Film Review: RED JOAN (UK 2018)

Red Joan Poster
Trailer

The story of Joan Stanley, who was exposed as the KGB’s longest-serving British spy.

Director:

Trevor Nunn

RED JOAN (based on the real life Melita Norwood) is inspired by true events, but what is true and what is fictionalized are never made clear in the movie.  The fact allows the script by Lindsay Shapiro to take certain liberties with the story.  The romantic element is strengthened as well as the main character’s reasoning for her actions.  “No other atomic bombs have been dropped, have they?” Red Joan insists, implying her spying allowed two countries to be able to scare each other instead of using the bomb if only one country had one.  This again is a one-sided argument subject to debate.

The film opens in the year 2000 where an unsuspecting Joan Stanley (Dench), then living a quiet retirement in suburban London is arrested by MI5.  She is charged with treason as being a spy leaking atomic secrets to the Russians.

The story flashbacks into the past with a teenage Joan attending Cambridge University.  Her chance meeting with a communist (Tereza Srnova) leads her to meet her cousin Leo (Tom Hughes).  Leo and Joan begin an affair till he asks her for atomic secrets.  Joan has a first class degree in Physics which gives her employment and contact with her lab mentor, Max Davis (Stephen Campbell Moore) who designs the atomic bomb.  Joan also has an affair with the then married Max.  Torn between her love for Leo (who wants her to betray the project’s secrets) and her growing love for her lab mentor (Stephen Campbell Moore), Joan must make a decision of what she thinks is right for her country.  

The script and film put Joan on a high pedestal of doing what is right.  Even her lawyer son is on her side, defending her at the end, though it is thoroughly unconvincingly why he has changed his mind as he had initially spurned his mother’s act.  “Is anything you ever told me ever true?”  he questions her at one point.  The answer to an important question is also left out.  A reporter asks Joan on the day of her arrest, “How much did the Russians pay you?”   She as the film does deliberately ignore the question.  It is apparent that the film wants the audience to take her side, which is a difficult task to achieve, given that she has allegedly continued to spy for at least 40 years.

The two important questions left unanswered are whether she received monetary gain for her deed and whether she had leaked other information besides the atomic bomb, which makes her argument false.  The fact that the government never prosecuted her due to her old age of 90, (she passed away a few years after) means the truth never fully came out.

Dench has done this kind of role before – that of an old lady where her past catches up on her, as in Stephen Frear’s PHILOMENA, the much better film.  Both films also featured a different actress to play the younger Dench character, as Sophie Cookson plays, who does a fair job at that.  But Dench does not get to do much here but to sulk and look guilty.  Dench performs better when she plays a headstrong character as in PHILOMENA or as M in the James Bond films.

RED JOAN is a muddled romantic espionage story based on true events that leads nowhere.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkecgBW-Y80

Film Review: NOTHING LIKE A DAME (UK 2018) ***1/2

Tea with the Dames Poster
Trailer

Dames Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith have let the cameras in on a friendship that goes back more than half a century. The four acting greats discuss their …See full summary »

Director:

Roger Michell

NOTHING LIKE A DAME follows four grand British dames of the cinema and theatre as they sit back and have tea.  It is a unique and rare opportunity to enter into their presence and share their esteemed company.  Director Michell captures the intimacy of the situation.  The four dames discuss the highs and lows of heir careers, their romances and as well as their advice on life.

The four dames are Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith.

Director Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL) takes his audience into the setting of a rural cottage in England that Plowright built with her late husband, Sir Laurence Olivier, the legendary actor.  The four sit outside in the garden or inside in the kitchen or dining room often drinking tea. Or sipping champagne.  

A fair warning that the film is clearly British-bound – which means that unless you have a fair knowledge or at least interest in British fare, NOTHING LIKE A DAME might be a complete bore – like a visitor in uncomfortable company.

For the rest, there are lots to enjoy especially from the presented archive footage of plays performed at the National Theatre, London to old movies that feature the four dames in their younger days.

Director Michell resists the temptation of using the Roger and Hammerstein song “Nothing Like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC.  The soundtrack often heard instead is the haunting and nostalgic theme composed by Nino Rota for Federico Fellini’s AMARCORD.   The score is at once immediately recognizable to cineastes and an appropriate one at that, as AMACORD means I REMEMBER.  The film is wholly made up of the memories of the four women.

Michell poses interview questions to the four, heard quietly, as if under his breath.  One involves the experiences of working with ones husband.  Their funny retort: “Which one?”  The clear one comes to mind is Sir Laurence Olivier married to Joan Plowright.  There is a clip from their movie together THE ENTERTAINER in which Plowright plays oddly enough, Olivier’s daughter.  Maggie Smith also talks about working with Olivier in OTHELLO with a clip of the film shown to illustrate the incident.  Also included is the famous scene of Smith kissing her husband who plays her lover in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

It is on a humbling note that none of them consider themselves as great beauties  They each laugh at never been seriously considered beautiful enough to win the role of Cleopatra.  They claim only to be laughed at when they mentioned the fact to their friends.  Dench herself says that she is too short while Atkins claims that she was never considered a great beauty, nit even by her father.

Near the end of the film, each offer wise words on life.  Atkins talks about being more even tempered and never to get angry while the others talk above the importance of love and the coordinated use of the brain with the body.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7363336/videoplayer/vi1185397529?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1

Full Review: VICTORIA AND ABDUL (UK 2017) ***

Victoria and Abdul Poster
Trailer

Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

Director:

Stephen Frears

Writers:

Lee Hall (screenplay), Shrabani Basu (based on the book by)

Stars:

Judi DenchOlivia WilliamsMichael Gambon

Director Stephen Frears has made great controversial films like SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID, THE SNAPPER and MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE.  He has also made films about royalty before, like THE QUEEN and also sentimental slush like PHILOMENA, with Judi Dench.  VICTORIA AND ABDUL a film about Queen Victoria (Oscar Winner Judi Dench) and her Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) contains a cocktail of all the elements of the films mentioned above.  The result, as expected as a mediocre Jack of all Trades Master of None film, which shines but only occasionally.

 

The film chronicles with humour and insight the friendship between Queen Victoria and a decades-younger Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.  Karim has been summoned because of his height to present in England all the way from Agar, India the colonized homeland, a present.   The present is satirically, a ceremonial coin on behalf of British India to the Queen as a part of her Golden Jubilee in 1887,  Abdul with another travel for the intimidating task. 

 

Abdul has done what is forbidden during the ceremony.  He makes eye contact with the Queen who finds him handsome.  In no time he is cooking her curries, talking to her about his culture, and being elevated to the post of official clerk, or Munshi, becoming an indispensable part of the household — and state.

 

This is where trouble boils.  The Queen’s son, Bertie and the household take offence that this ‘coloured’ lowly servant is treated royally.  The ultimatum comes when the Queen decides to knight Abdul in order to have her household respect him.  The opposite occur.  The household threaten to resign if Karim is knighted.  This is where the Queen uses her brain and oratory to win the day.  Frears uses the incident to make a statement about the refugee crisis and racial prejudice.  The film’s best segment occurs here when the Queen chides her entire household with a speech that put them to shame.  This is a Dench’s award winning performance.

 

Frears’ assessment of Britain and royalty remains respectful.  The Queen at one point remarks: “A lot of people around the world hate me.”  Abdul says of the British as uncivilized on the ship en-route to England for the first time: “They put it’s blood in their sausages and eat sheep’s brains.”  The first words heard by Abdul on landing: “Welcome to Civilization!”

 

Queen Victoria is revealed in the film with all her grandeur (her robe and servants) but also with all her faults and her ageing process.  When she is first seen in the film, her face is not shown, but her body covered in white (like a shroud) in bed with snoring heard.  She also claims herself to be and shown as well as cankerous, ill-tempered, fat but also one that has held five generations of household and mother of many children and grandchildren.  “I am the Queen of England and the Emperor of India,” she claims proudly.

 

VICTORIA AND ABDUL is Frears’ mediocre film which is tolerant of everything and offends no one.  These kind of films are often humorous, handsomely mounted, well acted but unfortunately forgetful. 

 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT2Ph_9bGPs

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: VICTORIA AND ABDUL (UK 2017)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Victoria and Abdul Poster
Trailer

2:29 | Trailer
Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

Director:

Stephen Frears

Writers:

Lee Hall (screenplay), Shrabani Basu (based on the book by)

Stars:

Judi DenchOlivia WilliamsMichael Gambon

VICTORIA AND ABDUL chronicles with humour and insight the friendship between Queen Victoria (Oscar Winner Judi Dench) and a decades-younger Indian clerk named Abdul Karim. Karim has been summoned because of his height to present a ceremonial coin on behalf of British India to the Queen as a part of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. Abdul has done what is forbidden during the ceremony.

He makes eye contact with the Queen who finds him handsome. In no time he is cooking her curries, talking to her about his culture, and being elevated to the post of official clerk, or Munshi, becoming an indispensable part of the household — and state.

Frears’ assessment of Britain and royalty remain respectful. Queen Victoria is revealed in the film with all her grandeur (her royal attire and servants) but also with all her faults and her ageing process. She also claims herself to be and shown as well as cankerous, ill-tempered, fat but also one that has held five generations of household and mother of many children and grandchildren.

VICTORIA AND ABDUL is Frears’ mediocre film which is tolerant of everything and offends no one. These kind of films are often humorous, handsomely mounted, well acted but unfortunately forgetful.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT2Ph_9bGPs
 

VICTORIA AND ABDUL