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FILM: October 2007

After all the loud bangs and violence it is good to have some quieter films. ATONEMENT (cert. 15 2hrs. 2mins.) is a beautifully crafted film, reminding one of The Go-Between.

It starts in 1935 at a country mansion where Briony (a lovely performance by young Saoirse Ronan) aged 13 lives with her parents, brother and sister Cecilia (a carefully judged upper class portrayal by Keira Knightley). A series of terrible misunderstandings leads Briony to accuse Robbie, the housekeeper's son (James McAvoy giving a most sincere performance) of a crime which he did not commit. James and Cecilia love each other and she waits for him to come out of prison and then waits again as he joins the army and takes part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.


Both Cecilia and Briony, who is now played by Romola Garai, have become nurses. At the end Vanessa Redgrave plays Briony, now a famous author, as she tells her story on television. Amazingly the three versions of the same person look a lot alike. It is a very British film, based on the novel by Ian McEwan with a number of well-known actors in small parts. Direction by Joe Wright, photography - Seamus McGarvey - and even the music, are of the highest order and the film is moving, engrossing and well worth seeing.


Vanessa Redgrave can also be seen in another thoughtful film, EVENING (cert. 12A 1hr. 57mins.) that also mixes period and modern settings. In the present day Redgrave as Ann is dying and remembers episodes from her past, which she relates to her two daughters, Constance, a contented wife and mother played by Natasha Richardson and Nina, who is unsure whether to commit to her long term boyfriend, is Toni Collette

Ann's mind goes back to the beautiful New England setting and when she met Harris at the wedding of her best friend Lila. Harris, Patrick Wilson, is also admired (perhaps loved) by Buddy, Lila's brother who now declares his love for Ann. As Ann and Harris have a night of passion a tragedy takes place which will affect the lives of all the players in this story. The novel is by Susan Minot and, along with director Lajos Koltai, the story is full of emotion in a gorgeous setting with great parts for the female stars. Claire Danes plays the young Ann and Mamie Gummer her friend Lila, while Meryl Streep (Gummer's real-life mother) is the older Lila. Although the film takes some time to get going it is worth waiting for the scene where Redgrave and Streep reminisce about the past.

A re-issue of the cult film WITHNAIL AND I (cert.15 1hr.45mins.) allows us to appreciate it once again. Set in Camden Town, 1969, it is an amusing, fascinating study of two unemployed actors. There is a fine performance by Richard E. Grant (Withnail)and a good looking Paul McGann, as Marwood, makes one wonder why he has been side-lined in recent years. Finally.don't miss 3:10 TO YUMA (cert.15 2hrs.03mins.), a western with outstanding performances by Russell Crowe as the notorious outlaw and Christian Beale as the desperately poor rancher who offers to escort him on his journey to the prison train in order to earn money to provide for his family.

The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival takes place 17 October to 1 November. An exciting programme includes films by directors David Cronenburg, Wes Anderson, Ang Lee, Richard Attenborough, Michael Moore and Robert Redford. Along with many foreign films there are master classes and other live events. As usual there is an archive section, including two free big screen presentations in Trafalgar Square. Stars including Laura Linney, Steve Buscemi, Paul Greengrass and directors mentioned above will take to the stage to discuss their careers and work. Tickets can be booked online at www.lff.org.uk or by telephone on: 020 7928 3232 from 29 September.

THEATRE TIP: October 2007

The TV show which allowed the public - with a little help from "expert" judges - to choose the leads for the musical, GREASE (Piccadilly) has certainly helped to turn the show into a very popular theatre outing. Susan McFadden is a cute Sandy who falls for the seemingly suave Danny, played with a swagger by good-looking Danny Bayne. Set in 1955 the cast, music and atmosphere convey the period well. While the songs and singing are good, I hadn't realised the story was so slight but audience and actors join in happily.

Back at Shakespeare's Globe we can learn much about the formation of the American constitution in WE THE PEOPLE. A new play by Eric Schlosser, it depicts characters such as George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin in 1787 Philadelphia.


Staging is interesting with an apron structure thrusting into the auditorium. At one point a live horse appears! Although one needs to concentrate to understand what is going on, it is interesting for those of us who know little about American history to take part in the numerous meetings that determined a Constitution that is still in force today.

Alabout my mother

Probably the best play this month, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (Old Vic) is based on Pedro Almodovar's wonderful film - and that is the joy as well as the disappointment of it. While the play is really well executed and gives us the essence of Almodovar's perception of mothers, it is not, nor indeed can it be, the same as the film which seemed to soar into the realms of fantasy in an acceptable way.

Lesley Manville as the mother who loses her 17-year old son in a road accident, portrays grief in a heart-breaking manner and her search for the boy's father is fascinating as she meets up with a variety of extraordinary characters, but she is always very British as is the production. The only one who captures a little of the Spanish exuberance is the transvestite Agrado played with panache by Mark Gatiss. While scene-changing goes on, he appears front stage to deliver amusing monologues about his encounters with men.

Director Tom Cairns has extracted admirable performances from his cast of stars, which include Eleanor Bron as the mother of the nun impregnated by the father of the dead son and, above all, Diana Rigg, who plays the lesbian actress in thrall to a young drug addict. The interweaving of the characters with each other is enthralling and the play and performances are most satisfactory without being earth-shaking.

A sharp, short (70 minutes) play at the National Theatre, THE EMPEROR JONES was written by Eugene O'Neill in 1920, but has much relevance today. Thea Sharrock's direction brings out the multi-layered tale of the self-styled Emperor, an Afro-Caribbean who has progressed from a poor slave to his present day position. The power Brutus Jones now has over his servants and "Ministers" has corrupted him and we see how he is forced to flee when those he has exploited rise up against him. He runs from his home into the jungle and, lost, is haunted by scenes from his past, a chain gang, a slave auction, a witchdoctor and a reminder of a man he killed.

The writer was white but the experiences he shows are those of a black man, a role filled with great athleticism, a range of attitudes and abundant charm all shown through his body movements by Paterson Joseph, who begins dressed in a white and gold-braided costume with magnificent boots and ends stripped down to just his trousers. Although the play is almost a monologue, other characters appear as ghosts, characters in scenes from his past and John Marquez as Smithers, a cockney trader who resents Jones's power.

The Emporer Jones

Jones has suffered from white oppression and has learnt to copy those who ill-treated him in the past. As I write this there is a march of black citizens in Louisiana demonstrating about their lack of civil rights. Many African Americans suffer from racism today. While they are demanding justice and equality, we can also see the first black Presidential candidate in the USA.


Carlie Newman

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