Monday, 24 May 2010

Money, BBC Two

Here's a review of Money that I wrote last night for Orange - while knackered after a nice long day of living it up in Brighton. I've never read the book, so I guess other reviewers will have more to say about the strengths and weaknesses of the adaptation. However, I found it very stodgy as a bit of drama. Anyway...

After two of the three dramas in the BBC's 80s season, it was all to play for. Worried About the Boy, an engaging and enlightening look at the musical scene of the early decade, had really hit the high notes, while The Royal Wedding... not so much. 

So, last night we had Money – the first half of a two-part adaptation of Martin Amis's acclaimed novel about the decade's excesses. Nick Frost starred as John Self, a charmless ad director who was flitting between London and New York as he prepared to make his first feature film – also entitled Money.

However, as Self started to put his film together – with the help of slimy producer Fielding Goodney (Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser) – the various bits of his life started to go a bit wonky. His already unhealthy relationship with his girlfriend Selina (Emma Pierson) took a turn for the worse, while his dad fell into debt after turning the family pub into a strip joint.

On top of all this – and trouble from his demanding would-be cast – he'd started to receive a series of menacing calls from someone who seemed to be watching him all the time – and who ended up telling the director that they "wanted his life".

Martin Amis isn't everyone's cup of tea – as either an author or a person – but his writing has a snap, crackle and pop that were totally lacking from this adaptation. Apart from the mysterious phone calls, nothing much happened to build any tension. Instead, Self hopped back and forth across the Atlantic as the story meandered through a series of dull, awkward scenes.

Nick Frost was convincing as John Self, but I got the feeling he wasn't really stretching himself that much. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast weren't given much to work with. It seemed particularly hard going for the actresses; there was an unpleasant tang of misogyny in his messed-up relationship with Selina.

I found myself looking at the clock long before the end, and only persevered to the closing credits because I had to. What could have been a stinging satire ended up as something as lumpen and unappetising as the burgers John Self was scoffing while slobbing around his NYC hotel suite.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Royal Wedding, BBC Two

A bit after the event, here's a review of The Royal Wedding that I wrote for Orange the other day.

I was quite disappointed in it, given Abi Morgan's previous work. Like I say below, it never really seemed to catch light, and the final 'confrontation' between Linda and Sherry (the wife of the bloke Linda is having an affair with) was distinctly anti-climactic. 
The shooting style was also a bit off-putting. It had that lovely hazy air of nostalgia, but after a while it became a bit soporific. Anyway...

Last night's The Royal Wedding, scripted by BAFTA-winner Abi Morgan, stuffed us in the time machine and flung us back to 1981, when The Man tried to take our minds off the crumbling state of the nation and the horrors of Thatcherism by throwing together the ill-fated marriage of Charles and Diana. 

The film followed the celebrations in a Welsh village, focusing on the dilemma facing factory worker Linda Caddock (Jodie Whittaker): should she stay with her husband Johnny (Darren Boyd), a lazy musician who still dreams of making it big, or run away with her lover, the unpopular factory boss Alan (Alun Raglan)?

As the day developed and Alan and Linda's affair was discovered, we saw the effect it had on Johnny, Alan's monstrous wife Sherry (Sarah Hadland) and – particularly – Linda's sensitive daughter Tammy (Gwyneth Keyworth), who was captivated by the royal wedding and desperately wanted to believe in fairytale marriages.

The cast and production were all first-rate, but the drama seemed to smoulder a bit without quite catching fire. Maybe the lazy, hazy summer atmosphere was a bit too effective; at times I wanted it to get a strong coffee down it and perk up. Some of it was also a bit over-familiar; it seems you can't have a drama in a provincial working-class community without feisty, sharp-tongued put-upon women and feckless, useless blokes. 

Despite these flaws, Jodie Whittaker filled the screen with wounded fragility as the trapped Linda, while newcomer Gwyneth Keyworth was moving as the daughter who has her innocence and illusions shattered. Elsewhere, Rebecca Stanton was criminally underused as factory agitator Bev, whose "problem" is fairly obvious from the outset and who's pretty much shunted into the background for the bulk of the drama. 

In the end, the film fizzled out, rather than reaching a dramatic climax. It became clear in the closing montage that Linda had made a decision when we saw her happily handing a flower to a copper at Greenham Common, and Tammy (now a goth, with her new boyfriend) and Johnny (who'd cut his hair and become a dope farmer) seemed content enough without her. So all's well that ends well, eh?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

44 Inch Chest (repost)

I've spotted a few ads for the release of 44 Inch Chest on DVD, so in an attempt to reanimate this blog back into undignified "life" (inna Herbert West stylee), here's a review I wrote in January after a screening and Q&A at the BFI...

Last night we headed to the BFI for the first time this year, for a preview of 44 Inch Chest - a new British film written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Sexy Beast) and starring Ray Winstone, alongside a top drawer cast: Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Stephen Dillane and Joanne Whalley.

The plot sounds simple (and geezerish) enough: Colin Diamond (Winstone) is a gruff car salesman whose world falls apart when his wife Liz (Whalley) announces that she's leaving him for a younger man. Urged on by his grizzly gang of mates, he kidnaps 'Loverboy' (Melvin Poupaud) and takes him to a derelict house. With his friends insisting that Loverboy has to die for what he's done, Col has a long dark night of the soul as he decides what to do

Although the trailer would have you think it's a bit of a laddish gangland romp, the film is actually much richer and stranger than that. Mostly confined to a single room, the plot is minimal: Colin has to decide whether or not to kill Loverboy.

However, through a combination of flashback, hallucination and a typically committed performance from Ray Winstone, the film goes into Colin's mind to vividly depict the psychic disintegration that he suffers after Liz drops her bombshell.

The script - and, by extension, the film - are more about texture than plot. The profane banter that flies around between the blokes has a rich musical rhythm, especially when delivered by such a talented cast, even if some of the anecdotes and exchanges seem a bit tangental. When Colin's mates are berating the unlucky Loverboy, it feels a lot like Pinter's The Birthday Party, when the gangsters interrogate Stanley.

The film is billed as a provocative look at masculinity, but I didn't see much in the characters that relates to my life. In the Q&A afterwards, Ray Winstone said that he saw it very much as a love story; like Othello, the broken Col maintains that his biggest fault was that he loved Liz too much (although that doesn't prevent him from giving her a brutal beating when she attempts to leave).

It's an interesting film, full of captivating performances and shot with a real photographer's eye by director Malcolm Venville (making his feature debut) and cinematographer Daniel Landin. However, it might fall between two stools commercially. If an audience turns up expecting a Lock, Stock-style geezercom, they might be alienated by the intimate nature of the film and find its conclusion a bit anti-climactic.

Along with Ray Winstone, the Q&A afterwards was attended also attended by John Hurt and co-writer David Scinto. It'll turn up on BFI Live soon enough, so I won't go through it blow by blow.

The most interesting thing from a screenwriting perspective was David Scinto's statement that they focus on characters when they write, so they can attract top-class actors who really want to get their teeth into the material. Then, once the acting talent has shown an interest, the film becomes a much easier sell to financiers and producers.

Looking at the casts they attracted to Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, you'd have to say it's a strategy that's paid off.