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Matthew Warchus’ comedy-drama Pride was one of the best-reviewed British films of 2014, so unsurprisingly it performed relatively well at the box office, even though the lucrative American market remained resistant to its charms. Set in the mid-1980s, the story is based on the real life activities of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group (LGSM), which was formed and led by Mark Ashton (played here by an exuberant Ben Schnetzer). The LGSM raised money to support striking coal miners, and in doing so forged strong bonds with several mining communities in South Wales, though Stephen Beresford’s screenplay judiciously simplifies the story so that the group travel to just one village in the film. The group’s members felt a degree of kinship with the miners due in part to their shared left-wing political beliefs, but also because they felt both groups were being simultaneously misrepresented by the media, and that both were being subjected to persecution by the police and the government. As the film makes clear, the offering made was both generous and genuine and also had the knock-on effect of LGBT campaigners receiving support within the Labour Party from the National Union of Mineworkers, which led directly to a resolution committing to support LGBT rights in 1985.

It’s largely an upbeat, uplifting film that milks the culture clash at the heart of the story reserved, straight villagers mixing with flamboyant, gay Londoners for all it’s worth. Paddy Considine’s union leader Dai Donovan is the man with the task of introducing the LGSM activists to his local community, many members of which are openly hostile to the Londoners, but although scenes set in the local working man’s club start off frostily the atmosphere soon thaws and the suspicion of some of the villagers gradually disappears (except in one or two cases, but even their resistance fizzles out). There are plenty of friendly figures on both sides and gradually relationships begin to form and strengthen: soon enough most of the talk is of solidarity, and the mining community is clearly appreciative of the help and support, which was in short supply at the time. We also briefly see the villagers as similar fish-out-of-water types in London, where the women in particular  led by Imelda Staunton’s activist Hefina Headon – are titilated by the sights and sounds of the gay scene.

Most of the characters are based on real people, and the film packs in a huge number, with nearly all of them enjoying some kind of satisfying story arc. In terms of the LGSM members in addition to Ashton there’s Joe Gilgun who has been consistently excellent in Shane Meadows’ superb This Is England series as plain-speaking right-hand man Mike Jackson, Faye Marsay as founder member Steph Chambers, Dominic West as Jonathan Blake (who was one of the first people to 518294935_c_obe diagnosed as HIV positive in the UK and yet celebrated his 66th birthday earlier this year) and Andrew Scott as bookshop owner Gethin (Jonathan’s partner, and a character who reconnects with Wales and his mother during the film after several years of estrangement). In the Welsh community the notables include Considines’ Donovan, Staunton’s Headon and Jessica Gunning in an energetic turn as Siân James, the wife of a men’s union leader who in real life became MP for Swansea East for ten years before stepping down earlier this year. Linking the groups together are two fictional characters at opposite ends of the age spectrum, both of whom are gay and are struggling to come out: for the LGSM there’s George MacKay as Joe ‘Bromley’ Cooper, whose middle class parents react badly when they discover the nature of their son’s sexuality, and in Wales there’s Bill Nighy’s Cliff Barry, an elderly leader of the men’s union with an interest in social history. (Briefly, I have to say that Nighy delivers a perfect Welsh accent.)

There were times when I was worried that Pride would struggle to juggle so many characters adequately, and that all their linked and disparate stories couldn’t possibly be resolved by the end, but Beresford and Warchus somehow manage to pull this off within two hours and it’s all tied together very neatly; it may be an example of screenwriting at its most insistently convenient but it’s a commendable achievement nonetheless. The film manages to entertain and inform while also, it would seem, doing some justice to the struggles faced by gay people in London in the mid-1980s, fending off the twin threats of the Thatcher government and, generally-speaking, a more homophobic public. We get a sense of the kinds of attacks endured by LGSM members at the time, verbal and physical, though as a crowd-pleasing, upbeat comedy-drama it’s noticable that certain unpalatable events are avoided: for example at one point Gethin is badly beaten up late at night, but the actual attack isn’t shown on camera. The threat of AIDS also increases as the film goes on, but due to the timeframe of the story (just over a year, by the looks of things), it’s only mentioned in passing in a few scenes and we do not see anyone die of a related illness. The end credits, which detail the lives of the key players after the strikes ended, will sadden as much as they inspire, and if you happen to get hold of the DVD I recommend the accompanying short documentary, which interviews many of those still alive today alongside the actors playing them. Pride is well-written and well-acted, and is a suitable celebration of the achievements of the LGSM, packed with good humour, real heart and a strong political message (even if the political arguments and in-fighting is toned down); it would make for an excellent double bill with Mark Herman’s Brassed Off, which focuses on the knock-on effect of the miners’ strike on individuals and families, yet is similarly uplifting. It’s a shame that Pride received a ’15’ certificate in the UK and that its release in the US was dogged by controversy: disgracefully the US DVD makes no mention of the gay content, the standard description of ‘a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists’ was changed to ‘a group of London-based activists’, and a lesbian and gay banner was airbrushed out of a photograph on the back cover. This is 2015, isn’t it?

Directed by: Matthew Warchus.
Written by: Stephen Beresford.
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Joe Gilgun, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, Bill Nighy, George MacKay, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Jessica Gunning, Faye Marsay, Freddie Fox, Liz White, Karina Fernandez, Rhodri Meilir.
Cinematography: Tat Radcliffe.
Editing: Melanie Oliver.
Music:
Christopher Nightingale, Various.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
120 minutes.
Year:
2014.

11 Comments

MacBethFassbender-xlarge(Warning: If you haven’t read Macbeth or watched an adaptation before and are intending to see this new film, please aware that I’ve discussed the plot openly below.)

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been adapted for the big screen many times before, most notably by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosowa, yet this new version a suitably meaty and visually arresting piece by director Justin Kurzel certainly feels worthwhile enough. It has only been on general release for a few days but has already been attacked by fans of The Bard, with some expressing disappointment at the decision by writers Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie to include scenes that purport to answer long-standing academic speculation with regard to the childlessness of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), though claims that there is a lack of reverence for the original text at play seem over-the-top to me (and given the director’s nationality also seem to come replete with sneery anti-Australian undertones). In actual fact Kurzel and co have decided to stress the play’s connections with children throughout this adaptation, and Macbeth opens and closes with a pair of scenes that show how crucial they are to the play’s twin themes of fate and cyclical violence. The famous ‘Out, damned spot’ line is coupled with a disturbing image that suggests infanticide, while there are other less obvious touches, such as an increase in the number of the murdered offspring of Macduff (Sean Harris), that further emphasise the play’s focus on children.

Macbeth begins like a cross between Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and a hyper-stylized episode of Game Of Thrones, a TV show whose own writers have clearly been influenced by the Scottish play (see the most recent plot revolving around the character of Stannis Baratheon for several examples). Loyalists to King Duncan (David Thewlis) are led into battle by Macbeth and Banquo (Paddy Considine) and the subsequent clash with the traitorous Macdonwald and his army is loud, bloody and gory, the director occasionally opting for slow motion hacking and slashing. In the aftermath of the melee we see bodies strewn across 40bc840a534642dd5228b2ffe7dbe70fac69445c.jpg__1920x1080_q85_crop_upscalethe battlefield, some being picked at by wild dogs, and it’s clear that the play’s brutal acts will not be taking place off screen here, as per some other adaptations. And the violence keep on coming: Duncan’s murder is carried out, unusually, by a sole perpetrator and shown in detail, while Macduff’s family are gruesomely burnt at the stake. (It’s curious, then, that the climactic fight between Macduff and Macbeth is less bloody than you would expect. Set against a blood orange backdrop there are precise slashes, headbutts and bone-crunching punches, so you certainly feel the power of the two clashing figures, but it’s odd that Kurzel allows the head of this Macbeth to remain firmly attached to his shoulders.)

The mass fighting serves as parenthesis; for the rest of the film we’re watching duplicitous, smaller acts of violence. Naturally the story follows Macbeth’s interactions with the three witches, his subsequent traitorous seizing of the throne and his changing relationship with the complicit Lady Macbeth as Macbeth-paddythe titular character slowly goes mad. Fassbender is suitably intense, confident and muscular as power is snatched from Malcolm (Jack Reynor, recently excellent in Glassland) before the actor is forced to reveal Macbeth’s inner torment in a disappointingly obvious fashion (nightshirt hanging low, pacing up and down a room, talking to himself, etc). Cotillard is superb: she isn’t playing an evil schemer here and she is more understated than her fellow lead, though she shares almost as much screen time; this fine actress doesn’t demand the viewer’s attention and is often seen in the background or at Macbeth’s side, but her physical responses to the dialogue and facial gestures reveal just as much as anything that is spoken. Harris also impresses, though his decision to turn the intensity dial up to 11 at times will not be appreciated by everyone; in the final scenes it is his Macduff, and not Fassbender’s Macbeth, who interests the most, which shouldn’t really be the case.

For all the entertaining battle sequences, strong acting, period production design and magnificent scenery (with Northumberland’s striking Bamburgh Castle standing in for Dunsinane), the usual caveat applicable to (relatively) straightforward Shakespeare adaptations is worth mentioning: if you have an ear for the dialogue you’ll probably enjoy it, whereas if you don’t you may well struggle through long passages of this film. As a fairly short tragedy, though, Kurzel has wisely decided to rely on a strong visual element vistas of boggy moorland, witches in the mist, and so on)  and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom and Snowtown, Kurzel’s previous film) is up to the challenge. This Macbeth looks good, even if there’s a teeny, tiny hint of Zack Snyder in there, and the quality of the acting will be discussed many years from now, while the score by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) even surpasses his earlier work on The Babadook.

Directed by: Justin Kurzel.
Written by: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie. Based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Reynor, Lochlann Harris.
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw.
Editing: Chris Dickens.
Music: Jed Kurzel.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Year: 2015.

14 Comments

The-Worlds-End-Nick-FrostThe third and final part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ is a science fiction action comedy romp based around a pub crawl, which occasionally brings to mind classic British sci-fi TV like The Quatermass Experiment and The Day Of The Triffids as well as more widely-known American big screen fayre (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, most obviously). As with the earlier installments Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the former once again co-authoring the script with long-term writing partner Wright. They repeat the trick of staging a typically-American genre picture in the unlikely environs of a mundane southern English town and, as per the two earlier films, drinking establishments feature heavily. Here, dotted around the town centre of fictional London satellite Newton Haven, they serve as backdrops for increasingly-crazy fight sequences and are filled with an assortment of oddballs. (If you ever want to visit the featured boozers then you’ll need to look up Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, and some may even be able to guarantee fights and oddballs.)

The hostelries of Newton Haven make up ‘The Golden Mile’, a legendary crawl that Gary King (Pegg) and his four friends (Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan) tried and failed to complete in their teenage years. It seems at first that King hasn’t grown up in the interim and now sees those days as the best of his life; the others have moved on, but are persuaded to return home and to give the 12-pint ordeal another go to appease their old classmate. However things have changed: the nondescript market town the friends left twenty years earlier was the kind of place where nothing out of the ordinary happened, but they return to a very different Newton Haven (and not just in terms of the sudden influx of interchangeable chain pubs, either).

Pegg, Frost and Wright have worked extremely well together since Spaced, one of the finest comedy TV shows ever made, though a repertory cast has gradually formed around them; Spaced fans will enjoy the appearances of Julia Deakin, Mark Heap and Michael Smiley in The World’s End, while actors such as Freeman, Considine, Bill Nighy, Steve Oram, Rafe Spall and Reece Sheersmith can now be considered Wright regulars, cementing the notion of a loose trilogy as much as the genre spoofing, the Cornetto references or the fence-jumping scenes. They are joined here by Rosamund Pike and her former Die Another Day co-star Pierce Brosnan, both of whom adapt to the mix of comedy and action with ease.

Wright’s directing style hasn’t changed all that much since his TV days, but that has at least resulted in a consistent look across the three films, and I dare say the experience he has built up will tell in future years. His calling card remains those sudden whizz-bang mini-montages (here it’s the The-Worlds-End-Nick-Frost-Simon-Pegg-Paddy-Considinerepeated pulling of pints as the action moves from one pub to the next) and it’s pleasing that so many of the jokes come from the editing and camerawork he has clearly directed, rather than the usual comedy model of relying on a star to deliver the laughs. The humorous cast performances are certainly of a piece with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz too: a crowd-pleasing mix of slapstick, gags, gurning and straight-faced genre nods that have presumably been inserted for movie geeks (in the climactic speech here Pegg’s King recites famous lines from Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels – though they may be more familiar as the sample kicking off Primal Scream’s hit Loaded – while keen-eyed horror fans will spot references to the likes of George A. Romero and Lucio Fulci).

Once more Wright and co take their action sequences semi-seriously, and although The World’s End plays as a straightforward comedy for quite a while (even largely refusing to go down the tried-and-tested route of suggesting that all is not well in Newton Haven), the arrival of a series of energetic pub fights feels as inevitable as the patching-up of the bromance between Pegg and Frost’s characters. The cast and crew presumably had fun filming the action, but unfortunately the second half of the film is too repetitive as a result, and it’s dispiriting when you realise that the already-paralytic characters still have three or four pubs to visit. Still, some unexpected touches have been inserted to hold the viewer’s interest: the weird post-apocalyptic epilogue was a surprise, and the same could be said for the sudden serious detour showing King’s bandaged wrists, but it’s the lighter, throwaway moments – when Rosamund Pike’s Sam arrives to speed the group away from an impending explosion, for example, she apologises for the mess in her car – that see the film over the finish line. On balance it’s the weakest part of Pegg and Wright’s trilogy, but it’s still entertaining.

Directed by: Edgar Wright.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg.
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan.
Cinematography: Bill Pope.
Editing: Paul Machliss.
Music: Steven Price, Various.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 108 minutes.
Year: 2013.

19 Comments