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Archive for the ‘Period drama/comedy reviews’ Category

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If ever there was a director who polarised audiences, it’s Quentin Tarantino. Some people love his gratuitous swearing and gore, while others detest it. I fall in the former camp – I’ve never seen a Tarantino film I didn’t like, and I think it’s because whatever you think of the visceral way he tell his stories, they are brilliant stories, which I always find myself getting drawn into.

This particular film is set just after the American Civil War. Racist attitudes are rife, crime is high, and life is tough out in the wild West where most of the characters come from. But don’t be fooled – after the opening scenes, showing the journey of some of the characters to Minnie’s Haberdashery, where they seek shelter from a particularly nasty blizzard, all of the action takes place in just one room. It’s a form of storytelling that I particularly enjoy…one location, shot in almost real time.

Anyway the story…the hateful eight of the title consist of John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter known as the hangman who is bringing his latest quarry Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Lee) to the town of Red Rock. He is hoping to claim the $10,000 bounty which has been put on her head; After Daisy herself, there is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) a former Confederate Soldier who is bringing his own bounty to Red Rock for a reward, but unlike Daisy, the two men he captured are dead; Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the racist new Sheriff of Red Rock, travelling there to start his new job on the right side of the law; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) a hangman at Red Rock, who informs Daisy that when she hangs for her crimes, he will be the man at the other end of the rope; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) a loner cowboy who is heading to see his mother for Christmas; General Smiths (Bruce Dern) a older racist who has come to pay his respects to his long-lost-son; and Bob (Demian Bichir) a man who is in charge of Minnie’s Haberdashery in the owner’s absence. Trapped with them is O.B. (James Parks) who was driving the stagecoach which brought some of the characters to their refuge.

Before long, tensions rise between the characters, many of whom were on opposite sides in the Civil War, and then it becomes apparent that some of the people may be there for an ulterior motive.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot – I went in with a limited knowledge of the storyline and this helped my enjoyment massively. What I will say is that yes, the film is extremely violent and bloody – there’s a lot of swearing and offensive language as well, but it’s also incredibly well told, beautifully filmed and wonderfully acted. Standout performances for me were from Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth and the always wonderful and criminally under-recognised Walton Goggins. Jennifer Jason Leigh was also fascinatingly revolting.

So…if you are squeamish or object to foul language, this may not be the film for you. But if you have previously enjoyed Tarantino, and like dark comedy, definitely give it a try. It’s almost three hours long, but doesn’t feel like it. I loved it and will certainly be watching this again in the future.

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Year of release: 2015

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Main cast: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Lee, Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Demian Birchi, James Parks

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This film is an adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas’ novel (the sequel, The Four Musketeers deals with the second half of the novel).  It stars Michael York as the young D’Artagnan, and Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain, as Athos, Porthos and Aramis respectively.  Milady DeWinter is played by Faye Dunaway, Constance de Bonacieus is played by Raquel Welch, and the villains Cardinal Richelieu and Rochefort are played by Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee.  There is a also a splendid supporting cast including Spike Milligan, Roy Kenner and Simon Ward.

The plot revolves around the D’Artagnan being tasked by Constance to retrieve some diamonds which Queen Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) has given to the Duke of Buckingham (Ward) before King Louis XIII (Jean Pierre Cassel) realises that they are missing.  It is of course, all part of the Cardinal’s plan to get rid of Anne.  D’Artagnan enlists the help of his three friends, and they run into all sorts of obstacles on the way.

This film was an excellent adaptation, and thoroughly enjoyable, thanks in no small part to George MacDonald’s excellent screenplay.  There was plenty of action, but also lots of humour – including some of the slapstick variety, and some which wouldn’t seem out of place in a Carry On film – and I really enjoyed watching it.  I literally laughed out loud on several occasions (watch out for the chess match, with dogs playing all the chess pieces)! The acting was also terrific.  Before watching, Michael York seemed (to me) to be an odd choice to play D’Artagnan, but he fitted into the role perfectly, blending the character’s enthusiasm and hotheadness to great effect.  Richard Chamberlain was very good as Aramis, and Frank Finlay was a wonderful Porthos, but for my money, Oliver Reed stole almost every scene he was in, with his excellent portrayal of the melancholy drunkard Athos.

Staying true to the book, the actual Musketeers themselves are sometimes not on screen for longish periods of time – despite the title, this is really D’Artagnan’s story, and accordingly, York is the main actor, and he carries the responsibility very well.

If you are a fan of the book, or indeed a fan of comedy, please give this film a look.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Year of release: 1973

Director: Richard Lester

Producers: Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, Michael Salkind, Wolfdieter von Stein

Writers: Alexandre Dumas (novel), George MacDonald Fraser

Main cast: Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, Jean Pierre Cassel, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1993 film adaptation.

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This film is one of many based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel of the same name.  I say ‘based on’ rather than ‘adapted from’ because this is really a very loose interpretation of the novel, with Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Charlie Sheen playing, respectively, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and Chris O’Donnell as D’artagnan.  Tim Curry plays Cardinal Richelieu, Julie Delphy is Constance, and Gabrielle Anwar is Queen Anne, with Hugh O’Connor as King Louis XIII.  Count Rochefort was played by Michael Wincott, and Rebecca De Mornay rounds out the cast as Milady D’Winter.

I wanted to see this film out of curiosity, having recently read the novel, and also having very much enjoyed BBC1’s series The Musketeers (again ‘based on’ the novel, with new storylines for the characters).  In all honesty, I was not expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did – I’m not a big fan of Charlie Sheen, but he was actually rather good as Aramis.  Sutherland and Platt were the best characters, with Sutherland’s Athos suitably melancholy, and Platt’s Porthos typically boisterous and playful.

However, I did feel that O’Donnell was miscast as D’Artagnan.  This is not a criticism of the actor – I’ve enjoyed his performances in other roles – but I did not feel that he was right for this part.  I also did not really enjoy O’Connor’s portrayal of the King, although to be fair I was distracted by his awful hairstyle.  Tim Curry camped it up magnificently as the Cardinal, and appeared to be having a thoroughly good time.  I also really enjoyed Wincott as Rochefort – he stole several of the scenes in which he appeared (and what a fantastic raspy voice)!

The storyline revolves around the musketeers and D’Artagnan having to foil the Cardinal’s plot to form an alliance with England, and unseat the King, but it is really just an excuse for lots of swashbuckling, swaggering, and sword fights.  There’s lots of humour too, and Porthos in particular had me laughing out loud a number of times.

Overall, if you are looking for a faithful adaptation of the book, this is not the film for you.  If you are looking for an amusing adventure film, then you might well enjoy it.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Stephen Herek

Producers: Jon Avnet, Jordan Kerner, Roger Birnbaum, Ned Dowd, Joe Roth, William W. Wilson III

Writers: Alexandre Dumas (based on the novel by), David Loughery

Main cast: Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Oliver Platt, Chris O’Donnell, Tim Curry, Hugh O’Connor, Michael Wincott, Gabrielle Anwar, Rebecca De Mornay

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1973 film adaptation.

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This three part adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel features Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, and Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood.  The two sisters, together with their younger sister Margaret and their mother, are forced to move out of their family home, after their father dies with his whole estate being bequeathed to his son from his first marriage.  Settling into their new life, both the rational and calm Elinor and the more impetuous Marianne fall in love with two very different men, but find that the happiness they hope for is not to be so easily found.

I loved this adaptation, and thought that in particular Morahan and Wakefield were superb as the two sisters, with the characters being very faithful to how they were portrayed in the book.  Dan Stevens (who was to subsequently find fame as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey) played Edward Ferrars, the young man who immediately catches Elinor’s eye, and he played the role wonderfully – a pleasant surprise for me, as I never enjoyed his Downton character.  Dominic Cooper was suitably seductive and untrustworthy as Willoughby, the young man who charms Marianne over, only to let her down, and David Morrissey was well cast as the honourable Colonel Brandon (with Alan Rickman’s excellent performance from the 1995 film adaptation in my head, I was again pleasantly surprised at how much Morrissey made the role his own).

There were some very moving moments, just as there should be, but there was also a lot of humour in this production.  While I do not really want to make comparisons, I have to say that I preferred this to the 1995  film, as I think the casting was generally much better, and a three hour series gives better opportunity for telling the story than a two hour film.  (However, fans of the novel would be advised to watch both adaptations.)  I definitely recommend this show.

Year of release: 2008

Director: John Alexander

Producers: Rebecca Eaton, Jessica Pope, Vanessa De Sousa, Anne Pivcevic

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, David Morrissey, Janet McTeer, Dan Stevens, Dominic Cooper, Lucy Boynton, Mark Williams, Linda Bassett, Claire Skinner

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Click here for my review of the 1995 film adaptation.

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This three part mini-series was an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ excellent novel of the same name. It tells the story of Nancy (Nan) Astley (Rachael Stirling), a Whitstable oyster girl in the 1800s, who falls in love with singer and dancer Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes). The two women become partners on and off stage, but the path of true love does not always run smooth, and life has a lot of surprises in store for Nan.

The book was actually my least favourite of Sarah Waters’, but that is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it, and I did wonder if the adaptation would be as enjoyable. As it turned out, it was absolutely fantastic, and stayed very faithful to the story. Rachael Stirling was absolutely superb as Nan – utterly believable as both a young and naive girl who doesn’t really understand her feelings towards Kitty, and equally so as a mature, world-weary woman, who has to draw upon all her resources and courage to make a living in 19th century London. Keeley Hawes was fine as Kitty Butler, and the supporting cast, including (the always wonderful) Anna Chancellor, John Bowe, and Jodhi May, were also great. Hugh Bonneville made an impact, despite being in only the third instalment of the series.

Anyone who has read the book will know that there are several explicit sex scenes in the book, and these scenes are also in the series. If you do not like raunchiness on screen, then this is definitely not the show for you! However, there is FAR more to this story than just sex; there is also a compelling and wonderfully acted story, showing how Nan deals with all the problems that life can throw at her. If you like period drama and excellent acting, with added sauciness and humour, then I highly recommend this series.

Year of release: 2002

Director: Geoffrey Sax

Producers: Gareth Neame, Sally Head, Sally Woodward Gentle, Georgina Lowe

Writers: Sarah Waters (novel), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Rachael Stirling, Keeley Hawes, Jodhi May, Anna Chancellor, John Bowe, Sally Hawkins

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Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies, and this particular production, starring Eve Best and Charles Edwards, was filmed live at Shakespeare’s Glove Theatre, in 2011.  Briefly, the storyline for the play revolves around two pairs of would-be lovers: Beatrice and Benedick (Best and Edwards), who verbally spar with one another and pretend to feel contempt for one another, although there is obviously chemistry between them.  The other couple are Hero and Claudio, who fall in love, but on the night before they marry, Claudio is duped into thinking that Hero has been unfaithful, and cruelly rejects her in front of everybody at their wedding.

While (without actually counting the lines), I would guess that at least as much time, if not more, is given to the Hero/Claudio story as is given to the Beatrice/Benedick story, it is really the latter couple that make this play come alive for me, and Eve Best and Charles Edwards are just wonderfully cast.  Both of them made me laugh out loud, and the scenes where first Benedick and then Beatrice are tricked into thinking that the other has feelings for them were beautifully done, with some wonderful physical comedy adding to Shakespeare’s witty script.

Philip Cumbus was an effective Claudio; Cumbus does actually make him fairly sympathetic, and Only Uhiara was also very good as Hero, although I get irritated with Hero in every production or film I see of Much Ado….. because – spoiler alert – she takes Claudio back, instead of kicking him into touch, which he deserves.

If you are a fan of Shakespeare, or just like good comedy, I definitely recommend this, mainly for the highly comedic yet touching story of Benedick and Beatrice, which was truly joyful to watch, largely because of the perfect performances of Eve Best and Charles Edwards.

Year of production: 2011 (first televised in 2012)

Director: Jeremy Herrin

Writer: William Shakespeare (play)

Main cast: Charles Edwards, Eve Best, Philip Cumbus, Only Uhiara, Joe Caffrey, Joseph Marcell

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Click here for my review of the 1993 film adaptation.

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When Anna Leonowens is brought to Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s, to be governess to the King of Siam’s many children, there is initially a culture clash between Anna and the King.  Both have preconceptions about the other’s respective country, and when Anna is not given the house which she was promised in her contract, she threatens to leave.  However, she falls in love with the children, and decides to stay, and both the King and Anna come to regard each other with respect and warmth.

Anna Leonowens was a real person, and this film is based on the novel Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon.  That novel was based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, but it should probably be noted that the events are today disputed.  Also, this film was considered so offensive to the Royal Family of Thailand, due to its historical inaccuracies, that it is actually banned there.

As pure entertainment however, this film did tick all the boxes for me.  I would have liked to have seen more Thai actors playing Thai (Siamese) roles, and if this film were to be made today, hopefully that would happen.  Here, we have Deborah Kerr, who I always enjoy watching, as Anna, and Yul Brynner as the King.  Incredibly, this is the first Yul Brynner film I have ever seen, and any future ones will have a lot to live up to, because I absolutely adored his portrayal of the King (even if a lot of dramatic licence was used in his character).  There was real chemistry between the two leads, and Brynner was really funny throughout; I particularly enjoyed his boyish insistence that Anna’s head always be lower than his, and his constant, and sometimes inappropriate use of the phrase “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” after he hears Anna use it when she arrives, and she tells him what it means.  Incidentally, Brynner played the same role on stage, in over 4000 performances –  no wonder he inhabited the character so well, and with such charisma.

The film is also beautiful to look at, with an explosion of colour, and there is always lots happening on screen.  In addition, there are some lovely songs, including Shall We Dance? and Getting to Know You.  I also liked the beautifully danced, and wholly inaccurate interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was put on for the benefit of a visiting English envoy.

Don’t watch this film if you genuinely want to learn more about the events or period upon which it is based.  But if you like musicals, and want to listen to some lovely songs, and watch a terrific central performance, then give it a try.  I’ll definitely be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 1956

Director: Walter Lang

Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Charles Brackett

Writers: Margaret Langdon (novel ‘Anna and the King of Siam’), Ernest Lehman, Oscar Hammerstein II

Main cast: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson, Rex Thompson

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