Review – The Tragedy of Macbeth, Northampton Filmhouse, 8th January 2022

The Tragedy of MacbethAmongst the many amazing reasons why Shakespeare is still as big as it gets, is that he’s eminently adaptable. You can set Richard III in the 1930s or you can place Much Ado About Nothing in an English country house. You can make King John and Timon of Athens a woman and you can make the shrew Katherina a man. Or – and perhaps currently slightly out of favour – you can go back to the original and, as Joel Coen has done with The Tragedy of Macbeth, set it as Shakespeare wrote it.

Macbeth and Banquo Here we are in 11th century Scotland, with the film shot in black and white to give it an extra sense of history and mystery. And here’s the movie’s absolutely winning element. It’s in the visual/sensory department that this film really works. Coen moves us from scene to scene with such seamless cinematographic tricks that 105 minutes flies by. Trudging through virgin snow, fading whites into greys into blacks, with flapping tent fabric that sounds like the ominous birds who metamorphose into the witches; a solitary witch standing against water who creates a reflection of more than one body; Moody moodlight flashing through windows and archways to form a line of pure white against the black of buildings, giving varying suggestions of confinement or expanse; a far off dagger I see before me that becomes the door handle to Duncan’s bedchamber; the unstoppable Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane as almost floating foliage, followed by Macbeth opening a window and the leaves flooding uncontrollably in. I could go on, but that would create far too long a sentence. The stark, featureless castle offers no comfort chez Macbeth, and the whole appearance of the film frequently put me in mind of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, if that isn’t too Pseuds Corner.

MacduffThe script is credited to Joel Coen rather than Shakespeare, and it’s true that he plays around with the original a little bit, developing the role of Ross (Alex Hassell excellent in both loyal and turncoat guises, wearing an appropriately flappy bird-like gown) by making him not only the third murderer but also Fleance’s protector. The performances and characterisations (on the whole) are very strong and memorable. Neither pantomime villains nor unbelievably virtuous people here. Nobility and ignobility shine through; Bertie Carvel’s Banquo and especially Corey Hawkins’ Macduff bestride the screen like Colossuses, serving Brendan Gleeson’s dignified and super-trusting Duncan. Lady MacduffMacbeth’s killer incision into Duncan’s throat, and Macduff’s all my pretty chickens speech are amongst the film’s most memorable moments – as indeed is the method of dispatching young Macduff minor, thrown into a horrible deathly abyss.

Macbeth witchHarry Melling’s Malcolm is a sturdily decent young chap in whom Scotland can have some hope of a better future. Kathryn Hunter, the aforementioned female Timon, is outstanding as the Witches, constantly moving in and out of human form into something more abstract, her physicality lending a truly bird-like presence; and Stephen Root is effective as the Porter, a role that can make or break the tension of the story, his potentially tedious speech quickly handled to bridge the gap between the horrible deed and its discovery.

Macbeth and Lady MWhich brings me to the Macbeths. Denzel Washington’s Macbeth is a naturally quiet, unassuming kind of guy who may talk of vaulting ambition, but you never quite believe it. It’s an underplayed reading of the role, as though he’s already burned out before his spirit has caught fire, and I’m not sure to what extent he would inspire the likes of Banquo to follow him. Frances McDormand is a grim-faced Lady Macbeth who finds it hard to play the smiling hostess, and her descent into madness feels like an inevitable part of her character that was decreed right from the start. However, Witches perchMs McD revels in Shakespeare’s language and delivers her lines with verve and punch, whereas Mr W suppresses Macbeth’s emotions to the extent that some of the emphasis is lost.

Despite the occasional quibble I enjoyed this adaptation enormously, especially the ultra-noir atmosphere and visuals that never let up from the very start. A fine addition to the Shakespearean film collection.

Copyright for the images belongs of course to their rightful owner

Review – Paddington 2, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 24th November 2017

Paddington 2It’s 9pm on a Friday. You’ve had a pre-prandial G&T, you’ve enjoyed your dinner; you want a little pre-weekend escapism and a good laugh. Bottle of Malbec and two glasses in hand, we took our seats at the plush Errol Flynn Filmhouse, along with 89 other adults and one child, bless her. You can keep your Blade Runners and your Star Wars…. Paddington 2 is just sheer joy from start to finish.

Paddington the bear himselfI should point out that we didn’t see the original Paddington film three years ago, but my guess is that you don’t have to have seen the first to be able to appreciate any subtle nuances of the second. The story is relatively slight, but bear with me (geddit?) Paddington is searching for a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy because she brought him up well and he’s a decent, kind-hearted animal. He finds the perfect item in an antiques shop – an old pop-up book of London scenes. Paddington falls in love with it. But the price! Where’s he going to get £500 from? So he vows to work for the money and save it.

BuchananSo far so good. Being a trusting and honest bear, he lets slip to Phoenix Buchanan, a narcissistic actor who opens the local carnival, that he’s saving for this book. Unbeknownst to Paddington, Buchanan is also after this book and he decides to steal it from the shop. Paddington is on the scene in no time and runs after the thief – Buchanan in disguise – to catch him. Unfortunately, Buchanan gives him the slip and it is Paddington whom the police arrest and who is sent to prison in one of the greatest legal travesties in the annals of justice. But, as it’s Paddington, everything turns out alright in the end!

Paddington the window cleanerThis is simply one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years. The blend of animation and reality is just perfect. Take the whole hairdresser shop scene as a typical example of its brilliance. When the inexperienced Paddington clings hold of the barber’s erratically over-powered electric razor for dear life, the sight of the rippling, fluttering fur caused by the vibrations brings the house down. The computer that creates Paddington definitely has a grand sense of humour.

paddington 2 palsThere’s a star-studded cast that most other film makers would die for, and a few absolutely brilliant performances. Hugh Grant camps it up out of all proportion as the despicable Buchanan, in a hilarious assortment of disguises, no greater moment than in the finale (don’t leave at the beginning of the credits, whatever you do) when he gets his chance to present a showstopper (choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, I noticed). You’ll never think of FolliesRain on the Roof in the same way again. Hugh Bonneville, as Mr Brown, is also fantastic as he blunders from situation to situation, such as when he badmouths the other prisoners whilst they can still hear him, or when he’s caught red-handed breaking and entering Buchanan’s house. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the intimidating inmate Knuckles, who, it turns out, has a heart of gold after all.

The BrownsDelightful vignettes are scattered through the film, with Jessica Hynes, Ben Miller, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Tom Conti, Meera Syal, Richard Ayoade, Tom Davis, Eileen Atkins, Joanna Lumley and many more taking tiny roles that just keep the whole thing constantly topped-up with surprise and enjoyment. Giving the bears a voice, there are vocal contributions by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton as Uncle Pastuzo and Aunt Lucy, and a star performance from Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington; the epitome of decorum and politeness, honesty and decency – but not without a dash of daftness and a measure of mischief. Paul King and Simon Furnaby’s screenplay is marmalade-packed with visual humour and funny lines, including some great set pieces like the barber’s scene, Paddington’s laundry mishap and the steam train chase.

Paddington in the pinkDon’t think you have to have kids to go and see and enjoy this film. It appeals to the child in all of us – and also, in part, to the naughty grown-up as well. We were still laughing about this film 48 hours later. No wonder it’s proving to be a box-office hit. This’ll come back again and again to entertain us during Christmases Future for decades to come. A pure delight!

Review – Suffragette, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 2nd November 2015

SuffragetteOne of the subjects that could really get the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle’s passion aroused was the Suffragette movement. She was proud that universal suffrage was introduced in the UK during her lifetime – she was 7 years old in 1928, when women finally received the same voting rights as men – and she would love to tell tales of knowing of women who had chained themselves to railings, and had huge admiration for Emily Davison, who threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby. She would have been riveted by the film Suffragette, as it starkly shows the struggles of those women to get their voices heard by committing acts of civil disobedience.

Carey MulliganPart fact, part fiction, it follows the life of Maud Watts, married with one son, working hard, long hours in a laundry sweatshop, with a bullying, advantage-taking boss, and who almost accidentally gets caught up in the suffragette movement as she works alongside some of the more active members. As she starts attending meetings, she offers to accompany her colleague Violet Miller to the House of Commons, who was to address a committee of MPs, including the Prime Minister himself, Lloyd George. But circumstances dictate that it is Maud who must give her own account of why women should get the vote – and when cabinet nevertheless decides against extending the vote, her sense of resentment increases and she becomes much more personally involved. Maud, Violet, the pharmacist Edith Ellyn, all fictional characters, as well as the real life Emily Davison, all exert what influence they can to change the law, resulting in trials, imprisonment, verbal and physical abuse from both inside and outside the penal institutions, hunger strikes, and forced feeding. Maud additionally has her private life torn apart by her actions, and the film culminates in Emily Davison’s ultimate sacrifice.

Anne Marie Duff and Carey MulliganIt’s a very strong and moving film; it’s also very dark, both literally and metaphorically. There are some scenes of brutality against the women which make difficult viewing, but as Mrs Chrisparkle pointed out, they are fully relevant to the film, and today’s audience shouldn’t be blind to the physical attacks the suffragettes incurred. Personally, I was very surprised at the level of antipathy and hostility expressed towards the suffragettes by the average man (and plenty of average women) on the street. You wouldn’t have thought that everyone was against them – although that’s certainly how it seems in this film. Considering that after Emily Davison’s death they announced that thousands would be lining the streets for her funeral procession, Meryl Streepyou might have expect someone to have said to Sonny Watts, “she’s alright, your wife” and not just “your wife’s a disgrace”. But then, as once again the wise Mrs C pointed out, it sometimes takes something really visible and tangible to change public opinion, like the picture of the little Syrian boy washed up on the shore seemed to wake people up to the current refugee crisis, even though he was just one of thousands. So no doubt the Derby tragedy alerted many more people to the personal sacrifices women were making.

Helena Bonham CarterThe film garners some excellent performances all round. Carey Mulligan is brillliant as Maud, growing in self-confidence throughout the film but desperate in her domestic sadness and in her battle to keep in contact with her son. Helena Bonham-Carter – herself the great-granddaughter of Asquith, the Prime Minister during much of the time when the suffragettes were campaigning – is excellent as the hard-working Edith Ellyn, hosting meetings, and fearlessly getting her hands dirty at every opportunity. Anne-Marie Duff plays Violet, a defiantly committed trouble-maker, relishing every opportunity to make a difference. There’s a very enjoyable and rather inspiring brief performance by Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, appearing out of nowhere to deliver a stirring public speech and then disappearing back from whenceBen Whishaw and Carey Mulligan she came. Ben Whishaw is very good as the under-communicative Sonny, Maud’s husband; you can almost see in his controlling eyes the extent to which he will allow his wife to agitate, and the point at which she will have gone too far. There’s a strong, quiet performance by Brendan Gleeson as the Police Inspector Steed, diligent in enforcing the law but with an understated sense of the bigger picture; and a ruthless cameo by Samuel West as the reactionary politician Benedict, harbouring a draconian resentment against equality.

Brendan GleesonDramatic, powerful, dark; a very intense film that reminds us of the sacrifices made by others so that we can have the vote today. Interestingly, it is the first film ever to have scenes actually shot in the Houses of Parliament, which emphasises the still relevant importance of what the suffragettes achieved. Next time you can’t be bothered to turn up to the polling station, just remember what Maud went through.