Two Recent Films by Amma Asante: A United Kingdom (2016) and Where Hands Touch (2018)

The end of this week sees the release of another adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, at the prospect of which I am distinctly underwhelmed, but it gives me an opportunity to round up some reviews I’ve done of British costume dramas and period films, which continues to make up perhaps the bulk of British filmmaking (or so, at least, it sometimes seems). I’m starting with Amma Asante, a veteran of the genre with Belle (2013). I’m covering her last two films here, and while I don’t think them both entirely successful (some have been far harsher online about the most recent), I think they still come from an earnest place of wanting to tell more stories about the past than we usually see on screen (certainly in the British costume drama). I think that much is worth celebrating.

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An Education (2009)

Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir of growing up, this 1960s coming of age film put star Carey Mulligan in the spotlight, and deservedly so. She is excellent in the central role of Jenny, a smart and studious schoolgirl in the prim suburbs of ‘swinging’ London who meets socialite David (Peter Sarsgaard) by chance and soon gets caught up in the romance of his whirlwind life, itself largely built on lies and deception. Her education, then, is not of the academic variety, but amongst the chancers and hangers-on of the real world. It’s all very handsomely mounted in its period detail and settings (though one gets the sense that these leafy West London residential streets haven’t necessarily changed all that much), and tells its story with economy and verve, thanks to Nick Hornby’s script and the help of an extensive range of English acting talent.

An Education film posterCREDITS
Director Lone Scherfig; Writer Nick Hornby (based on the memoir by Lynn Barber); Cinematographer John de Borman; Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Tuesday 20 October 2015.

Return to Sender (2015)

I was all ready to dismiss this film out of hand, I really was. It appears to have been given the most perfunctory of releases (I wasn’t able to see it at the cinema as none in London were showing it), capitalising in its advertising on star Rosamund Pike’s appearance in (the far more stylish but not thematically unrelated) Gone Girl. However, the finished film, while hardly a masterpiece, does feel somewhat more nuanced than one might expect from a mere recounting of the plot elements — essentially it’s positioned as a rape revenge thriller. Where the interest lies is in how Pike’s character of Miranda, a nurse, moves on (or doesn’t) from that initial attack by William (Shiloh Fernandez). The film’s title alludes to the correspondence Miranda attempts to inititiate with the (now jailed) William, and one spends most of the remainder of the film wondering when and how she’s going to take revenge, or even if that’s the direction the film is going — it keeps its options open for reconciliation, as well as for some kind of retaliatory revenge from Miranda’s father (played by an ageing and heavily-bearded Nick Nolte). The moral grey areas the film attempts to touch on are largely possible because Pike has far more versatility as an actor than the script sometimes allows. As a whole, it doesn’t feel fully satisfying, but it does touch on some interesting possibilities, and Pike is never less than watchable.

Return to Sender film poster CREDITS
Director Foaud Mikati فؤاد ميقاتي; Writers Patricia Beauchamp and Joe Gossett; Cinematographer Russell Carpenter; Starring Rosamund Pike, Shiloh Fernandez, Nick Nolte; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Wednesday 29 July 2015.

Three Short Reviews of Recent Popular Films: Gone Girl, Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (all 2014)

Unlike in 2013, I haven’t been writing reviews of every film I’ve seen this year. I also had trouble finding enough enthusiasm to write about some of the big tentpole blockbusters of the year, mainly because so many others have cast in their two cents, that mine seem entirely beside the point. Still, you’re more likely to have seen these films, so I thought I should at least write a few sentences to give my opinions, and you can disagree with me in the comments if you wish! (For what it’s worth, I’ve also taken to adding my ratings for unreviewed films on my film reviews by year page.)

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