The Other Boleyn Girl – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas Directed by Justin Chadwick  Written by Peter Morgan (screenplay) and Philippa Gregory (novel) Length: 115mins

In Justin Chadwick’s debut feature film, The Other Boleyn Girl, we jump back in time to a pivotal moment in English history and land in the midst of one of the most notorious monarchs, King Henry VIII. Straight off the bat it’s important to recognise that artistic licence is applied and that some of the Historical facts are debated, but it’s an opportunity to experience an interpretation of one of the Queen famous for her demise.

The plot follows the Boleyn siblings, primarily the two sisters Anne and Mary as they reach adulthood and have set sights set on potential husbands. Through a bit of family meddling and taking advantage of issues with the Kings marriage, the King meets both girls and while initially favouring Anne, becomes captivated with the ‘other Boleyn girl’, who is newly married. The Boleyn’s are summoned to court and thus begins the competition for the Kings attention. It’s not a particularly surprising storyline as Anne Boleyn’s fate is one of the memorable in Royal history, but it’s an interesting take to consider other members of the family. 

From start to finish this film is full of incredible talent. In playing the quarrelsome siblings, Portman and Johansson conjure admirable performances, working as best they can with the dialogue and situations they’re afforded. Portman creates a scheming and flirtatious Anne while keeping the hot headed reactions of a young, inexperienced woman while Johansson leans more to a sweet, innocent sister. Choices that are reactionary to the dialogue, no doubt, and clearly separate the sisters, however there is a slight risk of the characters feeling a bit shallow. It’s easy to criticise these more obvious choices, but there is also plenty to defend. The film is long, the story and it’s characters are very famous and so you could certainly argue that in exploring the focal characters in more depth could mess up the through line of the story and therefore extend the film and throw it off balance. I personally think they made the right decisions within characterisation and the cast were perfect for what they needed. 

Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of incredible actors, there isn’t time to truly analyse all of the performances, but the casting department did a phenomenal job and the outcome was brilliant. 

Aesthetically, the film looks great; the grand settings, beautiful costumes and intricate detail within hair and make up really help transport the audience into a different time and allows the story to be told without a second thought. 

This movie stirs me in an unusual way. It’s deeply sad to see a family torn apart and as we know the ending is all but happy. It’s an entertaining watch, and in reminding us of elements of History it’s helpful to see how society has progressed and possibly, how it hasn’t. I would recommend watching this film, but it’s not perfect and as with every Historical film it’s worth checking the facts. 

Darkest Hour – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ronald Pickup. Directed by Joe Wright Written by Anthony McCarten Length: 125mins

In 2017 Joe Wright directed this undeniably captivating account of Winston Churchill’s ‘darkest hour’ in 1940 as Hitlers forces were gathering across the channel, poised to invade. While the subject matter naturally prepares it’s audience for a tension-building portrayal of such an important period of Great British history, it’s not only the plot that is worthy of it’s audiences attention. This is not so much a period war drama, rather a detailed political thriller presenting a leader up against not only one of the sheer enormity of Hitlers Nazi Germany, but political swipes within his own Government.

While obviously the key plot points are guided by historical fact, it’s important to recognise that there are moments of fiction written into the film. It’s an interesting opportunity to remind a contemporary audience that big issues did not simply vanish the moment Churchill took over as Prime Minister, and with such a famous outcome it seemed to be a difficult challenge for the filmmakers to really paint the picture wherein the characters didn’t know the outcome of the events of the story. 

Darkest Hour collected a fantastic array of nominations and wins throughout the 2018 awards season, with Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill winning most of the prestigious ‘best actor’ awards. It’s clear that without Oldman this films success may not have been so prolific. He manages to demonstrate Churchill’s courage effortlessly while still presenting the ‘grumpy old man’ with glimpses of humour. While Oldman is the main draw of the film, his co-stars of Lily James and Kristen Scott-Thomas bring a really lovely balance to the other characters on screen throughout.

Joe Wright is a reliable filmmaker with a very impressive list of filmography. You can’t help but notice the large scale features on that list including Anna Karenina, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, with Darkest Hour fitting in nicely with the aesthetic of some of his previous works. Darkest hour is  a crowd-pleasing historical epic that knows when to keep moving and when to dwell on a moment.

There seems to be a renewed appetite for wartime movies in recent times and this one is an important watch amongst the others. Darkest Hour manages to exhibit Churchill’s daring bravery while not fully absolving him nor idolising him, rather it humanises him. I would suggest that for the sake of history this film is a necessary watch, but even if you have no interest in history it is Gary Oldman giving a masterclass for over two hours and that alone is reason to watch Darkest Hour.

Misbehaviour – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Rhys Ifans and Greg Kinnear.
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
Written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe
Length: 106mins

Philippa Lowthorpe’s ‘Misbehaviour’ documents the chaotic events surrounding the 1970 Miss Universe competition held in London. A fiercely important story for the Women’s Liberation Movement paralleled with a fight for racial equality. The audience follow two activists, Sally Alexander (Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Buckley) as they put their own differences aside to fight for the change they want to see; but we are also given insight to the the view of the competitors. Screenwriters Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe present a variety of “feminist” positions without confidently stating their own and though some have criticised this, I think that the film encourages it’s viewers to go on a journey with all of the characters and develop their own standpoint.

As is true with many films based on real events, it’s difficult to judge how much should have been included. To take on two (arguably three) main storylines does present challenges and I think it’s particularly difficult in this situation. There’s some brilliantly important moments in this story that highlight massive issues surrounding racism in 1970, not just in England but globally, and this movie draws some attention to this but due to the compact nature of focal events of the film, it feels like it gets sidelined. While the main narrative of the story focuses on the movements of Ms Alexander and Ms Robinson, we get that small glimpse inside the competition. To see the shift of allowing the first black South African contestant and, significantly, where 1970 also saw saw Grenada’s Jennifer Hosten (the formidable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) become the first black Miss World.

Generally I think this is an easy watch. It’s entertaining, it keeps moving and it highlights several important issues. The performances of Keira Knightley and Jessie Buckley were great; although portraying very different people, they come across with a united strength which fits the narrative and I imagine the real life people behind their characters. Gugu Mbatha-Raw delivers a really strong performance, the quiet strength of her character, draped in the grace and elegance of a beauty queen is an enticing combination that really captures the audiences heart. She’s interesting to watch, the humanity of her situation, steely determination and utter desire to win this competition which was so important, not only to her but to a generation of young black girls, really stole the show for me.

Perhaps if it was a work of fiction some might find it a little dull, but in my opinion the truth behind the story keeps it interesting, particularly with the ending. It’s not a big blockbuster but an entertaining film with important truths behind the story.

The Irishman – Review

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Rating: 15
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham, Ray Romano and Harvey Keitel.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Written by Steven Zaillian
Length: 209mins

Perhaps his most ambitious film to date, Martin Scorsese’s 2019 release, ‘The Irishman,’ delves once again into the mafia sub-genre that he is so often defined by. Bringing back to the screen many of the same actors and cinematic styles we have seen Scorsese work with before, this time the director explores the consequence of an aging generation of hitmen and mob-bosses. The story follows that of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a lorry driver drawn into the world of crime by the knowledge that he will now be able to provide for his family. His experiences are defined by the characters he meets and the jobs he carries out, but most importantly his relationship with the influential union-leader, Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

It’s difficult not to describe this film without mentioning its length. Sitting at three and a half hours, not only is this Scorsese’s longest film, but it’s one of the longest in mainstream cinema from recent years. Many people may be turned off by such a run-time, but the film never lets itself to be defined by such a factor, and the pacing allows for a story to develop which is consistently engaging and intriguing throughout. Typical of the mobster-genre, the film dedicates a large portion to the introduction and development of key characters. Due to the film’s length we are able to properly understand the motivations each character has and the role that they play within Scorsese’s world. As a result of this, later scenes which feature conflict between characters have a greater amount of tension and complexity as a result of the relationship which has been built not only between the characters within the film, but between the viewer and the performers also.

Commonly known for his intricate characters and brilliantly quotable dialogue, Scorsese approaches the story of the ‘The Irishman’ in a way which almost subverts his self-implemented definitions of a gangster story. Though there are many personalities who wouldn’t appear out of place in one of Scorsese earlier works, the way in which these people are presented is approached in an entirely new and refreshing manner. Whilst Henry Hill was constantly seen evading capture throughout 1990’s ‘Goodfellas,’ for Frank Sheeran capture never appears to be a major concern, instead focussing on what he will do when he grows old – a direction which Scorsese hasn’t previously confronted. Perfectly captured in the environment in which De Niro’s character finds himself, and contextually relevant to the nostalgic look back on the careers in which many of the performers and the director himself finds themselves, the tone of the film considers what is left behind when all others have moved on. Even in a world of crime, where all the characters are defined by antagonist features, pathos is still created for those who lose their friends and family to time. Relevant to the films length, the context of the creators and the subject of the story itself, Scorsese understands that this is the greatest theme of the film, and works all elements of its production in such a direction.

‘The Irishman’ is a brilliant story, and at the hands of one of modern cinemas most influential filmmakers, the on-screen portrayal of such a story is intricately woven through an array of well-executed characters and cinematic techniques.

Midway – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Luke Evans
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Wes Tooke
Length: 138 mins

Director Roland Emmerich brings us a lengthy but passionate presentation of the story of the battle of Midway in the 2019 movie simply named ‘Midway’. Throughout the film we explore the events leading up to the battle of Midway in WWII and get to know some of the heroes along the way. With a strong cast we not only follow the historical timeline but get to know some of the characters, based on real people, who made such an impact.

I think where this film excels is in it’s determination to allow its audience into the lives of several characters and pinpoint the enormity and truth of victories and losses in battle. If you struggle to pay attention during war films then you might find this one difficult as it is long and there are a lot of characters. It’s easy to miss names or who is talking about who but, if you can keep with it you get to witness a presentation of history that I found to be powerful and thought provoking.

I’ve already mentioned the length of this film – at 2 hours 18 minutes it isn’t the longest film of 2019 but I did find myself aware of the time passing. I love that this film bounces between several people doing their jobs for a united goal but, naturally, that means creating a bit of a story around each individual so the audience can relate to the characters which adds to the length of the film before you even get to the main ark of the story. I didn’t think everything included was necessary, for example the character of Roy Pierce could have been cut and it wouldn’t have affected the film as a whole. As well as this I felt some of the Pearl Harbour scenes could have been cut down – I appreciate that setting the scene and building the emotion is important, but most of the audiences will have a basic knowledge of what happened and I’m sure that they could have found a shorter method to serve this purpose.

One thing that admire about this movie is how it shows both sides of the story. I was quite moved during a couple of scenes that I felt were very effective but subtle, seeing how the Japanese officers spoke to each other and to the young pilots and just how similar the conversations and motivational speeches were to those of our ‘heroes’. I found it helped humanise the ‘enemy’ and for me, assisted in presenting the war and a glimpse of it’s horrors without instilling hate towards a race.

I’ve rated this film 7/10 based mostly upon my general enjoyment of the storytelling. The visual effects didn’t blow my mind, the story was based upon truth and the script was good but the performances were great – but the standout was undoubtably Ed Skrein who brilliantly played the heroic (but not perfect) Dick Best. I would recommend this film for the historical truth and to honour the brave individuals who made an impact in the real events.