The First Casualty of News

A Private War (Matthew Heineman, 2018)

Marie Colvin was a female war correspondent, following in the footsteps of Martha Gellhorn (and Kate Adie), reporting under fire from many of the hell holes of the world. We know what war correspondents are like from films — hardbitten, tough, driven, sociopathic and unable to maintain normal relationships, slave to the bottle and traumatised if they’d but admit it. It’s still unusually to see a women in this role on film, although since at least the 1930s journalism has been an acceptable job for a woman on screen.

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Mary Queen of Poppins

Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke, 2018)

Having just seen a rather mixed version of Richard II, with Simon Russell Beale, this felt rather theatrical, albeit without the poetry. There’s the Meaningful Looks from ensemble dignitaries, many of whose names escape me, brandishing of papers, condensation of time (oh, is that the same day or twenty years later?)… the climactic encounter between the two two leads which seems to be staged amidst indoor washing lines. And there’s Simon Russell Beale, in a brief cameo. There’s also race blind casting — yes, there were people of colour in Elizabethan England (and presumably Marian Scotland), but Bess of Hardwick (Gemma Chan) and the English ambassador (Adrian Lester)? It comes as no surprise that Rourke comes from the theatre — the Donmar Warehouse — and is better at tableaux than action.
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Another Fine Mess

Stan & Ollie (Jon S. Baird, 2018)

8232d0ea-89fd-4b81-95e2-be5046d4dea3All comics end in tragedy, in one way or another. They either die in harness — Tommy Cooper on stage — or fade away to keep bees on the South Sussex Downs or can’t stay at the top. Those giants of silent film — Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin — transitioned awkwardly into the synchronised sound era, but production slowed or stopped. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were paired together by Hal Roach, with Laurel’s gift for dialogue pairing perfectly with their slapstick. But Laurel never had the financial control he craved and was unable to negotiate a better deal as his contract never ended at the same time as Hardy’s. Laurel left Hal Roach Studios and Hardy made a film with Harry Langdon; thirteen years later the two tour Britain and Ireland in 1953, rebuilding an audience as the has-beens, enjoyed more in reruns than live, and trying to out together one last film. But Hardy is dying.

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Certain Histories Have Been Taken With the Liberty

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)

Among the trailers before this film was one for a new Mary Queen of Scots/Elizabeth I movie, clearly framed around the sizzling moment when they met — accept, of course, in real life they didn’t and Mary spoke French and Scots as far as I recall. Sometimes this kind of historical accuracy bothers me, along with fluid geography, but don’t learn history from a film without a dollop of scepticism.

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Beauty and the

Beast (Michael Pearce, 2017)

Among the trailers before my screening – which included a trailer for Beast — was an advert featuring villages walking along a twilight rural-ish road toward a beach at the bottom of a set of cliffs and then a series of black horses running toward them. I was reminding of an equivalent community parade in Broadchurch, and the disappearance and murder at the heart of that. (Lloyds claim we are not alone and that they are by our side, which is less convincing if they’ve closed your branch.)

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Hard Stares

Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)

And inevitably — for reasons that need not detain us — I was looking back to all those long drives to holiday destinations and family in the north east, and the five tapes that passed the time: two Winnie the Pooh, two Paddingtons and a Beatrix Potter. The first two (four) were the loved ones, sharing Bernard Cribbins as a reader. And I’m pretty sure that the first theatre I saw, aside from panto, were adaptations. I’m not sure why I missed the first movie — feeling some trepidation — but I could see Ben Wishaw would be perfect for the voice.

As far as I can recall, with the exception of Paddington Abroad, the books were all short stories: Paddington would attempt to do something (sell Mr Curry a vacuum cleaner) and it would go wrong (Mr Curry had no mains electricity), but everything would turn out ok. There would be a visit to Mr Gruber and sticky buns and there’d be a hard stare. I think I have about ten books, Armada Lions, battered and fading orange.

But here we need a feature length narrative: Paddington saving up money to buy a rare pop up book of London for his Aunt Lucy’s hundredth birthday. Only someone else is after the book and will stop at nothing to get it.

In a prologue, we learn that Paddington’s Aunt Lucy was about to go on holiday to London when she found Paddington — revealing in the process that Paddington was adopted before the Browns took him on. I am shocked that Aunt Lucy is not a blood relative — is this canon? Mind you, it took me a long time to realise that Pike’s Uncle Arthur wasn’t a blood relative.

And so we are in Notting Hill, which presumably has come up in the world since the original stories, but here at least is infinitely more multiracial than the last time co-star Hugh Grant appeared in a film set there. There is a neighbourhood of lovable eccentrics, almost all charmed by Britain’s favourite illegal immigrant, and each played by the gentry of television comedy. Occasionally, this can be distracting. Mr Curry, who I’d always assumed to be Scottish, is played by Peter Capaldi, better known for Local Hero and the Oscar-winning Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Gruber, meanwhile, is Jim Broadbent, slightly confusingly as Hugh Bonneville (Mr Brown, Paddington’s reluctant adopter) has played a younger version of Broadbent in Iris.

The build is slow, as Paddington begins cleaning windows, in a borrow from the books (surely) and from a Hoffnung monologue where it was a barrel of bricks. But as the birthday approaches, Paddington finds himself behind bars with a choky full of dodgy characters. Paddington weaves his magic, setting the scene for a geographically dodgy train chase.

I assume writer-director King is a Wallace and Gromit fan, as it borrows from Nick Parks’s heterotopia and his style of piling up sight gags. I think this is a film to rewatch on DVD, pause button to hand, to unpick the notices and headlines. It’s a long film, but it doesn’t feel long. Paddington is utterly convincing, although perhaps at times he’s not sufficiently in the landscape, and I could have done without quite so many fantasy sequences. The pop up book perhaps allows homage to the Ivor Wood animated series, that never quite sold me. Meanwhile, even though I’d avoid Hugh Grant movies like the plague, he steals this film gloriously and effortlessly.

And, spoilers, it’s pretty obviously worth watching the closing credits, for one more set piece.

Perhaps it’s an air of exhaustion, but this might be my film of the year, watched through teared up eyes, eucatastrophically or for those endless drives on the A1 or the M1 all those years ago.

Moustache on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, 2017)

So this comes with a weight of expectations and spoilers — is this the one where the detective did it or was it the fourth victim, who faked his death? Branagh had started his film career trying to out Sir Larry Sir Larry with worthy Shakespearean adaptations, but with the odd psychological thriller to show versatility. And the truly dreadful and misnamed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And now a crowd pleaser: an always redundant adaption of the hoary Agatha Christie novel. I think it’s a lose-lose situation: either he’s faithful to the original and we know what’s gonna happen or he’s not and we feel cheated.

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