Downton Abbey: A New Era – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Allan Leech, Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith. Directed by Simon Curtis. Written by Jullian Fellowes. Length: 125mins.

Downton Abbey: A New Era pulls its fans back in three years after its first motion picture and seven years after the wildly successful television series came to an end. As a fan of Downton Abbey, I was happy to hear that they were going to make a film or two, but it’s very clear that this is a money move rather than anything else. They wrapped the series up nicely and there was no real need to make a feature – having said this, of course, the fans flocked back to the cinemas in 2019 to see what their beloved Crawley family and staff had been up to.

This second film rejoins the family, going about their business but with a leaky roof and no sure way of funding the repairs. As it happens, the estate is approached by a company wanting to use Downton as a location for their latest silent movie and they’re willing to pay. While the traditional members of the family aren’t keen to have their home invaded by filmmakers, Lady Mary, who is now in charge, deems it an interesting proposition and invites the company into the walls of Downton, much to the delight of the gang downstairs. While this is going on, it is discovered that Lady Violet has mysteriously been left a villa in the south of France by a gentleman that she spent a short amount of time with, many years ago… Of course this lends itself for several of the family to visit France to investigate that situation, while Lady Mary and the staff keep a close eye on the creation of the silent film and its stars all while getting a little more involved than initially planned.

I’ve seen several criticisms of this movie, mostly from people who just aren’t Downton fans – which makes sense to me. As previously stated it’s a film created for the money that it will clearly generate and will just not appeal to anyone who doesn’t know the characters. The plot is, in all honesty, a bit of a rip off of Singin’ In The Rain and is terribly predictable, but also, terribly enjoyable. You can see everything that’s coming before it lands and that’s sort of the comfort of a film like this, it’s easy to watch and fairly easy to forget. BUT fans will be thrilled to see some of their favourite television characters getting to wrap up their stories – I’m confident that they won’t make another Downton film, they wrap everything up nicely in a way that manages expectations and doesn’t leave any questions.

I enjoyed Downton Abbey: A New Era, it was so easy to watch and pretty nostalgic, but i’m very aware that my opinion is based purely on having watched the characters develop over years. I found the first movie fairly forgettable and I think I preferred this one, but time will tell if it will have done enough to remain in my head. The long and short of it is, if you enjoyed the series and last film you will more than likely enjoy this one, but if not, it’s very basic and probably lands at ‘fine’.

The Last Duel – Review

Rating: 18 Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck and Alex Lawther. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Length: 152mins.

Inspired by Eric Jager’s 2004 account of France’s last officially recognised duel, Ridley Scott takes on the task of telling this medieval tale broken down into three chapters and told from three perspectives. The story is one of rape-revenge focussing primarily on three characters – Jean de Carrouges (Damon), his wife Marguerite (Comer) and Jacques Le Gris, exploring the downward spiral of de Carrouges, the arrogant rise of Le Gris and the impossible choices facing Marguerite as her husbands absence is taken advantage of. 

The Last Duel gets somewhat bogged down in the mud and blood of its period; a whole mix of arrows-in-the-face type violence and war, none of which I have a problem with, but it seemed to drag the film out and distract from the main story. While it did assist somewhat in setting the scene, I didn’t feel that it was fully necessary to include so much.  Having said this, the actual storytelling was really clever and very well written. Each perspective was similar enough for the audience to know what’s happening, but with brilliantly subtle changes, contrasting tone and dialogue – right up until the rape scene which was, in line with telling the story from perspectives, a significantly different event to each character. 

This film was expertly cast. Adam Driver played his role perfectly, he is fully believable in his arrogance and aggression but allows an appealing vulnerability into his role that just keeps his Le Gris interesting, until, of course, you realise the sort of man he is. This is one of Matt Damon’s finer performances in recent years. He plays in contractions – he’s clearly a well respected, strong warrior, but he is overwhelmed and constantly trying to keep his head above water. We see a good amount of Damon’s range in this film, he really is a brilliant watch. Jodie Comer is phenomenal. Those of us who have watched her rise in the acting industry are very well aware of how brilliant she is but this film is a mighty task and she’s flawless. She fully holds her own while working with Hollywood A-Listers, she demonstrates depth, innocence and the complexities of her character and without her the film would not have such an impact.

Interestingly, many reviews are not speaking of The Last Duel too favourably. It seems that many issues from a reviewers point of view surround the fact that, though Comer is brilliant, the drama is centred on the men; the three part structure means Marguerite can only get one third of our attention. I can see what is being said here – it’s an important topic and it could seemingly pull focus. However, there were three parties involved at the centre of the story, the time period would not allow or listen to a woman making accusations without the backing of her husband and so I cannot see another way to tell this story. Also, the films title is The Last Duel – an act that could only be undertaken by the men, the duel is featured (perhaps taking a little too much screen time in my view…) and therefore the history of the two men, their perspectives and the journey that got them to the duel are important. The story is told, the impact on Marguerite is brilliantly portrayed and audiences are walking away with her story at the front of their mind. For me, that tells me that the film has done what it intended to do.

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. 

Emma – Review

Rated: U
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor and Callum Turner
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Written by Eleanor Catton (Screenplay) and Jane Austen (Novel)
Length: 125Mins

February 2020 saw Autumn de Wilde’s first feature length film hit the big screens, bringing a classic Austin Novel to life in a fresh, new remake. The task of producing yet another Jane Austin hit comes with the high pressure of competing with previous versions and some audience’s asking ‘why bother?’ but also paralleled with the reassurance that your story is a much loved classic that will ultimately draw in an audience.

This delightfully kooky retelling of Emma really brings forth the humour of the story. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and really allows the comedic text and situation to rise to the forefront. The jocular skills of Miranda Hart, Mia Goth and Bill Nighy bring laughs from start to finish while still creating characters that the audience warms to. The story is compelling, you fall into this wonderful, picturesque world and although I felt the first ten minutes a little disjointed, it doesn’t take long to be completely wrapped up in the wonderful world of Austin.

The story follows the titular character of Emma, known for her matchmaking ways, as she takes a young girl under her wing with hopes to set her up to marry a man of high esteem while sustaining her reputation and considering her own future. The story charmingly twists and turns giving the audience everything it could desire from the plot. I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Emma, but I love that within this story our leading lady makes mistakes. She messes up and as her character unravels, as demonstrated visually by her tight ringlet curls falling loose at climactic moments, we get to see a wonderful glimpse of the human condition. Someone making an error, having their behaviour questioned and then working to right their wrongs. Jane Austin herself wrote “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” which I just love – the very personal approach to writing this character, deliberately giving her a storyline and characteristics which readers might dislike, wrapped in a personality that the author so carefully constructed. I feel like this was honoured in this adaptation, we the audience like Emma just enough to stay interested but not so much as to be blind to her poor choices.

A large portion of Autumn de Wilde’s professional experience is in photography and I felt like that was obvious from the first frame of this film. Each scene was so visually pleasing, so much care taken on production design, costume and carefully selected shots that frame the actors, timeline and mood of the scene. This film is a true piece of art with careful consideration around the framing of her shots.

Overall this film is just lovely, you will know from the poster whether you’re going to enjoy it or not. It’s a quirky period drama intertwined with hilarious humanity and a good dashing of romance. I felt like for a debut feature film Autumn de Wilde has burst onto the scene with bright, bold choices and I’m really excited to see what she does next.