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FILM:April / May 2020

Well folks, we are still in lockdown and it looks as though we shall be for a while longer. Cinemas are closed, but don't despair there is lots to watch on the BBC and on ITV as well as streaming services like Netflix. Netflix has a lot of very good films, both recent as well as older favourites.

Two which have recently come available to see on DVD or streaming services are reviewed below. Watch these as well as others on offer and relax!

VIVARIUM (cert.15 1 hr. 38 mins.)

What a strange, haunting film this is! It begins in an ordinary manner with a young couple, Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) looking for a home to buy. Tom is a tree surgeon and Gemma is a teacher (we see them at work at the start of the film). When they go into an estate agent's, they are a little put off by the somewhat strange manner of the salesman Martin ((Jonathan Aris). Deciding that it is worth looking at the property he offers, the couple follow Martin to a new empty estate called 'Yonder.'

Martin suddenly vanishes and the couple, having looked at the property, decide to leave. They drive round and round the estate but always end up where they started. When they run out of petrol they are forced to stay in the house, which is fully fitted. They again try to leave the next day, this time on foot, but it is a maze they can't escape from as they always return to their original house. Finding a box of supplies they are puzzled and frightened.

Vivarium is available to stream on all major platforms

When a box is delivered containing a baby, the couple realise that they are in a nightmare that they are stuck in.  The baby screams and continues to behave in a most unnatural way as he grows and grows very quickly to become seven-years-old (Senana Jennings), a weird alien-type child who mimics what they say and continues screaming to be fed. As the child continues to grow to become an equally terrifying adult (Eanna Hardwicke), the relationship between the couple deteriorates.  Trapped in a place that is impossible to escape from, Tom tries to dig a tunnel in the garden while Gemma is forced to take on the role of mother to the boy.

Beautifully acted by all, particularly Poots and Eisenberg, we see two young people – played very realistically - obviously in love to start with, becoming gradually estranged. Director, Lorcan Finnegan, has delivered a well- composed, thoughtful movie.

Although this comes across as a horror film, with the couple being trapped in their environment with a frightening child, it is also a tale of the lengths people have to go onto get on the property ladder. In our lock-down situation, unfortunately, the film has a lot to say to us at this present time.

Rating ****

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA (cert.12A 1 hr. 46 mins.)

On DVD or streaming now

What a pity the film has this title – it rather gives the game away! However, this thriller is based on the real-life escape in 1979 of Tim Jenkin (played here by Daniel Radcliffe) and Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) after they were imprisoned in Pretoria Maximum Security Prison.

The two young white ANC (African National Congress) activists set off explosives on the streets of Johannesburg in 1978 as they distributed anti-apartheid leaflets. When arrested, they are taken to court and convicted. Tim is sentenced to 12 years and Stephen to eight years. They are sent to the whites-only Pretoria prison, which was known as the white man's 'Robben Island.'

Escape from Pretoria

Meeting up with Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) and Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter), ANC political prisoners, they plot an escape bid. Tim, who has been put to work in the prison workshop makes wooden replica keys, based on those he sees hanging on the belts of the guards. Gradually over 20 months he makes enough keys needed to fit all 15 locks. Joined by Leonard, Tim and Stephen make preparations to escape.

The film is not really a thriller on the lines of will they or won't they escape. Rather, the movie shows how they manage the escape. As such it remains exciting and the audience is caught up in the careful manner in which the escape is planned as well as its execution. And director Francis Annan manages the tension and gradual build-up of the story really well.

Ian Hart puts in a good performance as a long-term prisoner who tries to prevent the escape as he believes it will never succeed. The real Tim Jenkin appears as an extra in a scene in the prison waiting-room. Daniel Radcliffe once again shows that he has now grown into a fully-fledged adult actor. He gives a well-rounded portrayal of the main character.

The film is based on Tim Jenkin's book. Well-acted, carefully edited and directed with real care for the story and its interpretation, it is worth a watch!

Rating ****

EMMA (cert. U 2 hrs. 4 mins.)

Available on DVD or streaming,

You might have seen the film in the cinema just before lockdown, or perhaps you have seen another version of Jane Austen's novel in the past, But just like a Shakespeare play, the book can be read many times and the film can be seen again and again. And this interpretation of Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde, is well-worth re-visiting.

Although this is her first film, the director has caught both the character of Emma as well as the class-ridden milieu of the original. The manners of the time, 1815, are shown clearly. How people behave both in society and, in particular, to each other is the background to Emma's story.


Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is absolutely sure that she is right about many things concerning manners and romance. So, when she becomes friendly with Harriet (Mia Goth), she pushes her towards the odious Mr Elton (Josh O'Connor), who, as a vicar has good standing in the community. It is obvious to all except Emma that Harriet is in love with the farmer, Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), who, in turn dotes on her. But Emma makes Harriet reject the farmer as she believes Mr Elton will propose to Harriet. Instead he proposes to Emma, who is mortified and rejects him. While Emma's father, Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy), is worried about Emma leaving him to get married, their family friend, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) warns Emma against meddling in other people's lives. She takes no notice and continues to put Harriet forward with other potential suitors. When she is rude to the gentle but garrulous Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) and humiliates her in front of their friends, Knightley speaks firmly to Emma so she begins to understand that her own behaviour is not always perfect. And then Emma and Knightley become attracted to each other. More misunderstandings occur before the conclusion of the film.

Beautifully filmed, we see the rural surroundings of the small community and feel part of their lives. Autumn de Wilde's casting is spot on and young Anya Taylor -Joy is indeed delightful as Emma. Good to see Nighy in a part which suits him so well and the young men are dishy or snobbish as appropriate!

It would be good to say that the film has a feminist slant, but really the main thing that the young women desire is a husband and home of their own. It is a romantic novel and a romantic film. Lovely for the present time when most of us want to be taken away out of our confined homes.

Cinematography which is exactly right for all scenes, sensitive performances and a well-written script contribute to a most appealing movie.

Rating: *****


Available on Vimeo

London and other major cities in the UK have a particular housing crisis. However, it is not just that affordable housing is not available in the inner cities, but also access to decent housing is not open at all. This is happening not just in the UK but in many counties around the world. There are many who now cannot afford the high deposit to put down to secure their own home. In addition, there is a rising number of homeless people who are forced to sleep rough once they run out of all other options.

A new documentary, PUSH (1 hr. 37 mins.) focusses on a UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, who goes from country to country to try to find out more about the global housing crisis and why and how it exists. She talks about capitalism in relation to a low-income housing project in Harlem, New York. This was recently bought by a private equity fund. It led to huge rent increases resulting in likely future evictions.


Leilani Farha insists that access to housing is a human right. One example here is a man who has to spend 90% of his income on rent for his two-bedroom flat. But once it rises - as is threatened- to $3,600 (£2,900) per month, he will be forced out.

We follow Leilani to Berlin, Toronto, Stockholm and Seoul. In London she visits the Heygate Estate and views Grenfell Tower. Accompanied by director, Fredrik Gertten, she hurries around different parts of the world digging out stories of tragedy that have happened to poor people and of corporate greed. Wealthy buyers look to purchase investment units resulting in the buildings becoming assets.

The film focusses in on Blackstone, a private equity firm. The company becomes the villain in different counties all around the world.

Academics and economists, including Saskia Sassen and Joseph Stiglitz, give their views including explanations of tax havens – a no-no for Leilani! When Leilani delivers her report to the UN, we see the UN delegates not really paying attention to her. The problems continue….

Rating: ****


Available on streaming,

Beautiful cinematography, sensitive performances and a well-written script contribute to PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (cert. 15 1 hr. 22 mins.), a most appealing movie. The main story is set in Brittany in the late eighteenth century. A countess (Valeria Golino) has employed an artist, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) to paint a portrait of her daughter, Heloise (Adele Haenel). It is intended that the portrait will be sent to a wealthy man in Milan so that he can choose her as his bride.

There is one main difficulty: Heloise does not wish to be married so refuses to be painted. The countess explains that Marianne must paint her daughter secretly. She will need to commit her face to memory and then paint her without Heloise knowing. Heloise believes that Marianne has been brought to her home to be a walking partner and chaperone. There is a sub plot involving the pregnant maid (played by Luana Bajrami) which points up the social realism of the time.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

When the countess has to go away for a short time, the two young women become entwined in a relationship. The sexual undertone is palpable. Director, Celine Sciamma knows how to produce an erotic charge and the actresses are more than able to handle the scenes. The developing love story between the women is handled with care so that each scene has its own boundaries. And each one looks like an artist's picture. The director of photography is also female, Claire Mathon, and she interprets Sciamma's vision to perfection. The sound and singing also blend in with the themes of the movie and the whole is a most satisfying experience.

However, the film doesn't progress in quite the way you expect. It is a movie made for adults and there are no easy answers to the dilemmas faced by the females here.

Watching the film is mesmerising. It looks so beautiful and the emotion comes through visually as well as through the characters. A taut direction and sensitive portrayals of the two main parts has the effect of leaving the film imprinted on one's mind. As the former cinema audience languishes in quarantine, you can escape for a couple of hours by watching this film.

Rating: ****

You could watch Juliette Binoche recite the telephone directory – if it still exists – and it wouldn't be boring. Luckily, you don't need to as she stars in an erotic film that you can watch at home now. In WHO YOU THINK I AM (cert. 15 1 hr. 42 mins.) Binoche plays Claire, a fifty-year-old divorced lecturer with two young sons. Starting with a full-on bonking scene with a younger lover, Ludo (Guillaume Gouix), we mostly follow the story that Claire tells her new therapist, Dr Catherine Bormans (Nicole Garcia) following an apparent major breakdown.

Who You Think I Am
Available on Curzon Home Cinema

Claire tells Dr Bormans that when Ludo discards her, she feels that she is old and unloved. So Claire sets about seducing Ludo's younger assistant, Alex (Francois Civil). She finds him on a dating site and pretending to be a young, sexy beautiful girl called Clara, has long telephone calls with Alex, culminating in phone sex. Of course, before very long, Alex wants to meet up with his gorgeous looking new girlfriend (Claire has sent him a photo of herself - actually it is a picture of her young niece) and is upset at being continually thwarted because Claire can't let him see that she has lied about her age and looks and makes many excuses to avoid a rendezvous.

Claire relates all this to her therapist and goes on to tell her what happens after she breaks up with Alex. There are a number of plot twists so that the film is not just a romance with a spicy erotic feeling but also a what-happens-next type of film.

Binoche is utterly convincing in the part of the older woman – bitter because her husband has left her and then caught up with the world of addiction to a mobile phone. She almost ignores her two young sons as she continues to speak on the phone and moves from room to room when her children are present. There is an amusing scene where she goes to pick them up and as they stand at the side of the road she carries on driving round and round the car park because she is in the middle of a deep conversation with her lover.

The two young lovers, who are mainly there to react to Binoche, are attractive and well depicted too and Safy Nebbou has directed with a real French touch of class and sophistication. Interesting and unusual in its concept and execution, this is a film to intrigue.

Rating: ****

Carlie Newman






Theatres may be closed, but the show goes on-line

Well folks, we are still in lockdown and it looks as though we shall be for a while longer. Theatres are closed, but don't despair there is lots to watch on the internet. Shows are streaming from a number of theatres and other special sites recently set up. People are getting creative with how they socialise while isolated; and this is another opportunity. Why not organise a date and time to simultaneously settle down with your friends for a show? Here's a selection of theatre experiences that you can find online:

Theatre companies

The Royal Shakespeare Company has put 17 of its performances on a service called Marquee TV. Anyone can now sign up on the website for a 30-day free trial, providing a month's access to RSC productions.

The Tempest is among the RSC plays that are available to stream online.

Others currently available on Marquee TV are: Antony and Cleopatra; Coriolanus; Cymbeline; Hamlet; Henry IV Part 1 & Part 2; Henry V; Julius Caesar; King Lear; Love's Labour's Lost; Love's Labour's Won (Much Ado About Nothing); The Merchant of Venice; Othello; Richard II; Titus Andronicus; Twelfth Night; The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The Tempest

Plus, there's more to be found on Marquee TV than Shakespeare: the website also hosts recordings of other classic plays, like Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and performances from Shakespeare's Globe. Visit www.marquee.tv/viewplans.

The National Theatre has announced a series of free online shows. Called the National Theatre at Home project, it started with One Man, Two Guvnors, a reworking of Carlo Goldoni's 1743 comedy play starring James Corden. Adaptations of Jane Eyre and Treasure Island have also been shown, as well as a version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night starring Tamsin Greig. All of the National Theatre at Home performances will be available to watch on YouTube upon their release on consecutive Thursdays. After the first screening, each performance will remain on the YouTube page for one week. The plays will be shared on the National Theatre's YouTube channel .

Also on the NT YouTube from 21 May 7 pm until 28 May is A Streetcar Named Desire. I saw this on stage and it was really excellent with Gillian Anderson outstanding as Blanche.

If opera is your choice of stage entertainment, London's Royal Opera House has launched a programme of free online content. Each performance will be shared at 7 pm on specific dates on the ROH's Facebook page and YouTube channel, allowing viewers to watch on their preferred platform - and hopefully make an event out of it. Lots of operas shown so far, including Peter and the Wolf (The Royal Ballet), Acis and Galatea (The Royal Opera), Così fan tutte (The Royal Opera), The Metamorphosis (The Royal Ballet). If you miss one, don't worry - the videos will remain online afterwards for audiences to catch up on.

The Royal Opera House is offering a free programme of curated online broadcasts as part of our #OurHousetoYourHouse series. Full-length productions, musical masterclasses and glimpses behind the scenes can be seen for free any time, anywhere. This will include the following broadcasts, available on demand, for free, via our Facebook and YouTube channels: Cendrillon, The Royal Opera, 2011 – Online Premiere 22 May, 7pm, The Cellist, The Royal Ballet, 2020 – Online Premiere 29 May, 7pm, Il trittico, The Royal Opera, 2012 – Online Premiere 5 June, 7pm; La Fille mal gardée, The Royal Ballet, 2005 – Online Premiere 12 June, 7pm The Magic Flute, The Royal Opera, 2017 – Online Premiere 19 June, 7pm .

Other Royal Opera House content will be available on the aforementioned Marquee TV, too, including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and La Traviata.

Dance organisation Sadler's Wells has a free online platform called Digital Stage, where new dance content will be presented now that its theatres have been closed. Digital premieres of dance performances will be available to watch, and there'll also be specially created dance workshops for over 60s to engage with while at home. Various shows including Deluxe by BalletBoyz, a multi-award winner dance group first formed in 2000. I wrote about them previously. Look at Sadler's Wells' Facebook page.

The aptly named The Show Must Go Online is a creative initiative launched in response to the Coronavirus crisis. It brings together actors from around the world in one place - an online chat. Here, the actors will perform all of Shakespeare's plays in the order they were (believed to be) written. Audiences can view the online shows, including The Taming of the Shrew. Again, if you miss any performances, you can catch them later on the YouTube channel.

The Old Vic is streaming archived shows for free on YouTube, starting with the A Monster Calls award-winning production of Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls, directed by Sally Cookson, and featuring the original cast. Great in the theatre and recommended. It will go live at 7pm on Friday 5 June and will be available to watch until Thursday 11 June.

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre: a number of plays have already been shown. Still to come for free via their YouTube channel as part of YouTube Premieres. Available until UK secondary schools re-open: Macbeth (2020). The Merry Wives of Windsor (2019), premiering on YouTube Monday 1 June, 7.00pm to Sunday 14 June. A Midsummer Night's Dream (2013) 15 June, 7.00pm to Sunday 28 June. Others to follow!

Shakespeares Globe Theatre

You can also see filmed versions of operas put on by New York's Metropolitan Opera

The little Jermyn Street Theatre has joined the online streaming arts community. Still to come from 26 May is Terrence Rattigan's In Praise of Love, available to watch free on YouTube. And watch out for more!

The Olivier Award-winning theatre company Headlong have collaborated with Century Films to present a new series of plays. Titled Unprecedented, the digital plays star over 50 actors, written by 14 playwrights and 11 directors, focusing on the communities, connections and cultures coming together. 11 plays in Unprecedented will be broadcast on BBC Four from 26th May, with an additional three plays available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, a veritable institution unto himself, is pitching in as well. The composer's Really Useful Group, in partnership with Universal, is offering free broadcasts of the greatest Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Both were excellent.

A different Lloyd Webber musical streams each week on The Shows Must Go On!, a YouTube channel devoted to this project. Each show goes live on the channel on Friday at 7pm and usually remains viewable for 48 hours afterward. The shows in the series are announced week by week.

Specific productions

Here's one that's great for younger viewers: The Wind in the Willows the Musical, which was filmed when it played at the London Palladium in 2017. This musical adaptation was put together by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, and places the characters of Ratty, Badger, Mole and Toad on the stage. The show can be enjoyed by simply visiting the website: www.willowsmusical.com.

Over on the Eugenius! Facebook page, viewers can watch a never-before-seen recording of the show, London's The Other Palace theatre in 2017/18. The musical follows Eugene, a boy who wants to turn his comic book into a superhero film. I saw and enjoyed the original theatre version.

Kaiser Chiefs: The Indie rock icons will play a streamed gig from home to help raise funds for the Royal Albert Hall.

Kaiser Chiefs

They will perform as part of the Royal Albert Home series on Saturday 30th May at 8pm,

Other shows being streamed live include: Friday 29th May: Imogen Heap. The previous sessions are also still available to watch in full and feature artists from Alexis French and Alfie Boe to Rufus Wainwright and Katherine Jenkins who performed a special VE Day show. To watch the Kaiser Chiefs' show or see any of those already streamed, go to www.royalalberthall.com the Royal Albert Hall's YouTube channel.


Carlie Newman

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