical allusions. Candles/lights shining in darkness/at night, recall John 1:5 (The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it); Nicolas' journey into a gangster's compound is literally 'a walk into the valley of the shadow of death'; and the young addict/delinquent, Monito, is 'a prodigal son'/lost sheep, sent to the church's 'farm' in an effort to lure him away from bad influences. The figure of Mary, Mother of Grace, to whom the priests pray for succour, has a dark counterpoint in a woman who is in charge of a rival neighbourhood gang.
I actually think the film shows what the Catholic Church must do if it is remain relevant in the 21st century. That it must socially engage with those most in need & reminded me of a recent BBC4 programme on 'The Salvation Army', where pastoral work was described as 'the church outside four walls'. The Church cannot survive in seclusion (Nicolas is banished to a monastery at the end of the film), but must take sides (of the poor) and be socially engaged if it is to remain relevant. And, after all, did Christ not consort with the poor & the marginalised?
Regarding the background to the film, it's interesting that the Catholic Church has since elected its first Latin American, and specifically Argentine, Pope who has a reputation for supporting the poor.
The emphasis is less on 'sin', but on 'faith', as Nicolas utters during a service in the church, a faith based less on judging people and more on maintaining one's faith & hope in the darkness. This contrasts with the more cynical, bitter Cruz, a support worker who despairs at the pointlessness of it all (a plot twist reveals the truth about his 'exit').
This is encapsulated in the behaviour of Nicolas himself. Who/what is a good man in a flawed world? Is a priest who swears, drinks, smokes & has sexual desires, a good man? Then, the answer is an overwhelming 'Yes'. The film does not judge its protagonist but rather shows Nicolas as a man who tries to do good, presenting a modern take on Christian (Catholic) values such as the issue of celibate priests. His relationship with Luciana is not purely sexual, but about a mutually supportive relationship based on love (a marriage in all but name).
Gradually, Nicolas realises why Julian brought him to Buenos Aires. He experiences faith & doubt. Can he live up to the faith shown in him and live up to his responsibilities? As Luciana says: 'Leave? It's easier.'
The ending was perhaps melodramatic as Julian tries to help Monito escape from the police, though Julian becomes a very modern martyr, reminiscent of the real-life figure of Fr Carlos Mugica, who worked in the slum and whose murder has never been solved.
The film featured strong performances from all of the lead characters, Ricardo Darin as Julian, Martina Gusman as Luciana and it was interesting to see Jeremie Renier (The Child/Dardenne brothers), mature as an actor. I didn't recognise him from that earlier film.
The law of self-preservation
I watched Zvyagintsev's first film 'The Return', but have to admit I much preferred this, his third film, finding it more accessible but still a subtle piece of work.
I viewed the film as a comment on contemporary Russia, a character study/ portrait of a morganatic marriage as well as a wider comment on society, & the dark side of both the working/upper (moneyed) classes.
At the beginning of the film, Elena has already made an accommodation and personal sacrifice in her marriage/relationship with an older richer man, Vladimir, where she is nothing more than a glorified drudge. She appears a docile, a dutiful wife and mother, her caring nature exploited by a feckless son and then subject to the caprices of her husband who calls the (economic) shots, but as the film unfolds, she becomes far a more complex figure and we view her & her acts with ambivalence, and more with an element of sympathy than horror.
This is a film where lines reverberate or provide an ironic comment on the story. For instance, feckless Sergei gets distracted playing a computer game with his son, Sasha, as he tries to help him 'get to the next level', a comment, you feel, more about how to get on in Russian society (and perhaps not just Russia but beyond, too). The contrasts are slowly built up scene by scene: the luxurious, spacious flat with a giant modern flat screen TV in contrast to the cramped flat lying on the fringes in the shadow of a disused power station (a metaphor for the powerless underclass left behind by post-communist Russia); Elena has to travel by foot & public transport whilst Vladimir travels to his exclusive gym in a luxurious car; and the contrast between the 'dowdy' Elena and stylish Katya.
The entry of Vladimir's daughter, Katya, changes the dynamic of the film and provides a fascinating counter-point to Elena. It is almost as if two different Russias, one modern, cold & cynical meets its older, more traditional counter-part with the younger & older woman barely lacking anything in common. Or so we think on first impression. Katya is a spoilt hedonist, existential in attitudes such as a lack in interest in motherhood and continuing 'the disease'. She connects intellectually with her father in a way that he never does with his social inferior,Elena, and this is because, as one perceptive reviewer pointed out, both share a similar sense of detachment and lack of feeling for others. Again, Katya utters a line which acquires significance as the film unfolds. During a moment of reconciliation with her father, a man she doesn't give a damn for, Katya remembers the childhood games that 'taught her the harsh realities about being an adult'.
But it is Elena who must learn the dark lesson about what she must do to survive the game ('the last will be first') , the law of self-preservation, and how good people are sometimes forced to do bad things to survive & damn themselves - contrast the scene in the church lighting a candle with the flaming basket, spouting hellfire, as Elena burns her husband's draft will - in order to protect their loved ones in an unequal society.
I'm not sure about viewing the film as a condemnation of the Russian male & the lack of a good male role model. What about Putin? isn't he an alpha male who rules the country in a 21st century manner but a continuation of a one thousand years of authoritarian rule albeit now in the media age of TV shows providing in-depth reviews on sausages (contrast with the sale of reading matter on the train, the Russians are known as a nation of voracious readers). And Katerina, in her own way, is just as feckless as her male working class parallel, Sergei. Both drink, are indifferent towards their parents & selfish. No, I see the film as about how Russia has lost its moral compass (with Ukraine now in the role as Elena with Vladimir/Putin supplying cash & oil if the Ukraine obliges for an occasional bit of rumpy pumpy).
If the people at the top are corrupt, and Vladimir 'uses' Elena sexually, so then must those at the bottom if they are to survive. A bleak message but an honest one. What was that old Marx said about religion being 'the opium of the people'? It's misquoted because Marx did not disapprove of the religious impulse, because he saw it as 'the sigh of the oppressed creature in a heartless world.' And that's what Elena has to become, heartless, to survive, because you have to live on this earth.
La tête en friche (2010)
A relatively short comedy drama but one containing a number of themes (illiteracy, old age, parents & children, psychological damage in childhood) as well as being an unusual love story.
I did feel the growth of the relationship between Germain & Magueritte was somewhat forced and former international aid worker, Margueritte, an almost saintly figure, angelic, in contrast to Germain's bully of a mother, though I did like the twist at the end, which makes the audience reassess a woman whose youthful exuberance was blighted by an accidental pregnancy, resulting in a deepening resentment taken out on her son.
Certain things seemed telegraphed such as Germain's increased confidence with words surprising his friends though Germain's clumsiness remains in the quite funny scenes with Francine the bar-owner.
I thought the flashbacks were well integrated and added to the film rather than interrupting its pace and the resolution, though sentimental, made sense.
But I decided to give this film seven as I preferred the depiction of old age in 'Mid August Lunch' because I felt it possessed more of a ring of truth to it (loneliness, vulnerability, but how the old ladies all retain their individuality). 'My Afternoon with Magueritte' is an unashamedly feel-good movie. I'm not familiar with Becker's other work but I have been led to believe that he believes in the best of human nature. As a cynic and pessimist, I don't like to always cast gloom, but I do like a hint of bitter chocolate with my saccharine.
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)
I enjoyed this 1982 BBC version, part of the BBC series of adaptations of the entire Shakespearean canon, a prototype for the modern farce. I think if you just take the play on face value, a hastily written work (prose rather than verse), its intention to entertain, displacing Falstaff from the History plays to a comic setting, then I found it watchable. There's no substitute for seeing the plays performed which is what this version does, bringing out the word play and comedy (puns,like when Brooks arrives, offering free booze to Falstaff, who quips, 'Such Brooks are welcome to me, that o'erflows with liquor').
I actually found Ben Kingsley's performance entertaining, Ford's jealous rage is supposed to be comically over the top as both he & Falstaff become the butt of the wives' comic mischief, but for different reasons. I didn't think it detracted from the play (You want OTT from Ben Kingsley? See him as the villain in 'Sexy Beast)'. The portrayal of Falstaff is problematic but that is not Richard Griffiths' fault. This is because we have seen a flawed human being in the Henry IV plays, the cause of wit and of wit in others, the father figure, who Hal seeks in flight from his own father & responsibilities, the braggart soldier yet a man who is also self-aware, the bad man we all know and love. Here in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', he is caricatured as a lecherous old fool, who tends to use words in an exhibitionist manner.
I enjoyed all the performances, Alan Bennett a delight as Shallow, the playful wives, Judy Davis conveying the dignity and depth of Mrs Ford, the wife whose husband is consumed with jealousy & I liked the late Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, as well as Ron Cook as 'Simple. It was also interesting to find out that the house, its interior, was based on that of Shakespeare's own son-in-law.
It was amusing watching Shakespeare send up 'comedy accents', such as Dr Caius and Sir Hugh Evans, but I find it strange that Dr Caius's performance is the one many reviewers think stands out. Yes, it's very good, the Dr's mannerisms, the duel, his irascibility but it is comedy rooted in a stereotype,like the English RAF officer masquerading as the badly spoken French policeman in 'Allo, allo'. I think I find the relationship between Frank Ford & his long-suffering wife more interesting.
I gave this a 7 star rating (7.5 would be fairer) as I watched it with a 20 minute break but that's how one would watch a theatrical production with an interval. I thought it didn't pall at three hours.
*Fans of 'Withnail & I': Richard Griffiths went on to play Uncle Monty, but Ralph Brown, who played Danny, the drug dealer, has a minor role in 'The Merry Wives...' as one of the servants assigned to carry Falstaff away in the laundry basket.