Antichrist (2009)

All the sound and fury that greeted Lars von Trier’s return to Cannes last week – anger, walkouts, and disgust from some, while from others a grudging, half apologetic admiration – recalled the furore there fover his violent and explicit Antichrist in 2009. Here’s what I wrote after an outdoor screening in the unlikely surroundings of a moonlit university courtyard at the Transilvania Film Festival in Cluj just after Cannes that year:

So much ha been written that it’s now impossible to see this film truly, with innocent eyes – the sting is gone, every transgressive horror is anticipated, the  ‘too daft to laugh at’ moments impatiently awaited. Everyone knows about the genital mutilation, the penetrative sex, the ludicrous talking fox, so it’s almost impossible to see the film as an organic whole, but merely as movement between these anticipated points.  But for what it’s worth, here’s what happens.

A toddler, fascinated by the falling snow, falls to his death through a window, at the very moment at which his parents are experiencing orgasm. The mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is afterwards so guilt- and grief-ridden that she spends weeks in hospital. The father (Willem Dafoe) is a therapist and eventually takes her home to treat her himself. This involves making her do what she dreads most, which is returning to the forest cabin where she spent time the previous year alone with her son. Ominously it’s called Eden. The couple’s relationship begins to unravel. On being apparently cured of her guilt, she embarks upon first a ravenous sexuality then a physical assault on it, in him and in herself. The nature around them is revealed as a hostile force ( ‘Nature is Satan’s church’) and Eden becomes Hell.

Sadly Von Trier’s prediliction to epater les bourgeois and les critiques alike has given many of the latter fine reasons to rejoice in a waning of his powers, and the more ludicrous elements of the film have been joyfully scorned. It’s the unfortunate fate of the prankster to be ridiculed when he decides for once to be sincere, which I think this time he does. And the presence of a  ‘misogyny researcher’ in the credits, in addition to his reputation for hating and/or fearing women, has led many critics to home in on this as the central flavour of the film.  But for once I think it’s a mistake. Rather than condoning misogyny he’s looking at it as a subject for investigation, and the film seems to be rather locating sex itself as the root of evil (which is why the mother, seeing the truth of this in her experience, mutilates both her husband and herself).

This is a hard-line Christian view that sees the pre-lapsarian, exquisitely beautiful prologue torn apart by carnality. (A  ‘fall’, literally.) He’s also invoking the old Apollonian/rationality – Dionysian/passion dichotomy, traditionally viewed as a male/female divide. While much has been made, for obvious reasons, of the wife’s impassioned descent into madness and evil, the husband’s emotional cruelty and devastating inability to recognise his own need for (or lack of) grieving has gone mostly unremarked. Like Pentheus in The Bacchae, arrogantly full of rational wisdom and with an answer for everything, he goes off into the woods full of self-belief and is torn apart by the irrational forces historically and mythically associated with the female. What happens in truth is that the couple both fall apart in their different ways.

But however much this may be the rationale, the real question is, how well done is it? And the answer has to be, ultimately, not very. I was completely beguiled by the gorgeous black and white prologue, with its lyrical montage of domestic images in perfect counterpoint to Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga  (from his opera RINALDO, whose chief baddy, as it happens, is an enchantress). Dafoe and Gainsbourg’s performances are intense and heroic. The cinematography throughout is very fine, with many stunning images. But the film fails to convince on so many fronts – the famous talking fox goes without saying, along with most of the dodgy animal content, there’s too much muddle and darkness, and the mood is, despite the extreme images, never truly horrific.

Extremely gruesome, certainly, but it’s devoid of any real spiritual dread or actual physical feelings of fear that true horror films, even the cheap and nasty ones, deliver. In fact the moment that made me shudder (rather than wince!) most was, surprisingly, the subtle creepiness of shoes on the wrong feet.    It just isn’t enough to show appalling violence, something is missing, and strangely it may be that very male rationality that the film seems to be a critique of that is holding something back – going through the motions without engagement, believing that if you do this, then this, then this, according to the rules, a certain result will happen, a certain effect be made.  Just as the husband’s therapy exercises are useless and barren, Von Trier’s horror by rote is flat and too cerebral and doesn’t touch our core. And so it fails to be potent enough to support the big ideas that he is, presumably, wanting to express. If, as Von Trier has claimed, he is exorcising his own demons here, then he must be at the beginning of a very dark road, which doesn’t allow him to take a step back and be creatively critical of his own work.

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Lean on Pete

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Charley (Charlie Plummer) may not be the most desperate of all the troubled young people in the London Film Festival films I saw last year (and there were lots), but he was certainly the most woebegone. He’s a quiet 15-year-old who has suffered from parenting that has been, not exactly bad, but unthinking. His rogueish, rootless father (Travis Fimmel) has carted him round the country following casual jobs, with various women taking half-hearted interest in the lad. Friendless, alone, fetched up in a trailer park beside a racing stables, Charley takes a casual job there. A natural empathy with horses centres on the amiable, ageing nag Lean on Pete, who seems to have a special rapport with the boy, and it look as if Charley has at last has found a world where he fits in, as well as an incipient family substitute with the stables owner (Steve Buscemi) and his partner (Chloe Sevigny).

In so many films we have seen how a dour and irascible bloke with a sympathetic woman have softened towards a needy outsider, but this is Andrew Haigh, who sees things as they realistically are and doesn’t hesitate to show people in all their complexities, and it soon becomes clear that the pair are no sentimental hearts of gold but rooted in their own hard world in which Charley, fond though they are of him, is a mere sideline, and the knackers yard is a sad but rational reality. Buscemi and Sevigny are so very watchable that I felt something of a bereavement when they disappeared.

Unfortunately, though more dramatic, in the second half of the film there’s nothing that quite matches the moving texture of tough lives that’s hooked us up to Charley in the first place. He makes an escape bid for both of them, himself and the horse, crossing an America of unfeeling landscapes, meeting with other marginalised individuals, tracking back to the only time in his life he’s felt properly cared for. It’s never quite sentimental, though maybe Haigh, so good on the interiors and unspectacular spaces of Nottingham and Norfolk is wallowing too much in the novelty of the wide open spaces he’s not dealt with before. He certainly loses us a little bit on the way, with Charley as too much a suffering non-participant observer of the ills of America. I for one never felt convinced by the optimistic ending (how British, by the way, to make a library the warm focus of coming home!), but the fact that I wanted it so much says lots for the investment in Charley that’s been set up.

Seen at London Film Festival, October 2017

Wonderstruck

Directed by Todd Haynes

Wonderstruck? Dumbstruck more like, that a great director can turn in such a lame and saccharine effort as this. The story of two troubled but enterprising children, 50 years apart, who make their ways to New York and who are uncannily connected finally comes together via parallel narrations across the generations, mixing film styles in a way that ought to be interesting but somehow fails. Hard to think many children will be truly taken up by this prolonged and sometimes slow narrative, and a film with child protagonists has to be more striking than this to make a real impression on adult audiences.

Rose is a Deaf girl with a glamorous, absent, cold mother (Julianne Moore – of course) and an uptight, domineering father with whom she lives –it’s hard to think of these two co-existing in the same space long enough to produce a child. Her story, from the days of silent cinema, is shot in the melodramatic style of that period’s films. Accomplished enough, but Rose’s unlikely New York exploits never quite engage us, despite the good work of Millicent Simmonds (herself a Deaf actress).

50 years later Ben (Oakes Fegley) longs to know the identity of his father, something always kept from him by his mother (though the reason for this seems opaque). He finds a message of love scribbled on a bookshop’s bookmark when searching through his mother’s things, and despite a (highly contrived) life-changing accident, he travels to a New York that’s edgy and vibrant and vividly portrayed. Haynes has caught the flavour of the period, brilliantly (as ever) – Harvey Keitel in his flares must surely be lurking in one of those doorways. Turns out that both children in their turn find a haven in the Natural History Museum, which in the case of Ben leads to very extended wanderings in there in company with the boy who has befriended him, a son of a worker there who knows the secret places (shades of Night at The Museum). And there’s the mysterious lady who lurks around the prehistoric diorama. Ben finds his bookshop, and… If the film was unsatisfactory before, it surely strains the endurance and credibility of the audience here, despite some lovely visual sequences involving an evening visit to a scale model of the city.

Coincidences, parallel experiences and chance meetings coalesce – can it be there’s a divinity that shapes our ends? But there is no wonderment, no prickling of the hairs on the back of your neck, and the revelation of how everything fits together is, oddly, as if running out of invention, done in pedestrian fashion by a voice-over reading from a notebook. So, everything is resolved in one of those stock scenes of smiley happy people. It’s not the actors’ fault, and the two young leads in particular give stirling performances, but at times this feels almost like a more cerebral version of one of those lukewarm Children’s Film Foundation efforts of the mid-Twentieth Century.

Much has been made of the centrality of Deafness with Deaf children as active heroic protagonists, and that is indeed very admirable. But a good cause does not necessarily make a good film, nor does an acclaimed novel, like the one by Brian Selznick this was based on.

But then everyone is allowed a dud occasionally, even a master film-maker.

Seen at London Film Festival, October 2018

Cinema Made in Italy 2018 Part 3. Love and Bullets; The Intruder

Since Gomorrah, the 2008 film and more recent televison series, we’ve been aware that organised crime in Italy is much more than the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, and Naples, its beauty, its history and, especially after the arrival of the Elena Ferrante novels, has become increasingly a focus of some horrified fascination. How else to present the Camorra on film? Here on show are two very differing approaches. With their rumbustious musical LOVE AND BULLETS (Ammore e Malavita), the Manetti Bros. boldly take it on headlong by laughing at the usual tropes of serious gangster movies and turning them into mocking James-Bond style make-believe. The comic-ironic tone is set by a stand-alone opening number with a minibus of wide-eyed Americans taken on trip to the location of Gomorrah, the ‘new tourist experience’, scippo included. We then move into the plot, in which Don Vicenzo, aka the ‘Fish King’ and a definite Mr Big in the city (Carlo Buccirosso), dodges assassination by hiding in a tank of his own mussels. He seizes the opportunity to escape Naples and the hard life of gangsterdom with his wife, having bumped off a poor schmuck of a shoe shop manager to take his place in an elaborate mafia style burial.   (Prompting the [probably] sole example in film of a musical number delivered by a corpse from inside a coffin.) Meanwhile Don Vicenzo’s two trustiest henchmen, Ciro (Giampolo Morelli) and Rosario (Raiz) are charged with bringing down the murderers.

That’s the Bullets. The Love appears when Fatima (Serena Rossi), a nurse who has seen the deception and is therefore on the hit list turns out to be the long lost childhood sweetheart of stony faced smoulderer Ciro. This discovery provides the biggest and best musical moment, a hospital-corridor rendition of ‘What a Feeling’. Nothing after it is quite so good… I certainly wasn’t humming any other tunes as I left. Action is fast and furious after that, though one round less of ugly men getting shot up would have made the film snappier and more effective, and the rather slow transatlantic scenes don’t quite know what to do with themselves. But it’s lively enough and crazy enough to capture your heart a little bit with its outrageous energy, serpentine plot, beautiful people, dashing scenery, and just general chutzpah. Naples looks lovely, if exhausting, as bullets whistle, blood spurts, and speedboats leap across the bay. The acting is suitably over the top, Claudia Gerini in particular throwing herself whole-heartedly into her role as the pseudo-mourning wife. Ridicule is indeed a weapon against the hateful, and hats off to the irrepressible Manetti Bros. (Antonio and Marco) for this, albeit minor but very glittery, squib in the war against the self-importance of the Camorra.

In complete contrast The Intruder (L’Intrusa) by Leonardo di Costanzo is a thoughtful and low key documentary-style look at how the presence of the Camorra impacts on a working class community. Giovanna (Raffaella Giordano), a northern incomer, has worked many years on a project that creates a safe and constructive area for the children of a down-at-heel, unsafe neighbourhood. It’s flourishing. As we meet them, children and volunteers are in the midst of frantic and highly enjoyable activity making models and planning events for a carnival. But there’s a problem. A tiny house on the premises that Giovanna makes available, non judgementally, to anyone needing a safe shelter has been offered to a young woman with a small daughter and baby son, who turns out to be the wife of a notable violent criminal sought by the police for the murder of local man. And he’s hiding out there with her. After confrontation with the police he’s captured, bound for a long prison sentence. But his wife remains, and the little girl begins to be integrated with the other children and becomes one of the regular gang there. The children may accept her but there are soon mutterings among parents that their hard-won little oasis of peace is at threat from the interloper, especially when in-laws, flashy Camorra wives, start to visit.

As things begin to fall apart, with mothers and the local school threatening to withdraw the children, the carnival, which they have worked so hard for, is threatened. Giovanna is adamant that she will stand by her principles and let the family remain. It’s an impossible conundrum, the choice of an individual or a group who both need support; one’s own principles over the good of the group; compromise or an untenable ideal… The mother is enigmatic and her own feelings on the matter are obscure – is she taking refuge from a Camorra life she has rejected, or just cynically taking advantage?

When the situation is solved by her decision to leave, it feels a bit like a cop-out. Giovanna is off the hook and in the nick of time the carnival can go ahead. But cleverly what it actually does is leave it up to us to decide if it’s a good outcome, as if we are taking the burden on from Giovanna. This could so easily have ended on a feel-good note, as indeed to some extent, in the joy of the children in their project, it does, but it is determinedly not totally so. Can we be happy with the result? The Camorra are still out there, still divisive, and nothing has changed.

See part 1 here

See part 2 here

Cinema Made in Italy 2018 Part 2. Hannah; Fortunata

HANNAH (Directed by Andrea Pallaoro)

After her triumph three years ago in Andrew Haigh’s marvellous study of an unravelling marriage in 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling shows no falling off in her ability to portray internalised, wordless pain, winning last year’s Volpi Best Actress Award at Venice for her role in this film. In each the flow of a woman’s ordinary life is ultimately destroyed by the fact of her marriage, but whereas in the earlier film it builds up to explode in mute rage, here the flame burns inexorably on as we see a life and identity disintegrate though shame and helplessness.

The director unsettles us with with his opening image of Hannah screaming from the depths of her soul. Yet this isn’t really her pain, we comfortably decide, as it turns out to be taking place in some kind of acting/therapy class, and she’s surrounded by others doing the same. And yet, having been disquieted, we never really lose that sick feeling for the rest of the film, and we’re soon justified. It gradually emerges that Hannah’s husband, whose very existence we don’t suspect for a while, is on the point of going to prison. His crime is unspoken but there are hefty clues – the photographs, the mother hammering on the door, the son’s disgust – enough to know Hannah is also a pariah by association.

The camera is in almost continuous focus on Rampling’s face as she goes about her modest life, an anonymous little woman, for once that patrician face unremarkable, smart and tidy but nor chic, using a public transport system nightmarish in its vast impersonality. Brussels’ streets and Hannah’s dull cramped apartment are an undistinguished backdrop, echoing her ordinariness, as far away as you could imagine from most of the locations of this year’s set of Italian films, where even darkness is thrilling. Touching her face and searching her image in the mirror as if to remind herself she still exists, we feel as she does how her identity is fading, as one aspect of her life after another drops away. Her pleasure in her grandson when her son shuns her, her swimming sessions when her membership is revoked, her dog, pining for his absent master, and soon she herself is choosing to withdraw from what is still available, the acting sessions, where the intensity of her real distress is making her acting of them impossible. And soon, it appears, her job may go the same way. This cleaning and caring for a friendly well-heeled woman’s young son does feel a bit grafted on as it doesn’t seem quite to fit with the rest of her life, but it does give us chance to see her capability in a sociable setting. But on this too she walks out – to what? The metro rails may be tempting – but you feel her actual future is possibly worse – an endless and ever lonelier descent into the rest of her life.

It’s a grinding exercise in disintegration, a hard watch but never less than absorbing, as one empathises with this invisible elderly woman and fumes inwardly at the injustice of guilt by association, as felt by so many innocent families of criminals. And with its brilliant central performance and northern European palette and sensibilities, bound to do very well on the UK arthouse circuit.

FORTUNATA (directed by Sergio Castellitto)

Like Charlotte Rampling, Jasmine Trinca who plays the eponymous role in this film won a Best Actress award last year, in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Young, lively, and extrovert, there couldn’t be a greater contrast. Nor could there be between the films. Where Hannah is dark, concentrated, subtle, silent, Fortunata is bright, expansive, muddled, noisy. Despite Trinca’s enormous energy and range as the inappropriately named Fortunata, it remains a melodramatic and sometimes even shallow piece, a helter skelter story of a chirpy hairdresser with a troubled daughter, Barbara (Nicole Centanni), and a violent soon-to-be-ex who returns sporadically to cast a chill over the proceedings, as if from another, darker and even more melodramatic film.

Fortunata has dreams of owning a fancy salon in partnership with her neighbour, gay junkie tattoo artist and Joaquin Phoenix look-alike Chicano (Alessandro Borghi). When Barbara’s school avoidance means she has to attend therapy sessions with a charming and dishy psychiatrist, it’s signalled early on that at some point soonish Fortunata’s and his eyes will meet in a meaningful way. And sure enough they’re soon in one of those instant clinches that only happen in films. More trouble. Meanwhile Chicano has even more preoccupations in the form of his dementia-troubled mother (astonishingly, Hannah Schygulla) who wonders around talking of her past acting glories and referencing Antigone, for some reason I failed to grasp. Still, Schygulla is eminently watchable and magical as ever on the screen. Visually it’s gorgeous, thanks to Gian Filippo Corticelli’s cinematography, who gets the best out of sunny Rome and the beautiful, whirlwind star. But over-enthusiasm to cram in too much giddy life and too many clichéed situations and characters, and over-use of pop music to point our feelings in the necessary direction, undermines the supposed purpose of being a serious, while entertaining, portrayal of a lively and ultimately undefeated working class woman, impressive though Jasmine Trinca’s range and energy is.

see part 1 here

see part 3 here

 

Cinema Made in Italy March 2018, Part One. A Private Affair

 

Opening film: Rainbow – A Private Affair (Una questione privata)

Opening film of this impressive short festival at Ciné Lumière in London was Paolo Taviani’s Una questione privata (Rainbow – A Private Affair). Paolo’s brother and customary fellow-director Vittorio this time collaborated on the script. This story of the harsh and tragic situation in Northern Italy towards the end of the Second World War is based on Beppe Fenoglio’s well-known Italian novel of the same name, where a love that never declared itself becomes a dangerous obsession which muddies the motivation and morality of its central figure.

As the mist which is almost ubiquitous both literally and metaphorically throughout the film, lifts, Milton (Luca Marinelli), fighting with the partisans, finds himself in front of a grand country house. Like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, he has been here before, returning now as a soldier to a locus where he was once in taken up in a world of the painful happiness of love – with Fulvia (Valentina Bellè), the teasing daughter of the house, to whom he never spoke of his true feelings. A summer of pleasure recollected in the winter of war. The family have left, but speaking to the housekeeper who remains, he discovers that Fulvia may have been all the time involved in an affair with their mutual friend Giorgio (Lorenzo Tichelmy), also now a partisan like him. From now on his work with the partisans takes second place to an uncontrollable drive to find Giorgio and find out the truth.

Unfortunately it seems Giorgio has been captured, so Milton’s efforts are concentrated on doing a prisoner swap with the Fascists, so as to get to him. Through his many set-backs in effecting this, we share his journey over the harsh landscape of Piedmont, forever mist-laden, as his frustrations drive him into a kind of madness.

While this is a personal calvary for Milton, it is the wretchedness of the war with its murdered civilians, its fruitless skirmishes and its meaningless deaths that impresses, embodied in the crazed, murderous Fascist prisoner, perpetrator of many atrocities, whom we see in horrifying closeup, like a Goya cartoon… grimacing as he incessantly drums on thin air. A Taviani hallmark, the long-lingering on a face which so often in their films lays bare and meditates on its humanity, here forces on us an almost unbearable entry into the nihilism of a war of countrymen on countrymen.

Simone Zampagni, the Tavianis’ regular cinematographer, does wonders with the naturalistic mundanity of a comfortless partisan life lived out in the open on this tough landscape or in smashed farm buildings, and more than the story of lost love, it’s the landscape drained of colour or darkened and obscured by the mist which rolls across it, literally the fog of war where unspeakable things are done, that remains potent.

see part 2 here

see part 3 here

Contenders: The Shape of Water; Lady Bird; Darkest Hour

As the Oscars are upon us, I realise that 3 of the contenders are still residing in my ‘to do’ box, and events have conspired to delay my writing their reviews. So here’s a quick catch-up:

THE SHAPE OF WATER deserves every prize going. It feels like a rare foray back to the time when movies were, seemingly effortlessly, great on so many levels – accessible to every regular picturegoer, and at the same time intensely satisfying and admirable as a serious work of art. A cracking plot, gorgeous visuals, fun, passion, and good v evil in the form of the little, unconsidered people against the powerful. And this all in the shape of a fable with its roots in folk tales which tweaks at our deepest instincts. And great acting. Sally Hawkins does her usual wonders making ordinariness special, bringing brightness and heroism to her role as Eliza, a mute cleaner in a gloomy government facility. There’s a new arrival there, a strange and numinous water ‘monster’ found in South America, lined up for vivisection as part of cold war research. A simple but ecstatic relationship soon develops between the two, Eliza’s muteness no bar to love and understanding, and unlike so many monster’s molls, she’s the instigator of action and as avid for sex as him. And Doug Jones’s monster is just about the sexiest I’ve seen! Then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg (also quietly superb in another Oscar contender Call Me By Your Name) playing a reluctant Soviet spy working on the premises. Meanwhile Michael Shannon does his clammy evil shtick, as terrifying as he’s ever been, as the enthusiastic experimental torturer and embodiment of the new go-getting US, a land where prejudice and materialism. Lined up on the good side are Octavia Spencer as Eliza’s co-worker Zelda, playing the doughty fighter for right that she seems to have cornered the market in, and Richard Jenkins as Giles, a lonely gay graphic designer whose expertise is becoming obsolete in this snappy new America. All misfits, all equally sidelined as valueless by the establishment as the monster. There’s also water itself, a life force and medium for sensual pleasure (Eliza’s bath is the zone for her regular morning masturbating and later her union with the monster). It’s a force for good, and when it begins to flood the downstairs cinema, it’s almost a benediction. Cinema too plays its own part, an unexpectedly glamorous manifestation on the undistinguished street below Eliza’s flat, and she and Giles watching and foot-dancing along to old film musicals on his TV is one of the many grace notes of incidental pleasure.

Though the cruelty isn’t quite as coldly terrifying, or the villain as potently evil, as that in Del Toro’s other masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth , it’s sad and shocking. Good does conquer, but at what cost. And like all the best fables, its watery, dark ending leaves one with mixed feelings that are more consolatory than confident that good can prevail, somewhere, deep down.

Seen February 2018, Cineworld Boldon

LADY BIRD, directed by Greta Gerwig, is fully redolent of her melancholy and quirkily funny take on life. And Saoirse Ronan is a perfect embodiment of this snapshot of teenage angst that Gerwig says is based to some extent on her own. The self-named Lady Bird is bright and a bit of a school misfit, aching to get away from life in Sacramento and her cash-starved lower middle class family, with a mother (an excellent Laurie Metcalf) working all hours as a nurse, a father on the point of redundancy and graduate brother working in the local Wallmart. With the discontent of a dreamy teen, she wants to be ’where there’s culture’. It’ll probably touch a nerve in so many audience members (in my case, for Sacramento, read Chesterfield!). Yet trailers showing her mostly as a stroppy teen arguing with her mother do give a slightly wrong flavour of the film, which is mostly warm and funny, and a world of school life that isn’t that bad, compared with the vision we’re often given of bitchy girls and hearty jocks. (And who’d have thought nuns and priests could be such fun?) Though the generations have their own realities, they still recognise each others, and cleverly the film manages to enlist and understand both points of view. Even when Lady Bird is being obnoxious, we’re rooting for her. Even when her mother is shrieking at her, we (or at least those of us who are parents) are with her too. So though shot with melancholy, it’s mostly sunny, as sunny as the charming Sacramento itself looks, and very funny too, with nice roles for Lucas Hedges (impressive in Manchester by the Sea) and Timothee Chalamet, a considerably less likeable floppy haired beauty than in Call Me By Your Name. As a debut feature it’s impressive, though I do hope Gerwig’s own mix of leggy clownishness and subtle emotion will be making an appearance in front of the camera again before too long.

Seen February 2018 Tyneside Cinema Newcastle

And the third film on my list is one that I didn’t much care for, other than for its Oscar-nominated actor. Gary Oldman, so convincingly made-up as to be unrecognisable, is simply superb as Churchill in DARKEST HOUR, however much the film grates with its melodrama and its misjudged excursions into sentimental fantasy. Scenes in a sepia, almost totally male, House of Commons are as beautifully choreographed as we expect from Joe Wright. The need to provide some female presence to what was undeniably a male-led establishment, as in last year’s Churchill with Brian Cox playing the petulant leader, is dealt with by the wife (Here Kristen Scott Thomas, then Miranda Richardson), and the female secretary( Lily James/Ella Purnell), bringing both some ‘feminine’ emotional heft and common sense. But the arrival of George VI in a secret night-time visit to Churchill’s bedchamber to give him his backing blows the film’s credentials. Even more so a totally confected trip by Churchill on a tube train where he meets real people, deferential and plucky each and every one, in particular a bright-eyed schoolgirl and a well-spoken black guy who can quote ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ back to the great man. This is actually an insult to the reality of what those people were to have to go through – my parents’ generation mostly got through the necessary awfulness of the war without such daft pretentiousness. Ok Churchill was right. But crowd-pleasing rhetoric is not of itself a good thing, something we are very aware of these days. And it’s about time for England’s obsession with our own myths about ourselves and the romance of the War to be put behind us.

Seen January 2018 Cineworld Boldon