The Man Who Invented Christmas *****

This is a beautiful little film about how and why our most cherished author, Charles Dickens, came to write A Christmas Carol.

The cast consists of a large ensemble of top British acting talents. The script is sharp, humorous without descending into farce and very entertaining.

It does not take a straight biographical narrative but turns the story into an allegory, in the style of Dickens himself.

The fearful side of early 19th century London life is well represented, while at the same time; the viewers’ sympathetic and nostalgic emotions are gently stirred to a crescendo at the climax of the story.

I predict this film will become a staple television entertainment of Christmases yet to come, just as the Christmas Carol itself has.

First class family entertainment so 5 stars out of five for this seasonal treat.

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Battle of the Sexes ****

At its heart, Battle of the Sexes is the story of a publicity stunt that went hideously wrong for its sponsor and in doing so caused a revolution in the world of women’s sport.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs, a former champion tennis player and world-class chauvinist, made a public claim that no woman pro-tennis player could beat any male pro-player.

What develops from this statement by an uncomfortably horrible braggart leads to a match between himself and Miss Billie Jean King.

Ms King was already established in the world of women’s tennis and leading their struggle for equal pay.

What follows is a portrait of institutional sexism at its most patronising insidiousness.

This story is not however crying into its hands.

Humour balances pathos and excitement balances emotion to give a well-rounded story that will educate and delight in equal measure.

Emma Stone portrayal of Billie Jean King is very believable.

Comedic actor Steve Carell gives a very controlled, reined in performance of an overconfident, addictive character as Bobby Riggs, good enough for possible award consideration.

He makes you laugh, loathe and pity this sad man, who is so wrapped up in his past glories, allowing his boasting lead him to an inevitable downfall.

As a sports movie, this is one of the very best I have ever seen.

A sporting 4 out of five stars for this biopic.

Victoria and Abdul ****

Judy Dench makes a triumphant return to her portrayal of Queen Victoria (see Mr and Mrs Brown) as she approaches the end of her life. Dressed in perpetual mourning for Prince Albert, and perhaps also the loss of John Brown, her life is less than stimulating. The arrival of an Indian servant, Abdul Karim, at Court, triggers this story.

Victoria and Abdul posterBased on a true story (almost) and the recently discovered journal of Abdul, the Director and Dame Judy give us a delightful and yet sad story of love, intrigue and betrayal. There are several laugh out loud scenes, many based on the Queens sharp tongue.

Filmed with great attention to detail and in beautiful surroundings, this is also a delight for the eye.

A special mention for Eddie Izzard, as Bertie, Prince of Wales. He is totally convincing in this supporting role and I hope he is recognised for it at the BAFTAs.

I did feel that some of the supporting characters were rather cartoonish or stereotypical flunkies.

For that reason, I give 4 out of five stars to Victoria and Abdul.

American Made ***

American Made takes us on a ride into the CIA created world of Central American Drugs for Guns trade, that lead into the Iran-Contra Scandal of the 1980s.

American MadeThe leading character (Tom Cruise) is not a hero. Much of his motivation is a mixture of greed and cowardice. As such, this makes a nice change from his normal roles.

It also gives him a chance to give us a semi-comic performance that he handles with some limited grace.

Most of the best humour comes from the actions of the surrounding characters and organisations.

So this was, I found, historically interesting but lacking in tension, conviction and drive.

A medium grade of 3 out of five stars so great for fans and wet Saturdays.