Posts Tagged ‘Emily Watson’

The Doomsday Protocol

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Jeff Bridges, Edward Holcroft, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Michael Gambon

Director Matthew Vaughn follows up his 2015 comic book spy debut Kingsman: The Secret Service with a more robust and intensely invested sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle with a bigger cast and lavish sets reuniting Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) with his A Single Man co-star fellow Oscar winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice) who plays the delusional and garish villain Poppy.

Hot young star Taron Egerton reprises his role of Eggsy, street boy turned bespoke spy, joined by Mark Strong as Merlin who go on an international mission to discover who is destroying The Kingsman headed up by a briefly glimpsed Michael Gambon.

The Kingsman soon join forces with their American counterparts including Channing Tatum as Tequila and Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall) as Whiskey who make up the Statesmen an independent espionage agency housed in a whiskey distillery in Tennessee who come to their aid in tracking down Poppy and her evil plan of causing all drug users in the world to die through lacing their fix with a lethal concoction which causes purple veins, paralysis and death.

As Kingsman adopt the Doomsday Protocol, Eggsy and Merlin embark on a dangerous mission with the help of Whiskey as they travel to the Italian Alps to retrieve an antidote in an action packed ski cable car sequence which is clearly a skit on the 007 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Even Poppy’s drug liar deep in the Cambodian jungle, aptly named Poppyland is a skit on another Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

While the action in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is clearly hyper-visualized and the plot is completely outlandish, it’s the sort of Saturday afternoon popcorn film which is pure escapism even though its subliminal messages are morally questionable.

With Oscar winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) as Statesman tech genius Ginger, The Kingsman: Golden Circle is a clear skit on the 007 franchise with a more lurid twist making our dapper hero Eggsy appealing to the millennial’s and definitely is more successful as a cleverly cast spy caper.

If audiences enjoyed the first Kingsman, then they will enjoy this extravagant and better orchestrated sequel. Kingsman: The Golden Circle gets a Film Rating 7 out of 10.

 

 

The Virtues of Vera

Testament of Youth

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Director: James Kent

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell, Miranda Richardson, Colin Morgan, Joanna Scanlan

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has come a long way from her vivacious debut  as Kitty in Joe Wright’s film Anna Karenina.

In director James Kent’s film adaptation of the 1930’s novel Testament of Youth, Vikander plays aspiring novelist and soon to be pacifist Vera Brittain. The film opens in an idyllic setting  resembling an English summer garden with Vera and her brother Edward played by rising star Taron Egerton, last seen in Legend along with his friends Victor Richardson played by Colin Morgan and the dashing Roland Leighton, wonderfully played by Kit Harrington of the hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

As a petulant young woman, Brittain objects to her father buying her a piano and strongly presents her case to her parents played by Emily Watson and Dominic West that all she really desires is to go to Oxford and study literature and classics.

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At the outset of Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain is portrayed as a strong-minded young woman who was extremely close to her brother Edward and his group of friends which were all destined to study at Oxford. Destiny has different plans when in 1914, Europe is plunged into the bloody and brutal First World War, which initially everyone who enlisted thought would only lost a couple of months.

Her brother and his friends all enrol into the British army and go and fight in France, in the muddy trenches and soon the War develops into a brutal protracted affair. Vera soon abandons her plans for Oxford and enrols to be a nurse to assist the war effort.

Unlike Joe Wright’s brilliant and beautiful adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement about doomed love during the Second World War, Testament of Youth does not maintain the same emotional resonance although dealing with similar themes. Vikander holds her own as the passionate and outspoken Vera Brittain.

Her quest to find her brother Edward, leads her to the front lines in France in 1917 where she is forced to take care not only for wounded British soldiers but also for the wounded and dying German soldiers, making her realize that despite the politics, war effects everyone equally, a devastating loss for both the victorious and defeated nations.

Which is precisely why over a hundred years later, Armistice Day is still celebrated on the 11th November as a commemoration of those countless lives sacrificed during World War 1 and a warning about the perils of embarking on future wars which is especially relevant in the conflict strewn geo-political arena of the 21st century.

After World War 1, Vera Brittain became a vocal pacifist and an anti-war campaigner. She dealt with her huge grief by publishing all the letters of her brother and his friends as well as her own memoirs in 1933 of that horrific time during the war, where she witnessed the brutality and infinite loss of life first hand as a nurse.

Testament of Youth is a fascinating look at the naivety of war through the eyes of a generation which were obliterated by its devastating effects. At some point the film, does not manage to maximise the emotional resonance, which films like Atonement and The English Patient did so brilliantly.

Nevertheless Testament of Youth remains a damning anti-war indictment and an accurate historical portrait of a lost generation, right down to the soft focus production design and period costumes.

Audiences should look out for cameo appearances by Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) as well as Miranda Richardson (The Young Victoria, Damage) as the stern Oxford professor who recognizes Vera Brittain’s potential as a young writer. Recommended viewing for ardent fans of historical cinema.

Source: Vera Brittain

 

Infinite Probability of Happiness

The Theory of Everything

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Director: James Marsh

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Alice Orr-Ewing

Shadow Dancer director James Marsh delivers a fine, subtle film about the early Cambridge years of the brilliant theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything so remarkably portrayed on screen by Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) that he become one of the youngest best actor Oscar winners at the age of 33.

Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking from gangly awkward scientist in the early 1960’s, through to his courtship of the lovely Jane Wilde, beautifully portrayed by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman, Hysteria) to his devastating diagnosis of the life altering motor neurone disease is absolutely phenomenal. The expressive face of Eddie Redmayne, his physical contortions in portraying Hawking is beyond superb as the Professor grapples with the horrendous paradox of being intellectually gifted yet physically crippled as the motor neurone disease takes effect on his body, limiting his speech, his ability to walk and even to eat properly.

Despite this crippling diagnosis, Professor Hawking and his wife Jane, manage to produce three children so obviously his reproductive abilities weren’t affected by the disease as weren’t his mental capabilities in which he managed to expound the Big Bang Theory and then later to disprove it in his ground breaking novel, A Brief History of Time, which sold millions of copies worldwide and propelled him to international fame http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking.

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The intellectual conflict in the film between Jane’s Church of England upbringing and Hawking’s cosmic atheism is delicately portrayed. One the most poignant moments is when Jane Hawking confides in her mother played by Emily Watson that she cannot cope with her husband’s crippling disability and having to bring up several children simultaneously. Her mother’s advice is typically English and suggests she should join the Church Choir. During Choir practice, Jane meets the able bodied and charming choral master Jonathan, played against type by Irish actor Charlie Cox, who soon befriends Jane and her famous wheelchair bound husband, Professor Hawking.

Unnaturally this seemingly impossible ménage-a-trios is not set to last as soon Hawking’s motor neuron disease takes a turn for the worst after he collapses during a Wagner concert in Bordeaux. Jane Hawking soon realizes that she is going to require a full time care giver to look after her famous yet incapacitated husband. The fact that the caregiver looks like a 1960’s Bond girl is testament to Hawking’s own flirtatious nature and soon through the aide of an American sounding computerized voice he informs Jane that him and the caregiver are flying to America together.

The mathematical probability of happiness is discovered in all its infinity as soon as Jane and Stephen find partners suitable for their own physical requirements, and this eventual separation becomes the emotional crux of The Theory of Everything, apart from the bleak physical disabilities and momentous scientific breakthroughs which has characterized a highly unconventional marriage.

Despite some directorial embellishments, James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is a well-structured and sensitive portrayal of one of the world’s most famous Physicists who despite all the odds and being unable to speak or walk, manages to expand a theory of time which transforms all future scientific endeavour and quantitative research. Hawking’s insatiable will to survive is testament to the power of the human spirit, considering he was given two years to live at the start of his diagnosis.

At the centre of this film, based upon Jane Hawking’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen is a story of a very challenging marriage and of a couple whose determination to overcome every physical and emotional obstacle eventually led to their separation yet ultimately finding their own individual fulfillment.

The casting of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones is critical to this film’s success as they both give exceptionally meticulously and ranged performance of Stephen and Jane Hawking which is all the more admirable for portraying such venerated and surviving figures of the British academic establishment.

The Theory of Everything is brilliant cinema, and highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed films such as My Left Foot and Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

This is first rate acting at its best and has proven beyond doubt that Redmayne and Jones are truly gifted screen actors with an infinite career ahead of them. The soft focus cinematography of the entire film gives Cambridge a hallowed glow that ensures the audience gets a feeling that they too are watching a miracle, ably assisted by an exceptional musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

 

 

 

 

The Zong Massacre

Belle

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Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Tom Felton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Sarah Gadon, James Norton

South African British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed race woman who has the fortune to be rescued by her father and installed at the Hampstead home of his Uncle William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, who also happens to be the Lord Chief Justice for the infamous Zong trial which featured prominently in British society at the end of the 18th century.

The Zong Massacre – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zong_massacre revolved around a British slave ship which jettisoned half its cargo including a great many slaves in the West Indies, drowning them in the Caribbean Sea because there was not enough drinking water on board the slave ship while heading from modern day Ghana to Jamaica.

The Liverpool merchant owners of the slave ship sought insurance compensation for lost cargo which caused a public trial and an outcry back in England as it highlighted the horrors of the 18th century slave trade, naturally bringing up the age old question of can there ever be a price put on a human life. The history of the Zong trial and the massacre of the slaves on board takes centre stage in director Amma Asante’s riveting and slightly contrived social-historical drama Belle.

Like Amazing Grace, Belle centres on the last decades of the British slave trade and portrays a society on the brink of change. Set in England in the 18th century under the reign of King George III (the mad one!), Dido Elizabeth Belle –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dido_Elizabeth_Belle tells the story of Dido Belle a mixed race heiress and under the guardianship of Lord Mansfield must navigate her way despite her title and wealth through the apparent prejudices of 18th century British society.

Dido_Elizabeth_BellePainting by Johann Zoffany, 1779

Accompanied by her first cousin Elizabeth Murray, played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method), who was without a dowry, Belle and Elizabeth need to secure suitable husbands, both of which apparently come in the form of the Ashford brothers James and Oliver played by British actors James Norton (Rush) and Tom Felton of the Harry Potter franchise.

However Belle or Dido as she is referred to in the film has her sights set on an ambitious abolitionist lawyer John Davinier, played by Australian actor Sam Reid (Anonymous) who is assisting the 1st Earl of Mansfield in the legal case regarding the Zong Question as it was politely known in 1783.

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Ably assisted by a consummate script written by Misan Sagay, Belle is an absorbing and intelligent social-historical drama, similar to the Michael Apted film Amazing Grace with less of the apparent cruelty of Steve McQueen’s Oscar winning film 12 Years a Slave.

Belle, along with a nuanced performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw features a superb supporting cast including Emily Watson (The Book Thief), Penelope Wilton (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel & Downton Abbey series) and the brilliant Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) as the Earl of Mansfield who takes Belle under his guardianship at Kenwood House, Hampstead.

This is a fascinating portrait of England at the end of the 18th century, whereby race and politics as well as class and legitimacy ruled a conservative society constricted further by prejudice and ruled by desire for European commercial superiority, which despite its horrors was the main reason that the slave trade come into existence and historically changed  the West African, European and Caribbean demographics. For lovers of historical drama with a social conscience, Belle is recommended viewing and an exceptionally interesting film.

Death as the Narrator

The Book Thief

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Director: Brian Percival

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nelisse, Kirsten Block, Nico Liersch, Rainer Bock, Ben Schnetzer

The cinematic adaptation of Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel The Book Thief by screenwriter Michael Petroni retains the central theme of Death as the Narrator, particularly appropriate as it follows the life of Liesel as she is adopted by a German family in a smaller village on the brink of World War II and the encroaching tide of Nazism which was to engulf Germany and lead it into War.

The BBC hit series Downton Abbey British director Brian Percival’s adaption of The Book Thief like the novel focuses on the story of Liesel Meminger beautifully played by Sophie Nelisse and her friendship with a local German boy Rudi Steiner wonderfully played by Nico Liersch and essentially the narrative is framed by a child’s vision of a brutal and cruel world in which books are being burned and oppression is rife.

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Percival sticks to framing the fortunes of Liesel and her adopted parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann superbly played by Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) and Emily Watson (War Horse) and the young girls desire to become completely literate discovering words as a means to heal the loss of her brother and make sense of the anarchy and horror of approaching war which is about to disrupt their tranquil existence.

To complicate matters, the Hubermanns harbour a Jewish refugee Max played by Ben Schnetzer as part of a debt that Herr Hubermann had to a deceased German Jewish man who saved his life during the First World War, bringing the sense that War begets War. Liesel strikes up a friendship with the youth in the cellar, wonderfully sensitive performance who soon realizes that by remaining there he is putting the lives of the entire family at risk as the Nazi’s edge closer to the final solution, Hitler’s plan to exterminate all the Jews in the Nazi Reich, which included all German occupied territories and those countries like Poland conquered during the German invasion during World War II. In a reverse of the bombing of wartime London in Stephen Frears’s magnificent film Mrs Henderson Presents, The Book Thief shows the average German civilian population also being stuck in bunkers as the Allies bombed their towns and cities.

The Book Thief is not about taking sides or points of view whether German or Allied, but effectively illustrates the inevitability of death, especially as it narrates life more poignantly and aggressively in times of war and the tragic effect it has on children. Death in this case is a voice over throughout the film, narrated by Roger Allam, discussing quite elegantly the taking of souls as people die. Grim stuff indeed, but made so lyrical by the hauntingly beautiful musical score by John Williams, The Book Thief‘s only Oscar nomination for 2014.

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The film is lyrical, irrepressible, sad and brilliantly acted especially by the young stars Nelisse and Liersch as the adult actors (Rush and Watson) stand back and allow these thespian proteges to shine so beautifully in such a sombre story of repression, devastation and loss. Recommended viewing for cinema lovers that enjoyed films like Stephen Daldry’s Oscar winning film The Reader or Michael Haneke’s excellent Austrian foreign language film The White Ribbon. German film actors Kirsten Block (The Reader) and Rainer Bock also from War Horse round out the cast.

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    John Hopewell
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    Patrick Frater
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    Peter Debruge
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    Dave McNary