Although it takes a breezy, sometimes silly approach to a fragment of a true story, this British period film has enough charm to keep audiences entertained, thanks to its lively cast and ambitious recreation of historical events. Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) may be largely fictionalising what happened to real people on VE Day 70 years ago, but he certainly knows how to have some fun at the same time. And the film has some intriguing things to say about how the world has changed since then.
Victory in Europe was declared on May 8th 1945, and the streets of London filled with disorderly celebrations. Watching all of this from within Buckingham Palace, the teen princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley) are desperate to get out there and mingle with the crowd. Their parents, King George VI and Queen Elzabeth (Rupert Everett and Emily Watson), reluctantly agree to let them leave with two military escorts (Jack Laskey and Jack Gordon). But they soon lose their chaperones in the party atmosphere in The Ritz. The ditzy Margaret heads off into the night visiting a string of parties, while Elizabeth tries to track her down, assisted by a helpful stranger, airman Jack (Jack Reynor), an anti-royalist who has no idea who this young woman actually is.
First of all, it's intriguing to remember that in 1945 people in the streets wouldn't have recognised the princesses, especially since they had essentially been locked out of view for the previous seven years. This is inconceivable now, as is the idea of revellers filling the streets celebrating victory in a war, because no generation since has had a war end on a remotely positive note. These kinds of themes add subtext to what is otherwise a frothy romp punctuated by moments of silly slapstick. Jarrold recreates the evening beautifully on-screen, with a real sense of the club-lined streets of Mayfair, the drug dens of Soho, the flag-waving crowds going wild in Trafalgar Square, and the bombed-out city returning to life.
Continue reading: A Royal Night Out Review
While this odd biopic is a real mess, it's not quite the cinematic disaster snootier critics claim it is. Essentially fan fiction, the script spins a story that has only the vaguest basis in fact, drawing much of its dialog from screenwriter Jeffreys' and book author Kate Snell's imaginations. And if what these people say to each other wasn't so laughably silly, the film's genuinely intriguing themes might have emerged with more force.
We pick up the story in 1995, after Diana (Watts) has been separated from Prince Charles for three years. She still hasn't moved on romantically, and spends most evenings alone in Kensington Palace, making beans on toast and quietly crying herself to sleep. So when she meets heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Andrews), she's relieved that he doesn't treat her like a princess. Over the next two years, their romance develops in secret because Hasnat is a very private man and Diana is the most famous woman on earth. Fed up with the intrusive paparazzi, Hasnat puts the brakes on their relationship. So Diana uses her friend Dodi Fayed (Anvar) to provide misleading headlines and spark Hasnat's jealousy.
Of course, we know their love is doomed for another key reason: the film is bookended by scenes in Paris on the fateful evening of 31 August 1997. But even if this romance has clearly been fictionalised, it offers some intriguing themes that catch our sympathies, mainly due to an understated performance from Watts that occasionally catches Diana with remarkable detail. So it's frustrating that Khan is portrayed as such an icy, uninteresting figure, which means that Andrews never generates any chemistry with Watts.
Continue reading: Diana Review
When the farmer Earnshaw (Hilton) brings a street urchin (Howson) home after a trip to Liverpool, he adopts him as a son and has him christened Heathcliff. He bonds quickly with Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Beer), but her older brother Hindley (Shaw) continually abuses him. This only gets worse after Earnshaw's death, and when Cathy decides to marry the rich neighbour Linton (Northcote), Heathcliff runs away. Years later, he returns (now Howson) to confront Cathy (now Scodelario) about her true feelings.
Continue reading: Wuthering Heights Review
Osmund (Redmayne) is a young monk in 1384 England just as the plague is breaking out. The question is whether it's a curse from God or caused by evil in the world. Then the Bishop's envoy Ulric (Bean) arrives with news that an isolated village is somehow pestilence free. Drafting Osmund as a guide, the team heads off to confront what is no doubt pure evil, and indeed when they arrive they meet the village leader Langiva (van Houten), who has turned her back on the Church and created a creepy idyll.
Continue reading: Black Death Review
In 1955 Liverpool, John Lennon (Johnson) is a troubled 15-year-old, raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George (Scott Thomas and Threlfall) without knowing that his wayward mother Julia (Duff) lives just around the corner. But everything's going to change, and while he tries to balance these parental relationships he's also discovering rock 'n' roll. He teams with his pal Pete (Bolt) to form a skiffle band called The Quarrymen. And interest in the band heats up when talented musicians Paul and George (Sangster and Bell) join them.
Continue reading: Nowhere Boy Review
When we first meet middle class student Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), he is leaving his distant father for Oxford. Instantly, he is thrust into a world of privilege, and the seedy sphere of influence surrounding fey fop Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw). Over the course of the school year, they become inseparable in ways that suggest something other than simple companionship. Fate finds the pair spending the summer at Sebastian's family home, known as Brideshead. There, Charles meets two women who will figure prominently in his future -- the staunchly Catholic matriarch Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) and Sebastian's glamorous sister Julia (Hayley Atwell). Over the next few years, everything about Brideshead, from the people to the place itself, will haunt Charles' attempt to forge an identity for himself, as well as guide what he really wants out of life.
Continue reading: Brideshead Revisited Review
It's the mid-point of WWII, and the household staff of a massive Scottish manor is taken aback by the arrival of an entire English battalion. They are there, on express permission of the owner, to guard the local lake and prevent German U-boats from advancing on UK positions. Among the servant family affected are head housekeeper Anne MacMarrow (Emily Watson), and her children Kristie and little Angus (Alex Etel). She's already suffered a wartime loss, and doesn't want her children harmed further. Into their life come two distinct beings. One is new handyman Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin). The other is a baby "water horse" -- a mythic creature that takes an instant liking to Angus. While he tries to protect the beast, the forces of war threaten everyone -- and everything -- on the estate.
Continue reading: The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep Review
But that's just the problem: These actresses have to wait ages between actual roles, biding their time with supporting roles that might as well have them standing in a pasture. So in Becoming Jane we're treated to Smith doing her umpteenth haughty old bat and Walters overplaying another frazzled mum figure. If we're still supposed to find this shtick delightful, I suggest the British Film Board start scouring actual retirement homes for some fresh blood.
Continue reading: Becoming Jane Review
Charlotte Gray (Blanchett), a Londoner, joins the French Resistance after her pilot boyfriend gets shot down over France. When a fellow female spy is caught on her first drop-off assignment, Charlotte stays with local rebellion leader Julien (Crudup) and takes care of two Jewish boys whose parents have been captured. Meanwhile, she continues to meet with her contact to find ambush points for Julien.
Continue reading: Charlotte Gray Review