Posts Tagged ‘Hayley Atwell’

The Virtues of Vera

Testament of Youth


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.


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


Size Does Matter



Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll, Martin Donovan, Bobby Cannavale, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer


Comedy star Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother, Wanderlust) embraces the role of Ant-Man, the latest superhero to join the Marvel Universe. In this case size does matter and Ant-Man’s unique ability to shrink to the size of an ant and evade capture while destroying intricate servers is something to marvel at.

Director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man is humorous, hilarious and filled with spectacular moments which will find the audience rooting for the diminutive superhero who is desperate to join the Avengers team. Oscar winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street) plays quantum physicist Dr Hank Pym has developed a unique formula which can reduce a man to the size of an ant and cause damage along with his army of assistant ants. For once this is a superhero who is without any angst, but just an average guy who happens to be a convicted felon desperate to see his daughter again.


Scott Lang, wonderfully played to perfection by Paul Rudd, and for once the casting could not have been better is a down and out cat burglar and at the request of his dumb friends, led by the dim-witted Luis hilariously played by Michael Pena breaks into the San Francisco home of Dr Pym to steal jewels and cash.

Instead, Lang steals an Ant-Man suit and unwittingly shrinks and realizes that this nifty ensemble enables him to escape from most situations, including jail, where he is arrested by his daughter’s stepfather Detective Paxton played by the ubiquitous Bobby Cannavale.


Soon Lang is rescued by Dr Pym and his gorgeous daughter Hope van Dyne played by Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) who train Lang to be the elusive Ant-Man.


The evil villain is the megalomaniac scientist Dr Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll who is keen on developing his own shrinking suit and selling the sought after formula to the sinister Hydra which is out to destroy SHIELD, of whom the Avengers are a part of.

The fact that the final battle between Cross and Ant-Man takes place on top of a Thomas the Tank engine toy in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom is emblematic of who the target audience is. Nevertheless Ant-Man is visually spectacular, comical and often hilarious and a much better film than anticipated.

This is a superhero movie which does not take the entire genre too seriously, but has huge ambitions to join The Avengers. Fans should watch out for cameo appearances by Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter.

Ant-Man may not match up to the likes of Captain America or Iron Man but could certainly prove that size does count and in this case being smaller is infinitely better. The 3-D visual effects are amazing and Rudd keeps the entire film light and quirky. Ant-Man is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.


Comic Book Pastiche

The Avengers: Age of Ultron


Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett, Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, James Spader, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgard, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy, Andy Serkis, Anthony Mackie.

The Avengers are back in director and writer Joss Whedon’s much anticipated sequel The Avengers: Age of Ultron featuring all the Marvel superheroes and some new ones in a CGI laden special effects extravaganza, which is at times confusing and other times absolutely fascinating. At a running time of two hours and twenty minutes, director Whedon has sufficient screen time to flesh out all the characters individually as well as give nuance to some of their more complicated relationships.


Like the relationship between The Hulk, aka Bruce Banner wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and the Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson who seems to be the only avenger that can calm the Hulk’s penchant for destructive anger.


The relationship between goodie two shoes Steve Rogers aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans and Nordic God Thor played by the hunky Chris Hemsworth is also subtly explored considering that the former is a World War two hero and the latter from another dimension.

Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as egotistical Billionaire Tony Stark, aka Iron Man and his irrepressible desire to mould any technological discovery, in this case the power artificial intelligence to his own advantage.

The Age of Ultron refers to the ubiquitous Altron a powerful A.I. force which is hell bent on human destruction and vain enough to realize that he can survive the aftermath, beautifully voiced with an underlying menace by James Spader (Bad Influence, more recently in the hit TV show The Black List).


The sexy Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton aka Hawkeye ‘s character is fleshed out as a devoting family man which is entirely incongruous with his status as a member of the Avengers, but hey who cares?


Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play evil orphaned Eastern European twins Pietro and Maximoff who soon turn on Ultron when they realize his megalomaniac tendencies. Even Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis makes an appearance as a South African mercenary Ulysses Klaue and the Johannesburg downtown sequence is truly phenomenal to watch as is the action scene in Seoul, South Korea.


If audiences get confused with who all the avengers are, there are ample filmic references to each of their own background stories from Thor: The Dark World, including a brief appearance by Idris Elba and also Captain America’s Agent Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. Marvel is indeed expanding their universe exponentially and if The Avengers: Age of Ultron’s audience figures are anything to go by, this will prove to be another superhero box office smash hit.


The Avengers: Age of Ultron is fun entertainment and definitely aimed at Iron Man, Thor and Captain America cinema fans especially all the witty references and innuendo’s involving lifting Thor’s hammer which are neatly laced into a script which may seem convoluted but then again when it comes to Artificial Intelligence its more an infinite mess which at some point needs to be reined in.

Audiences should look out for brief cameos by Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Delpy, Don Cheadle and Thomas Kretschmann. If The Avengers: Age of Ultron appears to be a pastiche of all the previous Marvel films, then director Joss Whedon has certainly achieved the impossible, not to mention making a narrative out of the dangers of artificial intelligence plausible and entertaining.

It’s best for audiences to suspend their disbelief and enjoy The Avengers: The Age of Ultron for what it is: a comic book orgy with a giant budget and loud, awe-inspiring special effects which will be sure to nurture any young adult’s imagination for awhile.




When the Glass Slipper Fits…



Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgaard, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell

Shakespearean actor and director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, King Henry V) vividly recreates the famous tale of Cinderella in a live action film which despite its sumptuous production design does not match up to other recent onscreen fairy tales most notably the brilliant Snow White and the Huntsman and the equally impressive Maleficent.

Downton Abbey’s Lily James takes on the title role of Cinderella and although she is gorgeous to watch onscreen, the famous narrative arc of her tale is not given any particular depth or subliminal meaning. But then again this is a Disney film and the age restriction is parental guidance, with the target audience being young little girls. Judging by the packed cinema on a Saturday afternoon that target market was spot on.

Branagh’s Cinderella is lush, gorgeous and beautiful to watch with a spectacular production design by Dante Ferreti and fabulous costumes by Sandy Powell, Oscar winner for her costumes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.


Oscar winner for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator Cate Blanchett is wonderful as the wicked stepmother and so is Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech, The Wings of a Dove) as Cinderella’s quirky fairy godmother who on the evening of the ball given by the crown prince of their kingdom, Cinderella’s dress, transportation and footmen are sorted for her great entrance at the Ball.

The Ballroom scene is simply amazing and is undoubtedly the high point of the film, but in a similar vein to the gorgeous reproduction of Anna Karenina, the script and acting for Cinderella suffers under the weight of its own expectation.

One almost gets the feeling that the actors were slightly bored going through this famous fairy tale with the exception of the brief scenes by Blanchett and the cameo by Helena Bonham Carter, Cinderella fails to lift audiences beyond its very light and fluffy message – which is for all young girls to find prince charming and live happily ever after.

Prince Charming in this case is played by British actor and Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, bulging codpiece and all, and his penetrating blue eyes do the acting. Director Branagh strictly keeps this traditional Cinderella aimed at the young children’s market obviously upon the instruction of parent company Disney.

Nevertheless, the costumes and the production design are superb and should garner some awards in those categories. Whilst Cinderella lacks the edgier darkness of Snow White and the Huntman and Maleficent, it is still fun to watch especially all those character actors making an appearance from Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgaard and Derek Jacobi.

Disney’s Cinderella is recommended viewing for those that loved Mirror Mirror and for all parents who need to take their daughters to see some serious glamour on the big screen. In this case the fabulous glass slipper fits too comfortably and Cinderella and her prince charming do live happily ever after.


Freedom versus Fear


Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Emily VanCamp, Sebastian Stan, Frank Grillo

Not quite matching up to the brilliance of the Coen brothers or the technical wizardry of the Wachowski brothers of the Matrix series, directing team and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo who directed You, Me and Depree are at the helm of the new Captain America movie with the expert assistance of Joss Wheldon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods). Chris Evans reprises his role as Captain America along with Scarlett Johannsen as wise cracking Natasha Romanoff or The Black Widow along with newcomer Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) as Sam Wilson or known as the Falcon. Emily Van Camp (from the TV series Revenge) makes a welcome big screen appearance as SHIELD agent 13 along with Frank Grillo and Callan Mulvey recently seen in 300: Rise of an Empire who all round off the star studded cast.


In Captain America: The Winter Soldier the action is firmly rooted in America’s capital Washington DC with the Smithsonian and Virginia as backdrop focusing on the SHIELD headquarters which are duly comprised when an assassination attempt on its leader the aptly named Nick Fury smoothly played by Samuel L. Jackson. The so-called chief of SHIELD Alexander Pierce played by Hollywood veteran Robert Redford appears to have a more sinister agenda.


Captain America aka Steve Rogers teams up with The Black Widow and Falcon to fight the seemingly invincible Winter Soldier who is an evil Hydra byproduct from the Second World War and played by an unrecognizable Sebastian Stan (Black Swan). Where the first Captain America dwelt firmly on America’s successful involvement in World War II heading up the allies defeat of Nazi Germany and all its equally nefarious covert operations, Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrusts the WWII all American hero firmly in the 21st century where with the aid of the internet Steve Rogers has managed to catch up on the last 50 years of human history.


There are a couple of references to the original Americana of the first film, but this Captain America sequel takes on a more Transformeresque approach and features lots of brash action sequences clearly initiated by influence from director Joss Wheldon’s big budget blockbuster The Avengers. The only criticism of the film was that with all the explosive action taking place, Captain America: Winter Soldier does not effectively use the medium of 3D and could easily have been viewed in traditional 2D.

The nostalgic glamour of 1940’s America and Europe during a World War is replaced with high-tech gadgetry of a level resembling a more ambitious and implausible sci-fi film set well beyond the 21st century. Naturally the plot takes a couple of fascinating twists but the entire narrative of Captain America: Winter Soldier lacks a uniformity of vision so clearly tangible in the original film, but this sequel is nevertheless entertaining and will surely please all superhero fans.


Although there is no real love interest like in Captain America – with Hayley Atwell’s character considerably aged, the downside of dating a boyfriend who was kept on ice for 50 years! Captain America: The Winter Soldier is another great superhero action film in the Avengers vein with Marvel studios clearly capitalizing on a hugely successful and ever expanding franchise especially after the success of Iron Man 3.

Not to be over analyzed but simply enjoyed in the perennial battle of freedom versus fear or SHIELD versus Hydra, fans of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man will surely not be disappointed. Note to audiences to wait in the cinema beyond the retro 007 end credits for a sneak peak at potential plot of Captain America 3?

Military Retro Americana Reigns

Captain America: The First Avenger

From Scrawny to Super Muscular

Joe Johnston’s retro superhero film, Captain America, The First Avenger is a wonderfully evocative 1940s style Americana glamorizing the American involvement in World War II and what better way to achieve this macho propaganda than through the story of Captain America, reluctantly but brilliantly played by Chris Evans who starts the film as an underweight and scrawny all American boy Steve Rogers desperate to enrol in the US Army and contribute to the European theatre of War. A German immigrant scientist, Dr Abraham Erskine played with relish by Stanley Tucci recognizes Rogers ingenuity and enlists him in a top secret research project aimed at fighting the mysterious Nazi supernatural research unit Hydra, headed by the demonic Captain Johann Schmidt, played with sinister pleasure by Hugo Weaving.


Evans character Rogers through a specially injected serum is transformed into the brawny and muscular Captain America, a super soldier who initially is used as a ridiculous propaganda figure by the US military driving up conscription and bolstering the armies psyche in their fight against the Nazi’s in a glorious cinematic pastiche of Americana complete with showgirls and wartime publicity.

As this is a comic book caper and very far from the actual reality of war, Captain America with the aid of a motley crew of trusted soldiers, an elegant British attache Peggy Carter played by Hayley Atwell of Brideshead Revisited fame and empowered with an arsenal of weapons, military transportation and the like by Howard Stark, Ironman’s father, played by the dashing Dominic Cooper from Mamma Mia, Captain America takes on the crazed Captain Schmidt whose powers derive from some Nordic mythological cube, capable of utter destruction.

Only the Brave and the Strong

Captain America is thrilling, glamorous and a great adventure film with tribute being payed to the Indiana Jones franchise whilst keeping in line with similar styled 1940s themed films from Casablanca to Bugsy. Watch out for a fantastic chase sequence in Brooklyn, a twist at the end and definitely a promise of a sequel. The supporting cast are terrific from Tommy Lee Jones as the no nonsense Colonel Phillips to Hugo Weaving bolstering up Chris Evan’s performance as the ultimate American superhero.



Decline of the English Aristocracy.

Brideshead Revisited

The period between the World Wars in the Twentieth century has always been a fascinating time in Western History. The 1920’s and 1930’s saw a huge resurgence in creative energy in Europe, notably the Bohemian decadence of Parisian artistic circles and the radical Modernist aspirations of the Bloomsbury Group. Those two decades with all its turbulent European events marked the eventual decline of the Victorian formalities that restricted the 19th century, something that Oscar Wilde predicted would eventually falter.

Brideshead Revisited is a sumptuous big screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s complex examination of the erosion of the ideals that held the English aristocracy in so much high regard, from their religious and moral superiority to the many temptations that members of that class succumbed to, from adultery, to forbidden sexuality and substance abuse, to the many foreign attractions of marrying outside that closed world in order to insure their own survival. Remnants of that particular aristocracy have obviously evolved fifty years on and still dwell in secluded regions of England and Europe.

However it was really during the 1930’s with the devastating effects of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing economic depression that engulfed much of the Western World and the inevitable outbreak of World War II that marked the demise of the seemingly immovable landed gentry in Europe. Sound Familiar? Fortunately we don’t have any World Wars looming in this century, but the future can never entirely be predictable.

The wealth is in the title...

The wealth is in the title…

Historical observations aside, Brideshead Revisited is a complex and brilliant film, directed with a fluid and delicate eye for detail by Julian Jarrolds who rose to fame with Becoming Jane about the life of Jane Austen and Waugh’s novel, a magnum opus which is superbly crafted into an epic narrative by Jeremy Brook, screenwriter for such classic films as Mrs Brown and The Last King of Scotland, no easy accomplishment considering that in the 1980’s Brideshead Revisited was an extremely successful BBC mini-series mainly because of the scope of Waugh’s detailed analysis of the decline of British Aristocracy between the Wars.

With BBC backing and between director Jarrolds, and the success of Jeremy Brook as a screenwriter, I was assured that this epic masterpiece would be given all the respect it deserves. Brideshead Revisited is like a tour-de-force of some of the best films on similar themes from the beautiful Merchant Ivory film, The Remains of the Day to the more recent critically acclaimed Atonement and of course the spectacular Wings of the Dove, all these films based on acclaimed novels by Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Henry James respectively.

What sets Brideshead Revisited apart from these comparable screen masterpieces, is its particular emphasis on the religious aspect of this aristocratic families decline, their staunch attachment to Catholic principles despite a life rather decadently lived. For as long as the characters receive absolution for their sins before death, then their place in the afterlife was secured, as we are so rightly told by Brideshead Matriarch, Lady Marchmain a brilliant performance by Emma Thompson.

From the gay and carefree days of Oxford in the late 1920’s to sumptuous Venetian palazzo’s complete with a cameo by White Mischief star Greta Scacchi, the camp and flamboyantly destructive Lord Sebastian Flyte, played by Ben Whishaw lives a self-indulgent and decadent existence, luring an unsuspecting artist Charles Ryder into this unscrupulous and almost fiercely protected yet infinitely opulent world.

Ryder played with subtle dexterity by Match point star Matthew Goode is soon embroiled in the intrigues of an aristocratic family whose powerful religious convictions are as strong as their indulgences and desires are deceptive. As the characters develop and destroy each other aspirations, it really is the property of Brideshead itself, which takes centre stage, an imposing stately mansion filled with Roman Catholic art, fountains and sculptured gardens.

Like the palatial homes seen in The Remains of the Day, A Handful of Dust and now in Brideshead Revisited, it was ultimately the ownership of such lavish estates that fell into jeopardy and were often auctioned off or decommissioned for military purposes once the full effects of World War II had embraced Europe, changing and scattering that aristocracy forever, since without property ownership, all claims of wealth are an illusion.

Brideshead Revisited is a sumptuous cinematic feast, the kind of epic film that has seemingly long gone out of fashion to be replaced with the slick computerized world of American paranoia that Hollywood so duly produces. Of course it is essentially British, and any viewer who has a deep appreciation of literary films and especially of historical epochs will surely be grateful to see such attention given from the gorgeous costumes to the magnificent scenery from Venice to Marrakech lavished on a well-deserved and extremely pertinent period film about the fluid and almost traceable decline of a world long gone. With intelligent insights into such complex themes as religious superiority, addiction and forbidden desires, it is obvious that the strengths of Brideshead Revisited will be recognizable in the 21st century while such issues still remain as relevant in today’s society, as they were seventy years ago.

Don’t miss such a superb classic as Brideshead Revisited, as the story demonstrates that no matter how powerful a society is, that power can quickly be eroded by historical events and economic insecurities, not to mention all the accompanying desires that so often plague the human race.

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March 2018
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