Wednesday, 27 February 2013


After a fortnight's dearth of new films I'd been rather hoping that my first experience on return would be something special - and, very happily, it most emphatically was!

I first read David Mitchell's renowned novel two years ago. (It had been short-listed for the 2004 Man Booker prize). Consisting of half a dozen tales, each set in a different period, starting in mid-19th century and ranging up to the 24th century, with connections between them which are both character-wise and manifested in various aspects of the stories. Each segment is given its own style of language and mode of presentation - the latter including first-person narrative in journal form, epistolary format, Q & As as part of an interrogation and third-person espionage-type thriller. Must confess that in my first reading I did find the book perplexing and tough to get through. However, on hearing that it had been filmed, I re-read it recently - and this time did find it quite an astonishing achievement.
The book arranges its parts starting with the earliest in time, then going forward in leaps until the central, most-futuristic episode, then retreats in reverse order, ending back in the 19th century where it had begun.
The film, quite understandably, doesn't adopt this pattern but has the six tales running linearly in parallel, jumping between them, seemingly randomly, sometimes for quite a few minutes uninterrupted, at other times for just a few seconds, all with no single tale dominating the others. This may sound confusing but I didn't find that at all. It might also sound off-puttingly heavy, but in both book and film, at least one of the segments is very funny indeed.

As if to underline the connections between the stories, all the major actors (among them Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon) take on multiple roles, each appearing in several of the stories, sometimes close to unrecognisable, and even gender-crossing for some. One really ought to sit and wait for the final credits to find out which ones you will almost certainly not have spotted, some of which made my jaw drop! Great fun! (The last film I remember which employed this feature to a significant extent was Lindsay Anderson's excellent 1973 film 'O Lucky Man' - but 'Cloud Atlas' goes way beyond that in this particular respect. Incidentally, both films are also almost exactly the same length, at just under three hours - though neither of them feel like it).

It had crossed my mind as to whether I would have enjoyed this film as much as I did if I hadn't known the book. At first I thought I might have gone with a positive bias, but then recalled several very favourable reviews I've seen or heard where the person had not been familiar with the novel and were likewise impressed.

In sum, I found this the single most satisfying film I've seen in a very long time - challenging, thrilling, sad, thought-provoking, funny, intriguing, philosophic - you name it, it's all here. So, not for nothing I'm going to award 'Cloud Atlas' a rating I haven't given to any film since I started reviewing on these blogs. An extraordinary film like this deserves an extraordinary score:-

So, applause please for an ..................8.5. 


  1. I have to admit that I went to see this film with reservations. I had difficulty with the book and was not that eager to see the movie. What a surprise! The film was structured differently from the book and a character or two was left out - but it worked. And what an impressive list of actors! I was especially delighted to see Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess. I am glad that I followed my habit of staying for the credits. OMG, that was -- who knew? I plan on buying the DVD when it is released as there was just so much to take in that it requires a second or even a third viewing.

    1. Congruent minds yet again, Paul!
      Yes, as I say, the book was a struggle for me too - at least the first time round. But I think you might mirror my experience if you gave it another go.

      I could certainly have gone further with the list of actors I name above. There wasn't a weak link among them.
      I especially missed in the film not seeing the daughter of Ayres and Jocasta - as well as thinking that more could have been made of Frobisher's affair with J, but cuts have got to be made. The whole composer episode (echoing the real-life relationship between Frederick Delius and his amanuensis, Eric Fenby) was portrayed especially finely I thought, despite its omissions.

      In both book and film I found the most difficult to comprehend was the 24th century story with its reversion to primitiveness (at least as far as access to resources was concerned) and cannibalism. Reminded me a bit of the Eloi and Morlochs in 'The Time Machine'.

      It was good also to see Tom Hanks as a 'baddie' for a change. Must be about the first time I've ever seen him so. He, though, was always recognisable under all the disguises, but he's always also a compelling presence no matter what film he's in.

      I think the end credits should have started with the actors. A number of the audience had already left the cinema by the time the cast appeared - and I'm sure that, like you and me, they would likewise have been astonished at some of the 'revelations'.

      It's certainly a film I've got to see again.

      Btw: In the book there's a glaring mistake I picked up. A few pages from the end of the 2nd instalment of the 'Letters from Zedelgehm' section, Frobisher writes -
      "Franz Schubert maimed his hands by tying weights to 'em. He thought it'd increase his range at the keyboard. Majestic string quartets but what a bloody fool!"
      Well, that wasn't Schubert it was actually Robert Schumann - though it is indeed Schubert whose quartets are singularly admired, rather than those of Schumann. I just can't understand why no one picked this up before the book went to print.

  2. Ray, very interesting interview on Youtube with James D'Arcey

    1. Thanks, Paul. Will have a look at it tomorrow.

    2. Thanks very much for that link, Paul, which now gives me access to interviews with a whole range of people involved in the film. I'll go back and pick some out later.

      Hadn't really paid that much attention to James D'Arcy before now - though with his distinctive name I knew of him, of course. Quite a bit of a hottie, isn't he?
      His older characters in the film were remarkably and convincingly made up. Great pity that the film wasn't more recognised in the Oscars, being, as it was, not just so very original, but expertly executed as well.

    3. Even though I praised James D'Arcy in my 'Hitchcock' posting, inexplicably until now I hadn't made the connection that this was the same person as was in 'Cloud Atlas'. A sign of my own looming senility? Maybe I should have auditioned as an extra in 'Song for Marion'!

  3. This is one I thought I might like to see but never got the chance. I hadn't heard any opinions on it, but now I think I'll have to watch it when it comes out on DVD.

    1. That's a real shame as it's one of those many films that will lose quite a bit by only being seen on the small screen, though that itself is better than nothing. Definitely still worthwhile. It's a film one can get one's teeth into rather than being one to sit back and let it wash over. Highly recommended if you like the occasional brain-fodder!