Robin Hood *****

Summer in Guildford has officially started (in my diary at least) with the start of the Guildford Shakespeare Companies Open-Air Season.

The first of their two productions is Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend in period costume and modern language, for all the family.

I attended the Saturday matinee performance at the lovely, wild sanctuary in Racks Close, located of Quarry Street.  This is actually part of the original quarry from which the Guildford Castle stone was mined, now long neglected but revived for the second time by the GSC.

Robin Hood is the latest in a series of family friendly non-Shakespeare productions.  Previous hits have included, Alice in Wonderland and The Legend of King Arthur.  This was visibly succeeding as the audience with me had a very high proportion of children. This created a fun atmosphere throughout the play.

The action opens with a minstrel interacting with the audience as he sang a ballad about our hero. Then he is interrupted by the arrival of the Sheriff with all the evil intent of the best pantomime villains.

Hissing and booing as appropriate, the audience was captivated by the evil threats and the challenging insults from our wandering minstrel.

And so the play continues in high quality pantomime mode, with specially written songs enlivening the cast and audience alike.

I will not name any of the cast in particular because this was full of very good actors, both young and old, all of whom deserve credit.  (See linked # on blog page for list).

I recommend purchasing the programme, which covers both plays in the season, and putting it away safely for future reference.  I believe many new stars are making their earliest performances in this play and it may become a collector’s item.

As so often, I award the full 5 out of five stars to this GSC production.

Looking forward to the next play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the Collage of Law, St Catherine’s, next month.

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Book Club *****

What a relief!  I have been losing my enthusiasm for the interminable action, sci-fi, crime and violence filled films that now dominate our cinema screens.

Book Club is the antidote. It brings a really nice, gentle, funny, well-written story, with actors at the top of their craft, delivering a satisfying and enjoyable couple of hours entertainment.

This story is about four adult women friends and the consequences of their latest book club selection.

It is told with great humour and sympathy.  Reflective and uplifting, I found myself truly inspired by the end of the tale.

The four lead actors, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are well supported by a male cast of supporting stars including Andy Garcia, Craig T Nelson, Don Johnson and Richard Dreyfuss to name but a few.

I think there are few adults who have lived a life that will not find something to smile about in this great, human sized, drama.

It won’t win any Oscars or break box office records but, it does get 5 stars out of five from this grateful audience member.

Deadpool 2 ***

The foul-mouthed, super-sarcastic, hero returns in Deadpool 2.

We are given more of the same knowing banter with the audience and ultra violent, consequence free action that seemed so fresh the first time around.

Being unencumbered by not having to tell an origin story, it is straight into the mayhem that has become routine in most of this genre of movie.

This is lightened by the wit and wisdom of the moral free hero.

It is still frequently funny with plenty of ‘did he just say that’ moments to make the film enjoyable but not to the level of the original film.

Sadly the originality of the character now turns predicable and, at times, very strained.

It you enjoyed the first outing, you will probably enjoy this, but not for the first time viewer I am sorry to say.

Down to just 3 stars out of five.

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society ****

The Guernsey Literature and Potato Peel Pie Society is an absolutely charming love story.

It is set just after WWII in London and on the Channel isle of Guernsey, with flash backs to the German occupation period.

Featuring a plethora of fine British/Dutch/American acting talent, the story is told at a gentle pace, focusing on the tensions caused between natives and occupiers and the after effects in peacetime.

The story arrives at its inevitable and predictable conclusion, which is nonetheless, very satisfying.

Lily James gives a warm and believable portrayal, which leads the story.  She plays a young author and survivor of the London Blitz, struggling at times with PTSD.

The story could have degenerated into a sentimental tale but avoids this fate with careful measures of humour and grit to balance the sugar.

My only regret about the film is that it was not shot on the island.  Due to financial reasons, it was filmed in the beautiful county of Devon. Anybody expecting to see lovely St Peter Port will have to settle for a very different English fishing village. That is a minor point, but a distraction if you know the locations.

I recommend this for anybody with a love of our history and the tradition of British filmmaking.

At the time of writing, this film is showing at the Odeon for this week, and will undoubtedly moves to the Silverscreen performances in a few weeks.

I award it 4 out of five stars.

 

The Leisure Seeker ***

If you have seen the trailer for The Leisure Seeker, you may have been misled into thinking this is a light comedy about two seniors travelling America.  It is not.

There are comedic moments but at its heart this is a story of fighting against age and its inevitable final destination.

Played by the almost unrecognisable Dame Helen Mirren and the unmistakable Donald Sutherland, the two protagonists embark on a final search for lost memories and lives.

The story is uncomfortable to watch at times as it plunges into the dark pool of dementia, exposing long forgotten and unknown truths about their perfect marriage.

This may have a limited audience but should be seen for the remarkable performances of both actors. Sadly it is let down by the contrived humour and a weak supporting cast.

Just about earns its 3 out of five stars.

Red Sparrow ***

Red Sparrow is a very contemporary play set against the rising threat of Russian expansionism. The cold war of old has been re-kindled but old spy craft is still a primary tool used against the West.

Enter Jennifer Lawrence as one of the nails used by the Russian hammer against, in this case, the Americans.

The story continues with great pace and gusto that gives the initial impression of being an exciting and gripping story. However, this is no Le Carré or Deighton story. There is no light and dark in the characters. The bad guys are all super-bad and the good guys could almost be wearing white hats.

The viewer is kept guessing about the true motivations of Miss Lawrence’s character till the end, but you can see within the early scenes who is going to lose the most.

Red Sparrow 2On top of this plot is laid a visual assault of violence, gore and sex that is unprecedented in my experience in the legitimate cinema. Many scenes were bordering on the pornographic both in violence and nudity.

This may be artistically justifiable, indeed the presence of several A-List actors would indicate they felt it was justified, but not for me.

This would have benefited from clearer story telling, deeper characterisation and less visual exploitation.

Just 3 out of five stars.

 

Darkest Hour *****

Darkest Hour is the story of the few days when Winston Spencer Churchill became Prime Minister to the end of the Dunkirk evacuation.

I found this to be one of the most enjoyable history lessons I have ever experienced.

The political machinations show that anything we see from Westminster now is nothing new.

The hype surrounding Gary Oldman’s performance is well founded, as he produces a totally convincing image of the great orator.

An outstanding technical and artistic cast supports Oldman. Together they produce a near documentary recreation of real events.

If you collect DVDs, I would recommend pairing this film with Dunkirk as a perfect evenings viewing.

This film scores on all measures that I use to rate films and fully deserves its 5 stars.