Review: Suffragette

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DIR: Sarah Gavron • WRI: Abi Morgan • PRO: Alison Owen, Faye Ward • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alice Normington • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson

 

The distinct lack of films depicting the Suffragette movement in cinema since the silent era is unsurprising. Despite a host of documentaries and television movies exploring one of the most pivotal events in women’s history, cinema has predominantly shied away from the subject, possibly under the (mis) conception that suffrage is now irrelevant and contemporary audiences are better placed aligning their sympathies with more pertinent, identifiable social struggles. While most of the silent era films have been lost, those that survive delineate a collective portrait of aggressive, defeminized termagants, whose abandonment of traditional gender roles created havoc within existing social structures, allowing cinema to engage in negative propaganda and persistent stereotypes.

Sarah Gavron’s ambitious interpretation on British women’s suffrage follows its foot soldiers highly-charged campaign for social change in London, circa 2012. Penned by The Iron Lady writer, Abi Morgan, Suffragette, originally entitled The Fury, makes no apologies for its categorical feminist perspective, honouring the forgotten working-class women who fought to secure the right to vote and stand in political elections. Carey Mulligan stars as working-class washerwoman, Maud Watts, who is persuaded to join the movement, despite disapproval from her loving husband and lascivious boss. Under the encouragement of local pharmacist and seasoned activist, Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), downtrodden cockney, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and the watchful leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) Maud finds herself engaged in a flurry of violent, illegal activity to increase media publicity for the cause. Soon her defiant activism compromises her family and job and with the guileful police inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) determined to derail her efforts, Maud is forced to choose between her old, subordinated life or continue the bloody fight for emancipation.

A compelling and propulsive no-holds-barred interpretation, Suffragette does not shy away from accentuating the extreme subversive tactics employed by the bastions of the women’s movement in the face of frenzied, brutal opposition. Delving into the psyche and spirit of the era through a bold cinematic vision, Gavron pumps a thumping rush of furious energy into the inflammable, character-driven narrative, which steamrolls along at a ferocious pace, creating a palpable, nervous edginess, which perfectly executes the pervading social unrest of the era. Captured through a highly subjective, restless feminist lens, with many of the action sequences shot in media res, the camera belligerently probes and taunts to heighten the claustrophobic milieu of a disordered society on the brink of immense social change.

Determined to redress the balance of stereotype and negative connotations aligned with suffragette identity, Gavron welcomes a heady mix of heterogeneous characters that broadly traverse the social spectrum, ranging from impoverished skivvies to grand privileged dames, with specific emphasis on working-class women. Granting her leading ladies their own weighty biography, which stands in opposition to the commonly assumed portrait of masculine, subversive harridans or well-to-do socialites, Gavron succeeds in making visible and humanizing the unknown combatants who have been long forgotten or erased by history. Carey Mullingan, at the helm of the action, plays the reluctant activist with an understated but deeply intense emotional power, her face, persistently framed in confined close-ups, etched with invisible scars from years of oppression, abuse and interminable struggle.

Although Maud’s dissatisfaction with her lot propels her to action rather than any informed political leanings, aligning her more with the affluent socialites of the time who turned to the cause to out of boredom rather than socio-political motivation, it is her transformation, from a politically ignorant subordinate to an enlightened, mettlesome mutineer that reinforces the film’s core message. Maud’s political education and her awareness to the failings of the law, align the movement’s insurgent tactics to its political ambitions, rooting a more tangible comprehension of its history for contemporary audiences. By merging the political with the personal through an accessible narrative, Gavron reaches the nucleus of its ideology, redressing the manipulation of suffrage identity and situating Maud and her cohorts as more representative of the collective rather than the unfeminine disputants in over-sized hats, so often assumed.

While Maud’s characterisation succeeds in making visible diverse identities across the class divide, Gavron fails to delineate a balanced perspective on the movement in its entirety. Ethnic minorities, such as Indian women were particularly active in British suffrage and in light of the film’s overly feminist perspective, it loses some narrative weight by advocating an exclusively white agenda, which somewhat reinforces the stereotype she is fervently trying to avoid. Also noteworthy is the lack of attention to women that subscribed to an anti-suffrage ideology, largely on the basis of sexual difference but it is the director’s incendiary polemic on her male characters that is most questionable, which she appears to view with feminist revisionism rather than suffragist revisionism, two distinctly disparate political ideologies. The women in the film may be angry but Gavron is furious. While the inhumane treatment and sexual humiliation experienced by the suffragettes is represented with immense emotional power, Gavron explicitly indulges in masculine stereotypes, pejoratively promoting an anti-male perspective, her all too few sympathetic male characters withdrawing support once it impinges on domestic life. Male supporters who championed the movement are also disregarded, particularly those equally subjected to discriminatory laws by failing to meet specific property requirements. To Gavron, suffrage in Britain was an elite white, female club only.

The strength of Suffragette lies in its compelling portrait of British working-class women, which roots the political to the personal through an engaging narrative, impressive production values and superb performances, allowing contemporary audiences to easily identify with a more coherent suffragette ideology, not previously seen in cinema. The promotion of an overly subjective, feminist narrative detracts, at times, from the perspicuous portrait of working-class women and it is a shame that Gavron’s over-magnification of Maud’s narrative does not locate it within a wider social context nor take into account the active participation of other social groups and political supporters.

Despite such narrative oversights, Suffragette’s supreme message is unequivocal, quashing the notion that suffrage is irrelevant (a detailed list of the countries who have attained and still seeking suffrage accompanies the closing titles) and the fight for emancipation is far from over.

   Dee O’Donoghue

12A (see IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Suffragette is released 16th October 2015

Suffragette –  Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

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Review: Far From The Madding Crowd

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DIR: Thomas Vinterberg • WRI: David Nicholls • PRO: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich • DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen • ED: Claire Simpson • MUS: Craig Armstrong • DES: Kave Quinn • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple

 

Undoubtedly acclaimed filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg has had a somewhat fractured relationship with directing films in the English language, his previous two attempts, It’s All About Love (2003) and Dear Wendy (2005), mercilessly panned by critics and audiences. Obviously wounded by both experiences, it has taken ten years for Vinterberg to venture near English-language films, instead carving a celebrated career in his native tongue. However, in Far From the Madding Crowd, not only does the highly eccentric Dane revisit a language that has somewhat stained his otherwise accomplished filmography but he perversely provokes himself by undertaking an adaptation of one of the most revered quintessential British novels of all time and a novel that has already been exhausted by adaptations across the board in popular culture.

 

Carey Mulligan stars as the proud and willful Bathsheba Everdene, who has vowed to retain her independence and remain unwed. She lives and works with her aunt on a small farm and appears content with her uncomplicated life. When her uncle leaves his prosperous farm to her in his will, she becomes mistress of the land, relishing in her fortune and autonomy. Owing to her beauty and spirit, Bathsheba becomes the focus of many a suitor, including the dignified and stoical Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) whom she has already refused to wed, the wealthy but demoralized William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and gambling reprobate, ex-Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). All three men determine on taming and marrying Bathsheba, challenging her to succumb to her latent desires or retain her cherished freedom, throwing her into a complete entangled state of affairs.

 

With the spate of period dramas oversaturating both film and television industries in recent years, it can be quite exhausting for sated audiences to muster up enthusiasm for yet another period drama adaptation and for a director to root out some unchartered element to inject into a formulaic genre that refuses to be tampered with. However, with an idiosyncratic, art-house cinema virtuoso at the helm, it is reasonable to expect that Vinterberg’s aberration in directing Far From the Madding Crowd could transgress and alter the conventions of the traditional period drama by bringing a distinctive avant-garde style to a staid and stubborn genre. Alas, such expectations are not met and this is owing to Vinterberg’s reluctance to challenge the conventions of a cinematic genre in the manner in which he has founded his entire career upon, which comes as a complete disappointment.

 

The screenplay adaptation does not deviate in any way from its source material; therefore those familiar with the novel should not expect any narrative rude awakenings. Such an inflexible adaptation results in a rather half-hearted screenplay that lacks the energy of its source novel, failing to arouse or thrill on any level. That screenwriter David Nicholls harbours a fear of alienating ardent period drama / Hardy enthusiasts by reformulating an over-familiar plot is evident, but what is more regrettable is, although there are flashes of Vinterberg’s skilled craftsmanship throughout the film, it ultimately remains contained within the tight strictures of the genre and becomes no better or worse than the plethora of recent period dramas; solid and dependable but utterly riskless and tired, begging the question, is the period drama genre well passed its sell by date?

 

Mulligan is competent if not slightly confined in the role of spirited Bathsheba, which is somewhat ironic given the mettlesome characteristics of her character and Mulligan’s penchant for plucky but vulnerable heroines. She appears too self-contained by the limitations of the screenplay and finds herself with nowhere to go but join up the predictable and restrictive period drama dots. Matthias Schoenaerts has not been unduly stretched since his previous detached lead role in Alan Rickman’s recent costume drama, A Little Chaos, and again appears reluctant to navigate his character beyond specific emotional boundaries, but does inject just enough pathos into Gabriel Oak to consider him a plausible suitor for the headstrong but fragile Bathsheba. Both Michael Sheen, as the repressive-turned-obsessive Boldwood, and Tom Sturridge, as the capricious soldier Troy, more than compensate for the impediments of the two leading actors, commandeering each scene they are in and striking the perfect balance between fear and self-loathing and compulsive desire and manic obsession.

 

Aside from the supporting cast, the only other significant element redeeming Far From the Madding Crowd from its otherwise sluggishness is the style of the film. As is customary with BBC period dramas, the film is a beautiful spectacle to behold. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen has masterfully created a dazzling work of art with a kaleidoscopic vision of spellbinding and hypnotic landscapes captured through a frisky and fluid cinematic lens. The production design gleams, fusing sophisticated, gentrified wealth with agricultural peasantry and penury, aesthetically rooting the audience in late 19th century England, undoubtedly spectacular but not imposing enough to salvage the film from its overall narrative shortcomings.

 

Far From the Madding Crowd will undoubtedly appeal to period drama devotees who demand film adaptations remain faithful to its classic source material. All required narrative archetypes and characteristics of the genre remain firmly in tact; spirited heroine, brooding hero, charming villain, bumbling paramour, resplendent setting and costumes, entangled plot and linear narrative that overcomes conflict and order restored. It does remain difficult, however, to reconcile this adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd with a director who championed for a more aseptic form of filmmaking twenty years ago and if Vinterberg himself cannot inject some anomalous quirk into the jaded period drama, then perhaps it is time the genre itself took a long break in a nice quiet, rural place.

 

 Dee O’Donoghue

12A (See IFCO for details)

119 minutes

Far From the Madding Crowd is released 1st May 2015

 

Far From the Madding Crowd  – Official Website

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Inside Llewyn Davis

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Dir/Wri: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen  • Pro: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Terence Winter • DOP: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen  ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund

The Coen brothers are undoubtedly among contemporary cinema’s master storytellers, and Inside Llewyn Davis joins the ranks of their best work.

Set in the folk scene of New York in the early 1960s, their story focuses on Llewyn Davis, a musician. The death of his partner, Mike Timlin, leaves him to pursue a solo career, but it’s not easy to make a living and keep one’s artistic integrity. So, Llewyn trudges through wintry New York, looking for a place to keep his stuff, rest his head, and get some money. He even takes care of a cat.

Joel Coen admits that the film doesn’t really have a plot. The Coens take their simple premise and imbue it with the usual pleasures of their impressive oeuvre: great characters, brilliant dialogue, stylish shooting and good music.

Inside Llewyn Davis rests on the acclaimed filmmaking duo’s skills as writers. Their clever and frequent use of repetition in their writing makes even an elevator attendant  — “I have to run the elevators” —  a memorable character. They consider every speaking part capable of offering some pleasure, and each of their films benefits from an array of unique characters.

Here, these include John Goodman playing talkative jazz musician Roland Turner, who ambles about with two canes, and whose ramblings conceal a rather menacing character. Jerry Greyson plays Mel Novikoff, who struggles to manage Legacy, a record label. Max Casella plays Pappi Corsicato, who runs the Gasoline Café, where Llewyn performs. He’s not sure about folk music’s appeal, but he’s happy to take sexual favours from female musicians in return for arranging performances at the café.

Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play Jim and Jean, an act that performs at Pappi’s place, and they also help out their friend Llewyn. Timberlake provides one of the film’s highlights with his rendition of the ridiculously catchy “Please Mr Kennedy”. Jean’s abrasive attitude to Llewyn stems from their complicated history together. This conflict really drives the film before Llewyn leaves New York for Chicago.

Oscar Isaacs, as Llewyn Davis, is on-screen for almost the full length of the film. It’s a difficult role, as Llewyn remains aloof, cut off from his friends, and difficult to get on with. He takes his music seriously and wants others to take him seriously as a musician. On paper, Llewyn’s character doesn’t seem appealable, but Isaacs makes him likeable. It’s a great performance, matched by the excellent supporting cast.

The album cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in which Don Hunstein photographed Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s girlfriend, clinging to Dylan as they walk through New York’s wintry West Village, inspired the film’s distinctive look. DOP Bruno Delbonnel employs a colour palette consisting mostly of a range of greys, emphasising the bleak atmosphere in which Llewyn lives.

T-Bone Burnett scored a major hit in assembling bluegrass musicians for O Brother, Where Art Thou? Here, Burnett and the Coen brothers turn to the American folk revival. The film strips the music of its associations with left-wing politics. The songs sound wonderful, but their lyrical content is questionable. One wonders what the songs mean. “You might have heard it before. It’s not new and it never gets old and it’s a folk song,” says Llewyn. He sings well, he sings passionately, but, really, what is the point of depoliticized folk music? Dylan went electric, and folk music faded from pop culture.

Folk music provides an apt area for the Coen brothers to tell their story. Folk songs, as a medium, seem lost in 1960s New York. A rendition of “The Auld Triangle” by four men clad in Aran sweaters in the Gasoline Café highlights this. Their appearance is comic. Their apparel and their music are out of sync with the broader social changes hinted at in the film. Producer Bud Grossman (F Murray Abraham) “sees very little money” in what Llewyn has to offer as a musician.

What matters in folk music, it seems, is not so much the meaning of the lyrics and the origins of the songs, but the quality of the performance, the singing and the musicianship. In this way, folk music provides an apt analogy to the success of the Coen brothers, whose movies are frequently self-referential in setting out the import of the story they tell. They usually send up their stories as being just for the sake of telling an amusing story. The Big Lebowski features The Stranger telling a tale about the Dude. In Burn after Reading, the CIA are quite unsure what to take from the events reported to them. Inside Llewyn Davis features Ulysses, a cat that escapes from an apartment in which Llewyn stays. The cat’s reappearance links certain scenes and events, but one probably shouldn’t read too much into it.

Circular and serendipitous, Inside Llewyn Davis is a gentler, yet no less accomplished, addition to the Coen brothers’ body of work, which continues to evoke admiration.

John Moran

15A (See IFCO for details)
104  mins
Inside Llewyn Davis is released on 24th January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Drive – Film of the Week

You can't go on Thinking nothing's wrong Who's gonna drive you home tonight

DIR: Nicolas Winding Refn • WRI: Hossein Amini • PRO: Michel Litvak, John Palermo, Marc Platt, Gigi Pritzker, Adam Siegel • DOP: Newton Thomas Sigel • ED: Matthew Newman • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

Let’s get the pleasantries out of the way, Drive is one of the best movies of 2011. There, that should be all you need to know. But if you’re a particular stickler for knowing what a film is about before going to see it, here you go: Ryan Gosling is the nameless, borderline mute who is a movie stunt-driver by day and getaway driver by night. He falls for his neighbour Carey Mulligan, right before her boyfriend is released from prison, and the guy is barely out five minutes before being blackmailed to do One Last Job (copyright every crime movie ever). Gosling offers to help out, but of course Things Go Very Wrong (copyright every movie with One Last Job), and before you know it, Gosling has found himself in the middle of a gangster turf war.

Gosling is absolutely amazing in his role, doing a lot with very little. He doesn’t say a word in the movie’s insanely tense opening getaway, but everything you need to know is right there in his actions. Mulligan brings a real sense of fragility to her part, and her scenes with Gosling are brilliantly subtle and uniquely romantic. There is also some brilliant supporting work on display by Bryan Cranston as Gosling’s boss/only real friend, along with Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as the femme fatale, the bad guy and the REALLY bad guy, respectively.

The whole movie is tied together perfectly by director Nicolas Winding Refn’s razor sharp application of spot on cinematography, editing and soundtrack. The quiet, blossoming moments of burgeoning romance are sharply interjected by scenes of shockingly explicit violence, but these shifts in tone don’t jar in the slightest, instead fuelling the uniquely compelling aspects of this immensely entertaining masterpiece. A must-see for any fan of modern cinema.

Rory Cashin

Rated 18 (seeIFCO websitefor details)

Drive is released on 23rd September 2011

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAc23x2JJG0


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An Education

An Education

DIR: Lone Scherfig • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • DOP: John de Borman • ED: Barney Pilling • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike

An Education, funnily enough, presents the story of young schoolgirl Jennie (Carey Mulligan) and chronicles the events her whirlwind education on bridging the gap between childhood and adult life. The film is short, quaint, charming and, most importantly, affecting.

First off, director Lone Scherfig does an excellent job of setting the stage of early 1960s London. I think. Although I have no firsthand experience of this, the atmosphere is set by Jennie’s perpetual boredom with young life, and her eagerness for college, travel and other such worldly experiences. This aptly mirrors the blossoming of the sixties, and the slow transformation from ‘boring’ post war England. Or so I’d imagine. However, the additional references to emerging French Existentialism, social awkwardness regarding Jews (and the French, naturally), and C.S. Lewis help to set the scene delicately. Additionally, the almost militant drive of the female teachers in Jennie’s school to mould their pupils into successful independent women echoes the snowballing feminist thrust of this era nicely.

Perhaps the most significant culture shock of the whole film however, is the interest in and subsequent courtship of Jennie by the charming, businesslike, and altogether very VERY British, David (played by the American Peter Sarsgaard). It is obvious the man could easily be more than twice the sixteen-year-old’s age, and a modern mind instinctively suspects him to be a pervert. However, as this is the early 1960s, I forcibly remind myself that relationships like this were not uncommon. Never the less, for the entire film it is hard to shake the feeling that the man is depraved. Curiously, I admire this trait, as the uneasiness challenges some values of both the sixties and the current decade.

Regarding the pacing, it is not the most exciting film in the world, though it never claims to be. The tempo is steady, with no major peaks or troughs, but with a general acceleration of intrigue, chronicling Jennie’s background, her encounters, her choices, her mistakes and eventually her attempts to rectify them.

As this is not the most sensually arresting film, one would expect the dialogue and character interactions to impress. As expected, they are the film’s strong suit. Each character, despite being VERY British, is distinct and unique, and the fluidity of dialogue between individuals is very realistic. For example, Jennie initially struck dumb on her first few outings with David, is conversely impeccably quick and snappy with her father, which is believable, considering she has sixteen years experience at it.

An Education is such an insulated story that it is difficult to review without giving too much away. However, by the film’s conclusion, there are satisfactory answers to the questions asked therein. With a title like An Education, it doesn’t take a genius to guess the film may occasionally ponder on the merits of having an education. The film comprehensively confirms that although a school is not the only place to receive it, an education is necessary for the transition from childhood in to adult life. A difficult point to fault.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
An Education
is released on 30th Oct 2009
An Education – Official Website

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