Where thou, a rose. A rose, thateth smells as sweet. By the name of, erm. A rose that hast, another name wonst smell as sweet. No, will smell as sweet. So, thy name of any other rose willst, the smell will taste as sweet. Oh, bugger thine self. While this fair knave doth figure this out, feast your wanton eyes upon the colony of films ‘cross Anglon shores.
Shakespeare in Love – John Madden (1998)
I’m not going to dwell on the Oscar season that closed with Shakespeare in Love winning Best Picture. And six other gold statuettes. Nor will I debate the justification for giving Gwyneth Paltrow Best Actress over Cate Blanchett. Or the 8 minutes on screen of Judi Dench. With the Academy Awards, however, you are rarely as good as the films you beat. And in that sense, the reputation of Shakespeare in Love may have been dipped in murky waters. Truth be told, John Madden’s Elizabethan comedy of errors is stacked with charm, beauty, and wit aplenty. A real crowd-pleaser, you might say.
Young Bill Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), is stumbling through writer’s block until his muse arrives. Commissioned to scribe what would eventually become Romeo and Juliet (and thankfully not Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter), Shakespeare falls for Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), and is wagered by Queen Elizabeth I (Judi Dench) to show the nature of love through a play. The original screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard is crammed with timely puns, but also pays comical reference to the era, as well as snippets from other plays of Shakespeare. – – – – – Robin
A Fish Called Wanda – Charles Crichton (1988)
There are some comedies which are just timeless classics, which will remain amusing, no matter what. A Fish Called Wanda is one of those comedies. With its uniquely eccentric characters and delightfully absurd story-line, A Fish Called Wanda is one of the funniest films ever made. I often put it on if I am having a tough time, because it never fails to put me in a good mood. The exhilarating screenplay works on so many level, centering around a diamond heist gone wrong by crooks Jamie Lee Curtis (a woman who is sexually excited by accents), Kevin Kline (as Otto the moronic ex-CIA agent who’s too stupid to realize that he’s stupid) and Michael Palin (a stuttering Animal’s rights activist who owns the fish called Wanda after Jamie’s character).
Somehow reserved British lawyer Archie Leach (John Cleese), gets caught up in all the craziness. It’s clear that the top-notch cast obviously had an excellent time doing this film-job, and there is one actor who deserves extra praise for his role here – and that’s Kevin Kline. His hyperactive, deranged, and extravagant character Otto is one of the most brilliant roles in comedy cinema ever! His over the top monologues will make you fall off your seat laughing. Kline won an Oscar for his role, and rightly so! – – – – – Bianca
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos (2015)
The Lobster has much to say about the conquest for companionship, some of it on the surface and some of it you have to seek out yourself. And there is a melancholic, lonely feel to the whole affair, not too unlike how we might actually feel in certain longing-for-romance circumstances. It questions the genuine nature of love (on a scale of 1 – 15 at one point), when held at gunpoint the hotel manager and partner, are questioned who can live alone better, thus killing the other. The pulling the trigger on the unloaded gun foils the now afflicted, and the very notion of loyalty itself. Dry humor is given straightforward delivery, and that works like a dream.
The laughs in The Lobster, though, are not all sources of comedy in the generic sense, but somehow an appreciation of the genius, the way you would perhaps gasp a laugh with exuberance at the joy of really good news or unfathomable innovation. I know people perhaps stuck their noses up at the concept of The Lobster, certifying it as weird before giving it a chance. Believe me, weird is a worthy compliment, but The Lobster is far more than that. Much more. Layered with intelligent perceptions and inventive ways to tell a story, this is a screenplay that deserves more than to be classed as one of the year’s finest. – – – – – Robin
Under the Skin – Carine Adler (1997)
The 1997 film named Under the Skin, not the Jonathan Glazer one, not only slipped through the net, but is also one of the BFI’s hidden treasures. By no means a fairy-tale, though, Under the Skin is a gritty British drama to rival the top tier of films in the sub-genre. Written and directed by Carine Adler, the film follows one of two grown up sisters, who react to the passing of their mother in very different ways. One has a family, and her feet on the ground, the other is spring-boarding into a lifestyle of haphazard decisions, without regard to consequences on those around her – or indeed herself.
Samantha Morton, an under-appreciated actress for years, is a vibrant mess as Iris. A free-spirited, but devastating, performance, one which scars you like scraping knuckles against bricks. An unrelenting social life, all the while on some kind of self-destructing mission, Iris does her troubled soul no end of good by her frivolous antics. Under the Skin drags you through the mud, but also packs an emotional punch in the midst of varying strands of grief, and the lack of one’s control. This is Morton’s film, no doubt, but there are some fine supporting players, including Claire Rushbrook as her sister, Rose, and a poignant turn from Rita Tushingham. – – – – – Robin
A Hard Day’s Night – Richard Lester (1964)
A Hard Day’s Night is probably more responsible for the Beatles’ enduring image in our culture than any single song they made. The film is a mock documentary following The Beatles – the world’s most famous rock and roll band – as they travel from their hometown of Liverpool to London, to perform in a television broadcast. Along the way, they must rescue Paul’s unconventional grandfather from various misadventures, and drummer Ringo goes missing just before the crucial concert. The script is clever in that it showcases the personalities of the group, without asking them to do much acting.
Those who comment on their lack of acting ability, aren’t really taking into consideration the fact that the director wasn’t looking for dramatic skill. Only for a degree of naturalness, which was achieved. Wilfred Brambell tags along to give comedy relief, and the whole thing fits in plenty of songs. This is the perfect record of Beatlemania: The driving beat songs (cranked out even quicker on stage), the backstage sieges, the ping-pong put downs that is the hallmark of English humour, the screaming that overpowered the performance. Enjoyable at the time (as light entertainment), it has become an important historical document now, and every generation should see it. – – – – – Bianca
Blowup – Michaelangelo Antonioni (1968)
I’m not exactly breaking news, that the thought of Italian filmmaking supremo Michaelangelo Antonioni crossing over to make an English-language picture, would be extremely tantalizing. Of course, there were likely doubts as to whether Antonioni could capture his unique style of cinema, in essentially a foreign land. Any such qualms were on thin ice, for Blowup is a remarkable shift of scenery for the director, but his undeniable talent shines through.
Portraying an often vivid and illuminating London of the swinging era, Blowup also captures the vibe of the English landscape, both figuratively, and actually. At the center of it, is David Hemmings’ Bailey-esque photographer, who embroils himself into what appears to be a murder mystery. The revealing power of the photograph is a compelling angle in Antonioni’s social scrutiny, as the photographer falls deeper into a kind of suspicious haze. The film’s final moments are extraordinary, without being spectacular nor closing the narrative in a conventional manner. Which is brilliant. – – – – – Robin
Fish Tank – Andrea Arnold (2009)
Andrea Arnold represents grey areas of life very successfully. She portrays that life circle, that it is never created by foreseeable rules. That’s why obscurity is a strong theme in her movies. However, obscurity is not only a topic about depressive outlook, but also a link between the audience’s perception of the world, and the character’s motivations. Truth or falsity can be shaped by the modern life, and a character’s world shows that obscurity actually depends on changeable truths, lies, ideals, imaginations. In Fish Tank, the main character, Mia, tries to find where she is in her own life throughout the movie. She has a kind of motivation, but life has obstacles for her because of society’s inequality with income, family, getting short shrift.
Mia is a 15 year-old teenager, and she feels she has the ability to change her life, like many teenagers. Living is a simulator in Mia’s world, and the fish tank is a term of reflection. Mia lives for appearance sake, and the ideal world is created outside. However, it is not clear where is outside for her. Dance is the only freedom of expression Mia seems to have, and Andrea Arnold chooses her colors generally from a muddy palette, except in those dance scenes. Mia’s dreams, and the parts of the world which oppose them, are fighting each other in the fish tank. – – – – – Sezen
The Innocents – Jack Clayton (1961)
In Victorian England, the uncle (Michael Redgrave) of orphaned niece Flora (Pamela Franklin) and nephew Miles (Martin Stephens), hires Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) as governess to raise the children at his estate, with total independence and authority. Soon after her arrival, Miss Giddens comes to believe that the spirits of the former governess Miss Jessel and valet Peter Quint, are possessing the children. Miss Giddens decides to help the children to face and exorcise the spirits. The Innocents is one of those films that proves subtlety and imagination can be more terrifying than loud noises or jump scares. Everything about this movie is haunting.
First, there’s the song at the beginning: you hear a young girl’s voice singing a beautiful yet somber song. Later, you hear that song in several scenes in the movie, which will provoke your chilling interaction with it at the start of the film. There are some moments of special effects that are very well done, even if it is done in the style of overlapping images and dreamer/dreamed simultaneousness. The lack of gore, of cheap surprise, or of obvious scare tactics, makes the movie a relief, and a bit of cinematic magic. They certainly don’t make films quite like this anymore. – – – – – Bianca
Doctor Zhivago – David Lean (1965)
Doctor Zhivago marks yet another extraordinary chapter of David Lean’s epic filmography. A Russian-set tale, adapted from the Boris Pasternak book. With Omar Sharif as the illustrious Yuri Zhivago, the doctor of the title, and we follow his change in fortunes over the years – a troubled time for Russian with the revolution. And Julie Christie also plays an integral part, as Lara, the other half of a very complex love story. But the years are cruel, and a simple life together continues to elude them. For this is a grand story, with a multitude of inflecting characters, and turbulent times. The ensemble is impressive, to say the lease, with the likes of Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Rod Steiger, Geraldine Chaplin, Ralph Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Klaus Kinski, all playing key roles. Wow.
At over three hours, Doctor Zhivago did come with its own intermission, splitting the picture in two parts. If not for The Sound of Music, this would surely have won more Academy Awards than the well-deserved five it got. Among those Oscars, was Freddie Young for his expansive, gorgeous cinematography; and the remarkable score from Maurice Jarre. An enduring film, for sure, Doctor Zhivago has plenty of narrative turns, and character scope for all tastes. Some unforgettable moments, too. The kind that can wrench at your heart all these decades later. When an older Zhivago believes he sees Lara from a tram, but she never sees him, and his dash to her is thwarted by more heartache, is definitely one of them. – – – – – Robin
Howards End – James Ivory (1992)
In 1910, E. M. Forster invited us to Howards End with his novel, which soon became one of England’s most beloved texts. Set at the dawn of the 20th century, the story lingers on and around the well-to-do, wealthy folk, but also the more impoverished members of society. More directly, the families of Wilcox and Schlegel. The 1992 film adaptation is an exquisite, immaculately shot affair, rife with the familiar prejudices and social conformity we are accustomed to with these literary classics. Intentions to wed are fleeting, pregnancy is frowned upon, leering scandals are afoot. I mean, this is much more than the depiction of historic values and class indifference.
Howards End was nurtured by the magnificent film-making trio of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. As the Academy Awards got closer, Howards End was considered the favorite. Finally, perhaps, the team that brought us such eloquent examples of period film, like A Room With a View, and were holding up the British film industry, would score the big prize in America. It was not to be, though Howards End netted gold for Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay, and a deliriously good Emma Thompson for Best Actress. The costume drama gathered in the applause once again, only it really was a turning point in UK cinema, we just didn’t know yet. – – – – – Robin
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