Prime Minister, David Cameron today gave his strongest hint yet that he intends to step down as Prime Minister within two years of winning the forthcoming General Election. Speculation has been mounting that Mr. Cameron is close to announcing the date of the next election as May 22nd. This would coincide neatly with the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament.
The last General Election in May 2015, resulted in a surprise overall majority of 12 for the Conservatives. This has since fallen as a result of recent by-elections although Mr. Cameron has resisted calls to strike any sort of deal with either Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats or the similarly-sized Democratic Unionist Party.
Having entered Downing Street in June 2010, Mr Cameron is now the third longest serving Prime Minister since 1945, after Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. At 52, he remains younger than Mrs Thatcher when she became Britain’s first (and to date, only) woman prime minister in 1979.
According to a report in the London Evening Standard, Mr Cameron’s cabinet colleagues, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Theresa May and Michael Gove are expected to join the race to succeed him.
Labour’s Jo Cox has been amongst those urging unity in her own party, ahead of the expected election announcement. UKIP has, meanwhile, renewed calls for a referendum on continued UK membership of the European Union. Opinion polls currently indicate support for a UK exit from the EU, but also that it is low on the list of voter priorities at this time, ranking way below concerns over the NHS and education.
Opponents of a vote suggest it would be a colossal waste of time, money and energy, inviting economic uncertainty, political uncertainty and disunity at a time of growing prosperity.
Meanwhile, in New York, maverick billionaire and 2016 Republican Party nominee, Donald J. Trump has announced plans to challenge President Hillary Clinton for the White House in 2020. Trump, who will be 74 by the time of next year’s election has made repeated claims of foul play surrounding his 2016 defeat although no evidence has thus far emerged.
In 2017, Trump resumed his role on the US version of TV’s ‘The Apprentice’.
Napoleon. His Life, His Battles, His Empire. By David Chanteranne and Emmanuelle Papot. Published by: Carlton Books, March 7th 2019
I know almost nothing about Napoleon Bonaparte.
I studied International History up to postgraduate level. Despite
this, I don’t remember being taught anything about him during my entire twenty
years in education.
I know roughly what he looked like, that he was born in
Corsica and that he married Josephine. I know he rose very fast through the
ranks after reviving France’s fortunes following the bloody chaos of the French
Revolution. He became very powerful and very important, very quickly but, like
Hitler later, came badly unstuck trying to invade Russia. He died in exile, at
a relatively young age (51).
I don’t get the impression he was anything like as bad as
Hitler, Stalin or Mao in the 20th century. He didn’t unleash
genocide and probably did some good along the way, reforming France’s legal system
and the like. His wars nevertheless wrecked and destroyed thousands of lives. On
balance, I suspect, he was more of a “baddy” than a “goody.”
What else? I know, “My,
my. At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender” because Abba told me so. But are 1970s
pop lyrics really a reliable source of historical information? There is plenty
of doubt, after all, that Rasputin was in fact, as Boney M argued, “lover of
the Russian Queen.” As to whether he was really “Russia’s greatest love machine?”:
well, it’s now almost impossible to verify.
This book was thus very helpful to me in filling in the considerable gaps in my knowledge of one of history’s key figures. With 180 illustrations, it would probably appeal to children, but I doubt I’m the only adult who found it useful.
After all, as a wise person once pointed out: “the history book on the shelf. It’s always repeating itself.”
The first ever US Academy Awards are held. First World War-based thriller Wings wins the first ever Best Picture Oscar.
In a scene reminiscent of the early scenes of the 2001 comedy film Zoolander, comedian Will Rogers opens the Best Director envelope and says, “Come and get It Frank!” Unfortunately, there were two directors called Frank nominated in that year. Frank Capra was half way to the podium before Rogers clarified that it was Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade who had won, not Capra. Happily, Frank Capra later won for Mr Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. In future years, the awards are always announced in a heavily scripted way, in the hope of preventing such an embarrassing error ever happening again.
Hattie McDaniel becomes the first black woman to win an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actress: Gone With The Wind). Having been barred from the film’s Atlanta premiere due to the state’s racial laws, she is made to sit at a segregated table during the Oscar ceremony. She is only allowed to attend at all due to the Ambassador Hotel making an exception to its usual strict ‘no blacks’ policy. Her white agent sat with her at the ceremony.
How Green Is My Valley beats Citizen Kane for Best Picture. Citizen Kane subsequently became the most critically acclaimed film of all time.
Sidney Poitier (Lillies Of The Field) becomes the first black actor to win an Oscar.
A very rare occurrence: A tie in the Best Actress category.
Barbara Streisand wins for Funny Girl. Katharine Hepburn also wins for The Lion
In Winter (her third). As most Oscars are determined by votes from several
thousand Academy members, a tie is a frequent possibility.
George C. Scott wins Best Actor for Patton. He chooses not
to attend and instead stays home and watches a ball game on the other channel.
Native American Sacheen Littlefeather surprises viewers by
attending to reject Marlon Brando’s second Oscar won for The Godfather on his
behalf. t “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And
the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the
film industry,” she says. She is actually not a political activist herself but
a small-time actress who later appears in Playboy magazine.
In a famously impromptu remark, host David Niven comments on
a streaker who disrupts the ceremony: “Isn’t
it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in
his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?
Robert De Niro wins his first Oscar playing Vito Corleone in
The Godfather Part II. Marlon Brando played the same character in 1972’s The
Godfather. It is the only time two actors have won Oscars for playing the same
Tatum O’Neal becomes the youngest ever person to win a competitive
Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress – Paper Moon). She is ten (she turned
nine during filming).
Annie Hall beats Star Wars for Best Picture. Director and star Woody Allen begins a long tradition of not attending the Oscars (choosing to perform jazz music elsewhere on Oscar Night instead). He finally attends in 2002.
British actress Vanessa Redgrave (Best Supporting Actress: Julia) is audibly booed after she attacks opponents of her documentary film, The Palestinian as “Zionist hoodlums”. She also attacks former President Nixon.
Jane Fonda (Best Actress: Coming Home) uses sign language during her acceptance speech to highlight awareness of deafness. It is her second Oscar: she also won for Klute in 1972.
Robert De Niro wins his second Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s
Raging Bull. The timing is awkward as the new President, former actor, Ronald Reagan
has just been shot and wounded in an assassination attempt. His attempted
assassin John Hinckley was reportedly inspired by Scorsese and De Niro’s 1976
film Taxi Driver and a desire to “impress” his teenaged co-star Jodie Foster
(she is not impressed).
Katharine Hepburn wins her fourth and final Oscar for On
Golden Pond. No other actor, male or female, has ever won four Oscars. Cate
Blanchett later wins one for playing Hepburn herself in The Aviator in 2004.
Hepburn’s co-star Henry Fonda becomes easily the oldest ever
Best Actor winner at 76. Too ill to attend the ceremony, his daughter and
co-star, Jane Fonda collects the award on his behalf (he dies a few months
Screenwriter Colin Welland shouts “The British are coming!”
following the success of Chariots of Fire this year. In fact, the next decade will
prove a very lean one for British cinema, although Gandhi does win Best Picture
Sally Field wins her second Oscar for Places In My Heart. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she says. “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Seen my many as overly sentimental, Field’s speech is often misquoted as: “You like me, you really like me!”
Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) becomes only the second black actress to win Best Supporting Actress.
Silence of the Lambs wins in all of the “Big Five”
categories: Best Film, Actor (Anthony Hopkins),
Actress (Jodie Foster), Director (Jonathan Demme) and Adapted
Screenplay. This is the only the third time this has ever happened (the previous
films were 1932’S It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s
Rumours abound that Jack Palance read out the wrong name
during his announcement of the Best Supporting Actress winner Marisa Tomei (My
Cousin Vinnie) In fact, though a surprise result, Tomei undoubtedly won. That
said, Palance did seem to be in a somewhat “tired and emotional” state as he
announced the award.
Couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon use the Best Film Editing category as a political opportunity urging the government to let HIV-positive Haitians being held at Guantanamo into the US.
“Oh, wow. This is the best drink of water after the longest
drought of my life.” Steven Spielberg (Best Director: Schindler’s List) finally
wins. Schindler’s List is the first black and white film to win Best Picture
since The Apartment (1960).
Tom Hanks wins two Best Actor Oscars in consecutive years for
Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracey in the
1930s, He delivers highly emotional acceptance speeches both times, inadvertently
“outing” a high school teacher as gay in the first (a moment which later
inspired the Kevin Kline film In and Out) and in the second stating “I feel
like I’m standing on magic legs.”
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) loses the Best Supporting
Actor Oscar to Martin Landau (Ed Wood). Lipreaders can see Jackson clearly says
“shit” on hearing the announcement from 12 year old, Anna Paquin. Jackson is
unrepentant afterwards, arguing he deserved to win.
George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Ed Harris and many other actors refuse to stand or applaud Elia Kazan’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar. The On The Waterfront director testified to the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952
Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) becomes the first black winner of the Best Actress Oscar.
Filmmaker Michael Moore (Best Documentary: Bowling For
Columbine) provokes a mixed reaction with an attack on President George W.
Bush: “We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that
elects a fictitious President. We live in a time where we have a man sending us
to war for fictitious reasons…Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any
time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.”
Adrien Brody (Best Actor: The Pianist) kisses actress Halle
Berry on receiving his award.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King becomes the
third film to win eleven Oscars. The others are Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic
(1997). All About Eve (1950) and Titanic remain the most nominated films (14
each). The Return of the King is the only fantasy film to win Best Picture (no
sci-fi film has ever won it) and only the second sequel (the first was The
Godfather Pt II in 1974).
Martin Scorsese finally wins (Director: The Departed) after years of being overlooked. “Could you double check the envelope?” he quips.
A showdown between Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and
James Cameron’s Avatar. The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture. Bigelow becomes the
first woman to win Best Director (she and Cameron were married between 1989 and
The Artist is the first black and white film to win Best
Picture since 1993’s Schindler’s List. Contrary to popular belief, it is not technically
a silent film. Wings, the very first Best Picture winner, remains the only
silent winner in this category.
Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor: Beginners)
becomes the oldest ever performer to win a competitive actor Oscar. He is 82.
Meryl Streep wins her 17th nomination (and her third win)
for The Iron Lady joking: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could
hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Come on… Her, again?’ You know. But,
whatever.” No actor has ever been nominated as many times as Streep has:
Katharine Hepburn won four times but was only nominated a still impressive 12
times. In 2018, Streep received her 21st nomination for The Post. Her other two
wins were for Kramer Vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.
Daniel Day Lewis wins his third acting Oscar for Lincoln.
Only five other actors have achieved three Oscar wins: Katharine Hepburn (who,
as previously mentioned, won four), Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter
Brennan and Ingrid Bergman.
John Travolta messes up his introduction to a performance
from Frozen by Idina Menzel: “Please welcome the wickedly talented, one
and only Adele Dazeem,” he says.
The Oscars are widely criticised for a lack of racial diversity in the nominations.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins Best Actor for The Revenant.
In an embarrassing cock up, La La Land is briefly announced
as Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. The mistake – which
seems to have resulted from veteran actor Warren Beatty being given the card
revealing La La Land actress Emma Stone’s Best Actress Oscar in error, and
Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s understandably confused reaction – is only corrected
after two minutes (“There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best
picture…This is not a joke. Moonlight has won best picture”) by which time the
La La Land team are midway through their acceptance speech.
Casey Affleck wins for Manchester by the Sea despite
widespread controversy over sexual harassment allegations. Actress Brie Larson,
an advocate of sexual assault victims, presents the award to Affleck, but seems
unhappy with the result.
Comedian Kevin Hart steps down as host of the Oscars after controversy emerges over a slew of allegedly homophobic tweets he sent in the past. It is decided the Oscars will not have an official host for the first time since 1989.
Director: Adam McKay Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry
The office of US Vice President was for a long time commonly overlooked. The position was deemed “not worth a pitcher of warm spit” by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Vice President, John Nance Garner while as Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) points out here, the job is essentially based around the principle of doing nothing other than waiting for the president to die.
Dick Cheney was a different sort of Vice President, however. Whereas some leaders, such as the late George H.W. Bush have been fully aware of the potential opportunities afforded by the position, (Bush had, after all, spent two terms as Veep himself) and have thus deliberately picked non-threatening buffoons like Dan Quayle as their Number 2, Bush’s own son (played here by Sam Rockwell) recognised he was hopelessly out of his depth and thus when his turn came in 2000, delegated unprecedented power to an older man, much more experienced than himself. Cheney seized this opportunity head-on and exploited it to the full.
Richard Dreyfuss has already played Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W (2008). Now Adam McKay – a director once known for comedies such as the rather good Anchorman and the rather less good Talladega Nights and Anchorman 2, turns his focus onto the last US Vice President but one.
We first meet Cheney (Bale) at a low point. As a drunken hell-raiser in the 1960s, he is encouraged out of his decline only by the words of his strong-willed wife Lynne (Amy Adams, excellent). We then cut to the extremely dramatic aftermath of the September 11th attacks of 2001. Whisked away to a “secure location”, the Vice President turns this terrible occurrence into a golden opportunity for him and his ilk. Using the new atmosphere to test the limits of his power to the limit, Cheney, aided and abetted by the conservative cheerleaders of Fox News conspire to make war against Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with the attacks whatsoever.
Gruff and lacking in charisma, the real Cheney, 78 in 2019, has never been an obvious candidate for dramatic portrayal. Despite this and the fact he bears no real physical resemblance to the man himself, Christian Bale aided by prosthetics which increasingly make him resemble a modern-day Chevy Chase as he ages from his twenties to his seventies, is brilliant as the heart-attack prone Cheney. As with Sir Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995), it has taken a Welsh actor to most perfectly capture a pillar of modern American conservatism.
Steve Carell, who in McKay’s Anchorman played the idiotic weatherman Brick Tamland, (a man who we were told later “served in a senior role in the Bush administration”) is also great here as Bush’s defence secretary and Cheney’s long-time friend and rival, Donald Rumsfeld (he of the “known unknowns).
As in The Big Short which explained the reasons for the last recession in easy language, McKay deploys numerous clever tactics here – a scene performed in iambic pentameter, a false ending, a mystery narrator. Some of these work better than others: a sequence in which Alfred Molina’s waiter offers Bush’s cronies a “menu” of legal options in a restaurant, for example, just seems weird.
But, overall, this is a compelling, well-acted insight into the banality of evil.
The Cold War: From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism. Published by: Carlton Books.
Nothing about the Cold War is simple. When, for example, did it start? Most people would say after the Second World War but a case could be made for saying it started as soon as Russia turned towards Bolshevism (that is, Communism) in 1917. Certainly the West was hostile to the new state from the outset, numerous powers attempting to crush it with a series of military interventions during the post-revolutionary Russian Civil War. But as the USSR was on the Allied side during the war with Hitler, most people view the Cold War as starting in the late 1940s, particularly after the USSR obtained nuclear weapons in 1949. This book does the same.
When did it end then? With the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989? (it was in fact demolished later). With the collapse of the USSR in 1991? Were there, in fact, two Cold Wars, the first ending with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the second starting with the sharp decline in East-West relations following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979?
Indeed, with China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos still Communist, could a case even be made for saying the Cold War is still on? Certainly, plenty of spying and intrigue still goes on and the world is hardly free of international tension particularly since the succession of President Trump in 2017. US defence spending is now far higher than it ever was during the official Cold War. This is essentially madness.
This thorough nicely illustrated and accessible account wisely restricts itself the key period, however, chronicling events from the botched aftermath of the Second World War, through to the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, Korean War, nuclear confrontation, the space race, Detente and ultimately a largely peaceful resolution, mostly attributable to Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. It is well worth reading.
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick. Directed By: Grant Heslov
Fox Mulder was right. The truth really was out there, all along. But, as Jon Ronson’s excellent 2004 non-fiction book demonstrated, the reality of what certain elements of the US military and government were up to in the 70s and 80s, was far stranger than anything in The X-Files.
There’s the army general, for example, who became so convinced that he could will his body to pass through solid objects that he actually physically ran into his office wall. He failed to go through it. He just crashed into it.
Then, there are the military operatives who, taking their cue from an earlier science fiction franchise, named themselves “Jedi warriors”. And then there are the men who stare at goats themselves: a crack division who become convinced that they could actually kill animals merely by deploying their ‘psychic’ powers while staring at them, causing their hearts to explode. Goats are judged to be the perfect test subjects for these experiments, it is revealed. While many soldiers felt uncomfortable staring at dogs, it is apparently much harder to forge an emotional bond with a goat.
Yet while the book was by turns hilarious and fascinating, there are causes for concern here. For one thing, this isn’t a documentary. Director Heslov has gone down the route of dramatising a non-fiction book – a feat attempted before by Richard Linklater on his version of Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation’. The result then was a failure. Ewan McGregor is also cast unconvincingly as a fictional American journo (presumably based on the book’s author Ronson, which is odd as both men are British anyway) partly, it is presumed, so the ‘Star Wars’ star can make play of the story’s Jedi references.
The film also makes little attempt to confront the darker aspects of the book. The bohemian freethinking of the First Earth Battalion ultimately led to some of the torture methods used in the War on Terror, but this is only alluded to here.
Despite everything, this still manages to be a consistently entertaining, compelling and amusing film. It doesn’t hurt that a bit of effort has been made on the extras, although neither the commentary from director Heslov or from the book’s author Ronson are as exciting as they could have been. Other featurettes, however, give added weight to a narrative that is always difficult to fully believe.
This is, however, fascinating enough to overcome most of its flaws. And yes, in case you’re wondering, one goat did die during the many goat staring experiments. It may well have been just a coincidence, but for safety’s sake, perhaps don’t try it out on your hamster at home. Just in case.
Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion Featurette
Project Hollywood: A Classified Report From The Set Featurette
Audio Commentary with Director Grant Heslov
Audio Commentary with Author Jon Ronson
Rating: 4 out of 5
Undeniably a bit of a mess, but the story is bizarre and fascinating enough to win the day.
The following review was first published in DVD Monthly magazine in 2005.
Sub-heading: The Truman Show
Region 1 review. Text by Chris Hallam Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban Director: Bennett Miller
The Lowdown: On learning of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas, author and celebrity Truman Capote travels to the victims’ town with his lifelong friend, novelist Harper Lee. By befriending the local community, sheriff and the killers, he finds material for his literary masterpiece ‘In Cold Blood’.
God knows what the good people of Kansas made of Truman Capote in 1959. Short, portly and as camp as a field of boy scouts, the ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ author was openly gay and more familiar with swanky New York literary parties than courtrooms and jail cells.
Capote’s personal investigation into the Clutter murders was to prove a turning point not just in his own life but also in the history of literature. ‘In Cold Blood’ would provide a compelling mix of fact and fiction that would revolutionise modern journalism. Yet the moment of Capote’s greatest triumph would also precipitate his downfall. The film centres on the author’s conflict as he befriends one of the accused men Perry Smith while ultimately hoping to benefit from his execution (if only because it would guarantee a suitable finale for his book). By focusing exclusively on the crucial 1959-1965 period, ‘Capote’ reveals as much as any standard cradle to grave ‘Truman is born, realises he’s gay, writes, becomes a success, parties, drinks a lot, falls out with everyone, dies’ biopic would have done. It also gets round the thorny issue that unless the subject is a suicidal maniac like Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, the process of writing (as with the world of computer hacking) is notoriously un-cinematic.
As Capote, Hollywood’s second most famous Hoffman is great, richly deserving his Oscar. But he’s not the only good thing here. The ever excellent Catherine Keener also excels as Harper Lee, Capote’s lifelong friend (Truman was the model for Dill in her ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’) whose success eats Capote up with jealousy. And with a flawless cast and sensitive intelligent screenplay from TV actor Dan Futterman, newbie director Miller (who has only directed one documentary before) doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Extras-wise, as so often before, the splitting of the ‘Making of’ featurette into two, merely serves as a none too convincing cover for the fact that neither are more than a few minutes long. And while both are good – the first half cantering more on Capote the man, the second more on ‘Capote’ the film – a longer documentary on Capote is sorely missed as it’s exactly the sort of film to leaves you thirsting for more info about its subject. Hoffman and Miller’s generally sedate commentary is lifted by Hoffman’s refreshing frankness in frequently admitting his struggle to get into character in many of his (ostensibly flawless) scenes. The other commentary in which Miller returns with cinematographer Kimmel is less interesting. But while more input from the screenwriters would have been appreciated, this is a generally fine package, which like the film, cannot easily be faulted.
Text By Chris Hallam
Captions 1: Hoffman lost 40 pounds for the role (although is still six and half inches taller than Capote was).
2: Catherine Keener plays Capote’s friend, author Harper Lee. The real Lee reputedly liked the film.
3: Unusually, two out of five of this year’s Best Picture nominees centred on gay characters.
4: Chris Cooper: in this and every other film this year seemingly.
5: The accused men have rather more riding on the outcome of the case than the success of a book. 6: The real Capote boozed himself to death in 1984.
Final Verdict An excellent, well-acted portrait of a troubled, super intelligent man at a pivotal stage in his life.
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon, John Sessions
Running time: 107 minutes
Russia: 1910. With the First World War and the Russian Revolution still a few years off, ageing War and Peace author Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) might be expected to be enjoying a peaceful retirement. In fact, torn between the conflicting demands of his strong willed wife Countess Sofya (Mirren) and those of his increasingly zealous Tolstoyan followers, the author’s life is barely less turbulent than the events of one of his great novels.
The Last Station is less about Tolstoy himself than the plethora of characters surrounding him. The most sympathetic is perhaps young Valentin Bulgarov (McAvoy), a brainy but self conscious acolyte of the author. Arriving at the Tolstoy Estate as the author’s new private secretary, Valentin soon finds his loyalties divided. Should he side with the clique effectively led by his boss Vladimir Chertkov (Giamatti), in attempting to build a personality cult around the author or with the more reasonable wishes of Tolstoy’s undeniably unstable wife?
For a film dealing with such weighty issues, the first half of The Last Station is remarkably cheery stuff. Perhaps wary of scaring off his audience, director Hoffman devotes much screen time to the sneezing and reticent McAvoy’s tentative relationship with ballsy proto-feminist Masha (Condon). Only in the second half, does the film’s mood darken to a suitably more sombre state, yet the change is so dramatic (McAvoy’s character also transforming overnight) that it unbalances the film.
The film is beautifully acted, however, Plummer almost looking like an American (okay, Canadian) reincarnation of Tolstoy at times and Mirren equally great as his long-suffering spouse, a woman clearly prone to emotional volatility, expressed through occasional gun-play and chicken impression, but who nevertheless has good reason to feel aggrieved.
The accompanying commentary and interviews give some insight into a project which was apparently in the pipeline for around twenty years. But ultimately it’s a problem of tone. Too lightweight in the first half, while too melancholy (and despite dramatic events, frankly, dull) in the second, somehow The Last Station never quite scales the epic heights it threatens to achieve. Overall Verdict: Great performances elevate a film which falls just short of Tolstoyan brilliance itself.
Review: Queen Victoria didn’t just reign. She ruled.She in fact ruled for nearly 64 years, longer than anyone else, a record the present Queen may beat if she holds out until 2016 (update: this has since happened).
Yet while most films about, say, Henry VIII see him transformed from a handsome young Jonathan Rhys Meyers-type into an obese Charles Laughton-like glutton, movies about Victoria usually centre exclusively on her later years as a gloomy, sour faced old widow. This is different. Opening in the 1830s, we first meet Emily Blunt’s teenaged Princess Victoria as she develops an initially awkward romance with her German suitor, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend), before we move onto her early years on the throne.
In the meantime, she finds herself in a constant battle to assert her authority over her Germanic mother (Miranda Richardson) and bossy baron, Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong).
Although too tall and, frankly, much too attractive to be Queen Victoria at any age, Emily Blunt is otherwise perfect for the role while Rupert Friend is impressive as the crusading Albert. Some of the smaller roles are less well-handled, however. Paul Bettany just looks weird as the sixty-something Lord Melbourne and Jim Broadbent, while brilliant as ever as Victoria’s eccentric uncle, William IV, is so heavily made up that during the state banquet scene he resembles Bilbo Baggins at his eleventy-first birthday party.Yet, for the most part, the film is both visually authentic and well cast.
The problem really is the setting. Victoria came to the throne at a relatively peaceful time in the nation’s history. Her life wasn’t untroubled by any means, but despite a reasonable attempt to demonise Mark Strong’s Conroy, there’s little scope for dramatic conflict. Recognising this, screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) sexes up events by heavily fictionalising a major event towards the end of the film. This contrivance apparently provoked the ire of the present Queen, not a good idea if Fellowes ever wants a knighthood (update: Fellowes was elevated to the peerage in 2011).
The five featurettes here are all less than ten minutes long and primarily focus on the set design, costumes and historical background to the film. ‘The Real Queen Victoria’ is perhaps the best of these, enlivened by diary entries from Victoria herself, even if these are undermined by them being read by someone apparently auditioning for a part in ‘EastEnders’.
For quiet Sunday evening viewing though, The Young Victoria is hard to fault.
Overall Verdict:Blunt and Friend are okay and the central romance is well-handled but anyone fancying something racier should go for ‘The Duchess’ instead.
‘The Making Of Young Victoria’ Featurette
‘The Coronation’ Featurette
‘Lavish History: A Look at The Costumes and Locations’ Featurette
Review: Nobody divides popular opinion quite like former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. To some she is the nation’s saviour who triumphed in the Cold War and saved the country from an assorted army of lefties, Argentinians and unruly trade unionists, reversing decades of national decline. To others, her selfish and greedy policies wrecked our NHS, public services and schools and left a legacy of rising unemployment and crime from which we’ve never recovered.
Perhaps for this reason, large sections of this film, avoid politics completely, instead focusing on the octogenarian Thatcher of today as she copes with the onset of old age, senility and comes to terms with the death of her beloved Denis (Jim Broadbent). Streep is firmly in the Oscar class as the elderly Thatcher and Broadbent is great if perhaps a lot more jolly and fun-filled than one imagines the real Denis to have been.
But it’s a shame that so much time is devoted to imagined ideas about the state of Thatcher’s mind as the flashbacks when they do finally get going have so much material to include. We do, however, get a convincing sense of how Thatcher (initially Margaret Roberts, played by Alexandra Roach) rises up from her lowly Grantham origins through the snooty smoky male-dominated Westminster world, surprising everyone, including apparently herself by eventually becoming the first woman prime minister.
A few bits don’t ring true: the scenes of a happy Thatcher family home life seem somewhat idolised (although Olivia Colman is great as daughter “Cawol”) and a sequence where the Lady suddenly reveals she knows the price of Lurpak to her Cabinet seems rather bizarre.
Inevitably, as this is a Margaret Thatcher biopic most of the key events of her tenure are viewed entirely from her own perspective. We see the Falklands War and the Miner’s Strike. For some reason the strike (1984) not the war (1982) occurs first in this version, although as these are her random memories so arguably this is just misleading and needlessly confusing rather than just plain wrong.
But her opponents are never presented as being reasonable: they are either toffee-nosed wets or ugly hairy protesting lefties. Only towards the end, when Thatcher’s relentless single-mindedness on issues like the disastrous Poll Tax and her bullying of unlikely nemesis, Sir Geoffrey Howe (Anthony Head) unwittingly precipitates her downfall, does the screenplay lose sympathy with its subject. And even then it’s implied these failings could be an early manifestation of her illness.
But ultimately, while the strange perspective does effectively undermine the film, it’s hard not to be moved by Streep’s touching performance of a lioness in the winter of her life.
Overall Verdict: A flawed biopic but Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for her performance. And at least the film doesn’t go on and on and on.