Monday, 19 June 2017

Film: 'Churchill'

This film's title is deceptive. It covers just the few days in June 1944 prior to the allied landings on the Normandy beaches, and featuring the British Prime Minister's resistance to the American-led plan.

Brian Cox plays the eponymous titular figure although facially he looks quite unlike the original, and doesn't sound much like him either - but what an actor! This putting aside of resemblances, apart from some very feeble attempts, also occurs with other members of the cast, most notably with both John Slattery as Eisenhower and James Purefoy as King George VI , the two of them looking very little like the figures they are portraying. Miranda Richardson as Churchill's steely wife, Clem, who wishes she could have her own life back, does bear a passing resemblance to the woman some of us can recall. One has to make a mental effort to stop these distractions getting in the way of enjoying the film - though, of course, younger audience members won't be as troubled as I was.

The film shows a side of Churchill that is rarely, if ever seen. Naturally I can't vouch for any veracity on that part, but it's quite different from the politician as he's usually played - here more of a fast-talking, petulant, short-tempered, yelling combative rather than the reflective and measured, brooding growler we've grown used to. 
I wasn't aware of the extent to which he'd been cut out of decision-making regarding the D-day landings after he'd vociferously expressed his disapproval of the plan, and was subsequently reduced to watching and grunting from the sidelines while Eisenhower issued the vital instructions. Even Field-Marshal Montgomery had more influence than Churchill.   
Churchill's attitude and animosity arises from his being haunted by the appalling loss of life in the Dardanelles landings thirty years before in the First World War, for which he feels he bore some responsibility, and is afraid that history might be repeating itself, with his name being vilified.  (We are spared of any warfare scenes).

Director Jonathan Teplitzky's probably best know for his 2013 film 'The Railway Man' with Colin Firth, which was fair enough without being a exceptional recommendation.

This one is a patchy film, interesting in sections but never quite taking off enough to keep one gripped despite our knowing how events turned out. I kept looking for things I hadn't known before, and I suppose that there's enough of them to keep the mind occupied. But as for making a satisfying whole (sensibly coming in at just a little over 90 minutes) I think it left something to be desired...............6.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Film: 'My Cousin Rachel'

Pleased to resume my cinema-going after a lengthy hiatus occasioned by 'circumstances' - which may well restrict the number of future similar outings for a while. Only to say for now that 'he' remains fragile, though superficially healthy apart from continuing very wobbly walk and alarming further loss of fur. When there's any more to report I'll do so.

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite writers. I've read more than a few of her works but not this one, an omission which now needs rectifying.

Set in rural England in what I take to be the late-18th century, the prologue shows a young boy being cared for by his guardian right until he returns from having attended school now grown up (Sam Claflin), his guardian whom he worships having been sent to Florence for recuperation from a brain tumour, and from whom he gets mail, first telling him of the lovely young woman he's become acquainted with there (the 'cousin Rachel' of the title) and then, continuing to sing her praises, the two of them marry - his correspondence suddenly becoming more disturbing until, fearing for his life at her hands, he begs his charge to come and help him. Is this for real or just a fancy of his fevered condition? Claflin rushes off to Italy to find that he has only recently just died while she is nowhere to be found. Returning to England, he is determined to seek her out and confront her - though finds out that she has already arrived at his home, which he will inherit on attaining the age of 25, she now the grieving widow seeking the solace of her cousin. He's resolved to have the matter out with her, being convinced that she was responsible for his guardian's demise. When they meet she (Rachel Weisz) turns out to be nothing like what he envisaged and his adversarial stance dissolves as he quickly becomes infatuated with her. He's also attracted to her independent spirit which can be quite forthright at times. So won over is he, in fact, that he refuses to entertain stories of her profligacy and rumours of her unfaithfulness when she was married with his guardian. He even bequeaths to her his greatest treasure, a pearl necklace which belonged to his mother. His blinkered. rose-tinted view of her continues and, against all advice, he formulates his own will, charging his entire state to her possession should he pre-decease her. He inevitably proposes marriage but is perplexed to find that her warm attitude to him changes. Too late and too bad for him! What we, the audience, can see he cannot. Therein lies the film's suspense, and most effective it is too for virtually the entire film, which held my attention without pause.

Two 'downers' for me was that the film's several intimate moments between the romantic couple were conveyed in hardly audible whispers, though I don't think that this was as important as the second - namely that I didn't quite understand a revelation given near the end, which was, presumably, intended to take one's breath away. I can understand what it was - the very final frames showed that up clearly - but it left me with a whole load of questions in my mind on the lines of "But if that was the case, why didn't....". It also left, though only in retrospect, some of the film of the interaction between the couple looking strangely ham-fisted and old-fashioned. Others may well have been carried along with it as a convincing development but for me it proved to be rather less than satisfactory.

All the acting, and the script as well, is of a very high order and the film looks terrific, not burdened by a background score which could easily have been melodramatic but was sensibly kept in check.

Director Roger Michell (also the screenplay writer) has some biggish films on his record, including 'Notting Hill', 'Venus' and 'Le Week-End' - and despite my minor reservations, this one also deserves to stand to his credit...................7.5