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FILM:February / March 2018

With an absolutely riveting performance, Daniel Day-Lewis dominates PHANTOM THREAD (cert. 15 2 hrs. 10 mins.). He plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer in 1950s London. Reynolds has a number of romantic attachments, all supervised by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who looks after her brother's every need including getting rid of the girls he has grown tired of.

However, when Reynolds meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is working as a waitress in a small hotel, he not only falls in love with her but succumbs to her administrations. Alma becomes Reynolds' muse and she falls for him. Realising that he will only be truly hers if he becomes weak, she manages to make him ill to ensure she has him in her power.

Paul Thomas Anderson directs sharply with an accurate eye for the nuances of each character. He uses a super camera crew who shoot scenes to give the maximum impact. The music, too, is carefully chosen and is made up of various combinations - from just a piano to full orchestra and all most effective, adding to the emotional impact of the story.

As far as the acting goes: it is not just a one-man job. Of course, Day-Lewis is just right in the part - as he is in virtually all the films he is in - but Vicky Krieps, who is not your usual beauty, exudes a quiet yet determined persona and she has just the right mixture of innocence and strength. While Lesly Manville, who has just won the London Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress award, manages to alter her actual features to become the guardian of her brother.

We know that Day Lewis undertakes a lot of pre-film research, but he has an extra special quality which allows him to inhabit his characters and here he becomes the selfish but very talented famous dress designer. Do see this film and watch out for it receiving more gongs.

Rating ****

JOURNEY'S END (cert. 12A 2 hrs. 38 mins.) is such a sad piece - rather miserable in fact - but so well worth seeing. Based on RC Sherriff's own time in the field as depicted in his play written in 1928, we are right in the middle of World War One.

It's the evening of the 1918 Spring Offensive. Bright and bushy-tailed newcomer Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) arrives at the unit full of enthusiasm for his role in the army. The trenches are near Saint Quentin, France. He is pleased to meet a family friend, Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) leading the unit., but concerned when he finds that Stanhope has become a depressed alcoholic. Raleigh is helped, though, by kindly pipe-smoking Osborne (Paul Bettany), Stanhope's second-in-command, who is a teacher in civilian life. Osborne is known as 'uncle' and fulfils that role admirably.

We are in the trenches beside the men who seem to know that they are not going to have the back-up that they need and that the raid on the Germans to capture one of their soldiers, has been scheduled too early - in order to fit in with an officers' dinner - so that some, if not all of them, will perish. The viewer gets a real feeling of the terror and sometimes panic that the men get as they spend time in close confinement in the dug-out.

Asa Butterfield as Raleigh in Journey' End

The acting is spot-on throughout. We feel the misery of Sam Claflin as Captain Stanhope as he faces yet another day of carnage, while Paul Bettany gives out a feeling of calm as Osborne, refusing to let the other men see his knowledge of what is to come. Tom Sturridge puts on the opposite of a brave face to play Second Lieutenant Hibbert who has panic attacks and just wants to go home.

Almost stealing the acting honours is Toby Jones as the friendly cook, Mason, who strives to serve edible food. Just avoiding being a stock character is Stephen Graham as sturdy Second Lieutenant Trotter who enjoys the food. Young Asa Butterfield portrays the right amount of innocence and enthusiasm as the new recruit.

The battle scenes are the least successful as we can't make out the characters clearly enough, but the claustrophobic scenes inside the bunker best capture the atmosphere. This drama, well-helmed by director Saul Dibb, is certainly worth catching.

Rating: ****

A WOMAN'S LIFE (cert. 12. 1 hr. 59 mins.) is a film which looks as though it is going in one direction, then becomes altogether something different as it progresses through Jeanne's life. Starting in 1819 it shows the young Jeanne (Judith Chemla) at home with her parents, Baron and Baroness Le Perthuis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Yolande Morreau). Charming her with his courtship, the Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud) entices her even though he has less money than her family. After marriage, Julien proves to be not only very mean with money - depriving his wife of basic heating and even lighting - but, even worse, he is a womaniser. He gets their maid, who is a close companion of Jeanne, pregnant. She forgives him when they have their own son Paul, but there is disaster when Julien continues to deceive his wife.

In a series of brief scenes, with flashbacks to Jeanne's early happy life and forward to the dark tone later on, when we see part of the picture, the story continues until Jeanne is alone with Paul. But he becomes a liability as a young adult when he runs up debts and squeezes money out of his mother.

Although the movie is based on the 1883 novel by Guy de Maupassant and deals with the aristocracy of France, the film looks at issues which people face in today's England - money worries, adultery and deceit. We also see how a mother's love for her son can blind her to his faults.

Great camera work is enhanced by the clever use of lighting - bright for happier times and dull for the sad. The director has used both his actors and the scenery to tell his story simply and to great effect.

His choice of actors shows that Stephane Brize knows not only which actors to cast in each part but how to use them. There are lovely, sympathetic performances by Moreau and Darroussin who embody their characters and support their daughter in her choice of lifetime partner - a mistake as it turns out. What can one say about Judith Chemla? She plays a woman who, until she is alone as an older adult, always bends to the will of others. She adores her parents and is happy in their company and wouldn't dream of marrying without their blessing. She loves her husband which results in her being even more devastated when she realises he is betraying her. Much of the time she seems to disappear into herself - a great feat for an actress who mostly needs to be on display.

This is a beautifully crafted film which is highly recommended.

Rating: ****

CUSTODY (cert. 15 1 hr. 33 mins.) is a film which really beefs up the tension as it progresses so that by the end, the audience is sitting forward hardly breathing, to watch what is going to happen. But this is no horror film, rather a domestic abuse tragedy that escalates.

Antoine (Denis Menochet) appears to be a pleasant decent man as he stands before the family court pleading for joint custody of his young son, Julien (Thomas Gioria), asserting that he has moved to the town, where his former wife, Miriam (Lea Drucker) now lives with 11-year-old Julien and older sister Josephine, to be near his son. While the family court judge accepts what he says as true, the family know differently as he is a very abusive person, even beating his wife while the children watched. Miriam never told anyone about her mistreatment, so all the Judge can go on is the versions given by the conflicting parents. But the judge grants Antoine joint custody in spite of Julien not wanting it. Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux), who is of age, chooses not to have anything to do with her bullying dad.

Julien - a wonderful child actor - dreads seeing his father who begins to show his old tendencies, but because of the court's ruling, he is forced to go with Antoine. When Antoine breaks into his divorced wife's home we start to fear - rightly - for their safety.

Sensitively directed by Xavier Legrand, he manages to show the full force of violence and to never to go over the top. This film is no Shining but a domestic drama which shows the full force of domestic violence. The camera is used to perfection with close intimate scenes giving way to Antoine's full rampages through the rooms of his son's home. As the director also wrote the script we must give him full credit for this tight atmospheric film which is not to be missed when it opens in April.

Rating: ****

Also recommended:

Gary Oldman puts in an Oscar winning performance in THE DARKEST HOUR (cert. PG 2 hrs. 25 mins.). He plays Winston Churchill with just the right stance and voice. Thanks to expert make-up he even looks like the Prime Minister at a crucial time during World 11. Oldman is well matched by Kristin Scott Thomas as his wife.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (cert. 15 1 hr. 55 mins.) is another almost sure-fire winner of an Oscar for Best Actress if not for Best Picture. The wonderful Frances McDormand plays the mother of a murdered daughter who is angry that a culprit hasn't been found after three months. So she puts up the three signs aimed to shame the town's chief of police (Woody Harrelson, excellent in this supporting role) into taking action. An actor up for the Best Supporting Actor is Sam Rockwell who plays a racist cop.

When LADY BIRD (cert. 15 1 hr. 34 mins.) came on as the surprise film at the London Film Festival 2017, we didn't really know a lot about what we were about to see. Accepting that is was a 'little' film, most of us sat mesmerized by the sheer boldness of Greta Gerwig's small masterpiece. Well served by her actors, Saoirse Ronan as 'Lady Bird' and Laurie Metcalf as her mother, Gerwig directs this story of rebellious adolescence with sure-fire certainty. Much of the film centres on the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother and the scenes between them are expertly directed and acted. Lovely writing adds to the overall quality of this movie. While it missed out on receiving Oscars it was a real hit in my heart.

I GOT LIFE (cert. 15 1 hr. 29 mins.) is a real little gem of a film. Probably the best movie I have seen dealing with a woman's menopausal life. 50 plus Aurore (magnificent Agnes Jaoui) loses her job, is divorced and finds her elder daughter is pregnant. When she searches for work in La Rochelle, France, she comes across men who are not only sexist but distinctly ageist. As she meets with other older women - some still suffering with the menopause she learns how an older woman becomes invisible. She falls again for her childhood sweetheart Christophe (Thibault de Montalembert), but he is afraid to make a commitment. With a realistic script by director Blandine Lenoir who also directs, and a realistic portrayal of the main character, this is a film to be watched by all women of a certain age - and their menfolk too!

Another amazing woman is shown in A FANTASTIC WOMAN (cert. 15 1 hr. 40 mins.)

It's bad enough for Marina (Daniela Vega) when her dear older boyfriend and loving partner suddenly dies. However, Marina, as a transgender woman has to put up with awful behaviour from her lover's family.

Director Sebastian Lelio has directed a very moving film with a trans gender actress as its star. Daniela Vega shows that she is worthy of all the plaudits that have fallen on her as she portrays the young woman who must endure real hatred and abuse from the family and friends of the dead man. The Chilean film rightly won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

THE MERCY (cert. 12A 1 hr. 52 mins.) is a story which is told with compassion and understanding of the man at its centre. Colin Firth plays Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who really believes that he can win a competition to race around the world. Not only is he ill-prepared but he doesn't have the experience to undertake this. He is well supported by his wife (Rachel Weisz) who believes in him. Unfortunately, Crowhurst can't face reality and makes up an elaborate story about his position and how he is on course to win. He moves on to disastrous consequences. It is a sad story as the outcome could have been avoided. Firth is very good in the main part, but the film somehow lacks a feeling of urgency.

THE SQUARE (cert. 15 2 hrs. 31 mins.) is a rather strange satire about modern art, publicity work and response to a crime. Rather in the manner of Haneke, where one is never sure what is real or not, director and writer Ruben Ostlund sets most of the film in a museum presided over by Christian (Cales Bang) who promotes a new installation, 'the Square.' Lots go wrong in this over-long though often witty film.

SWEET COUNTRY (cert. 15 1 hr. 53 mins.) is an Australian western, set in 1929. Directed by Warwick Thornton, it stars Sam Neil as Fred Smith, a preacher, who employs an aboriginal couple, Sam (Hamilton Morris) and Lizzie (Natassia Gorey Furber) as workers on his farmland in central Australia.

Newcomer Harry March (Ewen Leslie) persuades Fred to let him hire Sam and family for one day. Harry treats them terribly and commits such atrocities that eventually Sam shoots him. Most of the film is taken up with the manhunt for Sam who knows the bush so well that he evades capture for some time. The outcome is full of tension and very well executed under superb direction and with actors - many of whom are non-professionals - who put their very souls into their characters.

LOVELESS (cert. 15 2 hrs, 7 mins.) is a Russian film which remains disturbing until the end. Such a sad film, it is also a thriller as from the middle onwards there is a search and we do not know what will happen until the end - and probably not even then! Boris (Alexey Rozin) and his wife, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are moving to a divorce as each wants to be with a different partner. Meanwhile they live in the same apartment in Moscow with their son, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvei Novikov). Many of their arguments - which are almost continuous - centre on custody of their son. Unhappy Alyosha hears everything and feels unwanted, a burden and loveless. He goes missing and the parents don't even notice for two days. They come together to try to find him but are still at odds with each other. Another excellent performance by a young child actor combined with good camera work under the direction of Andrey Zvyagintsev makes this movie another must see.

Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, THE SHAPE OF WATER (cert. 15 1 hr. 59 mins.) is a fantasy. Starring Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady working in a secret Government laboratory.

When a new specimen is brought in, she gravitates towards him and discovers a humanoid water creature, who communicates with her without speaking and they fall in love. Director Guillermo De Toro - who won the Best Director Oscar for this film - presents a fantasy which on paper sounds preposterous but as you watch it, you enter his amazing world.

The whole film is very special with lovely performances by Octavia Spencer as Elisa's friend in the Government establishment and Richard Jenkins as her gay elderly neighbour.


The WINNERS for the 38th annual London Critics' Circle Film Awards were announced at The May Fair Hotel, hosted by actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram Thomas

Full List of Winners:

FILM OF THE YEAR: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri



BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR: The Attenborough Award: Dunkirk

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR: Sean Baker - The Florida Project

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR: Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTRESS OF THE YEAR: Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTOR OF THE YEAR: Timothée Chalamet - Call Me By Your Name

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR: Lesley Manville - Phantom Thread

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR: Hugh Grant - Paddington 2

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR: Sally Hawkins - The Shape of Water/Maudie/Paddington 2



BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER: The Philip French Award: Francis Lee - God's Own Country


TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Blade Runner 2049 - Dennis Gassner, production design

EXCELLENCE IN FILM: The Dilys Powell Award Kate Winslet






JULIUS CAESAR (Bridge Theatre, London until 15 April, NT Live Broadcast 22 March. Box office: 0333 320 0051)

There are many productions of JULIUS CAESAR that have taken place in the past and some good ones more recently, but Nicholas Hytner's interpretation must surely rank with the highest. Both his choice of setting - a promenade audience with half around the centre and the rest sitting on seats overlooking the action - and the beauty of the new Bridge Theatre in London are superb.

So too is Hytner's choice of actors. Ben Whishaw plays Brutus as a quiet thinker, a politician more interested in books than action, while David Morrissey's Mark Antony is a bit of a showman, confident in his ability to get the mob on his side

Making his mark, too, is David Calder as Julius Caesar. He talks as though he doesn't want or care about acclaim but seems all too happy to accept honours when they are offered. Who does he remind you of as he shows off to the crowd? Could it be another dig at President Trump?

And then we have a female Cassius. Michelle Fairley starts off in rather a low key but soon gains in stature and is a worthy member of the main trio of conspirators.

Surprisingly, another group of actors turns out to be the parading audience on the ground (what the Globe Theatre would call 'groundlings') who form the mob and, with more than a little stage management, are moved around the floor to respond and, indeed, to take part, in the main action. We can see how they are manipulated first by Ben Whishaw's intellectual Brutus and then by Mark Antony's oratory, brilliantly put across by David Morrissey.

Amazing sets, brought on quickly by the group of stage hands, which even has ash falling from above and settling over the furniture in a war scene. In this case modern dress fits in well with the interpretation and the loud rock group which plays at the start of the play encourages the promenaders to bounce around the floor. Do visit the outstanding Bridge Theatre.

Rating *****

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Wyndham's Theatre, London, until 7 April Box office: 0844 482 5120)

That Eugene O'Neill based his play on his own family and his own life makes it more poignant. Under director Richard Eyre we are given a clear picture of all the members of this family and can feel for them all as the story unwinds. It's virtually real time as the events all take place over one long day.

Mary Tyrone, the mother of the family (played magnificently by Lesley Manville) is a morphine addict. The father of the Tyrone family is James Tyrone (a good solid performance by Jeremy Irons). He was once a good and well-known actor but no longer and is mean with his money, which he worries about constantly. One son Jamie Tyrone (Rory Keenan in a performance which exactly captures the character) is a failure at everything he does and covers this up with excessive drinking. The other Edmund Tyrone (a sensitive characterisation by Matthew Beard) is suffering from tuberculosis, which is not really acknowledged by the family, the parents insisting that it is just a cold. He absorbs himself in morbid poetry.

Costumes are beautifully designed with all four members of the household in light cream with James in darker brown trousers. The set - with glass panels making see-through walls all around - suits this production and the only slightly jarring moment is the rather over done performance by Jessica Regan as the Irish maid Kathleen.

Jeremy Irons & Lesley Manville in Long Day's Journey Into Night

Drink, drugs and illness dominate the play and the cast bring everything to life as they gel into a magnificent tragic family. They are led by Lesley Manville who can't be bettered in this part. Look at her in the Phantom Thread (reviewed in FILMS above) and then here - hard to believe it is the same actress.

The audience sat completely still for three and a half hours! This is unmissable.

Rating ****

Just closed or about to close

THE YORK REALIST has just finished at the Donmar Theatre but goes on to play at the Sheffield Crucible until 7 April. It is an excellent play by Peter Gill about the conflicting modes of living of the two lovers at the centre. It's a gay love story where the two are pulled apart as George (Ben Batt) who lives in a small northern community and John (Jonathan Bailey) the assistant director of the York Mystery Plays who comes to his house when George is cast in the plays. Although they really love each other they cannot reconcile George's wish to stay in his community and John's need to stay in London. Beautifully acted. Catch it if you can.

ROTHSCHILD & SONS, which was on at the Park Theatre, is not the most marvelous play. Although interesting in that it tells how Mayer Rothschild (Robert Cuccioli) came from humble beginnings, Hamburg's Jewish ghetto, to have five sons who, along with him, came to rule the banking world, it is not memorable. There are distinct echoes of Fiddler on the Roof here - not surprising as this is the final musical from the Fiddler team of Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick. Although it has some good music and pleasant singing it is lacking in dramatic impact and I can't see it being taken up elsewhere.

LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN continues at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, until 7 April. It's a charming piece, funny and beautifully acted by the whole cast. Full of comedy with outstanding performances, particularly by Jennifer Saunders, who puts across somewhat saucy ditties between acts. The production captures both the intelligence and humour of the Oscar Wilde play under the directorship of Kathy Burke.

EUGENIUS! (was on at The Other Palace). I must admit that I wasn't enamoured when I saw the Workshop performance of this at the Palladium. While it is certainly better now, it is not the kind of musical that appeals to me. Director Ian Talbot has done his best with the material and there are, indeed, some catchy tunes and lively action. I liked the use of two doll babies, one of whom crawled. It's more of a comic book all-action show than a modern musical. The audience seemed to really enjoy it! But I don't see it as having much of a future.

ALL OR NOTHING, which has just completed its run at the Arts Theatre, is a mod musical, with book by Carol Harrison, which has some very catchy songs and very loud music. It is going on to play at the Ambassadors Theatre (until 2 June. Box office: 020 7395 5405).

Telling the story of the Small Faces, all the music and lyrics are, of course by the group. The four very young East London lads form a group in the 1950s. They are eager to succeed, and, in many ways, they do with lots of hits, but they become victims of the wicked world of showbiz and it all goes horribly wrong for them.

All Or Nothing - The Mod Musical

There is a story here, but people mainly go to the show for the well-known hit songs including Lazy Sunday, Itchycoo Park, and, of course, All or Nothing.

The Royal Court Theatre continues to come up with intriguing plays and GUNDOG, directed by Vicky Featherstone, which has unfortunately closed, is certainly that. Simon Longman's new play captures the extreme hardship of living very close to nature. With a most impressive set, composed of mounds of earth, we see two sisters fighting for existence as they struggle almost alone with the hardship of the upkeep of their land. The arrival of a hard-working foreigner alters the dynamics of the small family unit. Ria Zmitrowicz and Rochenda Sandall play the sisters. For me and for many in the audience of the very small studio upstairs, the star of the show is Romanian actor, Alec Secareanu who, with little dialogue, gives heart to the character of the foreigner. So good in the film God's Own Country, he displays a charismatic intensity here.

Another super production at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre downstairs was GIRLS AND BOYS which, I understand was completely sold out almost before it opened. Starring Carey Mulligan as the only performer it was so beautifully acted that it is a real pity it had such a short run. A continuous monologue but with so much nuance that remembering it almost seems like other actors inhabited the stage with her. In Dennis Kelly's play, we hear the actress speak about the beginning and then the gradual disintegration of her marriage, taking in two children along the way. All the other characters are imagined in this well-written, beautifully performed monologue.

The tiny Union Theatre, under the leadership of Sasha Regan, continues to put on major productions on its very small stage. The venue is so welcoming - from the charming man who runs the refreshment bar to the intimacy of the auditorium that one feels good even before the show starts. But CARMEN 1808 is worth seeing for its own value. Unfortunately, this has just finished. With musical theatre actors - rather than operatic voices - the large cast give a very different 90-minute version of Bizet's opera. The setting is now 1808 and Spain is governed by Napoleon's French army. The well-known music is all there and it is performed as a musical rather than an opera. Let's hope it is put on again but in a larger venue!

Although not my cup of tea, I can see how PIPPIN, recently at the Southwark Playhouse Theatre, appeals to people. There are, indeed, some good songs, but they get lost in a lot of fussy business with nods at the audience as though to say, 'Aren't we being clever.' The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz who has given us a couple of lively tunes, particularly Corner of the Sky and No time at all. The choreography - some re-created from Bob Fosse's original production - is well performed.

With an enthusiastic audience who not only join in the spirit of the show by answering questions thrown at us, but also laugh and demonstrate their enjoyment of the many comic moments in NAPOLEON DISROBED, lately to be seen at the Arcola Theatre, this came across well. The show gives out and receives much warmth boosted by the two performers who work excellently together: Paul Hunter who plays Napoleon and Ayesha Antoine who plays everyone else! Directed by Kathryn Hunter with lots of knockabout business and two very gifted actors, it is most enjoyable.

The memory of the BBC series of A PASSAGE TO INDIA, which has just closed at the Park Theatre remain as we watch the brave attempt by adapter Simon Dormandy to transfer E.M. Forster's famous multi-layered novel to the stage. With effective staging, the life of the British in Imperial India in and their inter-action with local Indians is performed on a simple set with minimum props. An ensemble of actors who work really well together under the direction of Sebastian Armesto and Simon Dormandy, do their best to bring the period and the story to life.

As in David Lean's original 1945 film, in this staged version of BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Empire Cinema London until 2 September. Box office: 0844 871 7628.) Laura (Isabel Pollen) meets Alec (Jim Sturgeon) when he goes to her aid at the railway station café after she gets a cinder in her eye. They get to know one another though each is married to someone else. Meeting every time they come to London from the suburbs, they fall in love, but their love is doomed. The romance of the very British posh couple is contrasted with an equally British couple, the working-class café manager, Myrtle (Lucy Thackeray) and her suitor, Albert (Dean Nolan, who also plays Laura's husband). Emotional moments between the main couple are nicely balanced by the very funny antics of Beryl (Beverley Rudd) who is Beryl's assistant in the railway station café.

The 1940s-time period is perfectly caught from the clothes to the design of the railway café, where the two main upper-class characters meet, to the clipped English way of talking contrasted with the cockney accents of the lower class.

The actors play musical instruments as well as singing and acting. They are all, without exception multi-talented and multi good! The acting is uniformly fine, and the piece shows how director Emma Rice is able to produce a genuine true acting ensemble who work together as one.

Isabel Pollen as Laura and Jim Sturgeon as Alec in Brief Encounter

All the songs are by Noel Coward and heart-stirringly moving. The fantastic staging moves the characters around the stage taking in various venues and even has our non-sexual lovers swinging from chandeliers!

You have time to see this…so book now!

Rating *****


Carlie Newman

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