Tuesday 20 March 2018

The Bard written out of history


Aine O'Connor and Padraic McKiernan


Cert 12A

IN what might be considered an act of thespian treachery, none other than esteemed Shakespearian Derek Jacobi opens Anonymous. He introduces a Broadway play which offers a theory based largely on 17th-Century gossip -- namely that as Shakespeare was a poorly educated actor who left no manuscripts, raised illiterate daughters and stopped producing work long before he died, he was not the author of any of the plays ascribed to him. Instead, the plays were the work of the Earl of Oxford, written as art, but more as political intrigue, a means to incite the masses and influence the thorny issue of who would succeed Elizabeth I. An Elizabeth I utterly different to the image most usually portrayed.

Shocking indeed, but nowhere near as shocking as the fact that the director is Roland-CGI-pyrotechnics-massive-death-count-Emmerich. Working from a John Orloff screenplay, Emmerich goes directly to 1606, back to 1601 and then again to 40 years earlier, laying out the intricacies of the characters and their motives. The time-jumps are not always a success, the history and timeline don't entirely match the plot which is convoluted and overblown, the score is forgettable and the film goes on a little too long.

But it looks wonderful, the script is sharp, it has well- timed moments of humour, it's atmospheric and evocative, but entirely accessible to non-fans of period drama and fundamentally, the cast is great.

The tale is part narrated from the point of view of playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) oozing envious admiration, while Rhys Ifans plays Oxford beautifully and the mother-daughter casting of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as Elizabeth 40 years apart is very clever. There's solid support from David Thewlis, Xavier Samuel, Mark Rylance and Helen Baxendale, and Ed Hogg is wonderfully creepy as Robert Cecil.

Rafe Spall plays Shakespeare as a buffoon, which perhaps crosses a line at times, but the whole film is often over the top and the plot gets convoluted to the point of ridiculous melodrama. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Opens Friday


Cert 12A

IT didn't come as a surprise to read that Contagion director Steven Soderbergh is a major fan of the Seventies disaster movie genre. Post Sars and the bird flu scare, the backdrop to this star-studded spectacular is all too contemporary, but echoes of movies such as The Towering Inferno are readily discernible.

Gwyneth Paltrow's brain is depicted as the "ground zero" that acts as a conduit for a lethal virus to mutate and infect humans. We even get the graphic autopsy that proves it.

Paltrow has been travelling in Asia, and on her return to the US, is foaming at the mouth within days. Her husband, played by Matt Damon, seems immune, but unfortunately the same can't be said for their son, and when both die, the viral strain's potency is confirmed.

Meanwhile, in major centres of population across the globe, increasing numbers of citizens are showing the same flu-like symptoms, Enter Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard as just some of the epidemic experts tasked with finding a vaccine that will avert a global pandemic. Kate goes north to Minnesota; Marion Cotillard heads east to Asia; unfortunately, the movie's credibility rapidly goes south.

In the disaster movie genre, all too often it's a thin line between an Airport and spoof movie spectacular Airplane! Contagion, after a strong and convincing start, is eventually caught on the wrong side of that exclamation mark. There's a risible sub-plot involving Jude Law as a San Francisco-based blogger that had the unintended effect of putting me on the side of the virus. The discordant tying-up of loose ends at the conclusion only serves to remind how many of them were... dead ends.


Now showing

The Help

Cert 12A

AFTER having it rejected by more than 60 literary agents, Kathryn Stockett had little idea that her debut novel would be so loved but The Help -- her tale of life for black house maids in Mississippi in 1962 -- has sold more than five million copies.

However, much-loved novels often make hideously disappointing films and there were murmurs when Stockett gave (not sold) the film rights to her childhood friend, inexperienced writer/director Tate Taylor.

The subject matter is uniquely American, so we can know relatively little about the accuracy or otherwise of the dialogue for instance, but the theme is universal: humanity in the face of dehumanisation and the kind of people whose self-worth depends on the crushing of others.

Aibileen (Viola Davis) has lived her life as a maid, running white homes and raising their children under a system she knows to be unfair. But when one of the white women, Skeeter, (Emma Stone) proposes to document this unfairness, Aibileen refuses -- there is too much at risk. Events change her mind and she and her feisty friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) begin to tell Skeeter their stories, those from their back catalogue and the ones still generating in the racist, classist, sexist world they must visit every day.

Bryce Dallas Howard makes a wonderfully odious Miss Hilly, Sissy Spacek is perfect as her bewildered but wise mother, Ahna O'Reilly a suitably weak and cold Miss Leefolt (Aibileen's employer) and Jessica Chastain oozes sensuous cluelessness as Celia, one of Hilly's white targets. In all, this is an amazing, almost exclusively female, ensemble cast, which also includes Allison Janney and Cicely Tyson.

For all his lack of expertise, Taylor does the book justice. It does brush over pain in favour of feel-good, and in these moments it strays into Steel Magnolias territory, but often in terms of impact it hits Mississippi Burning. The schmaltz is thick in places and the soundtrack manipulative, but overall it works well. There is plenty for a male audience to enjoy, but it is really a mother-daughter, female friends night out effort.


Opens Friday

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