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FILM: May 2009

I enjoyed THE BOAT THAT ROCKED (cert. PG 2hrs. 15mins.) which tells a comic version of the story of the pirate radio stations which were set up in the North Sea in the 1960s and played pop music 24 hours a day. The boat in the film is called "Radio Rock" and has an eccentric lot of DJs. Bill Nighy is Quentin the boss, Philip Seymour-Hoffman plays an American DJ who is known as the Count and is seen as the top DJ until Rhys Ifans as Gavin returns from America to reclaim his crown.

The Boat that Rocked

Quentin's nephew, 18 year-old Carl (Tom Sturridge), comes aboard and is taught how to work and how to play with girls by the others on the boat. At the same time the Government Minister (Kenneth Branagh) in charge of closing down the illegal activity becomes more enraged as his various schemes are thwarted.

There is an extra sub-plot whereby Carl, helped (!) by his mates on board tries to find a girl-friend and then having spoken to his mother, (a nice cameo from Emma Thompson) who comes to visit him, attempts to identify one of the older DJs as his father. The characters are all somewhat exaggerated, but taking that as a given in an obvious comedy they all work well together and it is all very jolly - a nice change from the horror and films about terrorism now on offer and it is a film that makes one smile. The pirate stations closed down in 1967 but today there are 299 stations - many of which play non-stop music.

The funniest film so far this year is IN THE LOOP (cert.15 1hr. 45mins.), directed by Armando Iannucci, which is a political satire, based on the TV series The Thick of It. The film stars Peter Capaldi as Malcolm, the foul-mouthed chief spin doctor for the Prime Minister, who nearly goes berserk when he hears Simon (Tom Hollander), the British Secretary of State for Foreign Development, accidentally seeming to back military action in an interview.

The US President is also in favour of war but General Miller (James Gandolfini) supports Simon's stated view. There is much comedy as Simon and his new assistant (Chris Addison) go to Washington followed by the irate Malcolm. All the characters are played well but it is the quality of the writing that stands out with some wonderfully witty lines. Go and see it for a laugh-out-loud cinema occasion.

In The Loop

Michael Caine stars as "The Amazing Clarence," a retired magician who becomes in need of extra care and goes into a residential home run by the parents (Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey) of a 10-year-old son, Edward (Bill Miner), who is obsessed with finding out what happens to the souls of those who die. In IS ANYBODY THERE? (cert.12A 1hr.34mins) Edward forms a relationship with Clarence that has positive benefits for both.

Is Anybody There

The rest of the cast includes some wonderful elderly British actors, including Elizabeth Spriggs, Leslie Phillips, Rosemary Harris, Thelma Barlow and Sylvia Syms. I took part in a press conference where John Crowley, the Director, spoke about keeping the reminiscing cast in order, Bill spoke about all working as a team and, in answer to my question about working with young actors, Sir Michael said that the work before the performance is the most important.

. He appreciated all the actors studying their roles and bringing the results of their work to the set, and Anne-Marie Duff remarked that it was great to work alongside young actors who are not worried about how their profiles look, don't argue and perform well. Bill said they all got on well. Later Michael talked about his friend who died of dementia and how he brought some of that to the screen. I found the film both amusing and moving and Caine, a healthy 76 playing a dying 84-year-old man, gives one of his best performances. Bill once again - following Son of Rambow - proved that he has the makings of a real film actor and we might well see him develop into the new Christian Bale.

Also recommended: THE AGE OF STUPID (no cert. 1hr.32 mins.), a searing account of the dangers we face in the future if we continue along our present non-action on global warming. Directed by Franny Armstrong, it stars Pete Postlethwaite as an old man in the ruined world of 2055 looking at archive material of 2008. A number of critics thought the film rather smug. Unfortunately the British couple with wind turbines in Cornwall do come across as somewhat self-satisfied, but those in Africa and the 82-year old French mountain guide are very moving in their warning of the results of climate change. I hope you will be able to find this in our area - it is bound to be a talking point, and make you think!

See: STATE OF PLAY (cert.12A 2hrs.7mins.) for the quality of the writing, the look of the film, realistic performances from Russell Crowe (except for the occasional variations in his American accent) and Ben Afflick. SHIFTY (cert. 15 1hr. 30mins.) for the acting by Daniel Mays and Riz Ahmed and the sharp, taut direction by new director, Eran Creevy. See CHERI (cert. 15 1hr.32mins.) for its sumptuous look and the beauty and sensitivity of Michelle Pfeiffer's older courtesan in love with Cheri who is half her age, but NOT for Rupert Friend's drawling Cheri. The tongue-in-the-cheek direction is also wrong.


It was great to have an amusing film and a laugh-out-loud play in the same week. CALENDAR GIRLS (Noel Coward Theatre) is successful for the same reasons that the film achieved popularity. Tim Firth has adapted the movie he co-wrote. The play tells the story of a group of women in Yorkshire who band together following the death from cancer of John, the husband of Annie (Patricia Hodge) to raise money to buy a settee for the hospital cancer care ward.

They decide to produce a calendar based on the well-know Pirelli one of tasteful nudes. As they all belong to the Women's Institute they use buns, flowers and props from WI activities to hide their "front bottoms" and other female parts they do not wish to put on show. They end up, as is known from the real women's story, raising 58,000 and are able to fund a Wing at Skipton hospital.

Calendar Girls

Their symbol is a sunflower and at the end we see "John's hill" bursting (in a somewhat naff manner) with the flowers.

While some of the women lack a Yorkshire accent all the character are well-delineated and Lynda Bellingham, with a good accent, excels as Chris, who becomes somewhat over-enthusiastic about selling the group. Sian Phillips captures the spirit of an older feisty woman and we laugh as well as feel for all the women as they expose their less than perfect figures. And that is the point - we are moved by the plight of the widow and come close to tears as letters from women who have suffered similar losses rain down as the cast try to deal with the huge press interest once the calendar goes on sale.

Hampstead Theatre is flourishing in the season celebrating its 50th anniversary with a play from each decade. ALPHABETICAL ORDER (until 16 May), by Michael Frayn, was performed here in 1975. In a lively production by Christopher Luscombe, Lesley (Chloe Newsome) joins a provincial newspaper as assistant librarian. Her brief is to bring order to the library - and, possibly, to the whole newspaper. She certainly affects the lives of those who work there, not always to their satisfaction. Each of them has an individual role at the paper and Frayn shows us how they function both in the first act when Lesley is feeling her way and in the second when she has tidied everything. There is the writer, John (Jonathan Guy Lewis), who starts by being Lucy's lover and by Act 2 has been taken over by Lesley who wants him to lead a more ordered life. Then there is Nora (a good performance by Penolope Beaumont) the motherly features editor, who wants to take care of Arnold (Gawn Grainger), whose wife is in hospital and Lucy (a lively Imogen Stubbs), who holds court in her messy library but says she wants it made neat. Newsome's Lesley shows the development of the young girl into the boss of her own little domain.

There is a really excellent set that starts full of bulging filing cabinets with postcards on them and what looks like a real lift that goes up and down. In the second act all is clear and tidy. There are lots of amusing moments as well as more than a hint of something profound behind the banter.

WAR HORSE (New London), which I wrote about when it was on at the National Theatre, has lost none of its charm or ability to enlist wonderment from the audience as well as tears at the plight of the horses even knowing they are all puppets. This is a truly spectacular theatrical event and 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 farm 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 young people 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!

Based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play about repressed sexuality, SPRING AWAKENING has been brought up to date in the lively musical at the Apollo. An unknown cast of young actors interpret the themes through short scenes incorporating choreography and singing. Still set in late 19th century Germany and dealing with teenage sexuality, abortion and suicide, the essence of the play is here but now set to rock music, with an on-stage group and simple effective staging on a well-designed set. Adolescent angst is certainly dealt with in a way that audiences will not forget.

Death and the Horseman

DEATH AND THE HORSEMAN (National Theatre until 17 June) is almost the reverse side of England People very Nice. Nobody is satirised here but a story is told through terrific movement and sound as well as well-designed set pieces in Rufus Norris's production of Wole Soyinka's play. The King's horseman is all set to leave life after his master dies in order that the King can be at peace in the spiritual world.

Based on real events the play is set in Nigeria during World War Two. The whole play is most unusual, not least because of the "whitening" up of the black actors who play white people in a very accurate portrayal of a certain type of upper class British officer. If you go you will find that you need to concentrate on the dialogue which often comes alongside a drumming background, but it is certainly worth the effort.


Carlie Newman

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