Tag Archives: period drama

COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

COLETTE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW


Directed by: Wash Washmoreland

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Pamela Koffler, Michel Litvak and Christine Vachon.

Screenplay by: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Wash Washmoreland

Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

In a coincidental twist of cultural fate I only recently became aware of turn-of-the-century novelist, libertine, bohemian and society trailblazer that was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. I’d been listening to a brilliant audio-documentary by Adam Roche, which was about Audrey Hepburn’s early life prior to becoming a Hollywood star. Interestingly, it was an elderly Colette who spotted the then unknown Helpburn filming a supporting role in Monte Carlo. Furthermore, it was Colette who insisted Hepburn was, despite her lack of stage experience, the ideal person to portray her famous creation Gigi on Broadway. Thus, even in later life Colette was to the fore of the cultural aesthetic; both a major talent and celebrity ripe for respect and admiration.

From her Claudine (1900) novels, to La Vagabond (1910) to Gigi (1944), Colette was a prolific writer of many books and short stories. She was also an actor, dancer and mime, who seemingly delighted in confronting the stuffy middle and upper classes of French society. Unashamed by on-stage nudity and choice of sexual parters, Colette had love affairs with both men and women. Not only did she break down sexual taboos, she also furthered gender equality and would be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.

Denise Gough stars as Missy and Keira Knightley as Colette in COLETTE
Credit: Robert Viglasky/Bleecker Street

The cinematic version of her life finds Keira Knightley portraying the titular character with a committed energy, verve and magnetism. Knightley has never been the most nuanced of actors but she is a striking movie star, delivering a fine performance here. Likewise, the ever reliable Dominic West is on excellent form as Henry Gaulthier-Villars – AKA ‘Willy’ – Colette’s first husband. West represents him as a charismatic cad with an insatiable lust for women, gambling and booze. While able to wow publishers with his sales pitches he relies on others to do the writing, while happily wasting the advances and royalties.

Willy sweeps the naive country girl Colette off her feet and introduces her to the artistic and literary circles of Paris. As such it is his connections which enable Colette to gain her first publishing success. However, it is Willy who takes all the plaudits, publishing under his own name. This authorial switch inevitably creates a dramatic schism as Colette fights for her name to be on the books. Willy refuses, highlighting both his own egomania and the sexist prejudice of the day. Like the similarly plotted biopic Big Eyes (2014), this film illustrates the nefarious nature of dominant masculinity; however, it also made me consider whether the artists would have been successful if it HADN’T been for these dastardly blokes. Who can tell? One would hope the talent of said artists would shine through come what may.

Structurally, Colette is very linear representing a “greatest hits” of how Colette progresses creatively, romantically and sexually. As aforementioned Knightly gives a fearless performance and the period setting is beautifully evoked within an excellently directed production. My only criticism is a fair amount of time was spent on Colette’s sexual exploits when I would have preferred more drama relating to her authorship battles with feckless Willy. Nonetheless, as period biopics go the film stands as a stylish and admiral tribute to a trailblazing feminist and literary icon.

Mark: 8 out of 11

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

DIRECTOR:  William Oldroyd

WRITER:      Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov

CAST:           Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.

Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.

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Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.

The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.

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From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts.  Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.

The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?

Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass.  A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.

(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)

2016 BFI – LFF – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016) – REVIEW

2016 – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – THE BIRTH OF A NATION  (2016)

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE:  THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016)

DIRECTOR/PRODUCER/WRITER: Nate Parker

CAST:  Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Colman Domingo, Aja Noomi King

STORY:  At the turn of the 1800s a charismatic preacher must decide between a life of slavery or to stand up and fight against his brutal captors.

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REVIEW:

This drama, written, produced, directed and starring by Nate Parker has, since its release at the Sundance Festival, created a whole host of controversies. There is a historical rape prosecution of which Nate Parker was found innocent of in 1999; there are accusations of historical inaccuracies in the story; plus the passivity of female characters within the narrative has been criticized too.  Not surprising though because any film about slavery, rape, abuse and murder is bound to set the cultural world, internet, film industry, social media, historians etc. alight with debate.

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Personally, when I watch a film I prefer to judge it purely on whether it has entertained, informed, provoked thought and created emotion. The filmmakers’ personal history or whether a film meets certain quotas on political correctness or even whether the history has been altered to suit a narrative are important factors but not my main viewing considerations. Of course, if it is an exploitative piece of crap then I would call it; but mainly I ask myself: did the film entertain me and is it a good story done well?

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Well, inaccuracies and controversies aside I was thoroughly moved and taken with emotion by The Birth of a Nation. It is ambitious, independent filmmaking which takes a figure from history that stood up against oppressors and fought back against the injustices that befell him and his people. In little over two hours we get a microcosmic view of the character of Nat Turner and the horrific period he lived in and get a short, sharp and shocking drama. Turner is shown to be an intelligent, proud and spiritual force who inspires those around him to fight against the brutality all around.

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You cannot underestimate Parker’s vision and determination to bring Nat Turner’s ‘story’ to the screen. On such a relatively low budget (reported to be £10 million) it is an admirable and risky project to pursue and deliver. Not as startlingly stylistic as the big-budget-spaghetti-slave-Western Django Unchained (2012), The Birth of a Nation is a heart-breaking narrative which posits the power of the scriptures and damns the beast of humanity which allowed free people to be stolen from their country and made to serve others.

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Overall, the film works as a lower-budget epic in the vein of Braveheart (1995) and Spartacus (1960), while covering similar ground thematically as Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave (2013). It may not have the artistry of Steve McQueen’s directed epic, but it is still an important film about a fascinating historical figure. Whether it is accurate or not the film still made compelling viewing and Parker deserves all the praise he gets for such an assured debut.