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.

Murder on the Orient Express *****

Since 1974 there has been at least five major productions of Murder on the Orient Express, so how do the makers keep the latest incarnation fresh and appealing?

Well they have done a number of things, first and foremost, put a great director in the chair with a great actor in the lead. In this case both are the same person, Kenneth Branagh, who dominates this film with a far richer, multi faceted Poirot than any I have seen on screen, big or small. His Hercule Poirot is an eccentric, sentimental, razor sharp detective. He also gives time to generating an in-depth portrait of why Poirot is the self proclaimed ‘Great Detective’ By doing this, new audiences will have some understanding of Agatha Christies hero.

Orient photo 1The second step is to populate the Orient Express with a full cast of A-list actors. All deliver first class performances, including the younger stars who really impress next to their noble elders.

Third, you create an atmosphere of claustrophobia mystery and fear. This is achieved by making the sets so tight that, for several scenes, the only place to put the camera is in the ceiling.

Finally, you place the train in a totally realistic setting, both historically (by referencing actual events with just the names changed) and visually (with restrained by convincing use of CGI to convince you they are in the mountains).

I think we are guaranteed another outing for the ‘Great Detective’ fairly soon.

I left the cinema feeling very satisfied by a great story well told.

The full 5 out of five stars for Mr Branagh and company.

The Legend of King Arthur ***** Presented by The Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC)

This autumn sees the welcome return of the Spiegeltent, venue for GSC’s new production of The Legend of King Arthur.

This brand new play has been written by Caroline Devlinwho has given us a delightful, action packed, humorous and family friendly tale, just right for this time of year.

More than that, she has produced a script befitting the multitalented company, taking and using recognisably Shakespearean plot devises to great effect.

We have the Fool as narrator, babies separated at birth, family treachery, songs, and so forth.

For children, it is a great introduction to the wider world of live drama.

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The players are very few in number but, by incredible costume and lighting changes, plus our willing suspension logic, the stage is filled with a massive menage of characters.

A young girl changes to aged monk to soldier in moments and we applaud in delight.

The founders of GSC, Sarah Gobran and Matt Pinches, can be very proud of what they have achieved yet again.

I fully recommend this delightful play to anybody who can get to Guildford before it ends on 5th November.

Truly a 5 star production.

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin *****

This is the dramatized biography of Christopher Robin Milne, son of the author Alan Milne and inspiration for the Winnie The Poo books.

A total of five actors are employed to portray Christopher, from baby to adult. The casting director did a good job in selecting actors with sufficient resemblance to convince the audience of the continuity.

These boys, in turn, produce incredible performances, giving a vivid insight into a dysfunctional family from the child’s viewpoint.

The film also provides a terrifying insight into middle class family life during the inter-war period.

But the heart of the story is how fame and fortune, being forced on a young person, when all they want is the love of their parents, can produce very unhappy adults.

I was struck by the thought as I watched that this film was an allegory for the many young stars of today who ‘go bad’ as adolescents.

This film carries a PG certificate but I would say it is certainly not a film for young children.

It may even leave adults reading Winnie the Poo in a different light.

The full 5 out of five for this emotional rollercoaster.

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.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard *****

Starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a rip-roaring high adventure set in the UK and Holland.

It is full of gun fights, explosions and enormous body count, all delivered in the familiar overblown style of such stories and punctuated by the inevitable expletives so associated with Jackson.

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It sits happily alongside many other similar films such as London Has Fallen and all the Mission Impossible stories.

What elevates this above the other movies is the performance, humour and chemistry between the two lead actors.

They appear to have had a ball making this film and it comes through the screen to the audience.

A great laughter and destruction festival, not to be taken seriously but enjoyed for what it is.

I left the cinema with a sense of satisfaction and a broad smile on my face.

The full 5 out of five stars for this excellent film.