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FILM: January/ February 2019

It is England in the early 18th century and Queen Anne sits on the throne in THE FAVOURITE (cert. 15 1 hr. 59 mins.). But it is her bosom pal and close political companion who determines what the Queen decrees. Anne (Olivia Coleman) relies on Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) completely even for bedtime favours.

When Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, Lady Sarah feels herself gradually pushed out. Abigail provides a remedy for the Queen's gout and carefully insinuates herself into Anne's life. The Queen falls under her spell and welcomes her into her life at court and administrations in her bed. Politically the two competing Parties – the Whigs led by Lord Godolphin (James Smith) and the Tories, led by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (Nicholas Hoult) – try to get first Sarah and then Abigail on their side.

Helen Edmundson's play, Queen Anne, had great success at Stratford in December 2015 and then later in the West End. The film, as directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is far racier. Although it is similar to the play in the main, it is far sexier and more colourful. The film centres on the relationship between the three women and the director is served well by the marvelous Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne and the two women who compete for her patronage. Coleman shows Anne's vulnerability as well as her pain at coping with her many ailments. She is most affectionate to her 17 pet rabbits - she has one for each of her children who died when being born or as babies or in early childhood. Rachel Weisz is excellent as Lady Sarah, who, at the start of the film, is fully in control of the Queen's political life as well as her personal needs. Sarah finds it very difficult to come to terms with conniving Abigail – beautifully played by Emma Stone, who connives to be first in the Queen's life, both public and private.

The film is well cast throughout, right down to the tiniest of parts. Nicholas Hoult, in a variety of wigs, each one more outrageous than the last, is particularly amusing as Robert Harley. Well-directed by Lanthimos who manages to throw in some very funny scenes showing court life at the time, such as pelting a large naked man with oranges. The film is sexy, amusing and female orientated. This is definitely one to see.

Rating ****

Keira Knightley is skittish, lively and bright as Colette in COLETTE (cert. 15 1 hr 51 mins.), about the famous French novelist's early years. We first see her as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette living with her parents (Fiona Shaw and Robert Pugh) in the countryside around Burgundy. With her long plaits and schoolgirl demeanor she seems just a child until we see her making love to her much older fiancé Henry Gautier-Villars, known as Willy (Dominic West).

After they marry and move to Paris, Willy enlists Gaby as one of his team of ghostwriters. She, however, proves to be special and her series of novel with the heroine called Claudine, become a great success.

Willy and Gaby – now known as Colette – become celebrities and are toasted everywhere for the Claudine books. Willy is not faithful, but when he has an affair with an American Heiress played by Eleanor Tomlinson, Colette sleeps with the same person. Later Colette has an affair with the trans gender Marquise de Belbeuf, who goes by the name of 'Missy' (Denise Gough).

Colette gradually comes to realise that her husband is exploiting her as he refuses to acknowledge publicly that she has penned the popular novels. She is determined to get her own voice heard.

The script, written by the director, Wes Westmoreland and his late husband Richard Glatzer along with Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience) is always fascinating and the beautiful photography of the countryside and Parisian interiors is just lovely. Although we are focused, of course, on Colette and Willy, the other characters have their own personalities. Denise Gough looks just right as a male-dressing Missy. And the other smaller parts are equally well played in Westmoreland's film.

Knightley and West work very well together. They demonstrate excellent chemistry and we can completely believe in their relationship. Knightly gives one of her best performances and West matches her. Shown at the London Film Festival 2018, it is highly recommended.

Rating ****

LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE 2018 FILM AWARDS
Held on 20 January 2019 at the May Fair Hotel, London

At the London Critics' Circle Film Awards the following awards were made:

  • FILM OF THE YEAR
    Roma

  • FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
    Cold War

  • BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR: The Attenborough Award
    The Favourite

  • DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
    Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

  • SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
    Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara – The Favourite

  • ACTRESS OF THE YEAR – sponsored by Heaven Skincare
    Olivia Colman – The Favourite

  • ACTOR OF THE YEAR – sponsored by Millbank & Cooper Searle
    Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

  • SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
    Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

  • SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR
    Richard E Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

  • BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
    Jessie Buckley – Beast

  • BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR
    Rupert Everett – The Happy Prince

  • YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
    Molly Wright – Apostasy

  • BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER: The Philip French Award
    Michael Pearce – Beast

  • BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM
    Three Centimetres – directed by Lara Zeidan

  • TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
    Cold War – cinematography, Lukasz Zal

  • THE DILYS POWELL AWARD for EXCELLENCE IN FILM
    Pedro Almodóvar

 

Rosamund Pike is utterly beguiling in A PRIVATE WAR (cert. 18 1 hr. 46 mins.). She gives a completely believable performance as Marie Colvin in this film based on the true story of the journalist who was killed while reporting from Syria. Shown at the London Film Festival 2018, it is now on general release and well worth a visit.

We see Marie Colvin, complete with the eye patch she always wore following her injury in Sri Lanka in 2001. Always a hard-worker, Colvin is determined to report conflicts accurately. To do so, she thrusts herself into the midst of action in war zones. To help her, she recruits photographer, Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan – in a completely different role from the character he played in Fifty Shades of Grey!). Not only a good photographer, Conroy understands Colvin and fully appreciates her need to report accurately. As does Stanley Tucci as her boss, Tony Shaw.

Director, Matthew Heineman fully understands how important it is to show Colvin as a complete human being. Her job as foreign correspondent for the Sunday Time is her all absorbing job. But, as relief, Colvin enjoys drinking with colleagues in the evening. She also has sexual relationships.

Her last venture – and the one that led to her death- was the most dangerous that she and Conroy had undertaken. She knew that it was very likely to lead to great injury or death, but she still went ahead.

Rosamund Pike inhabits Marie Colvin. In a completely non-showy way, Pike presents a rounded character. She shows us the dedicated journalist who is obsessive about her work. Pike is able to be someone doing a job she believes in but is also a woman who, from time to time, displays interest in her own femininity and how she comes across to others.

This is what Marie Colvin says: For an audience for which any conflict is very far away, this is the reality. There are 28,000 civilians, men, women and children, a city of the cold and hungry, starving, defenseless. There are no telephones. The electricity has been cut off. Families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbors. I have sat with literally hundreds of women with infant children who are trapped in these cold, brutal conditions, unable to feed their children anything other than sugar and water for weeks on end.

The other real-life people in Colvin's story are well-depicted with realistic performances, particularly from Tucci and Dorman. The film is based on a Vanity Fair article written by Marie Brenner. It has very recently been proved that Marie Colvin's death in Homs, Syria in 2012 was no accident, but deliberately targeted.

Rating ****

     
     
     

 

 


 

THEATRE TIP

MANDELA: The Official Exhibition (26 Leake Street Gallery, Waterloo, London booking until 2 June 2019 Box office: 0844 453 9094)

While this is not a theatre, it is, to all senses, a theatrical experience! It's a new global touring exhibition. We see Nelson Mandela as a person and also as a political and humanitarian leader.

Divided into zones, each one shows us part of the great leader's journey. All the displays of film, photos, clothes, historical artefacts and personal items are clearly marked so that there is no need to follow a written guide or wear headphones.

The Early Years gives us a glimpse of the traditional rural life that Nelson led as a young boy in the Transkei.

The Struggle is My Life shows the terrible effects of apartheid. Film gives us views of segregation and police brutality.

Prison Years will show you a little of the visual aspects of Robben Island and an idea of his life in a prison cell.

Anti-Apartheid in Britain is particularly interesting for the older ones amongst us who lived through this period in the 1980s. The contributions of celebrities, trades unions and ordinary British people helped to bring to an end the apartheid government in South Africa.

Freedom? Shows something of the violence of the early 1990s with original news footage of the time and leads up to the first democratic election.

Healing a Nation displays iconic objects and video contributions from, amongst others, family members and Neneh Cherry, Peter Gabriel and Lewis Hamilton.

Finally, A Moment with Mandela lets each visitor hear directly from Mandela (also known as Madiba) about carrying the legacy forward.

Each of the areas has special objects associated with the zone. So, we see the ceremonial headdress which was awarded to Mandela on his release from prison by King King Xolilzwe Sigcawu of the Xhosa people; Apartheid public signs; one of Mandela's famous hand-printed batik shirts; his beloved trench coat.

At the launch was Chief Nikosi Zwelivelile Mandela (referred to as 'Chief'), Grandson of the Leader, who was pleased to speak about his granddad's legacy. I interviewed Zelda la Grange, who served President Mandela, after he came out of prison, for 19 years in various capacities including his Executive Personal Assistant and Manager of his personal office until his death in December 2013 aged 95.

In response to my questions she only met him in 1994 after he was President. She had worked for the Government and applied to the Presidency office and ended up working for Mandela personally. After he died, she published her memoir and set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2001. Zelda is currently in talks to make the book into a feature film.

Zelda remembers the last time she saw Mandela: he was already very ill but smiled and recognised her. She believes that one of the very saddest moments in Madiba's life was when he buried his only living son, Chief's father. It brought back memories of burying his first child who died in a car crash. The exhibition, Zelda believes, is a good way to ensure that his speaking and achievements will keep his memory alive. She has become a motivational speaker.

I am sure that her work along with other members of his family including the Chief will make sure that future generations remember and celebrate the life of this great man.

TOFF TIPS critic Emma Burnell reviewed a play at the Royal Court Theatre for us: SUPERHOE (Royal Court Theatre, London) is an extraordinary production and a showcase for a woman who is clearly due to become a very, very big noise. Nicôle Lecky plays Sasha Clayton; layabout, wannabe, nightmare. All Sasha wants to do is make music in her bedroom loudly while she wrecks herself with drugs and alcohol and the lives of everyone around her.

Sasha is a cliché isn't she? Just another black girl from the East End who doesn't want to work in Wetherspoons and just wants to make it big in music. Sold the X Factor dreams she doesn't see grafting as a way out.

Well, frankly, why would she? How could she? Working on minimum wage would not solve the problems Sasha faces nor would it give her the things she craves. And – of course – the reasons she craves them turn out to be much more complex than the lazy, greedy stereotype we are initially presented with.

Running at 80 minutes, this one-woman show is a tour de force. To bring life not only to the complex Sasha but also through her mimicry the people in her life – the good, the bad and the deeply morally ugly – would be an extraordinary feat for anyone. For someone as young and relatively inexperienced as Lecky it's incredibly. Then you find she wrote it too. Oh, and she can sing.

At first, I struggled to relax into this play. Partly because Sasha was difficult to like. I'm not clear what it says about me that the more troubled she became the more I liked her, but we'll leave that to Freud. There was also something of an element of poverty safari for me travelling from East London to Slone Square to watch a play about a woman from the East London 'ends' and the choices she's forced to make to survive.

There were times when the story felt a bit too obvious. But that is because we do know why people like Sasha do what they do. Clichéd it may be but they become clichés for a reason and frankly that is well told here.

The design was simple. An ATM, a video screen, Sasha's worldly possessions in a case all contained in the candy pink of a pornified best life model. It supported the story without being intrusive.

This was a challenging play at times and I felt some in the audience didn't quite keep up with the turns it made. There was at one point a male guffaw at a scene I think the women in the audience found harrowing was telling. The laughter had been getting deeper in timbre, as I think the men were taking longer to twig the inevitable journey Sasha was on.

This play may have run slightly too much on narrative wheels, but in terms of the performance and writing it shone. Nicôle Lecky is talented at both and watching her grow ever further into that talent is going to be the London stage's privilege.

Home, I'm Darling (Duke of York's Theatre, London until 13 April*. Box office: 0844 871 7615)

The first thing one notices as the house lights dim is the set. It is just like a doll's house with an upstairs and downstairs, showing the living room and kitchen and stairs up and then the bedroom and bathroom upstairs. And all very bright as are the walls and general décor. We realise it is the 1950's, not just by the décor but the colour of the walls and general bright colours used. When Judy (Katherine Parkinson) appears, she is brightly dressed in a full skirted fifties dress. Her husband, Johnny (Richard Harrington), too, is in a Fifties suit and when he leaves the house he puts on a hat.

But it is not actually 1950. We gradually learn that the couple have chosen the fifties as their lifestyle. When Judy was made redundant she chose to become a stay-at-home housewife and to dedicate herself to keeping a spotless home and providing her husband with home-cooked meals and constant cleaning and care. They have everything as it was in the fifties: a bar with a pineapple ice holder on top, an old fridge and so on.

Judy's mother, Sylvia (Susan Brown) is appalled as she fought for women's rights and believes her daughter has gone back in time and given up her right to choose. She reminds her daughter that everything wasn't so good in the fifties with freezing cold rooms, hard bread etc. Judy insists she is a feminist and has chosen to live like this. Her friends Fran (Siubhan Harrison) and husband Marcus (Hywel Morgan) enjoy the clothes and the jiving – good musical background - but do not want the whole lifestyle.

When their whole existence is threatened, the couple have to face up to the fact that perhaps their way of living is not perfect. Katherine Parkinson gives a terrific performance as the domesticated housewife and the other parts are all well-acted. Laura Wade's satire hits home even nowadays as Tamara Harvey's direction makes sure that all the points resonate with a modern audience. One of the very best things about the show is the wonderful set design. Anna Fleischle has given us a marvelous visual experience. There is one part after we see how life used to look when the couple were both working, which then changes so that the whole scene becomes the fifties.

Not a long run, so book your seats now!

Rating ****

*The play then tours to Bath and Salford before going back to Theatre Clwyd, Mold, where it started before going to the National Theatre and now at the Duke of York's.

9 to 5 (Savoy Theatre, London until 31 August 2019. Box office: 0844 871 3000)

If you want to enjoy a light frothy piece of musical theatre, head to the Savoy Theatre for 9 to 5. Based on the 1980 film of the same name, this was a vehicle for Dolly Parton and remains so as she is responsible for the songs, lyrics and feel of the show.

Dolly introduces the show on a video at the back of the stage and pops up from time to time during the musical. We meet three secretaries, played in the film by Jane Fonda, Parton and Lily Tomlin and now Judy is Amber Davis, Doralee is Natalie McQueen and Violet is Caroline Sheen. The women all have reason to dislike their boss, Franklin Hart Jnr (Brian Conley). They manage to kidnap him and inflict all kinds of indignities on him, getting his loyal assistant, Roz (lithe Bonnie Langford) to go away, they take over the running of the organisation.

Lively choreography, some good song numbers. Competent performances and well-directed (by Jeff Calhoun) production numbers and a lot of energy keep the show bounding along. It's somewhat sexist as set in the 1980s. Don't expect it to be earth shattering and you will enjoy its liveliness. Sit back and enjoy!

Rating: ***

Very different is the musical COME FROM AWAY (Phoenix Theatre, London until 14 September 2019. Box office: 0844 871 7629). It tells the true story of the 38 flights which were diverted to the tiny town called Gander in Newfoundland following the 9/11 bombings. Airspace was closed and the planes were forced to land. Gander had a huge airport but only a population of 9,000. However, when 7,00 strangers "come from away" arrive without any warning the community rallies around providing them with beds, food and showers. These strangers end up staying for 5 days before continuing their journeys. Both they and their hosts are changed for ever.

The small cast of 12 actors who sing and do choreographed movement, play both the locals and also the come from 'aways.' We get to know some of the characters intimately: There's Bonnie (Mary Doherty) who leads the locals forward in providing sustenance. Then we meet Janice (Emma Salvo), a new reporter, who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a very special story. And the Mayor (Clive Carter) who directs operations on the ground.

Showing great generosity, the community rallies around, staying up and working virtually night and day to making sure the 'come aways' are looked after.

From the strangers we learn about the two Kevins (Jonathan Andrew Hume and David Shannon) and Muslim Egyptian Ali (Hume again) who is viewed with suspicion by the other passengers, and Cat Simmons as the mother of a firefighter who hasn't been accounted for following the bombing of the twin towers. There is a lovely little romantic story in the meeting of two of the passengers: Englishman (Robert Hands) and a woman from Texas (Helen Hobson). Rachel Tucker is impressive as a female pilot.

The songs have a folksy tinge to them and are sung with feeling by the impressive cast. Showing how two different groups (with individuals within each group) can come together in difficult circumstances, this musical is passionate, moving and extremely well-executed.

Rating ****

The Jamie Lloyd season of the presentation of Harold Pinter's One Act plays at the Harold Pinter Theatre has been very successful with lots of full house. PINTER 5, directed by Patrick Marber, and PINTER 6 (Box office: 0844 871 7622) have now finished. A little bit about them:

Starting with THE ROOM, which was Harold Pinter's first play to be staged in 1957 there are three one-act plays in Pinter 5 and two in Pinter 6. Full of slow talk which gradually moves into something menacing – we are in full Pinter mode here! Jane Horrocks is terrific as the talkative wife who keeps going even though her husband (Rupert Graves) says not one word. Finally, he goes out and a series of visitors come to see the wife in her one room, very seedy home. Violence occurs when the husband returns home!

The second short play, VICTORIA STATION (written in 1982) is a delightful comedy in which a controller (Colin McFarlane) gradually loses his cool listening to his cab driver (Rupert Graves) telling him that he doesn't know where he is and doesn't even know Victoria Station! Two excellent actors speaking in lit up boxes give lovely performances.

The last one, FAMILY VOICES (written in 1981) sees Jane Horrocks as a mother who hasn't heard from her son and writes letters which seem to get no answers. We find the son (Luke Thallon) writing to the mother but are never sure whether she gets his letters. The son describes the room and the boarding house he is living in and his rather strange elderly landlady. Rupert Graves is the father who also appears – each family member speaks separately, and they never meet. This was the least impressive of the three short plays.

Moving on to PINTER SIX, directed by Jamie Lloyd, we have two short plays. They both sport another excellent cast: John Simm, Phil Davis, Eleanor Matsuura, Celia Imrie , Katherine Kingsley, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Abraham Popoola. PARTY TIME (written in 1991), refers to dissidents being brought in from the streets. But the middle-class group at the party are more concerned with showing off about their new all-excusive club. Tracy-Ann Oberman is almost unrecognisable in a dark wig.

There are more wigs on show in the final play, In CELEBRATION (written in 2000), Celia Imrie transforms with the help of a huge wig. This is an enjoyable and amusing play with another group of nouveau riches enjoying a celebratory dinner at 'the best and most expensive restaurant in London'. There is a lot of chit chat. Every so often they are interrupted by the waiter (a gorgeous performance by Abraham Popoola) who starts every interruption with, "Do you mind if I interject?". Then he reels off a string of names of people his grandfather knew from the worlds of literature, politics and so on! Great characterisations from Ron Cook, Phil Davis and Gary Kemp. A lovely pair of blousy sisters presented by Imrie and Tracy-Ann Oberman.

Rating ****

We then had PINTER 7: A SLIGHT ACHE and THE DUMB WAITER starred Danny Dyer, Martin Freeman and John Heffernan. Last of the short plays, Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman were very impressive in their roles as hitman awaiting their victim. There was also a great rapport between the two of them.

Martin Freeman and Danny Dyer in Pinter Seven

A Slight Ache is acted as a radio play. There is a lot about a match-maker at the end of the garden, but we never see him even when he is invited into the house. So, the play becomes about the couple, here played beautifully by John Heffernan and Gemma Whelan.

Rating ****

     
     
     

Carlie Newman

   
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