Portrait of an outsider

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Loving Vincent is both a sumptuous visual feast and a compelling portrait of an outsider.
Each of the film’s frames is an oil painting created by a team of more than 100 painters, each one inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s own seminal art.
The film investigates the circumstances surrounding the artist’s death from a gunshot wound to the stomach; was it suicide, an accident or murder?
Rather than give a definitive answer to this question, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman focus on Van Gogh’s artistic passion. Using his pen, rather than brush, to provide the film’s emotional heft, they quote a letter he wrote to his brother Theo:
What am I in the eyes of most people — a non-entity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.”
These are the words of an outsider who painted pictures in obscurity; vibrant pictures bursting with movement, colour and vitality that are now world famous as a cornerstone of modern art.
Paul Gachet, the French physician who treated Van Gogh in the weeks leading up to the artist’s death, recognised this untamed talent. He is portrayed in the film as a frustrated artist jealous of his patient’s genius. So fascinated was he by Van Gogh’s paintings that he devoted countless hours to carefully copying them, astonished that such a crude, self-taught painter could instinctively produce a masterpiece in a mere couple of hours; something he could not achieve in a lifetime.

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When duty calls

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East meets West in Victoria & Abdul, a delightful comedy drama directed by Stephen Frears.
Abdul Karim sails from India to present a ceremonial coin to Queen Victoria to mark her golden jubilee. The handsome clerk catches the eye of a monarch jaded by relentless royal duty and the two forge a devoted friendship that lifts her gloom.
However, vested interests within the royal court seek to undermine this unlikely alliance, with poignant consequences.
Judi Dench is back to her imperial best reprising the role of Victoria, a part she played to acclaim in the 1997 movie Mrs Brown. Ali Fazal provides an excellent foil as Abdul while Eddie Izzard creates an entertaining cameo as the Prince of Wales and the late Tim Pigott-Smith is the epitome of puffed-up pride as the Queen’s Private Secretary.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

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The film Goodbye Christopher Robin explores the dark underbelly of that iconic character of children’s literature Winnie-the-Pooh.
What began as a collection of homespun tales revolving around a menagerie of cuddly toys told by a shell-shocked father to his upper-middle-class son in the 1920s became a publishing sensation that went on to receive the obligatory Disney treatment.
Although A A Milne’s remarkable professional success generated great wealth, it blighted the relationship he had with his son, Christopher Robin.
Everybody, it seemed, wanted a piece of the small boy and his toys; as soon as Milne understood the emotional cost the endless round of PR stunts was having on his son, he tried to put a stop to it by promising to never write another story about the much-loved bear. But it was too late; Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends had become public property.
Christopher Robin came to resent the books that thrust him into the public eye and declined the opportunity to benefit from their royalties; while A A Milne was annoyed the Pooh stories had eclipsed all his other work as a writer.
Simon Curtis’s film glosses over this, preferring to portray Winnie-the-Pooh as a beacon of joy in the dark days after the Great War; a beacon that is still burning today.

Dunkirk veteran saluted

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Jack Danby shows the bullet hole in his D-Day helmet

Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk tells the story of the British Army’s miraculous escape from the advancing German army from three perspectives: Land, Sea and Air. In weaving together three different timelines, Nolan successfully depicts the chaos of what was a colossal military defeat; the viewer is plunged right into the middle of the action where the fear and tension is amplified by Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score.
This movie is timely as, more than 75 years after the rescue that entered British folklore, so few Dunkirk veterans remain. One who has passed away is Jack Danby, of Selby. He survived Dunkirk and, four years later, returned to France in the first wave of D-Day where he was nearly killed; while trying to rescue a wounded comrade, a German bullet passed through his helmet inflicting a flesh wound.
Watching Dunkirk brought home to me the bravery of men like Jack. After the war, Jack was headmaster of four different schools in the East Riding where, after experiencing the horror of Dunkirk and D-Day, his motivation was to help build a better post-war world. His distinguished service included 12 years as the first head of Etton Pasture boarding school for disabled children; his pioneering work there was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1965.

Righteousness and humidity

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Yankee Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found wounded in the Virginia woods by schoolgirl Amy (Oona Laurence) and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Prim and proper Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) tends to McBurney’s leg wound in the name of Christian charity and, as he recovers, they all vie for his affections by dressing to impress and offering gifts and banquets in their isolated mansion with its candles and Doric columns. The enemy soldier, using sly charm, disrupts their genteel routine of French lessons, prayer, sewing and music until matters come to a shocking head. McBurney fled the gunpowder and shot of a Civil War battlefield only to discover southern hospitality can also be deadly with its righteousness and humidity. Writer-director Sofia Coppola channels southern gothic in her screen adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel. It made me want to revisit Don Siegel’s 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood as the wounded Yankee.

Postcards of protest

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This quote, attributed to the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke, came to mind after I watched Alone In Berlin at York City Screen today. Brendan Gleeson plays a Berlin factory worker who defies the Nazi regime after his son is killed in combat by secretly casting scores of hand-written postcards across the city. He naively hopes those finding them will pass them on and the anti-Hitler messages will eventually clog up the Nazi war machine like so many grains of sand. He is aided in this act of subversion by his grieving wife played by Emma Thompson. Daniel Brühl plays the professional detective who gets on the wrong side of his SS boss while trying to track down the furtive scribe. The film is based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. Their defiance of Hitler inspired the novelist Hans Fallada to write a fictional account in 1947 which was published in 2009 under the English title Alone In Berlin.

Churchill’s black dog

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Winston Churchill has entered British folklore as the statesman who saved Great Britain in its darkest hour when the country stood alone against Nazi Germany.
But Churchill was not the invincible warlord that he liked to portray to the British public with his “V for Victory” salute, morale-boosting oratory, homburg hat and trademark cigar.
He suffered from depression, dubbed his “black dog”, which he self-medicated by consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol.
Brian Cox brings out this private vulnerability in Churchill, a movie depicting the Prime Minister during the final days before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Churchill tries to persuade General Dwight Eisenhower, the American Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to call off D-Day because he fears the amphibious assault will end in disaster as it did at Gallipoli during the First World War. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill felt responsible for Gallipoli and the ghost of its failure still haunted him 30 years later.
Cox puts in a bravura performance as Churchill; Miranda Richardson also impresses as his formidable wife, Clementine. However the film is flawed mainly due to a screenplay that condenses Churchill’s concerns about D-Day into the final hours before its launch.