Maggie Smith couldn't be more perfect for the title role in this film if it were written for her. But the most astounding thing about this story is that it's true, an event from playwright-screenwriter Alan Bennett's own life. The film cleverly plays with the idea of a writer telling his own story. And it also gives Smith an unforgettable role in a movie that's both entertaining and sharply pointed.
It happened in 1970 Camden, as neighbours worried about a homeless woman parking her van in front of their houses. She turns out to be Mary Shepard (Smith), and resident Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) offers to let her park her van in his driveway for a few months. She stayed there for 15 years, during which Alan refuses to pry into Mary's personal life and she turns a blind eye to the steady flow of young gentleman callers at his door. Even so, over the years Alan learns some details about Mary's past as a musician, ambulance driver and nun, and that she became homeless because she was on the run from the police.
Bennett takes a cheeky approach to the script, writing two versions of himself: one who lives his life and one who writes about it. The interaction between the two is cleverly played by Jennings and directed with offhanded hilarity by Hytner, who shot the movie in the actual street and house where the events took place. Jennings also adds some emotional interest in Alan's relationship with his mother (Gwen Taylor), who ironically has to move into a nursing home. Opposite him, Smith is as magnetic as ever, reeling off each pithy one-liner with impeccable timing. The role may not seem like much of a stretch, but she delivers it with a prickly mix of attitude and humour, plus a strong undercurrent of pathos.
Continue reading: The Lady In The Van Review
Like a 20-years-later sequel to Before Midnight, this sharply observant comedy-drama follows a couple through a soul-searching weekend in which they evaluate their relationship with real wit and emotion. And transparent performances make it something to savour, as it offers us a rare grown-up movie about real issues we can identify with.
As the title suggests, the weekend in question takes place in France, and it's a 30th anniversary treat for Nick and Meg (Broadbent and Duncan). They can't really afford a trip to Paris, especially after ditching their dodgy pre-booked hotel in lieu of something far nicer, but they figure out ways to make their time special. Meanwhile, they talk about their years together, and the hopes and regrets that are haunting their thoughts. There are some hard questions to ask about their future, even as they haven't lost that spark of sexuality. Then they run into Nick's old Cambridge pal Morgan (Goldblum), who invites them to a party where they meet academics and artists just like them. Which only makes them think even more.
The key issues for them include Nick's early retirement (for an ill-timed comment to a student) and Meg's desire to change her life completely. As they consider the options, their conversations drive the film forward forcefully, flowing through cycles of flirtation and laughter to bitterness and cruelty. The depth of their love is never in doubt, even as they wonder how secure their relationship actually is. Broadbent and Duncan play these scenes effortlessly, taking our breath away because it's all so honest, often both funny and scary at the same time.
Continue reading: Le Week-end Review
In bringing his iconic 1990s radio and TV character to the big screen, Coogan refreshingly refuses to play to American audiences: this film is purely British in its story, setting and characters. And as it gleefully redefines almost every action movie cliche imaginable, it's also one of the funniest films of the year. This is party due to the hilariously astute script, but also because Alan Partridge is both riotously embarrassing and utterly loveable.
As we meet him this time , Alan (Coogan) is trying to save his job at North Norfolk Digital when the radio station is bought by a corporation and turned in to Shape ("The way you want it to be"). In the process, Alan gets his colleague Pat (Meaney) sacked, and at the Shape launch party Pat goes postal with a shotgun, taking the staff hostage. As the police close in around the station, Alan becomes the chief negotiator, realising that this can only help boost his fame. But as he works on increasing his own publicity, Pat is menacing his on-air sidekick Simon (Key), while his offbeat security guard friend Michael (Greenall) finds a place to hide and his assistant (Montagu) has her own encounter with the media.
After all these years, Coogan is able to completely vanish into Alan's distinctive personality, saying all the wrong things at the wrong times while constantly getting distracted by irrelevant details. He only ever does the right thing by mistake. Yes, Alan is a buffoon, but he isn't stupid. Coogan plays him so perfectly that we can't help but like Alan even with his distinctive flaws. And the film actually generates a real sense of menace in this mini-Die Hard siege scenario, blending real danger with inspired physical comedy. And virtually every line of dialog has a joke in it.
Continue reading: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Review
The breezy, entertaining tone of this historical comedy-drama kind of undermines the fact that it centres on one of the most pivotal moments in US-British history. Director Michell (Notting Hill) knows how to keep an audience engaged, and yet he indulges in both tawdry innuendo and silly cliches, never giving the real-life events a proper sense of perspective. Even so, some terrific performances make it enjoyable.
The events in question take place in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Murray) invites Britain's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (West and Colman) to visit Hyde Park, the upstate New York residence he shares with his mother (Wilson), while his wife Eleanor (Williams) lives down the road with her "she-male" friends. Roosevelt knows that George is here to ask for help against the growing threat of Hitler's Germany, and as a result of their talks a "special relationship" develops between America and Britain. Meanwhile, the womanising Roosevelt is not-so-quietly having an affair with his distant cousin and confidant Daisy (Linney).
Essentially there are two films here fighting for our attention. Much of the story is seen through Daisy's eyes, complete with an annoyingly mousy voiceover that never tells us anything we can't see on screen. Linney underplays the character to the point where we barely notice that she's in the room, and the depiction of Daisy's romance with FDR is often squirm-inducing. By contrast, the other aspect of the plot is fascinating, with West and especially Colman shining in their roles as witty, nervous Brits trying to make the most of the first ever visit of a British monarch to America. Their steely resolve is brilliantly undermined by their brittle nerves and endless curiosity.
Continue reading: Hyde Park On Hudson 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
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
Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) is the acerbic communications director for Britain's Prime Minister, and right now he has to put out a fire started by Cabinet Minister Foster (Hollander), who called war in the Middle East "unforeseeable" in a radio interview. Foster's aides (Addison and McKee) are working to keep him on the crest of a tidal wave of attention after some American politicians (Kennedy and Rasche) take an interest in him. In Washington they also meet a tough Pentagon General (Gandolfini), while unseen forces seem determined to rush to war.
Continue reading: In The Loop 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
Fortunately, thanks to the rambunctiously energetic performances and Nicholas Hynter's equally jaunty direction, The History Boys looks right at home on screen; what poses a larger problem is whether it will translate as fluidly from Britain to America.
Continue reading: The History Boys Review
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