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|34 reviews in total|
Richard Attenborough's (1969) film of Charles Chilton's play is set in
north west Europe during World War I.
For somebody who by 1969 was only 13, this film seemed to me a radical departure for the director who had portrayed Big X - Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett (eclipsed only by Steve McQueen's epic motorcycle leap) in 'The Great Escape' only six years earlier.
His most successful war film to date had already begun to populate bank holiday Monday viewing on BBC TV to the exclusion of all others.
Pre-figuring the uncomfortable mixture of contemporary songs juxtaposed with authentic realism - which became the hallmark of the later work of Denis Potter - it marked a coming of age of the romantic notion that war was 'absolutely thrilling' and the best thing that ever happened to some people.
This film lifts us up with all the fun of the fair, to drop us unceremoniously onto the platform of Victoria Station aboard a boat-train for The Somme.
It's a powerful film, which somehow manages to celebrate the songs which grew out of the spirit of ordinary people bound up in the conflict, while at the same time leaving us in no doubt where it was all heading.
Bitter-sweet and evocative of the spirit of the times in represents.
Claude Whatham's (1990) film, based on Nigel Hinton's novel, charts the
rapid success of a young pop singer, Buddy Clark (Chesney Hawkes), a
generation before the film's actual release.
Between his feckless Dad (Roger Daltrey) and struggling Mum (Sharon Duce) we follow Buddy's early success and sudden leap to fame, from his modest working-class roots.
Replete with authentic classic cars and quirky costume of the times, this moving period piece captures the sudden, incandescent radiance of fame while balancing it with the sometimes grimy and shady underside of a business which puts people under the spotlight one day, only to drop them in the gutter the next.
This is good film to watch, because it's made by people who - unlike young Buddy - have been through the mill and come out the other end in more or less one piece.
Roger Daltrey (lead vocalist with 'The Who') and Bill Curbishley (Manager of 'The Who' and co-producer of the film) give the film an authentic bite that Hollywood might have missed.
Mike Leigh's early film 'Nuts in May' was first aired on BBC TV in
January 1976 as part of their 'Play for Today' series.
It charts the experience of Keith (Roger Sloman) and Candice-Marie (Alison Steadman) who are somehow made for one another (at school) and never quite break out of the mould which their staid and sensible schoolteachers have wrought for them.
At no point - it seems - in their careful upbringing have they quite grasped that, in life, things are not always what they seem.. and that people don't always mean what they say.
Or that the rules and regulations that apply to children cannot possibly be carried forward successfully into adult life.
The title of the play is, itself, a clue. It is one of the few benefits of getting older that I can remember skipping enthusiastically, aged 4 years old and singing the song that goes 'Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May. Here we go gathering nuts in May, on a cold and frosty morning'. Or, at least, that's what I sincerely believe I remember.
But this is madness, isn't it ? There are no nuts in May to gather. Nuts are the result of the growth of trees during the summer ! Squirrels gather them in Autumn, bury them.. and often forget about them. Nobody in their right mind ever tried to go gathering nuts in May, with any reasonable hope of success.
But Keith and Candice-Marie seem to feel honour bound to do so. Their life, in early adulthood is tied inexorably the daft things well-meaning, misinformed 'grown-ups' have told them when they were very young.
By some awful mischance, they have failed to reap the many benefits that healthy scepticism and good old adolescent rebellion confers.
Roger kisses a hot-water bottle named 'Prudence' each night, when he should be saying something else.
Although I couldn't begin to tell you where to get hold of a print of this great film. It's so good, that any effort would be well justified... even if the hot-water bottle is not actually named 'Prudence'. After all, it was over 30 years ago when I last saw this film.
Christopher Morohan's (1968) television film of Peter Nichol's
screenplay was first aired by the BBC as part of a contemporary drama
series billed as 'The Wednesday Play'. Just to state the obvious, it
was show on telly each Wednesday evening.
It was a platform for up and coming writers and directors which included early opportunities for talent of the quality of Denis Potter, Jeremy Sandford, Alan Plater.. and many more.
It's certainly a testament to the impact this film had that I labour under the delusion that I can effectively review it it some 38 years after I first saw it, on the basis that I seem to be the only person alive able to remember what it was about and what it meant to people like me, then aged 12 years old.
Ostensibly, for me, it was a play set in a well-known holiday spot in the west of England. 'The Gorge' is Cheddar Gorge. Figuratively, a combination of a very well-known cheese that survives to this day, and a geological feature of remote antiquity.
But really it was a boy and girl on holiday with their parents, who stole brief interludes together among the ferns and heather.
The dialogue of these scenes, for somebody exiled in a boys Grammar School, was priceless, because it reflected two members of the opposite sex, reeling from the unexpected hormonal effects of puberty - but able to speak frankly to one another about it.
I kid myself that I can remember part of the dialogue, in which the well-upholstered young lady is being addressed by the frank but confused young gentleman.
The subject is tits. He says, with disarming honesty, something along the lines of - If I had tits, I'd play with them all the time but she replies - Yes, I did that.. but it's like playing with your fingers...
It's hard, I suppose, for people aged 12 in 2006 to imagine a time when sex was only conspicuous by its absence. Everywhere it should have been, like everyday conversation, it was missing.
Just for perspective.. across the Atlantic.. Alfred Kinsey's 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male' had been published twenty years earlier in 1948. 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female' was published in 1953, fifteen years before I saw this film on TV.
But in England, on BBC Television, somehow.. young people like me managed to begin to grasp the differences between how men and women approach love and sex from such different angles from plays like 'The Gorge'.
I look back, aghast, and wonder how this unusual play contributed so much to a process of understanding which so often founders in everyday life.
Mark Herman's (2000) film, drawn from Jonathan Tullock's novel 'Season
Ticket', is set in Newcastle upon Tyne in the late '90s.
It weaves the tale of Gerry (Chris Beattie) and Sewell (Greg McLane) as they struggle to make sense of the deficiencies in their fractured lives and solve their insoluble problems, with football.
Within the framework of the close friendship between these two young men, we join them on a journey around Newcastle which can have only one ultimate destination - St James' Park, the home of the 'Toon', Newcastle United Football Club.
But the route is tortuous and led by the fertile imagination and determination of Gerry, Sewell and the rest of us are drawn along as we get to know the characters who populate their special world.
Gerry's semi-absent father (Tim Healy) terrorises the family between safe houses, beating his mother (Charlie Hardwick) and abusing his sister (Kerry Ann Christiansen) as he goes, while Sewell's grandfather (Roy Hudd) struggles to fill the gap left by his parents who have absconded long ago.
Yet, despite everything that confronts them, they unite together with a single, simple achievable aim in life - season tickets to watch Newcastle play.
This is a great film which - like Mark Herman's earlier films 'Brassed Off' and 'Little Voice' - contains the essential spirit of the region it reflects. What shines through is the indominatable spirit and irrepressible resilience of the young.
As the film closes a final unexpected twist places our two heroes exactly where they have wanted to be all along.
Anthony Minghella's (1991) film takes us into the life of a young woman
named Nina (Juliet Stevenson) and the death of a young man named Jamie
It's set in London, within ten or fifteen years the film's eventual release.
Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, it's pretty much his own personal vision of this woman's experience of grief at the premature death of her partner, whom she loves.
As the film plays out, we follow the course of the her initial shock and disbelief, through her efforts to come to some sort of resolution with the shattering loss with which she struggles to contend.
The film is powerful because it fully reenacts all of her imaginings and recollections, inter-cut with her actual surroundings and survivng relationships. But it does this so skilfully that the audience is often unsure what is actually 'real' and what is 'imagined'.
For Nina, of course, it is all real and it is all part of what is left of her new life, alone.
Unexpectedly, her new life becomes populated with a series of people to whom her remaining friends and family are completely oblivious. While for Nina, they are fascinating and compelling and fill the slowly-healing wound that was created by Jamie's death.
But even in death - and within Nina's imagination - Jamie's life continues apace and threatens to engulf the huge and empty space he has left unoccupied in her life.
This is a great film which finally delivers the context in which the words 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' became an integral part of the relationship which ends as the film begins.
Like John Mortimer's view of his own life we hover invisible, nearby, and accompany Nina lost in a stormy sea - clinging to the wreckage.
Lewis Gilbert's (1957) film, adapted from J.M. Barrie's play by the
director, is set on what in English folklore is usually described as a
'desert island'. A 'desert island' is not in fact a desert - as there
is always a plentiful supply of fresh water - but is, in fact, merely
an island that is deserted.
J.M. Barrie (1860-1937, author of 'Peter Pan') seems to borrow something from Daniel Defoe (1860-1731, author of 'Robinson Crusoe') in placing a titled, shipwrecked family a long way from home where the normal rules of social etiquette do not apply.
Skillfully avoiding institutional racism, J.M. Barrie's story focuses on the English class system and as the story plays out, a natural leader with an impeccable sense of diplomacy emerges.
This is a story that is very well told by the film and has been repeated many times in fact.
The most remarkable factual account of a similar situation comes from the annals of British Airways.
Well before the days of satellite navigation and a reliable infrastructure of ground-based radio beacons, an aircraft took off in North Africa for a flight between Khartoum and Dacca. In those days, like the RAF, a multi-engined airliner carried two pilots and a navigator.
But like these days, there was only so much fuel in the tanks. If the navigator pointed the pilots in the direction of a large desert (where there is never a plentiful supply of running water) they would fly there in good faith.
On this occasion, it was a young cabin steward (who had flown this route a number of times) who meekly alerted the flight crew to the fact that the sun was coming up on the wrong side of the aeroplane.
The navigator didn't know what he'd done wrong; the pilots did their best to land an aircraft, used to asphalt, on the crest of a sand dune. People were injured, but a party of survivors were befriended by nomadic Arabs and found their way to safety.
Up to this point, they were guided by the good judgement and social skill of the young cabin steward.
If you like that story, which is true, then you'll like this film, which is only true figuratively.
Anthony Minghella's (1996) film of Michael Ondaatje's novel which was
first published in 1992 is set in North Africa and Italy during the
Second World War.
It spans the course of the war and the way it both disrupts and facilitates the haphazard relationships and experiences of the characters whose lives we follow as the story unfolds.
It portrays the operation of many confused and troubled minds and like all war films tracks the discomforting effects of sudden and unpredictable life-changing events. But equally, it traces the erratic and unexpected efforts of the different characters to find small interludes of peace in the shattering and unhinging progress of the war as it moves incomprehensibly towards a conclusion.
In writing the book, the author came to the story much as the viewer comes to the film. A little confused and not quite understanding what is going on. At all stages of the film, things happen which are unexpected and sudden, but whose effect is predictable and far-reaching.
But this cannot be the life of the author himself - because he was not born until after the war, of which he writes, was over.
And somehow this is the feeling that the film conveys. Rather like recollections from an actual childhood, which later come into focus the film takes us on an incredible journey which is overshadowed by the awakening recollections of the troubled individual from which it takes its title.
This a great film that takes us into a dangerous, unbalanced world where ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances struggle to make sense of their shattered lives and to find something familiar in their unfamliar surroundings.
Lasse Halstrom's (2001) film with screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs is
based on the novel by Annie Proulx.
Set in Newfoundland sometime in the sixties or seventies, it tells the tale of a slow and steady young man named Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) who falls unwittingly into a marriage doomed to fail. From the wreck and ruin of it, he salvages his daughter Bunny (played at different stages by Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer) and is persuaded by his beleaguered Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) to go back to the scene of the crime.
The scene of crime is his old ancestral home in Newfoundland. Arrived there, he chances on a job as newspaper reporter, being hired by the owner Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn), and finds himself suddenly immersed among a group of people who more or less begin the colossal task of straightening him out a little. Not that they're doing it on purpose. For them, it's just second nature.
Tert Card (Pete Postlethwaite) is first to start in on the confused but resilient Coyle - a man whose life 'happens' to him, rather than being the result of any confident effort on his own part to steer his life in a given direction. As the new cub-reporter he is assigned the worst and most uninteresting job on the paper - covering car wrecks and 'The Shipping News'.
But being the kind of man he is, good things come to him like timid, shy creatures which usually stay well out in the wilderness. He strikes up an acquaintance with a single mother, Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore) but has even more shocks and unexpected skeletons to discover in his Aunt's cupboard.
As the film unfolds, we see a slow and remarkable transformation in the apparently slow and uncomprehending Quoyle. A chance visit by a yacht reputedly owned by Adolf Hitler transforms his career from cub reporter to feature writer. His developing relationship with Wavey creates a rich environment for his wounds to heal and gives him the strength to support his Aunt as she finally confronts her own demons.
We finally learn why she had to come back, and we see Quoyle's journey almost complete as we leave them.
This is a great film with surprises and delights around every corner.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lasse Halstrom's (2000) film of Robert Nelson's screenplay is based on
the novel by Joanne Harris. It is set in a small French town sometime
just after The Second World War.
It's an unusual tale of people who, in their different ways, are trapped by their own fixed and immutable beliefs and seem helpless to overcome them on their own. Also, they are poorly led by Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) who is both mayor and an intrusive, meddling patriarch. He lives a subtle public lie that his wife is travelling in Italy, when really he alone knows for sure that she has left him and he has no idea how to deal with his inconsolable loss.
But through the arrival of some unexpected visitors by fairytale from the outside world, the lives of almost everybody in the village is transformed for the better.
First to arrive - blown in by the north wind - are Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her fatherless daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol). Rather miraculously, she opens the old patisserie into a chocolate shop. It is let to her by an elderly lady Armande Voisin (Judi Dench) who is estranged from her daughter Caroline (Carrie-Ann Moss) and her grandson Luc (Aurelien Parent Koening) during the last days of her life.
Somehow, once the shop is opened, it becomes a kind of alternative medicine to the people who live in the town. Cocoa-based confectionery is seen on the face of it to be the work of the devil, by Comte de Reynaud, who enlists divine assistance (and suborns a young and impressionable priest) to suppress this ungodly and subversive delight to which he is no more immune than the others.
While the village is fighting to reconcile its craving for chocolate with its righteous duty to Roman Catholicism, another spiritual evil - playing slide guitar - is washed downstream by the current. What are pirates to Anouk and are a dark immoral influence to Comte de Reynaud, is pretty much just what the doctor ordered for Vianne.
Roux (Johnny Depp) and his motherless daughter have been living the same itinerant lifestyle as the manacled choclateer. Rescuing battered wife Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin) along the way and giving Armande Voisin the going-out party she's always dreamed about, Vianne is released from her own wanderings when her mother's ashes go up in a final puff of smoke.
This is a interesting film in which almost everybody lives happily ever after. It is built on the confused logic of a child's thinking, but is filmed without giving away what it is that makes the thought process of adults beyond the comprehension of their children, while leaving their understanding of their emotional situation quite transparent.
And we're left pondering the age old question. Chocolate.. is it really a force for evil.. or a force for good ?
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