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FILM:December 2007

Although it lacks the force of the first Elizabeth film, I have a soft spot for ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE (cert. 12A 1hr. 54mins.), which, once again stars Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen - a role in which she excelled in the 1998 film.

Here, sounding very much like Glenda Jackson when she played the part, Blanchett looks older but does not necessarily act more wisely. It begins in 1585 and follows the Queen as she faces threats from Spain's King Philip as well as the Catholic Mary Stuart (Samantha Morton). There is also a romance built in as Elizabeth encourages the courtship between Raleigh (Clive Owen looking most handsome) who she fancies herself and her favourite lady in waiting (Abbie Cornish).

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth

My warm feeling for the film comes from Elizabeth's call to her troops on the eve of the Armada which was shot on Brean Down, Somerset, a place where I have spent many a sunny day, although not always at the top! Well-acted by all, the costumes are superb and Director Shekhar Kapur has managed to put together a great technical team who have captured a number of beautiful British churches and scenery, although the digital fleet looks like toy ships.

Brick Lane

Another film already on release is BRICK LANE (cert.15 1hr.41mins.) which I have been waiting to see ever since I was most moved by Monica Ali's novel. It is always a bit disappointing to find that not all of the story or, indeed, characters, have been included and thus it is here. However, the film which tells how 17 year-old Nazneen is uprooted from her village home in Bangladesh for an arranged marriage with an older man in the East End of London, is competently presented. The husband is not an abuser and, apart from his boastfulness about his knowledge and capabilities, is quite kind to her. When Nazneen becomes involved with Karim, a budding revolutionary, she is made aware of the wider world outside her family and begins to discover her own potential. Perhaps a little too pretty, Tannishtha Chatterjee brings an air of truthfulness to the role of Nazneen and new director, Sarah Gavron, the 37-year-old daughter of London's deputy mayor Nicky Gavron, has cast the rest of the characters with an eye for their resemblance to those in the printed version.

TALK TO ME (cert.15 1hr.58mins.) was shown at the London Film Festival. Well worth a visit for the depiction by Don Cheadle of the real life ex-con who became the well-known DJ, Ralph "Petey" Greene in 1960s Washington. The British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor, puts in a strong performance as Petey's manager.

Director Ridley Scott has produced another powerful film, AMERICAN GANGSTER (cert.18 2hrs.39mins.), based on the exploits of the notorious gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) who became a hugely wealthy drugs baron and was pursued by Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) who was himself somewhat imperfect as a husband but an honest cop. There is one great dialogue between the two stars towards the end. And Chiwetel Ejiofor has a small part in this too.

A delightful film - with a star who delighted us all at his press conference - MR MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM (cert.U 1hr. 30mins.) is exactly right for the holiday break.

Children will enjoy its lack of romance and parents will appreciate the absence of sex and violence. It's about a 243 year-old owner (Dustin Hoffman) of an amazing toy shop where all the toys come to life. When he announces that he is going - not just retiring from the toy shop but leaving the world, the Manager, young Molly Molloy (Natalie Portman) has to find her own magic to keep it running.

Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium

She is helped by young Henry (Zach Mills) and the new accountant (Jason Bateman). When I met with him, Hoffman spoke of the meaning behind the story - the idea of the child within us and which diminishes as we get older and we try to fit in and lose the essence of our being. The child has, however, remained as part of Mr Magorium. Hoffman was pleased to just think himself old and not use a lot of make-up and prosthetics.

THEATRE TIP: December 2007

HAIRSPRAY (Shaftesbury) is the best of the new - to London - musicals. Based on the John Walters film, it stars newcomer Leanne Jones, as Tracy, a chubby girl who desperately wants to be picked for a TV show in her home town of Baltimore.


When she finds herself not only chosen but the special friend of the star, Link (Ben James-Ellis from the "Any Dream Will Do" reality TV show) she is over the moon until she realises that the black kids do not have the same opportunities and she marches alongside her black friends so that they too can share the glory of taking part in the TV shows. As on Broadway Tracy's mother is played by a man (an unrecognisable, but very talented, Michael Ball).

The sets, choreography, acting and singing are all great and probably the only weak link is Mel Smith as Tracy's dad. His singing and dancing leave much to be desired, although there is one duet with Ball which strikes just the right note. Good to see a heroine who looks more like a cute baby elephant than a model.

On the other hand we have a musical disaster in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (Novello) the show of the musical starring Madonna but with songs by Blondie. The story is now set in the late 1970s to fit in with the music. There was a lot of loud noise and flashing lights and it was rather like being in a nightmare. Luckily this one ended.

Two well executed plays at the National Theatre: a competent production of PRESENT LAUGHTER which only really takes off in the last third. Alex Jennings is suitably upper class as the actor trying to work his magic with women but keep then from getting too close, but he hasn't got the lightness of touch required for a Noel Coward play. Lots of smoking shown and very energetic business at the end with a kind of French farce effect as the women are pushed in and out of rooms.

Present laughter
war horses

WAR HORSE, however, is excellent from start to finish. Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, the play, moving from and back again to Devon, tells of a young lad's search for his horse amidst the carnage of the First World War. The stage becomes the arena for the most marvellous depiction of horses through actors and puppetry on a grand scale. The audience of children and adults were absolutely still and many of us were shedding tears as the horses suffered and again at the end - this is while seeing them being manipulated. Amazing stuff, brilliantly directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris. The actors were good, as well!


Carlie Newman

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