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FILM: June 2008

A film with lots of fighting, a love who is found then lost then found again sounds pretty much run of the mill, doesn't it? But MONGOL: the Rise to Power of Genghis Khan (cert.15 2hrs.), is a fascinating epic with startling cinematography and a compelling story.

It tells how the ruler, who was born Temudgin in 1112 rose to become Genghis of all Mongolia after many perilous battles, dealing with inhospitable terrain and traditions which he supported except when they went against what he believed was the correct way to act. Finding the bride that he wanted at age 9, Temudgin (young Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano) never wavered in his love for her and much of the film deals with how he looks after Borte


(the consistently youthful non-professional actress Khulan Chuluun) and remains faithful, returning time and again to search her out when she is abducted. Although the cast speak Mongolian, there is so much action and visual excitement that one soon forgets and can sit back and enjoy the film. Excitingly choreographed battles between the feuding tribes and fantastic scenery are well used by Russian director, Sergei Bodrov.

edge of love

Although not as glitzy as Cannes, the Edinburgh Film Festival in June has a fine array of good films. To whet your appetite as well as mine the gala opening is THE EDGE OF LOVE (cert.15 1hr. 44mins.). Although Dylan Thomas is the central person loved by two women, the film is about Vera Phillips, Dylan's Welsh childhood sweetheart, and her relationship with others who figure in his life.

Dylan meets up with her again when she is singing in the Underground during the London blitz in 1940. Vera is surprised when his wife Caitlin joins them but soon forms a real friendship with her. At the same time William Killick (Cillian Murphy), a soldier, is attracted to Vera. She still wants Dylan but realises he and Caitlin have a bond. Vera marries William and when he goes to fight in Greece moves to a house next to Dylan and his wife where she has William's baby. The soldier returns very much altered by his war experiences and suffers jealousy when he sees that his wife is still close to Dylan This is a well-constructed film written by Sharman MacDonald, mother of Keira Knightly who plays Vera in the best performance I have seen her give, and she has a surprisingly good singing voice. Sienna Miller as Caitlin is feisty and lively and works well with Matthew Rhys who has a melodious voice and brings a verisimilitude to his portrayal of Dylan. Both Dylan and Caitlin have affairs with others but are true partners when he shares his poetry with his wife.

Indians Jones

Sheer excitement with young hero (Shia LaBeouf) who has a closer relationship than first appears to our older adventurer Indiana in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (cert.12A. 2hrs. 3mins.) This is the film for you if you are looking for complete escapism. It is old-fashioned in the sense that most of the action is live rather than being manufactured technologically. Harrison Ford, although now 65, makes a charming Indy with more charisma in his little finger than LaBoeuf has in his whole body. But for those over 10, it is most enjoyable - too much talk for little ones.


Lots of good shows around: first we have GONE WITH THE WIND (New London Edward). I saw it with some other critics a few days after it opened and we all thought that it was not nearly as awful as the bad notices it had been given. It is very long - three and a half hours with the interval - and the number of narrators could well have been cut by director, Trevor Nunn.

Gone with the wind

However Jill Paice, the sweet Vivien Leigh look-alike as Scarlett O'Hara and dashing Darius Danesh as Rhett Butler have pleasant singing voices and the Negro slaves have some melodious and, at times, very moving songs. The crinolines are beautiful and there are some exciting effects such as real fire burning the Atlanta flag.

King Lear

Then we have KING LEAR (Globe). I didn't think this play would work in the open with the lighting on in the auditorium as well as on the stage, but it comes across really well in Dominic Dromgoole's first production as the new Artistic Director. It is a very different production from the RSC's with Ian McKellen as Lear.

Seeing the play again, particularly with the lively young audience at the Globe, I was struck by a number of things: Cordelia asks her sisters to look after their father as she leaves the Court with the King of France; I noticed that Gloucester is another father quick to think the worst of his son, Edgar. Then there are Lear's frequent references to his fears of going mad, and at the end, his acknowledgement that, "I am a foolish, fond old man." It was a surprise to hear talk of "hearts and minds" as I had thought that a modern phrase. The Globe audience is always quick to appreciate the moments of comedy that are well brought out in this production. David Calder gives a strong, very clear portrayal of Lear.

The ever excellent Vanessa Redgrave gives a luminous portrayal of the writer Joan Didion whose play, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING (National Theatre), is an expanded dramatised version of her own book. Joan's husband died in December 2003 and her only child 18 months later. The monologue which lasts for 1hr 40mins without an interval explains how Joan, a most capable person, was unable to face up to the loss of her husband. Some humorous moments interweave with the more frequent poignant ones. Vanessa very movingly shows the feelings behind the words and her performance is without vanity; when she begins to cry she wipes her hands across her face and later uses a crumpled tissue on her eyes and nose.

Also playing without vanity is Greta Scacchi in THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Terence Rattigan (Vaudeville). She, too, draws her hands across her face when she is overcome with grief when her younger lover, Freddie leaves her. At the dramatic start of the play her body is found in front of the gas fire, but Edward Hall's production finds it hard to keep up the relentless pressure. While Scacchi is good but not anguished enough as Hester, the daughter of a clergyman and wife to an eminent Judge, and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart has his moments as the younger lover, the minor parts other than Simon Williams as the Judge who still loves his wife and Tin McMullan as the former doctor who has served a prison sentence, are somewhat caricatured.

The deep blue sea

A couple of my acquaintances are overly close and somewhat too clingy to their sons, but not, I hasten to add, involved in any sexual activities like the alcoholic pill-popping mother in THAT FACE (Duke of York's) by Polly Stenham ,a young writer with a great deal of insight. Lindsay Ducan (57) portrays Martha as a complete wreck who has made her son (Matt Smith, an actor growing in stature) into a carer who now can't cope with her wild behaviour as she seduces him in bed and turns him into her carer in the daytime.

That Face

When her daughter Mia is under threat of being expelled for giving drugs to a younger girl at school, Martha's ex-husband returns from Hong Kong to attempt to sort out his family. With more than a touch of A Streetcar Named Desire mixed with Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf (and I don't think it's just the leading character's name), the family have not only to confront each other but work together to try and find a solution as a family.

This is a powerful play with a tremendous performance by Duncan who is so good at giving a physical portrait - here she manages a rolling gait and a very sleazy look. The young girls are fine as is Julian Wadham in the somewhat unsympathetic part of Martha's former husband who is now involved with his new young wife and a second family

There is an absolutely delightful PYGMALION at the Old Vic. Peter Hall's production of Bernard Shaw's play picks up on the contrasting genuine manners of Eliza and the boorish behaviour of her teacher, Professor Higgins. Shaw was always supportive of women's rights, so it remains surprising to see the musical version bringing together Eliza and the Professor in a romantic conclusion. It is obvious, and well brought out in this production, that at the conclusion Eliza is now able to take charge of her own life, and even work to support her husband's lifestyle if that is necessary. We have in Michelle Dockery's flower girl an actress with an authentic cockney accent, but one who can also reach the rounded vowels and poise of the upper class. Although slightly too jokey at times, Tim Pigott-Smith delivers a sturdy portrayal of Henry Higgins. Good cameos, too, from Barbara Jefford as Henry's mother and Una Stubbs as his housekeeper, and a very jolly Tony Haygarth as the working class Alfred Doolittle, "I'm one of the undeserving poor." It is interesting, too, to see that the musical kept so much of Shaw's original dialogue such as Henry's, "I've grown accustomed to your voice and appearance. I like them rather."

Do try to see FAST LABOUR (Hampstead Theatre) before it closes there on 21 June. Dealing with the subject of migrant labour it is a well-written play by Steve Waters in an excellent production by Ian Brown transferred from the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Ukrainian Victor arrives at a Scottish fishery after a horrendous journey with just a couple of words of English, desperate to work. He becomes very close to the Human Resources woman and gradually improves his English and works his way up the ladder until he is running a labour force, "Fast Labour" bringing illegal immigrants like himself to work in the UK. Really well acted by the cast, the sets include filmed backgrounds giving a real flavour of the areas where the illegal migrants work. While we wonder at the life portrayed in the play, we must acknowledge our complicity in searching for out-of-season food and perfect vegetables without questioning how the supermarkets obtain them at such a cheap price.


Carlie Newman

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