Film Review: THE BOOKSHOP (Spain/UK 2017) ***

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The Bookshop Poster

England 1959. In a small East Anglian town, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.


Isabel Coixet


Isabel Coixet (screenplay), Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)


The underdog trying to keep his or her land against insurmountable odds like high authority and the government has been a solid premise for films.  Two routes may be taken – the comedy or drama.  One of the most successful Australian films THE CASTLE saw a country bumpkin fighting to keep his house (a castle is a man’s home) from being taken way to build an airport runway.  In best selling novel adapted into the film THE BOOKSHOP, a widowed woman attempts to fulfil her dreams be opening a bookshop in a small English town which the town wants to take away from her.

Though looking quite the ordinary film Isabel Coixtet’s THE BOOKSHOP , based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel arrives in Toronto of a special engagement run after winning 3 prestigious Goya Awards including Best Film and Best Director. Director Coixtet is Spanish.  The film stars Patricia Clarkson as the ‘baddie’ who has previously worked with Coixtet in LEARNING TO DRIVE as well as stars Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy.

This is the second British film this year to tout reading books in a period setting, the other being the yet to be released Mike Newell’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY.  Both films involve the rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.

The setting is England, 1959.  Free-spirited widow Florence Green aka Mrs. Green (Emily Mortimer) risks everything to open a bookshop in a conservative East Anglian coastal town.  While bringing about a surprising cultural awakening through works by Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov (who wrote the controversial LOLITA which Mrs. Green intends to promote and sell in the bookshop), she earns the polite but ruthless opposition of a local grand dame (Patricia Clarkson) and the support and affection of a reclusive book loving widower (Bill Nighy).   As Florence’s obstacles amass and bear suspicious signs of a local power struggle, she is forced to ask: is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?   

Coixtet’s film unfolds at such a leisurely pace, it might turn out too slow for some audiences (just as people might nod off during reading a book, as one character in the film says). .  She spends a good third of the film introducing the film’s main characters.  Clarkson is only seen for a few minutes during the first half the the film and Nighy only speaks after a third of the film.  

Based on a book by a female author and directed and starring a female, the film naturally extols female independence.  Unfortunately, the film falls into the familiar trap of containing weak or dislikable male characters, the exception being the Bill Nighy character despite revealed of a timid nature.   All other male characters like the General (the grand dame’s husband), Mr. North and Mr’s Green’s solicitor are all spineless detestable beings.

THE BOOKSHOP opens Aug 24th, but being British and already released n Europe, is also readily available on disks through Amazon and other similar platforms.


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Film Review: THEIR FINEST (UK 2016) ****

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their_finest.jpgDirector: Lone Scherfig
Writers: Gaby Chiappe (screenplay), Lissa Evans (novel)
Stars: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Danish director Lorne Scherfig broke into the international film scene with his first film ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS and has continued to impress both audiences and critics alike with films like THE RIOT CLUB and AN EDUCATION, these two films demonstrating his flexibility in his subjects. His latest is again a grand piece of fine filmmaking, a period piece that celebrates the role of women (seldom seen in the war genre) during the Second World War.

The film based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans and written by Gaby Chiappe puts the female into the picture. The main protagonist is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton star of films like ORPHAN and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS), a “slop” scriptwriter, charged with bringing a female perspective to war films produced by the British Ministry of Information’s Film Division. Slop is the degrading term given for ‘women’s talk’. Her current project is a feature inspired by stories of British civilians rescuing soldiers after the retreat at Dunkirk. Catrin’s artist husband (Jack Huston) looks down on her job, despite the fact that it is paying the rent. At least lead scenarist Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), who at first pokes fun at the female effort appreciates her contribution.

There is one great dialogue in the film that celebrates the romanticism of movies. “In war, some do not come back home at all. Some come back heroes and some do not come back as heroes. The film that is to be made must make it worth the audience’s time to sit through it.” These are the words that are used to inspire the making of this otherwise propaganda film that would eventually turn the lives of many a British citizen. The film is used to create patriotism to send the men to fight in battle and the women to work in the factories manufacturing ammunition and weapons.

Performances are all impressive all round, led by both Bill Nighy as a pompous past his prime actor who is never afraid of showing off and Gemma Arteton in the title role. Jeremy Irons in a cameo (praising the power of the dramatic arts) deserves mention in one of the film’s funniest segments.
Besides the lovely period detail of the costumes and sets, the look of war-torn Britain is also magnificently created – reminiscent of the best of war films like John Boorman’s HOPE AND GLORY and Guy Hamilton’s BATTLE OF BRITAIN. The film in a film is to be shot in Devon, Devon standing in for Dunkirk where the film in the film is set.

One great and memorable British propaganda films is Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1942 effort WENT THE DAY WELL? (one of my favourite films of all time) where British housewives discover their village invaded by German paratroopers posing as English soldiers. The Brits must have put in quite the effort in their propaganda films. THEIR FINEST is also really funny in may parts, making the drama totally entertaining for both sexes despite the female slant.



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