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.

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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.

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.

Emotional rollercoaster

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The film Frantz explores that fraught emotional landscape… the immediate aftermath of the Great War.
Anna, a young German woman, is mourning the loss of her fiancé, Frantz, killed on the Western Front fighting the French. She lovingly tends his grave in the picturesque churchyard of her home town even though his corpse remains on the battlefield in an unmarked grave – the fate of so many soldiers.
The town’s residents, still trying to come to terms with Germany’s catastrophic defeat, are piqued when a mysterious visitor starts visiting Frantz’s grave.
Anna eventually gets to know Adrien, a battle-scarred veteran of the French army, who reveals that he knew her fiancé. Their fledgling friendship sets in motion a chain of events that took this filmgoer on an emotional rollercoaster at York City Screen this evening.
Director François Ozon has created a sumptuous period drama and Paula Beer excels as its main protagonist, Anna, ably supported by Pierre Niney as Adrien.

Slapstick turns dark

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Mindhorn is a playful British comedy that pokes fun at celebrity, TV cop shows, and the Isle of Man.
Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) is a washed-up actor who makes a cack-handed attempt to revive his showbiz career when police ask him to help them catch a crazed criminal.
Thorncroft became a celebrity in the 1980s playing a TV detective called Mindhord. His unique selling point (USP) was a bionic eye that could see through lies, which he used to thwart Manx criminals.
Now, 30 years later, a psychopath is terrorising the Isle of Man; the criminal believes Mindhorn is real and wants to negotiate with his hero.
Mighty Boosh stalwart Barratt plays the title role with gusto and there are plenty of visual gags to savour. However, the slapstick takes a darker tone when Thorncroft is cocooned in the Mindhorn costume, which is in danger of obliterating his identity.
Mindhorn is a comic creation worthy of entering a hall of fame alongside Alan Partridge and David Brent.