The Favourite (2018)

Biopics and costume dramas often intersect, as we’ve seen in The Favourite, and Keira Knightley has been particularly splendid at wearing an old frock and looking glamorous on-screen, though increasingly she’s also become an excellent actor, and Colette is a fantastic example of her recent craft.

Yorgos Lanthimos can go either way really can’t he? I didn’t even see his The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but I really liked The Lobster, and then there’s this, which seems like a carefully controlled “fvck you” to the whole industry of heritage filmmaking. It has the sumptuous sets and glorious frocks and the use of baroque music pulling it back to something like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon but then it just throws a bunch of stuff in that feels less like ‘let’s try and get the historical details exactly right’ (as many historical dramas are wont to do) and more ‘let’s do some free-form historical cosplay’. Needless to say, I think the latter is a far more rewarding strategy at this point in time, though given all the fun dance sequences, the chucking rotten fruit at bewigged naked guys, and the racing of lobsters, they might as well have cast more people of colour in prominent roles. Still, it’s a great film for it’s three leads (Colman, Weisz and Stone), and the way they just talk down to and over the men, who clearly think a lot of themselves but are also fools. The filmmaking feels at once liberated in the way it tries out ideas, but also very precise and controlled in the way it’s all filmed and put together.

The Favourite film posterCREDITS
Director Yorgos Lanthimos Γιώργος Λάνθιμος; Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara; Cinematographer Robbie Ryan; Starring Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult; Length 120 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Friday 28 December 2018.

London Road (2015)

The Wikipedia entry, at least when I checked it, called this film a “musical mystery thriller film”, but I don’t think that’s right. However, I concede there’s a level of confusion in approaching it, because certainly I’ve never before seen this kind of musical, taking place within the framework of a blend of kitchen-sink realism with talking-heads pseudo-documentary — like Andrea Dunbar via Clio Bernard (in her docudrama The Arbor) as approached by… oh, I don’t even know exactly! Who does musicals like this? But despite being an odd blend, it definitely works. The text is taken from the real-life testimony of locals living on Ipswich’s titular road — we hear the originals over the final credits — commenting on a spate of gruesome murders that took place in 2006. The film isn’t so much a mystery about who committed the murders (that particular issue is resolved fairly straightforwardly, although there certainly is speculation about it), nor is it a thriller exactly, it’s more a drama about how a street of ordinary Englanders — with all their innate conservatism and suspicion of outsiders (especially of the murderered prostitutes) — are oddly brought together as a community against the backdrop of the murders and all the unwanted media attention it brought to their street. Indeed, it’s this chatter of TV news speculation which first starts to cohere into singing within the film. So if the musical form itself is part of that glue, at first it’s only at a formal level — we start out with a bleak colour-drained provincial town filled with dread and mistrust, yet these quite different residents, who avoid one another’s gaze in expectation that each may be the murderer, nevertheless share the same words and echo refrains from one another’s documentary-like testimony. As the film goes on, characters are not just linked formally in this way, but start to actually sing with one another, though it never fully becomes like a typical musical. There may be dance sequences, after a fashion, but the lyrics remain very grounded in naturalistic speech patterns, with all the temporisers and anacolutha that characterise it. Moreover, the film is careful not to detach itself from reality: even towards the end, amongst those who have come to be the film’s moral centres (such as Olivia Colman’s Julie), there are little shards of close-mindedness. The last scene may be the closest it gets to the kind of elevation you might expect in a musical finale, and even that is tempered somewhat — not grandly bittersweet in the style of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but something just a little bit hopeful and a little bit sad.

London Road film poster CREDITS
Director Rufus Norris; Writer Alecky Blythe (based on the musical by Blythe and Adam Cork); Cinematographer Danny Cohen; Starring Olivia Colman; Length 91 minutes.
Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Monday 15 June 2015.

I Give It a Year (2012)

I’m writing this to catch up with the films I’ve seen this year; I saw this a month and a half prior to writing this review, and my memory of it has faded. It’s a British romantic comedy involving four people, two men and two women, who are with the wrong partners, basically. The film is about them finding the right ones (i.e. swapping who they’re with).

On the one hand, Rose Byrne is really pretty, and perfectly convincing as an uptight professional woman. On the other hand, not a single one of the four main characters is in any way likeable, which means by the end of the film I really don’t care whether or not they get together with the right person, or are all hit by a bus and die. I can reveal that the latter does not happen, but then what does happen is scarcely any more enjoyable.

What keeps the film from being an utter failure is that there are a number of nice comic cameos. Stephen Merchant as a boorish best friend is essentially in a different movie, and although he’s no more pleasant or likeable than the leads, he is at least intended to be that way; small consolation I concede. Even better is the ever-reliable Olivia Colman, who gets the biggest laughs as a relationship counsellor, even if she’s not particularly believable as one (the joke being that she has terrible relationship issues with her own spouse).

None of the actors is particularly bad: they do what the can with the material they have to work with. It’s just a pity, because this could be a likeable film (there were enough jokes to pack the trailer with mirth), it just manages to miss the target.

Director/Writer Dan Mazer; Cinematographer Ben Davis; Starring Rafe Spall, Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Stephen Merchant, Olivia Colman; Length 97 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 10 February 2013.