Television Review – Succession 3.03 “The Disruption”

As I gave my general no-spoiler thoughts after watching the first two episodes of this new season following the London Film Festival advance screening, I thought I’d continue to talk about season 3, as we make our way through the latest game-playing of the Roy clan and also because, let’s face it, Succession is the best show on television right now and I love talking about it!

With the first two episodes dealing with the immediate aftermath of Kendall’s bombshell press conference, this week started to delve ever deeper in to the tumultuous world of Waystar Royco, revealing quite a lot about the mindsets of many of the key characters, while planting some interesting questions for later in the season.

Kendall continues to get off on his latest high – his liberation from his father

I loved the arc of Kendall over seasons 1 and 2 and Jeremy Strong continues to impress with such a complicated character, with some of his acting choices so wonderfully subtle, you almost forget you’re not simply watching a documentary. So far this season we’ve watched him oscillate from being calm one minute to acting like a giddy child the next, thriving on the chaos he’s created. I don’t think I’ve ever so regularly changed my mind on whether a character knows what they’re doing, as I do when it comes to Kendall and that’s a credit to the writing and Jeremy Strong’s performance.

Episode three continues to see Kendall feeling liberated by his new freedom, away from the weight of being under Logan’s control and it seems to be acting as his new drug addiction and is potentially equally damaging. The need for a new hit has him descending on the office to cause disruptions of his own, before making more excruciating publicity decisions, including the crazy idea to go on The Disruption show, having already been ripped to pieces by it. With no one around him blunt enough to tell him he’s being an idiot, he hurtles from one cringeworthy moment to the next. Yet sadly, despite pretending the bad tweets don’t bother him, deep down he’s still a damaged soul desperately trying to pretend he’s okay.

He may be acting like he doesn’t have anything to lose, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case, which was never more clear than when he came face to face this week with Colin, who helped cover up what happened at Shiv’s wedding and remains at Logan’s right hand when he needs something dealt with. It’s amazing the power of three words, but his “I know you” to Kendall is chilling and for a moment, we see Kendall’s facade crack. That’s the third reference this series to Kendall’s involvement in the young waiter’s death, so it seems only a matter of time before that secret comes in to play.

Yet, this episode was bookended by his relationship with his siblings, from dodging the question about whether they were still close when asked in an interview, to being confronted with the harsh reality of what happens when you tarnish Shiv’s reputation in public. Honestly, I didn’t blame Shiv for that statement (more on that below), so didn’t feel particularly sorry for Kendall at the end, but Strong’s ability to move silently through the spectrum of emotions in mere moments is a true acting masterclass, ending with him giving his own version of Logan’s almost smile, as the FBI raid news arrives (something he’d been keen to see happen earlier in the hour and which helpfully takes some of the attention off Shiv’s character assassination). He’s so unpredictable at the moment who knows what he’ll do next.

What’s next for Shiv?

I still really can’t understand why Shiv didn’t just stay in politics. In season one she seemed to be respected in her own right, enjoying an independent career and was proudly different from the rest of the Roys in her political outlook, which seemed much to the disappointment of her father and amusement of her brothers. Yet, the pull of power and the idea of finally being accepted by Logan drew her in to the web and she now seems as trapped as everyone else in her father’s mind games. Well, everyone except possibly Kendall at the moment, a fact that he makes himself when they meet at the journalist event. He sees right through her attempt to “neutralise” him and then hits her with the harsher truth – “It’s you now. I’m sorry for you.” Whether she likes it or not, she has become the figure he was early on and he is now the one on the outside, forging his own path. It’s an interesting flip of dynamics and yet I do believe he means it when he says he is sorry for her. He’s been there and knows how toxic a position it is to be in. Yet, Shiv isn’t one to take pity well and certainly not from yet another man who was belittling her last week (admittedly he does try and apologise for that, without actually saying he’s sorry).

Yet, the possibility of a form of reconciliation between Shiv and her brother disappears the moment Nirvana starts to blast out of the speakers during her debut as the public face of the company. The words “rape me” screaming out as she’s trying to talk seriously about the company scandal is excruciating and it’s the moment she truly becomes all in with her father. I’ve seen some speculation that Kendall wasn’t behind the stunt and that it was Logan to secure her loyalty, but I’m not sure I can believe that. It felt like the type of crazy scheme Kendall would do in his current state. He simply underestimated the response and honestly, I don’t blame Shiv for her character assassination in response. Let’s face it, Shiv has been told frequently she’s the token female and hasn’t really had much respect and after last week’s comments, publicly humiliating her was the final straw.

I’m never quite sure what I think about Shiv, but she continues to fascinate me and as a supposedly shrewd political operator, I think it’s time she took a step back and really thought about her own future. Is being linked to such corruption something she’s decided she’s happy with? Is the chance for that power worth it?

I think I’m now Team Roman

I couldn’t bear Roman initially and yet he’s become one of my favourites and is probably the most messed up Roy sibling, which says quite a lot about the state of this family. We know his father has hit him in his childhood, he’s spent time in a cage as part of a sibling game and his lack of a maternal figure clearly is a key cause of his relationship and sexual issues. He’s rude and he’s unpleasant a lot of the time and yet I’m really starting to shift towards Team Roman and Kieran Culkin only gets better and better with every new episode. Last week saw him refusing to side with Kendall to knife his dad in the back and this week sees him refuse to side with Shiv against Kendall for what seems to be the same reason. Sure, he shrugs it off with a childish comment, but what he’s actually saying is he doesn’t want to hurt his brother. It’s a lovely moment, coupled with Culkin’s fantastic physical acting choices, as Roman doubles over, almost as if the whole idea being discussed is making him feel physically sick.

On top of not wanting to screw over Kendall in public (in private he wouldn’t think twice!), Roman also steps up for his father by giving the interview Shiv won’t put her name to, in which he offers a happy father son memory of a fishing trip. Learning it was in fact Connor who took him was heartbreaking, as it shows that despite how cruel his father has been and continues to be to him, Roman is still showing he has some humanity. The way Logan mocks him for the interview and throws such a horrid slur at him doesn’t even shock him. He’s clearly heard this all so often, it’s what he expects and speaks volumes to how he has become who he is and I’d love to see him shine more this season, whichever side he chooses to be on.

Is Tom About To Flip on the Family?

Out of all the characters this week, the one I had the most questions about by the end was Tom. We’ve seen him become increasingly unhappy with not only his precarious position in the company and within the cruise scandal he helped cover up, but also within his marriage. In last season’s finale he voiced he might be happier out of the relationship. Yet, that conversation has been shelved due to recent events. The question I now have is would this version of Tom really willingly volunteer to go down for this family? Is being a part of it and being respected by Logan still mean everything? I’m not so sure, which made his gesture to Logan even more fascinating.

Is that real, or is Tom making some moves of his own? We see him call someone to arrange a meeting and we know he met a friend the night before to understand the trouble he could face. Is Tom making a deal with the authorities? As Shiv reminds us earlier in the episode, his predecessor at cruises told him everything, so he has information to trade. Plus, there was that awful conversation with Shiv the night before. She seemed to think she was shrewdly positioning her husband in to taking the fall for her family, but was it all a test by Tom to see just how little she valued him. I’m not sure he was that drunk and was instead genuinely upset by her ruthlessness. The pet dog in the cage seemed to be a perfect representation of Tom in their relationship and I’m starting to suspect, he might be about to turn on his owner. Maybe he’s talking to the FBI, or maybe he’s about to join Team Kendall. Either way, I’m intrigued.

While some people’s allegiances are unclear, Greg seems to be openly playing for both sides!

I truly think the Roys are underestimating Cousin Greg. Sure, he’s a bumbling, clueless young man, but I still don’t think he’s as naive as they all seem to assume. This week he seems to be openly playing for both teams, back at the office “working” (and tipping Tom off about Kendall coming to the office) and yet still riding Kendall’s celebrity coattails, albeit at a hefty $40,000 price tag! He’s done a remarkable job since season one in going from penniless distant relative, to someone playing key roles in events (what documents does he have exactly and why did he choose to tell Kendall about them, which may have been the deciding factor in Kendall’s decision to go after his father). At this rate, maybe Greg will be the one at the top running the show when this madness ends! Nothing would surprise me!

Razor sharp dialogue truly makes this the best series on television

Jesse Armstong and the writing team have truly started this season off better than ever, which I didn’t think was possible, with dialogue so sharp you could cut yourself on it, adding yet more superb quotes to the collection. Few shows manage to create dialogue that can move from dramatic to farce so seamlessly and yet Armstrong and the writers room of this series have perfected it.

This week saw the excruciating moment Kendall tried to be cool in front of a writers room and their bemused response, Connor’s brilliant analysis of Shiv’s statement about Kendall as a “Times New Roman firing squad,” the on-point tweet that described Kendall as “Bootleg Ross with a daddy complex” and so much mockery of social media I wouldn’t know where to start. Yet, as well as the dark humour, hitting every mark, there’s also moments like the end of the episode, as we see the more damaged elements of Kendall come to the fore, as he crouches on the floor in the dark, clutching his knees like a little boy. The way Succession pivots from style to style is what makes it so completely compelling and I cannot wait to see more.

Oh and 10/10 to composer Nicholas Britell for yet more gorgeous score. The music from the closing minute of the episode is my new favourite Succession piece.

What’s next?

It’s not sure where the season is heading, but right now I’m most curious about:

  • What papers does Kendall have exactly? Greg really didn’t seem to save much.
  • Who is Tom arranging to meet?
  • What side is Marcia on? Episode one we heard she was on Kendall’s side, but now she’s seemingly out for as much power and money as she can get out of Logan. As someone who also knows what Kendall did at the end of season one, will she have a bigger role to play?
  • Will Logan and Shiv try and set Gerri up as their fall guy and if so, how will Roman feel about that?
  • Did Connor’s marketing strategy for Willa’s play succeed? (Okay, I can live without the answer to this one!)

Roll on next Monday!

Succession season 3 continues next Sunday in the USA and next Monday in the UK (on Sky Atlantic / NOWTV), available to stream from 2 a.m. Watch the promo for 3.04 here: https://youtu.be/4UdbaThBN8I

Television Preview – Succession is back & it’s off to a blisteringly brilliant start!

It’s been 2 years since that sublime season 2 finale and I’m sure many people besides me have watched it a number of times since then to pass the endless months until we could rejoin the crazy world of the Roys. Tonight, thanks to the London Film Festival’s new Series strand, I was lucky enough to get to see the first two episodes of season 3 on a huge cinema-sized screen with a sold-out, excited audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and I can categorically say that Succession is back and it’s sharper and wittier than ever.

Without giving too much away here, season 3 kicks off right where we left it; in the aftermath of Kendall’s bombshell press conference where he made his father the blood sacrifice rather than himself. Episode 1 is a fast paced start, as we see both the reactions of the rest of the Roy clan and also the reaction of Kendall himself, who initially seems almost stunned that he’s actually taken the plunge.

Photo: David M. Russell/HBO ©2020 HBO. All Rights Reserved

No sooner has he left the stage, the strategising begins – who can he trust, who does he need to get on side and how does he keep himself out of the firing line of the authorities and maintain family control of Waystar Royco, while simultaneously trying to bring down the family patriarch. It’s certainly a juggling act and one which will require more support than Greg, who imitates a deer caught in the headlights to perfect comedic effect, while also sensibly realising that he needs to protect himself – does he stay with Kendall, return to Team Logan, or try and play both sides (all while fielding some very funny phone calls from Tom, who still seems to think he is actually capable of intimidating someone).

Across the ocean in Europe, there’s yet more plotting going on, as Roman, Shiv, Gerri, Tom and Frank all balance supporting Logan, with their own interests. Are they on the right side, or is Kendall right and it’s time for a new alliance? In true Succession style, there are whispered conversations played out like games of chess, deflections and people’s possible loyalties seem to move back and forth, as each player tries to determine what strategy will get them what they want most – power (and possibly respect for some). It’s often said the series is modern Shakespeare and there was certainly enough game playing and manipulation going on to rival the best of the Bard.

Photo: David M. Russell/HBO ©2020 HBO. All Rights Reserved

Yet, what really stood out at tonight’s preview, especially of episode one, was just how funny it was. There was a lot of laughter in the 2,000 strong audience of the Royal Festival Hall tonight. Succession has always succeeded in mixing the more serious dramatic moments with the sillier elements and season 3 really ups the game, with even sharper dialogue and some of the most ridiculously silly interactions you will hear on television . Yet it works perfectly. The writing team of the show include many with a background in theatre and that influence continues to strengthen the series, with some scenes feeling more like a mini play (and when I say that, I mean one more successful than Willa’s one, for which Connor has come up with a bonkers marketing strategy).

It’s not just the snappy dialogue that elevates the series either. There are all the other little touches that help create such fantastic, fascinating characters, whether it’s the slightest facial expression, or the way a character moves, or reacts to the others and sometimes these got the biggest laughs tonight. Whether it’s Roman responding to being told not to touch anything on a dressing table, by running his hands theatrically over everything, or Connor’s reaction to a box of doughnuts, or seeing the photo that appears as Shiv’s phone ID when her dad calls her (look out for it, as it perfectly captures how messed up this family is), these brilliantly thought through choices all enrich the ridiculously crazy world of the Roys.

As well as such superb writing, Succession continues to have one of the very best ensemble casts on television and all of them had a moment to shine in these first two episodes. Yes, the initial spotlight is on Kendall and Jeremy Strong continues to deliver one of the most complex characters in any series and indeed he spends a great deal of these opening episodes imitating a giddy child who feels liberated, if perhaps a little terrified by his own actions and in a number of scenes he comes across as completely bonkers, bouncing from one point to the next, like a kid who has had too much sugar. I’d guess that they’ll be more serious times ahead for him, but we already know Strong is more than capable of tackling anything in this role.

Brian Cox continues to command the screen whenever he erupts and hearing him declare he’s going “full on beast” you don’t doubt that he’s not going to go down without a fight and he doesn’t hold back with his words when telling people what he thinks of them (poor Frank is certainly still out in the cold as we rejoin the clan).

Sarah Snook is on fine form as a seemingly conflicted Shiv, constantly looking for a way to gain the power and, perhaps more importantly for her, the respect that goes along with it, all while having it thrown at her that she’s the token woman, whose gender is now possibly what makes her useful to improve the company’s scandalised reputation for both Logan and Kendall. I’m never sure how I feel about Shiv, but I love how you never really know whose side she’ll end up on.

The cast & creator at tonight’s London Film Festival screening!

Then there’s Kieran Culkin, who really stood out for me in these opening two episodes. Roman is potentially the most damaged of the Roy kids (which is saying something when you look at the others) and the start of series 3 sees him trying to show his father he’s ready for more responsibility, as he continues to seek his respect and deep down love. You really get the sense of how much he wants his father to be proud of him and I particularly loved Roman’s early pitch on how they should handle the crisis, as well as a lovely exchange between him and Logan over the phone, which Culkin handles perfectly. On top of his relationship with his father, there’s some entertaining interactions between him and his siblings, whether mocking Shiv for failing to get something done in a ridiculously childish way, or the way he so freely insults Kendall and many of the sharpest lines tonight were delivered by Culkin. I may still be Team Kendall, but I can feel my allegiances shifting to Team Roman! And of course, there’s his relationship with Gerri, which continues to grow ever more interesting with every conversation and it will be fascinating to see what he chooses if loyalty to family risks her position. Would he allow her to be the next blood sacrifice? J.Smith Cameron continues to shine as the company’s General Counsel, who clearly has ambitions of her own.

We don’t get much Tom / Greg dynamic in these opening two episodes, as they are in separate places and what little interaction we do get only reminded how much I love the two of them together. The two characters are more in the background for large parts of these episodes, but Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun still provide plenty of laugh out loud moments and you’ll soon remember how much you’ve missed that ridiculous way Cousin Greg talks. Poor Connor continues to be on the periphery, yet Alan Ruck makes him both infuriating and oddly sympathetic all at once.

New characters are introduced, particularly Kendall’s lawyer Lisa, played by Sanaa Lathan, old ones return (I was especially thrilled to see Hiam Abbass back as Marcia, whose straight-talking attitude was so much fun in series 2 in particular and she picks up right where she left off when it comes to being blunt) and we have the thrill of knowing there’s more to come, with both Adrien Brody and Alexander Skarsgard in this year’s cast.

Seeing these two episodes on a big screen and getting to experience them with such an enthusiastic crowd was such a delight. Getting to laugh, cheer and applaud so many moments over 90 minutes together made the experience that much more special and really highlighted that the best television deserves its place on a cinema screen just as much as any film. I’d gladly pay to watch the remaining eight episodes that way as well! Instead, I now have the painful wait until I get to see episode 3!

Welcome back Succession. We’ve missed you!

Succession season 3 premieres in the UK on Sky Atlantic / NowTV on Monday 18th (and in the USA on Sunday 17th on HBO).

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/kevqiiYNFrc

Film Review (Spoiler Free) – No Time To Die (2021) – Thrilling & full of emotional depth, it’s a fitting end to Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond

The end of an era

Well, here we are. After so many delays, this week finally saw the release of the highly anticipated No Time To Die, the 25th film in the James Bond series and more importantly, the last of Daniel Craig’s tenure. With the added delay, it’s certainly felt like there was added pressure here in the UK for the film to deliver, perhaps much more so than in other international markets from a public’s perspective (and that’s before you factor in the pressure for it to rescue UK cinemas after the losses caused by the pandemic).

Yes, Bond is a global icon and a successful worldwide franchise, but at its centre, it remains deeply British and it’s only when a new Bond film arrives, that you remember quite how big a deal the series, and indeed the man himself, is to British film audiences. If you’ve grown up here, you’re very likely to have seen at least a few of the older films, as there’s a Bond season screened on television at least once every couple of years, but even if you haven’t, most Brits know what elements you expect from a Bond film. As for the big screen, GoldenEye was the first one I saw and I still remember the excitement in the cinema for a new Bond era. Yes, there’s Mission Impossible and Bourne and all the other spy/action films, but there’s only one James Bond and I felt strangely patriotic sitting down in my local IMAX this weekend to see whether this would be a fitting conclusion to Daniel Craig’s time as 007.

I’ll start by saying that Daniel Craig is, without question, my favourite Bond and No Time To Die only solidified that opinion. The others have been entertaining (albeit many do feel very outdated when watched in 2021), but I never felt you really knew who James Bond was as a person. He often felt like a superficial caricature, ticking off the things people expected from a Bond film. That’s fine, but I never really cared about him and there rarely (yes, I’m thinking about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) felt as if there we real stakes involved. Daniel Craig’s Bond changed all of that in 2006. He wasn’t just a man capable of extreme effective violence and ruthlessness, he was also a man with flaws and complexities and someone who was just as vulnerable to love, heartbreak and loss as anyone else. It didn’t make him weak. It made him a more authentic human being and I loved it. I cared about the franchise in a way I hadn’t before.

The Daniel Craig era has also chosen to create a character arc, which when you know other actors take over the mantle makes sense in a way. Indeed, the 5 films of the last 15 years feel like a series within a series. They are their own self-contained journey of the central character and I was thrilled that with this last film, Craig’s Bond’s arc is given an emotionally satisfying resolution. I’m not going to give spoilers here. There are enough mean-spirited people online who are doing that if that’s what you’re after. Personally, I’d say go in knowing as little as possible.

So what can I say about it without spoiling anything?

(Photo credit – MGM)

Well, it’s no secret that the film finds Bond retired, living a quiet life away from the pains and losses he’s suffered in the world he’s inhabited over the years, but of course, events take over and the snowball effect pulls him back in to the world of MI-6 and a very modern danger that threatens millions around the globe.

For those who moaned that Casino Royale wasn’t a Bond film because it was missing so many classic elements, they’ll be pleased to hear that No Time To Die embraces that aspect of the Bond world more than any other in the Craig era and that makes sense. We saw the stripped back Bond, then we saw his world slowly build back up, through M, Moneypenny and Q all being reintroduced, but in a modern way. So, by this fifth film, throwing in classic-style gadgets and stunts doesn’t feel out of place. Yet, it doesn’t do this at the expense of the man Craig has created either. There isn’t an exploding pen, as referenced with disdain by Q in Skyfall, but there are certainly gadgets that are more exploding pen, than simple radio, which is lots of fun to see and adds to the nostalgia.

A Bond film that embraces the classic elements, while taking daring strives in to new territory

(Photo credit – MGM)

As well as classic gadgets, there’s classic Bond cars (and even an aquatic vehicle too), exotic locations, great one-liners, a villain wanting to harm the world and even a villain’s lair that has echoes of previous Bond eras. In all these respects, this perhaps feels most like a traditional Bond film out of Craig’s five. Yet, what the film does so brilliantly, is that it couples all of this with choices that have never been seen in a Bond film before, which again helps Craig’s James Bond continue to evolve and reveal greater emotional depths to the audience and also to himself. It manages to blend the classic and the modern fantastically.

Clearly conscious of the significance of the film in closing another chapter in the series, there are also some lovely call backs to previous films and Bonds, both visually and through Hans Zimmer’s excellent score, which weaves in themes from other movies, adding to the emotional nostalgia, as we say farewell to another actor’s time in the role. I’m no expert on these films, but I did spot quite a few of these, so I imagine there’s plenty more that I didn’t notice. You don’t need to be aware of these to enjoy the film, but it’s fun for longer-term fans of the world of Bond.

Much has also been said about the role of women in the film and the news of a new female agent caused a ridiculous amount of people to lose their minds. All this talk about woke Bond. I genuinely don’t know what that is meant to mean. If woke Bond means he’s a man who, as well as being a badass at what he does as a job, respects women in the 21st century, sees them as more than a pretty ornament, values their abilities and is also capable of being emotionally vulnerable and fallible, then I’m all for it! Honestly, if you only enjoy a Bond film, if the lead is slapping the women to get them to talk, groping them in the office and discarding them as if nothing, then sure, stick with the early films, but society has evolved and it’s right that one of cinemas most iconic men evolves too. Oh, and being confident enough with who you are to not hide your emotions, whether love, or pain, is pretty sexy too.

A superb acting ensemble of established favourites and new recruits

As for the women in this film, they are all fantastic, but not in a tick box fashion. Each of them is a brilliant character, adding to the story in different ways and yet all feel the equal to the men. Naomie Harris felt as if she’d been in this franchise years by the end of Skyfall and she continues to shine here as well, albeit in a lesser role than I’d have liked. Ana de Armas also stands out in her far too brief appearance and I imagine most people already hope it won’t be the last we see of her in the series. It felt more of an introduction than a one-off role to me and she made an immediate impact, blending glamour, fun, wit, action and intelligence, with an endearing quirkiness. Plus her and Daniel Craig ping off one another brilliantly, having established a chemistry in Knives Out.

A film highlight for me was Ana de Armas – (Photo credit – MGM)

Then of course there is Lashana Lynch’s 00 agent. Those assuming she’s taken all of Bond’s toys and won’t give them back will be disappointed that they don’t have more to moan about. She’s a fantastic addition to the Bond world, but she isn’t the centre of it and nor should she be. She isn’t James Bond after all. Instead, you have a young, confident, extremely capable agent, who stands as Bond’s professional equal and despite their differences in approach, it’s clear there is a mutual respect between them. Plus, with Bond older now and returning after a long stint away, it makes sense to give him more of a team to help him.

A worthy 00

Carrying on from Spectre, Lea Seydoux is given much more to do here and indeed, she is as important to the plot of No Time To Die as Bond in many ways. I admit, I wasn’t sure how I felt about her in Spectre, what with her declarations of love after 5 minutes, but with a better script and the opportunity to bring a much deeper emotional range to the role of Madeleine Swann, she really is one of the film’s biggest strengths and crucially, her chemistry on screen with Craig’s Bond feels very real, which is vital in this film for it to work.

Lea Seydoux impresses in a much stronger role – (Photo credit – MGM)

The team would also never be complete without Ben Whishaw’s Q, who has truly made this role his own. He is superb in everything and No Time to Die is no exception, as he brings wit, fun, his unique blend of geek chic (there’s everything from cardigans to pyjamas here!) and a lovely emotional heart to his time on screen. I’ve also enjoyed the development of Rory Kinnear as Tanner since he arrived in Quantum of Solace and he feels very much a part of the team, alongside Ralph Fiennes, who has made the role of M his own after Judi Dench’s departure (although her presence is still felt through that British bulldog she gifted Bond and her portrait taking pride of place in one later scene). There was also the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix, which felt so appropriate, being a character who has been there since the start of this Bond’s journey and his scenes with Daniel Craig are great.

A national treasure – Ben Whishaw’s Q! (Photo credit – MGM)

Having such a strong, connected team in No Time To Die also emphasises the key driver of the film – family. There is much more of a relationship between Daniel Craig’s Bond and these characters after all these years and it really hits home here just how much of a family they are, which also adds to the stakes. You care about them and are on the edge of your seat rooting for them and for the way they stand by and support each other. Bond may be an orphan, but through these 5 films this version of Bond has created a whole new family unit and it makes the emotional scenes between them in this final film that much more powerful.

Another villain that needed more development

(Photo credit – MGM)

Every Bond film needs a villain of course and the choice of Rami Malik is certainly exciting. He’s a fantastic actor, who brings his unique, almost unearthly, chilling quality to his role here. He’s a more unnerving malevolence and one of his dialogue scenes with Bond was a particular highlight for me. Yet, I did find him slightly underwhelming. Yes, he has an evil plan and a creepy lair, but his motivations (especially with regards to Madeleine, which seemed really creepy to me) felt under-developed and for that reason he didn’t capture my attention the way Le Chiffre or Silva did and I didn’t find the resolution of his character very satisfying either.

Had he been introduced in Spectre and had more time to develop that may have been different. Mind you I loathed him much more than I did the other Craig era villains too, so he did have an impact on me. He is also more satisfying to watch than Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, who was a big disappointment for me in Spectre, not for acting, but for his character’s motivations. He makes an appearance here, in a scene reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs, but he’s not in it enough to alter my view that they handled Blofeld’s reintroduction and motivations poorly. His whole driver is still “My daddy liked you more than he did me and it’s not fair and I want to punish you for it.”

Stunning visual style from Cary Joji Fukunaga and a script that blends humour, emotion and drama

(Photo credit – MGM)

The script here is much much better than Spectre and manages to balance the darker dramatic moments, with moments of powerful emotion and some truly laugh out loud witty lines (a musical theatre reference was a favourite of mine). Visually, director Cary Joji Fukunaga has done a superb job with No Time To Die. It looks gorgeous and he manages to blend different filmic styles in to one film. I loved how so many scenes and individual shots were framed and it was clear that every shot had been truly thought about. There’s moments of classic Bond action, with some of the best edge of your seat action sequences you’ll see in any film, yet there’s also hold your breath moments of tension that would be at home in a psychological horror movie, followed by some beautiful, emotionally-driven intimate scenes that are very new to Bond, taking what we saw in Casino Royale with Bond’s relationship with Vesper and building on it, to create a deeply moving heart to this man’s journey. Together with cinematographer Linus Sandgren (whose visual style and use of colour I love – take La La Land for example), they have given Bond 25 a new style and look, which keeps it modern, relevant and yet in touch with its past.

Hans Zimmer does Bond his way and Billie Eilish takes her place among the very top Bond theme songs

I admit, I wasn’t sure what I thought about Hans Zimmer doing the Bond score. I love his work and some of his previous scores are amongst my favourites, but Bond is such a unique part of film and I worried it’d sound too different. I’d been hoping for a David Arnold return if I’m being honest. Yet, I loved the score to this film, especially how it incorporated music from previous Craig films and indeed iconic music from earlier Bond eras. It helped weave this era that is ending in to the fabric of Bond, as we prepare to move forward in to a new era. Plus, Hans Zimmer knows how to add scale to moments that deserve to feel epic in their grandeur, while also keeping them deeply emotional. Daniel Craig deserves the epic musical scope of a Zimmer score to see him off and it’s certainly one I’ll enjoy listening to in the future. Oh and can I book a ticket to a Royal Albert Hall orchestra screening now please? That has to happen at some point in the future!

As for the theme song, I love that this is still such an integral tradition to Bond films. Theme songs seem to have become less and less important to most non-animated films and yet I can’t imagine Bond without a title sequence and I loved Billie Eilish’s song the moment I heard it. It sounded like a Bond song and as it plays over the credits it truly sounds incredible, standing shoulder to shoulder with Adele’s Skyfall for me and hearing how it is incorporated in to the film’s score, it’s probably one of the ones that affects me most emotionally as well.

A superb performance from my favourite Bond

He’ll always be my favourite James Bond! (Photo credit – MGM)

It may not be my favourite of Daniel Craig’s films (it’s still Casino Royale for me), but this is undoubtedly his strongest performance in the role. He’s in almost every scene and from his first moment on screen to the last one, he gives it everything, both physically and emotionally. No Time To Die builds on the development we’ve seen in James Bond as a man, across the 4 other films, to give us a truly beautiful multi-faceted performance. There are breath-taking sequences of action, there are incredibly visceral fight scenes (which since Casino Royale has marked his Bond out as being different from what came before). He may have been retired, but Bond hasn’t lost the animalistic fight to survive instinct and it’s thrilling to see Daniel Craig take on these scenes one last time.

Yet, more than any of the others, this film gives Craig moments of humour and lightheartedness, as well as some truly beautifully moving scenes across the film. It allows Daniel to show his range of acting ability, but also just how much of a real person his James is. It’s what makes him stand out as my favourite era of the franchise. Over 5 films and 15 years, I really feel like we’ve come to know him and understand what drives him and what matters to him and I’m so pleased for Daniel Craig that this film gives him a satisfying and fitting end.

What’s next?

I’ve no idea and I’m not going to speculate here either. That’d start to give away possible spoilers, but also, I’m not yet ready to think about who comes after Daniel Craig. Yes, previous generations have been through changes of Bond before. I experienced it when Piers Brosnan left, but we didn’t know Die Another Day was his swan-song at the time. Going in to a Bond film knowing it is the actor’s last one was a new experience and for me felt more like sitting down for the last episode of a departing Doctor in Doctor Who. You don’t want them to leave (well, mostly) and it makes the experience emotional before you’ve even seen what happens!

So, I’ll be curious to see the producer’s approach to this next era and who they choose to lead it (I do have a few top choices for the actor though), but right now isn’t the time to think about it. Instead, it’s time to enjoy Daniel Craig’s final film and appreciate just how much he’s done to keep James Bond fresh, relevant and engaging almost 60 years after he first arrived in cinemas. His shoes are going to be very tough to fill.

No Time To Die is in UK cinemas now and opens in the USA on 8th October.

Book Review – The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

This may not have been a book I would ordinarily have chosen and I confess, I hadn’t even heard of it before it was announced that it was to be made in to a film, but having just finished the final page today, I’m thrilled that I’ve discovered, not just a superb novel, but also a writer whose other work is now firmly on my must read list.

The Power of the Dog is set in the world of the American West, specifically Montana in 1925, where the Burbank family are one of the most successful and indeed wealthy, ranching families in the area. With the parents having moved to a comfortable retired life in Salt Lake City, the ranch is now run by brothers Phil and George.

They may be only two years apart in age, but they couldn’t be more different, in both looks and temperament. George is stocky and lacking in confidence and conversation and yet is a kind man, who handles the managerial side of the business. Phil, his older brother (albeit by just two years) is described as being tall and slender and whose good looks are matched by his intelligence. Phil was the successful student and has gone on to be the conversationalist, with a sharp mind and the ability, it seems, to be successful at whatever he turns his hand to doing. He’s an excellent horseman, musician, plays chess, braids his own ropes and prides himself on getting on better with the ranch hands than his brother, choosing to spend time with them in the bunkhouse and recounting stories from 20 years ago when he was young like them. He cannot stand social climbers and will not conform to what society expects from a man of his wealth and standing.

Yet, it soon becomes clear that while George is kind and considerate of the feelings of others, Phil is cold and takes immense pleasure in upsetting and emotionally destabilising those around him. He calls his brother Fatso and enjoys the idea that the ranch hands respect him more than George. He is also incredibly prejudiced and his comments and thoughts about people’s race, culture, or sexuality make for uncomfortable reading, but it’s when his brother marries a young widow and she comes to live with them at the ranch that we see just how unpleasant Phil can be. She is not welcome in his home and he is not going to pretend otherwise and it’s clear he’d be overjoyed if there was a way of getting rid of her. Then, when summer arrives, her 16 year-old son Peter comes to stay for the school holidays and thrillingly for the reader, the psychological games of chess step up a level.

I loved Thomas Savage’s writing. It seemed to flow from the page and was so easy to read, but that’s not to say it is a simplistic novel. On the contrary, it’s superbly layered with rich characters, who the reader truly gets to know, through a narrative that shifts to different perspectives. You get to understand who Rose is both before and after she marries George and the emotions she experiences once she arrives as the new Mrs Burbank come vividly to life on the page. It’s also notable that a book written in the 1960s by a male writer does such a fantastic job of creating a very authentic, multi-faceted female character within a male- dominated world.

Peter is also a wonderfully fascinating character, who you find yourself wanting to know more and more about. He’s clearly not your average boy and ironically, despite Phil’s disgust when he sees him, Peter is the one who very likely matches Phil’s sharp mind, absorbing knowledge from his late father’s collection of books, from his studies and from the world around him. They both also play chess, which seems appropriate.

However, at the centre of the book is Phil and he’s such a compelling character and Savage’s writing mines the depths of who he is and why he has chosen the life and mindset he has. Part of the book’s brilliance too, is how it adds in references to people and events that you realise are much more significant the further through the story you are. Is there a reason Phil seems to be fixated on his stories from the past? Are the reasons for Phil’s dreadful personality perhaps more complex than you first thought? Nothing is simple in this novel and I loved that. It made the conclusion all the more satisfying.

It isn’t just the personalities of the main characters that Savage writes about either. There are incidental personalities who drift in and out, but who are still very realised, whether the older Burbanks, or the son of the Chief, whose land this once was and who is determined to show his son where they once lived. They aren’t a big part of the story, but Savage ensures that you emotionally connect with them in just a short amount of time. Then there are the rich descriptions of the town of Beech, of the stunning landscape, of the weather and how that impacts both the environment and the minds of the characters; you effortlessly picture it all in your mind as you read, even if you’ve never been to anywhere like it and as well as the visuals, Savage makes sound important too, whether the closing of a certain door, or the whistle of a character, or even the use of instruments, they all add to the feeling of uncomfortable tension that fills the Burbank ranch.

This is a fantastic book, which very much deserves your time. You certainly won’t regret immersing yourself in the world Thomas Savage weaves in your imagination.

Thoughts on the upcoming film

THE POWER OF THE DOG: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

Yes, this is a book review, but I can’t not talk about the upcoming release of the film adaptation, which arrives on Netflix in December, but is already hotly tipped for the awards season and having now read the novel, I’m even more excited for the film. The adaptation has been written and directed by Jane Campion and if anyone can bring to life the world of Savage’s book, it’s her. Perhaps most people know her best for the film The Piano, but my first thoughts when thinking about the style she’ll bring to this story, were of the BBC series Top of The Lake, which captured a mood and atmosphere vital to telling that story and I imagine she’ll do the same for The Power of the Dog.

Not only is their an exciting storyteller at the helm of the project, but her cast is led by one of the finest British actors of any generation, Benedict Cumberbatch and as someone who has been a fan of his work on both stage and screen since I watched him at the National Theatre in 2010, my expectations are sky high for the performance we could see from him as Phil Burbank. I admit, he was in my mind as I read the book, but I could imagine him perfectly inhabiting that person. Few actors have the range needed for a complex character like Phil Burbank and this is absolutely an opportunity for Cumberbatch to add a shiny Oscar statuette to his mantelpiece. This really could be one of his most impactful roles yet.

In the supporting roles are strong talent such as Kirsten Dunst (who I’ve not seen in a really juicy role for years) and Jesse Plemons (who I last saw in Judas and the Black Messiah) and I’ll be excited to see Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter, who I’ve only seen so far as Nightcrawler in the X-Men franchise. It’s also a fantastic film for females behind the camera. As well as Campion writing and directing, Ari Wegner will be in charge of the cinematography, which will be such a key part of this film.

The short teaser for the film has just been released and it’s perfect at conveying the mood and tone of the film without giving anything away to those who haven’t read the book. For those that have, you appreciate the brilliance of such a simple teaser on a different level. It’s actually a lot like the book itself – it has many more layers to it than you may realise.

The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage is available at all the usual book stockists, but as this is my blog, I’ll link to my favourite independent bookshop West End Lane Books, which delivers nationally and internationally. Pop in, or just email them what you’re looking for and they’ll do the rest – https://www.welbooks.co.uk

You can watch the teaser trailer for the film here – https://youtu.be/ELvKuuXdfCU

Let’s Talk Line of Duty!

Credit – BBC

Last night saw 12.8 million people tune in to BBC Once for the finale to series 6 of, in my opinion, the best British drama of the last decade, if not longer. Was it the last ever episode? We don’t know and likely won’t know for some time. The BBC has confirmed they’re open for more (and with those ratings who is surprised?!), so we’ll have to see if creator Jed Mercurio feels there’s more story to tell. As I’ve loved this series for years now, I’d been thinking about writing about it and seeing the passionate reaction to last night’s finale on social media, now seems to be the time.

Let’s start with that finale

Expectations v. Reality

Well there’s certainly some strong opinions flying around about this finale, some good, some bad and some wildly over the top in both directions, so I’ll start with my thoughts about how series 6 concluded. I admit, I’d been anticipating a more explosive, shocking ending. That’s largely due to some previous years of the show, where it’s built to a crescendo and really leaned in to those fireworks (think series 3, but more on the previous years later). I’d wondered if one of the mighty trio would die; Steve maybe due to his dependence on drugs causing him to spiral, or Hastings because those higher up the chain wanted him out of the way. Would there be a huge kingpin brought to justice?

The fact none of those things happened did feel underwhelming and yes, disappointing, initially, but the more I think about the ending, the more it actually made sense. I’d have hated one of Arnott, Fleming, or Hastings getting killed for a start, even if it had been great drama, so seeing them all live to fight another day, back together as a team, having started series 6 fractured (Kate having left, Steve feeling bored), was a satisfying final image. They are the heart of this show after all.

(Credit – BBC)

“H” Revealed

As for the identity of “H” not being revealed to be someone higher up the power structure? It does make sense and I think a lot of the disappointment many are feeling comes from the intense media build-up making us lose sight of the storyline. “H” was initially supposedly the ultimate bent copper, controlling all of those below them, but that theory was changed in series 4, when “H” became just one of four senior bent coppers imbedded in the police force to help the OCG achieve its crimes. Whether that change was the best choice, I’m still undecided on, especially on how it seemed tagged on rather than planned, but personally, as soon as “H” became just one of a group, the mythical status of that person diminished. This wasn’t going to be another Keyser Soze. Finding “H” wasn’t going to be the end of the corruption, but instead would cripple the OCG’s influence and ability to influence the police as effectively. It seemed inevitable in a way that if there were corrupt people at the very top, then they’d likely not be brought to justice.

In a way, that’s one way the show could continue – the four foot soldiers and many minions like Ryan Pilkington are now out of the game, so time to focus on getting evidence to bring down those at the very top of the power structure. That would certainly be a huge challenge for Steve, Kate and Ted, especially in light of their weaker status at the end of series 6. Ted could become a private detective, retired from the force, but still determined to help get justice. Kate and Steve would need to navigate the jobs under the watchful eye of people like Carmichael, while perhaps working a side angle under the radar. Plus, who knows what other officers the OCG have blackmail evidence on who may now be called upon. That would all help raise the tension levels and be fantastic to watch unfold.

Credit – BBC

As for the complaints that Buckells was too incompetent to be a criminal mastermind, well he wasn’t meant to be a criminal mastermind. “H” wasn’t the top of the tree and we already knew that. Instead, the other three – Dot Cotton (a truly brilliant character and performance by Craig Parkinson), lawyer Gill Biggeloe and Derek Hilton were arguably all bigger players than him, but they were already gone. Thurwell was also clearly the corrupt cop who helped boost Buckells up the chain early on. As Ted said, Buckells was the last man standing and having the weakest and most easily controlled left was arguably to the OCG’s advantage. I can’t see Buckles putting up much of an argument to anything he was instructed to carry out, can you?

H’s identity also added to the discussion on, as Ted calls it, failing upwards. This happens in every industry – people who aren’t as good as others somehow climb the ladder, likely through who they know, or perhaps perceptions on who is more capable. It’s depressingly true to life. These types of issues have been covered in Line of Duty in the past, most notably series 4’s discussions about sexism affecting job promotion. There was the way Ted approached discussing promotion with both Steve and Kate, with Steve getting a relaxed drink in the pub and Kate getting 5 minutes in the office and then Thandiwe Newton’s interview scene, where she turned the focus on to Ted’s sexism. It was brilliantly handled and raised some very real issues women face in the workplace. In the same way, highlighting how someone as mediocre as Buckells, or indeed Hilton, could become so successful in their career progression strongly suggested more than just corruption pushed them up the ranks.

The easiest money James Nesbitt has ever made?!

I think the biggest surprise for me in the finale wasn’t the identity of H, but the fact we didn’t see James Nesbitt on screen as Thurwell. Is he really dead? I’m still sceptical and if there is more, surely he’d be in line to be in it, having faked his death somehow. That aside, this must be the easiest money James Nesbitt has ever made! A head shot and a couple of photos in holidaywear by a boat. It was certainly a bold move by Jed Mercurio, which did throw me off!

A more realistic, rather than idealistic conclusion?

Are there still corrupt officers at the very top of the police in the world of Line of Duty? Of course! Would I have loved to see those people dragged to justice? Absolutely! We’ve known the now Chief Constable Osborne is corrupt from series one episode one. It’s why Steve joined AC-12 after refusing to falsify his report about the botched operation in the first minutes of the show that cost an innocent man his life. He’s a prime suspect to be one of the ultimate puppeteers working with criminals for his own gain.

Yet, having the show not have an idealistic, Hollywood-style conclusion, with the heroes defeating the ultimate villain, seemed sadly true to life. Those is power protect others in power and sometimes those people are corrupt, or are willing to ignore corruption if it benefits themselves. We see it all the time and the sidelining of someone like Hastings also seemed sadly realistic. Do a good job stopping police corruption, but not too good. The higher the targets of AC-12 became, the more resistance they were likely to face. Did I want them to topple the whole game at the end? Yes, but this ending gives much more to talk about, both in the fictional world and our own.

An ending that leaves the door open for more

Credit – BBC

A lot of people also seem to confuse bad writing with their own disappointment. Just because you’ve been disappointed by the direction of the story, doesn’t necessarily mean the writing is bad. If you step back and look at the scenes in the final episode of Line of Duty, it was fantastically constructed. You just wanted something else to happen.

The other point for me with how series 6 ended is that it managed to end the story, while leaving the door open for more. Writing anything is hard work and crafting an on-going, complex, storyline like that of Line of Duty must take huge amounts of thought and planning by Jed Mercurio. It’s not as if he just flicks a switch and the ideas come. It might takes years for him to feel he has another story to tell with these characters. Equally he might leave it where it is. I’m at least happy that there are options to continue on. The door isn’t slammed shut. All my fingers are crossed for the future.

A decade of superb drama

(C) World Productions – Photographer: Mark Bourdillon

I’ll likely separately consider my favourite Line of Duty moments in another post, but I did want to reflect on the series as a whole, in case this is the end of the road, especially as I’ve seen so many comments that just because the finale was perhaps a bit underwhelming, the whole show is suddenly written off as a waste of time. It’s like Game of Thrones all over again. For me, declaring a decade of drama as rubbish just because you didn’t enjoy the last episode is just ridiculous and here we don’t even know for sure it is even over!

Whether you liked or disliked last night’s finale, Line of Duty is one of, if not the best British drama of the decade, if not longer. It’s consistently delivered engaging, complex stories, unexpected moments and all superbly acted and shot. I missed series one live for reasons that escape me, but the buzz after the first episode of series two aired couldn’t be ignored and I quickly caught up that week. Right from episode one, it’s a series that delivered something different. It kept you on your toes and delivered some of the most shocking moments of any series.

Credit – BBC

It also managed to keep reinventing itself while keeping the focus on catching corrupt officers. Characters were brought in as if they were the going to be the focus, only to be unexpectedly killed off. Series 1 and 2 established that each year would focus on one officer, only for series 3 to upend that pattern by the end of the first episode! Series 3 had you ready for the big name to exit at the end of the opener, only for series 4 to change gear yet again in the final seconds of episode one. It was truly exciting television, which perhaps meant it had set its own bar too high by series 6. We’d been preconditioned to expect shocks.

The series also wasn’t afraid of long scenes that focused on dialogue over action. A 20+ minute scene in an interview room seems much more normal now thanks to Line of Duty and has led to shows like Criminal on Netflix, which takes place in just the interview room, like an intimate stage performance. This could only be a success if the quality of the writing met the ambition and Jed Mercurio ensured that it did. By series 6, we were all excited for the long interview scenes, waiting for the hilariously long beep from the tape recorder.

Credit – BBC

The other essential element for a series structured in the way Line of Duty was written is the quality of the acting. The intelligence and tension of those long scenes only works if the actors are the best at what they do and over the years the series has treated us to some truly superb performances. The core trio of Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar were individually and collectively excellent to watch, Lennie James set the bar in series one for the guest actors, but Keeley Hawes took the series to another level with her portrayal of Lindsay Denton. Was she good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? You couldn’t pin her down and Hawes set the standard of what Line of Duty could be and was followed by so many fantastic performances – Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Mays, Stephen Graham to name just three.

As for my favourite series of the show? Having rewatched the whole series in full before series 6, it’s still series 3 for me. The first episode is relentless in its tension and twists, it is jam packed with story, it brought back Lindsay Denton, had Craig Parkinson delivering a superb performance as Dot and the finale was ridiculously exciting. I watched that episode after arriving back from NYC, jet-lagged and it delivered the adrenaline shot I needed! Those six episodes can be watched on their own and still be incredibly satisfying.

…………

So, will we get more Line of Duty? I genuinely can’t decide, but it’s certainly a possibility. Jed Mercurio has already not said it’s a definite no and the BBC have confirmed they’re on board for more. We’ll have to wait and see. I have faith that if it does return Jed Mercurio knows what he’s doing!

I’ll post my favourite Line of Duty moments later in the week, but I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

In the UK, Line of Duty series 1-6 is currently available to stream on BBC iPlayer (Netflix currently only has series 5). If you’re in the USA, I understand that the series is available on Acorn TV and if you’re in Canada, it’s on Hoopla, although I assume international audiences will have to wait a bit for series 6.

My Oscars 2021 Debrief

(Credit – The Academy twitter feed)

So, the Oscars are over for another year (or perhaps 10 months if next year it moves back to February) and as there’s quite a lot of discussion about this year’s ceremony and its winners I thought I’d talk about my own opinions about what worked and what really really didn’t.

Let’s start with the Positives

  • A focus on film making over celebrity

As someone who makes an effort to try and see as many of the films with awards buzz as I can before the awards and make predictions on who will win, rather than who I want to win, I primarily tune in see who the winners are. Will I get most right? What will be a surprise etc and I do this willingly in the early hours of the morning here in the UK. Therefore, I really liked the staging this year. There couldn’t be all the glitz, the large audience, the endless unfunny presenters doing monologues. Instead, the focus was on the art of film making – why the nominees wanted to make movies, what they loved most about their craft and I really enjoyed it, although I can see how for many people it would be boring. Having said that, if you’re only interested in the glitz and spectacle and not on the films nominated, I’m not sure why you’d have been watching this year anyway!

I really liked hearing what inspired the directing nominees (Emerald Fennell at 8 years old wanting to make films about murder cracked me up!), Regina King’s insights in to the screenplay nominees, explanations about how craft awards like sound are so vital to any film. It was an awards show that appealed more to film lovers and it worked for me on that level.

This focus on the art of film over celebrity also carried over in the choice of presenters. Gone were the awkward double acts reading off an autocue. Instead it was people who knew what they were talking about. Plus, with a film like Sound of Metal nominated, I loved Marlee Martin presenting on behalf of the deaf community. It was also fantastic to have Boon Joon Ho live from South Korea to present the Directing prize, in his own language, highlighting that great films and film makers aren’t all Western English speakers. More of that going forward please.

  • The seating arrangements – keep the tables over the endless rows in the Dolby theater

I’m never a fan of the rows upon rows of people at awards shows. It always feels very impersonal and it’s why it annoys me even more that the Golden Globes don’t air here in the UK on television. Their arrangement of having nominees at tables with the cast / film nominees always seems more fun to me and you get to really see who is nominated. This year’s venue of Union Station looked gorgeous and I liked the more intimate staging, almost more like a cabaret club.

  • No crass playing people off stage during speeches

I often think it’s not always the speeches that are cringeworthy but the producers’ choices on who gets to ramble and who gets cut off in seconds. It’s always a hierarchy and often feels very awkward to watch. This year’s decision not to play anyone off meant that we actually had some lovely speeches – Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round movingly spoke about his daughter who had died, Chloe Zhao talked about seeing the goodness in others, Frances McDormand encouraged everyone to go to the cinema to support all of the films when it is safe to do so and some important points were made about gun violence and racism. Perhaps the threat of the looming music causes those dull speeches where people thank everyone they’ve ever met, as they’re scared not to seem rude. These speeches felt more natural and genuine, which made a refreshing change.

  • The humanitarian awards given so much time

Have they done these before? I don’t even remember seeing them, which perhaps shows that they get lost in the bigger shows if they have been there before. Yet, this year, I loved seeing Bryan Cranston with those charity workers who do such vital work and seeing the incredible efforts Tyler Perry makes to help people, as well as his powerful speech, were highlights of the night. Again, it wasn’t about glitz and fame, but about people.

However there were Mistakes too!

  • Rearranging the award order to try and engineer the Hollywood ending for ratings, at the expense of the memory of Chadwick Boseman was shameful

If you read my predictions, you’ll know I wanted Chadwick Boseman to get Best Actor. In my view he was a worthy winner before you factored in the tragic reality of his death. However, I also loved Sir Anthony Hopkins and he too was very deserving based on that stunning performance. It seemed obvious to me, someone who pays more attention to film awards than the average filmgoer, but who isn’t clued in to the detail of the awards circuit voters, that it was a close race between those two actors. Ma Rainey came out months ago and didn’t have as much buzz recently. Plus Hopkins won the BAFTA, which I know many in the US seem to forget exists during awards season. Therefore, when Hopkins was announced as the winner, I wasn’t hugely surprised.

I felt sad that it wasn’t Chadwick, but the big mistake here isn’t on the winner. It’s on the producers of the ceremony who seemed to think they’d be clever and switch the order of the last three awards, to end on Best Actor. I bet they had a montage for Chadwick ready to play and were picturing the Hollywood-style movie ending. Yet, they couldn’t guarantee that result! They don’t know the winners! Yet, they did know that Hopkins wouldn’t be there (he’s 83 years old, there’s a pandemic and he wasn’t even in London to sit in the BFI at 4 am even if he wanted to – although I’m now hearing Olivia Colman was meant to accept for him if he won, so that’s another producing mistake if true).

Taking such a risk when it wasn’t a certainty seemed ridiculous to me and a huge insult to Chadwick Boseman. They managed to make Chadwick’s lack of recognition more upsetting and insulting, while also tainting Hopkins’ deserved success. Best Picture should be last. That is the final award and had they left the order alone, Nomadland would’ve won and we’d have ended with Frances McDormand howling like a wolf, in honour of their crew member who passed away. This mistake really soured the whole show.

  • Shifting Best Director away from the end

Another complaint on ordering – Best Director was so early in the show! It’s a big award and in the year when two women were nominated, with one hotly tipped to win, it felt even more insulting for it to be moved from its prestige slot at the end to somewhere in the middle.

  • What on earth happened with the In Memorium?!

I understand that time is limited and there sadly seemed to be a lot of people who passed away in the last year, but despite that the In Memorium segment really felt as if it was being played on fast forward. I barely had time to read each name. I also thought the music choice was a bit strange, but perhaps in a year where there’s been so much sadness, playing them out with a more upbeat song saying they’d be remembered was appropriate.

  • I missed the clips

Some years they go over the top with clips, but without them it did feel a bit clinical and flat. I’d have liked to see some concept art on screen for the production design nominees and costume images for that category. Plus, yes there was a film clip for the animated films and the Best Picture moments, but the acting awards should have showed clips of the nominees to highlight their work, especially in a year where all four acting categories were so strong!

………………..

I’m not going to go in to who I wished had won certain awards, as ultimately it becomes subjective and my views on one film aren’t necessarily more right or wrong than someone else’s view on another film (although, go and watch Promising Young Woman immediately if you have’t already!). I will however say that my final prediction scorecard was 17/23, which isn’t too bad!

Overall, it was a night where some very very good films were recognised, some of which I’m sure would’ve been overlooked if this was a normal year, without film schedules changing and an extended awards eligibility period. None of the winners were unworthy for me, which can only be a positive statement of the films we’ve been able to see this awards season (well, I say that having not seen Nomdland yet – it’s out in the UK later this week)!

I’m assuming next year it’ll be back to the packed cinema rows, the cringeworthy comedy and the focus on celebrity over substance, but I really hope that maybe they see that some things this year really did work and for a show that no longer seems to pull in huge ratings whatever they do, I live in hope that some of the focus on the art of film making from the Oscars 2021 is carried forward in to awards shows in the future.

Oscars 2021 – My Predictions

It’s that time of year again where I make my Oscars predictions. It’s certainly been a tough year for film lovers. I’ve been to the cinema once in the last 12 months, which seems crazy, but one positive consequence of the pandemic for the awards season is that films I’m guessing either would have been overlooked by ones that have had to be rescheduled, or which wouldn’t have qualified until 2022 (and risked being forgotten by then) had the Oscars not been pushed back, have received greater recognition. As with previous years, I assume my choices will differ from some of the winner’s at tonight’s awards, so I’ll say what I think will win and also what I would have voted for.

  • Best Picture
(Credit – Universal Pictures)

Despite the UK release for some nominated films coming after the awards season is over, thanks to advance screenings and online film festivals, I’ve been able to see 7 of the 8 nominees for Best Picture. Ironically, the one I’ve not yet seen is the film many say is the frontrunner, Nomadland, so my choice clearly won’t be that! Overall, I’ve enjoyed most of the nominated films. I’ve learnt about history, been confronted with difficult topics and seen some superb performances.

The least enjoyable for me is Mank. The production quality is high, I loved the black and white and the glimpse in to a bygone era, but it was too long and overall was a bit dull for me, almost as if it was a film only people in film will really love and as much as I admire Gary Oldman, he felt miscast in this role. I’ll always enjoy listening to a script from Aaron Sorkin being brought to life and the talented cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 certainly did it justice. Again, I did think it was too long, but the courtroom scenes were powerful and on a number of occasions left me so angry at the injustices I was seeing. Sound of Metal is a superb film, which highlighted that being deaf is not a disability and showed the richness of the deaf community, while also taking the audience inside what it must be like to lose your hearing, made all the more powerful when music is such a vital part of the person’s life.

The Father was not an easy film to watch, but it was a beautifully moving portrait of the cruelty of dementia, which chooses to bring the viewer inside the experience from the perspective of the person with the illness, rather than their relatives. The cleverness of the script and production design and the incredible central performance make it an unforgettable experience. My knowledge of Black American History is still nowhere near what I’d like it to be (nor is my Black British History, but I’m working on it), which makes films like Judas and the Black Messiah so important in educating us about historical events that shouldn’t be forgotten and which are, frighteningly, still relevant in 2021. I loved the style / directorial choices for this film, which at times reminded me of Martin Scorsese and it’s jam packed with stunning performances.

Then there’s Minari, which I loved both times I watched it. It’s a simple story, but so richly told as we get to know a Korean family trying to make their dreams a reality in the USA. The performances of the ensemble cast are just wonderful and every one of them deserved nominations – also if ever there was proof the Oscars need a Newcomer category, surely Alan Kim is it?! The cinematography was also gorgeous and the score brought everything together for me.

As for my winner – it has to be Promising Young Woman. I haven’t stopped thinking about it in the weeks since I first watched this film. It’s bold, daring, provocative and forces its audience to the confront uncomfortable topics that many try to brush off. The script bounces from genre to genre and yet it doesn’t feel disjointed. The production design brings the hyper-stylised settings to life and the music soundtrack is genius. And then there’s Carey Mulligan (more on that later). Everyone should watch this film.

Will Win – Everyone seems to say Nomadland has this in the bag.

My Choice – Promising Young Woman

  • Directing

I’ve seen 3/5 of these nominees (again due to UK release dates), so for me it’s between Lee Isaac Chung for Minari, who really did a superb job bringing out such wonderful performances and creating such a real family dynamic and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. I’d be happy to see either win, but this is a category that seems to be destined to go to Chloe Zhao for Nomadland. Either way, seeing a woman win and two nominated is at least progress in who is recognised at such events.

Will Win – Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)

My Choice – Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)

  • Best Actress in a Leading Role
(Credit – Focus Features)

Having seen 4/5 nominees, it’s certainly a strong category this year, with all four performances impressing me. As a theatre fan, it’s fantastic to see more people see just how talented Vanessa Kirby is and her performance in Pieces of a Woman drew on her stage background, to bring intensity to the quiet moments, as we watch her character deal with an unimaginable loss. Viola Davis is excellent in every role she takes and Ma Rainey is no exception, although it lost something for me knowing she wasn’t also singing, but that could be because I saw Sharon D Clarke nail the role on stage a few years ago. Andra Day is certainly a name to watch if this is how she starts her feature film career. The United States vs. Billie Holiday makes some questionable choices as a film, but she is simply incredible in this role, immersing herself fully in the woman she was portraying. I’m excited to see what she does next. My vote would however go to Carey Mulligan, as she had an incredibly hard job to do, walking the line of the character of Cassie in Promising Young Woman. It was at least three characters in one person and she keeps them all balanced and pivots so effortlessly between them. Even when she’s cheery to the world, you can feel the weight of her anger underneath. An actress of her versatility is a privilege to watch.

Will Win – I’m really not sure about this at all, which shows how strong this category is. Many say Frances McDormand, but I’ve heard strong support for Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan. I’ll take a risk and say Carey Mulligan.

My Choice – Carey Mulligan

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role
(Credit – Netflix)

Having watched all five performances, in my opinion this is the strongest set of nominees in this category for quite some time. Plus 4/5 are British! Although Gary Oldman is very good in Mank, it didn’t quite work for me (and I’d have swapped him out of this category for someone else). It’s wonderful to see Steven Yeun recognised for his role as the head of the family in Minari. It’s his dream they are pursuing and he conveys the weight of that responsibility so well. Riz Ahmed is superb in Sound of Metal. There’s a point in the film where you forget it’s fiction, as his performance is so rich it could be a documentary following someone who really has lost their hearing. Sir Anthony Hopkins is unforgettable in The Father. It’s seems wrong to say it’s his best work when he’s done so much, but it’s an incredible achievement, as he brings his character’s struggle with dementia to life before our eyes. And then there is Chadwick Boseman, an artist whose work has been wrongly overlooked for years (no nomination for his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in 42 is just one example). He is outstanding in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s his film and the depth of emotional power he brings to what is now his last role hits hard. His loss is still hard to accept, when you know he had so many more roles ahead of him. He’s a worthy winner and the tragedy that is his death makes that even more the case.

Will Win – this seems to be close between Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Hopkins. Honestly, both deserve it. I’m going to guess Chadwick Boseman will win, but I won’t be shocked if it goes the other way.

My Choice – Chadwick Boseman. He’s stunning and it’s also right his artistry is recognised.

  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role
(Credit: A24)

All five performances are very very good and I love the variety of films recognised – the Father and Borat in the same category! I hope we see Maria Bakalova in more films, as I’m curious to see her in something a bit less nuts. Amanda Seyfried was very good, but didn’t stand out enough for me. Glenn Close still never winning an Oscar is a crime and although she’s very very good here, I don’t think she’s the best nominee this year. She’s up against Olivia Colman again, who surprised us all by beating Close to the Oscar in 2019, but as fabulous as she is in The Father, the clear winner here for me is Yuh-jung Youn, whose performance in Minari stands out of its strong ensemble cast. I just loved watching her in every single moment.

Will Win – Yuh-jung Youn

My Choice – Yuh-jung Youn

  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role
(Credit – Glen Wilson)

Another set of five strong nominees make up the Supporting Actor category. I’d honestly be happy to see any of them win. Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the stand out performances in Trial of the Chicago 7, showing he’s so much more than Borat. Leslie Odom Jr. is very impressive in One Night in Miami and his final vocal performance ensures the film ends on a powerful note (although all 4 of the central performances impressed me in this film). There’s so much soul in Paul Raci’s performance in Sound of Metal. Growing up in a deaf household means he truly understands the deaf community and that depth of real life understanding shines through on screen. It does seem unfair to me to have both actors from Judas and the Black Messiah in this category, as honestly I’d have swapped Gary Oldman out for Lakeith Stanfield for Lead. He plays the struggle his character suffers when straddling the role of friend, but also informant so well, that no matter how angry you are at him, you still feel some sympathy for him, but in the Supporting Role category, it has to be Daniel Kaluuya for me. He’s sensational in this film and commands the screen whenever he’s on it with such a passionate performance.

Will Win – Daniel Kaluuya

My Choice – Daniel Kaluuya

  • Best Adapted Screenplay

I’ve only seen 3/5 films nominated in this category, but for me I’d have to choose The Father. It’s been adapted from the stage play so very well and it’s a much more complex script than it first appears when watching the film. All those seemingly jumbled pieces need to fit together and flow through the story and it really worked for me.

Will Win – I’m assuming it’s between The Father and Nomadland. If Nomadland is winning the top awards, then maybe this will go to The Father.

My Choice – The Father

  • Best Original Screenplay

All five nominees in this category impressed me in different ways and the more original ideas in film we get to see, the better. I’m assuming this will be given to a film that won’t win Best Picture, but that people still want to recognise, so I’m assuming this will be where Emerald Fennell wins. Promising Young Woman is the most original of the scripts for me, so I’ll be very happy if that’s the case.

Will Win – Promising Young Woman

My Choice – Promising Young Woman

  • Best Cinematography

As much as I think the ones I’ve seen are worthy nominees, I can’t help feeling surprised that Minari isn’t included in this category. News of the World pulled off those beautiful sweeping vistas, Mank captures the style of the era brilliantly, despite it not really being my type of film, but the one that stands out for me is Judas and the Black Messiah. I just loved so many of the choices made in the creation of the visual style of this film.

Will Win – Everything seems to suggest this will go to Nomadland. As I’ve not seen it, I can’t really comment.

My Choice – Judas and the Black Messiah

  • Best Production Design

There’s such variety in this category, from the large scale, to the intimate contained story settings. Every nominee works brilliantly at contributing to the success of the film, but for me the one I was most impressed by was The Father. It’s a simple design on the surface, but the sets in that flat had to be so subtly altered over the course of the film in order to disorient the audience just as much as the central character. The film wouldn’t have worked had the production design not been perfect. Yet, I assume the award will go to the larger in scope efforts behind Mank.

Will Win – Mank

My Choice – The Father

  • Best Costume

I’ve not seen all of the nominees in this category, but I’m guessing it’s between Emma (as the Academy seem to love a period costume), or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. As I’d love to see that film recognised, it gets my vote and I’m guessing more voters might feel that way too.

Will Win – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

My Choice – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling

I’ve no idea who will win this as the makeup for Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy certainly transforms her in to the real life person she’s portraying and from what I’ve seen of the work on Pinocchio that’s very impressive. I’m going to assume that there’s a chance this will be another category where people will recognise Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which seems a fair choice, as Viola Davis’ horse hair wig and her makeup really do help create the character on screen.

Will Win – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

My Choice – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

  • Best Sound

Again, I haven’t seen all of the nominees, but surely this can only go to Sound of Metal? It’s a film all about sound and the lengths the creative team went to in order to capture the sounds in Riz Ahmed’s ear canal to bring the soundscape to life for the audience is hugely impressive.

Will Win – Sound Of Metal

My Choice – Sound of Metal

  • Best Editing

This is another category where all of the nominees that I’ve seen are a key reason why those films are so good, but for me, based on those I’ve seen, it’s between Sound of Metal and The Father.

Will WinI’m not sure. I’ve heard talk about The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Sound of Metal, so I’ll say Sound of Metal

My Choice – The Father

  • Best Visual Effects

This is another category I don’t have a strong opinion on, having not seen all of the nominees, but I was very impressed by the visual trickery on screen in Tenet, which was well worth the cinema trip, made all the more memorable as it was the only one I had in the last twelve months.

Will Win – Tenet

My Choice – Tenet

  • Best Score

Music is such a vital part of any film for me and a great score stands out without taking over. This year I’ve only seen three of the films nominated and for each one, the score was one of the aspects that really stood out. I’m assuming the winner will be Soul, which I can’t believe I haven’t got around to, but I did love the score from Minari.

Will Win – Soul

My Choice – I can’t really say, as I’ve not heard most of them, but I loved Minari’s score!

  • Best Song

I like all of the songs this year, which isn’t always the case. The ones from Judas and the Black Messiah, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and One Night In Miami are my highlights, but I think my choice will match the winner and that’s Leslie Odom Jr’s song Speak Now from One Night In Miami. It’s a gorgeous song and that film deserves to win something.

Will Win – Speak Now (One Night In Miami)

My Choice – Speak Now (One Night In Miami)

……………………………

I haven’t seen enough of the documentary, animated, or film short nominees for me to be able to give any real comments on who I think should win. One year, I’m determined to have seen them all before the Oscars! I have however made some educated guesses, based on things I’ve heard / read for these categories to complete my full set of predictions and generated my scorecard via The Academy’s Twitter account.

If you have any predictions, or strong views on who should win tonight, then let me know in the comments!

If you’re in the UK, the Oscars can be watched live on the Sky Oscars channel (also available via NOW if you’re not a Sky TV customer) from 1 a.m. Monday morning.

Film Review – The Father (2020) – a deeply moving exploration of the cruelty of dementia

One of the two Best Picture nominees not on general release here until after the Oscars, I was thrilled to have a chance to see The Father thanks to the Borderlines Film Festival and it certainly met my high expectations. Adapted from his play, Florian Zeller’s film is a beautiful, if not heart wrenching exploration of the realities of dementia, told through the relationship between a father (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter (Olivia Colman). Yet, what most impressed and moved me about this film was the way the structure of the film truly gives the viewer an understanding of what having dementia must feel like for the person. It’s easier for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the relative, as it’s either something we’ve experienced, or perhaps fear we’ll experience with our older loved ones and that’s the viewpoint I’m used seeing portrayed on screen.

Yet, Zeller chooses a narrative path that takes the audience inside the lived experience of the titular father. Sometimes it seems as though we’re watching one interaction, only for it to suddenly confuse us, or cause us to question what’s real and what isn’t and to try and fit the puzzle pieces together. It sometimes feels disorienting and confusing, which is exactly how Hopkins’ character must feel, and this makes the film’s impact all the more intense.

There are appearances from some fantastic British actors including Olivia Williams, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots and Mark Gatiss, but the film’s focus is rightly on Hopkins and Colman.

I can’t think of a better British actress for the role of Anne. It’s a character that must feel authentic; as if you could believe you could be her, dealing with such a heartbreaking experience and no other British actress conveys that level of authenticity for me. Colman’s Anne feels like someone you know, or perhaps even yourself and it pulls you in to the story and let’s face it, when Olivia Colman cries, we all cry (or I do anyway).

Yet, this is without question Anthony Hopkins’ film and he is utterly superb. I’m always hesitant to declare something someone’s finest work, but it’s certainly a performance that stays with you long after the film is over. It allows Hopkins to showcase fun, humour, playfulness, anger, nastiness, confusion and sorrow and each one seems effortless to him and it is right that he’s one of the favourites for the Best Actor award next month, despite strong competition. Through his performance you gain a greater understanding of what so many people are going through when they have dementia and the result is an incredibly powerful viewing experience.

Having now seen The Father, I’m also quite surprised there isn’t a Directing Oscar nomination for Zeller, as the directing choices for this film are key to how effectively Hopkins’ character’s mind is conveyed to the audience. Had different decisions been made, the film may not have worked as well as it does. In particular, I loved the way one apartment subtly becomes another through almost identical hallway shots, so much so that you do question if you’re the one who’s confused. Is that room different, or were you just not paying attention? Zeller isn’t afraid of using silence either, in moments where characters are lost in thought, or memory and the choices for the last few minutes are hauntingly beautiful. It certainly doesn’t feel like a directorial film debut for Zeller and I’m glad that as the playwright, he was able to bring his story to life so perfectly for a different medium. Another beautiful element of the film is the score by Ludovico Einaudi. It suits the piece so well, that you take it for granted.

The Father isn’t easy to watch by any means and will no doubt illicit a deeply emotional response from its audience, but it’s a confident, compassionate and important film that helps us understand more deeply the effects of dementia and it deserves all the acclaim it is receiving.

The Father releases in the UK on 11th June 2021.

You can watch the trailer here

Film Review – Promising Young Woman (2020) – Brave, bold, provocative & a film that couldn’t be more timely

There aren’t many films that leave me open-mouthed once, let alone more than once, but Promising Young Woman certainly achieved that when I saw a recent online screening. I knew almost nothing about it beforehand and by the end, it had easily become one of my favourites of this year’s Awards season (although I’ll make a final decision on rankings when I’ve watched them all). Not only that, but it is a film that should be required viewing for all adults.

Without giving too much away, the film centres on 30 year old Cassie (Carey Mulligan), who lives with her parents, works in a coffee shop and inhabits a world of candyfloss pinks and floral prints. Yet, her projected sugary sweet demeanour is a mask, hiding a much darker reality that she keeps hidden from everyone.

(Carey Mulligan as Cassie – Focus Features)

Due to a harrowing event in her past, one which has left her emotionally scarred and which changed the path of her life entirely, Cassie is carrying a huge amount of anger, rage and pain on her shoulders and it is this desire for justice and revenge that is at the heart of the story and keeps you gripped from start to finish, as it takes some unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Carey Mulligan is simply sensational, further demonstrating her incredible versatility as an actress (this role is world’s away from the one she played so wonderfully in the recent The Dig). We see many versions of Cassie during the film and Mulligan handles each one perfectly, whether it’s the cheery woman in colourful put together outfits, singing along to a Paris Hilton song, or the broken, vulnerable woman struggling to look ahead because of the past, or the ruthless woman determined to force people to confront their darker, crueler choices. She balances each persona and skilfully conveys all of the emotions Cassie is feeling in every scene. You can feel the burden that she’s carrying, even when she’s seemingly cheery to the outside world and that’s a testament to Mulligan’s talent.

Becoming the first British woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Directing (and indeed achieving it for her first feature film), is writer, director and producer Emerald Fennell (probably currently best known for playing Camilla in the last two seasons of The Crown) and it’s certainly an impressive project to begin with. Perhaps it’s inevitable that young women like myself have a strong reaction to this film, but its release in the UK couldn’t be more timely, following the recent, passionate calls for greater recognition of the problems of women’s safety and society’s attitudes to the behaviours of men and women and what’s deemed acceptable, or indeed expected. Some may watch this film and think it is trying to be too sensational, but I didn’t think so and that attitude is missing the point of the wider conversations this film should create.

(On set with director Emerald Fennell – Focus Features)

Yes, some of the events in the film are perhaps presented in a way that would never happen in reality, but the difficult truth is that many of them can and indeed do and the question becomes whether we have, as a society, for too long accepted certain things that should’ve been addressed decades ago. This isn’t an anti-men film either and anyone who thinks so is missing the bigger point and I particularly loved the fact Cassie isn’t just determined to confront men on their behaviour. Two of my favourite scenes revolve around her forcing female characters, who through looking the other way she sees as complicit, to face up to the frightening realities of the scenarios they have chosen to ignore.

The script from Fennell accomplishes many different film genres in one story. Some moments you could be watching a traditional romcom, before it pivots in to a darker, more uncomfortable place, before throwing in some truly comedic elements to keep you on your toes and the question hangs over the film as to how it will end. I was certainly rooting for Cassie to find a sense of peace in whatever form that could take and Mulligan certainly deserves to be a frontrunner for awards recognition.

The film’s production design is also a huge asset, creating Cassie’s pink, flowery, hyper-stylised world to the extent that it almost feels too much, while also blending that with the much darker, more dangerous places the film wants to take you, yet presenting these in a way that seem perfectly ordinary, reinforcing the fact that awful things can happen anywhere, even in environments that we all think should be safe. There’s also the brilliant soundtrack, including a take on Britney Spears’ Toxic that couldn’t be more appropriate.

Not everyone will like this film and I imagine some will passionately dislike it, some purely on the basis that it’s made them feel uncomfortable, but I thought it was brilliant and a few weeks on from watching it, I’m still thinking about it. It’s daring, bold, provocative, funny, emotional and disturbing and yet still feels like a balanced narrative. There is no better time for the conversations and debates that it should provoke and I’d encourage everyone to watch it.

Promising Young Woman will be released in the UK on Sky Cinema and NOW (formerly Now TV) on 16th April 2021. If you’re not a Sky TV customer, NOW works like Netflix for Sky TV and Film channels – you can start a free trial and then pay monthly, switching it on and off as you want to without any commitment.

You can watch the trailer here

Oscars 2021 – When & Where to Watch The Nominees in the UK

It’s been a very strange year for film fans and as I write this cinemas here in the UK remain closed, only reopening after this year’s big film awards have been announced and this has had an impact on the access UK film fans have to the nominees this year. Over in the USA, audiences have had an opportunity to see most, if not all, of the nominees by now, whether at movie theatres that remained open for longer than here, or thanks to better on-demand platforms / availability in that market. Here, it’s not as straightforward and the result is that not all of the films will be available prior to the Oscars taking place next month.

However, there are some fantastic films in contention in 2021 and in recent weeks more and more have announced on demand releases in the UK prior to the Academy Awards. In fact, as I write this, it seems that you will be able to watch all but one of the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. I admit, as a strong supporter of cinema, I’m conflicted about VOD options for big films, but as a one off option for those that are interested in access before awards are handed out, I’m all for it.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to some preview screenings of some of the films (reviews will start to follow on this blog in coming weeks) and as I make my way through the others available before Oscars night on 25th April, I thought there might be other film fans out there who might find it useful to have a resource to find out when and where all of the Oscar nominees are released here. If there is no price information listed, then the film is free to stream on that service. If I’m aware of there being different platforms with different prices, for the same film, then I’ve included those too. Everything is here, with the exception of Best Song nominees, as those songs can be found and listened to without watching the film.

Right. Let’s get to the films!

  • Judas and the Black Messiah

Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role (x2!); Original Screenplay; Cinematography; Original Song

Available to watch – now, on premium on demand services such as Amazon Prime Video, Sky Store, BFI Player and Virgin TV.

  • Promising Young Woman

Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actress in a Leading Role; Original Screenplay; Film Editing

Available to watch – on Sky Cinema / NOW (formerly NOW TV) from 16th April

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Cinematography; Film Editing; Original Song

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • Sound of Metal

Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Actor in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Film Editing; Sound

Available to watch – on Amazon Prime from 12th April

  • Mank

Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Makeup and Hairstyling; Cinematography; Production Design; Sound; Original Score; Costume Design

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • The Father

Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Adapted Screenplay; Film Editing; Production Design

Available to watch – Available now via the Borderlines Film Festival (£8 / £6 concession). There’s also a scheduled screening via Ourscreen.com for 8th April (£5) (although I haven’t used that site mysOtherwise it’s not out until it arrives in cinemas from 11th June.

  • Minari

Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Original Score

Available to watch – Available now via the Borderlines Film Festival (£8 / £6 concession). Otherwise, it’s scheduled to be from 2nd April on demand (e.g. Curzon Home Cinema etc) and will also get a cinema release).

  • Nomadland

Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actress in a Leading Role; Adapted Screenplay; Cinematography; Film Editing

Available to watch – annoyingly only available on Disney+ from 30th April

  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Nominated for – Actress in a Leading Role; Actor in a Leading Role; Makeup and Hairstyling; Production Design; Costume Design

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • Another Round

Nominated for – Best Directing; International Feature Film

Available to watch – in cinemas from 25th June

  • The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Nominated for – Best Actress in a Leading Role

Available to watch – now on Sky Cinema / NOW

  • Pieces of a Woman

Nominated for – Best Actress in a Leading Role

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • One Night in Miami

Nominated for – Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Adapted Screenplay; Original Song

Available to Watch – now on Amazon Prime UK

  • Borat Subsequent Movie Film

Nominated for – Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Best Adapted Screenplay

Available to Watch – now on Amazon Prime UK

  • Hillbilly Elegy

Nominated for – Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Available to Watch – now on Netflix

  • The White Tiger

Nominated for – Best Adapted Screenplay

Available to Watch – now on Netflix

  • News of the World

Nominated for – Cinematography; Production Design; Sound; Original Score

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • Da 5 Bloods

Nominated for – Original Score

Available to Watch – now on Netflix

  • Emma

Nominated for – Makeup and Hairstyling; Costume Design

Available to watch – on Sky Cinema / NOW; Amazon Prime UK (£7.99 to buy)

  • Pinocchio

Nominated for – Makeup and Hairstyling; Costume Design

Available to watch – now on BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99) / at some point in 2021 on Netflix

  • Tenet

Nominated for – Visual Effects; Production Design

Available to watch – Amazon Prime UK (£4.99 rental)

  • Love and Monsters

Nominated for – Visual Effects

Available to watch – from 14th April on Netflix

  • The Midnight Sky

Nominated for – Visual Effects

Available to watch – now on Netflix

  • Greyhound

Nominated for – Sound

Available to watch – now on AppleTV

  • Mulan

Nominated for – Visual Effects; Costume Design

Available to watch – now on Disney+

  • The One and Only Ivan

Nominated for – Visual Effects

Available to watch – now on Disney+

  • Animated Feature Film Nominees

Soul – (also nominated for Sound & Original Score) – Available now on Disney+

Onward – now on Disney+

Over The Moon – now on Netflix

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – now on Amazon Prime UK

Wolfwalkers – now on AppleTV

  • International Feature Film Nominees

Another Round – see above!

Better Days – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49)

Collective – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49) / BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)

The Man Who Sold His Skin – [no release information as yet]

Quo Vadis, Aida? – Amazon Prime UK (rental £4.49) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)

  • Documentary Feature Nominees

Collective – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49) / BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)

Crip Camp – now on Netflix

The Mole Agent – Amazon Prime UK (rental £4.49) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)

My Octopus Teacher – now on Netflix

Time – now on Amazon Prime UK

  • Documentary Short Subject Nominees

Colette – on the Colette DocShort YouTube channel now

A Concerto Is a Conversation – on The New York Times YouTube channel now

Do Not Split – on the Field of Vision YouTube channel now

Hunger Ward – [no release information as yet]

Love Song for Latasha – now on Netflix

  • Live Action Short Film Nominees

Feeling Through – [no release information as yet]

The Letter Room (starring Oscar Isaac) – now on Vimeo (to buy £4.99)

The Present – now on Netflix

Two Distant Strangers – on Netflix from 9th April

White Eye – [no release information as yet]

  • Animated Short Film Nominees

Burrow – now on Disney+

Genius Loci – [no release information as yet]

If Anything Happens I Love You – now on Netflix

Opera – [no release information as yet]

Yes-People – now on Vimeo (rental £1.99)

………………………………..

That’s everything! I’ll try to keep this updated if anything changes and feel free to let me know if you know of any information that I’ve missed.

If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on some of the big nominees, then keep an eye on this blog in the coming weeks. I’ll also post my annual Oscars predictions post nearer to the awards next month.

Now, time to grab the popcorn and get lost in the magic of film!