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FILM:November 2012

For most people the film of the month will surely be SKYFALL (cert.12A 2 hrs. 20 mins.). At the time of writing, it has not yet been released and critics have been told not to reveal any plot lines! I can, however, say that there is as much of Judi Dench playing M as there is of Daniel Craig as James Bond in this film. Directed with suitable panache by Sam Mendes, we have an exciting pre-credit sequence followed by equally exciting action scenes throughout.

This is the 23rd Bond film and in its 50th anniversary year it is interesting to note that the film has almost reverted to its earlier days, in that the gadgetry is down to a minimum and the characters are foremost. The girls, the exotic locations, the somewhat strange villain and the fast chases remain, however! It does look forward to the future, though, and Mendes has directed a film that also gives a nod to the past.

Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem

At the end of the opening sequence it seems as though James is dead, accidentally shot by one of MI6's own agents, Eve (Naomie Harris). In fact (surprise!), he survives and returns to London and Headquarters when he learns of a terrorist attack on the MI6 building and a threat to M (Judi Dench). The villain of the piece is Silva (Javier Bardem), a former Agent who wants to take revenge. M is also threatened by her new superior, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) who says she is not up to her job and should make her "retirement plans". To which Dench as M replies sharply, "I'll leave when the job's done." Back in business, Bond is surprised to be given very simple weaponry by the new young Quartermaster 'Q' (Ben Whishaw). Various plot twists occur including Bond taking M to his ancestral home in Scotland, where a somewhat grizzled Albert Finney appears as Kincade, a character form Bond's past, who helps 007 defend his home and M.

Using renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes is able to conjure up some glorious pictures both of the exciting action and locations, which move from Istanbul to the mists of Scotland. The title song written and sung by Adele comes in at exactly the right moment at the beginning of the film and is super! In this film, Judi Dench has almost as much screen time as Daniel Craig. As boss and agent they work well together and the chemistry between them is remarkably convincing. They are both very good actors and raise this action film to a whole new level. With his blond hair and somewhat camp attitude Javier Bardem makes a scary and convincing villain. Skyfall is a Bond film that all involved in its making can be truly proud of.

The highlight of this year's London Film Festival was the closing gala, GREAT EXPECTATIONS (cert. 12A 2 hrs 9 mins), which is on general release at the end of November. Mike Newell's take on Charles Dickens' novel is not only visually stunning but acted with supreme confidence by a cast of well-known British thespians.

The orphan Pip, assists an escaped convict. Pip is later employed as companion to beautiful but cold-hearted Estella, the ward of wealthy Miss Havisham, who has kept her home and wedding fare the same for 30 years since she was abandoned at the altar. Pip gives his life-long love to Estella. Pip learns that he has "great expectations" having been given a huge fortune by an unnamed benefactor.

He moves to London to be educated as a gentleman. Pip is amazed to discover that his benefactor is the convict Abel Magwitch. Jeremy Irvine is excellent as the adult Pip - he has an innocence and air of bewilderment as events unfold, not always to his liking. Irvine's younger brother, Toby, plays Young Pip.

Estella, brought up by Miss Havisham to be haughty and a heartbreaker, is well-portrayed by Holliday Grainger and Helena Bonham Carter plays eccentric Miss Havisham. Bonham Carter manages not only to age throughout the film but also show how she repents of the damage she has caused both to Pip and Estella. Ralph Fiennes is evil Magwitch, displaying a constant undercurrent of violence with chilling accuracy. Newell directs with real feeling for the period setting bringing out the way in which people of all classes lived at that time. The director manages scenes of quiet romance and exciting fight scenes. He manages to show different angles of the story so it is not all told from Pip's perspective.

The puzzle is…why has it taken so long for ELENA (cert.12A 1hr. 49 mins. In Russian with Engl. sub-titles) to be released in the UK? Elena won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section in 2011. With a magnificent central performance and excellent cinematography this somewhat slow film holds the attention of its audience from start to finish.

Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is married to her former patient Vladimir (Andrey Smimov). He is extremely wealthy and the couple, who are in their sixties, live together in harmony in his well-equipped Moscow apartment. Both have children from previous marriages. Elena's son, Sergey (Alexey Rozin) is lazy. He has no job and sits around at home with Tanya, his wife, an older child and a baby son. Elena travels by bus to her son's dilapidated flat, taking him food and money. He keeps asking his mother to get money from her husband in order to pay his son's University fees. The lad wants to go to College not because he is so keen to study, but to avoid military service. Vladimir has become estranged from his only daughter, Katerina. Vladimir considers Elena's son a scrounger, who does nothing to support his own family. In turn Elena believes Vladimir's daughter has been given everything she needs, but shows no affection towards her father. When Vladimir suffers a heart attack, Elena faces a difficult decision regarding her own future and that of her son.

Everything is understated in the film, helped by the cinematography (Michail Krichman), who manages to reveal the luxurious world Elena inhabits contrasting with the run-down block of flats where her son lives. Writer director, Andrey Zvyagintsev has complete command of the film from the casting of a look-alike son and father to the atmospheric slow, almost lyrical depiction of Elena's emotions as she looks at herself in the mirror. Above all his choice of actors is absolutely right and the uptight Vladimir and useless Sergey are portrayed with consummate skill by Andrey Smirnov and Alexey Rozin respectively. Elena Lyadova's interpretation of the egotistical Katerina is spot-on and the development of a kind of love between her and her father in hospital is handled with sensitivity. Nadezhda Markina gives us a luminous portrait of the plain Russian woman, Elena. Her conflicts become apparent without over dramatisation.

The most moving film at this year's LFF must be Michael Haneke's AMOUR (LOVE) (2 hrs. 7 mins.). It stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva as his wife, Anne. The devoted couple, now in their eighties, have a good life together, enjoying music and attending to the preparation of their meals together.

The couple have money but that doesn't do much to alleviate their troubles when Anne suffers a series of strokes, which leave her progressively less capable of moving and speaking. Although the couple's daughter (Isabelle Huppert) visits, Georges finds her presence unhelpful especially when she suggests her mother goes elsewhere to be looked after. He has promised his wife that she will not return to hospital. Even the music, which they both love, provides no comfort and Georges struggles to cope. At one point Anne refuses to drink although her husband points out that she will die without liquid.

Unsentimentally, the director shows Georges's struggle to look after his wife and also to do what is best for her within his own capabilities. The two lead actors perform with grace and tenderness towards each other and with their individual situations. A truly excellent film, sad but filmed with compassion, it has marvelous performances from Trintignant and Riva.

Not just for Jewish people the 2012 UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL welcomes all. Opening with the UK premiere of a charming little romantic comedy Paris Manhattan on 1 November, it draws on the films and utterances of Woody Allen and is about a young woman whose choices in life and love are shaped by the philosophies of her favourite filmmaker. It is writer/director Sophie Lellouche's first film. The Festival runs until 18 November.

There is an extensive programme, which should appeal to all ages and interests in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Glasgow as well as London. It includes the dramatic My Dad Is Baryshnikov, set in Moscow in 1986 when a young boy becomes spellbound by watching 'White Nights'; the Croatian feature Lea and Daria, the true story of two 13 year old girls who were singing stars in Zagreb before the Nazis arrived; Melting Away from Israel's Doran Eran about identity and family; the eagerly awaited Yossi, the sequel to Eytan Fox's 2003 movie Yossi & Jagger, which won Tribeca's Best Actor for Ohad Knoller; and the quirky French comedy The Day I Saw Your Heart in which a young singleton, her immature dad (played gloriously by Michel Blanc), her sister and a possible new boyfriend try to make sense of life and relationships; Zaytoun, which, I thought a well-made film showing the possibility of friendship between an Israeli fighter and a young Palestinian boy, who are thrust together as enemies and learn to know and appreciate each other.

Documentary premieres include Roman Polanski - A Film Memoir, a full-length interview with Polanski himself about his extraordinary life and the effect it's had on his movies; The Price Of Kings, about the life of Simon Peres directed by Richard Symons and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter; the award-winning The Flat (which won the 2012 Tribeca Best Editing Award) in which director Arnon Goldfinger travels back to Tel Aviv to clear out his grandmother's flat after her death and unearths a shocking family history through the photographs and papers he finds; and Gainsbourg on Gainsbourg: No Comment, about the legendary French songwriter. For further info. go to www.ukjewishfilm.org






Rob Bryden is by far the best thing in A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL (Harold Pinter Theatre booking until 5 January 2013. NOTE: throughout the run there will be over 100 seats available for £10, many bookable in advance). Bryden is Dafydd ap Llewellyn, the director of the amateur dramatic company rehearsing The Beggar's Opera. Alan Ayckbourn's play, first performed in 1984, is directed here by Trevor Nunn.

Ayckbourn cleverly uses the plot and scenes from the play within a play to develop the story of the sexual and business intrigues of the local amateur society. The cast work hard to bring life to the play but it seems rather tame and not as amusing as Ayckbourn's comedies usually are. There are, however, some lovely moments such as Bryden singing All Through the Night in Welsh!

Nigel Harman as Guy, Rob Brydon as Dafydd and Ashley Jensen as Hannah in A Chorus of Disapproval at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

For those fans of the Beatles, LET IT BE (Prince of Wales Theatre (booking until 19 January 2013) might just appeal. It is really a concert of the Beatles material rather than a play and the only history behind the songs is printed on screens shown in between presentations of Beatles' songs. There are 60s adverts which appear on the two TV screens on either side of the stage. Four look-alike lads plus a fifth on keyboard perform well.

The songs can't be faulted and they are performed by the tribute band- because that is what it seems like - more than adequately. It is a very short show at just over two hours including the interval. The audience appeared to be having a great time and the choral singing from the audience at the end was really good. However, if you are a real Beatle fan, you might just prefer to listen to the discs at home!

OUR BOYS Duchess Theatre (until 15 December) has a good cast of up and coming young actors led by Laurence Fox as Joe. Set in a military hospital in 1984 it shows the end result of war - with injured soldiers from the Falklands and Northern Ireland trying to come to terms with their injuries and how they will deal with their future lives.

Plagued by memories of the past they are frequently angry at themselves as well as each other. When a new officer arrives the tensions between the men come to the surface. There is a lot of sexual banter and an interesting version of the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter using beer cans.

The cast perform really well together and the acting is very good - Laurence Fox emotes and physically acts well but doesn't always articulate clearly. I liked Arthur Darvill as Parry and Cian Barry as Keith, his fellow squaddies. Jolyon Coy gave a sensitive portrayal of the Jewish trainee officer forced to share a room with a group of men who are at first most unwelcoming. We get a very real sense of war as the background to what the young men are now suffering. Why were they injured? For what cause? And was it worth it?

GEORGE SAVVIDES caught the latest play at the Richmond Theatre and reviews:

DRIVING MISS DAISY (Richmond Theatre and then Tour. See below) David Esbjornson's graceful revival of Alfred Uhry's award- winning play began life on Broadway starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones before it moved to the West End last year. Now it begins a National Tour with Gwen Taylor stepping into Miss Daisy's delicate shoes while Don Warrington gets behind the wheel as her long suffering driver Hoke Coleburn. The story begins on November 10th 1948 in Atlanta Georgia. Boolie (Ian Porter) the son of 72-year-old widow Daisy Werthan decides "it is not safe for her to drive anymore" and hires the African American Hoke as her chauffeur. At first Daisy is very hostile to Hoke and is determined to stay independent-"My fine son thinks I'm losing my abilities". But as time goes by from 1954 to 1958 and then 1965 to 1972 these two lonely individuals begin to develop a bond despite their differences.

It is also the time of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement which Daisy begins to identify with after her Jewish Temple gets bombed by a group of racist bigots... I first saw this powerful play in 1988 just before the Oscar winning film with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman came out. It was the first London production with Wendy Hiller as Daisy, Clarke Peters as Hoke and Barry Foster as Boolie. Daisy is a wonderful creation and Uhry has said that her character is inspired by his own grandmother, an independent-minded Jewish woman living in the south of the United States.

Taylor may not be the obvious choice to play this brittle woman but she soon wins the audience with her authority and grace while Warrington is effective as the loyal chauffeur. John Lee Beatty's scenic design is simple but elegant and the projections on the wall give it a good sense of time and place. This is a ride worth taking!

The tour continues:

  • Bath Theatre Royal from 29 October-3 November
  • Malvern Festival Theatre from 5 - 10 November
  • Brighton Theatre Royal from 12 - 17 November
  • Derby Theatre from 19 - 24 November
  • Southend Palace Theatre from 26 November - 1 December 2012

    Ron Hutchinson, the writer of the Royal Court success "Rat in the Skull", has collaborated with director Barry Kyle on numerous occasions in the past. His latest play, DEAD ON HER FEET (Arcola Theatre until 3 November) takes place in Pulaski Falls, a small provincial town in the U.S.A during the Depression.

    The premise is not dissimilar to Sidney Pollack's 1969 Oscar-winning film classic starring Jane Fonda and Susannah York and the story as in the film follows a group of six young people desperate to win a dance competition so that they can make ends meet. Meanwhile the predatory promoter Jos Vantyler (Mel Carney) is ready to take advantage of this vulnerable bunch of individuals that include married couple Rita (Victoria Fischer) and Myron (Rowan Schlosberg). Velma (Sandra Reid) has travelled for miles from her farm leaving behind her tiny child in order to take her chance. Luckily for her she is paired with a delivery boy named Jake (Lloyd Thomas) who happens to be there at the right moment...

    Kyle's lukewarm production takes a while to get going and like a disaster movie one can't wait for the action to begin. Here of course it is the dance marathon we look forward to seeing and that doesn't start until well into the second half and then it is very sketchily represented. There is no doubt that the company has masses of energy and they all have their own private moments but unfortunately it is difficult to care much about the plight of these people apart from Velma who is played sensitively by promising newcomer Reid. Carney's flamboyant promoter relies more on effect rather than reality which is a shame because it is obvious and very predictable from the opening moments that he is up to no good.

    If you hurry you can catch a lively and very amusing version of Brandon Thomas's CHARLEY'S AUNT at the Menier Chocolate Factory (until 10 November).

    Director Ian Talbot puts as much fun as is possible into the comic business of University lads pretending that one of their number is the Aunt from Brazil, "where the nuts come from" and Mathew Horne certainly makes the part his own.

    Jane Asher is suitably glamorous as the real aunt and Dominic Tighe as Jack Chesney and Benjamin Askew as Charley Wickham give lively performances as Lord Fancourt Babberley's (Horne) student mates. The whole audience erupts with glee on many occasions.

    Matthew Horne and Jane Asher in Charley's Aunt at Menier Chocolate Factory.

    The Menier theatre although not the most comfortable in London, always puts on a good production and doesn't let itself down on this occasion.

    Suffering from a broken toe and forced to wear a huge heavy boot, I was able to experience the helpfulness of the Box office and other staff at this theatre. Thanks!

    Younger adults will love LOSERVILLE (Garrick Theatre booking until 2 March 2013). This new bright, energetic musical, which, while it does not have a load of hummable songs, keeps the momentum going and the songs illustrate the story well.

    Eliza Hope Bennett and Aaron Sidwell in Loserville

    It is a little derivative of Legally Blonde in taking a young student who really wants to be known for her brain rather than her body. However in this case Holly (Eliza Hope Bennett) is dressed in a frumpy way and is not at all glamorous as she is deliberately playing down her looks so that people do not just regard her as a beautiful body. She wants to be an astronaut! Set in 1971 at an American High School,

    Holly joins two nerds, Michael Dork (get it?) played by Aaron Sidwell and his helpful friend, Lucas Lloyd portrayed by Richard Lowe who are trying to get computers to "talk to each other." Lucas (get this name, too!) is trying to write a Star Wars type novel. Part of the fun comes from knowing that computers later DO talk to each other - it is called emailing.

    The youngsters are lively and, although the choreography is somewhat pedestrian, the songs are sung with charm. The three leads present their characters well and there is a smooth depiction of Eddie (Stewart Clarke), a rich boy who thinks very highly of himself and tries to steal Michael's ideas.

    Written by Elliot Davis, and James Bourne, from the boy band Busted, a few of the numbers actually come from Bourne's 2005 album Welcome to Loserville with his new band, Son of Dork. The production shows futuristic steel structures on stage and there are nice touches by director Steven Dexter such as showing the cast names on boards held up by cast members. Scenes are also depicted in the same manner with boards displaying different parts to show where the scene takes place.

    If you like your shows jolly, brash and in your face then you will most certainly enjoy this one!

    Meera Syal as Beatrice and Paul Bhattacharjee as Benedick (pictured below) in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at the Noel Coward Theatre until 27 October .

    At first the idea of another Much Ado might not appeal, but this show brought to London by the RSC is exhilarating. In modern Indian dress, set in India and performed by an all Asian cast it actually works really well.

    Meeera Syall is delightful as Beatrice - quite rightly not an ingénue but a mature young woman - which makes sense of the efforts of those around her to find her a husband, while Benedict (Paul Bhattacharjee) is equally mature (he even has greying hair) and the couple work well together as they spar with words.

    The Asian music adds to the feeling of the play and the musicians played well. A modern Asian slant is given to the song, "Fly Away Lady." The set is most attractive, a courtyard with houses set around it. A huge swing dominates the scene where Beatrice overhears her friends talking about Benedict being in love with her. Her costume is used most effectively by Beatrice - she puts a huge shawl over her head and goes around sweeping the stage When Benedict, in hiding, hears his friends talking about Beatrice's affection for him, he is holding a copy of the Much Ado programme! The set makes sense of Dom Pedro's (Shiv Grewal) wooing for Hero's hand on behalf of Claudio.

    Syall speaks perfect English but she, and the other actors, speak with an Asian lilt. At times it is difficult to understand those with extreme accents. Although the play is full of comedy, director, Iqbal Khan, manages to change the mood most effectively in dealing with the scenes involving Hero - her rejection by Claudio and subsequent "death".

    It is a very lively production acted with much energy and well worth seeing.

    There is a most unusual production of the Casablanca film story at the Pleasance Theatre (until 21 October). CASABLANCA The Gin Joint Cut has a cast of three: Jimmy Chishom, Claire Waugh and Gavin Mitchell (pictured as Rick). And, as you can just make out in the picture, Sam, the black piano player, is a small statue sitting on a piano.

    The three actors manage to portray all the main characters as well as speaking directly to the audience as themselves. There is humour in their portrayal of the people in the film and we get the gist of the movie and its stars. Mitchell as Bogart even manages to make his eyebrows move up and down!

    Based very closely on the old film, the cast manage to evoke the spirit of Morocco in 1941. Director Morag Fullarton has done a grand job here and the small Pleasance Theatre should be proud of this production.

    Hampstead has once again come up with a little gem. Artistic Director, Edward Hall has managed to put on the premiere of Howard Brenton's play 55 DAYS at the Hampstead Theatre (until 24 November). From the buzz in the star-studded audience at Press Night, one could tell that the occasion was noteworthy. So, what about the play?

    It deals with the 55 days from the purge of Parliament by the army after the MPs have voted not to try the King until the execution of King Charles 1. Brenton, dealing with this period, manages to convey a number of parallels with our own age. Hearing Oliver Cromwell and his men in 1648 discussing what to do with the King and how to get him to see the error of his ways is like hearing political pundits discussing the situation on TV today. One of the ways that the dramatist emphasises the difference between Charles and the rest is that the King is the only one in the costume of the age.

    Douglas Henshall as Cromwell and Mark Gatiss as Charles I in 55 Days.

    Indeed, there is no way that Charles 1 can be taken as anyone other than the King with his long flowing hair and dress of the period. Everyone else wears a sort of current contemporary dress. While showing the audience Charles's isolation, I would have preferred the whole cast to have been dressed in appropriate period style.

    Mark Gatiss is particularly good at showing the King's complete belief in his right to rule - he is a religious man and is quite certain that God has ordered it to be so. Although arrogant he believes in his hereditary right. Oliver Cromwell (Douglas Henshall ) is also a religious being, but he believes in the people's right to have an elected Parliament which then makes laws. In a purely imaginary scene the two men come face to face. Oliver tries to convince Charles to obey Parliament's word and be a figurative King. Charles insists that he was anointed as King with holy water and has a divine right to rule.

    Gatiss gives a spot-on portrayal of the conceited King who is so sure of his right to be King that he can go to the scaffold only worried that people may see him shiver, and so wears three shirts. Henshall is firm too as Oliver and prays that he is doing the correct thing. While he gives a most sensitive performance, occasionally he is a little softly spoken and difficult to hear.

    Director Howard Davies gives a clear and concise interpretation of Brenton's play. There are many short scenes and young men carry furniture on and off swiftly and as part of the action. The play would work well on television. It is good to see something that is a little challenging intellectually and Davies and his actors pull this off.


    Carlie Newman

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