Friday, January 28, 2011

'The King's Speech'

28 January 2011

A couple of years ago I heard a really good BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play about King George VI working with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue to conquer his stammer ahead of a live broadcast. I was intrigued to learn that this story was to be filmed and last weekend we went to see ‘The King’s Speech’. Tom Hooper’s film broadens the tale to encompass the abdication crisis and the outbreak of war. Colin Firth rightly deserves all the plaudits he is receiving for his performance as the King, Helena Bonham-Carter is great as Queen Elizabeth and Geoffrey Rush is very funny as Logue – I particularly enjoyed his audition for a local amateur theatre group – “too Australian” (which is all the more amusing as we then see Australian Guy Pearce playing Edward VIII). ‘The King’s Speech’ is one of those films where you can have lots of fun just spotting the well-known British actors in minor roles. It was lovely to see an all-too-rare appearance by Colin Firth’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ co-star, Jennifer Ehle (here playing the Australian Mrs Logue). It’s a very enjoyable film which manages to be gripping even though you know what’s going to happen. Historically fascinating, emotionally engaging and often extremely funny – bring on the Oscars!


Friday, January 21, 2011

'Music Planet'

21 January 2011

It’s great to hear Andy Kershaw back on the radio after a long absence, co-presenting the Radio 3 series ‘Music Planet’ – a parallel project to the BBC 1 series ‘Human Planet’. In last week’s opener Andy was shark fishing in Papua New Guinea and dropped in on the Deep Sea Canoe Movement in the Solomon Islands who have been singing gospel music as an act of ‘continuity worship’ 24 hours a day (in 3-hour shifts) since 2006. Great radio journalism and great music – make your way to iplayer and turn up the volume!

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Friday, January 14, 2011

'We Are All Made of Glue' by Marina Lewycka

14 January 2011

I really enjoyed Marina Lewycka’s debut novel ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ (reviewed here in April 2006) and I had been looking forward to reading her latest book ‘We Are All Made of Glue’. It’s great fun – a similar contemporary domestic setting, easy to read with a cast of entertainingly comic characters (and cats!) who are all too believable. The setting and tone reminded me of David Lodge or Anne Tyler and Marina Lewycka has a similar ability to weave serious themes into an apparently light comic novel. In ‘We Are All Made of Glue’ the cartoon battles that the first person narrator, Georgina, wages with social services and estate agents on behalf of her elderly neighbour, Mrs Shapiro, form the backdrop for a much darker tale about battles between Jews and Palestinians and the impending apocalyptic end of the world.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1'

7 January 2011

A trip to the cinema over Christmas to see the new Harry Potter film has very quickly become such a seasonal fixture that, as with the Doctor Who Christmas special, it's hard to remember what we used to do before. In the case of the Harry Potter films we will soon be forced to remember but we enjoyed going to see the penultimate episode 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1' last week. "These are dark times, there is no denying" but there's little sign of austerity in this blockbuster. As I felt when reading the book (reviewed here in August 2007), freed from the formulaic strictures of another school year at Hogwarts, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' is a thrillingly unpredictable ride. It felt like a more grown-up film and was often genuinely scary. I'm not sure whether you would be able to follow the incredibly complex plot if you were unfamiliar with the books but this has been a problem for all the HP films. This one feels like Emma Watson's movie with Hermione really coming of age - though, once again, in a few brief scenes Evanna Lynch's Luna Lovegood threatens to steal the show. The adult supporting cast is a veritable Equity directory of British acting talent: it's now much easier to name the prominent British actors who are not involved. And it's an amazing testament to the financial clout of the franchise to see how many really big name stars make incredibly fleeting, often wordless cameos: Miranda Richardson appears once in a newspaper photograph (albeit a moving one). Interesting also to see Bill Nighy doing a Welsh accent and Rhys Ifans doing an Irish accent. But as with the previous films it is to the director's credit (David Yates in this case) that the adults play second fiddle to the young leads. Any film which sets out to tell half a story feels a little unsatisfying but I felt this was one of the best of the HP series and I'm looking forward to the final instalment.