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The Crown (2016)
Unforgivabe misrepresentation of central characters
The Crown presents Her Majesty the Queen as imperious, rather than regal. She frequently looks like a snotty, po-faced upper-crust miss, spoilt beyond belief. In life, I don't think that anyone has EVER regarded the Queen in that manner. I suppose that playing a woman who was genuinely beautiful, genuinely regal and had a wonderful quality of deep serenity and composure about her is not an easy ask. But the composure that was present on her 21st birthday, when she made her memorable speech, pledging herself to a life of service for her people, and the extraordinary grace and courage with which she descended from the aeroplane after the death of her father, to greet the waiting dignitaries are the keys to the reality of Elizabeth.
This story-teller has not gone for the actuality . He has looked for a dramatic story. He has attempted to "normalise" Queen Elizabeth, presumably by trying to imagine how a much less extraordinary young woman might have acted in similar circumstances.
He has also tried to imagine how a person of a very different background to Prince Philip might act.
Prince Philip was born a Prince. But his uncle, King of Geece, was put off the throne, the family fled and Philip's mother became a nun. Philip was schooled in Scotland where he would have been whipped by the masters or beaten up by the boys if he acted like a smarty. At 15 he entred the Navy, serving through World War II. In 1952 he was Commander of HMS Magpie.
When Philip married Elizabeth, he did not visit foreign countries with the attitude of a freshman whose only experience of life is cheeking professors and chatting up girls in the canteen. Philip had already travelled the world, been into battle, seen men die and had led others into dangerous actions. Philip UNDERSTOOD the order of RANK. As midshipman he scrubbed the decks. He knew how the Commander of a ship behaves towards an Admiral of the Fleet. In other words, when Philip married Elizabeth, their was NO QUESTION as to whether he would bow his knee, and offer his allegiance. Paying that homage to his monarch was a given understanding from the moment that he started courting her.
1. When this series shows Philip kneeling resentfully in front of the throne AT HER MOMENT OF MOST NEEDING HIM then this is worse than stupid; it is a cruel denial of all Philip's devotion. What right does the film-maker have to do this?
Was Philip REALLY thinking of himself or was he looking at his beloved wife and wondering how he could possibly ease the huge burden of responsibility that landed on her little head with that 4 pound weight of crown?
2. Philip is a military man. So here, in this amazingly stupid scene from the series, he is shown with an elderly Kenyan War Veteran, looking at his medals, saying: "Good God! I've got one of those, and one of those, and one of those!" Like a child comparing Pokemon. Then he looks at the fourth one, a cross and says "Good grief! Where did you steal that?"
The wardrobe department researched Philip's medals. They are exactly right. BUT the scriptwriter and director have it wrong, and the actor looks like a total smug ass. WHY?
The first three medals are ordinary service medals, with two indicating service in WWII and the third indicating service in the African Campaign. Philip would recognise the medals as easy as you recognise a Coca Cola logo. They would not provoke any verbal comment, beyond a slight acknowledgement from the higher ranking officer (Philip).
The fourth medal is a different matter entirely. Every single military person including the Princess, would have noticed the cross on the maroon ribbon protruding from under the string of beads. It would have been more obvious than a blazing diamond in the sunset.
That piece of dull metal is the Victoria Cross, the highest award "FOR VALOUR". Prince Philip, and all the others, would have looked at it in silence, because that is what you do, when you are confronted by a true hero. The idea that Philip, a Prince, and Naval Commander, would make fun of a man with a Victoria Cross is not just farcical, it is seriously insulting to Prince Philip. For anyone to write this sort of stuff without consideration of how a high-ranking naval officer might act, is reprehensible.
I DETEST the fact that this same noble old Prince who has served his Monarch and the people of her Realm tireless, day after day, since the day he entered the Royal Navy at fifteen years of age, until his semi-retirement at 96, can be so misrepresented, at a time when he is so old, and too frail to lay a wreath on the cenotaph for his fallen comrades.
Concerning the suggestion of "oral sex". Many sexual practices now considered "normal" only became so with the publication of books like Alex Comfort's "Joy of Sex" 1960. Previously, many people always had sex in missionary position, wore night clothes, never saw their partner's genitals and made love in the dark. They still managed to have fun! It is most unlikely that Pince Philip would keep his wife from an official function in order to perform fellatio.
There is no justification for this scene. The people depicted are now nonogenarians. Both are in possession of their wits, and capable of being embarrassed, distressed and angered But they are NOT capable of making an open denial that they are being misrepresented, in the matter of whether they would desert a function to have sex. The writer has indulged his fantasies to an extent which is unfair to the two living persons who are involved. I find this production deeply shaming, and opportunistic.
A Room with a View (1985)
Loosening the stays
I have never read A Room with a View, but it seems to me, from watching the Movie that the major theme is the difference between the way things "should" be, and the way things really are.
Visitors, on their first stay in Florence "should" have a room with a view. But they do not.
Florence "should" be a place of enlightenment, but it suddenly becomes a place of horrifying death.
There are shoulds and should nots all through the movie! The lovers on the cart, the interruption to the priest giving a lecture on Giotto, the kiss in the cornfield, the rowdy behaviour of Freddy, the indiscretion of Aunt Charlotte .... all these things contrast with the restrained and restraining world of boned corsets, chaperones and arranged marriages.
There are rules, rules for everything! But the rules are broken. The rules are broken firstly by an irrepressible and good-natured man who will not be bound by formality, but only by common sense, generosity of spirit and love for all around. It is the giving-up of the room-with-a-view that is the catalyst that sets in place a series of event that cause order to crumble! The hilarious scene of nude bathing in which the Vicar is caught naked by his parishioners, a son by his mother and a young man by the woman he adores is the moment when everything falls into total chaos. Nothing in their lives will ever be quite the same again.
This scene is one of the funniest, most joyous scenes that I know of in any movie.
The Nature of Monkey is Irrepressible!
In fact, the nature of the whole series is irrepressibly funny! But not always funny... there are moments of extreme poignance as the deeper aspects of human emotion are touched on.
Over and again, the series comments on the frailties of human nature and the life long, or in this case eternal, struggle to overcome them. Monkey is both smart and stupid at the same time, his arrogance and reliance on his own martial skills lead him into trouble in almost every episode. Pigsy is just plain gross. Sandy has a philosophical turn of mind. He has many of the wittiest lines.
The English translation is a delight. "Ignorance can always be improved upon," drawls Sandy in his laid-back manner, "but you can't do anything to help stupidity!" "Who are you?" the group of travellers are asked. "We three kings of Orient are," says Monkey.
This is not just for children, it is a magical romp for anyone who can suspend reality
Fire Over England (1937)
The Fate of the Armada
The facts:- Charles Howard, later Earl of Nottingham, commanded the British Fleet with Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins as secondary command. When the Armada was sighted, beacons were lit, as in the movie. (It was demonstrated at the pre-wedding party for Prince Charles prior to his marriage to Diana, that it was possible to get a signal from Hampstead Heath, London, to Lands End, the furthest point west, within some extraordinarily short time by this method. If my memory serves me, the time was something like 7 minutes to Lands's End and about 40 minutes to the outer Hebrides. This is why Drake was able to famously claim that he had time ti finish a game of bowls before he thrashed the Spaniard.)
The Brits met the Armada at Plymouth and fought them in the Channel to Calais, where the Spanish expected more ships to join them from the Netherlands which was in Spanish hands at the time. The battle in the Channel lasted about a week, with the smaller and much more maneuverable English vessels whipping in close to do damage, but out- numbered by the much larger vessels.
The Armada anchored at Calais and waited. It was there that the British sent in the small fire ships which, assisted by a rising wind, created havoc among the anchored vessels. When many of the ships destroyed, the remainder could not sail westward out of the Channel to return to Spain, because of the winds. They were forced to sail northwards up the east coast of England and around Scotland, where they ran into foul weather. The weather worsened as they sailed south and many of the remaining vessels were wrecked on the Irish coast.
The Silence of Dean Maitland (1934)
A Sensational and Scandalous Movie!
Everyone who is fascinated by the history of the cinema should see this one! The central character is a clergyman who through the course of the story, rises to the significant position of Dean of the Cathedral. But Dean Maitland is a man with a secret or two:- a steamy affair, a love-child and ...... something even worse! What is the terrible secret about which the Dean remains silent for twenty years?
This movie was created at a time when it was considered highly inappropriate to present "a man of the cloth" in anything other than a favourable light. Depicting the Dean as a lusty and deceitful sinner raised disapproving eyebrows.
But even more scandalous was the nudity! This is the first, the very first film to reveal a nipple!
Well, you have to be very quick to catch it! It's right near the beginning. The pretty little nympho Alma Lee has been having a dip in the ocean, spied upon by not one but two men. She changes, partly behind a rock and partly (but only partly) behind a small towel. (None of these bath-sheets!) The towel slips down .... and there for an instant is a nipple! She hitches it up and there for an instant is a buttock!
And this really is Movie Making History!
The movie is filmed with considerable artistry and a great deal of wit, albeit of a very Australian kind. Some of the scenes, the camera placement and angles make us forget that this really is a very old film. Ken Hall was a daring genius.
The Sentimental Bloke (1919)
By way of explanation....
In 1915 C.J.Dennis published a collection of poems telling the story of "The Sentimental Bloke". The poems are spoken by the Bloke himself, telling of his meeting with the girl who wins his heart, his courtship and marriage.
This black and white movie of the silent era captures the spirit of the poetry exactly. Near the beginning are the memorable words-
"The World 'as got me snouted, jist a treat! Cruel Forchin's dirty left 'as smote me soul, And all them Joys o' Life I 'eld so sweet Is up tha pole!
We soon have our Hero proclaiming-
'Er name's Doreen! Well, spare me bloomin' days! You could've knocked me down wiv 'alf a brick!
My only negative comment about this movie is that the written dialogue is not always easy to understand. It would be good to have the words dubbed.
The Squatter's Daughter (1933)
Stunning Views of rural Australia
For a movie to begin with a statement from the Prime Minister is definitely odd...... but then again, the "Talkies" had only been around for a few years when this movie was made.
Nowadays we associate Elgar's "Land of Hope and Glory" with England... so firmly with England that it seems a little strange to hear it played in association with another land. But it plays during the opening credits of the Squatter's Daughter.And to what glorious effect!
It is the season of sheep shearing. The sheep are being mustered and brought in from the sun-bleached grassy paddocks. On their backs is the chief source of wealth of Australia. The mounted stockmen in their broad-brimmed hats and the patient little dogs circle around the spiralling mass of sheep which grows from tens to hundreds to thousands as the music "Land of Hope and Glory" rolls on. The sunlight filters through the tall gum trees, illuminating the swirling dust, backlighting the surging mob and revealing the mythical Golden Fleece. It is one of the grand, sacred moments of Rural Australia, equal to bringing in the Hay Wain in rural Britain. I could watch these few minutes over and over again!
David Copperfield (1999)
A must for young Potter/Radcliffe Fans
This is Daniel Radcliffe's first movie, and he is wonderful in it!
Charles Dickens, who wrote this story, lived in the 1800's. He is the only author whose popularity has come near to equalling that of JK Rowling! In his day, books were often published as serials in the newspaper. Dicken's books were so popular that people would queue in the street, waiting for the papers to arrive so they could read the next chapter. When a child died in one of the stories, people in both England and America went into mourning!
In the book, David Copperfield tells his own story, from his birth (which is both sad and funny) to his marriage. Dicken's based the story of David Copperfield partly, but not exactly, on his own life. The dear, funny, optimistic Mr McCawber who cannot pay his debts, is based on Dicken's own father who was thrown in prison for unpaid bills.
The terrible school and factory that David is put into by his cruel stepfather are taken from Dicken's life.
Daniel plays David as a child. He is perfectly suited to the role. Among the other characters we find Zoe Wannamaker (Madame Hooch) as his horrible aunt and Imelda Staunton (who has just been chosen as Umbridge) playing the poor wife with soooo many kids who is in despair over her penniless husband.
But the biggest star of the show is Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagal) who plays the very eccentric but lovable Betsy Trotwood, who comes to adore David, but cannot stand donkeys under any circumstance!
There is another lovely crazy character called Mr Dick and the ultimate crreeep called Uriah Heep. He is the slimiest, sneakiest, smarmiest person that you can imagine! There is just one real disappointment- the young man who plays the grown-up David! He doesn't look enough like Daniel. He has a very smug expression. His accent is wrong! His acting is not at all convincing! I really wish that they had chosen someone else! For young people who can read great big complex books like The Order of the Phoenix, this is for YOU! Mandyjam
Tom Brown's School Days (1940)
The Great Dr Arnold
Sir Cedric Hardwick is superb as Doctor Arnold.
It is hard to over-estimate the importance of this headmaster in the history of education. Singlehanded, he revolutionised not only school discipline but also curriculum in one of England's oldest and most famous Public Schools. From Rugby the reforms spread out to Eton, to Harrow and to Winchester. The ideologies were carried by students of these colleges to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and out into the world.
To our modern eyes, the notion of a master whipping a student with a birch for fighting and expelling a boy for telling a lie seems a bit extreme. But prior to Dr Arnold, punishments were brutal and were administered in an arbitrary manner by each teacher. Boys were exploited by the masters, and junior boys were exploited by the seniors.
Hardwick's portrayal of Arnold as a dour, devout and almost obsessively righteous man is wonderful. Arnold hates bullying, but more than anything, he hates lies. Lies, to Arnold, are the mark of real cowardice. Where there are lies, there is Sin and Corruption. A boy that lied to Arnold was immediately expelled.
There is an aspect of Dr Arnold's reformation that is only hinted at- It was he who brought modern subjects such as History and Geography to the school syllabus, to stand alongside the Classic as valuable learning.
Jimmy Lydon is wonderful as Tom. His emotions, be they glee, grief, pain or loneliness are expressed in an irrepressible manner by this lovely boy with his mobile face and eager expression.
Blow Dry (2001)
I LOVE this movie!
Like the Full Monty, this is a story where real human tragedy is inevitable. And we know, from the very start.
Yet living triumphs over dying. Not content to make her exit quietly, Natasha Richardson's character drives those around her into one great creative effort, in which each gives of their very best.
Wonderful, wonderful moments abound in this movie, but the unforgettable moment for me is Natasha Richardson's acting when she sees the transformation of her lover at the hands of her ex-husband. She is absolutely overwhelmed by what she sees, and so, indeed, is the viewer.
There is another magic scene in which artist and model, drawn together by their love for the same woman, suddenly rediscover their old intimacy.
Morte a Venezia (1971)
How beautiful is the city of Venice! And how many poets and painters have sought to capture it with longing and adoration!
We go to Venice to see the views, cool and precisely delineated as Canaletto. When we think of Venice we see the Piazza, with the onion domes and pinnacles of San Marco, right ahead. San Giorgo's, across the water. Santa Maria della Salute from the Accademia.
But this movie does not present the Venice of Canaletto but of Turner, Whistler, Monet and Lionel Lindsay. It is a vision, a dream of haze and heat through which the sun sparks on water.
Turner was here in this movie, with his atmosphere. Monet came with his palette of sun-bleached colour. Lindsay, the great Australian engraver marked the courts and stairs and archways with his light and shade. And Whistler, the absolute master of composition, inspires the camera which angles down, giving an intensity, an almost voyeuristic view of every scene. Like a Whistler painting, everything is in its place. Move one potted hydrangea or one newspaper and the design disintegrates and falls to pieces. A beach attendant runs across the sand. His footprints complete a composition that has been waiting for them.
This is a film so perfect, so satisfying in what it reveals and so tantalising in what it allows to remain just beyond. The boy with the light on his hair and his unassailable androgynous beauty is one with the city itself. It is the most visually exquisite movie I have ever experienced.
Startime: The Turn of the Screw (1959)
Eerie and Chilling
The book "Turn of the Screw" is quite a masterpiece. It employs a technique quite common at the time of putting a story within a story. It goes like this-
"OK, I'm going to tell you what She told me happened and then you can tell me what you think REALLY happened!"
The story involves a young woman who is hired by a gentleman as a governess for two children who live at a country house. The circumstances are all very strange. There are overtones of Jane Eyre .... but the story takes a very different turn. This is a ghost story .... or is it a ghost story? The reader is left to decide.
On reading the book, my family and neighbours all argued vehemently about how the story was to be interpreted. It created nearly as much speculation and discord as Picnic at Hanging Rock was to do a generation later.
Then we saw the movie and it started all over again. "There you are!" says Al "it's there in black and white! The director agreed with MY interpretation!" "No!" says Vi, "It's perfectly obvious, that it proves my opinion!" Nell said "Can't you see now that I'm correct?!" and Dot said "Your all mad... it WAS a ghost story!" "No" said the baby, putting in its tuppence worth, "She done it!"
The thing that is so impressive about this movie is that it miraculously retains the ambiguity that makes the book so fascinating.
An Amazingly Wonderfully Dated Classic!
Oh, those were the sixties! Long medieval princess locks, brown and orange woollen boucle, chunky Spanish-style furniture, hammered metal, dripping candles, gold glass, drifty bits, swirling smoke, animal skin rugs, chains of flowers. Liberated by pot smoking and free love, but still awaiting Germaine Greer!
The poster, the superb poster, says it all!
The movie is all and every beautiful thing that has been said about it .... and it is also one of the most extraordinarily sexist pieces of drama ever made. It is a musical which acknowledges over and over the weakness, the foolishness, the vapidness, the fickleness of the female nature!
It is telling to compare this musical masterpiece with My Fair Lady, which is based closely on the play Pygmalian written about 60 years earlier. How George Bernard Shaw sends up the arrogance of the man who imagines he a superior creature to the woman! But in Camelot, the superiority of the male in all things is simply taken for granted and Guinevere never questions it for an instant.
Watching this movie provides an incomparable opportunity to study the way in which gender roles and attitudes have changed in the last forty years.
Run Wild, Run Free (1969)
Run Wild and the Autistic Child.
I enjoyed this movie, and indeed it was moving. But it was not Mark Lester's performance, good though it was, that impressed me. When one watches movies, here and there one sees a few brief moments in which an actor gives absolutely all they've got, when they just let go and some deep primeval emotion erupts from them. It doesn't happen very often. It happens with Juliet Stephenson's grief in Truly Madly Deeply. It happens with Michael Caine's fear in Sleuth, It happens with Anna Calder-Marshall's desperate passion in Wuthering Heights. In Run Wild, Run Free we see this rare phenomenon for a few moments in the acting of Fiona Fullerton when she fears that Philip will be lost in the bog. Her frantic, desperate attempts to control a child for whom she feels responsibility but who is totally beyond her control are to me absolutely unforgettable. This moment alone makes the movie worth watching.
Tiger in the Smoke (1956)
Impressive use of B&W media
From the point of view of filming, this movie is a masterpiece. The London Smog takes on a character of its own. Characters appear and disappear mysteriously, sounds are muffled, uncertain violence is ever present. The Street Band squawks and groans eerily, its members looming distorted as nightmares from Heironymus Bosch.
For those unfamiliar with Marjorie Allingham, her successful detective series featured Albert Campion, a colourless gentleman who merged with his background. The filmmakers, as has been stated, successfully lost him in the "Smoke". The truly attractive character from Allingham's series is the Police detective, Charles Luke. Charlie is tall, handsome, puppy-like and incredibly dynamic. His curly hair never stays put, He never stands still, he talks with his hands, his voice is full of expression. What a great character to play! This is where the screen adaptation seriously falls down. Alec Clune appears to be making no attempt to represent Charlie Luke. He has obviously not read the book, which is a pity! The result is that the colourful Charlie is reduced to a character as grey and insipid as Albert Campion. It is a real disappointment to Charlie's fans!
On the other hand, the performances by Tony Wright as the psychopath Jack Havoc, Laurence Naismith as the courageous Canon and Bernard Miles as the Gang Leader are wonderful, while Beatrice Varley as the sinister Lucy Cash is Magnificent.
The most unforgettable line is this description of Lucy Cash - "When she walks down the street curtains tremble, blinds creep down and keys turn stealthily in locks."
FOOTNOTE- Smog is the name of a combination of fog and coal dust, common in London until the air was cleaned up.
A little Gem of British Comedy!
This was my introduction to Ronald Fraser. What a lovely actor! I watched this short movie with my mother in the 1960s and thought it the best of the series in which it was screened. It makes a funny yet poignant comment on the expectations of people who nowadays search the Internet to meet their special someone - overweight sixty-year-olds who advertise for partners who are beautiful, slim, under 35, with house car job and no kids.. Arnold is a coal man, with a broken nose and as plain as a coal scuttle. But somehow he must win the love of his pen friend, the glamorous Michelle.
All I can say is, we loved this movie so much that we named our second-hand Morris Oxford after Fraser's character, Arnold, and we have quoted lines from it for the last 40 years.