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This film is very loosely based on the life of Jane Austen, prior to her becoming a successful author.  Jane (Anne Hathaway), whose mother wants her to marry a rich man, meets and falls for penniless lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).  Their relationship inspires her writing, and in particular, her novel Pride and Prejudice (called here by its original title of First Impressions).

If you are looking for a biography of Jane Austen, this film is not it.  In fact, the real Jane only referred to Tom Lefroy in a couple of letters to her older sister Cassandra, so this film merely seems to take that as a jumping off point, from which to create a love story.  The subject of the story could just as easily have been a fictional character, but I imagine that to make it about Jane Austen drew in fans of the author (it’s what made me want to watch it).

Although it received quite bad reviews, I did enjoy the film for what it was.  Anne Hathaway is an unusual choice to play Jane Austen, but I thought she did well, and her accent was convincing; had I not known that she is American, I would have believed she was English based on this film.  James McAvoy was also very good as Tom Lefroy, and I thought the two of them had good chemistry.  The supporting cast consists of several well known names, including Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell and Anna Maxwell Martin – unfortunately all of them were somewhat under-used, but made the most of their parts.

I found it interesting that the first part of the film mirrored somewhat the plot of Pride and Prejudice – a headstrong and intelligent girl is determined to marry for love, while her mother implores her to marry a rich man, who can support her and her family.  Indeed, Jane is portrayed very much as a Lizzie Bennet type character, and there were also some witty lines and comic scenes.

The second part of the film is more dramatic, and anyone who knows much about Jane Austen’s life, will know whether or not the romance with Lefroy works out.  I thought the ending was a bit too long, and the film could have ended about 30 minutes earlier, but all the same, it tied up all the loose ends nicely.

Overall, an enjoyable film – if you are a Jane Austen fan, approach with caution and be aware that it is very much an imagined version of this part of Jane’s life, but if you are okay with that, then give it a watch.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Julian Jarrold

Producers: Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Nicole Finnan, Tim Haslam, Joanna Anderson, Robert Bernstein, Graham Broadbent, Noelette Buckley, James Flynn, Morgan O’Sullivan, Douglas Rae, James Saynor

Writers: Jane Austen (letters), Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams

Main cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Joe Anderson

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The Artist was a triumph at the 2012 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars, including Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  It perhaps was not an obvious candidate for success, being a black and white silent movie.  Or maybe that was part of the charm….either way, it was a deserving winner, for showing that excellent films do not always require huge budgets – this was comparatively cheap to make, but provided top-notch entertainment!

The film starts in 1927, and Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a hugely popular silent movie star.  Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, a young starlet, just starting out in the movies, who meets Valentin and stars with him briefly in one film.  Two years later, and talking films are the new craze, while Valentin is seen as a has-been.  Meanwhile, Peppy is finding ever more success in the movie industry.  As Valentin falls on hard times, he grows depressed and bitter.  But there may be someone who can help him….

Sometimes when films are a novelty of sorts – which a black and white silent film certainly is these days – once the novelty has worn off, there is not much underneath.  I’m happy to say that I did not think this was the case whatsoever in this film.  Dujardin and Bejo both sparkle in their roles, and have great chemistry and charisma.  Peppy (by name and by nature) is adorable, but in the hands of a lesser actress, could easily have just been annoying.  Dujardin perfectly captures the fall from grace of George Valentin – adored and revered at first, but he soon becomes yesterday’s news, and he really struggles to cope.  And of course, his beloved and loyal dog Uggy, is just adorable!

I did find it quite a strange experience watching a film with no dialogue – it’s just not something that we are used to today, where often snappy and witty dialogue is required.  However, The Artist illustrates that you can tell a charming story without speaking – the expressions and movements of the actors, together with the sets, tell the story perfectly.

There are shades of Singin’ In The Rain in this film, dealing as it does with a similar theme – that of talking movies causing problems for silent actors.  In fact, in some scenes, Dujardin really does resemble Gene Kelly, and while I don’t know for sure, I am sure that some scenes were a direct nod to the Kelly classic.

Anyway, it’s the kind of film that I think needs to be seen to be appreciated.  I would certainly recommend it, and have no doubt that I will be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Producer: Antoine de Cazotte, Daniel Delume, Richard Middleton, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jeremy Burdek, Nadia Khamlichi, Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn, Jean Dujardin

Writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Main cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell

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This is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name.  It stars Michael Clarke Duncan in his most famous and memorable role as John Coffey, a child inside a huge man’s body, who comes to death row in 1935 (1932 in the book) having been found guilty of raping and murdering two young girls.  Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, the chief warden on the wing, who sees the apparent healing power that Coffey has, and starts to doubt whether he is in fact guilty of the crime with which he has been charged.

To say more about the plot would probably be to give too much away – this is really a film which people should discover for themselves.  However, if you are familiar with the book, you will find that this is a very faithful adaptation of it.  At just over three hours long, I put off watching this film for a long time; I often struggle to concentrate with films that are two hours or more – but The Green Mile did not feel long at all.  Every minute was essential to the telling of the story, and the time flew by.

Tom Hanks was already a double Oscar winner when he made this film, and he is excellent here.  However, he is also generous, and lets the talent of the rest of the cast shine through.  It’s unusual to find a film where every single cast member is truly excellent, but that is what we have here.  David Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn play Edgecomb’s colleagues.  They are also his friends, and like him, are compassionate and not always comfortable with the job they have to do.  Doug Hutchison was perfectly cast as Whetmore, a prison guard with a cold streak of nastiness running through him.  Michael Jeter and Sam Rockwell play two very different prisoners on death row – the first, Eduard Delacroix (Jeter) despite whatever (unspecified) crime he did to end up on death row, is a mild-mannered man, trying to make the best of his situation; the second Wild Bill Wharton (Rockwell, in a blisteringly good performance) is pure evil.  But the real acting plaudits must surely go to Michael Clarke Duncan for his measured, and, frankly heartbreaking turn as John Coffey.  Rarely do I cry so much at films, but Duncan’s acting was just so utterly believable and powerful that I found myself absolutely sobbing.  How on earth he did not get the Oscar for this role, I will never be able to understand.

The story, despite the aforementioned length, is compelling throughout.  I would recommend having handkerchiefs at the ready, because this film will make you cry – but it absolutely is a ‘must-see’ movie.  A deeply moving story, with excellent performances from all involved.  Just superb.

Year of release: 1999

Director: Frank Darabont

Producers: Frank Darabont, David Valdes

Writers: Stephen King (book), Frank Darabont

Main cast: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter, James Cromwell Bonnie Hunt

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Click here for my review of the novel.

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