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FILM: November 2005

Two good films that could be described as political - in the broader sense: First, THE CONSTANT GARDENER (cert.15 2hrs.10mins.), shown at the London Film Festival and now on general release, which is a serious look at the exploitation of HIV positive Africans. Based on a novel by John Le Carre, the film is both a thriller of the who killed her and why variety and a love story. Ralph Fiennes plays Justin, a diplomat who falls in love with an activist, Tess, played by Rachel Weisz.

When she is murdered Justin follows clues that lead to the very top of the British Establishment and as he searches, he looks back on the development of their relationship.

Rachel Weisz in
Rachel Weisz in"The Constant Gardener"

Excellent performances by the whole cast, including Bill Nighy in a pivotal rule, alongside the two leads, combined with accurate photography of the terrible poverty in Kenya make this a film to see and a contender for the Oscars.

Some of you may be "turned off" by the idea of going to the cinema to see a documentary, but HEARTS AND MINDS (cert. 15 1hr. 42mins.) is a fascinating film, as moving and engrossing as most of the other offerings at the moment.

Hearts and Minds
Hearts and Minds

This collection of archive newsreel material, interviews with veterans and footage of ordinary folk who have suffered in Vietnam won the 1974 Academy Award for Best Documentary feature. Re-released, its thought-provoking footage is both deeply moving in reminding us once again of the struggle of the Vietnamese to regain their own country and the fight by Americans to win a war that eventually had very little support from the majority of their people.

The image of the father whose 8 year old daughter and 3 year old son have just been killed by soldiers, pleading with journalists to take his dead daughter's T-shirt to show Nixon as "she doesn't need it now" will remain with me for a long time.

I hardly need to point out the resonances with what is happening now in Iraq are obvious and expressions such as "a timetabled withdrawal" and the remark by one veteran, "We weren't on the wrong side; we were the wrong side," hit home. Hearts and Minds (the title derives from President Lyndon B. Johnson's comment on the outcome of the Vietnam War: "The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there" is very well-made.

On a lighter note there is a very jolly stop-motion animation film, CORPSE BRIDE (cert. PG 1hr.20mins.) by Tim Burton. The tale of the corpse bride who lures away to the underworld a hapless groom on the eve of his earthly wedding is voiced with uncanny matching of voice to puppet by Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney and lots of other mostly British actors. Great to look at, with an intelligent script, it's well worth a visit.

Tim Burtons
Tim Burtons "The Corpse Bride"


Last month I wrote about the imminent opening of GLORIOUS! a new comedy by Peter Quilter, at the Duchess Theatre. Well, it has now opened and this story of Florence Foster Jenkins who sang out of tune but drew huge crowds to hear her sing in 1940's New York is a hoot. Maureen Lipman plays the delightful diva who, surrounded by a circle of devoted friends who were almost as eccentric as she was, woos this audience as Jenkins won the hearts of her own audiences.

HIGH SOCIETY (Shaftesbury) is not quite the success it was at the Open Air theatre. Well-sung and well acted with the sorrowful exception of Jerry Hall who was very tense and didn't even look as good as she usually does, the show was lively but somehow failed to engage. The choreography while competent has nothing really original, but the costumes are pretty and the songs, of course, are wonderful.

Beautifully written and performed by a very worthy trio - John Hurt, Richard Griffiths and Ken Stott, who play 3 French army veterans, all with their own worries and disabilities, living in a retirement hospital in France. HEROES (Wyndham's Theatre) shows how they plan their escape. Unfortunately they don't make it but the journey is fascinating, funny and often moving.

More excellent performance in AS YOU DESIRE ME (Playhouse Theatre) which starred the luminous Kristin Scott-Thomas, a generous and modest portrayal by Bob Hoskins and the reliable Margaret Tyzack. Very well-directed by Jonathan Kent, the play by Luigi Pirandello, follows the story of a night-club singer in 1929 Berlin who is identified as the lost wife of a wealthy Italian aristocrat. Her lover, Hoskins, follows her and there is a real mystery over her identity and that of the Italian's wife. A riveting play, wonderfully acted and an altogether worthwhile theatrical experience.

I enjoyed AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (Gielgud), an Agatha Christie with a fair number of surprises. The production was a bit ponderous and somewhat obvious: of one of the dead bodies it was said, "Poor Albert lost his heart."

The pre-Christmas crowd around me had set out to enjoy themselves in the company of Tommy Steele as SCROOGE (London Palladium). Steele certainly has personality and can sing a little and dance a little, but he is never a convincing villain. The usual staging full of chimney sweeps and urchins was employed to depict Ye Olde London, and the sets were good.

The New End Theatre in Hampstead is a lovely little theatre, although perhaps one shouldn't call it "lovely" as it used to be a morgue - in the way distant past, I hasten to add. At the present time (until early December) it has LIES HAVE BEEN TOLD a one-man show with Philip York giving a brilliant performance as Robert Maxwell filling in details of his life. Obviously it is from Maxwell's own viewpoint and, at one point, he tries to excuse his misappropriation of pensions' funds to finance his own schemes. But it's a well-directed - by Rod Beacham - production which makes use of the audience in an active way by addressing them directly and even offering one member a drink of champagne!.

Carlie Newman

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