Film Review – Breathe – a beautiful, true story, that makes you want to try and truly live to the full.

 

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I was unable to go to this year’s London Film Festival and so I was relieved that one of the films I had been most looking forward to seeing, was coming out this month in the UK. The film is out now, but I was lucky enough to go to a preview screening last Monday, complete with Q&A with its star Andrew Garfield, director Andy Serkis and producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of the couple depicted on screen, but more on the Q&A later.

Breathe is a beautiful film. From hearing what it is about you may think it is going to be a very sad one, but, although containing some very moving scenes, the overall spirit of Breathe is one of hope, love and the resounding message that we all need to live, as richly and fully as we can.

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Robin & Diana Cavendish

It is the story of Robin and Diana Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy), who meet in 1957 and soon marry. Robin is a tea broker and so they travel to Kenya for his work, enjoying a happy and loving life together. It is when Diana is pregnant with their first child, that Robin contracts polio, which results in the devastating news that he will be permanently paralysed from the neck down. He can only last two minutes at most off an external ventilator and doctors give him mere months to live.

Understandably Robin’s reaction is one of depression and defeat. He does not want to live, locked away in a hospital, unable to move and dependent on a machine and the staff around him and Garfield plays his withdrawal with such rich depth, not an easy task, when so much has to be conveyed through the face and the eyes. Not many actors could convey such emotions, but Garfield is one of the best around, both on stage and screen (his recents roles in Hacksaw Ridge on screen and Angels In America on stage, both had me shedding tears).

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Claire Foy & Andrew Garfield

However, the key to Robin’s renewed sense of living, is thanks to the love and unwavering support he receives from his wife Diana and Claire Foy is utterly superb in this film (give her the nominations for the awards now). As with Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, a lot of my tears shed during Breathe, were due to seeing the other person affected by such a prognosis and Foy shows how much strength Diana Cavendish had to have. She was away from home, pregnant and faced with losing her husband. It is clear that the reason Robin went on to live for decades is because of her and I left the cinema inspired by her strength.

Their story is not just about their determination to continue to live as a family, as the Cavendish’s fought for rights of those with disabilities, who at that time, were simply locked away and forgotten about by society. The resistance they face at removing Robin from the hospital is frightening and a scene in which he visits a hospital in Germany, in which people with similar paralysis are housed in storage units, seems unimaginable and highlights how important their work to have those with disabilities seen as human beings really was.

Breathe is blessed with many components that come together to create such a wonderfully satisfying film. First, it has been brought to the screen by producer Jonathan Cavendish, the son of Robin and Diana. He talked during the Q&A about how this was the most truthful biopic you would see, as everything in it happened. The involvement of those who were there, or knew those who were, ensures that you feel the authenticity of the film and also adds to the emotional response you have to the story, on knowing it all happened.

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The film also has a strong script from William Nicholson (who refused payment until the Cavendish family had read it and were happy for it to be made), which balances the sadder moments, with the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that you see. Yes, I did shed some tears throughout Breathe, but I also laughed a lot too. There are many moments of fun and humour, as we see how the Cavendish’s and their group of close friends adapt to Robin’s new circumstances, including when the family goes on holiday to Spain and have to pull over by the side of a cliff road, when Robin’s ventilator breaks. While help is called from England (in the form of Hugh Bonneville as their wonderful friend Professor Teddy Hall) and the manual pump is used to keep him alive, they are soon surrounded by locals, setting up caravans and fires and a party atmosphere! It seems so crazy, yet it happened, meaning an event that could have been frightening, actually still seems full of life and humour and joy.

4473The film is also wonderfully directed by Andy Serkis (known best for his work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit). This is the first film Serkis has directed (although he did work as second unit director on The Hobbit films) and he has delivered a truly lovely film. He spoke on Monday about how close he felt to the material, having once played a polio sufferer himself and by also growing up with a mother who taught special needs children and a sister who was diagnosed with MS. He read the script and was moved by it, asking to direct it, as part of his and Jonathan Cavendish’s company, The Imaginarium Studio. He also had to contend with the tricky task of filming Tom Hollander in two different roles, as he plays Diana’s twin brothers. Serkis spoke during the Q&A about how much work this took to achieve and commended Hollander’s talent in pulling it off.

The talent of the cast is the final crucial element of Breathe. Garfield is fantastic as Robin, first as the athletic, young man and then as someone having to cope with such a terrifying change in their life. Watching Garfield go through the stages of pain and grief at his limitations is heartbreaking (a scene where Diana lays their newborn child by his head just one example). He conveys so much emotion without saying much at all and you feel all of Robin’s pain and sense of loss. However, what makes his performance all the more incredible, is the way he also brings Robin’s playfulness and humour to the forefront too. You laugh along with him, as he continues to live and thrive against all the odds.

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Jonathan Cavendish, Andy Serkis & Andrew Garfield at the Q&A at Picturehouse Central Cinema

Breathe wouldn’t work if the actress portraying his wife Diana wasn’t an equal to Garfield and in Claire Foy (best known for Netflix’s The Crown), they found the ideal talent. It is hard to imagine having to find the strength Diana did and Foy is superb from start to finish as she comes to terms with what has happened, stubbornly refusing to let Robin give up and then doing everything humanly possible to make their lives as rich as possible. They were clearly an incredibly devoted couple and it’s heart-warming to see. Jonathan Cavendish talked in the Q&A about how well they depict his parents, calling it extraordinary, also saying his own 83 year-old mother, who never cries, does cry every time she watches Breathe, shocked by the accuracy of Garfield’s performance.

Surrounding Foy and Garfield is a tremendous cast of British acting talent. Bonneville is wonderful as the friend who builds Robin’s mobile chair, allowing him more freedom than had ever been thought possible at the time and Stephen Mangan plays Dr Aitken, the friend who helps on their mission to raise the profile of the need for rights for those with disabilities. Playing two twin brothers couldn’t have been easy for Hollander, but he’s perfect in the roles, bringing another layer of fun and comedy.

Combine all of these elements with beautiful music from Nintin Sawhney and you really do have a very special film, that feels incredibly personal to those who have brought it to life. I certainly hope it features in the nominations list next awards season and cannot recommend it highly enough. You will cry, but you will also laugh and leave the cinema with a reminder that life is precious and we should do everything we can, to live it to the full.

Breathe is now on general release in UK cinemas. For more information, visit its website here: http://www.breathefilm.co.uk/home/ and watch you can watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JycCFypvgmI

 

 

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Film Review – Dunkirk (2017): Powerful & emotional filmmaking at its best

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On exiting the cinema tonight after seeing Dunkirk, one thought struck me in particular. After all the big, loud, brash Hollywood fodder in the trailers before it, here was a film that proves that a big budget does not have to mean over the top, overly long, Hollywood rubbish! Thank you Christopher Nolan!

Dunkirk is quite simply breathtaking in its raw, powerful, emotional depth, across a mere [96] minutes. I had expected quality from Mr Nolan and he delivered in spades, with a film that everyone should take time out of their lives to see. Those of us in the UK are perhaps more likely to be aware of the story of Dunkirk and it is fantastic that this incredible tale from WWII is being presented to a wider audience.

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For those less familiar, in 1940, after Nazi Germany had invaded France, the Allied forces were pushed back to the city of Dunkirk, resulting in almost 400,000 stranded soldiers in need of rescue on the beach. Attacked on land and by air, they were trapped and the fact so many survived is thanks to not only the bravery of the Royal Air Force, but also the civilian boats that answered the call to cross the English Channel to provide rescue, putting themselves in great danger in doing so, due to U-Boat attack and enemy fire.

I've been a fan of Nolan as a film-maker for years and he truly shows his skill as both a writer and director with this film. Structure-wise, Dunkirk is written in a very clever way, in that it is not a simple linear story. It takes a bit of time, but you start to pick up that the boat you saw capsized a few minutes ago is still afloat, or the people in the water earlier are suddenly characters you realise you know well from a different story strand. The script's movement from storylines on land, sea and air, over varying lengths of time (one week, one day and one hour respectively) means that you see moments more than once, from different perspectives, which only enhances their emotional power. It also means you have to pay attention as an audience member and I certainly found it a brilliant way of packing so much story in to a relatively short running time.

I know some have complained about the lack of introduction of the characters, but for me, simply throwing us in to the film's events and us having to learn who everyone is, gave the film another layer of realism; as if we were stepping in to a moment in time and witnessing it first hand.

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The acting is also excellent. There isn't loads of dialogue, requiring the cast to capture and convey the events and experiences we see through more than simple dialogue. It takes confidence for a film maker to not try and saturate a story with needless words and Nolan's use of this style also makes the film seem so much more real and true to life. We are watching people simply trying to survive.

The cast contains some of the most respected actors around. Tom Hardy moved me to tears by the end as the RAF pilot determined to stay in the air as long as he could to provide air support for those trying to rescue those stranded below. Cillian Murphy is wonderful as the shell-shocked survivor of a U-Boat bombing, Kenneth Branagh brings weight and authority as the Navy Commander, determined to try and get his men home and Mark Rylance gives yet another quiet, nuanced performance as the civilian determined to play his part in helping save his fellow countrymen. Much has also been said about the inclusion of Harry Styles in the cast, but he gives a solid performance as a simple soldier, who desperately just wants to make it home, despite feeling shame that their attack has resulted in retreat. Newcomer Fionn Whitehead is also excellent as Tommy, also struggling to be rescued.

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Each aspect of the story is handled beautifully and as the strands begin to crash together, as the intensity of the events increases, I found myself gripped by just how real it all felt. Visually, it is excellent too. Nothing is done to extreme, so that the film always feels authentic and the opposite of Hollywood. The visuals of the battles in the air over the vast water of the English Channel are incredible, as are the shots when the full scale of the civilian rescue operation become apparent (I had a lump in my throat).

On top of that is Hans Zimmer's intense score. There is an undercurrent of music constantly and the strong use of strings and a ticking clock effect (produced using Nolan's own pocket watch) add an urgency and tension to every scene. It keeps you on edge. Therefore, the brief moments when the music disappears carry even more weight. Add in the inclusion of a slowed down version Edward Elgar's beautiful classical music "Nimrod" and the final scenes in particular had me shedding some tears (the track is Variation 15 on the soundtrack for those who want to hear it again).

All in all, this was every bit as brilliant a film as I had hoped for. Cleverly structured, fantastically and confidently directed and terrifically acted; the result being a truly powerful, realistic insight in to one of the most memorable stories of WWII. I urge everyone to go and see it as fast as you can (preferably on an IMAX screen if you can get to one).

 

 

 

17 Films to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve already set out my suggested theatre productions to see in 2017 (read it here if you want to), as well as my television choices for the next twelve months (read that one here too). This post will therefore take a look at the films we can look forward to. There were some wonderful films in 2016 and I’m hoping 2017 will also contain some gems. Any release dates listed will be for the UK seeing as that is the home of this blog.

Enjoy!

1. A Monster Calls (out from 1 January)

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The first film on my list is one I saw during the London Film Festival last year and loved. Out yesterday, A Monster Calls is a truly moving film based on Patrick Ness’s book, in which young Conor O’Malley copes with his mother’s cancer by escaping in to his imagination and the monster he creates from the tree in the cemetery at the bottom of their garden. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Conor’s mother, Signourney Weaver does a great job as his grandmother and Liam Neeson adds gravitas to the “monster”. However, the finest performance is that given by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Take your tissues! Read my review here and you can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

2. La La Land (out 12th January)

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It’s highly likely that you’ve already heard about La La Land. It has won a raft of awards and is the hot favourite for the Oscars. Having been lucky enough to see it during October’s London Film Festival, I can vouch for the fact it really does live up to the hype. The opening sequence is impressive (but perhaps a bit cheesy), but once you fall under the spell of this film, it’ll captivate you until the very end. With a superb chemistry between its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, some lovely songs and utterly magical scenes, this is guaranteed to become a modern classic. Read my review here. Go, go, go!! You can watch the trailer here too: https://youtu.be/0pdqf4P9MB8

3. Jackie (out 20th January)

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Another film tipped for awards glory is Jackie, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. From the trailer this looks to be quite a harrowing film, but Portman is such a fantastic actress that I can’t miss seeing it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g9pW3B8Ycc4

4. Hacksaw Ridge (out 27th January)

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Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, an American army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refused to kill anyone and yet due to his actions during WWII he was the first man to be awarded the Medal of Honour without firing a shot. Doss is played by Brit Andrew Garfield and I’ve heard lots of positive reaction to this film from those who’ve already seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/s2-1hz1juBI

5. Moonlight (out early February)

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Moonlight has also received a great deal of acclaim and finally arrives in UK cinemas in February. Set in Miami, it charts the life of a young black man through three chapters of his life, as he seeks to understand his sexuality as a gay man. Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film has quite a buzz around it due to the powerful nature of its story. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9NJj12tJzqc

6. Star Wars Episode VIII (out 15th December)

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After the success of Rogue One this Christmas, December sees the arrival of the next instalment in the Star Wars saga with the release of Episode 8. I’m staying away from spoilers so I know very little about this film. One thing that is certain, is that following the recent death of Carrie Fisher, her role in this film will have an added poignancy.

7. The Circle (out TBC)

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Dave Eggers’s book The Circle has been on my to-read list for a while now, but it seems I may end up seeing this film adaptation first. Emma Watson plays a young woman who lands a job at the world’s largest tech and social media corporation called The Circle, but she soon realises that it is a world where everyone is watching. With the other lead being played by Tom Hanks (always one of my favourite actors) and support from John Boyega, this thriller sounds very promising indeed. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QCOXARv6J9k

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (out 28th April)

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I admit I’m not a huge superhero film fan. I like some, but not all of them and I’ve seen very few of the Marvel movies. I did however love the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and this sequel looks to be as much fun as the first, with all the leads returning. I can only hope the soundtrack is also as fab the second time around! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

9. Hidden Figures (out 17th February)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures since I first heard about it last year. It’s based on the true story of a team of African American women who, due to their mathematical talents, worked with NASA to assist with it launching its first successful space missions. It’s such an incredible story that I was shocked I hadn’t already heard about it and so I hope the film will also bring the wider recognition these women deserve. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/RK8xHq6dfAo

10. Dunkirk (out 21st July)

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Christopher Nolan’s next film arrives in the summer and will tell the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, one of WWII’s most well known events, when after becoming surrounded by German troops, Allied forces were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between 26th May – 4th June 1940. Written and directed by Nolan and with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, I’m wondering whether I’ll find this as powerful as I did Saving Private Ryan. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F-eMt3SrfFU

11. Blade Runner 2049 (out October)

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Last year saw Harrison Ford return to the iconic role of Han Solo and 2017 sees him return to another character – Rick Deckard. Set 30 years after the original film, Ryan Gosling plays LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner, who discovers a long-buried secret that results in him going in search of Deckard, who has been missing for decades. The original is such a classic that I’m still a little uncertain about a sequel, but after watching the superb Arrival, I’ve no doubt that director Denis Villeneuve is the ideal choice of director to pull this off. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/S_JAMRKzEHs

12. Fences (out 17th February)

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I missed a recent London production of August Wilson’s play and so it’ll be great to see this film adaptation, which was written by Wilson prior to his death. Starring Denzel Washington (who also directs) and Viola Davis, it’s the story of a working class African American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The performances of both Davis and Washington have already been widely praised and I’m pleased this will finally reach the UK in February. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/spCxVd9ctFs

13. Murder on the Orient Express (out November)

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Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story and perhaps the most famous Poirot tale. The version starring David Suchet a few years ago was very very good, but I’m curious to see this film adaptation due to the calibre of the cast assembled. Among the stars are Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench, alongside the director Kenneth Branagh who will also star as Poirot. He has big shoes to fill as Belgium’s famous detective, but I hope this is as good as it could potentially be.

14. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (out TBC)

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After the success of Bridge of Spies, I’m rather excited to see this collaboration between Steven Spielberg and (now) Sir Mark Rylance. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy in 1858, who is forcibly taken from his family to be raised a Christian after having been secretly baptised and his parents’s struggle to to get him back. Their fight brings them up against the papacy and Rylance will play the Pope. Directed by Spielberg and written by playwright Tony Kushner, it will also star Oscar Isaac.

15. The Dark Tower (out 28th July)

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I’ve never read Stephen King’s series of novels, but I’ve heard a great deal over the years, as the possibility of a film was rumoured. Now it is finally happening and will star Idris Elba as a lone frontiersman knight. I admit this isn’t usually my kind of film, but with Elba involved I’m more than willing to give it a try!

16. Split (out 20th January)

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M. Knight Shyamalan has had an up and down career in terms of his films (personally I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the rest not so much), but I’ll always give his films a chance. This latest one, written and directed by Shyamalan, stars James McCoy as a man suffering from disassociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. It has been described as the director’s best film in years and as I already know how superb McAvoy is, I have my fingers crossed for this one. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/84TouqfIsiI

17. Manchester By The Sea (out 13th January)

 

 

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Manchester By The Sea was another film I was able to see during the London Film Festival and it’s one that certainly made an impression on me. Kenneth Lonergan’s story of Lee Chandler, who has to take on responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, following his death won’t appeal to everyone. It is quite long and rather slow in pace. However, it is a compelling and very raw look at how we cope with grief, loss and guilt and how it affects those around us as well as ourselves. Lucas Hedges is superb as Patrick, bringing humour and warmth to the film, but it is Casey Affleck’s movie, in what for me has to be a frontrunner for Best Actor at all the awards ceremonies. You can read my review here and watch there trailer here: https://youtu.be/NxQmuJnrjxg

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So, those are the films that I’m most excited about seeing (or indeed, in some cases, seeing again) in 2017. Time will tell whether they all live up to expectation!

 

 

Film Review – Una (2016); David Harrower brings his intense play Blackbird to the screen

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Earlier this year, I took a trip to New York to see lots of theatre. One of the plays I saw during that time was Blackbird starring Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in a two-hander. It was an intense production (you can read my review here) and on hearing it had been adapted by its writer David Harrower in to a film, to be screened during the London Film Festival, I was curious to see it in a different medium.

Renamed Una, the story is a chilling, uncomfortable, examination of the disturbing reality and consequences of child abuse. Una (Rooney Mara) arrives unannounced at Ray’s (Ben Mendelsohn) workplace, to his visible shock and horror. It soon becomes apparent that Una and Ray had a sexual relationship 15 years previously – when she was just 13 (it was 12 in the play and I don’t really understand why the change for the film, seeing as it is well under the age of consent). It’s a horrifying realisation for the audience and over the course of the film, we see the true consequences of such abuse; something we don’t like to think about and the way it affects that child’s life forever, as they mature and become an adult.

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Rooney Mara as Una (Photo via: Entertainment Weekly)

 

Although for the needs of a film, the story is expanded a little, it remains a piece driven by its two central characters and both actors do a tremendous job with such challenging material. Ben Mendelsohn (most recently known for Netflix’s Bloodline) is excellent at portraying Ray as a seemingly normal man. There are times when you almost forget what he has done, so good is his performance. Interestingly, he was quite different from Jeff Daniels, who played him as a much weaker and broken man. Seeing Una terrified him and he often felt weak compared to her. Mendelsohn plays him as a more confident man in my view; far more in control of his emotions. Daniels’ Ray perhaps genuinely didn’t think he was like “those other men”, but I had the sense here that Mendelsohn’s Ray knew exactly who and what he was. This made him much more disturbing.

Rooney Mara is the pivotal piece of the picture and she is astonishing as Una. It’s a role that demonstrates the calibre of actress she is when given the right material (one of the weakest bits of the wonderful film Lion for me was how wasted Mara was). She has an incredible on-screen presence that pulls you in to her world and doesn’t let you go. You see how damaged Una is; how confused she’s been for 15 years about what happened to her. There remains something childlike about her; as if part of her has been frozen in the past. There is also a tension between the two of them that chills you, as you see that as a girl she was more upset at thinking Ray had deserted her rather than what he’d done to her and her complex feelings for him made me ache for her. We rightly think of children who experience such terrible things as victims, but Una’s/Blackbird’s power is in highlighting that at the time those children may not see themselves that way.

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Ben Mendelsohn as Ray (Photo via: Entertainment Weekly)

 

One of the most powerful moments in the play was when Una recalled the last few hours she spent with Ray, after they’d ran away together to the seaside, apparently about to embark on a new life. You couldn’t see it then, but through the talent of the writing and Michelle Williams, your mind took you in to the past with Una. One of the most disturbing aspects of the film however, is the fact they can show us young Una as well as adult Una and indeed seeing her as a child with Ray is harrowing.

The film chooses to move beyond the factory setting, which allows us to see both Una and Ray interact with others; Una mainly with her mother (played by Tara Fitzgerald), who she has clearly never really forgiven for how she reacted in the aftermath of what happened, and Ray’s work colleague Scott (Riz Ahmed), someone who she could perhaps be happy with if she wasn’t quite so broken and had circumstances been different. Unlike the play, we also get to see Ray in his new life, with his wife and friends and the film leaves us with the same frightening uncertainty as the play, as to whether Una really was his only victim.

I’ve seen some people comment that they thought this was a paedophile apologist film, but it’s not that at all. It couldn’t be clearer how dreadful the actions of these predators are, while also shining a spotlight on just how such events can happen, when someone who seems to be like any other neighbour can choose to take advantage of a child in this way. It also makes us think again about those children and how they require emotional strength and support long in to adulthood.

I admit I may not have chosen to see this film had I not already watched the play, but it’s a strong, emotional and thought-provoking  piece and a very capable directorial film debut by playwright and theatre director Benedict Andrews (most recently director of Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire) and I hope is a performance that will earn Rooney Mara deserved praise. It is certainly a film no one who sees it will forget.

Una does not yet have a release date in the UK or the USA, but I’ll update this post if one is announced.

Film Review – Queen of Katwe (2016); an uplifting story about how anything is possible

7047_5224During my time at the London Film Festival, I was also able to attend the European premiere of Disney’s Queen of Katwe. Based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, the young Ugandan girl who goes on to become a chess champion, this is a wonderfully uplifting film that had me leaving the cinema with a smile on my face.

The film’s director Mira Nair spoke before the screening about how pleased she was to be able to make a film about Africa that was about the country she knows and loves, not a film about colonial Africa or one filled with animals roaming across the open plains and Queen of Katwe certainly opens your eyes to the reality of those living in the poorer communities of Uganda.

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David Oyelowo & Madina Nalwanga

As the story centres on Phiona and her family, it needed a strong central performance and Madina Nalwanga is wonderful in the role. She has a presence on screen that captivates the audience, as we watch Phiona grow in confidence and self belief. She also has a glint in her eye, which allows her to bring out the more humourous moments. She is also excellently supported by David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, who were both at the premiere. 

Oyelowo, plays her coach Robert Katende, the man who introduces her to chess and realises the potential she has. He captures Katende’s incredible generosity of spirit and kind heart, as we see how he and his wife support the children of Kampala as if they are an extension of their family, highlighted further by the film’s credits referring to some of the children living with their family. They truly care for them and it’s lovely to watch Katende’s bond with his chess group grow.

Nyong’o, whose breadth as an actress continues to impress me both on screen and stage (Eclipsed in NYC is one of my theatre highlights of 2016), is also excellent. As Phiona’s mother we see her as the strong, protective woman who, after being widowed has to provide for her children in very difficult circumstances. You see where Phiona learnt to have such strength and the two woman have a warm bond that gives the film further depth.

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Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother

Another wonderful aspect of this film is how much humour is in it. The children of Katwe (or the Phioneers) are a breath of fresh air and play each of their roles so well, capturing the playful and joyful spirit they have. Also, to say I didn’t understand the rules of chess, I didn’t find the scenes in which games are played dry or dull. Director Mira Nair manages to successfully create a sense of drama and anticipation to them, which keeps your attention and interest.

The soundtrack choices have also been perfectly chosen with songs full of the essence and spirit of the Africa we see in this film.

Queen of Katwe is ultimately a story about how anything is possible. Anyone, no matter their place in the world, can go on to achieve great success if they work hard, believe in themselves and have people in their lives to give them strength when they need it. It’s a wonderfully positive story for all ages that I hope will inspire all who see it. Heck, it even made me more interested in chess!

Queen of Katwe opens in U.K. cinemas on 21st October 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/z4l3-_yub5A

Film Review – Fun for all ages with the Trolls!

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There’s happiness inside all of us. We just need someone to help us find it. That’s the message of the latest movie from DreamWorks animation. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s like me, you’ll no doubt remember Troll toys or have even owned a few and now they are making a big screen comeback through this hugely entertaining film.

It’s a very simple premise. The Bergens are a gloomy township, who live under the belief that happiness can only be achieved one way – by eating a troll. So, every year on “Trollstice” that is what the Bergens do, until the brave Troll King leads his people to safety. Twenty years have now passed and perhaps becoming a bit too complacent, the Trolls soon find themselves in danger once again and it’s up to Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the reluctant Branch (Justin Timberlake) to risk it all to save their friends (well, her friends in Branch’s opinion!).

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Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) & Branch (Justin Timberlake) off to save the day

 

When watching Trolls, I was marvelling at how far computer animation has come. I’m still a sucker for a traditional 2D animated feature, but when the final production is as polished and impressive as Trolls you can’t not enjoy yourself. The fact that their hair is their big feature requires it to be spot-on and it certainly is. I also loved the glitter Trolls, which were an element that the filmmakers afterwards said the computer had trouble with initially. Every detail is visually brilliant – right down to the shagpile carpet in the Bergen castle, which looks so realistic as the Trolls speed over it in a rollerskate. There’s even the appropriate imprint left behind in the carpet too!

As for the look of the film, the acting and indeed singing had to be on point and the ensemble of voice actors here are very good indeed. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake are both strong leads, able to convey both the fun and more serious moments of the story. They also have wonderful support from, in particular, Zooey Deschanel as Bridget, the lonely and kind-hearted Bergen kitchen maid, who is just as important as the Trolls, and Christine Baranski as the evil Bergen chef, hell-bent on power by ensuring she has the Trolls captured and therefore control of the town.

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I loved Bridget (Zooey Deschanel)

 

Justin Timberlake was also overseeing the musical content of the film as an executive producer, which is a huge element of the story. Each song included in the film has been taken and re-recoded by the cast, including the pivotal True Colours, which is the perfect centrepiece for such  a vividly colourful movie. Yes, some of the songs chosen do feel a bit cheesy, but it’s such a cheerful film that I forgave it a certain level of cheesiness. Favourites for me were the catchy “Get Back Up Again” and the lovely use of “True Colours”. The songs also add an extra layer of comedy for the adults in the audience who can appreciate how aptly they are chosen. Poppy’s choice of “Hello Darkness” in particular made me laugh and as with DreamWorks’s other hits such as Shrek, there’s enough humour here for the adults as well as fun for the kids.

Overall, this is another success for DreamWorks, which has something to offer adults and children alike and hopefully, in such a serious world, it can be a reminder of how much good can be found if you look for it. I predict a new wave of children are about to start collecting Troll toys just like I did!

Trolls opens in UK cinemas on 21st October 2016 (4th November in the USA). Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/xyjm5VQ11TQ

Film Review – Lion (2016); an astonishing and uplifting true story about family love

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There are very few films that I can say have moved me to tears, but I can now add Lion to this list after attending last night’s UK premiere during the London Film Festival.

Lion is the astonishing true story of Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel) and is based on his book A Long Way Home. Saroo was born in India and lived there with his mother and two siblings until the day when he was five years old, that he was separated from his brother, Guddu, after falling asleep on a train and ending up 1,600 miles from home in Calcutta with no way of getting back to his family. Eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham), he grew up in Tazmania with them and his adopted brother Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), another homeless Indian boy.

Twenty five years later, in 2008, the faces and memories of his family in India resurface and although he has loving parents and is set for university and a career, it’s clear that a part of Saroo remains lost; caught between the life he has had in Australia and the one he left behind. When a university friend suggests he use Google Earth (quite new back then) to try and locate the area he sees in his memories to look for the remote village he was from, his search for home begins and with it the hope that he will finally find a sense of peace and completeness.

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Nicole Kidman (Sue Brierley) & Sunny Pawar (as young Saroo)

Your emotional connection with this film starts from the outset, as we first see young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his life in India. I hadn’t expected so much of it to be set when Saroo was a little boy, but it’s definitely a strength of the film as Sunny gives such an affecting performance. After last night’s screening, Nicole Kidman commented that for a little boy, who wasn’t an actor and didn’t speak English, to give that kind of performance is a credit to director Garth Davis and I’m minded to agree.

You first see how happy he is, despite the poor conditions they live in and the strong bond he has with his brother, before witnessing the fear and confusion this little five year old experienced, when without warning he was separated from everything he knew. It’s heartbreaking to see the life he and other children have on the streets of Calcutta and certainly feels as if you are watching every child’s nightmare. It comes as a relief when little Saroo finally meets the Brierleys and you know he is safe. I challenge you not to be captivated by Sunny Pawar and the strength of his portrayal of young Saroo creates the affection you have for him as a young man.

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Dev Patel & Rooney Mara

Dev Patel (still perhaps most known for Slumdog Millionaire or viewers of The Newsroom) was desperate to play Saroo, resorting to going to the writer’s house and his passion for this young man’s story shines through in his powerful performance. He conveys the conflicted emotions Saroo has; he loves his family and, unlike Mantosh, has settled in to life in Australia. However, the film highlights the guilt he carries with him, guilt for the comfortable Western life he has compared to his poorer childhood, but also guilt as to the pain he must have caused his family in India, who have no idea what happened to him. It’s clearly a heavy burden, which he has kept inside, only revealing it to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara, who I do think is a little wasted in this film), who helps him have the courage to face his past.

In a film all about love and family, having an actress of Nicole Kidman’s calibre on board was essential and she gives a beautiful performance as Sue, a woman who has so much love for her sons and is desperate to keep her family together. She has some lovely scenes with Sunny and a very real connection on screen with Patel. A scene in which she tells him that they chose to adopt because they wanted him is particularly moving and Kidman brings a huge depth of emotion to such moments. We also see the strains in the family quite early, as Saroo’s brother Mantosh (adopted a year after him), finds life a struggle, which we assume is a result of experiences he had as a child before his adoption. From the small insight Lion gives us in to what those children go through, I cannot even begin to imagine and Divian Ladwa is very good at conveying trauma and its long-lasting effect on Mantosh.

To say this is his first feature film, Garth Davis has done an impressive job. Lion is a visually gorgeous film, whether the scenes in India or Australia and he cleverly uses the scenery to draw links between the two places Saroo has called home. I also loved his style of adding the flashes of his childhood every so often in to Saroo’s present, forever keeping his memories alive. As the film reaches its conclusion and Saroo travels back to India it’s as if the two halves of Saroo are finally coming together and I challenge you not to be affected by it.

I found Lion to be a hugely satisfying film. It’s beautifully shot, strongly acted and the fact this is a true story only makes the experience of watching it even more uplifting. Buy a ticket and take some tissues!

Lion opens in the USA on 25th November 2016. The UK release date is yet to be confirmed.  Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/-RNI9o06vqo