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Review – Suffragette (12a) [2015]

Suffragette - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Sarah Gavron – Brick Lane, Village At The End Of The World

Writer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

The right to vote is an emotionally charged subject. In the UK, the right to vote is a birth-right for citizens of eighteen and above. But we must not forget that this was not always the case, and women had to fight harder to acquire this right.

Suffragette - Maud and her husband in the factory

Maud (Carey Mulligan) working in the grimy laundry factory with her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw).

At the turn of the twentieth-century, most men could vote in the UK but women could not. Rightly, this caused tension and gave rise to the Suffragette movement, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffragettes used ‘direct action’ to bring attention to the injustice of women being unable to vote. Suffragette focuses on this movement, and the consequences these women suffered to bring the injustice of women being denied the right to vote to the forefront of the world’s attention. But, sadly, none of it is done particularly well.

Suffragette is set in London between 1912-13. It is based around real events but our protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is fictional. Maud works in a laundry factory, struggling to make ends meet. Appalled at the working conditions and the treatment of women by her boss, Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell), Maud joins the Suffragettes and gradually becomes more and more involved in the movement, despite the consequences of doing so.

Suffragette is a surprisingly bland and uninteresting film. The movie starts off with a funereal drum beat, plus some misogynistic quotes from British politicians taken out of context. This sets the tone for a highly unsophisticated, puerile and uneventful outlook of the era and the movement. Alas, the film does not improve as it goes on. Worse, the film becomes sterile, making its 106-minute run time seem considerably longer.

Maud at a demonstration for women's right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

Maud at a demonstration for women’s right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

For all the film’s sterility, Suffragette grapples well (and not so well) with some of the issues plaguing the era. The film successfully shows us that conditions in factories were horrible back then; that people were much more patriotic back then toward the monarchy and the country compared to nowadays; that women, their offspring and their properties were controlled by their (abusive) husbands; that the Suffragettes adopted dubious, violent, and borderline-terrorist methods to get their message heard; and that the Suffragettes were treated harshly in prison. This gives us some insight into the mindset and workings of pre-World War I British society, which is interesting.

But, alas, all of the above is tackled only at a shallow level in the film. Moreover, by the end of Suffragette, one learns little else about the era, other than that all the men were ignorant, misogynistic, lying, woman-beaters, and that all the women were heroines monolithically united in their struggle to get the vote. This is woefully unrepresentative of the era and unacceptably simplistic. If anything, this tells us more about script-writer Abi Morgan than about the era she wishes to portray. It is almost as if Morgan is more interested in imposing her opinions (propaganda) upon her audiences than portraying history fairly. Then again, this is not the first time that Morgan has imposed her views on viewers and portrayed history unfairly. She did it in The Iron Lady by riding roughshod over Margaret Thatcher. So should viewers really have gone into Suffragette expecting an honest portrayal of the Suffragette movement and the era, with Morgan having written the movie?

The lack of objectivity in the film means that the cast of Suffragette have one hand tied behind their backs from the outset. In spite of this, however, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Natalie Press (who plays Emily Davison) all perform decently. Also, Meryl Streep puts in a solid cameo as the fire-brand Emmeline Pankhurst.

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Nevertheless, the cast are further let down by clunky dialogue and by the lack of depth in their characters. Both of these have the knock-on effect of rendering the cast unsympathetic and lifeless. And when a predominantly female cast comes across as unsympathetic and lifeless about a subject as emotive and justifiable as the right for women to vote, something is seriously wrong with the film.

Over-all, Suffragette is a very disappointing movie. Yes, the film effectively highlights that women in the UK did not have the right to vote at the turn of the twentieth-century and that the Suffragettes brought the issue to the world’s attention with their antics. All the same, though, the film portrays the era and the Suffragette movement in an inexcusably one-dimensional, immature manner. Consequently, the movie is dull and if it wasn’t for the cast, the movie would have been duller still.

Considering that the issue Suffragette deals with has such emotion behind it, it is stunning how little emotion Suffragette evokes. This is an injustice to the women (Suffragette or otherwise) who put their lives on the line back then to win the right to vote in the UK; and it is an injustice to all women in the world who still put their lives on the line to win such rights today.

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Review – Les Misérables (12a) [2013]

Les Mis - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

At the beginning of 2012, audiences were treated to the silent film, The Artist. It was unexpectedly charming and something different in an age of formulaic, clichéd blockbusters. A year on, and audiences are treated to something different once again in the form of the marvellous Les Misérables.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

The storyline is based upon the 1862 historical-fiction novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent theatre production. It loosely centres round Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javier (Russell Crowe). Jean Valjean is a convicted man, who breaks his parole and seemingly vanishes in his bid to start a new life. Javier, the Inspector, upon discovering what Jean Valjean has done, is determined to find Prisoner 24601 and bring him to justice.

The plot for Les Misérables is more detailed and layered than that, especially as it has a large cast all with roles to play before the story ends. Unlike the stage version, the film does a good job of keeping the narrative understandable and easy to follow, despite having to take out chunks from the book. This is no small achievement, considering that more or less the entire movie is sung. Credit should rightly go to Tom Hooper for this, as well as for successfully turning a theatrical play into an Oscar-nominated film. (It should be borne in mind that The Woman In Black was the last time a director attempted to translate a play into a movie, and the less said about that film the better!)

However, in spite of Hooper cutting out sections of the book, the film still seems too long and somehow bloated at 158 minutes. The Artist, it should be noted, is only 100 minutes and, consequently, does not feel over-stuffed. Part of the reason for why Les Misérables feels this way is due to the numerous sub-plots taking place throughout the story, many of which have only questionable importance to its outcome.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Yet, more significantly, does the story actually matter? When one watches Les Misérables in the theatre, one is more likely to be awed by the music and the mechanics of the stage, than taken in by the (slightly contrived) narrative. But the movie does not have an innovatively-devised podium. Additionally, it suffers from a cast that, while stellar in name, generally lack the powerful vocals of their stage counterparts.

Russell ‘wannabe-Napoleon Bonaparte’ Crowe and Hugh Jackman, the two leading men, are particularly guilty of this. It is not that their performances are bad, it is just painfully obvious that they are actors first and singers a distant second. One might argue that this is what Hooper desired as he claimed to want the vocals ‘raw’ and conversational, rather than melodramatic. (Then again, he could have been saying this as a defence of his cast, in hindsight, after realising that he should have used stage actors instead of Crowe and Jackman.)

Also, the more one sees and hears the supporting cast, the more Crowe and Jackman are shown up; in particular, against Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, as Fantine, might look pale and terribly thin with her skin, bone and flesh emaciated a la Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but she most certainly can sing. In Rio I, Hathaway showed that she can sing well and nicely. But in Les Misérables she takes her talents to a new level, acquiring immense vigour in her voice, despite clearly lacking in nourishment.

No-one else looks starved like her, but Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, as the rebel Marius and Éponine, respectively, have very good voices; Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, illustrates that she’s a better singer than actor (and that she can exist without her incongruous pink lip-gloss, unlike in the medieval-themed Red Riding Hood); while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, respectively, show us that they may not have noteworthy vocals, but that they can still make us laugh whilst in tune.

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Yet, if one is truly bothered about the singing not being up to scratch with the stage performers, one can still admire the sceneries and the visuals. Cinema, as opposed to theatre, is not limited by the area of a stage (however impressive the mechanics of it may be), and Hooper uses this to his advantage to give viewers a true feel for the (miserable) neighbourhoods that our characters come from in a way that the theatre perhaps can’t convey as deeply.

All-in-all, Les Misérables is very impressive theatrical production-cum-film. The cast’s vocals may not be as strong as those actors on the stage, and the movie lacks some of the charms of the theatre. Nevertheless, like The Artist, Les Misérables is something different, and it should be celebrated that an operatic-style film can be delivered in such a superb and entertaining manner.

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Review – Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final part of the Harry Potter series (albeit split into two films), was going to have to be a climactic masterpiece if it was to reach the unrealistic expectations of fans and critics alike. That it looked darker and more ominous than the previous six films merely added to the hype.

Film seven kicks off where the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, left off. The time has come for Hogwarts’ prodigal apprentice, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), The Woman In Black), to leave the comforts of his school. Now, he must find and vanquish the Hawcruxes, since this is the only way he will have a chance of defeating his eternal nemesis: the ever-more-powerful Dark Lord, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, The Reader, Harry Potter IV, V & VII(ii)). Joining Harry will be the young spell-mistress of her generation, Hermione Grainger (Emma Watson – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), My Week With Marilyn); and their goofy friend and below-average wizard, Ron Weasely (Rupert Grint – Harry Potter I-VII(ii)).

Against them stands an awesome array of Voldemort’s allies, including Belatrix (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V-VII(ii), The King’s Speech), the Death Eaters, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman – Die Hard, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton – The Borrowers, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and his father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs – The Patriot, Green Zone, Harry Potter II, IV, V, VII(ii)); not to mention countless others who are willing to assist the Dark Lord with his evil plans. Voldemort aside, these are the same villains who killed Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s master, in the previous film. Now, it is up to the precocious, but unready Harry to somehow deal with them as they relentlessly hound him.

Harry, Ron and Herminone working out where to next in their search for the Hawcruxes

How Harry and his friends were going to take on the villains was always going to be the key to the plot. But the plot is slow. At times, it is tedious to the point of disinteresting. (Unless, of course, you are a die-hard fan of which I am not.) Just like in the Half-Blood Prince, the director, David Yates (Harry Potter IIIVII(ii)), focuses more on the relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron rather than the storyline. Again, the film is dominated by the ever-worsening sexual tension/frustration that the three main characters suffer. (One almost wants them to do it and get it over with just so the story can move on.)

But this is not the only thing that Harry, Hermione and Ron have to endure. They look lost away from their safe bubble-world of Hogwarts. Tiredness and helplessness is never far from their faces. But aside from this, the quality of the acting from the three main actors is, in general, far from great. Radcliffe and Grint remain more or less the same poor, two-dimensional characters they’ve always been. Emma Watson, at least, gives a slightly more mature performance than in previous films. She also has more of a leading role this time around; possibly even eclipsing Radcliffe. But apart from looking pretty, the role of Hermione still does not come overtly naturally to Watson. She tries too hard and takes herself too seriously.

Voldemort, the Dark Lord, unleashes some of his frightening dark powers. It is a pity that we see so little of him throughout the film.

In contrast, the villains do not take themselves seriously. For most other films, this would be a source of ridicule for the actors. However, Fiennes, Carter and Rickman skilfully pull off their roles. The great shame is how little they appear on-screen. This is a tragedy, since the Deathly Hallows should be about the villains as much as Harry. One even sees more of the Ministry of Magic, whose interior looks like a larger and more advance form of the Houses of Parliament (with a superficial Orwellian/1984 feel); and Lucius Malfoy’s mansion, which appears to be a real-life version of the enchanted castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, than the villains.

The choreography of these and other places, plus the special effects throughout the film are well done. Indeed, they are so good one could mistake the computer generated images (CGI) for being real. This is no mean feat for a fantasy film. Many films, and not just from this genre, fall at this hurdle.

The scenery throughout the movie is equally as impressive and well chosen; whether it is of a forest, a hill-top or an open plain. The landscape and weather always seem to fit in effortlessly with the mood of the scene. Yet, unlike for example in the Lord of the Rings, the landscapes and the choreography are not equalised in the Deathly Hallows by the quality of the acting or the grip of the plot. By the end, one only has a rough idea as to how the ‘Deathly Hallows’ is even relevant to the story.

However, despite these flaws, does Part I leave us wanting to see Part II? Without a doubt: yes. After-all, we have followed Harry for so long how could we possibly miss out on witnessing his duel of destiny with Voldemort?

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