Monday 17 June 2019

Film of the week: Mary Queen of Scots

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Saoirse Ronan is outstanding in Mary Queen of Scots
Saoirse Ronan is outstanding in Mary Queen of Scots

Some films should have been miniseries, maybe not even that mini, and Mary Queen of Scots is one. The film is dividing critics but this one rather enjoyed it. Although historical it is very zeitgeisty, for like The Favourite and the upcoming All Is True among others, it highlights just how long even the most privileged women have been hobbled and controlled, and it demands an answer as to why.

In 1560, Mary (Saoirse Ronan) returns to her native Scotland after her French husband dies. She is still only 18 but keen to take back the throne to which she is heir. She is also keenly aware of the equal claim she has to the throne of England on which her cousin Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) sits. Both women are regarded as unfit for their roles by virtue of their gender, both surrounded by men who would curb their power and who foster a sense of fear between the two.

Director Josie Rourke's stage pedigree is visible in this, her first film. Written by Beau (House of Cards) Willimon there is a lot of history packed in and the first 20 minutes are rather fact heavy. There is also some dramatic licence, it is thought the two women never met in real life, and they do in a dramatic scene in the film. Religion and sexism are the great impediments to two powerful women, so each summons power from different versions of female sexuality. Elizabeth wields her virginity as a defence from any husband who would weaken her power, and Mary who sees marriage and child-bearing as ways to strengthen hers, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy involving the cliches of femininity. The performances are great, Saoirse really owns it. There is perhaps too much in the story, but for me it worked.

★★★ Aine O'Connor

Second Act

Cert: 12A; Opens Friday

You look at the poster for Second Act - Jennifer Lopez looking snazzy and self-satisfied against a Manhattan skyline - and assume the worst: Surely Peter Segal's film is going to be some mawkish J-Lo vehicle about a plucky Latino Cinderella who shakes up the corporate stiffs and finds love on the way.

Admirably, this comedy drama almost lures you into thinking it you have it all sussed, only to undergo a rather interesting change in register in its, eh, second act that takes it into more robust waters.

Shaking off the ignominy of 2015's shambolic The Boy Next Door, Lopez is fresh-faced and earthy as Maya, a talented supermarket manageress who has hit the glass ceiling due to not having a college degree.

After concerned friends tamper with her CV, she finds herself getting a top consultancy job on Madison Avenue.

Competition is provided by Zoe (Vanessa Hudgens), the daughter of Treat Williams's CEO, who doesn't take kindly to Maya's sudden arrival at the top of the ladder.

The obvious dramatic arc is for Maya to forget her blue-collar roots and support network back in Queens, before coming to her senses and remembering what matters. But while there's a bit of that all right, Second Act has a more surprising plot strand that gives the entire thing backbone. Yes, it has its share of cringe and cheesy dialogue, but for the most part this really is perfectly serviceable fare for a distracting January evening out.

★★★ Hilary A White

 

Beautiful Boy

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Addiction, to anything, is a torment for the addict and for those who love them. As a teenager in San Francisco, Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, and his family, especially his father David, worked tirelessly to help him. But you cannot help someone until they want to be helped and addiction can be a downward spiral, a groundhog day of hope and despair for years.

David and Nic Sheff both wrote memoirs and the two books have been combined for Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen's first US film. Although based on both books it is less about the squalor of addiction (Nic wrote about that) than what it is like to spectate a loved one's suffering.

Nic (Timothee Chalamet) was a happy, well-adjusted child who lived with his father David (Steve Carell), stepmother (Maura Tierney) and young sibs when he started to use crystal meth. The film documents that use, the parents' dawning realisation, and their attempts to understand and help. It's interesting because it doesn't blame the drug use on the usual reasons; Nic uses because he likes to. Boredom led to experimentation and then to addiction.

The performances are really good, Carell especially so. Stories of addiction are necessarily cyclical so the father's emotional arc around his son's addiction is pivotal. It works for all audiences but will especially hit home for anyone who has ever dealt with addiction. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

 

Monsters and Men

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Reinaldo Marcus Green's debut film is powerful, effective, understated and relevant. It is about race and racial profiling in the US, but it is also very much about the moral dilemma of speaking up for what we believe. It feels pertinent to everyone, everywhere in these loudly divided times.

Manny (Anthony Ramos) is on his way home when he talks to Darius (Samel Edwards) who (like Eric Garner in 2014) is selling single cigarettes. Manny is a nice guy with a family and hope and when he happens to see, and film, the moment Darius is murdered by the police, he struggles to know how to behave. He knows what to do, but struggles because there could be consequences.

His story brings us to Officer Williams (John David Washington) who struggles with loyalty when events hit him, and in turn this leads to Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr) whose vision of escaping the Bronx becomes one of changing it.

The plot evolves through the three stories but despite the subject it focuses less on outrage and more on the moral aspects of doing the right thing. I loved it. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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