Thursday, 20 September 2012

The King's Speech: The Point of View Shot


The King's Speech (2010) has received a lot of critical praise for it's performers (Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter) and the first time I watched it, I myself was touched by the performances given by the leading actors. But on watching the film for the third time recently, I found my attention was drawn to the camera work and primarily, the use of the point of view shot.

Most of you who come across this blog will be familiar with the point of view shot, or the POV shot. For those of you who aren't, it is basically when the camera films in the place of the character - where we see what they are seeing from their perspective (as if we for a moment are their eyes watching). The King's Speech uses this technique to great effect by director Tom Hooper, and I will discuss how they are used well in the beginning and final scenes of the film.

Instantly with the film starting we are given our first example of the POV. There has been barely any dialogue yet, and unless you have read about the plot of the film, you don't know what the film is about. So, as an audience, we see the familiar face of Colin Firth, and here he is playing King George VI, (at this moment in the narrative he is still Prince Albert). Anyhow, we see a rather glum looking Prince is walking through some tunnels and eventually comes to some stairs. We already get the feeling that he seems a bit reluctant to ascend the stairs ahead of him, and with begrudging look he continues this trek to - we don't know where. The camera now cuts to a POV of the stairs, and the camera moves as the Prince moves, up and up until we reach an opening with a microphone in the middle, but as the camera moves higher, a stadium filled will thousands of people comes into view. As an audience, we understand that the Prince is to give a public speech of some sort, but as we see every single face of the thousand's in the crowd, turn to face him, this sudden feeling of stage fright overcomes us. We've all had to stand up and speak in front of people before whether it be in a school presentation or something, but that many people is a shocker, and as the audience you feel slightly on show. Of course, we know that this is the Prince and he should have no problems delivering a speech. But when the camera cuts back to the Prince, the feelings we felt are mirrored in his face except his face is filled with fear and discomfort. The little red light flashing and then going steady to show that he is now live on air is also shown via a POV. The use of these images creates this sense of pressure: you are the prince, here are your subjects, here is your speech, and now you are live on the radio. When the Prince can barely get a word out, we understand that he clearly has a problem with not only speaking publicly, but speaking generally - he stammers. This scene really sets the tone and feel for the picture, and solidifies our understanding of just how big a problem the Prince has, especially in relation to his job as Prince. By using the POV shot we see how the Prince feels completely on show, under pressure, and alone, regardless of his wife next to him, when his job requires him to speak publicly - he simply cannot do it. In many ways, this opening scene resembles that nightmare we have all had of turning up to school nude and every one is staring at you laughing, except this time the nightmare is a Prince being unable to speak to his people, leaving for an awkward and deafening silence in the stadium.

From my analysis and the screen caps used above we have seen how the POV shot was used to set the scene of the film, to help us understand how the Prince was when his fear was strong and all treatment for the problem had failed. Now we are going to look at the closing scenes of the film, when Prince Albert is now King George VI, and his treatment from speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) has not only helped him overcome this problem, but also reveal the underlying personal issues that began the stammer in the first place. It is the day after war has been declared on Germany, and the new King has to make a speech to his subjects about the upcoming hardships they will have to endure again. This speech is of huge important, for the country needs to be lead by it's King, and for that to be done he must deliver regular radio broadcasts that will lift the morale of the nation and let them know that they are not alone. So, how does Hooper makes this scene effective technically?

Once Bertie is in the room where he will give his radio broadcast with Lionel. Instead of a cold, open stadium, the setting is a small little room decorated with drapes - very cosy. We have a close-up of Bertie looking petrified and anxious with the microphone almost totally covering his face - he has no escape from the radio, he has to do this for his people. And now arrives our trusty device, the camera cuts to a POV shot of Lionel smiling, reading to conduct Bertie through his demons and through this speech - to lead him to victory. There are no crowds here, there is no open space, but instead a friendly face. The only friend Bertie has ever actually had. It's the same camera set-up with the same Prince except now he is King and now he has help. By using the same framework he used at the beginning of the picture, Hooper is showing us how much changed for Bertie and how much he has progressed since that cold day. Of course, this is followed by an inspiring speech, which by the way Lionel stop conducting Bertie have way through the speech. He does it all by himself.

It is a beautiful moment in cinema and a hugely moving one, especially when it is based on a true story. To watch this film as a Brit, knowing the truth behind it, I couldn't help but feel proud and patriotic about our former King overcoming all of his demons to do the job he didn't choose, but was given to do.

As a whole this film is really worth watching because it just sheds a completely different light on the Royal family. I don't want to debate about the Royal's, I actually like them, but sometimes we always think how come they get to be born into luxury and greatness. Why are they given that right? But the truth is sure they live in luxury and wear nice things, but they don't have a choice and this film highlights that. Prince Albert hated public speaking, he was very self-conscious, and never expected to be King, but when his brother abdicated he had no choice. He got on with it because it was his job. Could you honestly say that if you were a Prince and suddenly you had to become King and all the pressure was on you to lead your country to victory in a war against Nazi Germany that you would welcome it? You probably couldn't be bothered - let someone else do it! That's what we would probably say. Helena Bonham-Carter plays the Queen Mother in the picture (wonderfully too) and in one scene she tells of why she turned down Bertie the first two times he proposed - because she didn't want to live a life that wasn't her own, and it's true. She gained a lot from the marriage, a lovely family, a lovely homes, things that we could only ever dream to afford, but she did give up her freedom to do as she wanted. She had a duty to the public from the day she married Albert and that was that. This film really adds a human side to the Royal family - as Bertie says in the film whilst driving through town and looking at the common man, 'they know so little about me and I so little about them.' To us, the Royal family seem like such divine beings, but in this film we see a normal family, with two loving parents and their two lovely daughters. The father tells his children a bedtime story, the mother supports her husband with the troubles he encounters. This all sounds very familiar to families of our own doesn't it?

I think my favourite moment in the film is the finale when the King has delivered his speech magnificently, and he and his family step out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Another POV shot is used here showing the enormous crowds of people cheering on the Royal Family - the family that will lead them to victory, and who the public will look to for hope. It's a lot of pressure to be looking at too - so many people all depending on you. But the cheers and waves from the crowd welcome the family to their new home in Buckingham Palace, and those waves are reciprocated as the camera cuts to the family themselves, smiling and waving to their people. It's a beautiful moment that is shot exquisitely by Hooper.

The King's Speech is quite simply - a masterpiece. Loaded with hilarious moments between Rush and Firth, as well as many heartbreaking moments too, it is a wonderful journey that everybody should take part in. It truly is so beautifully shot, so magnificently acted, and so wonderfully moving, that you cannot miss it. You will fall in love with the film - the music and the scenery just throws you back to that era. I love the way most of the film is shot in cold or dreary weather conditions, mirroring the looming gloom of troubled times ahead.  It is a new classic in the film pantheon, and is without a doubt one of the greatest pictures I have ever seen.

P.S. If you look at the picture above of the scene where Lionel falls out with Bertie, was anyone else reminded of the final scene in The Third Man (1949)? I couldn't help but notice the similarity, it must have been a homage from Hooper!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Quick Review: Up In The Air

Jason Reitman's Up In The Air (2009) is one of those films I'd heard was good a few years ago and I was aware it had won awards, but I just never got round to watching. At least several times my boyfriend and I had got the DVD out ready to watch, yet always ended up watching another film instead. However, finally we put the film on and what a great film it turned out to be. Up In The Air is one of the loveliest, cleverest, most enjoyable comedies I have ever watched. Whenever I hear a comedy is nominated for an Oscar I usually find it's not actually that funny, but this really was, and then some. I found I was laughing genuinely instead of just finding some of the jokes slightly amusing, but also I wasn't laughing the entire way through, because there were moments of pathos where I got a bit teary. So there's a good mixture of things to expect in this film, and all of them are fantastic.

The plot is as follows: Ryan Bingham (Clooney) works for a company that is hired by other companies to fire it's employees. Bingham loves this life because it means he lives a life detached from reality and responsibility, he travels the world firing people, staying in hotels and has almost reached the 10 million air miles mark. The "dream life" he leads however, comes into jeopardy when a new employee, Natalie Keener (Kendrick) joins the team and pitches her idea of the company firing people via video call instead of needing to travel the world. Bingham of course hates this idea, especially having recently met the beautiful Alex Goran (Farmiga) who also spends most of her time in the air. So, the film follows Bingham and Natalie flying around the world doing their job in order for him to teach her how the job works, and how video calling people to fire them wouldn't work. A lot more happens in the film, but I don't want to give any of the film away.

The best thing about this picture aside from the brilliant script, is the cast. They really make the film come together and work as well as it does. The three leads are George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick. I first saw Kendrick in the Twilight films and even though I do not like those films I really liked her performance, and even though I didn't know who she was at the time, I remembered thinking how good she was. I also saw her in another, much better film this year, 50/50 (2011) where she played the therapist to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cancer patient, and she was great in that role too. But here in Up In The Air she really gets her chance to shine and next to such experienced actors as Clooney and Farmiga, she gives a performance in the same league as them. She is a hugely likeable actress, very sweet and great with comedy, and she is definitely someone we'll be seeing a lot more of in future.

The gorgeous Vera Farmiga plays a very sexy businesswoman whose job consists of a lot of air travel time, like Clooney, and they both meet at the airport one day and as you can guess, sparks fly. I have only seen Farmiga in The Departed (2006) and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008) but in both of those films she was moving in her role and convincing, as well as being very likeable (like Kendrick). There's a classiness to Farmiga that you rarely see in actresses these days. I'm not saying that there are no good actresses anymore, there are many. However, very few seem to have this classy, almost regal quality to them, so it's a real breath of fresh air to see Farmiga in a film. Not to mention the fact that she is ridiculously beautiful. Anyhow, she meets her match in Bingham, for they are both not looking for a relationship, just the benefits of both being very attracted to each other, getting on extremely well, and also having the ability to meet up on the job because they both fly a lot to the same locations.

George Clooney is a great actor, and it annoys me that he is more famous for his love life because he is actually a very talented individual. As far as comedy goes, he takes to it like a duck in water, he makes it look so easy and effortless, for example in this film and Burn After Reading (2008). But he can also excel in serious drama like Syriana (2005), a film which he won an Oscar for, and where his performance can be described as nothing below mesmerising. He has also proved himself critically in his directing abilities with Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) and The Ides of March (2011). So Clooney does have a very impressive filmography to his name, and his performance in Up In The Air is one huge gem in his career. He is perfect for the role, you really believe that this a guy that is loving life without the responsibilities, he doesn't bother with his family, he doesn't have a proper home, he just travels the world and does what he wants, when he wants. When he meets Natalie his philosophy on life with a family or a house etc being excess "baggage" (which by the way he gives lectures on) is put into question. The banter between Clooney and Kendrick is really great to watch, as well as his chemistry with Farmiga.

I will say no more because I will ruin the film and give the game away. But this is a must-see. It shows the life of the individualist coming to terms with the reality of his lifestyle, and the effect it has on other people (particularly his family). It boasts three wonderful performances from some of Hollywood's most talented actors (all of whom received an Oscar nod for their roles in this film). I put off watching this film for ages but I  am really glad that I finally gave it a go because I enjoyed it immensely. And the best bit about it? It didn't diverge into a typical Hollywood mushy ending, and not one part of the story was predictable. A truly great watch. My rating for this film? 9 out of 10/ 5 stars.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Witches: The Real Deal.


The scariest film I ever watched as a child was Nicolas Roeg's The Witches (1990). There were many scenes in films that scared me when I was little, like the two kids hiding in the kitchen from dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (1993) and the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), but nothing I saw as a child terrified me more than The Witches. I can still remember the sheer horror that struck me when the seemingly beautiful Grand High Witch (Angelica Huston) removed her mask, and although the other times I watched it I had to cover my eyes during that scene, I enjoyed the film because it was good scary. Watching it as an adult now I realised just how disturbing the film and Dahl's story actually is but when you're a kid this goes over your head, and the film is purely an adventure, with a few hide-behind-a-cushion moments.

But what makes this film work? It is such a fine balance to make a children's film both enjoyable and scary, yet so easy to fall into the unbelievable or unsuitable category. The Witches flopped on release unfortunately, which is probably the reason why it's not talked about as much in film or in comparison to Disney's hugely successful Hocus Pocus (1993). However I believe that this gives full credit to how good The Witches is, because other great films that flopped on release like It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and The Shawshank Redemption (1996) both keep appearing in peoples favourites. Via word of mouth and people telling each other you have to watch Shawshank, both films grew in popularity more and more. The Witches does not appear on those lists, and it is not a film that is always shown at Christmas like It's A Wonderful Life, but it has a huge following. Everyone I know, saw this film as a child and were terrified and loved it. If you mention The Witches in conversation with your friends they all say "ah I love that film, she (Huston) was so scary!" Even on, The Witches is 0.6 points ahead of Hocus Pocus (6.1). Commercial success does not necessarily mean that a film isn't good, and as far as The Witches and it's following are concerned, it also shows that a film's greatness is given a more truthful understanding by it's impact on audiences years after it's release.

So, what makes this film so successful? Lovers of the book have complained that changes were made and even Roald Dahl was annoyed at the happy ending, but what many agree on is that the director Roeg kept the essence of the book. This is key to all Dahl adaptations - you cannot replace the disturbing/scariness of the book with plain weirdness (take note Tim Burton). That's why Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory(1971), Matilda (1996) and James and the Giant Peach (1996) all worked, because the scary element was still there, particularly the idea of children on their own against the adult world. The Witches is widely known to be the most disturbing of Dahl's stories, and perhaps it's being directed by a man known for being able to make a good horror picture (Roeg's Don't Look Now), I guess you could call it a match made in heaven.

Now to look at the film in more detail...

Firstly, the film starts perfectly. The opening titles has the camera traveling rapidly across continuous snowy mountains (possibly Norwegian as that is our starting location) which is already quite a bizarre way to start a picture. With these images we also have a really fantastic soundtrack from the one and only Stanley Myers, a weird mix of daunting and mysterious sounds, juxtaposed with a merry, joyous and somewhat magical ensemble that for me, just oozes 90s children's fantasy. Anyhow, this music and the mountains is a great start for the picture, it just seems to put you in a good mood, and wonder where we are travelling too? I love it.

Before long we find ourselves in a cosy room with a grandmother and her grandson, Luke, making candles. This of course isn't as innocent a scene as it sounds because we are immediately thrown into the middle of their conversation: she is telling him all about witches. Now this is quite a while before any of the action has really started, this is just a build-up, but already what we hear is disturbing. She tells of how witches despise children and spend their lives destroying them. How witches have no toes, no hair, and purple tinted eyes, meaning that they wear wigs that make them itch, and sensible shoes. Perhaps the scariest detail the grandmother tells us is that witches can smell a child, even if they are across the road, and most especially if they have washed. To hear this as a child was really scary. I remember the slight panic in my stomach at those words, the glance I gave out the window... a witch can smell you?! Really a genius thought from Dahl, and wonderfully presented in this film. Whilst the grandmother gives all of these facts of course the camera keeps cutting to flashbacks of a horrible witch and her child victim - one of the grandmother's childhood friends. This is really clever because us hearing the grandmother say that her best friend was taken by a witch makes it so much more convincing, she is a witness. And when the grandmother shows Luke her hand where one of the fingers is missing, she states that it was from trying to escape a witch. So her account and everything we are being told is first hand evidence.

This conversation continues for quite some time, including how witches dispose of children (the grandmother's best friend was locked in a painting for the rest of her life) and how there is a Grand High Witch who is in charge of all witches. All of these facts form a solid foundation for us to think about witches, even doubt the grandmother, but also feel slightly nervous that the grandmother's stories might actually true. Luke's parents die that night in a car accident, and the grandmother takes him back to England where he gets some pet mice for his birthday. So the story of witches takes a break for about 5-10minutes of the film, it focuses on the boy and his grandmother. But we do have one very interesting incident when Luke encounters a real witch for the first time, luckily from his tree house. This scene is pretty powerful for a child because Luke is doing what we all did as children - playing outside on their own in the garden. Whilst up in his tree house, we see a glamorous woman, dressed in a smart black suit appear in the background. She is wrinkling her nose in disgust, like she has smelt something revolting (the audience immediately wonders if she is a witch after the grandmother's story). Her head is looking around frantically until she spots Luke up in the tree. Her stare stays on him until she reaches the bottom of the tree. She starts talking to him and offers him a present, but whilst she speaks with him she removes her sunglasses, revealing bright purple eyes. To this, Luke gasps - it's a witch! And we the audience are genuinely worried for Luke at this moment. The scene continues with the witch offering him a snake, a bar of chocolate, and even knowing his name when he refuses to tell her it (showing her magic). Luckily because of what his grandmother has told him, Luke does not fall for her gifts and shouts for his grandmother, who starts coming over to him just in time. The witch quickly walks off as soon as the adult is close, leaving the snake on the wall for Luke. By the time the grandmother arrives, the snake has disappeared, and the camera cuts to the witch walking down a lane pulling the same snake out of her handbrake - again showing her magical powers. Luke tells his grandmother and she believes him.

So after this incident, the audience is left thinking witches DO exist, we just saw one - we saw her eyes, her magic, and she was trying to lure the boy. We really don't know where the story will go from here, but all we know is that witches are real and they do not like children. The grandmother is shortly diagnosed with diabetes and after being recommended to take a holiday for some rest, she and Luke go away to a seaside hotel - which already looks eerie against the grey sky and with the spooky music accompanying the shot. Little do they know, or we for that matter, that Luke and his grandmother could not have picked a more worse time to stay in that hotel.

I've explained the film in quite a bit of detail now but this was only to show how witches are introduced and how the audience is influenced into believing in them, etc. I will only talk about a few final points with this film.

By the time we reach the hotel, there is one actress who steals the show from the grandmother, Luke, and the director, and that is Anjelica Huston. She plays the Grand High Witch and my oh my has there ever been a woman more terrifying than Huston in this picture? I really don't think so. She makes Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris in Matilda) look like Minnie Mouse. There is a regal quality to Huston that she has always possessed, and she really gets to have fun in this film which I think makes her performance that much greater. The Grand High Witch is the most evil woman in existence, but our first impression of her is that she is a vain snob. Huston gives her a strong German accent and walks around with her head held high. She looks absolutely stunning and like a real movie star, but of course the horror she reveals in the witches meeting when she removes her wig/mask is a real shocker if you've never seen it before. She stands there at the front of the hall, on a stage and yells, "Are ze doorz larrcked and bvolted?!' Once the security of the room is confirmed, all of the witches remove their shoes and wigs - which is horrible enough. Then Huston holds her wig back, peels the skin of her forehead away, and with the help of her assistant tugging, they begin to remove what is actually a beautiful mask. Here we have one of the most shocking, revolting and terrifying moments in film - the true face of the Grand High Witch. 21 years after the film was made and the prosthetics/make-up used to create this foul witch have stood the test of time, looking more real and more horrifying than any modern day effects could even try to do.

Of course, to make the prosthetics work you need a good actress, and Huston embraces the role and truly becomes the witch. The transformation leads to her voice becoming harsher and throatier, striking fear into all of the witches. Her movements are creepy and involve a lot of waving of the arms and hands (which are also brilliantly transformed into gross claws). She is full of authority, and by using her arms/hands to express and give extra force to her words, she commands the room with prestige. As far as the audience are concerned, this isn't Huston in make-up, this is THE Grand High Witch, and as she goes on to discuss her formula that will wipe out every child in England, she becomes more and more hideous. She even destroys another witch in front of our very eyes because she dared question her. She is a monstrous and sickening woman, and I can't imagine any other actress than Huston pulling her off. She is both terrifying and comic, some of the lines she delivers do make you laugh, regardless of how they are.

This isn't the only great example of special effects in the film however, for the mouse puppets too are super realistic. The mice Bruno and Luke turn into are adorable, cute, and very real, adding a lighter touch to the dark reality that they may never be human again, and allowing children to breathe a sigh of relief at these cute furry things onscreen. Once they are mice, a lot of the camera work uses point of view shots from their perspective, so for a short while in the film you feel like you too are a mouse, everything is bigger and there is danger everywhere. Considering The Witches is mainly famous for Huston, the mice are equally as wonderful to watch, especially when Luke takes it upon himself to stop the witches, becoming brave little Luke the mouse.

Aside from the odd scare, The Witches is actually a very funny film, with Rowan Atkinson playing the hilarious hotel owner trying to cover up his shabby standards and Bill Paterson as the customer from hell picking up on every tiny flaw the hotel has. It is also really exciting for children which helps lift them out of the horror of the witches, and instead into the adventure of Luke becoming a mouse and trying to stop them. Even some tense and edge-of-seat scenes like when Huston pushes a baby pram down the cliff, when Luke and Bruno are turned into mice, and the soup scene, all contain the perfect amount of scariness. Watching the film as an adult I think the most disturbing thing about the picture was the fact that the witches in the hotel are all staying under the pretense that they are part of the NSPCC.

There's nothing really more to say about this film without taking away the magic of it so I think I'll stop myself here. But this really is a masterpiece in children's filmmaking. It is scary enough to scare a child and stay true to the Dahl story, but it is enjoyable enough so that kids are still able to watch the film instead of wanting to turn it off. Huston is superb, everyone in this film makes it the wonderful film it is. If we are going to compare it to other children's films about witches, then The Witches is far superior. Although Hocus Pocus is very enjoyable, it is a more tame version, more Halloween-ey. The Witches, on the other hand, is the real deal, and no witch I have ever seen on film beats Huston. The happy ending may annoy you if you are a fan of the book, but maybe a child would be too upset and scared if Luke remained a mouse for the rest of his life. What seems a good ending in a book for a child, could be really disturbing when shown to them on film. If I had to give The Witches a rating, then I would give it 4 stars. One of the most enjoyable family films that any one from any age group will love.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Sense and Sensibility: The Perfect Film?


Sense and Sensibility is one of the few films that I have watched countless times since I was a child, yet never bored of. Every time I sit down to watch it, it feels fresh, new, and exciting, and never fails to make me burst out laughing at it's witty dialogue, nor cry at it's beautifully acted performances. Watching it last night for the millionth time really reminded me that this film is, in one word - perfection. The film is about as British as you can get, and being a Brit I absolutely love this about it (yes I am probably biased here). However, we must remember that the director is non-other than Taiwan's Ang Lee, but I can tell you now that no British director could have filmed this adaptation better. Lee masterfully directs the scenes and really makes us feel a part of this world of the Dashwood sisters, and not overpowering us with shots of Georgian architecture or the British countryside. It's focus is the characters and their lives rather than overdoing the feel of the period e.g. the ballroom scene in London has no real establishing shots, whereas in other period dramas, they would have packed them in. Chris Tookey has said that Lee allows the screenplay to speak for itself, trusting the actors to do their magic, and he's spot on. For once, and I find that films today could take note of Lee's work here, that the camera shots, locations, period, costumes, etc, are taking a backseat to the script and the actors, therefore totally involving in the narrative. But maybe that's why this film works, because Lee knows that you do not need to show-off the fancy sets, rather focus on the screenplay and characters, allowing the scenery etc to speak for itself. 

Apart from adapting the novel and writing the screenplay herself whilst not losing the essence of the story, Emma Thompson also plays one of the leading characters. It is a really interesting part she plays because throughout the duration of the film her character, Elinor Dashwood, is hiding her feelings, not confiding how she feels about Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) to anybody, and not telling a soul about her finding out that Edward is in fact already engaged. To be able to act convincingly like a woman who has fallen in love and found out that he is in fact already engaged is remarkable. When you watch Thompson in this film she is very understated, quiet, reserved and not revealing anything, but not lacking in humour or honesty in her opinions. She does not fade into the background at all. She is a strong character regardless of her reservedness, because she is also the eldest sister. What is most endearing about her performance is the fact that she looks so melancholy always, and you see her, a young woman with so many secrets kept hidden, with all the money and marriage worries of her family on her shoulders, that when she finally explodes into tears and sobs at the end of the picture we feel a relief ourselves. Her performance is an intense one, and I believe it is her solidity in the picture that allows the other actors to bounce off of her and fulfill their potential in their roles.

Kate Winslet's performance as Marianne Dashwood is really a credit to her as a hugely talented actress. She was very young in this film, around 20 years old, and yet she plays the role so professionally that you would think she had been acting in film longer than some of it's other more experienced actors. The character of Marianne is a very young, naiive woman who believes in love and dying for love. Whereas some actresses might have said Marianne's lines without avoiding sounding stupid or cheesy, Winslet speaks them convincingly, sounding completely innocent. It's not the nicest feeling as you watch Marianne fall for Willoughby (Greg Wise) because you're just dreading the heartbreak that you know she will encounter before long. By the end you are kind of happy that he broke her heart because it meant that she married the wonderful Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) a loving and deserving man whom she never really gave a chance before (sidelining him because he was much older than her). I think if anyone has had to watch a friend be lead on, heartbroken, or even been the heartbroken one themselves, then they can really connect with Marianne. The delight and excitement she exudes upon first meeting Willoughby has doom written all over it, and it doesn't get much doomier or gloomier than when she walks to Combe Magna in the rain.

Thompson and Winslet definitely steal the show - both are at their absolute best. However every other performer in this beautiful production does an outstanding job of bringing the novel to life and making every single second of this film enjoyable. Hugh Grant is only ever in chick flick after chick flick these days and although he's always good, he is never really given a chance to do something different to the smooth-talking British charmer. But here he really shines as the ridiculously awkward but very sweet Edward, who is torn between the commitment he made to another woman when he was very young, and the deep love he now feels for Elinor. In fact, I think it's safe to say that this is the only Hugh Grant film where I feel like he isn't playing Hugh Grant.

The rest of the supporting cast features a real treasure of British talent, including Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Elizabeth Spriggs, Robert Hardy and Gemma Jones to name a handful, all provide laugh after laugh, and making it feel like we peeping through the keyhole of a group of people from Georgian England. Even the youngest Dashwood played by Emilie Francois is sublime in this period drama that really exceeds itself with every viewing.

One cannot talk of Sense and Sensibility without applauding Alan Rickman's performance as Colonel Brandon, a man with a tragic past who falls in love with Marianne. He is the best of men who is a good friend to all. As far as performances that make women fall in love with the character go, Colonel Brandon is up there as one of the best. There is an air of unquestionable dignity and honour, even heroism, when he walks into the room. Rickman really gives off an aura of a brave Colonel who has fought many battles - physical and emotional. The first time he sees Marianne singing and playing the piano is really intense - he seems completely spellbound by her voice and beauty, to the point where you feel slightly rude that you have witnessed such a personal moment for the character. It is really terrible that many young people only know Rickman as Professor Snape, for although he was outstanding and perfect in that role, he has done so many more amazing things on screen.

Of course, what really merges the direction of Lee with the brilliance of the acting in this picture, is the stunning score composed by Patrick Doyle. Very solemn for the scenes where you are tearing up, and dramatically joyous for the happy ones. Doyle's score is one of those wonderful occurences in movies when you cannot imagine a film without that particular soundtrack, where the score elevates the film to another level because it manages to express, via music, the feelings, trials and events of the characters lives beautifully.

Sense and Sensibility is one of the greatest films of all time. With a storyline that will make you laugh and cry just as much as any other comedy or romance will, and without being cheesy or crude. I cannot understand how anybody wouldn't enjoy it - it hits just the right note. If you ever catch this on television, then please watch it, I promise it will become one of your all-time favourite films. A masterpiece in directing. A masterpiece in acting. A masterpiece in film.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Bhowani Junction (1956)

WARNING! Spoiler Alert.

George Cukor's 1956 picture Bhowani Junction takes place during the time where India no longer wanted to be ruled under the British after the Second World War. It follows the work of the British army trying to keep order (and not in the most humane ways) against the rebelling Indians who protest against the British rule.

Cukor tries desperately to make this a true telling of the plight of the Indian people's fight for independence, and in many ways he achieves this. There are some fantastic scenes which show hundreds of Indians protesting and being forced back by the British either by threat of violence, or, as in one scene involving a train protest, by throwing sewage water on the protestors. The scenes which highlighted the mistreatment of Indians were done well and being a Brit myself, I did feel embarrassed if this was actually true. However, like so many of Hollywood's films where they try to show a strong political or moral message, it slowly falls into the background of the film, whilst the focus centres on the two leading characters, and their romance.

I was looking forward to seeing Ava Gardner in this film as I knew it would be a more demanding role, that she says herself in her autobiography was emotionally exhausting (i.e. the attempted rape scene). She played Victoria - a woman born in India, to an Indian mother and a British father - you see where this is going don't you? All her life, Victoria has felt that she belonged nowhere due to her dual heritage - to Indians she is British, to the British she is India - and with the political situation in India at the time, she finds this conflict between both sides of her heritage inside her hit its peak. Gardner is convincing as being part-Indian/part-British, and she does convey the conflicting feelings she is enduring very well. I do not think this is her at her best however, I think she does better in Mogambo (1953). Some scenes were particularly strong from her, like when she cannot bare to watch the Indian protestors be covered in sewage, when she cannot go through with her Sikh wedding, and a good few scenes where she has a go at certain British officers - I would not want to have gotten on the wrong side of Ava Gardner after seeing this picture! The attempted rape scene is done very well, taking place on the night of backlash after the sewage incident, and many Indians begin rioting, causing chaos and setting fire to buildings. No British person is safe that night, but of course Victoria walks home alone anyway. It is very dark and she is completely alone walking by the railway line. There is total silence except for footsteps, and even I was scared for her - walking home alone in the dark is a horrible and scary experience, you feel totally paranoid and on edge, and I think Cukor and Gardner pulled this one off magnificently.

There are a few more of Ava's films from the late 1950s I want to see as I have heard that they are more demanding of her talents. She also looks lovely here but noticeably older. I know Ava loved to dance and drink all night around the clubs of LA, and I don't blame her for loving that lifestyle. But I do wonder if it's already beginning to show in her face in Bhowani Junction. She still looks strikingly beautiful, and we know that although Colonel Rodney Savage (Stewart Granger) is rude and dismissive with her at the beginning, that he will fall in love with her by the end of the picture.

Stewart Granger is not highly talked about in film today, but I must say I do like him a lot. I may have only seen him in the terrible Rita Hayworth picture Salome (1953) where he played a handsome Roman solider, even though he was not given the best part, he was definitely one of the better elements of the film. In Bhowani he is very good. He seems like a really strict, no-nonsense English colonel. He gives orders expecting them to be obeyed, and sticks to his plans without a care of whom objects. This is all given with great authority and a good deal of presence, which I hadn't seen in Granger before, also allowing for his harsh scenes with the Indian protestors all the more effective, because he is believable. Granger looks super handsome in this role as well.

Granger's character Col. Savage is very hostile towards Indians, including Victoria (Gardner), whom he is incredibly rude to during the first half of the picture. Of course, true to Hollywood form, when Victoria realises that she cannot be totally Indian or any single one of her nationalities, Savage is the one there who understands and comforts her. He even rescues her from interrogation surrounding her near rape. Even though this situation is very Hollywood-ey, it is not unrealistic at all, in fact, it is a very believable romance that builds nicely and steadily throughout the film. You can see straight from the beginning that although these characters are very different: one is very one-sided in his tactics and a total professional, whilst the other understands both sides and is from both sides, so they are inevitably going to clash. But at the same time, this enormous difference between them underlies huge similarities and a mutual understanding, and eventually they find each other. I did wonder whether Savage at the beginning was just being a professional and following his orders, and not letting a beautiful woman like Victoria distract him from his duty, however he gradually gets to know her, and her him, and so the romance blooms.

This love story is ruined slightly by the film's very abrupt ending. After Savage has successfully stopped an Indian rebel 'bad guy' who tried to blow up the train Mahatma Gandhi was travelling on (a pretty serious and interesting addition to the narrative) he is sent back to England. The love story then takes on a cheesy and highly unbelievable turn when we take into account the characters journeys we just witnessed for two hours. I think it would have been more realistic if Victoria went back to England with Savage, as India hadn't worked out for her, and he was the only person she felt she belonged with. Instead, she says that she has to stay (even though she doesn't fit in there, surely try some place else?) to which Savage, who has shown himself to be a strong character goes all gooey and dah-dah, declaring that he will come to India for her and how happy they will be. After saying goodbye to her on the train platform, he tells a fellow colleague of this romance, to which the colleague says he will put in a good word so that he can move back to India sooner. All of this happens in the space of five minutes by the way, and I think it's quickness is so that we cannot dwell on the fairytale and unbelievability of it all.

All in all, a decent film - I'd give it 3.5/5 - between worth a watch and very good. Many critics will disagree with me, but I enjoyed it more than I expected too (perhaps Granger's handsome face had something to do with that!). A lovely and believable romance until the finale, with two solid leads, and a good telling of the fight for independence by the people of India during that time. If it's on television one afternoon and you have nothing else to do, give it a go, I'm sure you will enjoy it.