Posts Tagged ‘Miranda Richardson’

The Virtues of Vera

Testament of Youth

testament_of_youth_ver2

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.

testament_of_youth

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

 

The Zong Massacre

Belle

belle_ver2

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.

belle

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.

2002 Toronto Film Festival

2002 Toronto International Film Festival Winners

tiff 2002

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place every year in September in Canada.
Films which premiere at Toronto are often nominated for Academy Awards the following year.

TIFF does not hand out individual prizes for Best Actor or Actress but focuses on amongst others the following awards:
People’s Choice Award & Best Canadian Feature Film

Ararat_movie

Opening Night Film: Ararat directed by Atom Egoyan, starring Charles Aznavour, Christopher Plummer, and David Alpay

Whale Rider

People’s Choice Award: Whale Rider directed by Niki Caro, starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Cliff Curtis and Vicky Haughton

Spider

Best Canadian Feature Film: Spider directed by David Cronenberg, starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson & Gabriel Byrne

A More Impressive Mrs Brown

The Young Victoria

Regal, beautiful and rebellious to the point of gaining an Empire

Regal, beautiful and rebellious to the point of gaining an Empire

The Young Victoria is a treat for any dedicated royalist and purveyor of British history and shows Queen Victoria as she ascends the throne and deals with her first and only love, the marriage to Prince Albert of Germany, perfectly portrayed by Rupert Friend. Emily Blunt takes the part of the headstrong Victoria perfectly with the correct amount of poise and dedication and is supported by a fine cast such as Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent, Mark Strong as Sir John Conroy and Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne.

Previous film version about Queen Victoria only showed her as a reclusive widow hiding away in Balmoral as the 19th centure draws to a close while she is being wooed by a country groundskeeper played with Scottish tenacity by Billy Connolly with Dame Judi Dench taking the role in the superbly under-rated Mrs Brown.

Royalty and the birth of Victorian traditions in all its grandeur

In this film version with a wonderful script by Oscar winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosforth Park), captures the intrigue of the 19th century British court and how the Royalty then was so tied in with all European aristocracy demonstrating the formation of a strong consolidation of power, which eventually lead to the likes of King Leopold of Belgium, Prince Albert’s uncle and Queen Victoria’s government plundering Africa for the riches and expansions of a colonial empire, known as the scramble for that unknown continent giving historical insight into the treacheries and triumphs of the 19th century and the vast discrepancies which haunt the 21st century.

Nevertheless politics aside, The Young Victoria is a wonderful tale of a young girl who shrugs off the confinements of the Kensington system (a particular set of rules governing etiquette) and ascend the British thrown to become the second longest running monarch in British History second to only Queen Elizabeth I. The difference between the two Queens is while Elizabeth remained the epicentre of her own sovereignty and did not produce an heir, Victoria established a dynasty which is still surviving today.

************************************************************************

The Young Victoria is highly recommended as a fitting cinematic tribute to all that was once lavish where decorum reigned supreme and etiquette and conservation of dignity was regarded as the foundation of a powerful yet ultimately flawed civilization, to a nation that established its hegemony and was sure to lose that supremacy centuries later, only to be left with the vestiges of all those colonial expansions…

At the centre of any Empire was a ruler, in this case Victoria, like all charismatic leaders started off as impressionable and malleable but soon developed the skills of diplomacy and manipulation, especially playing the rules of power and politics on her own terms.

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