Theatre review – The Moderate Soprano by David Hare


Following on from the recently transferred Mr Foote’s Other Leg, the Hampstead Theatre’s latest production brings another prominent British actor to this North West London stage, as Roger Allam leads the small cast in David Hare’s new play, which reveals the beginnings of what has become one of the most respected opera house – Glyndebourne.

Having never visited the venue myself and being unfamiliar with its origins, this play was an interesting opportunity to broaden my own cultural knowledge. Roger Allam plays John Christie, whose love of opera led him in 1934 to set upon an ambitious project – to build an opera house in the grounds of his Sussex home. In order to bring his very English dream to life he needs help and convinces Germans, conductor Fritz Busch, director Carl Ebert and administrator Rudolf Bing to join his venture and craft the opening season. At a time when Nazi Germany was growing ever stronger and casting an ever larger shadow, it is amazing to learn how these three Germans, fleeing from their homeland, helped make Glyndebourne an early success.


Such success was also in no small way due to the support of Christie’s wife, the singer Audrey Mildmay (played by the sublime Nancy Carroll), whom he met and fell in love with at the age of 48. He refers to her as the moderate soprano and is determined she will sing at his opera house.

It’s a very English, quaint play, as we see this eccentric English gentleman, bullish in his approach to his dream. Christie is aware he needs the help of the three Germans (all hugely important figures in the European opera world), but he struggles to let go of artistic control, viewing them as employees akin to his gardener and who therefore should answer to him. It is his home, his money and his opera house after all. It is Audrey who helps smooth the waters and steer him in to accepting that perhaps these three men know more about running an opera house than him and can help make a success out of Glyndebourne in a way he couldn’t.


By the nature of the story, it is quite a slow play and there are scenes in which very little happens at all and where instead there is a great deal of exposition, perhaps the biggest example being the long scene where Fritz and Carl tell the story of their exit from Germany. Such moments do cause the play to drag and at times feel a little dull. However, what it lacks in pace (I do think the text could have benefited from some trimming) is made up for through the acting of the five member cast.

Roger Allam perfectly captures the different facets of Christie’s personality, from his stubborn, English stuffiness, through to his passion for the project and his love and affection for his wife. Nancy Carroll, who remains one of my favourite actresses, is wonderful as Audrey. She carries with her an air of natural class and style that not many actresses could achieve and she has a lovely relationship with Allam. Their marriage genuinely feels like one built on love and mutual respect. I would have liked to have seen more of the play’s focus be on her and her choice to sacrifice her career for his role as wife and supporter of her husband’s dream.


Perhaps the best moment for Allam in the play for me is Christie’s impassioned speech about why those coming to Glyndebourne should be making an effort, dressing up and committing to it for more than just a quick couple of hours after work. It made me smile and admire his old-fashioned sense of style. It may seem elitist to some, but I’m quite a fan of tradition and although I’ve never been to the venue, I love the old-fashioned standard maintained by a dress code.

Playing the three Germans who helped make a success of what has become a very English institution are Paul Jesson, Nick Sampson and George Taylor. All three are very good although I did find the lack of accents for Jesson and Sampson (the latter for whom this is partly explained) a bit of a distraction. They do however play wonderfully with Allam and I particularly enjoyed watching them present him with their proposed opening season – not Wagner as he’d imagined, but to his annoyance Mozart. It also wasn’t lost on me that at a time when there is so much discussion about refugees and the closing of borders, it was ironic to think that it is thanks to such refugees fleeing from the darkness they could see coming from the Nazis (something which the Christies in rural 1930s England have no idea about), that Glyndebourne was able to flourish in those early years.

Overall I enjoyed this play. It is very well acted and provides an interesting insight in to a subject I knew next to nothing about. However, the long exposition scenes and lack of pace were a bit disappointing and although the relationship between the Christies is lovely, it didn’t move me on a deeper emotional level. It has however made me quite curious to go and see Glyndebourne for myself. I’ll certainly be thinking of John Christie’s passion for this now famous cultural venue if I do.

The Moderate Soprano continues its run at the Hampstead Theatre until this Saturday (28th November 2015). For last minute ticket availability call the box office on 020 7722 9301. For more details visit the website here.

Film Review – The Lady In The Van (2015)


In light of tragic recent events in the real world, I took a much needed family trip to the cinema this weekend for some escapism. The Lady In The Van was exactly what we all needed. This is British film at its best.

The incredible true story of Miss Shepherd (actually Margaret Fairchild), who arrived with her van on Gloucester Crescent in 1974, eventually parking opposite the home of English writer and actor Alan Bennett, began life as a memoir, charting the almost unbelievable tale of how Mr. Bennett permitted her to park on his drive (chiefly to keep her off the street and out of his eyeline!) for a few months, only for her to stay for 15 years! The story went on to become a play in London’s West End in 1999 starring Maggie Smith and now 16 years later one of Britain’s most beloved and talented actresses has returned to the role for this film.


Known and loved by so many generations, whether for Hook and Sister Act, Harry Potter or Downton Abbey, Dame Maggie Smith is unsurprisingly wonderful in Nicholas Hytner’s film. She makes Miss Shepherd both someone you find rude and annoying, while also making her someone you can’t help but have an affection for. She sparkles throughout, whether it’s while daubing yellow paint everywhere, chasing off noisy, musical children or generally driving Alan up the wall, you can see how much fun she is having. However, there is a deeper aspect to this story, as we gradually learn about her past and there are plenty of moments which don’t fail to move you. A scene with Miss Shepherd at a piano, tentatively playing Chopin (Piano Concerto No.1 Romance (Larghetto)) is incredibly moving.

Reprising the role of Alan Bennett is the brilliant Alex Jennings, who stepped in to the writer’s shoes on stage for the 2012 productions of Hymn and Cocktail Sticks and it was lovely to see him back in this role. He captures Bennett beautifully, in manner, voice and humour and his relationship with Miss Shepherd is a lovely one to watch open out over the years.


No stranger to the writer, Nicholas Hytner was the perfect choice of director, having worked with Bennett a number of times during his time as Artistic Director of the National Theatre. He is able to bring both the humour and the sadness of the story to the screen and has gathered together a British (and indeed National Theatre alumni) cast, with cameos from History Boys James Cordon, Dominic Cooper, Frances De La Tour and Geoffrey Streatfeild, as well as lovely smaller roles for superb talent such as Deborah Findlay and Roger Allam. It really is British film at its finest.

The other perfect component of the film is the location itself. Without the use of the original house and street, the making of this film would I imagine have been unthinkable. So much of the spirit of the story is bound up in that place. It adds to the beauty of the film, knowing that you are seeing the location where it actually happened. I’m adding going to see it for myself to my list of London things to do (plus I’m curious to know if the blue plaque really is there in real life!).


Alex Jennings (left) and Alan Bennett (right)

The Lady In The Van is the perfect tonic for today’s world. For a couple of hours you can escape in to the world of Gloucester Crescent in the 70s and 80s and a time when people actually allowed someone like Miss Shepherd to encroach on their lives. I’d love to think this could still happen today, but when many of us don’t even know our neighbours, I’m not so sure.

So, if you are looking for a film that will make you laugh, shed a tear and remember the capacity we have for kindness towards each other, then book your tickets now. You will be very glad that you did.

The Lady In The Van is on general release at UK cinemas now. For those interested, here’s a link to the trailer




Theatre Review – The Winter’s Tale starring Judi Dench & Kenneth Branagh


The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s residence at the Garrick Theatre began this month with a new production of The Winter’s Tale, which with its initial Christmas setting marks the start of the festive theatreland season.

THE WINTER’S TALE by Shakespeare, , Writer - William Shakespeare, Directors - Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford, Set and Costume - Christopher Oram, Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Hadley Fraser & Kenneth Branagh. Credit: Johan Persson

Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s lesser known and performed plays, The Winter’s Tale highlights the dangers of jealousy and how such feelings can come at a costly price, as Leontes, King of Sicilia (Branagh) begins to dislike the closeness of his pregnant wife to his friend and visitng monarch Polixenes, King of Bohemia. Once such thoughts have taken root, he convinces himself of her infidelity, imprisoning her and ordering that his new baby daughter (who he refuses to believe is his) be taken far away, much to the dismay of the Queen’s trusted companion Paulina (Dench), who tries her best to make him see sense. Sixteen years later, having been raised by a shepherd, the girl meets and falls in love with Polixenes’s son Florizel, but will the truth of her parentage be discovered and Leontes have a chance at redemption?

The play is an interesting mix of concepts from Shakespeare’s canon – characters concealing their identity, jealousy, tragedy, unlikely love and redemption and even though I’d only seen it once before at the RSC in 2009, it is one of my favourites and with such a strong cast, I’d been looking forward to the arrival of this production.


Judi Dench & Miranda Raison. Credit: Johan Persson

After seeing one of the last previews before press night, overall, I found this to be a hugely enjoyable production. The set by Christopher Oram perfectly captures the mood during the various settings of the play, beginning in a warm, traditional Christmas setting of velvets and reds, with a glorious smell of spices in the air (the benefit of sitting in the second row). As Leontes moves in to a darker, paranoid and ultimately lonely phase, the colour and warmth of the stage drains away in favour of a colder, stark, wintry setting, only for the second act, set 16 years later, to bring the fun and colour back through the home of the shepherd and his friends.

There are plenty of very good performances on the stage. I booked for Dame Judi Dench and she didn’t disappoint, bringing much more life and depth to her supporting role as Paulina than I remember from the last version I saw. Her ease with Shakespeare is clear and she brings such gravitas to the production, acting everyone off the stage. Hadley Fraser is also excellent as Polixenes, whose shock at discovering Leontes’s plan to kill him feeling genuine and believable, as does his later anger directed at his son’s choice of bride. Michael Pennington is good as Paulina’s husband Antigonus (who is destined to encounter the play’s infamous bear, which is sadly only done via a projection on a curtain). I did however feel that he made much less of an impression than Judi Dench, despite them both having relatively small roles and I would have instead preferred to see him return to his wonderful John of Gaunt in the RSC’s Richard II (now to be played by Julian Glover).


Tom Bateman & Jessie Buckley. Credit: Johan Persson

The second half of the play introduces new characters, as we follow the lives of Perdita’s adopted family, many years later. I liked Jessie Buckley’s Perdita, although I was a bit distracted by her accent, which seemed to wander from Irish, to West Country and I think her chemistry with Tom Bateman (as Florizel) is still evolving and will grown stronger over the run. Mr Bateman has come a long way since the first preview of Much Ado in 2011 (his professional debut) and I thought he was very good as the young prince, determined to marry for love, in spite of his father’s wishes. The happy, free-spirited, frivolity of the shepherds is a lovely, light contrast to the sad mood of the palace we left in the first half and I thoroughly enjoyed all the dancing and singing, which brought the stage and the play to life.

Miranda Raison (already in one of my favourite plays of the theatre year, Hello/Goodbye) was fantastic as Leontes’s wife Hermione. She conveys her deep love for her family and her shock and hurt at the allegations against her perfectly and brings the inner strength and dignity of her character to life so well. I truly admired Hermione’s composure and grace. On top of that she is utterly beautiful, as if she has stepped out of a fairytale, ideal for the play’s fantastical conclusion.


Kenneth Branagh. Credit: Johan Persson

Then I come to the weakest link of the production, which in my view is Kenneth Branagh himself. Throughout, I felt his delivery of the text was very stilted, enhanced by pauses which resulted in a loss of rhythm and flow, which made his performance seem quite disjointed. I also found him to be incredibly over the top, such as his almost instantaneous switch from happy, loving husband, to crazed madman and his reaction to the tragic news about his wife Hermione. It just didn’t work for me.

Despite my disappointment and frustration with Mr Branagh himself, I would certainly still recommend a trip to this production if you can find a ticket (due to it selling out in advance thanks to the power of Judi Dench, although the app Today Tix provides a daily ticket lottery option). It is an enjoyable, festive production, showcasing one of the country’s finest actresses, who I am always thrilled to watch on stage, as well as those still at the beginning of their careers and the magical quality of Shakespeare’s story is very much alive in this interpretation. Yes, it could have been better, but I still enjoyed it despite its faults.

The Winter’s Tale continues its run at the Garrick Theatre until 16th January 2016. For further details visit the website. The mobile app Today Tix runs a ticket lottery for the front row each day of the performance, where if successful you will be able to buy up to two tickets for £15 each. The play will also be screened live in cinemas on 26th November.

Theatre Review – Bertie Carvel is The Hairy Ape at the Old Vic


Matthew Warchus’s tenure at the Old Vic continues with this revival of Eugene O’Neill’s classic 1922 play, in which one man struggles to find his place in a society driven by wealth and status. A story focusing on the topic of class and individual identity is always going to resonate no matter when it is staged, with the play’s central character representing all those frustrated by the injustices they see in the world around them and this was certainly a production that left me with food for thought afterwards.


The Hairy Ape of the piece is “Yank”, a labourer working as a stoker on a transatlantic ship. He is the toughest, strongest and most committed of the men below decks and revels in his place as ruler of the roost. However, his sense of position in the world is shaken when the daughter of the cruise line’s owner comes down to the bowels of the ship to see how the other half live. This privileged (and quite offensive) young woman is horrified by Yank’s appearance, calling him a “filthy beast”. Filled with rage and frustration as to the prejudices and attitudes of those who deem themselves to be better than him, he spends the rest of the play searching the streets of New York for somewhere he belongs, growing wilder the further he roams.


Yank (Bertie Carvel) encounters the generic upper class of New York

I found the play to be quite a tough one to watch, as despite its short running time (90 minutes, no interval), I felt it lost some of its pace following the opening scenes on board ship, with later scenes seeming to drag a little. This initial scenes on the ship are very cleverly staged by director Richard Jones, as we see the stokers below decks in one long rectangular box, mirroring a cage at the zoo, complete with bars on the ceiling to swing off and on the door. Aletta Collins’s choreography here is also excellently effective in evoking the feeling of movement on board a ship at sea. I also loved the choice to have the upper class society of New York as faceless people, suggesting they are all generic, with no individual identities. It also means the audience focus stays with Yank.

The biggest asset of this production is indeed its lead actor Bertie Carvel. Almost unrecognizable with shaven head, bulked up frame and a fantastic (well in my view anyway) American accent; he gives a truly superb performance as Yank. This is his journey and he commands your attention in every moment, as you watch him shift from a man filled with confidence in himself and his abilities, to someone adrift and becoming more and more frustrated by the world around him. Carvel puts so much in to his performance, vocally and physically, right down to the most subtle of movements. Watching how he walks and sits, slightly hunched, hands on thighs, gives a nod to the ape of the title from the very first scene, providing a wonderful sense of connection once the play reaches its final moments.


Steffan Rhodri (Paddy) and Yank’s fellow stokers

The rest of the cast provide strong support to Carvel, particularly Steffan Rhodri as fellow Irish stoker Paddy. Stewart Laing’s set is kept to the bare essentials, which sometimes looks a little odd and adrift on the large Old Vic stage (back in traditional proscenium configuration after the recent seasons in the round), but this also ensures that the focus remains always on Yank.

This won’t be a production that appeals to everyone and I can’t say I found it a hugely enjoyable experience. It is quite heavy material and I did find the pace of some scenes slow, particularly the later scenes. However, it’s worth buying a ticket for Bertie Carvel’s tour de force performance, which is impressive and will last long in your memory after you leave the theatre.

The Hairy Ape runs at the Old Vic Theatre until 21st November 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit the website here.

Theatre review – Husbands & Sons at the National Theatre


Ben Powers’s tremendous new production is sure to be another hit for the National Theatre and deservedly so, in a production that sees him adapting not one, but three of D.H Lawrence’s plays: The Daughter-In-Law; the Widowing of Mrs Holyroyd and A Collier’s Friday Night.

After suggesting the theatre revive one of these plays years ago, this ambitious project was borne out of workshops during which he and director Marianne Elliott (behind hits such as the Curious Incident) saw the potential for something much richer in its exploration of one mining community in the West Midlands.


Anne-Marie Duff

Instead of one play, Ben’s adaptation skillfully weaves the stories of each one together, allowing them to interlock and provide the audience with a multi-layered insight in to the lives behind the closed doors of the village of Eastwood (said to be on the border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) in 1911, as the events unfold alongside each other on a stage separated in to three distinct homes, marked out on the floor in the same vein as the Cluedo board. However I loved that the lack of walls and doors in Bunny Christie’s set means that all three still feel part of the same whole.

The result is that the lives of the characters are conveyed in a much more realistic and interesting way to the audience (who sit on all four sides of this intimate theatre space) and it is easy to imagine all the events we see over the course of the play unfolding inside the houses of this one village at once. This structure also enables Ben and Marianne Elliott to draw out common themes within each play, which grounds the entire production with a deeper sense of meaning and connection.


Louise Brealey & Joe Armstrong

Through the play’s three hours, we spend time in the lives of three quite different families, all living in the shadow of the mine at which most of the men work – The Holyroyds, the Lamberts and the Gascoignes. They may all be at varying stages of life, from newly-weds to those with a grown up family, but you begin to see the parallels – how the protective mother in early life goes on to become the frustrated wife competing with her husband’s mother, before possibly becoming such a type of mother to her own son, resenting his affection to another woman! It’s an interesting insight in to the dynamics that affect human behavior and our interactions with those we have the closest relationships with.

A deeply moving, rich and powerful production, Husbands & Sons is superbly acted by its ensemble cast, particularly the focal women of the households, from whose perspective we see the husbands and sons of the title. Anne Marie-Duff is excellent as Mrs Holyroyd, raising her young son in a household with an alcoholic (and likely cheating) husband, while being drawn to the kind, young electrician, who may offer her an escape. Julia Ford offers a glimpse of a mother adjusting to a new phase of life in which her son is no longer a child and is turning his affection more towards a local girl than his doting mother. Her resentment of this blossoming relationship is the counterpoint to life in the Gascoigne house, where Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong capture the struggles of newly married life in a home where he doesn’t feel good enough for her (enhanced by the fact she enters the marriage with money of her own) and she doesn’t feel he is putting her before his love for his mother. Around all of these stories is the toil of daily life at the mine, with its inherent risks and dangers and I loved the use of the lighting rig around the stage to evoke the feeling of the rising up and down of the mineshaft lift.


Julia Ford & Johnny Gibbon

All three women carry their stories with strength and skill and you are immediately drawn in to their lives and despite the rather lengthy running time (the production could do with a bit of trimming), remain engaged throughout. Other strong supporting performances include Susan Brown as Luther Gascoigne’s mother, Johnny Gibbon who, as the young scholar Ernest Lambert gives us an insight in to D.H. Lawrence’s view on his own experience growing up in such a community and escaping through education. Martin Marquez plays the drunken Mr Holyroyd convincingly, moving from drunken fool, to someone who may pose more of a risk to his family during his outbursts. There is also wonderful chemistry between Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong (reunited after Constellations) and Anne-Marie Duff and Philip McGinley (who plays her younger admirer).

The world depicted on stage in this production is certainly not an easy one, which at times is quite grim as we see the men risking their lives down the pit, while the women deal with their own daily grinds of the repetitive life of keeping the home tidy and clean, only for the soot-covered men to dirty them up again each evening. However the quality of the acting ensures that as an audience member you are immersed in the story completely and cannot fail to feel an emotional connection to at least some of the characters and for me the merging of the three stories made for a very satisfying overall experience, one which I strongly recommend.

Husbands & Sons continues its run at the Dorfman Theatre of the National Theatre until 10th February 2016. It will then transfer to the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester from 19th February – 19th March 2016. For more information and ticket availability, visit the website here.

Film Review – The Wave (Bolgen) (2015)


It was a double cinema trip to the London Film Festival for me last Friday and as well as seeing Black Mass (read my review here), I also attended a screening of this Scandinavian disaster film, also submitted as Norway’s entrant for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars.

The premise plays on the scientific community’s awareness that there are unstable mountains across Norway, which are under constant monitoring and which will one day inevitably collapse, as has happened to others in the past, resulting in a tsunami that would devastate everything in its path. This is quite topical following, earlier in 2015, the first gathering for the world’s leading researchers in this area in Oslo. The film even begins with real photos of previous disasters, with specific reference to the 1905 Loen disaster. The question then – what would happen if another such event occurred today?


The story is set in the mountainside community of Geiranger, by the Akerneset mountain, popular with tourists for the beauty of the scenery of the surrounding Fjords, which are beautifully shot and brought to the screen by director Roar Uthaug. It does indeed seem to be a truly tranquil place to live and visit. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Jones) is however moving away to a new job in the oil industry in the city, together with his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), who works in the local hotel and his young daughter and teenage son. However on his last day (cheesy I agree), the early warning centre at which he works pick up some strange movement within the mountainside. No one else seems worried, but Kristian has a sixth sense that something could be very wrong – which of course it is.


The first half of the film builds the unease, as you see the beauty and peace of the area, get to know the dynamics of the various relationships, including not just Kristian’s family, but that of his co-workers and others in the town, while all the time waiting for the inevitable wave of the film’s title to arrive. Kristian’s son says how he doesn’t want to leave, as it is safe in Geiranger. Little does he know what nature has in store for them.

To say this isn’t a Hollywood big budget movie, the effects and visuals used to bring the rockslide and resulting tsunami to life are excellent, as the wave sweeps its way towards the fleeing residents and tourist with terrifying realism and intensity. The wave doesn’t actually take up much screen time, with the remainder of the film focusing on Kristian’s fight to find his wife and son (his daughter is with him at the time of the wave), uncertain whether they are even alive.


Leading the cast Kristoffer Jones and Ane Dahl Torp are very convincing in their roles and both of their characters feel fully-rounded and are people with whom you can connect. This is of course crucial if you are to care about their plight for the rest of the film. In fact a lot of the characters here are likeable, whether the dedicated team Kristian works with or their neighbours.

As the events of the film unfold and people fight for survival, we are also shown that panic and our desperation to survive can bring out the good in some people (one hotel guest risks her life for Kristian’s son, whom she has never even met, not to mention Kristian’s heroics himself), but can also make others act in ways they would never normally behave (perfectly highlighted when some of the characters are trapped in the hotel basement).

It’s also quite a short film (under 2 hours) and so there is never time for the action to drag or the pace to slow.

Director Roar Uthaug has certainly produced a convincing, engaging and thrilling film, with only a fraction of American budgets (around £4 million), proving that you don’t need lots of cash to make a great film. If you have the opportunity to see this film, I can definitely recommend it.

The Wave (Bolgen) appears to be screening at various London cinemas this week. It’s unclear if it will see a wider release in the UK, but you should certainly keep an eye out for it. Magnolia Pictures has now acquired the U.S. rights for a possible early 2016 release. Watch the international trailer here.

Film Review – Black Mass (2015) starring Johnny Depp & Benedict Cumberbatch


This film had been on my list of ones to watch in 2015 and I wasn’t disappointed during my last trip to this year’s London Film Festival on Friday night. It’s a compelling, absorbing, tension-filled story, which certainly isn’t for the squeamish.

Based on the 2001 book, the film tells the story of the world of organized crime in 1970s and 1980s Boston, where the New England Mafia family, the Angiulo Brothers, controlled the north while the Irish-American gang led by James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) resided in the south, but were growing ever more ambitious. Determined to gain some control of the situation, the FBI saw an opportunity and agreed to make a deal with Bulger, seeing him as the lesser of two evils – he would be their informant, secretly providing information to help bring down his rivals and in return they would protect him, a deal which is championed by Agent John Connolly, who grew up with the Bulgers. However, the result works much more to the benefit of Bulger rather than the FBI, as his gang grows stronger in Boston, elevating him to become a notorious gangster and effectively making him untouchable.


Johnny Depp is chilling as James “Whitey” Bulger

It’s an interesting and frightening look at not only the world of violent crime in the era, but also how power corrupts, as soon the actions of Connolly and some of his colleagues become as questionable as those of the criminals they were seeking to stop. It also demonstrates how gangsters don’t just appear; Bulger’s rise wouldn’t have happened without the FBI’s actions.

The script by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (the genius behind the brilliant play Jerusalem) is tight and well-paced and together with director Scott Cooper they have produced a film that keeps you engaged and gripped throughout, aided by a quality ensemble cast.

The acting as a whole is very strong, which is to be expected from such a great cast. However, this is Johnny Depp’s movie. He is the central figure and commands your attention in every moment. Almost unrecognizable thanks to prosthetics; his portrayal of Whitey is utterly chilling. You are in no doubt that he is a very dangerous man and absolutely believe that he could snap at any moment (which he does frequently). The script also brilliantly allows moments where we see the kinder side of him (like all mobsters, he loves his mother, son, brother and little old ladies in his neighbourhood!), but this only makes it more unnerving when in the next scene he is committing cold-blooded murder!


Benedict Cumberbatch & Johnny Depp as brothers Billy and Whitey Bulger

It’s a superb performance from Depp, which I hope receives greater recognition in the awards nominations and without question is his best work for some time (after so much fluff in recent years). Every expression, movement, laugh and look in his eyes feels true to character and quite uncomfortable to watch. He maintains Whitey’s calm exterior perfectly, but also the sensation that he’s a coiled spring, ready to release at any moment, adding to the tension of the piece. The scene around the dinner table included in the trailer has you bracing yourself for him to erupt. In order for the film to have a depth and weight to it, Whitey needed to feel real and frightening and Depp certainly pulls this off.

There are great supporting performances all around him. W.Earl Brown as his go-to executioner Johnny Martorano and Rory Cochrane as fellow gang member Stephen Flemmi, who clearly grows more and more disturbed by Bulger’s actions, are both very well cast. Dakota Johnson also enjoys a tougher (if somewhat small) role here than in 50 Shades, playing the mother of Bulger’s young son. She’s one of the few people who seem to be able to get away with standing up to him.


Joel Edgerton as FBI Agent Connolly & Johnny Depp

It also seems incredible that at the time Whitey was committing such dreadful crimes, his brother was the Massachusetts State Senator. Playing the other side of the moral coin to Depp’s crime lord is Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother Billy. Noticeably bulked up in physique for the role, Cumberbatch is a great addition to the ensemble and it’s a shame there aren’t more scenes between him and Depp that delve a little deeper in to their relationship. A man who clearly takes his job seriously, Billy is stuck trying to maintain a balance between his love for his brother and his duty to public office and the strain of this is obvious, as he is clearly aware to a certain extent of what his brother is doing.

Joel Edgerton is also excellent as cocky Agent Connolly, conveying brilliantly his slide from FBI man to an extension of Bulger’s gang, turning a blind eye to Bulger’s crimes and deceiving his superiors about Bulger’s usefulness as a source in order to maintain his ascent to professional success, through his supposed results. Perhaps he really did believe in the beginning that Whitey was the answer to the FBI’s problems, but this seems hard to argue by the end, where his love of power and position, as a result of his link to Bulger, seem to mean more to him than anything else, including his marriage (Julianne Nicholson is also very good as his concerned wife Marianne, who grows ever more fearful of Whitey’s effect on her husband).

Black Mass is a gripping crime drama, which is all the more interesting due to being based on real events. With a strong script brought to the screen by a excellent ensemble, I highly recommend it.

Black Mass is on general release in the UK from 27th November 2015. For those yet to see it, click here for the trailer.

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