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.

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.

 

Finding Your Feet ****

Finding your feet is a lovely little film, in the English tradition of light domestic stories told with emotion and humour.

Full of British TV and Film stars, most notably Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, David Hayman, Celia Imrie, and Joanna Lumley.

It is produced and directed by even more of our great British talented people, including those behind the wonderful A Street Cat Named Bob just last year.

The plot encompasses loss in many forms and also survival from those losses.  It also features the best death scene ever, certainly the way I would like to go.

It is told with great kindness for the characters.  There are no big villains, although some are very cruel by their unthinking actions, eventually to be saved.

Happy endings for every character; a feeling of having been hugged for the audience.

I can imagine watching this film again at home over Christmas in front of a warm fire with cosy slippers and a nice glass of sherry.

A well earned 4 out of 5 stars.

The Shape Of Water ****

The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale, of monsters and lovers, sacrifice and hatred.

We are taken to the post WW2 anti-communist paranoid America, coloured with a dark palate, giving an impression of an old gothic horror.

Emotions are all ramped up to the maximum with no time for nuance or subtlety.

Thankfully the plot moves quickly as a result and the 2 hour 3 minute duration flies as quickly.

This film is probably the director Guillermo Del Toro’s best work (I haven’t seen them all so cannot be certain).

The performances by actors Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones are all excellent.

I would particularly pick out Doug Jones who inhabits the central creature around which the story revolves. He brings the full range of emotions to his character without benefit of language, purely by his body language, which shines through his latex prosthetic body. (You may have seen him recently in Star Trek: Discovery, similarly cloaked in alien costume.)

As the story reached the ultimate and predictable conclusion, I felt this to have been a satisfying experience.

This will not be everybody’s cup of tea; indeed I resisted seeing it until after its Bafta success.

It is well worth 4 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.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri *****

Three Billboards is an intriguing tale about a mother unable to come to terms with the murder of her daughter and the failure of the local police to solve the crime.

We are given a brief history of the offence and the events surrounding it but, the true story is about a mothers drive for justice and what that costs her and her remaining family.  The title refers to the method she chooses to put a firework under the local sheriff after 7 months of apparent inaction.

Casual violence and abuse of authority punctuates the various intertwined family histories to give a grim picture of modern day life in the southern United States.  Life in rural Missouri is dominated by casual extreme violence, racial and gender hatred, abuse of power and ignorance.

The performances throughout this film are very belieable.  The three lead actors, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, will be recognised from their previous films and television roles but their combined performances are so good you totally see them as the characters.

By the end of the film there is redemption for some and sadness for others.  Nobody leaves this tale unscarred by the events.

A remarkable and enjoyable film worth 5 out of five stars.