Blithe Spirit – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Emilia Fox, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Judi Dench Directed by Edward Hall. Written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft. Based on the play by Noel Coward. Length: 95mins

In the latest film adaption of Noel Cowards play Edward Hall brings the famous comedy to life in an explosion of colour and famous faces. The story follows Charles Condomine, a writer struggling with writers block who hires a spiritualist medium to hold a seance in the hope to inspire his writing. When Madame Arcati accidentally summons the spirit of Charles’ deceased first wife, we are presented with an increasingly complex love triangle between himself, his first love and his current wife of 5 years.

As a play, Blithe Spirit (which was first seen in 1941 in the West End) proved to be a phenomenon. It drew massive audiences and created a long-run record for a non-musical stage play in the West End at the time and was soon presented all across America. In 1945 the story found it’s way to the big screen with Rex Harrison starring as Charles Condomine. In theory, this fresh take should have been able to use the pull of a genius original text with a decent budget, big names and advanced technology to reignite laughter across the masses in one of the more difficult years in recent times. In reality, the film missed it’s cinema release and headed straight to streaming services which, in hindsight, I think was probably best for this film as it totally missed the mark. 

It’s an aesthetically pleasing production. The location, sets, costume and colour palette all bring a real vibrancy and help lift the elements that some might struggle to get behind, creating it’s vintage feel while keeping the energy high, though you could argue that these aspects were in place as more of a distraction from the underwhelming story. With a cast of such big names you would only expect the highest quality performances. Unfortunately the approach to the film feels very much like a basic attempt at ‘bringing the play to life’ which just didn’t work for me. While the actors all give solid performances it is very dramatised and a bit silly.

I would give this adaption a miss, the play however, I would go to see. It takes truly brilliant writers to adapt such classic writing that is, arguably, timeless and rejuvenate it for a modern audience. In this situation they should have just left it alone. While it’s short run time feels perfect for an easy afternoon watch, the jarring nature of the script means that at times it feels stretched. The plot is altered slightly but offers no new perspective, focus or meaning. It’s just a film for the sake of it that included most of the comedy in it’s trailer.

Sabrina (1954) – Review

Rating: U Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and John Williams Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor Length: 113mins

Sabrina is a somewhat archetypal romantic comedy. It tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of a chauffeur who has eyes for the youngest son of her fathers employer. While growing up on the extravagant grounds of the Larrabee family home, Sabrina (Hepburn) longs to gain the attention of  David Larrabee (Holden); the resident wild child and polar opposite of his older brother, Linus (Bogart), who’s focus is purely on maintaining and expanding the family business empire. Sabrina is sent to cookery school in Paris in the hopes that she’ll forget David, but returns an elegant young woman with the ability to turn heads and capture the attention she’s so longed for.

It is impossible to comment on this film without discussing the cast. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart  are nothing short of phenomenal. Their characters are so wonderfully authentic, drifting through their story and switching between the more serious moments to the more comical  so smoothly. Holden’s portrayal of David matches up to his co-stars just as well, with the only slight blip being the staff at the Larrabee house were slightly heightened which distracts from the more naturalistic telling of the story.

One of the more understated wonders of this film is the script; based upon the play ‘Sabrina Fair’ written by Samuel Taylor in 1953 and adapted for screen by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman. While eloquently telling the story there is a brilliant amount of dry humour – one liners woven into the script that I hadn’t noticed when watching the film a few years ago, it’s brilliantly funny without the actors making the humour loud or extravagant. A feat that, to me, shows how deeply Wilder trusted both his material and his actors to tell the story and allow the dialogue to land with its audiences. 

On the surface, I’m not sure it’s even possible to mix the likes of Billy Wilder, it’s cast and this script without creating a timeless classic. Everything about it is so watchable. I highly recommend ‘Sabrina’, especially if you would usually write off black and white films; this was the first film I ever saw that wasn’t in colour and it really changed my mind. I had a completely unfounded hesitancy to watch B+W films because I thought I would get bored – if anything, they have to do more to keep a modern audiences attention and in my experience, they do just that!

I would also just add that although this is certified ‘U’ – one of the early scenes is an attempted suicide and, although nothing shocking or graphic it’s worth bearing in mind if you are watching with younger children. 

Pieces of a Woman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia Labeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger and Benny Safdie
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Written by Kata Wéber
Length: 127mins

Now that Netflix is most likely a lot of people’s first call when it comes to watching new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ seems to have been released at the perfect time. A film filled with incredible performances and an emotionally-charged story like this may before have been seen by some people as simply another Oscar-bait release, but now that there is a lot fewer choices when it comes to new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman’ will hopefully get the wider reception it deserves.

After a traumatic home birth, Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha Weiss is left to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of what she has experienced as a mother. Friends and mainly family come and go throughout the film, but for a large part it’s the experiences of Martha and her partner Sean (Shia Labeouf) that the film focuses on. For anyone who feels hesitant about the drama of the film, and worries that it might be too slow for them, I would simply encourage you to just watch the first five minutes. The story grabs you immediately and I would struggle to picture anyone turning the film off during its opening scenes. The main title card doesn’t appear until nearly half an hour into the film, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath the entire time. What director Kornél Mundruczó manages to achieve in almost one continuous take during this time is not only gripping, but also establishes key character traits that will develop and unravel throughout the rest of the film. 

‘Pieces of a Woman’ has been widely praised for the performances that litter the film, and for good reason. Vanessa Kirby’s expressions of guilt, fear and anxiety remain consistently believable and impressive throughout. Shia Labeouf plays the broken father figure brilliantly too, but in a way that feels fresh compared to previously similar roles that he is taken up before, such as his performance in 2018’s ‘Honey Boy.’ Ellen Burstyn remains one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures, playing a role that I imagine will earn her a lot of attention throughout awards season, even with her character having fairly limited screen time. More than anything ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ feels like a showcase for great acting, and everything else in the film seems as if it’s focussing on allowing these performances to shine through. 

The problem with opening a film in such a strong way like ‘Pieces of a Woman’ does, is that you have to keep the momentum going for the rest of the runtime. The fallout of the film’s opening event is essentially what carries the story for the next hour and a half, and whilst this is a necessary element of the story to tell, there are definitely some parts which feel slightly unnecessary. It’s difficult to walk the line between realism and a narrative that will provide a satisfying or poignant end to the story, and whilst one character in particular does receive a satisfying conclusion, there are definitely some ]who seem to have a large influence on the film in the first and middle act, but simply fade out by the end. 

One of the key reasons why ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is an important story in some regards, is because it allows for discussion around the topics that play out on screen. Whilst intense and gut-wrenching at times, everything that occurs is human, and has a chance of affecting any of us in our lifetime. By creating films that cover these topics, a greater understanding and willingness to talk about these things will develop, and may provide some small relief to anyone who has experienced anything similar to what happens in the film.

It might not be the most light-hearted film in the world, but I would highly recommend giving ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ a watch. There are some great things to take away if you have a keen interest in performance, and it definitely has one of the most gripping opening acts I’ve seen in a long time.