My oh my, what a mixture of British filmmaking talent on display in part eight. Mr Shakespeare shows up once again, banging his tragic love drum. Modern romance makes an appearance, too. We travel the continents, from Belgium to India. There’s some rather grounded alien activity. And whether you go out into the woods today, or stay in your car for the duration, there is more heartache to follow. And, of course, a certain pair of red shoes.
The Red Shoes – Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (1948)
It’s tough to say exactly how much a film like, say, Black Swan, could revive a kind of popularity of ballet for those outside of the realm of dance. In an early exchange with Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), in the magnificent 1948 film The Red Shoes, Lermontov says to her: “We were, it appears, to be treated to a little dancing exhibition. But now I understand we are to be spared that horror.” A failure to impress the young dancer, as she retorts: “Mr. Lermontov, I am that horror.” A faux pas rather than a meet cute, but their relationship will form professionally. The real love story is between Vicky and Julian. And ballet, gloriously displayed in wondrous Technicolor, is the real prize here.
Written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Red Shoes derives from the fable of the shoemaker and the mystic red shoes he gives to a girl, who is then unable to stop dancing when she wears them. The 1948 film handles this notion without the demonic presence alone, but rather ambition and drive to succeed. Though that final sequence, with the timeless red-shoed feet pattering down the spiral steps, strongly hint at the possessed fate. Unforgettable original music by Brian Easdale, and majestic cinematography from the great Jack Cardiff, contribute heavily to the classic status of The Red Shoes. Whichever list you pull up, you’ll find it to be judged as one of the very best British films ever made. – – – – – Robin
Eden Lake – James Watkins (2008)
Nursery teacher Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and her boyfriend Steve (Michael Fassbender), escape for a romantic weekend away. Steve, planning to propose, has found an idyllic setting: a remote lake known as Eden Lake, enclosed by woodlands, and seemingly deserted. The couple’s peace is shattered when a gang of obnoxious kids encircles their campsite. Reveling in provoking the adults, the gang steals the couple’s belongings and vandalizes their car, leaving them completely stranded. When Steve confronts them, tempers flare and he suffers a shocking and violent attack. Fleeing for help, Jenny is subject to a brutal and relentless game of cat-and-mouse as she desperately tries to evade her young pursuers, and find her way out of the woods.
Eden Lake is one of the most chilling films I have ever watched, and I can’t remember the last time a film evoked such raw emotions in me. Watching this film is an experience more than words can describe, it plays on pure emotion. You’re sucked into the whole atmosphere, to the characters – both the good and the bad – and it really eats you up, and leaves you with this bundle of emotions that catch you off guard. And in the end, leave you empty-handed. The film’s ending is like a stab to the heart, brutal stuff. – – – – – Bianca
My Summer of Love – Pawel Pawlikowski (2004)
My Summer of Love is a Focus Features production, which took home a BAFTA Award in 2005 (for the ‘Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film’), and stars Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, and Paddy Considine. Taking place in the idyllic countryside of Yorkshire, the film explores heavy themes – including homosexuality, love, mental illness, and coming of age. As Focus is often known for, the picture explores these themes in an introspective and pensive way, neither glamorizing nor exploiting them in the process. It’s not a film meant to shock, but to acknowledge. Mona (Press), a sixteen-year-old girl, with a troubled brother, falls in love with the pampered Tasmin (Blunt). But that’s not the point of the film. My Summer of Love doesn’t mean to jab a stick at their love affair for entertainment, but rather uses it to get into the psyche of both as it tells its story.
Blunt and Press both do thoughtful jobs here. Blunt, who has since shown herself to be an amazing actress (her performances in 2018’s A Quiet Place and 2015’s Sicario remain to me two of her best), and here fills the shoes of Tasmin well. Tasmin is a soul that – like most adolescents – doesn’t quite know who she is and is eager to find out. That Mona could be hurt in the process is likely irrelevant. Likewise, Press (a native of Britain, and My Summer of Love regrettably the only work this writer has seen her in) is captivating and real, and paints Mona with a detailed brush. Her brother, played well by Considine, comes between her and Tasmin in a way that only adds to the picture’s effectiveness. – – – – – Mark
Romeo and Juliet – Franco Zeffirelli (1968)
Romeo and Juliet, the play by William Shakespeare, was one that kept coming back to me during childhood, but mostly through my last years of high school. Fair to say I’d memorised most of it by that time. Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of the supposed greatest love story ever told, was one of my first forays into Shakespeare on film. And I thought it was perfect then. Revisiting now, years and years later, I was spellbound once again. A sumptuous adaptation, accordingly lavish in its photography, costume and set design, performers executing their lines from the page out into the world as Shakespeare would have intended. And Nina Rota’s score, a timeless echo of melodic, poignant grace.
Franco Zeffirelli’s grasp of the tragic-romance is pretty flawless. We all know the tale, love comes fluttering amidst opposing family fueds. Verona, Italy is our setting, as the Montagues and the Capulets lock horns – especially so when young lovebirds, Romeo (a Montague) and Juliet (a Capulet), are drawn to each other like crossing stars. Young breakthrough talent, and appropriately aged, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, bring a vibrant innocence to the teenage lovers, and there’s a heart-felt, resilient passion in both their performances. Their chemistry is irresistible, and fits the mold created by Shakespeare. Woeful and wonderful. – – – – – Robin
Hunger – Steve McQueen (2008)
Directed by Turner Prize winning artist Steve McQueen, Hunger sparked both controversy and applause at the Cannes Film Festival, with both disgusted walkouts and rousing ovation. The film follows the final weeks of Bobby Sand’s hunger strike, it is equally about recreating the atmosphere and conditions inside the infamous Long Kesh Maze Prison. Bobby is played by Michael Fassbender, who gives a quietly powerful performance. For the film, he underwent a medically supervised crash diet, one rivaling – if not outright surpassing – that of Christian Bale in The Machinist. He moves throughout the film with a sense of determination and dedication, delivering one of the best performances of his career. The film looks visually impressive too, with the cinematography by Sean Bobbitt being a high point, capturing the claustrophobic, monotonous setting of prison life.
McQueen tests our patience and the conventions of cinema, and there is one long sequence where a guard cleans the corridor with the camera static for several minutes. The only eerie sounds of the brush scrubbing the floor, reinforcing the powerlessness prisoners face when they are deprived of their freedom. The film’s greatest and most impactful scene comes when Sands converses and argues with a visiting Catholic priest. An unmoving camera is trained upon these two protagonists for what must be nearly half an hour, as Sands reveals his plan for a new hunger strike, and defends his methods of achieving political goals, ultimately berating what he sees as the priest’s despondency and inertia. This is an utterly compelling piece of cinema, which may be hard to watch, but a must-see all the same. – – – – – Bianca
Locke – Steven Knight (2014)
A hard to sell plot like that of Steven Knight’s Locke, set pretty much entirely at the wheel of a car with one man, is in concept reminiscent of a Cast Away or an All Is Lost. You add the character’s dilemma, and you might also think of a Buried or a Phone Booth. Locke is, though, not a hard sell at all, and not really like any of those movies it turns out. This plot revolving around a dramatic change of fortunes for one man on a 90 minute drive to London at night, is neither simple nor tedious. Not even for one of those minutes. It’s actually a compelling and realistic ride, with a truly momentous central performance by Tom Hardy.
Other than the gliding bobbles of color passing by, reflecting through the vehicle’s glass out in the night-time motorway (the editing and cinematography are refreshingly great), you don’t have much choice to take your eyes off Tom Hardy. But you don’t want to anyway. His anguish oozes from him as he just tries to keep it together. He shows moments, seconds of eruption. He tries to convince and reassure himself, and the person at the other end of the telephone line, while tears roll down his face. Hardy is simply brilliant, it is like watching a real person in real time. And in the wide open night roads or within the enclosure of the driver’s seat, Locke has nowhere to go for the moment to really escape his catastrophe. – – – – – Robin
Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer (2013)
Unlike Michael Faber’s book that the story was adapted from, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin (2013) adopts a unique point of view, that only discloses information empirically. In media res, we see a young attractive woman driving a van around Scotland, and stopping to ask men for directions. The men get in the van, have a brief conversation, and then follow Scarlett Johansson’s character home. The interior of the house transforms into a dark space, a perfect background for the sight of stripping bodies.
Mica Levi’s larger-than-life soundtrack overwhelms the on-screen space. The men drawn into the darkness, which turns into a liquid void that engulf them. We drown with them. There is a terrifying lack of empathy in her, and in the film itself, a strangeness, an inviting void. I have seen this film at home, in the cinema, one time I was lucky enough to watch it accompanied by Levi’s live performance. It is an immersive film, a pure mood that reminds us, once again, the only way that one can make sense of art is through one’s senses. – – – – – Theodosia
In Bruges – Martin McDonagh (2008)
London based hit men, Ray (Brendan Gleeson) and Ken (Colin Farrell), are told by their boss, Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes), to lie low in Bruges, Belgium for up to two weeks, following their latest hit, which resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. Harry will be in touch with further instructions. While they wait for Harry’s call, Ken, following Harry’s advice, takes in the sights of the medieval city with great appreciation. But the charms of Bruges are lost on the simpler Ray, who is already despondent over the innocent death, especially as it was his first job.
I’ve never really been a fan of Colin Farrell, but who knew he had such a good sense of comedic timing? Brendan Gleeson’s character provides the moral center, and plays the straight man to Farrell’s Ray. This works well as the movie turns more serious towards the end. However, the best performance is delivered by Ralph Fiennes, who plays the pair’s criminal overlord back in London. Whereas Gleeson’s character embodies the moral center, Fiennes’s Harry fills the role of principled immorality, if there is such a thing. Fiennes creates a character with a dubious moral center ,and is a quite believable figure of menace when he travels to Bruges to square off with Ken. With some great comedic moments, hilarious dialogue and great performances, In Bruges is an absolute riot to watch. – – – – – Bianca
Lady Macbeth – William Oldroyd (2017)
Sinfully overlooked across the mainstream awards circuits last year, the exquisite Lady Macbeth, was one of the most loved films from last year. Adapted from a short story by Nikolai Leskov – Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, this is more Emily Brontë than William Shakespeare by the way. And it earns its label as one of the best breakout films of 2017. A young woman conspires ever so slyly to turn her life around, releasing herself from a shackled existence, married to a brutal, loveless older man. Lady Macbeth is packed with debuts, with the director, William Oldroyd, screenwriter, Alice Birch, and much of the cast.
Florence Pugh’s dominant performance in Lady Macbeth is reminiscent in tone and delivery to the cold, front-line kind of role we use to see the likes of Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck et al chew up in their day. It’s a compliment, sure, but the subtlety and under-lying repression and suffering that Pugh’s character has to endure requires a certain poise and grace – necessities which the young actress seems to carry under her wing so seamlessly. It’s an impressive, sassy display, even at her most wicked and vengeful. – – – – – Robin
A Passage to India – David Lean (1984)
A Passage to India is adapted from the novel by E.M. Forster, a work ahead of its time when published in 1924. The centre of the film’s story is two characters, Ms. Adela Quested (Judy Davis) and an Indian man Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee). And the film is set during India’s British rule in the roaring twenties. It is Adela’s first time out of England as she is on her way to visit India to meet her fiancé, who’s a judge in colonial British territory. Accompanying her, is her friend and future mother-in-law, Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft), who shares common interests with Adela in wanting to see real India – in experiencing the countryside and meeting real Indians.
To their astonishment however, they soon realize that the occupying English populace aren’t as enthusiastic about the idea of making close contact with these everyday Indians, believing India is best experienced at a distance. This gem of a film explores the themes of repression, illusion, racism, tolerance, forgiveness, self-discovery, and justice all piled up into an unforgettable symbolically and visually breathtaking masterpiece. This is David Lean at his best. He was the master at creating an unforgettable atmosphere on an epic scale. This film was literally like a passage to India. – – – – – Bianca