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This is the story of famous lovers Abelard and Heloise, and the tragedy of their relationship.  Abelard was an intelligent but provocative philosopher, whose religious views caused contention within the church.  When he falls in love with his student Heloise, the niece of Canon Fulbert, their relationship causes further scandal, and steps are taken not only to keep them apart, but to take revenge on Abelard.

I thought this was a fabulous production, by the English Touring Theatre (and which was originally performed at Shakespeare’s Globe).  As well as telling the love story of Abelard and Heloise, it also provided debate about the Bible, and religious and philosophical beliefs at the time, putting Abelard (played by the appropriately charismatic David Sturzaker) squarely at odds with the Monk Bernard of Clairvaux (a superb Sam Crane).  The play required the audience’s concentration and full attention, but we were extremely well rewarded for it!  Jo Herbert also was great as Heloise, capturing her independent spirit and fierce intelligence.

The rest of the cast included Edward Peel as Fulbret (Heloise’s uncle), Rhiannon Oliver as Denise (Abelard’s sister), Julius D’Silva (King Louis VI), John Cummins and William Mannering as Alberic and Lotholf respectively (who provided much of the comic relief of the show).  They were – as well as the rest of the cast – excellent, without a single weak link.

There are emotions aplenty in this production – shock, grief, and surprisingly lots of humour.  The simple but effective scary stage set perfectly set the scene for the unfolding drama, and there was some lovely music provided by William Lyons, Rebecca Austen-Brown and Arngeir Hauksson, who remained on stage, sitting above the action throughout.

With a superb cast, and an utterly compelling story, this is a production that deserves to be seen.  Eternal Love is currently on tour in the UK, and if you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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I can’t emphasise this enough – if you are wondering what DID happen six months after the events of the preceding film Before Sunrise, and whether or not Jesse and Celine did meet up as planned, then DO NOT read this review until after watching this film.  It is pretty impossible to review this film without talking about what happened in the nine years between events of Before Sunrise and events of Before Sunset.

So as mentioned, Before Sunset takes place nine years after Before Sunrise (both in the story, and in real life; the first film was made in 1995, and this was made in 2004).  In Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine meet on a train in Europe, and end up spending the evening together, walking around Vienna, discussing everything they can think of, and gradually falling in love.  At the end of the film they decide to meet again in six months, at the train station in Vienna.

The sequel is set in Paris, and starts with Jesse, who is now a published author, having written a novel about an American boy and a French girl who meet on a train and spend a night together in Vienna – sound familiar? – giving an interview in the Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop.  (Note: This is a REAL bookshop in Paris.  I have visited there, and would recommend…in fact insist…that if you are a book lover and are ever in Paris, you MUST visit this shop.  Really.  It’s incredible – you literally spend all day there, reading, browsing, shopping, talking.)  Anyway, at the end of the interview, he looks up and sees Celine in the shop.  They decide to spend the time before Jesse’s flight home, walking around Paris, and catching up – because, as it transpires, they did not meet up as planned six months after meeting on the train.  It’s clear that there is still a connection and an attraction between the two, but with Jesse now married with a child, things are not as simple as they were nine years earlier.

I loved Before Sunrise, but I definitely preferred Before Sunset.  It’s a sadder film in a way – both characters are older and wiser; they have both been bruised by life, and have realised that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect them to.  Jesse is in a loveless marriage, and Celine has been in a number of unfulfilling relationships.  They have lost hope to some extent, that life will always be good in the end.  Both of them regret not meeting up when they had arranged to (it is quickly revealed that Jesse did go to the meeting place, but Celine couldn’t as her grandmother died a few days earlier, and she was at her grandmother’s funeral).  In fact, life’s disappointments seem positively etched on Jesse’s face.  It has to be said that Ethan Hawke does not look well here because he’s just so scrawny, but somehow that fits his character who is disillusioned with his life, and cannot forget the beautiful French girl he met years before.  But for all that, there is optimism too.  As Jesse says, his problems are much bigger now than before, but he is better equipped to deal with them.  Celine is harder, more brittle, but still vulnerable and emotional.

As in Before Sunrise, the acting is wonderful.  There are other people in the film, but for the vast majority of it, it’s just Hawke and Delphy exploring Paris, and talking, reconnecting.  It plays out almost in real time (the film is just 80 minutes long, as Jesse has about that much time before he has to leave to catch a flight home), and the conversation seems so natural.  It was scripted, but it feels unscripted.  And very real and believable.

And of course, there’s Paris itself.  They don’t visit the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe for example, but instead go to perhaps lesser known places – after all Celine lives there, and Jesse isn’t really interested in sight-seeing, and it really works.  It still shows Paris off as the beautiful city it is, while leaving you free to concentrate on the two main characters.

The ending is again ambiguous (to me anyway – many viewers think that it is not so).  It doesn’t wrap things up in a neat package, but almost lets you decide for yourself what happens – at least until last year, when the third film, Before Midnight, came out, which again picks up their story another nine years later.

This is just a beautiful, romantic film, laced with poignancy and regret, as well as the anticipation that the two feel upon meeting each other again after having such an effect on each other.  If you like films with more talk than action, that make you really feel like you are there in the moment watching two people getting to know each other again, then I would definitely recommend this.  But watch the first one beforehand!

Year of release: 2004

Director: Richard Linklater

Producers: Richard Linklater, John Sloss, Anne Walker-McBay, Isabelle Coulet

Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delphy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delphy

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Click here for my review of Before Sunrise.

Click here for my review of Before Midnight.

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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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Emma Bau, a Polish Jew, has only been married a few weeks when the Nazis come into her home town, and life as she knows it is changed dramatically.  While her husband Jacob leaves their home to go and work for the Jewish resistance, she is forced to take on a fake name, pretend that she is not Jewish, and live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia.  When a chance arrives for her to help the resistance by working in the office of a high-ranking Nazi official, she takes it, but against all her inclinations, finds herself attracted to her boss – and the feeling is mutual.  While the devastating effects of the Nazi regime are being felt all around her, Emma (now known as Anna) must keep up the charade, and cope with her conflicting feelings.

I usually enjoy books set in the WWII, and this was no exception.  I thought it was an easy read, despite the subject matter, and events were moving quick enough that I was drawn in and always eager to find out what had happened.

The story was definitely more plot driven than character driven, and I was never sure how I actually felt about Emma/Anna on a personal level.  Nonetheless, the book does highlight the considerable risks that people took to fight back against the Nazis, and I am always slightly awed by such stories (because yes, these characters were fictional, but there were people who took such risks).  I felt that the author tried to humanise the Kommandant, for whom Emma has such unwanted feelings of attraction; he was almost – almost – likeable, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that he was a Nazi.  However, as Jacob barely featured in the book, he was also not a character about whom I could feel very much.  Krysia, on the other hand was a wonderful character – probably my favourite out of the whole book.

This aside though, I really like the book a lot, and an hour of reading it seemed to pass by in about 20 minutes!  The atmosphere of suspicion and not knowing who could really be trusted was depicted well, and I certainly felt thankful that I never lived through such times or make such decisions as Emma did.

On the basis of this book, I bought another book by Pam Jenoff (actually a prequel to this one, where more is written about the Kommandant’s first wife), and I look forward to reading it very soon.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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Richard Dreyfuss is daredevil pilot Pete Sandich, who specialises in putting out forest fires, and Holly Hunter is his girlfriend Dorinda Durston, who loves him, but worries about his safety, particularly as he shows no real caution when flying.  Pete is killed in an accident, and in the afterlife he meets an angel (for want of a better word) named Hap, played by Audrey Hepburn in her last film role.  Following her advice, he tries to help his girlfriend through her grief, and mentor novice pilot Ted Baker(!), who falls for Dorinda.

I only really wanted to watch this film for Audrey Hepburn’s appearance.  She isn’t in the film for long, but her parts are lovely, and who better than Audrey to play a serene angel?  She had largely retired from acting at this point, and died four years after this film was made, but it is a fitting role for her swan song.

The film itself was hugely enjoyable, but you will DEFINITELY need tissues, because it is a real tearjerker.  Dreyfuss and Hunter are excellent, and the relationship between Pete and Dorinda is really believable.  John Goodman provides excellent support as Pete’s friend Al, who tries to look out for Dorinda after Pete’s death.  And Brad Johnson plays Ted Baker with sympathy.  Although Pete is hearthbroken to think of Dorinda being with someone else, Johnson makes Ted such a nice guy that it’s hard not to root for  him too.

This film is a remake of A Guy Named Joe (1943), and there are also similarities with Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore film Ghost, although Always preceded Ghost.  (I mean honestly, if Unchained Melody makes you cry because of Ghost, I’m sure that Smoke Gets In Your Eyes will have the same effect after watching Always!)

Overall, this is a beautifully acted, gentle and emotional film.  As mentioned earlier, I watched it purely because of Audrey Hepburn, but it is well worth seeing on its own merits.  I definitely recommend it.

Year of release: 1989

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producers: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Richard Vane

Writers: Jerry Belson, Dalton Trumbo (screenplay ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Frederick Hazlitt Brennan (screenplay adaptation ‘A Guy Named Joe’), Chandler Sprague (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’), David Boehm (story ‘A Guy Named Joe’)

Main cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Brad Johnson, Audrey Hepburn

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This saga tells the story of the Tolliver and the Warwick families, who are two of the three founding families of the town of Howbutker in the Southern States of America.  Along with the third family, the Dumonts, they agree that if one ever offends the other, they would send a red rose to ask forgiveness.  The other family would send a white rose to say that forgiveness had been granted.  They lived alongside each other as neighbours and great friends, until in 1916, young  Mary Tolliver inherits Somerset, their cotton plantation from her father, against the wishes and expectations of her mother and brother.  A rift develops, and matters are made worse when Mary turns down the proposal of handsome Percy Warwick, the timber magnate.  The scene is set for a story that will have consequences for all  families concerned, and for their future generations.

This book was obviously influenced by Gone With The Wind (a precocious Southern belle, who is determined to save her family’s cotton farm at any cost), but it has its own story to tell.  It relates events from three points of view, and only by reading all of them, does the whole picture become clear.

I enjoyed every page of the book – the story had plenty of twists and a few shocks, and I thought it brought the periods described into clear focus.  I liked most of the characters; Mary (like Scarlett O’Hara before her) was not always easy to warm to, but the book did a good job of explaining things from her perspective.

The writing flowed beautifully, even if it had an occasional tendency to get ‘flowery’ and it was one of those books where I kept thinking, “I’ll read just a few more pages.”  I liked the earlier parts of the story – those set in the 1920s and 1930s, more than the modern(ish) section, which showed how the events of years earlier were still reverberating down through the decades.  Nonetheless, the last part did round things off very well.

Although this is quite a big book at more than 600 pages, it didn’t feel like a long read.  I would recommend it, and will look out for more by Leila Meacham.

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This film spawned two sequels, the most famous of which was An Affair To Remember  (1957) which starred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and which, like Love Affair, was directed by Leo McCarey..  This original version stars Charles Boyer as French playboy Michel Marnet, and Irene Dunne as Terry MacKay.  They meet on board a cruise ship and fall in love, although both are engaged to other people.  Michel and Terry make a pact that they will meet at the Empire State Building in six months, if they both still want to pursue a relationship.  However, tragedy strikes on the day they are due to meet.

Given that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are two of my favourite stars, I didn’t think that this film could match up to it’s better known (thanks to being heavily referenced in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle) remake.  But, while I enjoyed An Affair To Remember a lot, I thought that Love Affair was the better film, and definitely the more moving of the two.  The reason for this (to me anyway) was because of the two outstanding performances of Boyer and Dunne – both of them are able to convey so much emotion with just one look or one small gesture.  Additionally the chemistry between them is almost palpable, and I felt as though I could actually see them falling in love during the cruise.

The film has its comedic moments, but is far more of a romance – and my goodness, it ticks all the boxes in that area!  It had me sobbing at the end, and immediately wanting to watch the whole film again.  Truly lovely, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1939

Director: Leo McCarey

Producer: Leo McCarey

Writers: Leo McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, S.N. Behrman

Main cast: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya

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