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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very surprising that this has such a low IMDb rating. I suspect that
has less to do with the quality of the film than with viewers
prejudices and preconceptions.
Based on Peter Nichols real life experiences it is It Ain't Half Hot Mum meets Virgin Soldiers, only much more nuanced than the one and more subversive than the other. Imagine an episode of IAHHM where Windsor Davies and Michael Knowles are running guns, Donald Hewlett has got religion, Melvyn Hayes is talented, Don Estelle has coupled up with Ken MacDonald, John Clegg is aggressively heterosexual, Stuart McGugan is a serial shagger, and Dino Shafeek is female and seduces Christopher Mitchell.
The casting of Cleese as the uptight officer is problematic, and perhaps puts the tone off kilter, but he plays the role straight (other than the surreal and cathartic scene at the end where he joins the performers to launch into his silly walks).
Patrick Pearson is effective as the young recruit, and Joe Melia, David Bamber, Bruce Payne and Simon Jones all hold their own (difficult to a void double entendres with this review). Michael Elphick is also excellent as the tough sergeant while Nicola Pagett's Indian accent lapsing deliberately into Welsh resolves some of the criticism that might otherwise be levelled for playing blackface. The film though belongs to Dennis Quilley, the queen of the jungle.
There is no one Robin Hood story, just an accretion of folk tales,
antiquarian speculation and literary invention. The Saxons versus
Norman theme was an anachronism that originated with Sir Walter Scott.
The story can legitimately be set in the time of Richard and John, of
Simon de Montfort or of any of the first three Edwards. Robin can be a
yeoman, as in the ballads, or he can be an earl fallen on hard times,
as the Elizabethan playwrights had it. He can inhabit the realm of
history or, increasingly in modern retellings, that of fantasy. He can
be a merry trickster or a grim guerrilla fighter. The only constant is
that Robin Hood is an outlaw.
Except in this version. Well not until the last five minutes, anyway. This it is claimed is an origin story: the story of how the Robin became an outlaw. The problem is that the actor playing Robin is too long in the tooth for a prequel, why he is outlawed is never really made clear and the plot, such as it is, has no particular connection to any story element associated with Robin Hood. Just a few characters with the same names. Not that Robin himself is ever actually called Robin Hood.
So what is this film? An action adventure story, in which playing fast and loose with history can be excused because we are on a helter skelter ride of thrills? Nah, it is far too plodding for that. An historical drama then? Well in that case some grounding in real events seems to be a prerequisite. I don't really know where to start on the historical inaccuracies. But let's start right at the start. Richard did not die on his return from the crusades, he had already been back to England and was campaigning to secure his lands in France. The castle he invested at Chalus-Chabrol was defended by just forty men of whom only two had real any military training. But Ridley Scott needs to reassure the audience that this is going to be a full-blooded epic (because the next hour and a half is going to be really dull) so the siege becomes a major production number with Richard struck down in the thick of the frantic action. Rather than, as history records, being hit by a lucky potshot and lingering on to die of gangrene in his mother's arms.
After that, well actually after that any resemblance to history flies out of the window, with vague, incoherent references to Magna Carta and the First Baron's War being tossed into a stew of anachronistic ingredients that barely bubbles to a simmer. For me the most precious moment was when the turncoat Godfrey begins speaking to Phillipe Augustus in French, and the King says, 'In English, please.' The King of England couldn't speak English let alone the King of France!
Okay, you can rely on the average audience having a tenuous grasp on English history, English audiences not least, but this is the most geographically challenged Robin Hood film since Kevin Costner took the rolling English road to Nottingham by way Hadrian's Wall. Or perhaps the producers of this film had a different Nottingham in mind, since the Nottingham here appears to be a seaside Hampshire village rather than a heavily fortified midland stronghold.
Some effort is made to get the material culture correct, but it always bemuses me when the producers of historical dramas lavish immense care and cost on authentic costumes and set dressing, and the script is then entrusted to a hack who can't be bothered to do even the most basic Ladybird book level research. Having the peasants playing Celtic folk rock at their celebration did in any case rather detract from the carefully constructed medieval ambiance.
So we have a story not set in real time, not set in the real world and not grounded in myth. Just a jumble of badly integrated plot elements, topped and tailed with some tacked on action sequences.
It is a film without point, without purpose, without soul.
People who rate films as 'one star' annoy me. Few films are seldom
entirely without merit and there is a scale of one to ten to reflect
differing degrees of success and failure. But in this case no other
rating will do. As cinema this film is a failure on every conceivable
level: concept, plot, script, performances, direction, photography,
lighting, editing, everything. There is just nothing to appreciate, and
the viewer comes away with absolutely nothing. It is not enjoyable at
But then this is not really cinema: it is conceptual art. An installation. One for the chin-strokers then. If that is your thing, knock yourself out, but I would rather watch a Jim Carrey marathon than sit through this again (and I hate Jim Carrey with a passion).
In a film based on the life of a real person one expects characters to
be conflated and timescales compressed; it goes without saying that the
role of the hero in events will be exaggerated, while exposition will
necessarily be simplified and scenes invented for dramatic purposes.
But as the narrative of The Imitation Game lurched from one Hollywood
moment to the next, alarm bells began to ring. I know relatively little
about Bletchley Park, but I found myself very much doubting that Turing
had won World War Two single-handedly and in the teeth of opposition
from establishment stereotypes.
I had similar reservations concerning Castles in the Sky, the BBC drama on the wartime development of radar by a group of under-resourced mavericks, but to my delight the events of that film turned out to be firmly grounded in real life. Alas that is not the case here. The events of this film are fabricated to the point where it fails to serve any useful purpose as testimony to the life of its remarkable protagonist. And for an insight into the breaking of the enigma code you might as well watch U-571.
Benedict Cumberbatch's performance is the engine that drives the film, and is very good, though the banalities of the script with which he is working prevent it from being Oscar worthy. Dance, Strong and Goode are sound without being stretched, as are Kinnear, Goodman-Hill and Waddingon as the coppers, but Leech and Knightly fail to suggest the required complexity in their roles. The acting laurels go to Alex Lawther as the young Turing, who does a remarkable job of channelling Cumberbatch's performance while surpassing him in emotional truth.
Michael Apted 2001 drama, Enigma, based on Robert Harris' excellent novel, for all its thriller structure, felt a more truthful testament to the legacy of Bletchley Park than this cheesy, anachronistic hodge-podge.
This seventies BBC version with Martin Potter and Diane Keen remains
one of my favourite adaptations of the Robin Hood legend, but its not
without its failings.
Despite the evident attention to historical detail in the matter of costumes and props, there are some jarring anachronisms in the script, such as a Saxon thegn called Kenneth, a Norman henchman called Alaric and a merry man called Brett!
The production is very much of its time. There is a very Seventies cynical edge and lots of speechifying; the script is not frightened of serving up dollops of history and at times borders on the lumberingly expositional. But while the production suffers as a result of the disastrous decision made by the BBC to video all interiors on cardboard sets at Television Centre, the location photography is rather charming - seldom has the greenwood looked greener.
British B movie beefcake Potter is a handsome if far from merry Robin, Keen of course is luminous as Marion, while David "Ford Prefect" Dixon and Paul "Ker Avon" Darrow, as respectively Prince John and the Sheriff, exercise more restraint than one might have thought them capable. Some of the supporting players are pure repertory ham (an old crone is straight out of Blackadder), but William Marlowe and Miles Anderson add Shakespearean heft in their roles as Guy of Gisborne and Will Scarlet.
Tony Caunter had yet to acquire the girth one associates with Friar Tuck, but Conrad Asquith is a booming Little John; Much is played by Johnny Speight's boy Richard and Stephen Whittaker completes the meiny as the hitherto unrecorded outlaw Ralph Gammon. David Ryall enjoys himself as a corrupt abbot.
The action sequences are lame by today's slick, and often graphic, standards, but the climactic broadsword duel between Potter and Marlowe has an earthy vigour. Seldom have you seen two actors looking quite so completely knackered.
If people want to complain about this being historically inaccurate
then they should try Shakespeare for size... There are character
conflations and timeline adjustments in the interests of narrative
clarity, but the historical outline is preserved.
A BBC Budget is never going to bring the sumptuous splendours of late medieval England alive before our eyes, and frankly I am not going to be to be too fussed if Elizabeth is wearing cosmetics that were not available at the time, so long as the series works as drama. It is probably fair to say though that make-up, costumes, and set dressing could, and probably should, have been better, while lighting and camera work do not do much to help paper over the cracks.
Given the dynastic complexity, the serving up of some fairly gristly chunks of exposition is inevitable, and in fact the script does a solid job of making the tangled web of interconnections comprehensible. To the person who cited I Claudius as the way it should be done, that had a narrator, which in this instance is a cheat unavailable to the adaptor. Having said that, some of Jack Pullman's pith and wit would not have gone amiss.
Two big narrative decisions did not quite come off, both presumably taken from Gregory's novels: the first is to see the bloody dynastic struggles of the Wars of the Roses through an entirely female prism; the second is the use of magic to give the women a more empowered role.
I am not sure that any of the senior cast members will be highlighting this series on their CVs. Janet McTeer and Michael Maloney are wonderful actors, but they have seldom been less commanding on screen. However, Caroline Goodall as Duchess Cecily and Rupert Graves as Lord Stanley do have some pantomime villain fun with their roles.
The younger actors though seem to lack the dramatic chops to carry the weight of the story. Rebecca Ferguson is a pretty girl in a very modern style but I did not buy her as the captivating intriguer who twisted a king about her little finger, nor could I see the rather lumpen Max Irons as the charismatic sun king Edward. Aneurin Barnard at least looks the part as Richard, but comes across as a bit wet, while Faye Marsay as a mousey Anne Neville only begins to become interesting with age and bitterness.
On the plus side David Oakes is quite fun as George, while Amanda Hale gives a compelling performance as Margaret Beaufort.
Not a disaster by any means, but there is a better drama series to be made about the Cousins' War.
Sergeant Bilko makes for a disconcerting presence in a Carry On spoof
of Beau Geste, but the experiment is more successful than not thanks to
a solid Talbot Rothwell script, with Silvers playing well off the stiff
upper lip types. Dale and Butterworth are in fine form as the naive
aristo and his loyal valet, while Gilmore puts in a moustache twirling
turn as the caddish rival, and as the object of their affections
Douglas is absolutely luminous - and laugh out loud funny as she
undergoes her rites of passage while retaining impeccable English
Less successful are the broader ethnic stereotypes from Williams, Hawtry, Simms and Bluthal, though Bresslaw enjoys himself as the villainous sheik, while Harris is more sultry than might be thought possible as a treacherous belly dancer.
Not a classic, but by no means the dregs of the series (see Convenience, Loving, Behind, Henry, England, and - shudder - Emmanuelle and Columbus.)
The film did not feel as drawn out beyond its natural length as I had
feared, and, refreshingly, the story has not been too tinkered with. It
was notable that more of Tolkien's original dialogue survives here than
in LoTR, while the plot changes felt less arbitrary, than, for
instance, Aragorn falling off a cliff. The backstory has been mucked
about quite a bit, with some loss of meaning, but the gist is there.
There is a genuine respect for the source material, more so than in the
first trilogy, as in the bold, and to my mind successful, decision to
recreate the opening 'unexpected party', complete with songs.
The interpolated White Council scene feels stilted, but the magical woodland adventures of Radagast and his furry chums are not as cringeworthy as they could have been. Other changes are mostly for justifiable cinematic reasons, even if some, such as the treatment of the encounter with the trolls, are not necessarily an improvement in dramatic terms. However, the need to give this first installment a distinct dramatic focus causes tensions with the book. A dynamic between Thorin and Bilbo is sketched in which is absent in Tolkien's work, and this is resolved in a way which jarringly detracts from Bilbo's own personal character arc.
Since the ring arrested the ageing process in Bilbo, Ian Holm could strictly speaking have continued in the part, but Martin Freeman's light comedic touch actually works very well. Richard Armitage channels Sean Bean as Thorin, and is rather more broodingly handsome, and a lot younger, than I had imagined, but I guess an action film must have an action hero. A reasonable stab is made at differentiating the other dwarfs, even if the bizarre tonsorial creations and confusion of regional accents is a little distracting. I also found it odd that one of the few dwarfs to develop a distinct personality in the book, the amiable strongman Dori, is unrecognisable in Mark Hadlow's depiction of him as a rather twee old buffer. Graham McTavish's tough Dwalin and Aidan Turner's boyish Kili are probably the most successful realisations.
What fatally undermines the project is the misjudged technological gimmickry. There is the usual 3D issue of the actors looking like cardboard cut-outs in a Victorian toy theatre, so divorced from the scenery behind that it might as well be a blue screen. Worse, HFR has the curious effect of making all the interiors appear as if they were shot on video at BBC Television Centre in the nineteen-seventies. To add to the disconcertingly retro feel the prostheses and hairpieces don't really stand up to that level of high definition. Sometimes there is something to be said for grainy and indistinct. And while the CGI was often excellent, it was over-used to the point where the connection with real actors and landscapes was lost, the swirling camera work giving the action scenes in particular a distinct video game vibe.
Better than perhaps it has a right to be, given the uncinematic source material, but the of-the-moment technology makes it ultimately disposable.
PS. I note that IMDb autocorrects the spelling of 'dwarves' to 'dwarfs'. Tolkien would be incandescent.
IMDb rating system is beyond baffling - how can an arithmetic mean of
8.6 and a median of 9 possibly equate to a weighted average of 4.2?!
This was a fantastic series. If any aspiring comedy writers take the trouble to watch this, they will see that Peter Tilbury's technique defies every single piece of received wisdom on sitcom writing. The plots are wafer thin, Philip Roath seldom finds himself up a tree that he has to get down from, there is precious little conflict to be resolved and it is all tell and no show: most of the laughs come from the characters we never see: Gerald, the analyst's boyfriend, the boss's Mohican son-in-law, and Napley's delinquent sprog.
Tilbury's central performance is workmanlike; the comparison with Hywel Bennet who took the part he had written for himself in Shelley, is interesting. ITAWM demonstrates the advantages of having the writer deliver his own lines; Tilbury knows exactly what he is trying to achieve. But Shelley shows how a great actor can lift a script with a performance that exceeds the writer's vision.
The supporting performances, particularly from Benjamin and the wonderful Le Prevost, are excellent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After an interminable opening montage of establishing tourist shots of Paris (if it had been London there would have been red phone boxes and double decker buses; not a North African mugger or traffic gridlock in sight), all to the accompaniment of Woody Allen's horn-blowing, we have Woody Allen directing a Woody Allen script in which Owen Wilson plays a writer of scripts who talks, acts and dresses like Woody Allen; after half an hour or so of by-the-numbers comic clichés about culturally insensitive Americans and pompous pseudo-intellectuals (oh the irony!) the plot stumbles into Goodnight Sweetheart territory as Woody, sorry Owen, stumbles through a time porthole into a 1920s Paris where you cannot order a coffee without Salvador Dali asking "Have you met my friends Luis Bunuel and Man Ray?" Just when you think it cannot get any crasser Woody, er Owen, er Woody, trowels on a Hallmark moral about living in the present before ditching his materialistic American girlfriend to take up with a French chick who shares his love of walking in the rain...
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