Prior to Benedict Cumberbatch opening Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre in London, I wrote a blog post providing what I hoped would be useful tips for the many fans travelling to London to see the show and visit the theatre, possibly for the first time, and a friend recently suggested that perhaps I should do the same for those coming from far and wide for Harry Potter & The Cursed Child.
So, below I’ve tried to include a few tips for directions, transport, places to eat, things to do nearby, tips for getting tickets and for when you arrive at the Palace for the show, as well as some Harry Potter-related suggestions (although I imagine most fans will have already planned those themselves)! I’ve also included links to maps and other useful information.
1. Getting There
The Palace Theatre is luckily in the heart of London’s West End and therefore there are plenty of ways to get to the show once you arrive in London. The nearest tube stations are:
- Leicester Square – Northern Line; Piccadilly Line (about 5 minutes away)
- Tottenham Court Road – Central Line (about 5 minutes away)
- Piccadilly Circus – Piccadilly Line; Bakerloo Line (about 10 minutes away)
- Covent Garden – Piccadilly Line (about 7 minutes away)
A great resource is the Transport For London (TFL) website, on which you can plan routes and check on any tube closures / travel problems: https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/
I also recommend downloading the CityMapper app to your phone, as it’s the most reliable route planning app for London. I use it every time I need to go somewhere new.
2. Still looking for tickets?
If you haven’t been able to buy tickets, then don’t despair, as there are still ways of seeing the show during your time in London. Here are a few suggestions, plus visit the official website for more information: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/ticket-information/
- Friday Forty – the least effort option is the weekly online lottery. Click on the enter button at 1 p.m. every Friday to be entered in to the ballot for £40 tickets for shows in the following week.
- Weekly Premium Seat Release – a limited number of premium seats at £95 (or £190 for both parts) are apparently released weekly on the website, so keep an eye on it if you can afford the higher prices.
- Popping by the box office / checking the website – If you are flexible as to when you go, then it’s worth calling or popping by the box office and checking if there are any odd seats available. I know someone who asked if there was anything at all for July and picked up a stray seat. This will clearly be easier for solo theatregoers or those willing to sit separately. Tickets also occasionally pop up on the website, so keep an eye on it and you may pick up last minute tickets that way.
- Returns – the Palace has 1,400 seats so the chances of returns are good. Picking up a return will involve a queue, so take a flask of hot tea, a blanket, a stool and head for the theatre. I know people who’ve queued in the early morning for any returns released as soon as the box office opens. Others are also queuing during the day, where there is more chance to pick up returns the nearer it gets to the start of the show as people arrive with spares. The brilliant Theatre Forum now has a thread about the returns queue, which can help you keep up to date with people’s experiences: http://theatreboard.co.uk/thread/1408/harry-potter-cursed-returns-thread
3. Box office collection
If you need to collect your tickets, the box office is on the Shaftesbury Avenue side of the buildingg. I’d recommend collecting them earlier in the day if you can, as that will save you having to queue at the box office when you arrive for the show (as you’ll likely have to then join the queue to enter the theatre too)! Make sure you take some ID and the card you used to pay for the tickets when you go to collect them.
4. Arriving for the show – Get there with plenty of time before it starts (especially if you want to buy merchandise)
I’m sure you’ll have seen that the theatre is recommending everyone arrive an hour before it starts. I’ll start by saying don’t panic if you think you’ll arrive with less time than that! We arrived there at about 6:50 p.m. and that in fact worked out better, as those who had already started queuing before the doors opened had largely already gone inside, meaning the queue was much smaller and was already moving. Once the Palace Theatre opens, the queue to enter moves very quickly, so I don’t see the point of queuing for ages before then.
I would however say that you should give yourself enough time before the show starts to buy any refreshments and to queue for the merchandise. The merchandise kiosk is located in the entrance of the theatre and due to the lack of space and to ensure everyone is served quickly, there is a queue for the kiosk. It’s very orderly as Palace Theatre staff direct you and don’t let anyone push in, so you’ll find yourself queuing for about 15 minutes down the stairs inside the theatre foyer. I’d recommend buying anything from the kiosk either before the show starts or at the end, as the interval may not give you enough time and you don’t want to be rushing. I would say, don’t read the programme or souvenir brochure until after Part 2 if you want to be absolutely spoiler-free (the lovely theatre staff will say the same too).
There are refreshments available to buy at the theatre, but I took a bottle of water with me and I’d recommend buying some water, just in case you start coughing during the show, as it’ll be better for you and those around you! If you want to buy drinks in the interval, order them before the show starts to save you having to queue at the bar later on. Also don’t forget that large bags aren’t allowed in to the theatre (no larger than 41cm x 31cm x 16cm), so don’t arrive with your suitcase.
5. Seating Plan
I’m sure by now you all know where you are sitting, but if you need a reminder have a look at the seating plan on the play’s website here: seating-plan-v2
6. Food & Drink
Being in the middle of central London means that there are places to eat and drink nearby that should suit all budgets. If you only want something quick, the usual suspects of McDonalds and Pret are practically opposite the theatre entrance. If you have more time, then you could walk the 5 minutes in to the heart of ChinaTown for Chinese food, which again doesn’t have to cost you too much at all. The Foyles bookshop around the corner (at 107 Charing Cross Road) also has a great café on the 5th floor which is another option (plus you can also wander around this brilliant bookshop too).
The Cursed Child website has also helpfully compiled suggestions for a range of cuisines at nearby restaurants, which you can find here: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/restaurants/
7. Stage Door
For those keen to try and get an autograph from the actors after the play, then there is a stage door. It’s located on the corner of the theatre (the Greek Street / Shaftesbury Avenue side of the theatre). As you leave the theatre, go past the box office and you’ll soon spot the people waiting around the side door around the corner (see image above courtesy of http://www.aboutmaria.com). If you are in London for a few days, it may be worth trying for autographs on a day you haven’t seen the show. That way you aren’t rushing to leave the building and can time your arrival to just before the show finishes, giving you a better chance of being near the front of the crowd.
8. Things To Do nearby the theatre
I’m sure you all have lots of ideas for things to do during your time in London and there’s so many options (I live here and still haven’t done it all). Here are a few suggestions for nearby the Palace Theatre:
- Forbidden Planet – about a 5 minute walk from the theatre (179 Shaftesbury Avenue) is the home of sci-fi, fantasy, TV and film merchandise in London. Here, you can buy everything from books and comics to Funko Pops!
- Covent Garden – There’s plenty to see in Covent Garden, whether you want to visit the Apple store, browse the market stalls or watch the street entertainers and soon its Christmas decorations will be up too. I also recommend exploring Seven Dials, which has lots of independent shops and places to eat.
- Picturehouse Central Cinema & Café – about 10 minutes from the Palace (at the corner of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue) is the lovely Picturehouse Central cinema. Not only is it a great cinema, but it also has a fabulous café on the ground floor, with lots of seats. https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Picturehouse_Central
9. Other Harry Potter activities to do in London (because why not when you are here)!
If you are travelling to London to see the play, whether from elsewhere in the UK or abroad, you are clearly already a passionate Harry Potter fan, so this last section of tips may be old news to you. That being said, just in case, here are some other Harry Potter-related suggestions of things to do and see here!
- House of MinaLima – Just around the corner from the Palace Theatre (at 26, Greek Street) is the wonderful House of MinaLima; an exhibition and shop of the graphic art of the Harry Potter films, and other works, by the MinaLima studio. You can see props of books and letters used in the films, see the artwork of The Daily Prophet up close and even take prints home (or an exercise book in the style of those of the Hogwart’s students). It’s free to enter and open every day and will soon be adding a display from the new film Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them. http://store.minalima.com/house-of-minalima/
- Warner Bros. Studios – I’m sure this is already on every visiting Harry Potter fan’s list. Located in Watford, the Warner Bros. Studios give you the opportunity to delve in to the film world of the series. See props, costumes and models and sample the Butterbeer too! See the website for more details: https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/
- Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station – a fun thing to do which doesn’t take too much time, is to visit King’s Cross station and get your photo taken pushing the luggage trolley through the wall! There is also a merchandise shop next to it for all your Harry Potter goodies. https://www.kingscross.co.uk/harry-potters-platform-9-34
- Location spotting! – There are plenty of locations from the Harry Potter films to be found in London, from Leadenhall Market as Diagon Alley, to Hermione Granger’s street in Hampstead. There is a great list of suggestions located at the Londonist website here: http://londonist.com/2016/06/harry-potters-London
So, hopefully this post has been useful and can be a resource before and during your trip. If I think of anything useful or there are any developments (such as tube strikes), I’ll update this post. In the meantime, feel free to read my spoiler-free review of the show.
I hope you all have a wonderful time!
One of my theatre highlights of 2012 was standing behind the back benchers in the House of Commons (well the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre really) and watching James Graham’s superb new play This House; a play that made politics come to life and sparkled as the razor sharp dialogue pinged across the aisle of the House.
After the tumultuous political year we have seen in Britain, where unimaginable events have followed at each others’ heels as if episodes from a new television drama, there seems no better time for this brilliant production to return and this weekend saw me take a trip to Chichester to see This House once again, prior to its arrival at the Garrick Theatre in London next month.
The play begins in the Britain of 1974, after the February election resulted in a hung Parliament. Labour took power from the Conservatives as the biggest party, but without a majority. As Labour’s Chief Whip puts it – “we’ve got the bigger boat, but they’ve got more oars.” Over the course of the play, we watch as each side makes side deals and promises aplenty with the “odds and sods” MPs in order to try and topple the numbers in their favour and as the votes on each Bill before the House grow ever tighter and the gloves come off, it is the job of the whips to do everything in their power to see that their side is the winner.
It’s a testament to the writing that this play seems as pertinent today as it did the first time around and in some instances even more so; the discussion as to whether to go for an EU referendum vote or not being particularly ironic in our Brexit world (I must check if Mr Graham has rewritten any of the dialogue in light of June’s events). It’s also Graham’s ability to write so brilliantly, the many characters of differing backgrounds, ideals and personalities across the aisle that results in so many ridiculous arguments, all of which are a joy to watch. The desperate lengths the whips go to, to ensure every MP is present for crucial votes as Labour cling to power, seem a work of fiction, except you can’t help but imagine that similar events probably did happen!
Some of the original cast have returned to the play including Phil Daniels as Labour’s Chief Whip Bob Mellish and Lauren O’Neil as Ann Taylor, the woman determined to fit in to the boys’ club. However, what’s wonderful here is how the new additions to the cast have blended in seamlessly. I did love Philip Glenister originally, but Steffan Rhodri is excellent in the role of Walter Harrison, the best deputy whip the House has ever seen. He also has a fantastic chemistry with his opposite Tory number Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weatherill. Parker is a fine stage actor and a worthy successor to Charles Edwards. He brings a great deal to his role and despite their differences, the mutual respect these two men have for each other is clear.
Malcolm Sinclair is superb as the upper-class Tory Chief Whip Humphrey Atkins and he adds an extra layer of dry-humoured, elitism to the character, which made me laugh on many occasions – his utter horror at the thought of watching Coronation Street just one example of his ability to bring humour through Atkins’s disdain!
As well as a strong cast and a tautly written script, the other star of This House is Rae Smith’s set, which adds a further dimension with the inclusion of its Commons audience seating. It remains an excellent way of not only replicating the image of the Commons and its packed benches, but also drawing the audience further in. You are literally part of the furniture, watching the back room deals up close!
Whether or not you think politics matters to you, it undeniably affects us all and this play shines a light on a particularly interesting period of political history in an incredibly entertaining way. With such a talent for making politics fresh and engrossing (since This House premiered, Graham has brought us the wonderful The Vote on stage as well as Coalition on television), I can only imagine what James Graham could create if he ever writes about the politics of 2016!
No matter your political leaning, you’re sure to enjoy This House. It is witty, engaging and rather touching in places and with such a strong ensemble, it is yet again guaranteed to take London by storm. Buy your tickets while you can (and if possible make it a Commons seat too)!
This House continues at the Festival Theatre, Chichester until 29th October. It then transfers to the Garrick Theatre in London from 18th November – 25th February 2017. For more information visit the theatre websites:
Earlier this year, I took a trip to New York to see lots of theatre. One of the plays I saw during that time was Blackbird starring Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in a two-hander. It was an intense production (you can read my review here) and on hearing it had been adapted by its writer David Harrower in to a film, to be screened during the London Film Festival, I was curious to see it in a different medium.
Renamed Una, the story is a chilling, uncomfortable, examination of the disturbing reality and consequences of child abuse. Una (Rooney Mara) arrives unannounced at Ray’s (Ben Mendelsohn) workplace, to his visible shock and horror. It soon becomes apparent that Una and Ray had a sexual relationship 15 years previously – when she was just 13 (it was 12 in the play and I don’t really understand why the change for the film, seeing as it is well under the age of consent). It’s a horrifying realisation for the audience and over the course of the film, we see the true consequences of such abuse; something we don’t like to think about and the way it affects that child’s life forever, as they mature and become an adult.
Although for the needs of a film, the story is expanded a little, it remains a piece driven by its two central characters and both actors do a tremendous job with such challenging material. Ben Mendelsohn (most recently known for Netflix’s Bloodline) is excellent at portraying Ray as a seemingly normal man. There are times when you almost forget what he has done, so good is his performance. Interestingly, he was quite different from Jeff Daniels, who played him as a much weaker and broken man. Seeing Una terrified him and he often felt weak compared to her. Mendelsohn plays him as a more confident man in my view; far more in control of his emotions. Daniels’ Ray perhaps genuinely didn’t think he was like “those other men”, but I had the sense here that Mendelsohn’s Ray knew exactly who and what he was. This made him much more disturbing.
Rooney Mara is the pivotal piece of the picture and she is astonishing as Una. It’s a role that demonstrates the calibre of actress she is when given the right material (one of the weakest bits of the wonderful film Lion for me was how wasted Mara was). She has an incredible on-screen presence that pulls you in to her world and doesn’t let you go. You see how damaged Una is; how confused she’s been for 15 years about what happened to her. There remains something childlike about her; as if part of her has been frozen in the past. There is also a tension between the two of them that chills you, as you see that as a girl she was more upset at thinking Ray had deserted her rather than what he’d done to her and her complex feelings for him made me ache for her. We rightly think of children who experience such terrible things as victims, but Una’s/Blackbird’s power is in highlighting that at the time those children may not see themselves that way.
One of the most powerful moments in the play was when Una recalled the last few hours she spent with Ray, after they’d ran away together to the seaside, apparently about to embark on a new life. You couldn’t see it then, but through the talent of the writing and Michelle Williams, your mind took you in to the past with Una. One of the most disturbing aspects of the film however, is the fact they can show us young Una as well as adult Una and indeed seeing her as a child with Ray is harrowing.
The film chooses to move beyond the factory setting, which allows us to see both Una and Ray interact with others; Una mainly with her mother (played by Tara Fitzgerald), who she has clearly never really forgiven for how she reacted in the aftermath of what happened, and Ray’s work colleague Scott (Riz Ahmed), someone who she could perhaps be happy with if she wasn’t quite so broken and had circumstances been different. Unlike the play, we also get to see Ray in his new life, with his wife and friends and the film leaves us with the same frightening uncertainty as the play, as to whether Una really was his only victim.
I’ve seen some people comment that they thought this was a paedophile apologist film, but it’s not that at all. It couldn’t be clearer how dreadful the actions of these predators are, while also shining a spotlight on just how such events can happen, when someone who seems to be like any other neighbour can choose to take advantage of a child in this way. It also makes us think again about those children and how they require emotional strength and support long in to adulthood.
I admit I may not have chosen to see this film had I not already watched the play, but it’s a strong, emotional and thought-provoking piece and a very capable directorial film debut by playwright and theatre director Benedict Andrews (most recently director of Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire) and I hope is a performance that will earn Rooney Mara deserved praise. It is certainly a film no one who sees it will forget.
Una does not yet have a release date in the UK or the USA, but I’ll update this post if one is announced.
During my time at the London Film Festival, I was also able to attend the European premiere of Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, the young Ugandan girl who goes on to become a chess champion, this is a wonderfully uplifting film that had me leaving the cinema with a smile on my face.
The film’s director Mira Nair spoke before the screening about how pleased she was to be able to make a film about Africa that was about the country she knows and loves, not a film about colonial Africa or one filled with animals roaming across the open plains and Queen of Katwe certainly opens your eyes to the reality of those living in the poorer communities of Uganda.
As the story centres on Phiona and her family, it needed a strong central performance and Madina Nalwanga is wonderful in the role. She has a presence on screen that captivates the audience, as we watch Phiona grow in confidence and self belief. She also has a glint in her eye, which allows her to bring out the more humourous moments. She is also excellently supported by David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, who were both at the premiere.
Oyelowo, plays her coach Robert Katende, the man who introduces her to chess and realises the potential she has. He captures Katende’s incredible generosity of spirit and kind heart, as we see how he and his wife support the children of Kampala as if they are an extension of their family, highlighted further by the film’s credits referring to some of the children living with their family. They truly care for them and it’s lovely to watch Katende’s bond with his chess group grow.
Nyong’o, whose breadth as an actress continues to impress me both on screen and stage (Eclipsed in NYC is one of my theatre highlights of 2016), is also excellent. As Phiona’s mother we see her as the strong, protective woman who, after being widowed has to provide for her children in very difficult circumstances. You see where Phiona learnt to have such strength and the two woman have a warm bond that gives the film further depth.
Another wonderful aspect of this film is how much humour is in it. The children of Katwe (or the Phioneers) are a breath of fresh air and play each of their roles so well, capturing the playful and joyful spirit they have. Also, to say I didn’t understand the rules of chess, I didn’t find the scenes in which games are played dry or dull. Director Mira Nair manages to successfully create a sense of drama and anticipation to them, which keeps your attention and interest.
The soundtrack choices have also been perfectly chosen with songs full of the essence and spirit of the Africa we see in this film.
Queen of Katwe is ultimately a story about how anything is possible. Anyone, no matter their place in the world, can go on to achieve great success if they work hard, believe in themselves and have people in their lives to give them strength when they need it. It’s a wonderfully positive story for all ages that I hope will inspire all who see it. Heck, it even made me more interested in chess!
Queen of Katwe opens in U.K. cinemas on 21st October 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/z4l3-_yub5A
There’s happiness inside all of us. We just need someone to help us find it. That’s the message of the latest movie from DreamWorks animation. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s like me, you’ll no doubt remember Troll toys or have even owned a few and now they are making a big screen comeback through this hugely entertaining film.
It’s a very simple premise. The Bergens are a gloomy township, who live under the belief that happiness can only be achieved one way – by eating a troll. So, every year on “Trollstice” that is what the Bergens do, until the brave Troll King leads his people to safety. Twenty years have now passed and perhaps becoming a bit too complacent, the Trolls soon find themselves in danger once again and it’s up to Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the reluctant Branch (Justin Timberlake) to risk it all to save their friends (well, her friends in Branch’s opinion!).
When watching Trolls, I was marvelling at how far computer animation has come. I’m still a sucker for a traditional 2D animated feature, but when the final production is as polished and impressive as Trolls you can’t not enjoy yourself. The fact that their hair is their big feature requires it to be spot-on and it certainly is. I also loved the glitter Trolls, which were an element that the filmmakers afterwards said the computer had trouble with initially. Every detail is visually brilliant – right down to the shagpile carpet in the Bergen castle, which looks so realistic as the Trolls speed over it in a rollerskate. There’s even the appropriate imprint left behind in the carpet too!
As for the look of the film, the acting and indeed singing had to be on point and the ensemble of voice actors here are very good indeed. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are both strong leads, able to convey both the fun and more serious moments of the story. They also have wonderful support from, in particular, Zooey Deschanel as Bridget, the lonely and kind-hearted Bergen kitchen maid, who is just as important as the Trolls, and Christine Baranski as the evil Bergen chef, hell-bent on power by ensuring she has the Trolls captured and therefore control of the town.
Justin Timberlake was also overseeing the musical content of the film as an executive producer, which is a huge element of the story. Each song included in the film has been taken and re-recoded by the cast, including the pivotal True Colours, which is the perfect centrepiece for such a vividly colourful movie. Yes, some of the songs chosen do feel a bit cheesy, but it’s such a cheerful film that I forgave it a certain level of cheesiness. Favourites for me were the catchy “Get Back Up Again” and the lovely use of “True Colours”. The songs also add an extra layer of comedy for the adults in the audience who can appreciate how aptly they are chosen. Poppy’s choice of “Hello Darkness” in particular made me laugh and as with DreamWorks’s other hits such as Shrek, there’s enough humour here for the adults as well as fun for the kids.
Overall, this is another success for DreamWorks, which has something to offer adults and children alike and hopefully, in such a serious world, it can be a reminder of how much good can be found if you look for it. I predict a new wave of children are about to start collecting Troll toys just like I did!
Trolls opens in UK cinemas on 21st October 2016 (4th November in the USA). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/xyjm5VQ11TQ
There are very few films that I can say have moved me to tears, but I can now add Lion to this list after attending last night’s UK premiere during the London Film Festival.
Lion is the astonishing true story of Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) and is based on his book A Long Way Home. Saroo was born in India and lived there with his mother and two siblings until the day when he was five years old, that he was separated from his brother, Guddu, after falling asleep on a train and ending up 1,600 miles from home in Calcutta with no way of getting back to his family. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham), he grew up in Tazmania with them and his adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another homeless Indian boy.
Twenty five years later, in 2008, the faces and memories of his family in India resurface and although he has loving parents and is set for university and a career, it’s clear that a part of Saroo remains lost; caught between the life he has had in Australia and the one he left behind. When a university friend suggests he use Google Earth (quite new back then) to try and locate the area he sees in his memories to look for the remote village he was from, his search for home begins and with it the hope that he will finally find a sense of peace and completeness.
Your emotional connection with this film starts from the outset, as we first see young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his life in India. I hadn’t expected so much of it to be set when Saroo was a little boy, but it’s definitely a strength of the film as Sunny gives such an affecting performance. After last night’s screening, Nicole Kidman commented that for a little boy, who wasn’t an actor and didn’t speak English, to give that kind of performance is a credit to director Garth Davis and I’m minded to agree.
You first see how happy he is, despite the poor conditions they live in and the strong bond he has with his brother, before witnessing the fear and confusion this little five year old experienced, when without warning he was separated from everything he knew. It’s heartbreaking to see the life he and other children have on the streets of Calcutta and certainly feels as if you are watching every child’s nightmare. It comes as a relief when little Saroo finally meets the Brierleys and you know he is safe. I challenge you not to be captivated by Sunny Pawar and the strength of his portrayal of young Saroo creates the affection you have for him as a young man.
Dev Patel (still perhaps most known for Slumdog Millionaire or viewers of The Newsroom) was desperate to play Saroo, resorting to going to the writer’s house and his passion for this young man’s story shines through in his powerful performance. He conveys the conflicted emotions Saroo has; he loves his family and, unlike Mantosh, has settled in to life in Australia. However, the film highlights the guilt he carries with him, guilt for the comfortable Western life he has compared to his poorer childhood, but also guilt as to the pain he must have caused his family in India, who have no idea what happened to him. It’s clearly a heavy burden, which he has kept inside, only revealing it to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, who I do think is a little wasted in this film), who helps him have the courage to face his past.
In a film all about love and family, having an actress of Nicole Kidman’s calibre on board was essential and she gives a beautiful performance as Sue, a woman who has so much love for her sons and is desperate to keep her family together. She has some lovely scenes with Sunny and a very real connection on screen with Patel. A scene in which she tells him that they chose to adopt because they wanted him is particularly moving and Kidman brings a huge depth of emotion to such moments. We also see the strains in the family quite early, as Saroo’s brother Mantosh (adopted a year after him), finds life a struggle, which we assume is a result of experiences he had as a child before his adoption. From the small insight Lion gives us in to what those children go through, I cannot even begin to imagine and Divian Ladwa is very good at conveying trauma and its long-lasting effect on Mantosh.
To say this is his first feature film, Garth Davis has done an impressive job. Lion is a visually gorgeous film, whether the scenes in India or Australia and he cleverly uses the scenery to draw links between the two places Saroo has called home. I also loved his style of adding the flashes of his childhood every so often in to Saroo’s present, forever keeping his memories alive. As the film reaches its conclusion and Saroo travels back to India it’s as if the two halves of Saroo are finally coming together and I challenge you not to be affected by it.
I found Lion to be a hugely satisfying film. It’s beautifully shot, strongly acted and the fact this is a true story only makes the experience of watching it even more uplifting. Buy a ticket and take some tissues!
Lion opens in the USA on 25th November 2016. The UK release date is yet to be confirmed. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/-RNI9o06vqo
Spoiler-Free Film Review – Arrival (2016); an intelligent, enthralling and deeply human science fiction film
Last night saw the UK premiere of Arrival during the London Film Festival, which will prove to be another festival highlight for me. I’ll start by saying I’m going to be careful what I write in this review, as this really is a film that you should watch unspoilt. Part of its brilliance is in not knowing what lies ahead. Are you intrigued enough? I certainly hope so and enough to keep yourself spoiler-free until you see it.
Arrival is adapted by Eric Heisserer from the Ted Chiang short story Story of your Life and the new film from director Denis Villeneuve (whose previous work includes Sicario and Prisoners) and who is currently at work on another sci-fi film – Blade Runner 2049. If this movie is any indication, the Blade Runner legacy is certainly in strong hands!
On a day as normal as any other, the world comes to a standstill when 12 huge spacecraft materialise around the globe. With no attempt at contact, fear of the unknown takes hold, as the UN seeks to bring the nations of Earth together to try and communicate with whoever is aboard in order to understand why they have arrived.
One such craft has appeared in the USA (in Montana to be precise) and the government and military set about bringing the finest scientific and linguistic minds together, which is how we meet Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose reputation and previous linguistic assistance to the military has Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruiting her to the team. Combined with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), they must try and determine the aliens’ purpose. However, as time moves on, the willingness of nations to work together comes under strain, which in turn threatens to damage any progress that’s been made, leaving Banks to use all her skill to try and make a breakthrough before it’s too late.
Arrival is not your typical science fiction movie. It is not another Independence Day-style action adventure and I’m very pleased about that. Instead, Arrival is an incredibly intelligent film, which happens to involve aliens, but is actually all about humanity; the need to pull together as a world rather than splinter and to communicate with those you may not understand in order to learn about yourself as well as them. Never has a film of this genre had so much depth and the unexpected path it takes later on, genuinely made me gasp, as I saw the whole film from a new perspective and realised what a clever and surprisingly, profoundly emotional story it is.
On top of such a superbly crafted script and story, Arrival is blessed to have such a talented actress in its lead role. Amy Adams is wonderful as Louise Banks, a woman who seems a little removed from those around her when we meet her, but who has a strength of character that you cannot help but admire. Her story is the axis around which the whole film spins and the further through the story you go, the more emotionally connected you are to her. Another Oscar nomination seems guaranteed and is very much deserved.
There is also strong support from Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, caught between the team at the craft and external government pressures, forcing his hand and also Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, whose scientific mind perfectly balances with Banks’s, to form a strong team. He and Adams have a chemistry which is believable and a pleasure to watch.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score also provides a haunting and eerie soundscape that fits the mood and tone of Arrival perfectly, enhancing the tension as the team take the first tentative steps aboard the craft, but also drawing out the beautifully emotional beats of the film as well. It is also a visually stunning film thanks to the work of cinematographer Bradford Young.
I had no idea what I’d think about Arrival before attending the screening and on watching it I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you don’t normally watch sci-fi films, then don’t let the premise put you off, as Arrival is so much more than a lazy genre label. It is smart, enthralling, thought-provoking and incredibly satisfying on an emotional level. I guarantee you will not be able to stop thinking about it once you’ve seen it. It’s general release can’t come quickly enough so I can talk about it with people!
Arrival arrives in UK cinemas on 11th November 2016. Watch the teaser trailer here (it gives far less away than the full trailer): https://youtu.be/AbHGLYLbQFI