Film Review: MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (USA/UK 2018) ***1/2

Mary Queen of Scots Poster
Trailer

Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

Director:

Josie Rourke

Writers:

Beau Willimon (screenplay by), John Guy (based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” by)

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS is yet another historical drama made on Queen Mary this time around, updated with strong feminine content and with more openness regarding sexual orientation.  The film is directed by Josie Rourke and adapted by Beau Willimon based on John Guy’s biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots.

The centre of the story is the 1569 conflict between their two countries and the two queens Mary (Saorise Ronan) and Elizabeth of England (Margot Robbie).

Both ladies Ronan and Robbie deliver outstanding Oscar worthy performances that keep the film an intense drama.  Ronan has matured from playing teen characters as in ATONEMENT,  LADY BIRD, BROOKLYN and HANNAH.  Her Irish accent still comes across in her dialogue causing a slight distraction.  Their confrontation scene is the highlight of the movie, though it was believed the two never met in person.  The excuse: “No one must know that we have met together,” as on queen says in confidence to another.

The film updates the feminist movement with Mary insisting that no male shall tell her or Elizabeth what to do.  Mary is always shown in control, especially over her often drunken husband, Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden).  The film also shows Mary not only a strong individual and queen but a determined and always correct one in her decisions.  It helps that the film is directed by a woman.

Though the film contains a few battle scenes, this is not an action picture.  In fact, it is a strong female film, but one of those rare films that can also be enjoyed by both sexes.  In one moving scene a humble male subject confesses that he would gladly lay down his life for his queen.  Mary replies that in heaven, all will be equal.  Action is substituted by high royal drama, as the too queens plan the future of their Kingdoms.  Queen Elizabeth is unable to bear children.  If Queen Mary bears a male boy, after married to an English protestant, her son will rule that will unite both Scotland and England.  But Mary is quick to point out that when they are both dead, it does not matter who rules.

The film is a handsome period piece that comes complete with stunning Scots landscape (cinematography by John Mathieson) and top royal costumes (especially the wardrobe of the two queens).  Elizabeth looks sufficiently nasty with her red hair as did Glenda Jackson when she played that part in the 70’s.

A brief history lesson at the end of the film explains a few facts that puts this story into historical perspective.  It is mentioned that Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (as popularized by Charles Jarrott’s film ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS) who was beheaded for not bearing the King a male child.  The film also goes on to reveal that Richard, the son of Mary eventually ruled England and Scotland while Queen Elizabeth continued her rue for 14 years.

Christmas season often seems a better quality of films, and MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, that has so far garnered positive reviews, marks a solid royal drama that I have not enjoyed since Anthony Harvey’s THE LION IN WINTER (the counterpart male royal drama).

It should be noted the film’s inaccuracies that will mislead audiences.  Historians insist that the two queens never met, were never cordial as friends and Mary never had a Scots but a French accent.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnqjSgMU36U

Film Review: ON CHESIL BEACH (UK 2018) ***

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On Chesil Beach Poster
Trailer

Based on Ian McEwan’s novel. In 1962 England, a young couple find their idyllic romance colliding with issues of sexual freedom and societal pressure, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night.

Director:

Dominic Cooke

Writers:

Ian McEwan (screenplay), Ian McEwan (novel)

 

It was back in the days when a married couple had sex for the very first time on their wedding night.  As such, sex on the wedding night for the first time is an extremely stressful experience which many a couple try without much knowledge of the sexual act.

This is not a common topic, so ON CHESIL BEACH based on the novel by British writer Ian McEwan that was selected for the 2007 Booker Prize shortlist makes a welcome premise for a film.  The Boulting Brothers’ THE FAMILY WAY with Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett and Alan J. Pakula’s THE STERILE CUCKOO with Liza Minelli and Wendell Burton are two notable films that feature newlyweds with consummation problems.  McEwan adapted disown screenplay for the film directed by theatre veteran Dominic Cooke.

ON CHESIL BEACH opens with the wedding night of a couple, Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Boyle) in the summer of 1962.  The audience learns Florence is a music undergraduate while Edward a History undergraduate at the same University.  They fall in love.  Through flashbacks, the backgrounds of the groom and bride are revealed, the former of a higher class while the latter has been described by Florence’s mother (Emily Watson) as a country bumpkin.  Still the two are very much in love.

But they fail to consummate on their wedding night.  They both eventually confess that it is their first times.  Director Cooke plays the scene with dead seriousness while the scene is interrupted by flashbacks.  When the drama finally settles back on the couple, Edward pre-ejaculates on Florence due to his excitement which her. Disgusted, Florence flees to the beach where a major confrontation occurs.  They depart after Florence suggests that they could lead a life without sex, which she prefers likening the relationship to two homosexual men she knows of in Manchester.  She claims that he could have sex with others and she not be jealous so long as they still love each other.  Edward bolts off in disgust.

Director Cooke is a 4-time Olivier Prize winning director.  His direction is meticulous, with a cinematic display of the atmosphere of the period.  His camerawork is impressive with many a stunning shot of the couple, especially arguing as ON CHESIL BEACH often with both figures in the same frame.

Ronan is excellent in the role of the frigid bride, again reprising the role of a young lady coming-of-age while disrupting the lives of those around her (as in ATONEMENT and the recent LADY BIRD).  Boyle is also quite the actor, rising in fame after DUNKIRK and the recent drama THE SEAGULL.

The only problem with Cooke’s film is its choppiness as it does not flow well from one segment to another.  It takes a while before the audience realizes the direction Cooke is taking his film.  The film’s last act, with the two, not getting on in age with prosthetics make-up should have been more moving had it transitioned more smoothly from its abrupt jump in years of the couple.

Still ON CHESIL BEACH is a handsomely crafted period love story, though never reaching the heights of the simpler Boulting Brothers’s film with the identical theme, THE FAMILY WAY,  But both very entertaining romantic dramas.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=ZR6DWDfMDlM

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Film Review: THE SEAGULL (USA 2018) ***1/2

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The Seagull Poster
Trailer

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin and her son Konstantin on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin, a …See full summary »

Director:

Michael Mayer

Writers:

Anton Chekhov (play), Stephen Karam (screenplay)

 

THE SEAGULL, Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s first of 4 plays became one of the greatest plays in the history of Russian Theatre when Konstantin Stanislavsky directed it in 1898 for his Moscow Art Theatre.  I have never read or seen Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL even though there are previous film adaptations of the play including one directed by Sidney Lumet.  So, watching the film unfold, flaws and all, is still an unforgettable experience given the strength of its source material.

The story features four main characters, Irina, her son Konstantin, her lover, Boris and the son’s love, Nina – all torn between love and art.   

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate.  On one occasion, she brings Boris Trigorin (Corely Stoll) a successful novelist and her lover. Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a free and innocent girl from a neighbouring estate who is in a relationship with Konstantin, falls in love with Boris.

The film begins with the climax of the play and returns to it after the main story folds in flashback, a tactic used by director Mayer for the film.  This is a common tactic in films to grab the audience’s attention at the start while bringing them back to the same state at a later part of the film.  The tactic often works and works in this film as well.   The brother Sorin is ill and dying while Irina visits and engages the guests in a game of ‘lotto’ a kind of bingo while something drastic takes place with her son in a back room that climaxes the story and ends the film.  But quite the drama has occurred prior to this set of affairs with lives and loves being interchanged as well as unrequited love torn away from a poor woman’s heart.  This is the stuff Chekov’s play is born of.  Included in the story is the scene where Konstantine shoot and kills an innocent seagull (the story’s metaphor) which is placed at the feet of his true love, Nina.

There are lots of unrequited love in the story, that of Irina, her son and mostly Marsha’s (Elisabeth Moss).  Irina brings to the estate the successful playwright, Boris Trigorin who falls for actress wannabe, Nina who falls for him.  It is a question of he not able to get what he wants and she not able to get what she wants while each having the quality the oner desires.  There is more irony in the artistic play that Konstantin writes that his mother makes fun of.  Besides all this fantastic Chekov writing that is incredibly brilliant the way he brings it all together, director Mayer occasionally eclipses the brilliance with his touches.  This includes, for example the scene where Konstantin makes silly ‘tweetie-bird’ faces in the mirror while his mother is desperately claiming possession in the next room, or when Kosntatntin plays the piano, the music complementing the activities going on again, in the next room.

The film, which looks fantastic (cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd) was shot on 

location at a New York State manor, using almost all natural light.  In the nighttime scenes, 95 % of what you see is actually from candle light. 

THE SEAGULL benefits greatly again from its actors, particularly its 3 main actresses Benign, Moss and Ronan.  Relative newcomer British Billy Howle proves his acting chops as well in quite the major role.  There are many reasons to see THE SEAGULL – the performances, the currently relevant tale of art and romance but especially if you are unfamiliar with this Chekhov play.

Director Mayer, who is a Tony Award Winning theatre director (SPRING AWAKENING) should do Chekhov proud with this film adaptation of THE SEAGULL.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Gc6Orz5XtI

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Film Review: LADY BIRD (USA 2017) ****

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Lady Bird Poster
Trailer

In the early 2000s, an artistically-inclined seventeen year-old comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Director:

Greta Gerwig

Writer:

Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig does an impressive job for LADY BIRD – her first solo directorial debut. Gerwig choses the coming-of-age story of an 18-year old senior student called Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) as the subject.  Lady Bird (her real name is Christine McPherson) is as annoying, spirited and independent as any teenager would be.  But Greewig’s script and Ronan’s portrayal allows the audience not to dislike her.

Lady Bird attends a catholic high school in Sacramento.  She lives with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), father (Tracy Letts) and step-brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodriguez).  She has a stormy relationship with her mother, things getting worse when she gets suspended telling off a teacher.  Her mother works extra shifts to support her, claiming that no amount of money can repay this debt.  Lady Bird has a failed relationship with Danny (Lucas Hedges) who ends up coming out gay.  She then loses her virginity to Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) who turns out to have been sleeping around.  But the key issue is that she wants to study in New York but her mother refuses as the family cannot afford it.  When her mother finds out she had applied in secret, she becomes really upset.

The film covers thoroughly a lot of the female teen issues quite well.  Lady Bird undergoes the learning process and develops her character for the better.  But it is a rough road.  She ditches her best friend, Jenny (Beanie Feldstein) and has major fights with her mother.  She makes up with Jenny going to the prom with her after ditching her prom date, Kyle.  The film’s climax has her in New York after her mother drives her to the airport, still visibly upset.

Gerwig stages well constructed and written confrontational scenes. Two of these involve  Lady Bird and her mother.  One has her asking for a number, what her mother has spent supporting her. When her mother replies no number can be put down for what she has done, Lady Bird storms out of the room.  The other has her begging her mother for forgiveness while her mother is doing the dishes, giving her the silent treatment.   Greta could have made the film funnier, but she restrains, keeping her story focuses and serious.  Gerwig shows both sides of the picture, the mother’s and the daughter’s.  They have their points of view and are strong women.

The script however, noticeably does not contain strong male characters. Kyle is an idiot, Danny is weak willed unable to accept his homosexuality.  The father suffers from depression and Miguel is not that strong a person either.

Metcalf delivers a terrific performance as the mother.  She manages to win the audience to her side and makes her point without having to resort to cheap theatrics like screaming or crying.  Ronan is equally good while Letts does well in his little written role.

Gerwig draws her audience effectively into Lady Bird’s world, opening out an exciting adventure of a family, not dysfunctional, but one that still have problems to solve.

LADY BIRD succeeds.  One would now hope to see a film made but with the male and female roles reversed – with a story of a n angry male teen learning his lessons in life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNi_HC839Wo

 

 

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Happy Birthday: Saoirse Ronan

saoirseronan.jpgHappy Birthday actor Saoirse Ronan

Born: Saoirse Una Ronan
April 12, 1994 in The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

hannaHANNA
dir. Joe Wright
Stars:
Saoirse Ronan
Cate Blanchett

City of EmberCity of Ember
2008
dir. Gil Kenan
Starring
Tim Robbins
Murray

ATONEMENTAtonement
2007
dir. Joe Wright
Starring
Knightley
James McAvoy

MOVIE POSTERKARI-GURASHI NO ARIETTI
dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Stars:
Bridgit Mendler
Amy Poehler

The Way BackThe Way Back
dir. Peter Weir
Stars:
Jim Sturgess
Ed Harris

MOVIE POSTERTHE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
2014
dir. Wes Anderson
Stars:
Saoirse Ronan
Lea Seydoux

MOVIE POSTERTHE HOST
2013
dir. Andrew Niccol
Stars:
Saoirse Ronan
Diane Kruger

THE LOVELY BONES Movie PosterThe Lovely Bones
dir. Peter Jackson
Stars:
Rachel Weisz
Mark Wahlberg
Saoirse Ronan