The Young Victoria

The Young Victoria

I must admit, I haven’t seen The Young Victoria on DVD yet, but I did see it at a press screening prior to its cinematic launch, as preparation for interviewing Jack Murphy, the movement director who choreographed the pivotal waltz scene in the film.

It’s a really good period drama, with a script by Julian Fellowes that just crackles all the way throughout. And with Miranda Richardson as a member of the royal family, it can hardly fail (if you’ve ever seen Blackadder or Poliakoff’s The Lost Prince, you’ll know what I mean).

Emily Blunt is superb in the title role, cleverly balancing the role of head of state with that of a young woman who, despite being aware of her responsbilities, yearns to be allowed some release. There’s one beat in particular where, after a particularly arduous affair of state, she literally kicks her heels back once in private in a way that is just joyous to watch.

Rupert Friend is every inch her equal, though, as the young Prince Albert who steals her heart. While the marriage is initially conducted for political reasons, it’s clear early on that it is a partnership based completely on love, and that’s something that is really beautiful to watch.

The ending is a problem, though, as I recall. It feels as if a disagreement between the couple is concocted to induce a sense of peril, and once it is resolved one is flung directly in to the “what happened next” captions that signal the end of the film. One is left wanting much, much more — which isn’t a bad way to end a film, I suppose.

The trailer is below; you can buy a DVD of The Young Victoria on


Five depressing words

Golly, is it that long since I last posted? Whoops. I’ve been quite busy over at [TV Today](, as well as implementing quite a few technology infrastructure changes at The Stage which nobody else will notice (other than a substantially faster web server with — touch wood — no regular outages). And lots of other stuff which I can’t talk about for various reasons.

Any way, I just wanted to post that the most depressing thing I read this morning was in an otherwise enlightening interview with Stephen Daldry in this mornings _[Guardian](,,2279401,00.html)_:

> Sydney Pollack is seriously ill.

Terribly sad to hear. I can’t find other reference to his illness elsewhere on the internet, so I keep my fingers crossed that it’s something from which he can recover. His [roll call of films he’s either produced, directed or acted in]( is mightily impressive, and includes some brilliant work.

And now as I post this I realise that my last post was about Kev passing away. Gosh, this is a fun subject to resume blogging with, isn’t it?

The Golden Compass: my daemon

As the marketing machine for Philip Pullman’s _His Dark Materials_ films cranks up, the [website]( gives you the chance to discover what your daemon would look like. You start off by answering 20 questions about your own personality, after which your daemon is revealed. Rather cleverly, the type of daemon isn’t set in stone: for the next 12 days, people can answer supplementary questions about how they see you, and your daemon may change form as a result.

For the time being, my daemon **Brienne** is a crow. But who knows what she will look like [after you’ve answered five questions about me](

_**Update:** That was quick! She’s now a mouse…_

The Tonight with Trevor McDonald Film Festival

Last night, Jason and I (plus Jason’s friend Helen) went to an invitation screening of extracts from four films funded in part or in total by money from the National Lottery (either via the Film Council or the Arts Council for England). The screening is to become part of a future edition of ITV1’s current affairs programme, Tonight with Trevor McDonald, currently scheduled for Friday 19 November.

If any evidence was needed for the atrocious dumbing down of the ITV network’s current affairs output, last night provided more than enough. I have never witnessed such a brazenly manipulative attempt to wring the desired answer out of a group of volunteers masquerading as honest journalism.

We were given a large card ‘thumb’ each with which to vote after seeing the first 15 minutes of each film. Our voting was, we were directed, to be conducted along the following lines:

* **Thumbs up** if we would like to see more of the film, **and** we thought it deserved Lottery funding.
* **Thumbs down** if we didn’t want to see more of the film, **and** we thought it didn’t deserve funding.

As you can see, two distinct and unrelated opinions were being deliberately conflated. The only way you can justify doing so is if you take it as read that the only films deserving funding are ones that you yourself would enjoy. That’s not necessarily true. A number of us said so in various ways during the Q&A sessions after each film clip, but it will be interesting to see how much remains in the edited programme.

If I sound sceptical about the production team’s editing, it’s not without cause, I fear. After the second of the four films (Scottish Walter Mitty/Amelie wannabe, _Janice Beard_), presenter Jonathan Maitland asked for volunteers from the audience to talk about the film — requesting two people who had voted thumbs up, and two who had given the thumbs down. After recording two positive comments and one negative one, the team moved on to a woman in the front row who had voted negatively. She gave the quite reasonable comment that it wasn’t the sort of film that did anything for her, and quite possibly wouldn’t have gone to see it at the cinema. However, she said, she didn’t have any objection to it receiving Lottery funding, because it would encourage diversity and experience within the British film-making industry.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Maitland answered her comments with a brusque, “Thanks. Anybody else who voted ‘thumbs down’ want to say anything?” The implication was clear: that wasn’t the sort of reasonable comment they were looking for.

The third film received a unanimous thumbs-up from the audience; hardly surprising, since it was the critical and commercial success, _Touching The Void_. Maitland expressed surprise that the UK Film Council only funded that film to the tune of £350,000 when, say, _Sex Lives of the Potato Men_ got £1 million. That, to my mind, betrays his lack of understanding of several points:

* documentaries – even those with dramatic reconstructions, such as _Touching the Void_ – will have fewer overheads than a film which by its nature requires a larger cast, multiple locations, and all the ancillary costs that go with a full-scale drama;
* _Touching the Void_ had its funding ‘topped up’ by the UK Film Council after arranging funding from third parties (Film Four);
* when this film was in the planning and funding stage, documentary feature films were not enjoying the resurgence they’ve seen recently (and of which _Touching the Void_ has been a part) — meaning that any funding would have been considered a potentially greater risk.

There are always questions to ask about state subsidy of the arts, whether directly from Government coffers or via revenue generated by the National Lottery. However, I get the distinct impression that _Tonight with Trevor McDonald_ won’t be asking them.

Out of interest, the National Lottery has distributed [£16 billion of funding]( over the last 10 years through its various endowment bodies. In contrast, the UK Film Council has an estimated spend of just [£60 million (PDF)]( each year. Just a small portion of that (£17m) is invested directly in feature film production (counting the Development Fund, Premiere Fund and the New Cinema Fund).

It will be interesting to see if _Tonight_ mentions that its report is concerned with just 1% of annual Lottery spending. From what I’ve experienced, though, I doubt it.

Out of interest, the four films from which we were shown footage were:

* [_Sex Lives of the Potato Men_](
* [_Janice Beard 45wpm_](
* [_Touching the Void_](
* [_Body Song_](

Body Song is also available in an [interactive form online]( (requires Shockwave).

The Laramie Project (DVD)

A review of the film adaptation of the stage play The Laramie Project. Originally written for UK.

The death of 21-year old Wyoming student Matthew Shepard shocked America and the world. Beaten up by two youths, he was taken to the outskirts of town, tied to a fence and beaten mercilessly until the only part of him that was not covered in blood were the tracks of tears down his face. He died in hospital six days later, on October 12 1998.

The event rocked the small town of Laramie where Matt and his murderers grew up. For a while, the nation’s — indeed the world’s — eyes were upon a town with less than 25,000 residents. As part of the analysis, playwright Moisés Kaufman and a group of actors from this company, the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie and conducted interviews with the townsfolk. Out of those conversations came the play The Laramie Project, an adaptation both of the transcripts and the process of acquiring them.

As a stage piece, I’ve always felt the play was fundamentally flawed — with a small ensemble cast, each having to take on multiple roles, the mechanics of theatre tend to overshadow the horrors of the reality the cast attempt to portray. This was one of the main faults of the recent London performance, powerful as it was. And so, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the film version, now available on VHS and DVD (to rent, and to buy from 7 July 2003).

The film was selected to open the 2002 Sundance Festival, and from its opening frames it’s easy to see that the medium of film has transformed the stage play into something far superior.

The play’s director Moisés Kaufman again takes the helm, making his debut into the world of film direction. Apart from two of the original Theater Project actors (who play themselves), each character is portrayed by a different actor or actress. This makes for a far more believable experience as a viewer, requiring less suspension of disbelief. Financial backing from US cable channel HBO means that the cast consists of some of the cream of American acting talent. The impressive roll call of actors includes Christina Ricci as a friend of Matthew; Janeane Garofalo as the first out lesbian professor at the University of Wyoming; Steve Buscemi as a car service driver who took Shepard to a gay bar in Colorado; Joshua Jackson as the bartender who served Shepard the night he met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the men who murdered him; and Amy Madigan as the police officer who was first on the murder scene.

Shot in a documentary style, Kaufman intercuts reconstructed events with his expanded acting troupe with genuine news reports surrounding the aftermath of Matthew’s death. Unlike the play, the lives of the residents of Wyoming comes to the fore, and the actors collecting the interviews become less of a focal point, which is as it should be. While it’s always apparent that these are actors working to a script — the speeches are all too measured, too contemplative, to convince anyone that they’re watching a documentary — there is not one performance that is anything less than solid. Special praise has to go to Madigan’s police chief, as she learns that her desperation to help the blood-soaked Matthew had left her exposed to the AIDS virus after hearing that Shepard was HIV-positive; also to Jackson’s barman, who plays exactly the right level of self-deprecating humour that shines through from the original transcript. James Murtaugh also puts in a chilling performance as the hate-filled Reverend Fred Phelps, who led his church into protesting at Shepard’s funeral and who has organised numerous protests at stagings of the play and the film ever since.

Not even the hardest of hearts could sit through this film with a dry eye. It is a powerhouse of a film that will leave you mourning someone you never knew, and determined to ensure that nobody receives the same fate as the young man that the world took into their hearts.

X2: X-Men United

A review of Bryan Singer’s superhero sequel, written for UK.

Anybody who remembers the theme of the X-Men comics, or indeed the first film, will have noticed some obvious parallels. Here we have mutants, a section of the world’s population who are “different”, treated with fear, aggression and hostility by the world’s politicians. Fighting for their rights, two distinct movements spring up: one believes in working with the politicians, patiently trying to change their minds and embrace diversity, while another favours more direct action.

The allegory isn’t hard to spot, although it speaks just as much on issues of race and gender as it does on sexuality, but it fuels the whole X-Men mythos with a contemporary resonance that propels it into the leagues of truly great science fiction. And with the first film in what looks like becoming an ongoing franchise setting a high standard in terms of adrenaline-pumping action and great acting from some of the industry’s finest, X2 has a great deal to live up to.

Glad to say, for the most part director Bryan Singer delivers. Freed from the mountains of exposition about each character needed in the first film, there’s a sense of a much broader canvas here. Taking its cue from its predecessor (and, indeed, the comics on which the series is based), X2 concentrates on Hugh Jackman’s amnesiac Logan, aka Wolverine, and his struggle to recall his past, while simultaneously trying to cope with his growing attraction to Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and the subsequent jealousy from Jean’s boyfriend Cyclops (a criminally underused James Marsden).

Given the large cast of the first film, it would be tricky enough to ensure everybody got a decent amount of screen time in the sequel. Yet X2 nearly doubles the cast of “regulars”, bringing in a range of new mutant pupils to the school established by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and the brilliantly hammy Brian Cox as the villainous Stryker.

The film’s masterstroke, though, is the mysterious mutant Nightcrawler, whose daring attempted assassination of the US President in the Oval Office at the film’s opening sets a level of gob-smacking tension and wonder that subsequent scenes try, and nearly succeed, in matching. Under the layers of prosthetics, Scottish actor Alan Cumming delivers the standout performance of the film, no mean feat when pitted against the likes of Jackman, Janssen, Stewart, Ian McKellen’s Magneto and Anna Paquin’s Rogue.

Interspersed amongst the high-octane fight sequences are plenty of character moments, with a script liberally laced with charm and knowing wit. One particular scene will delight, as young mutant Bobby Drake (‘Iceman’) is forced by circumstance to ‘come out’ to his parents as being not quite like other boys. The deadpan reaction of his non-plussed mother (“Have you tried… not being a mutant?”) is just one of many gems that make X2 far more than an average beat-em-up blockbuster. While there’s nothing to compare to X-Men’s opening concentration camp sequence, the ending to X2 will have fans of the original comic with a tear in their eye and a smile of hope on their lips.

* Originally published on [ UK](

Le Fate Ignoranti

* Originally published on [ UK](

Antonia and Massimo have been married for fifteen years, but are still very much in love. With no children and only a small circle of friends, their relationship is so intense that, when Massimo gets knocked down in a car accident, Antonia’s life falls completely to pieces. Neglecting her family and friends, her pain increases when she discovers a love letter to her husband written on the back of a painting called ‘The Ignorant Fairies’.

In her obsession to find out the identity of this mystery woman, Antonia is shocked to discover that her husband’s lover was, in fact, a man. Not only that, but Massimo and his boyfriend Michele had been together for seven years, creating a large network of close friends — an extended family that Antonia, despite herself, begins to find herself drawn into.

Thus, the scene for director Ferzan Ozpetek’s latest film is set. Le Fate Ignoranti is a powerful discourse on the nature of friendship and family, and what place love has when the boundaries between the two become less distinct. Antonia (played by award-winning actress Margherita Buy) travels a complex emotional journey, starting off completely resenting Michele (Stefano Accorsi) but gradually realising that she has more in common with him than she ever did with her husband. Still, she finds it impossible to stop grieving, and her palpable pain at seeing Michele laughing and joking — and finding possible new lovers — is gut-wrenching.

In less confident hands, Michele’s extended family could come across as a collection of hackneyed stereotypes: a prostitute, a male-to-female transsexual, a good-looking man who is struggling with his anti-HIV medication — the staple of many a poor gay melodrama. However, with Ozpetek (director of Hamam: The Turkish Bath) at the helm, and a cast of supporting actors that never hit a wrong note, the course of Antonia and Michele’s growing attraction towards each other remains completely believable, wholly involving and heart-achingly resonant right until the closing credits.

There are precious few films that, after one viewing, will encourage you to drag your friends along to see it again with you. Le Fate Ignoranti is one such film: a sweet, uplifting tale that stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema.