movie: A Royal Affair

June 22, 2012

Late Friday afternoon Mark Kermode blogged about this film, a quick check of the GFT web site I found it was showing just after 5.  From there it wasn’t a difficult decision since D is away for the weekend and this being a Danish period costume drama with subtitles, I’m fairly sure she wouldn’t have been interested.  But I will give most things at the GFT a try and if Kermode recommends it then why not?

Watching a movie I knew very little about before sitting down was unusual, but I enjoyed having no idea what was going to happen next or what direction it was going in.  It was only afterwards that I discovered this is a true story of the mentally troubled King Christian VII in 18th century Denmark who is manipulated and side-lined by his government.  Then the physician Johann Struensee uses his close relationship with the King to implement his own ideas of the emerging enlightenment making liberal reforms and implementing vast social changed, whilst falling in love and having an affair with the Queen.

There is no question that this is a beautifully shot film and while watching it I was completely engrossed in the period without it feeling too much like the costume drama that it obviously is.  The camera direction is subtly modern in style that you don’t normally see in such films and showing glimpses of peasant life clashing with the aristocracy again made the story feel very grounded in reality.  My only quibble would be that at 2hours 17min it was just a little bit too long and I found myself fidgeting to get comfortable by the end.

Whilst at one level this is a love triangle, it is also a political drama, a story of social upheaval, censorship and a bro-mance.  OK, there are no giant fighting robots or exploding helicopters in this film, but it is a truly stunning movie and as Mark Kermode said “if a Royal Affair isn’t in my top 10 at the end of this year, then it will have been a fantastic year.”


movie: The Angels’ Share

June 15, 2012

I’m not a big fan of Ken Loach style ‘social drama’ but with this movie, as the Independent review said “There is violence and deprivation but, for once, Loach provides a way out.”  The plot (and no spoilers will happen in this review) revolves around Robbie, who narrowly escapes jail because he is about to become a father and instead is given community service.  However Robbie’s resolution to turn his life around for the sake of his son isn’t easy when his partner’s father is a hard man who doesn’t want him around and that isn’t the only person literally after his blood.

Robbie is helped out by a Whisky loving social worker (excellently played by John Henshaw) who gives him a chance and introduces him to the world of Whiskey tasting.  From there the question is whether Robbie and his palls can find an escape from their circumstances.

Loach is quoted as saying there is a serious subtext to the film “At a time when youth unemployment has reached record levels, youngsters such as Robbie are being written off.”  However the subtext that struck me much more was the social division within different areas of Glasgow that was shown when Robbie and his girlfriend are offered a flat in the West End which is ‘a million miles away’ from the crashing with mates that he has been doing up till then.

But cinema is about entertainment and this movie had more laughs than shocks.  The Angel’s Share is being compared with classic Ealing Comedies such as Whiskey Galore, the Ladykillers and the Lavender Hill Mob and I really think this is one that will stand the test of time and be a pleasure to watch again and again.  There are some scenes of violence near the begining and a lot of swearing (certificate 15 is a bit surprising IMHO), but the clever story, slapstick humour and heartwarming comradeship shines through and makes this a very special story.

I’m not sure I’ve said this before about any film, but I kind of hope there is a sequel because I want to know what happens to these characters.

book: Tom Rob Smith “Child 44”

June 4, 2012

This thriller set in the terror of 1950s Stalinist Russia, wasn’t an easy book to get into but once it got going it was a truly good read up until almost the end (which was silly).  However, while at its core the book is about a serial killer murdering children across Russia in an unusual way –  the real story is more about how people live or rather survive in that society.

Communist Russia believed that it had created a perfect society, where officially there is no crime and therefore no murder.  So, if your child is killed you have to agree with the official story of an accident because to insist that a murder has happened is in itself a crime against the state which will put you and your family in prison.   With this social backdrop, when one man, Leo Demidov, a State security agent discovers these similar crimes he has to go outwith the system that can’t acknowledge that such criminals exist.

Now, as I mentioned, I found this a good read.  The plot was interesting, the main characters were well drawn and the struggle to survive from day to day interesting.  However the final ‘twist’ in reveling who the killer was was just a little to silly, far-fetched and unnecessary for me.  So, I’m not sure if I will read any of the others in this series just because I lost a lot of faith in the author at the end.