Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Williams’

The Banquet of Infinity

Victoria & Abdul

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Julian Wadham, Simon Callow, Paul Higgins

The unlikely friendship of Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a Muslim clerk from Agra who is sent to England from Colonial India to present a special coin to her majesty is the subject of a sumptuous and shrewdly observed film by veteran director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen, Philomena).

Victoria and Abdul has to be viewed in conjunction with the 1997 John Madden film Mrs Brown also starring Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) as the grand old queen which in that film follows her widow like infatuation with the Scottish highlander John Brown played by Billy Connolly.

The British director of Florence Foster Jenkins makes a clever narrative choice in telling the story from Abdul’s perspective, as he goes on a fascinating journey into the heart of the English court with its strange pomposity and royal etiquette.

Abdul is expertly played by Indian actor Ali Fazal (Fast and Furious 7), who is handsome, devoted and downright smitten with this cantankerous monarch who sees him as a beautiful embodiment of all that is exotic about the vast subcontinent that was 19th century colonial India, a country that ironically Queen Victoria was never allowed to visit for fear of being assassinated.

Victoria, much to the horror of her conservative retinue of court staff and advisors, takes a shine to the bold and outspoken Abdul and requests that he become her munchee, her teacher on all things Indian from delicacies like mangoes to religious and cultural practices. A pertinent request considering that at the time, 19th century India was ruled by England when its rapid colonial expansion globally allowed Queen Victoria to bizarrely assume the title of Empress of India even though she had never set foot on the distant sub-continent.

As the friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim blossoms at first comically and later as a form of emotional attachment, it becomes the source of anticipated ridicule from her own son Bertie, the Prince of Wales played with suitable arrogance by Eddie Izzard as well as the British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury wonderfully played by Michael Gambon (Brideshead Revisited).

In one of the best lines of the film Lord Salisbury mentions to Queen Victoria at a gorgeous state banquet that the British Empire has annexed Zululand to which the monarch replies whatever for?

In the twilight of her exceptionally long reign and as the 19th century draws to a close, Victoria realizes that her unconventional friendship with Abdul is her last jaunt at joviality even elevating him to a senior adviser and taking him on a trip to Florence, Italy where they are both fortunate enough to meet Puccini played with panache by character actor Simon Callow (A Room with a View, Maurice).

The cross cultural appeal of Victoria and Abdul should keep international audiences interested in this previously unknown friendship between an aging British monarch and a young, handsome Indian clerk, whose precarious protection at court was only valid while the Queen remained alive.

The shocking end sequence of Victoria and Abdul is a cruel reminder of how colonialism always excluded the other even when they were desperately trying to appease their colonizer.

As a brilliantly observed piece of largely ignored historical fact which only came to light through the discovery of Abdul’s journals in 2010, Victoria and Abdul is a beautiful period film, held together by two magnificently nuanced performances by both Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, both whom deserve Oscar nominations.

Victoria and Abdul gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and will be enjoyed by audiences that cherished director Gurinder Chadha’s equally impressive Anglo-Indian drama The Viceroy’s House set during the partition of India, half a century in later.

 

Hot Dogs on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson

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Told from the innocent perspective of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s distant cousin Daisy Suckley, Hyde Park on Hudson is a charming film about a collection of fascinating historical figures namely the pivotal meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and King George VI and should be viewed as a companion piece to The King’s Speech. Veteran American actor Bill Murray takes the part of FDR and Olivia Williams plays his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, and British actor Samuel West (Howards End) takes the part of King George VI. Set in upstate New York, Hyde Park on Hudson tells of a weekend in the summer of 1939 when the recently crowned King George VI and queen Elizabeth, both whom are reeling from the scandal surrounding the 1936 abdication of his brother King Edward VIII in favour of marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson gorgeously told in Madonna’s companion film W/E.

The visit of the British monarchy to the American president is meant to bolster American support for Great Britain as the threat of World War II looms with Nazi Germany invading most of Europe and in fact World War II did break out three months later.

Besides the international magnitude of the time, the film centres more on the eccentric Franklin D. Roosevelt America’s president during World War II who crippled by polio resorts to having a string of extramarital affairs including one with his distant cousin Daisy and who despite his physical ailments does not let that deter him from enjoying life and running such a powerful country as the USA. Especially pertinent in the film is the after dinner discussion between the King, who suffering from a speech impediment is soon put at ease by the magnanimous and charming FDR. It shows two politically important men that despite their physical and social impediments have more in common and their strategic meeting soon eases any tension between the United States and Great Britain forging the beginning of a special relationship which is still active more than 70 years later.

Director Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is an intriguing tale of great political leaders who are viewed through the context of their private frailties and how they triumph not just for their own countries sake but that of the enormous publicity which marked such a visit by a British Monarch and his wife on American soil, in the face of a looming World War. Soon his Royal Highness the King of England is munching on a hotdog in an American style Barbecue and is effortlessly drawn into the less stuffy social conventions of Americans on their home turf. Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) is brilliant as the charming and quite naughty FDR (with his cigarette holders and exotic stamp collection) along with Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer) cast as the forthright Eleanor Roosevelt. Laura Linney is perfect as the awe-inspired, slightly naive Daisy who is caught in the middle of such a significant historical event.

Beautifully filmed as a period piece, if a tad dark in some scenes, but a fun and interesting comedy serving as a comparison of the differences between British and American cultures and social customs reminiscent of some of the best Merchant Ivory films which are unfortunately no longer made. Recommended!

A Hauntingly Lavish Thriller…

The Ghost Writer

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Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Ewan McGregor, Timothy Hutton, Jim Belushi, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson

Polanski’s dark and almost claustrophobic thriller The Ghost Writer adapted from the novel by Robert Harris author of Enigma and Pompeii is an absolute gem reminiscent of his earlier classics like Bitter Moon, Chinatown and the Oscar winning film The Pianist.

Dark and claustrophobic

Balancing a great script with tight directing and creepy use of  stark isolated locations, Polanski keeps the viewer of the Ghost Writer on the edge of their seat.

Highly versatile and underrated Ewan McGregor is wonderfully human as the title character and Olivia Williams shines as the ousted Prime Minister‘s Adam Lang’s wife Ruth with a witty, dark and altogether complex performance which gives tremendous weight to the concept of behind every powerful man lies an equally powerful woman. Pierce Brosnan takes the part of Adam Lang, the Prime Minister with a combination of his charm, ego and slight menace which brought him acclaim in his recent more memorable films Matador and Remember Me.

What is truly thrilling is Polanski’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock making a political and social thriller without compromising on the story and the intricacies of the characters, whilst retaining the claustrophobic atmosphere of a once powerful leader being forced into a lavish exile. Sounds Familiar? As I returned from watching this stunning thriller, Polanski was released from house arrest in Gstaad, Switzerland which is an absolute relief, as it would be a tragedy to keep a filmmaker of this calibre under confinement.

Polanski’s distinctly European perspective on the collusion of Britain and America in foreign wars in the Middle East is his greatest asset  highlighting how a Prime Minister can fall from grace and become a virtual outcast is brilliant in his brittle and subversive vision of how corrupting power and influence can become.

Visually The Ghost Writer is sleek, dark and elegant whilst reminding the viewer that decisions of great international magnitude are often made in secluded locations like Cape Cod or St Andrews far away from the distant nations which will be affected by those choices. For to give the story, location or plot away would be ludicrous, suffice to say… see The Ghost Writer and relish in a masterful director’s return to form with a cinematic homage to the political thriller crackling with suspense, wit and utterly thought-provoking down to the shattering final sequence.

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