Friday 18 October 2019

Film of the week: Downton Abbey

Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern star as Lord and Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey
Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern star as Lord and Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey
Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
Waad al-Khateab and Sama

The upstairs-downstairs period drama known to its legions of frothing fans simply as "Downton" is a modern TV phenomenon that proved that we can scoff all we like, we remain obsessed (especially in this country) with royals and the upper tier.

Your reviewer is not a subscriber, and comes to this big screen chapter knowing little of the characters or storyline in the English post-war "big house" saga bar the bare rudiments. Very quickly, mind, we get a full flavour of why the show is so huge. A swooping aerial shot lights up the stately pile like a wedding cake, and we're straight into plans for a proposed royal visit. Suddenly, the two social strata in the house - the Crawleys (Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, et al) fretting over family and title matters, the servants in a tizzy over the silverware - are mobilised with the buzzy patter of Christmas Eve.

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The event is causing disruptions. There is suspicion of Tom Branson (Killiney actor Allen Leech), a former Irish republican who is now part of the furniture. Adding to the staff headaches is the arrival of a royal delegation of flouncing cooks and snooty butlers (led by David Haig) who are insisting the incumbent crew stay out of their way. Game on, etc.

With creator Julian Fellowes (who also wrote Gosford Park) manning the typewriter, and all the cast present along with comely new faces, it is hard to see fans of the show not getting their fix of light, witty, fleet-footed, easy-on-the-eyes, period drama that pays immaculate attention to antiquarian detail.

Michael Engler's film succeeds for these same reasons, even for the uninitiated among us. Its hive of characters buzz about the place inoffensively, punctuated by cheesy interactions and arid put-downs from Smith ("I don't argue, I explain").

Sorbet for the brain, then, and what harm. There's enough strife to be dealing with these days.

★★★★ Hilary A White

 

Extra Ordinary

Cert 15A; Now showing 

The international reviews for this Irish supernatural comedy are resoundingly flattering, which is in some ways surprising.

It's not that Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's feature debut isn't good, it really is, it's just that it is so Irish, in a beautifully observed real way.

It doesn't outstay its welcome, it doesn't overdo the gags, it is all round a really confident, assured piece of writing and directing given life by some really excellent performances.

Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) is a driving instructor in rural Ireland. Lonely without obsessing over it, she is delighted when her new student Martin Martin (Barry Ward) turns out to be a handsome widower.

However Martin has ulterior motives, he wants Rose to use her talent as a medium to end the meddling haunting of his dead wife Bonnie. Retired from her supernatural activities since the demise of her father (Risteard Cooper) Rose is very reluctant, until the nefarious activities of castle-dwelling one-hit- wonder Christian Winter (Will Forte) force her hand.

Both the leads and support are great, it's sweet but not twee and I smiled right the way through it.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Hustlers

Cert 16; Now showing 

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Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
 

I have never really warmed to Jennifer Lopez and bar Out of Sight her films have been mostly rubbish. But hopefully Hustlers is the beginning of her McConnaissance, the film is great and she is fantastic, I'm J-Lo's new biggest fan.

Director Lorene Scafaria wrote the screenplay based on the true story of a group of New York strippers who, following the crash of 2008, used the methods of their wealthy Wall Street clients to fleece wealthy Wall Street clients.

The story unfolds as a journalist (Julia Stiles) interviews Destiny (Constance Wu) about her life since meeting her friend, mentor and co-conspirator Ramona (Lopez, who looks amazing). It has great energy and lots of laughs, but it also has some sound social, psychological, sexual, gender and moral threads and it's really good on friendship. The performances are all sharp but this is Lopez's show. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

For Sama

Club Cert; Now showing, IFI

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Waad al-Khateab and Sama
 

What kind of savage bombs hospitals? Step forward Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. Waad al-Khateab's extraordinary documentary from inside the siege of Aleppo is dedicated to and directly addresses her daughter Sama, conceived and born in the city under siege.

It's a harrowing and unique film which, co-directed by Edward Watts, pulls together footage shot by Al-Khateab from the hopeful beginnings of the democracy movement in 2012 to the utter horror of the siege until evacuation.

Her footage coincides with her romance and marriage to Hamza, a doctor as passionate about Aleppo as she is. The result is a uniquely female and personal perspective which explains why anyone would stay there at all, let alone have a baby, and shows the human cost of being in the way of power-mad despots.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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