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Posts tagged ‘Film’

Tuscan Towns #1 – Monteriggioni

There is nothing like a period drama to stir the soul, not least when an exotic location enables escapism, both historical and geographical. Such is the enduring magnetism of a film like A Room With a View. Starting a young Helena Bonham-Carter and the endlessly successful partnership of Judy Dench and Maggie Smith, it is the very essence of period delicacy, all set against a stunning Tuscan backdrop. Having become hooked on the film last year, it has gained a near gospel status in our household, and when a trip to see relatives in Tuscany beckoned this Easter, the film was omnipresent in our preparations. As we looked at the map and planned towns and cities to visit, the voice of Judy Dench as Eleanor Lavish pervaded. Recommending Monteriggioni to her fellow diners as a must-do destination, we felt persuaded to follow suit. Many years have past since the novel (on which the film is based) was written, but Tuscany is a richly historical land, steeped in the past, and we were sure it’s charm would not have disappeared with the period.

Charming Monteriggioni


Charm we found in buckets when eventually we made it to this idyllic Tuscan village, whose miniature scale is tightly contained within the impressive and historically unbreachable castle walls that encircle it. Located within the gently undulating hilly green landscape which has put Tuscany on the tourist map for centuries, the castle town is practically untouched by the passage of time, with a historical core which has escaped the sullying of modern expansion.

The Great Walls of Monteriggioni


Based around a tidy little Square whose central stone fountain is partnered by a rustic stone church, everything in Monteriggioni is rendered in miniature albeit with a distinctive flavour of power reflected by the imposing walls which encircle it. A walk around those walls was a clear highlight of the visit, not least for the Tuscan views punctuated by cypress trees and sun dappled hillsides.

No wonder Monteriggioni was on the wish list of visitors making their way to Tuscany in the late 19th century. Happily for we romantics of the 21st, very little has changed, enabling a level of escapism which only a carefully staged period drama might otherwise provide.

The rolling Tuscan landscape surrounding Monteriggioni


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Vintage Italy – advertisements from a golden age

Many may have empathised with the characters Gil and Adriana in Woody Allen’s 2011 film, Midnight in Paris, who were accused of having suffering from “golden-age nostalgia” – the condition whereby a person believes that a previous era was better than the present. In a way, the purpose of the film was to disprove this way of thinking, since Gil’s obsession with the 1920s led him to meet Adriana who was from the 1920s but who herself thought the golden age was the Belle Epoque, who in turn met the likes of Degas and Manet in the Belle Epoque who in turn thought the golden age was the renaissance…and so it goes on. Which just goes to show that “the grass is always greener” applies to the past as well as a comparison of your own life with other possibilities.



Despite this chord of warning which was espoused in Woody Allen’s film, I have to admit to suffering from a little golden-age nostalgia myself. Who could not pine after the elegance of evening dress in the 20s and before – the Downton Abbey style of dressing for dinner every evening and the top-hatted gentlemen in the Moulin Rouge? True, much of my nostalgia is probably founded in fiction – of course we all know that sanitary conditions and general quality of life was probably much lower then than we are used to now, especially for the poor. But nonetheless, the charm of past years cannot help but seep into my imagination, and fill my days with a warm sense of longing for a time of sophistication and innocence. And that charm is no more embodied than in the multi-coloured art work of vintage advertisements at the start of the great commercial age.

venice 2011087_1_l AP513H-vesuvius-gulf-of-naples-italy-1920s


I love old adverts. This passion is directly inherited from my father who collects enamel advertisement signs and various advertising paraphernalia. Sadly I have to make do with reproduction postcards and posters, but the images are no less pleasurable for the reproduction. And following on from my recent series of Italy posts, I thought I would share with you a few classic examples of the vintage advertising age promoting the very cities which I have just visited: Venice, Rome and Naples.

photo 1 AP463-roma-rome-italian-travel-poster-1935 Napoli 1960

With their bold lettering, romanticised skies, bright colours and simple motifs, it is completely understandable how these posters would have been effective in luring the pre or post-war era of awakening travellers to the charms of Italia. If only adverts today could exude such innate charisma. Oh no… there I go with my golden-age nostalgia again. I think I’d better leave you with the posters. Till next time…

photo il_570xN.342658530

Magnificently Miserable: Les Misérables the Movie

You know a film has been good when you have to cower as the cinema lights come up at the end for fear the audience will catch sight of your puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks, when the emotional exhaustion has left you depleted and dehydrated, and when you don’t want to leave until the music from the credits has stopped rolling. Tom Hooper’s new movie of Les Misérables must have been exceptionally good, because as the credits rolled, I suffered from all three symptoms unreservedly.

Almost from the moment Schonberg’s rapturous score began to play, the hairs on my arms stood erect, and my tear glands began to tingle. By Ann Hathaway’s incredibly performance of I dreamed a dream as Fantine, they were in full flow. But the question remains, was my intense emotional reaction and great enjoyment of this Les Misérables a reaction to the film, or just the score which has enchanted audiences for years?

Hugh Jackman is incredibly good as Jean Valjean

Hugh Jackman is incredibly good as Jean Valjean

The poster image - Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette

The poster image – Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette

Amanda Seyfried as older Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Amanda Seyfried as older Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Undoubtedly both factored hand in hand. Nothing quite beats the power of the full cast singing in harmony together on a theatre stage, such as the performance of One More Day at the end of Act I, as the revolutionaries prepare for battle, and Jean Valjean prepares to rescue Marius and protect Cosette. The intensity and intimacy of the theatrical production cannot in fact be beaten in many respects, and has arguably reduced me to greater effluvia of tears than the film. But what the movie brings us is what only a movie can – Les Mis on a grand scale, with an ambitious backdrop of early 19th century Paris which could never be attempted by even the most significant of theatre stages. The opening scene of the movie is, for example, a stunning opener, as Hugh Jackman as the much wronged Jean Valjean, applies every last bit of energy into hauling a great big warship into a French port, while, of course, singing about the hardship he has endured. The scale of this immense marine backdrop was awe-inspiring and in union with the dramatic score made for a spine-tingling start to the film.

The brilliant Anne Hathaway as Fantine

The brilliant Anne Hathaway as Fantine

However there are two reasons why this adaptation of Les Misérables is, in my opinion, a real winner, over and above the already much loved and highly emotive Schonberg and Boublil score. The first is the cast. So often, when a musical is Hollywood-ised, funding is secured only by the promise of a super-famous cast of actors who are nonetheless unskilled in their musical ability. This is (apart from perhaps one exception) not the case here. I would never have guessed that X-Men’s Hugh Jackman would be such a good singer, with a fine tenor voice and demonstrating great skill, particularly in songs such as God on High with its octave leaps and challenging high notes. He also demonstrated himself to be a fine and versatile actor, oozing the moral strength and fortitude which is central to the character of the wronged yet self-sacrificing Jean Valjean. Equally brilliant was Anne Hathaway, who I’ve only really known from the Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada and other light-hearted fair. Who would have known that she could act and sing with such incredible intensity? Her performance of I dreamed a dream was so brilliant, so natural, that hopefully, thank the lord, the horrendous massacre inflicted upon it worldwide by Susan Boyle will no longer be the peoples’ primary association with this musical masterpiece.

Thénardier and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen)

Thénardier and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen)

Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks as Marius and Éponine

Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks as Marius and Éponine

Samantha Barks as Éponine

Samantha Barks as Éponine

I also loved Eddie Redmayne as Marius, showing a greater warmth and depth of character than he did in last year’s BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong, and also sporting an excellent singing voice. Mention should also go to the lesser known but equally good Samantha Barks who reprised her stage role as Éponine, Aaron Tveit as a very intense Enjolras, spurring on the young thinkers to revolution, little Daniel Huttlestore as a brilliantly charismatic Gavroche, and of course the ever entertaining Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, the double-barrelled twosome, who made the perfect Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, the duplicitous inn-keepers who lend much needed light relief to an otherwise heavy emotional tale.

Helena Bonham Carter as the outrageous Madame Thénardier

Helena Bonham Carter as the outrageous Madame Thénardier

My one reservation, and the exception I allude to above, is for Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert. While he certainly looked the part as the stern, restless, duty-bound inspector who makes it his life’s work to chase Jean Valjean who missed his parole and eluded him ever since, this is a musical after all, and while Crowe can hold a tune, his voice was way too weak to install the character with the musical strength and baritone depth that is required. The consequence was a voice that was strained and tended to let the side down. But not so much as to take away from the otherwise remarkable work of this brilliantly constituted cast.

Russell Crowe as Javert

Russell Crowe as Javert

The second respect in which I think this film succeeded was in the very innovative camera work. Tom Hooper as director appears to favour close up shots of the characters, which made for a particularly intense audience to character engagement during the pivotal moments of the film, such as Fantine singing I dreamed a dream and Marius singing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (another superb performance). The camera lens almost appeared to give the effect of a convex focus, giving a very sharp focus on the character which then tapered off into a blurrier backdrop. The effect was intense, engaging and innovatively arty. It gave both a sense of realism and theatre, through which the very musical tenor of this film did not feel out of place.

Marius joins the revolution

Marius joins the revolution

Musicals converted into movies are not always successful. Les Misérables is clearly an exception to the rule. It’s a must of the 2013 cinematic season and I urge you to rush along to the cinemas as soon as you can. But don’t forget your Kleenex…

Great Expectations fulfilled – Dickens’ classic closes the British Film Festival in style

Barely 9 months have gone past since a new adaptation of Dickens’ favourite, Great Expectations, hit our screens (in that case, our TV screens) with a BBC version which promoted the rather spooky Gillian Anderson, better known for alien hunting on The X-Files, and a pouty-lipped Douglas Booth as Pipi in a classic period drama which gave us a reason to stay in and get cosy last Christmas. Now, Great Expectations, the story of a blacksmith’s apprentice who is left a huge fortune, enabling him to rise from his humble beginnings and become a man of “great expectations”, and a heartbroken bride, jilted at the altar, left to wreak revenge through the stagnated misery of her life, has been adapted again, this time on the big screen, adapted by the author of One Day, David Nicholls, and directed by BAFTA-winning director of Four Weddings and A Funeral and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Mike Newell.

The BBC adaptation last Christmas

Last night the film premiered at the lavish closing ceremony of the BFI’s 56th British Film Festival at London’s Odeon Leicester Square. The red carpet was out, the flash bulbs were going like crazy, the stars, amongst them Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger and Robbie Coltrane made it out in spite of the rain and I, yes little me, was there, on the red carpet with them! Yep, I managed to somehow acquire myself some tickets in the 20 seconds in which they were reported to have sold out, and therefore made it as one of the first people to see this lavish new adaptation.

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham

Jeremy Irvine as Pip

Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger as Pip and Estella

The new adaptation is suitably gloomy, wonderfully sumptuous, and sensuously spectacular. I cannot help but compare it to last year’s BBC version, and for the creativity of sets, the transmission of atmosphere right off the Dickensian page, for its depiction of foggy dirty London and the grand dilapidated house of Miss Havisham, the film wins on all fronts. I adored some of the details – the huge, rotting banquet table teeming with mice and rats, and the dusty great dressing room of Miss Havisham, packed full of fading grandeur, like the heartbroken bride herself.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham

I also preferred the casting in the film. Jeremy Irvine’s Pip is an altogether more likeable characterisation, as the youth and naivety of Irvine (previously starring as the lead in Spielberg’s altogether more vomit-worthy War Horse) worked well in giving us a Pip who is a forever innocent pawn in the cynical love game played by Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. By contrast, Douglas Booth for the BBC was altogether too perfect looking, with his model stature and pert pouty lips – he was difficult to warm to, although as refined gentleman, he surely looked the part. With Irvine we see perfectly portrayed the Gentleman Pip always feeling a little uncomfortable, only too aware that money has catapulted him into the world of finery and etiquette, always slightly nervous that his Blacksmith past may come out.

It will not surprise anyone that Bonham-Carter is perfect in the role of Miss Havisham, with her wide glazed eyes portraying all of the mental instability which HB-C plays so well, her crazy hair and great dusty gown displaying every inch the melodramatic victim-turned villain, and as for the pivotal scene where her dusty robes catch fire so suddenly and so quickly to her screams of agony and her muttered apologies as her life fades away – brilliant. Fantastic too was the ever resplendent, exquisitely elegant Holliday Grainger as Estella, looking every inch the beauty who ensnared Pip into her web of heartbreak. While she played the part with aplomb, I do however feel that through the sweetness and emotion which appears to radiate so naturally from her angelic face, it was hard to believe that inside she was the ice-queen she liked to portray – or perhaps that is the point – try as she may to be hard and loveless, Pip alone can see that behind her emotionless chatter, lay a beating heart ready to be released. Mention should finally go to Robbie Coltrane as the lawyer, Jagger (although I found it hard to get Harry Potter’s Hagrid out of my head whenever he spoke) and Ralph Fiennes as a very rough-round-the-edges Magwitch – his accent was brilliant. I had reservations about casting funny-man David Walliams as Pip’s Uncle Pumblechook though – he was the same as ever, and made the whole thing feel a bit Brit-comedy.

Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch

Jeremy Irvine as Pip

So casting and visuals asides, where this film was lacking, in my opinion, was in its loss of some great Dickensian details and characterisations. It’s inevitable that when trying to reduce a great and much-loved work of fiction into a two hour cinematographic stint, you will lose a lot of details, but some, to my mind, were really missed. Where for example was Dolge Orlick, the murderous character whose menacing and relentless vendetta against Pip adds such tension throughout the story. Where also was the murder (by Orlick) of Pip’s sister – her death was merely mentioned, but not shown, and overall I felt more time could have been given to this brilliant Dickensian character. There were also at times short scenes which appeared to play homage to the detail of the original text but didn’t lead anywhere. For example the film showed Pip setting out his intention to use his remaining fortune to buy his friend, Herbert Pocket, a partnership, but then we never saw any follow up scene whereby the partnership was secured – the film was a bit patchy like this. But then, one can’t complain too much – I’m sure we would have moaned more if we’d been sitting in the cinema for the full 5 hours which a fuller adaptation would require.

The lavish rotting wedding banquet

Overall, Newell’s new adaptation is another positive exploration of classic English literature presented with a fine British cast and beautifully crafted cinematography throughout. It is also highly appropriate for the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth. And as for seeing the film with the stars in situ and after a walk up the red carpet – priceless.