Saturday, 31 December 2011

Leading Man of the Year 2011

In lieu of Mr Cowan’s (twice winner of this category) highly unfortunate ineligibility (due to the fact I haven’t seen him onstage this year), I was toying with the idea of renaming this award along the lines of The Elliot Cowan Award for Hotness, (cue bonus pic) 
but thought better of it. In any case, I present to you the winner, and then the 9 runners-up in no particular order of the men (so many of whom called Dominic) who made going to the theatre so much, somewhat less of a trial. This has also regularly been one of the most popular posts I do each year, shame on us all!

2011 in brief summary, including 2011 fosterIAN awards

So here's the round-up of my favourite acting performances from the last 12 months and a few stats about my theatre-going. I made 332 trips to the theatre in total where I saw: 238 plays, 76 musicals, 31.5 Shakespeares (Double Falsehood if you're wondering about the .5), 10 cabarets, 4 operas and 4 dance pieces  (altogether 17 of these were revisits to productions I'd already seen). For a year which started off with me resolving to cut down on theatre, not a bad haul! 2012 will see me see less, I'm sure of it...

Best Actor in a Play Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein

Best Actress in a Play
Eve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Ryan Sampson, The Kitchen Sink

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Alexandra Gilbreath,
Othello

Best Revival
The Tempest (Cheek By Jowl)

Best New Play
The Kitchen Sink

Best Actor in a Musical
Bertie Carvel, Matilda

Best Actress in a Musical
Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Daniel Crossley, Singin' in the Rain

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Samantha Spiro, Company

Best Musical Revival
Singin' in the Rain

Best New Musical
Matilda

And because people always want to know...
My least favourite shows of the yearGovernment Inspector and Juno and the Paycock have the unenviable distinction of being the first shows in ages that saw me leave at the interval. And of those I saw through to the bitter end...
Keeler was the absolute worst, with The Invisible Man, Moonlight, The Flying Karamazov Brothers, The Knot of the Heart and yes One Man Two Guvnors as runners-up.

Best New Play + Best New Musical

Best New Play


As the first full production in the Bush Theatre’s new premises, expectations for The Kitchen Sink were fairly substantial and in Tom Wells’ new play, they were met and then some. An intimate family drama, full of tender personal moments and a sense of humour that provided several laugh out loud moments. An interesting set design indicates just how interestingly flexible the new Bush space will be but it is writing of this calibre, performed by acting of top quality, that will ensure the Bush remains at the vanguard of new writing in London.

Honourable mention – For Once

Completely unexpected as I had no expectations or preconceptions about this play, the debut from Welsh playwright Tim Price. For Once displayed an excellent grasp of story-telling, interleaving three narratives in the aftermath of a shocking car crash to powerful, emotional effect. The Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space has been a hotbed of new writing talent, the only downside to their ‘no critics’ policy is that these shows aren’t necessarily receiving the publicity they deserve.

13,

7-10

Best New Musical


There’s hardly anything more I can say about Matilda, so read these three reviews - of the first time I saw the show, how I fell in love with the soundtrack and then revisiting the show once it had transferred into London – and follow how I completely and utterly tumbled for this musical which is surely destined to become a classic.

Honourable mention: London Road

So close for this one, I was even tempted to make it joint first, but the sheer joy of Matilda won out in the end. But London Road made its quite considerable mark by successfully carving out its own identity as something quite new and different, unique even, as a verbatim musical dramatising the experiences of a group of Ipswich residents dealing with the impacts of the serial killings of 5 prostitutes. Revisiting the show as the riots hit the country in the summer, I was struck at how powerful its message was, about how mutually beneficial coming together as a community can be, and how strong it is musically – indeed, the soundtrack is now available to buy and is definitely worth a punt.


Best Play Revival + Best Musical Revival

Best Play Revival


I decided not to create a separate category for Shakespeare productions, and in the final analysis I’m glad as it meant that I was comparing the merits of them against the other plays that I saw in a much more rigorous fashion. And the revival that impressed me the most was Cheek By Jowl’s Russian production of The Tempest at the Barbican. Nothing less than a radical reinvigoration of the text that set the bar too high for any of the other Tempests I saw this year, it made complete sense from start to finish – no mean feat for Will – and exuded a bracing energy that had me recommending this to people from the moment I left the theatre and got about 14 people along to see it – Barbican, I await my commission!

Honourable mention: Comedy of Errors (Propeller)

I still make no apology for the Shakespeare-heaviness as Propeller’s interpretation of The Comedy of Errors managed that rare thing of creating genuine laughter and proper comedy in a ‘Comedy’. Absolutely jam-packed with innovations and funny business both clever and puerile, this was never less than hilarious from start to finish. And I’ve just about recovered from being snubbed, twice, by Dominic Tighe, my proposals of marriage were not sufficiently enticing ;-)

7-10

Best Musical Revival


A show that simply filled my heart with glee from its very first moments, Andrew Wright’s choreography kicking into top gear from the off and the evergreen score of such classic songs, striking a wondrous chord of unfettered joy. I never thought I’d ever be so happy to get splashed as much as I did in the theatre and I am so happy that the show will be transferring into the West End very soon: I’m not sure if I’ll go again though as the memory I hold of the show from my front row set is just perfect.

Honourable mention: Company (Crucible)

The last show I saw in 2011 but what a cracker. A top-notch ensemble, crowned by Daniel Evans’ musical debut at the theatre where he serves as Artistic Director, made magic on the open stage of the Crucible in a production which whilst firmly rooted in the 1970s, breathed a fresh new vitality into the show making it a great year for regional Sondheim’s, alongside Chichester’s Sweeney Todd.


Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play

Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein

An odd choice given how much I disliked the play itself, but thinking back over the year as a whole, Benedict Cumberbatch really did stick out as one of the best acting performances, in both of the roles in Frankenstein. Initially disappointed that Cumberbatch was the Creature the first time we saw it (previews were a lucky dip in that respect) and recovering from the shock of the unexpected nudity, he overcame our preconceptions with 15 minutes of stunning wordless acting, a physical tour-de-force. I also felt he brought much more to the under-written and under-developed part of Victor Frankenstein, transcending the limitations of Dear’s writing as best he could. Others may disagree but I found him to be the best part about both incarnations of the show and indeed, it was only the promise of his acting that made me go back!

Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Emperor and Galilean

I don’t think Andrew Scott has got anywhere near enough credit for his Herculean efforts in this show which has to rival Hamlet in its demands from a leading man. This saw Scott grow as an actor, working in nuanced depths into his style and making a genuinely tragic figure out of the Emperor Julian who can’t see the larger picture that his actions are wreaking on his empire.

Trevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West,
Othello
Jude Law,
Anna Christie;
Charles Edwards,
Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

7-10
John Heffernan, Richard II (Tobacco Factory); Trystan Gravelle, Honest; Dominic Mafham, Journey’s End; Harry Melling, When Did You Last See My Mother

Best Actor in a Musical

Bertie Carvel, Matilda

Well it couldn’t really be anyone else, could it. One of those performances that you just know will become definitive, Bertie Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull is a masterclass in characterisation, a Quentin Blake illustration brought to genius life, and the perfect villain to face off with Matilda. There’s just enough of a tiny glimpse of frailty behind her walls to suggest the necessary chink in the armour but there’s so much fun to be had watching her at her bullying best. A truly must-see performance.

Honourable mention: Michael Ball, Sweeney Todd

Virtually unrecognisable as the demon barber, Michael Ball’s reinvention on the Chichester stage was hugely successful as he portrayed the glowering resentment of the wronged Sweeney Todd with barely repressed menace, sang with great passion and partnered Imelda Staunton like a dream.

Daniel Evans, Company (Crucible)
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang

7-10
Nigel Lindsay, Shrek the musical; Adam Cooper, Singin’ in the Rain; Jamie Sampson, Guys and Dolls; Joe Maxwell, The Hired Man

Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Before this year, Eve Best was one of those names I’d heard a lot, seen a lot whilst peeing at the Almeida but never really engaged with as I’d never seen on her onstage before. How that has changed with the kind of performance as Beatrice that had the entire Globe eating out of her hand. Warm, funny, spiky, romantic, independent and so incredibly open, I can’t imagine there was a person who didn’t fall in love with her as a result.

Honourable mention: Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie

It takes something to wrest my attention away from as fine a specimen as the beefed-up Jude Law was in Anna Christie, but Ruth Wilson’s titular Anna did just that with a perfectly realised portrayal of a woman caught between the feisty independence she’s needed to survive thus far in a harsh world and the change that comes about as a result of close human contact that opens her up to new possibilities. If not already there, she really is close to being one of the most exceptional actors we have.

Rosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke,
Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey,
The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull

7-10
Cush Jumbo, As You Like It (Royal Exchange); Anna Chancellor, Last of the Duchess; Amanda Root, The Deep Blue Sea; Claire Price, The Pride

Best Actress in a Musical

Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd

I am generally of the opinion that Imelda Staunton can do no wrong, but this was no walk-in victory as it was a tough category. But her Mrs Lovett, soon to make its bow in the West End, really is one of those exceptional performances that will live long in the memory. The comedy in the role suits her strengths well, A Little Priest has never been funnier but having made us pretty fall in love with her, the shift into malevolent darkness then cuts incredibly, terrifyingly deep and is all the more powerfully compelling for it.

Honourable mention: Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, Matilda

Shared six ways as incredibly, there are six girls with the enormous, precocious talent to carry off the demanding lead role in Matilda and I don’t think I have heard a bad word about any of them which is some impressive feat. Josie Griffiths in Stratford and Kerry Ingram in London are the two I’ve seen (thus far) and both blew me away with their assured stage presence, their maturity of performance and the all-round talent they possess.

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein,
Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper,
Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain

7-10
Louisa Lydell, Ragtime; Sarah Lancashire, Betty Blue Eyes; Jenna Russell, The Day We Sang; Clare Foster, Crazy for You

Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Ryan Sampson, The Kitchen Sink

An absolute gem of a performance from Sampson here, coming late in the year but leaving no doubt as to how good he was – though not “too good to be gay” as a notorious critic put it most distastefully. Tom Wells excels at his non-metropolitan gay characters and there is so much refreshing, recognisable normality here, that transcends sexuality too – God knows everyone has felt awkward at one point or another – that made Sampson’s portrayal irresistible. Throw in some wicked jokes, perfectly delivered, a love for Dolly Parton and facial expressions that speak absolute volumes, Sampson is a worthy winner.

Honourable mention: Harry Hadden-Paton, Flare Path

As part of the central love triangle at the heart of Flare Path, Hadden-Paton displayed the kind of acting performance that should ensure he remains one to watch for many years to come, whether onstage or on film. The personal side paled though in comparison with the battle he faced to conquer his private desolation at the prospect of war in order to appear as the fearless leader of men his soldiers needed him to be: wonderfully appealing.

Robert Hands, Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)

7-10

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Daniel Crossley, Singin’ in the Rain

I am a little bit in love with Daniel Crossley, and yes I know he’s taken, darn you Evans. But a man who can sing well, dance like an absolute dream and play the wise-cracking sidekick role of Cosmo without seeming like a constant third wheel has to be worth it. On top of an excellent turn in Me and My Girl at the beginning of the year, 2011 was a great year for Crossley and whilst I’m sad I won’t get to see him in a new role for the foreseeable future, I am delighted that the West End will get to see him in all his puddle-splashing glory when Singin’ in the Rain transfers.

Honourable mention: Nigel Harman, Shrek the musical

If you haven’t seen Shrek the musical yet, then I am about to spoil something for you here but I can’t explain the genius of Nigel Harman’s performance as the diminutive Lord Farquaad without saying something about how he does it. Spending the whole show on his knees, he is show-stealingly hilarious and provides a much welcomed injection of pure comedy into the musical.

Connor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy for You
Nick Holder, London Road

7-10
Paul Kaye, Matilda; Terry Doe, Parade; Michael Matus, Lend Me A Tenor; Will Hawksworth, Betwixt!

Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Alexandra Gilbreath, Othello

The main reason that I travelled to see Othello at the Crucible was not so much for the reunion of The Wire stars in Dominic West and Clarke Peters, but in the casting of Alexandra Gilbreath as Emilia. And it was totally worth it as she made a massive impact, creating a fully rounded character with a history and passions that surely far exceeds what is on the page. Her work in the Royal Court’s The Village Bike also pleased me greatly, making this a great year for fans of the Gilbreath.

Honourable mention: Sheridan Smith, Flare Path

As anyone who saw Flare Path will say to you, ‘the letter scene, THE LETTER SCENE!’. Though second billed below Sienna Miller in this Terence Rattigan revival, Smith pretty much stole the show, finding unexpected deep reservoirs of feeling in Doris, the barmaid with a heart of gold done good, whose reactions to hearing the (translated) letter from her husband were one of the most affecting moments in a theatre all year.

Sinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons

7-10
Claudie Blakley, Comedy of Errors (NT); Janie Dee, Noises Off; Imelda Staunton, A Delicate Balance; Anna Calder-Marshall, Salt Root and Roe

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Samantha Spiro, Company (Crucible)

It does seem that anyone playing Amy in Sondheim’s Company is a shoo-in for recognition here, Cassidy Janson just missed out on a nomination for her role in the Southwark Playhouse production, but the truth is when the song (Not) Getting Married is delivered well, it really is a showstopper. Janson did well, but Samantha Spiro, already so very beloved of my heart for Hello, Dolly! if not necessarily Chicken Soup with Barley, held the Crucible in the palm of her hand as the scatty bride-to-be whose jitters threaten to jeopardise her whole happiness. She radiates warmth here and never once sacrifices clarity of diction for an easy laugh in that most verbose of numbers: acting through song at its best.

Honourable mention: Kate Fleetwood, London Road

In some ways, it is a bit harsh to nominate one person out of London Road as it really is such a strong ensemble show but Kate Fleetwood emerged most as the beating heart of the show as the unassuming woman who set up the London Road in Bloom competition that forms the centre of the community’s coming together and achieves so very much. Fleetwood taps into so much empathetic normality here that somehow translates into something so special: that first “begonias and, petunias, and um, impatiens and things” is just remarkable.

Josefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes

7-10
Lauren Ward, Matilda; Cassidy Janson, Company (Southwark Playhouse); Joanna Riding, Lend Me A Tenor; Katherine Kingsley, Singin’ in the Rain


























TV Review: Great Expectations

"If you can't beat a boy at Christmas when can you beat him?" 

One of the centrepieces of the BBC's festive television schedule was a new adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations by Sarah Phelps. Dickens could well loom large in the coming months as it is the 200th anniversary of his birth in February, but I'm not yet aware of a deluge of programming, whether on television or in the theatre, though I am reliably informed that there's many radio serialisation on at the moment. As is often the case with new productions of classics, the key word is adaptation and though purists may baulk at some of the changes instituted by Phelps and director Brian Kirk, but that would be a shame as I found this to be a rather special piece of television, the BBC doing what it does best.

From the gorgeously, hauntingly atmospheric landscapes of the beginning - Magwitch rising from the mists of the wetlands was a perfect opening scene - the show looked a treat. The splendid isolation of the Gargerys' house making for some beautiful shots (though it did pose the question of who exactly used that forge...) and the faded glamour of the dust-covered Satis House was excellently judged, the perfect receptacle for the casting choice that caused the most headlines prior to transmission: Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham.

Cast of Great Expectations continued

Friday, 30 December 2011

DVD Review: Housewife, 49

"What actually is mass observation?"

I have no earthly idea how this passed me by first time round containing as it does, two of my favourite things: the experience of everyday people in the Second World War and national treasure Victoria Wood. That Housewife, 49 was also written by Wood makes it even more remarkable I missed it, but catching it on the TV was one of those experiences that simply filled me with warmth, joy and a fair few tears as I utterly loved it.

It is based on the real-life wartime diaries of Nella Last (played here by Wood herself) , a Barrow-in-Furness housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown who participates in a national scheme to document the lives of normal people – Mass Observation – as a way of helping her recovery. Society is rather unforgiving of her inability to ‘cope’ especially as war starts, her marriage to the taciturn ’Daddy’ is constrictive and it is only when she is persuaded to give voluntary work a try by her younger son, that she finds the opportunity to slowly flourish as her confidence is built and she becomes an integral and vital part of the community. 

Cast of Housewife, 49 continued

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Radio 4

“How am I going to get back to Kansas?”

Following on from the less than sucessful adaptation of Goldfinger that left me cold, I was a little trepidatious about listening to this production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, especially as it soon came to light that it also featured narration – one of the things I disliked most about the Bond play – but it actually proved to be much more engaging and thoughtful, and ultimately considerably more entertaining. Linda Marshall Griffiths’ dramatisation has taken a fresh new look at the story, returning to L Frank Baum’s source novel and thereby casting off much of the baggage that might have come otherwise from just being a straight run of the film.

What we get then, is a highly atmospheric story, partly told by Amelia Clarkson’s excellent Dorothy as part of an inner monologue, which feels darker and more compelling that one might have expected. It is all largely recognisable, but it felt so much fresher here and interesting too. Emma Fielding was great value for money as all of the female characters, and Kevin Eldon, Burn Gorman and Zubin Varla all did well as the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Lion respectively. And Clarkson captured the right note of youthful gumption to make Dorothy a thoroughly likeable heroine.

The 2011 fosterIAN award nominations

So here it is, as best a summation of what I liked most about the year's theatregoing as I can manage. I racked up 332 plays in the end this year (a further analysis will come in a later post) so it has taken quite some considerable time to narrow these down (especially the supporting actress categories which should surprise no-one who knows me) and considering which were the performances that stood out for me this year led to some surprises. Thus here we go, the 2011 fosterIAN (fos-tîr'ē-ən) award nominations for acting this year.
(NB Eligibility is quite simple: if I saw this play/production for the first time this year, it went in the hat. I saw Propeller's Richard III last November so that fell into last's year cohort.)


Best Actor in a Play
Benedict Cumberbatch, Frankenstein
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Trevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Andrew Scott, Emperor and Galilean
Dominic West, Othello

Best Actress in a Play
Eve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Geraldine James, Seagull
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Ruth Wilson, Anna Christie
Rosie Wyatt, Bunny

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Harry Hadden-Paton, Flare Path
Robert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Ryan Sampson, The Kitchen Sink

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Alexandra Gilbreath, Othello
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Sinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Sheridan Smith, Flare Path

Best Revival
Anna Christie
The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Ecstasy
Flare Path
Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
The Tempest (Cheek By Jowl)

Best New Play
Di and Viv and Rose
For Once
The Kitchen Sink
Many Moons
The Village Bike
13

Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Ball, Sweeney Todd
Alistair Brookshaw, Parade
Bertie Carvel, Matilda
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Daniel Evans, Company
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang

Best Actress in a Musical
Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox and Sophia Kiely   Matilda
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Imelda Staunton, Sweeney Todd
Scarlet Strallen, Singin' in the Rain

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
David Burt, Crazy For You
Daniel Crossley, Singin' in the Rain
Connor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
Nigel Harman, Shrek
Nick Holder, London Road

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Kate Fleetwood, London Road
Josefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Samantha Spiro, Company

Best Musical Revival
Company
The Hired Man
Perchance to Dream
Ragtime
Singin' in the Rain
Sweeney Todd

Best New Musical
Betty Blue Eyes
The Day We Sang
Hamlet the musical
The Importance of Being Earnest the musical
London Road
Matilda

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4

“Gold attracts the most ingenious criminals”

I’ve now figured out the best way for me to listen to plays on the radio, which is whilst recovering from a hangover in bed, and not doing anything else. So it was thus that I took in this all-star production of the James Bond story Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel having been dramatised by Archie Scottney, and Ian McKellen recruited to take on the iconic villain against Toby Stephens’ secret agent. But I have to say, it was my least favourite of the radio plays that I have taken in recently, partly due to the terribly dated writing but also due to the way in which it was presented, being partly narrated by Martin Jarvis (also the director) as Fleming.

The narration made it seem really rather old-fashioned, a very traditional way of telling a story and that is how it came across, as a story rather than a play, a piece of drama. It felt rather flat and lacked excitement, despite the quality of the cast, but I think it also suffered a bit by comparison. No sound effect could ever replicate the visual of Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat (yet simultaneously, without that visual it would barely have any impact, a whooshing sound alone inspires little), likewise John Standing’s M’s gagdetry, and the constantly changing locations, within a short space of time, do not really lend themselves to effective drama – explanations needed too often.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

DVD Review: The Madness of King George

"Do you think that you are mad?"

I remember very little of this film, having not seen it since it was first released, so much so that much of the stage play – recently revived for a tour which will shortly take up residency in the West End – felt brand new to me. Alan Bennett adapted his own play, The Madness of George III (the film had to be retitled for international audiences...) and Nicholas Hytner directed the film, as he directed the show at the National Theatre, and it fit quite neatly into my post-Christmas costume drama/Royalty film splurge.

The story of how George III’s deteriorating mental health led to a constitutional crisis as his ambitious son made a play for power to try and force a Regency forms the backbone of the film as Nigel Hawthorne’s monarch is subjected to the vagaries of contemporary medical practice which had no understanding of mental illness and contained very little practice, instead being based on observations. It is only when a new course of action is recommended by non-medical man Dr Willis who utilises behaviour modification to try help regain equilibrium that progress is begin to be made, but the Prince of Wales and his political allies are moving fast to seize power.

Cast of The Madness of King George continued

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

DVD Review: The King’s Speech

“When I see the common man in the street, I'm struck by how little I know of his life and how little he knows of mine”



My abiding memory of going to see The King’s Speech at the cinema was the bizarre round of applause that came at the end from about two thirds of the Hammersmith Cineworld audience, a truly odd moment. I did rather like the film, but couldn’t quite see why it was lauded quite so much: it tells its story extremely well but lacked a certain emotional heart for me, I didn’t end up caring a huge amount for Colin Firth’s George VI if I’m honest. But as the film came on over Christmas, I decided to give it a go again, not least becaus I will be going to see the play of The King’s Speech in Guildford in February, David Seidler having initially written this for the stage.



Again, I did quite enjoy watching the film, but was struck by how emotionally uninvolving it is for large stretches. Normally, I’d be a sucker for this kind of thing but for whatever reason, it never quite hits the mark. Firth is good as the monarch faced with trying to conquer his stammer but his Oscar should really have come the year before for A Single Man and Geoffrey Rush is superb as the anarchic Antipodean speech therapist whose unconventional methods eventually reap rewards. But it is only in Helena Bonham Carter’s excellent Queen Elizabeth (now, she should definitely have won the Oscar for making such a brilliant job out of a role that basically required her to just react) that the movie has any heart, her looks of tender concern and joy full of deep meaning and a wry sense of humour about her position that manifests itself in some great one-liners.


Cast of The King's Speech continued

DVD Review: The Duchess

"As they say, the Duke of Devonshire is the only man in england not in love with his wife"

Another of the films that I revisited in my period drama splurge over Christmas was The Duchess. This Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes vehicle did fairly well in 2008 and I quite enjoyed it at the cinema, though I remember being a little tired of the marketing shtick that overplayed the title character’s familial connection with the late sainted Diana, Princess of Wales and rather unnecessarily sought to draw huge parallels between the two. The film is about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who delighted and scandalised late eighteenth century society with her extravagance, forward fashion sense and a soft spot for gambling. Her marriage to the Duke though was far from happy though and as her public persona rises and rises and she becomes beloved of most everyone, behind closed doors infidelities and terrible betrayals push the Duchess to extreme measures.

I did enjoy watching this again for the most part and it is strongly acted, but for a film that covers at least ten years, it is surprisingly slow moving. Knightley in particular is excellent as Georgiana (I’ve never understood why she is such a polarising figure), a woman ahead of her time in many ways with her intellect and political nous having no official outlet in the society of its time and also challenged by being unable to contain her passion for Dominic Cooper’s Charles Gray (great casting choice!). Her portrayal deepens as the film progresses too, she becomes a convincing mother and pained victim faced with a harrowing choice as Fiennes’ passive-aggressive Duke finally rouses into action. He is superbly controlled throughout, almost terrifying with his impassive domination of all around him and the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, are the masterful shots at the long dinner table with husband and wife at either end and his mistress in the middle – beautifully, excrutiatingly done.