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Year of release: 2018

Director: Ol Parker

Writers: Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson, Ol Parker

Main cast: Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, Cher, Lily James, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine

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Genre: Comedy, musical

Highlights: Julie Walters steals the show, Colin Firth is getting more handsome by the day, the music

Lowlights: Fewer laughs, more poignancy, a lot of lesser well known Abba songs

Overall: An enjoyable sequel once you have got over the shock of the main character from the first film being dead (not a spoiler – this is revealed at the beginning)

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This is the follow-up to the huge success Kingsman film. Eggsy is now a fully fledged member of the secret agency and in this instalment, has to do battle with an evil drug dealer named Poppy (Julianne Moore). Channing Tatum pops up in a surprisingly funny role, and it’s great to have Mark Strong back as Merlin. As the poster shows, Colin Firth is also back as Harry, involving a rather amusing explanatory back story, and Halle Berry and Elton John (yes, you read that right) provide good support. Elton John is actually pretty hilarious and one of my favourite things about this movie. What really made it for me was having one of my all-time favourite actors, Jeff Bridges play a great (although too small, in my opinion) role.

Just like the last one, the plot is preposterous and entirely unbelievable, but there is so much fun to be had, that I just didn’t mind. The film never takes itself too seriously either which really helps. The reviews of this sequel have been less kind than the reviews of the first film, but if you did enjoy that first one, then I suggest you give this one a try too.

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book), Dave Gibbons (comic book)

Main cast: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Elton John, Pedro Pascal

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With a cast including Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L Jackson, and a script that doesn’t take itself too seriously (or even slightly seriously) this was always going to be a good film, with lots of laughs – not to mention lots of violence and lots of swearing (something to maybe consider if this puts you off).

The Kingsman are a secret spy organisation and Colin Firth is Harry Hart (code name Galahad). The service is looking for a new recruit and Galahad’s nominee is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a streetwise kid, often in trouble with the police. Eggsy has to pass a series of tests, in a group which consists of upperclass, rich kids, who mostly resent his presence and his success at the tests.

Meanwhile, megalomaniac film producer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) has a plan to cull the human race in order to save the planet. Accompanied by his sidekick and bodyguard Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) their plan starts to take hold and only the Kingsman can stop it.

I laughed all the way through this film – it’s absolute ridiculousness works somehow because it acknowledges the outrageousness of the plot throughout. The cast are excellent and seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the roles. If swearing and violence are not off-putting to you and you want to kick back and watch something really funny and action packed, I recommend this film highly.

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Year of release: 2014

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Millar (comic book ‘The Secret Service’), Dave Gibbons (comic book ‘The Secret Service’)

Main cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Samantha Womack, Sophie Cookson

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This mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen’s most popular novel was a huge hit, and made a star out of Colin Firth, who played Mr Darcy.  It is a faithful retelling of the book, with Jennifer Ehle playing the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet to perfection (some viewers said that she looked too old for the role, and admittedly I did think that for the first episode, but after that I realised how wonderfully she inhabited the character of Lizzie, and enjoyed watching both her and Firth.  I actually thought initially that a few of the actors – mainly those playing Lizzie, Jane and Lydia – were slightly too old, but by the end of the first segment, I had no such misgivings).

The series does an excellent job of portraying the pride and prejudice of the title (traits which are in no way restricted to the two main parts).  There is a lot of humour throughout, and all of the characters are well drawn.

The rest of the main cast consisted of Crispin Bonham-Carter, who was a great choice to play Bingley, Adrian Lukis, who was the attractive but dastardly Wickham, Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet (one of the most IRRITATING characters ever written!) and Benjamin Whitford as the laid-back – possibly too much so – Mr Bennet.  Lizzie’s sisters Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia were played respectively by Susannah Harker, Lucy Briers, Polly Maberly and Julia Sawalha.  The acting was top notch throughout, and having nearly six hours to tell the story was a real benefit.  (I found this far more enjoyable than the 2005 version, partly because I believe the casting here was so much better, but also because the story in the later film suffers from being squashed into just a couple of hours.)  There was chance for various minor characters to be fleshed out, and for subplots to be explored in depth.

If you are a fan of the book, and are looking for a well acted adaptation, I think you could hardly do better than to start here.  Well worth watching – and rewatching!

Year of release: 1995

Director: Simon Langton

Producers: Michael Wearing, Sue Birtwistle, Julie Scott

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle, Susannah Harker, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Adrian Lukis, Julia Sawalha, Alison Steadman, Benjamin Whitrow, David Bamber

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 2005 film adaptation.

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This film, based on a Noel Coward play, stars Julie Andrews, as Lady Felicity Marshwood, who is upset to learn that her son, Lord Nigel (Edward Atterton) is engaged to be married to Hollywood film star Miranda Frayle (Jeanne Tripplehorn).  However, the situation soon becomes even more complicated when Nigel plans to bring Miranda to meet his aristocratic family, only for the family’s maid Moxie (Sophie Thompson), to announce that Miranda is in fact her sister!  Throw in Miranda’s co-star and former lover Don Lucas (William Baldwin) who is coming to England to try and stop the marriage, and Colin Firth and Stephen Fry as respectively Nigel’s cousin Peter, and the family butler Crestwell, and the stage is set for a fine comedy!

I loved this film – it did remind me somewhat of another Noel Coward adaptation – Easy Virtue, which like Relative Values, also starred Colin Firth, and which also featured the son of an upper-crust English family bringing his vivacious American girlfriend to meet his relatives, but the films play out quite differently (I loved easy Virtue too).

All the cast were excellent – in particular, Thompson, Andrews and Firth.  Stephen Fry was playing a role which could have been written for him, and although he is one of the supporting rather than main cast members, he certainly makes the most of his screen time.  Baldwin is also very funny as the often drunk Lucas, who throws a spanner in the works of Miranda’s plan to transform herself from a starlet to a Lady of the Manor.  And Moxie, who is transformed from a maid, into a wealthy family friend (so that Miranda won’t recognise her) is the centre of one of the funniest scenes, when Moxie gets drunk to try and overcome her fear at meeting her sister who she hasn’t seen for some 20 years.  Colin Firth is just adorable as Peter – it could have been a nothing role in the wrong actor’s hands, but Firth is perfect.

The plot itself is rather daft – why didn’t they just tell Miranda that her sister was working for the family, rather than try and cover up the fact (and surely Miranda would have recognised her own sister!), but I think that it’s just something that you need to go with, accept, and enjoy.  Overall, this was a very funny and hugely delightful film.  At just under one and a half hours, it never gets boring, the cast is top-notch, and I would certainly recommend it.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Eric Styles

Producers: Steve Christian, Alex Harakis, Chris Harris, Fabio Chino Quaradeghini, Francesca Barra, Maud Nadler, Alex Swan, Christopher Milburn, Paul Rattigan, Michael Walker

Writers: Noel Coward (play), Paul Rattigan, Michael Walker

Main cast: Julie Andrews, Sophie Thompson, Colin Firth, William Baldwin, Edward Atterton, Stephen Fry, Jeanne Tripplehorn

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This film from 1998 won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench). It’s a completely fictionalised account of Shakespeare’s (Joseph Fiennes) problem with writer’s block, while he was writing Romeo and Juliet, and how he overcomes such difficulties (but creates more problems for himself) when he falls in love with Viola De Lessups (Paltrow), who is betrothed to the evil Lord Wessex (Colin Firth).

I expected to really love this film – after all, it’s historical fiction, based on William Shakespeare and has an undeniably excellent cast – but I think I went in with my expections set a little too high, as I enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped. I cannot criticise any of the cast – Fiennes is great as Shakespeare, Paltrow is great as Viola, and Judi Dench is simply terrific as Queen Elizabeth I. Firth is his usual excellent self, camping it up as the stupid and obsequieous Wessex. Martin Clues, Geoffrey Rush and Simon Callow also lend great support (Rush was nominated for an Oscar), and Ben Affleck also popped up unexpectedly. It might seem as though he was out of place in a British historical comedy, but he was clearly happy to send himself up, and fitted right in.

It does have plenty of laughs, and also a couple of genuinely touching moments, and it is certainly a film I am glad I watched. However, I’m not sure that it’s one I would bother watching again; I think I prefer to see adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, rather than a film based on him writing them. All in all though, it’s a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours, and there is certainly no weak link in the cast. I would rate it at 7.5/10, as I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been perhaps 30 minutes shorter.

Year of release: 1998

Director: John Madden

Producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Julie Goldstein, Linda Bruce, Mark Cooper, Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Edward Zwick

Writers: Tom Stoppard, Marc Norman

Main cast: Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush, Colin Firth, Judi Dench, Martin Clunes, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson

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This 2008 film is based on a Noel Coward play, which perhaps explains the quick, dry wit. Set in England in the 1920s, a young man named John Whitaker (Ben Barnes) brings home his new American wife, Larita (Jessica Biel). Her forthright attitude instantly upsets his mother Veronica (Kristin Scott-Thomas) and his two sisters Marion and Hilda (Katherine Parkinson and Kimberley Nixon respectively). Only the staff, led by the butler Furber (Kris Marshall), and John’s father Jim (Colin Firth) – who is struggling to adapt to life after the horrors he witnessed fighting in World War 1 – seem to warm to Larita. Although she tries her best to fit in with the family, Veronica in particular is determined to drive her away.

What a delightful surprise this film was! I expected an amusing comedy of manners, but this was far more than just amusing – several scenes were hilarious. However, there is also some poignancy and sadness, when we see how Jim has been affected by his war time experience, and his wife Veronica, who was once a happily married woman, is now disapponted in her marriage and her life, and is upset that her son – who she hoped would take over the running of their ailing estate – plans instead to move to London with his wife.

The cast are all perfect. I’ve seen some criticism of Jessica Biel as Larita, but I thought she did just fine, and certainly looked glamorous and beautiful. Katherine Parkinson and Kimberley Nixon are both excellent, as the sisters who are never given chance to blossom. Marion is fooling herself into believing that a man Edgar (who remains unseen throughout) will marry her, and Hilda clearly has a curious and quick mind, but her curiosity is stifled by her mother. Ben Barnes is terrific as the young bridegroom, but I really disliked his character – he was just such a wimp!!

Kristin Scott Thomas was reliably wonderful in her role, which is the type of part she excels at – icy cool, with tension simmering just below the surface. However, the real acting honours in this film must surely go to Colin Firth. This is actually my favourite of all the roles I have seen him in. He simply steals the show as Jim, who sees past the superficiality of his family life, and the false front which they put on to other people. He makes an effort to connect with Larita, and his standing up for her on several occasions clearly irritates his family.

There are too many great scenes to pick just one, but a couple of stand-out moments are the tango scene (and I’m giving away nothing more than that, except to say that I punched the air with delight), and the scene where Larita finds her own way of joining the hunt – at Veronica’s insistence – while still retaining her disdain at the very idea of foxhunting.

I won’t give away the ending, other than to say it was just about perfect. In fact, the whole film was just about perfect – a great comedy with a deeper message running through it. Highly recommended!

Year of release: 2008

Director: Stephan Elliott

Writers: Noel Coward (play), Stephan Elliott, Sheridan Jobbins

Main cast: Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Kris Marshall, Katherine Parkinson, Kimberley Nixon

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