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The Lost Prince (2003)
Poliakoff does it again
Stephen Poliakoff wrote and directed this which was shown over two weekends recently here in the UK. It was certainly a sumptuous production, I've rarely seen a costume drama more lavishly dressed.
It is broadly about the period 1908 to about 1920 seen through the eyes of the little known Prince John, youngest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Possibly autistic or with milder learning difficulties and known to be epileptic, this play shows his child's eye views of his grandfather the King (Edward VII) and the visit of the Tzar to the UK, following on to his own father's succession, through the Irish crisis and on to the the First World War. His father becomes King and he is packed off to the country, as his shortcomings emerge, with his faithful nurse Lala with only occasional visits from the aloof Queen Mary his mother, who just cannot understand him or his needs. His brother George, very bright and determined, is used as a foil to explain a lot of action as is the King's Secretary, Lord Stamfordham.
Miranda Richardson is superb as Queen Mary, catching her regality and vunerability in one, though Tom Hollander did less well as the King, he was a little young, the King being in his late forties/early fifties during this time, and Michael Gambon, a Poliakoff favourite (and the new Dumbledore apparently) does little more than a cameo as Edward VII. Gina McKee excels as Lala, determined to make Johnnie's parents just even notice him.
The King and Queen are here portrayed much younger than the geriatrics they are usually seen as in Abdication dramas. Great stuff!
And what became of them all, well you'll have to watch but Prince George became the Duke of Kent and was killed in an RAF aircrash in 1942, George V died in 1936 and Queen Mary died in 1953, the year Johnnie's niece, Elizabeth was crowned.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Overblown, over-indulgent tosh
I twice fell asleep briefly in this film, which could have had an hour chopped out of it and it would have still been boring.
This is what happens when a famous director gets to make exactly the film he wants, sure it looked expensive and had high production values but Leo is too weak to carry the part, and for a cross between King Oedipus and a Jacobean revenge tragedy, there was all the blood and none of the revenge. Daniel Day-Lewis was playing perilously close to a pantomime villain (hell, he even had the swirly moustaches). In the (surprisingly packed) cinema I saw this in there was even a bit of laughter in inappropriate parts too, which I hadn't heard since seeing 'Pearl Harbour' two years ago.
I'm afraid Scorcese cannot film a taut scene, there are endless minutes of scene setting and good (some even excellent) actors wasted in bit parts. A complete turkey in my eyes I'm afraid and I'm usually a generous reviewer.
Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)
Dreadful Wasted Opportunity
In the UK this was ITV1's big attraction for Jubilee night and came on a couple of hours after nearly 2m people had crammed the Mall to sing patriotic songs in front of the Queen.
This is the story of her parents' marriage and reign. I got the impression it may have been on the shelf for a few years, awaiting the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in March 2002, who was of course the Elizabeth of the title.
Covering a thirty year period 1922 to 1952 this fairly gallops through history and that is one of its faults. It would have been better as a mini-series over six hours rather than the two hours it was.
There is a fascinating story here, especially the less usual view of the 1936 Abdication Crisis from those like Bertie and Elizabeth who had to pick up the pieces. The late Queen Mother's deep and long lasting consequent hatred of Mrs Simpson is barely hinted at.
Unfortunately we were up against some fairly wooden acting and dreadfully superficial treatment of the known facts. I presume this was made with some American money hence the scenes with FDR (Robert Hardy and a large slice of ham) and the constant grating reference to the 'King of England' and 'English democracy' even by the monarchs portrayed themselves. No British monarch would ever thus describe themselves - they are monarchs of the United Kingdom.
Small incidents such as the Dutch Queen calling early in the morning to ask for fighter squadrons to fend off the German invasion of the Netehrlands and her subsequent arival loom large whilst the King's drawn out death from lung cancer, concealed from him and the people of the UK and Commonwealth for several years is glossed over. And the Queen Mother most famous remark after Buckingham Place was targetted by the Luftwaffe 'I'm glad we've been bombed, it means I can look the East End in the face' just doesn't appear.
Cockneys are portrayed all 'Cor love a duck' and Mrs Simpson as virtually a witch, when really she was probably out of her depth in a society she could not understand.
Alan Bates does give a good turn as George V and the bloke who played Edward VIII gave a good sly performance of a weak and superficial man.
Otherwise a wasted opportunity I'm afraid.
Black Knight (2001)
Dreadful unfunny 'comedy'
I don't recall this being released in the UK and I only saw it because I had to sit through it on a very long flight. This film only made it seem even longer.
How an actor of Tom Wilkinson's calibre got mixed up in this dog's dinner I just don't know - the money I presume. Terribly predictable plot done many times before doesn't help. The black star (and I'd never heard of him, presumably a domestic US product) does work hard but just comes across as manic and unfunny.
A turkey I'm afraid, not the biggest around but clucking loudly all the same.
Kate & Leopold (2001)
Dreadful old tosh
I had to watch this on a very long flight after I had finished my book and was unable to sleep, which may have coloured my view of this picture.
Besides the fantasy premise, which could have been more originally handled, as this particular plot is wearing thin, Meg Ryan just coasted through this. Jackman does his best but perhaps if anyone did this it should have been Colin Firth.
The Brits are all hackneyed caricatures and the former boyfriend and brother just plain annoying. Hardly a funny line and little real love interest mean the words romantic comedy are stretched somewhat here.
The Fluffer (2001)
Unrequited love and betrayal with a twist
This story has been done a million times before but here given a sort of original twist by being set in the gay porn industry.
A naive youngster comes to the big city, falls for a handsome straight hunk he sees in porn films and actually tracks him down. And then even better with whom he actually is able to have sexual encounters by being the fluffer (one who gives sexual stimulation off camera) on set as well as being the cameraman. His affection is not even recognised and certainly not reciprocated.
Helping the object of his affection out in his hour of need he is led on only to be betrayed and left high and dry. Seems familiar - well it is, but that said this wasn't bad for a low budget art house film that a big studio would never touch. Some strange/funny/bizarre insights into the porn industry too.
Fine but depressing
As a film from the BBC one suspects this was to be a TV film which turned out rather good so got a cinematic release.
Dame Judi is excellent as Dame Iris, the scene where Bayley is driven to distraction by her literally following him everywhere then wandering off is almost too painful.
This all left me rather depressed about ageing and what may be in store for my elderly mother.
What did really bug me was that it was never really explained fully that Dame Iris was not only a famed philosophy don but also a prolific and rather high brow author. We are told she was an author but it is left at that - whilst she was may be known to most educated Brits she wasn't exactly a world renowned writer and foreigners might have wanted to know what she wrote.
I don't know whether Dame Judi ever met Dame Iris, to whom she bears a striking resemblance in this film, but at the premiere on TV Jim Broadbent was shown meeting John Bayley for the first time and some discomfiture was shown by both, though it must have been very odd for each of them.
Dame Judi probably won't get the Oscar - it isn't a big enough film, plus she's a Brit.
The Office (2001)
So true it hurts
I have to watch this through my fingers sometimes because it is so horrifically true.
The premise is that a film crew is making a fly on the wall documentary about a paper company in Slough (a particularly dismal outer suburb of London for our foreign readers, if any).
Ricky Gervais makes a meal of the main character David Brent who is so dreadfully awful yet has no inkling just how gruesome he is (whereby hangs the comedy). The petty office rituals and casual sexism come across beautifully and full marks to Gervais for scripting this (though apparently he had difficulty getting it made).
There is terrific support especially from Mackenzie Crook as the half wit sidekick obsessed with military matters and the guy who plays the odious Chris Finch.
Probably not accessible to non-Brits but this has the makings of a classic along the lines of Alan Partridge, as others have pointed out.
The Madness of King George (1994)
Will be Hawthorne's epitaph
I originally saw this on stage at the Royal National Theatre in 1992 and then I saw it in the cinema when released as a film. I read a biography of the King recently and the death of Sir Nigel Hawthorne over Christmas prompted me to have another look at this.
I'm still bowled over and this will always be one of my top ten films, Hawthorne was never better and this will stand as the best of his legacy of fine performances.
His portrayal of the King is painfully accurate and largely historically correct in a superb script by Alan Bennett. The King was well educated but not particularly bright and Hawthorne brings his preremptory manner out so well. The scene where the King cross examines the Prime Minister about a minor appointment tells you more than you need to know of the sane man in two minutes.
The descent into madness is subtle at first, and might just be eccentricty but then gets worse and the Government are appalled at how they might lose control to the Opposition if there is a regency declared. The machinations become immense as so much hangs on the King's sanity.
Meanwhile treatment goes ahead and in a superb scene Hytner parodies the Coronation service when the King is strapped to a chair and gagged to Handel's 'Zadok the Priest'. In the Coronation service this music has since 1727 been used when the monarch is ceremonially led to St Edward's chair and is enthroned at the precise moment the choir comes in on the music.
However, the King recovers, though he had separate bouts of subsequent illness before totally losing it (though by then to Alzheimers) in 1811, though he was to live until 1820.
Hawthorne was robbed of an Oscar here in my view. Scriptwriter Bennett, one of our best living playwrights, has a small part as an MP.
Absolutely Fabulous (1992)
Back and darker than ever
Another six new episodes were shown in the UK in September and October 2001 after a gap of five years, probably after the pilot for a new Saunders series ('Mirrorball') with virtually the same cast got nowhere.
The new series was much darker than the earlier ones, and if you thought they were cruel wait till you see these.
That said it is still the funniest thing on. It is shaping up to be a classic like 'Steptoe and Son' - (for our American readers it was remade for you from our scripts as Sandford and Son) and with the same generational battle going on, with the main premise being the reversal of the usual roles, so that the young daughter is the responsible one.
Joanna Lumley, one of the nicest actresses around and an occasional columnist in the 'Times' again invests Patsy with great power dressing, disdainful looks that can curdle milk and horrendous self interest.
Jane Horrocks (who has grown to be a huge star from her original bit part in this show nearly ten years ago) still appears as Bubble in the new series but now has a dual role as an inane but ambitious day time chat queen Katy Grin.
Ruby Wax is again script editor and her influence is obvious in some of the sharper lines, and as in the third series she does a cameo (as a moustachioed post menopausal woman)in the episode about Eddie reaching the 'change'.
Has a huge gay following (well Patsy virtually is a drag queen, a point made several times in the third series)- in the UK gay pubs and clubs scheduled their events not to clash with its 9pm Friday slot on BBC1.