Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Alexandria Bombach (the award winning FRAME BY FRAME) returns to our screens with a moving documentary called ON HER SHOULDERS. Its subject is Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was captured by ISIS during their campaign of genocide and turned into a slave. Eventually freed, she comes to the west for medical treatment in Germany and begins to campaign for those women left behind, recently winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.  The documentary follows her as she campaigns to have the crimes against the Yazidi investigated and prosecuted. In doing so, she achieves the right to address the UN, and eventually their commitment to start such an investigation. She is aided in this by the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.  Behind the scenes, we see Nadia living a peripatetic life, with no family surviving to help, but one close Yazidi friend.  She moves from one small flat to another, one hotel to another, one meeting with an apparently concerned global leader to another. It looks like a very alienating and lonely life. Worst of all we feel the extreme pressure brought to bear upon her and spokesperson for her people, scattered among refugee camps.  

One of the most provocative things about the documentary is how far it is ironically commenting on the West's need for pretty heroines to break through our jaded cynicism. It doesn't hurt the Yazidi cause that Nadia is pretty, or that Amal Clooney is pretty, and would she have won her slot at the UN had she been plain or old?  Would this documentary have been made, and become a hit on the international festival circuit? Given the superficiality and shortness of our attention spans, part of the reason why the future of the Yazidi is on Nadia's shoulders is precisely because she's photogenic and tugs at the heartstrings with her passionate eloquence. These superficial aspects shouldn't matter, but they do.

ON HER SHOULDERS has a running time of 95 minutes. It played Sundance 2018 where Alexandria Bombach won the directing prize for documentaries, and then played SXSW and HotDocs.  It went on limited release in the USA last year.  It opened in the UK and Ireland this weekend. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Documentary Matthew Heineman (CARTEL LAND) returns to our screens with a fictionalised account of the final years of war journalist Marie Colvin - a story told recently in the superb doc UNDER THE WIRE [link]. His film opens with Marie in Sri Lanka, covering the civil war, being shot in the eye and acquiring her trademark eye-patch. The movie ends 11 years later, inevitably, with Colvin's death, the victim of a targeted bombing in Homs. In between these two events, we see Marie move between war zones and metropolitan dinner parties, carrying with her her trauma, drinking heavily to forget, blaming her editors for sending her out, daring her colleagues to face their face, or overlook it, to return to the war zone, unable to allow herself to quit. She was truly a superb woman, committed to exposing the impact of war on ordinary people, and her cussedness and intelligence one her the access to figures such as Gaddafi, and the respect of her peers and readers. But questions must be asked about the risks she took, whether it was worth it, and the men she led in her wake, not least her photographer Paul Conroy. There's also some tough questions to be asked about why Marie, of all the dead war reporters, gets docs and films.  Because she was so good? Yes, maybe. But maybe also because she was the iconic woman with the eyepatch?

This fictionalised account is well-enough made, with Rosamund Pike doing a superb impression of Colvin. A gritty script doesn't shy aware from her private fears and trauma, the contradictions in her predicament, and the grim reality of being a war reporter.  There's a superb set piece argument with her editor, played by Tom Hollander, that captures the questions at the heart of her story.  But I couldn't help but feeling that this version of events didn't add anything to the experience of watching UNDER THE WIRE, and that rather than being mediated by a fictionalised retelling, I'd rather just here this story from Paul, and from old footage of Marie, and from her friends, editors, colleagues.  This didn't seem to add any greater insight, and because the direction here is workmanlike, it just didn't seem to add anything. 

A PRIVATE WAR is rated R and has a running time of 100 minutes.  The film played Toronto and London 2018 and was released last year in the USA. It will be released in the UK on February 15th 2019. 


Freddie Mercury was a superlatively talented and charismatic musician who lived a raucous, dangerous life.  He was a bold artist - his pop videos referenced Njinsky, and Fritz Lang and leather clubs - he gave a white hair band a provocatively queer name - he was both in the closet and out - he's one of the most famous victims of AIDS but only admitted he'd contracted the disease late.   And more than that, Freddie remains fundamentally opaque.  He didn't talk much about his private boarding school childhood in India, hundreds of miles from his parents in Zanzibar. He didn't talk much about how they felt to be transported from wealth and warmth to suburban London, and how he felt as a gay teenager of strict Zoroastrian parents, whose religion forbids homosexuality.  Do we really know why he went solo in the early 80s?  Do we really know why he returned to the band?  Do we know how he felt when gay friends starting dying of AIDS, whether he took precautions or altered his behaviour, or how he felt when he succumbed?

No. And this is not the film to tell us either.  Instead, what we have here is a sanitised, banal, paint by numbers biopic that does no justice to the audacity of its subject, or the interest of his fans. It's all surface. All staged set-up. There's barely a conversation that doesn't show a simplistic version of how some hit song was written. This is the stuff of pantomime villains and white-washed heroes.  Most insultingly, the film portrays Freddie as unaware he was gay until the late 70s, as basically straight laced until led down the path of danger and disease in the 80s by the villlainous parasite Paul Prenter (Allan Leech - DOWNTON ABBEY).  Even when he does come out to his parents in an absurd last minute hook up with Jim Hutton on the DAY OF LIVE AID!!! there's no confrontation or consternation. It's all just tied up nicely with a bow so that the stakes can be at their highest for that concert. Oh yes, and he supposedly also told the band he was dying just before it and was worried his voice wouldn't hold up.

This is all palpable bollocks of course.  And one would've hoped that the surviving members of the band would've been better than settling old scores with the original reviewers of BoRhap, or the original record producer who wouldn't put it out as a single.  One might even have hoped that they would be more honest about their shagging and drinking, let alone Freddie's, rather than just the odd sly comment about Roger Taylor's extra-marital affairs.   And for heaven's sake, could any of this have been done with slightly more subtlety that the leaden dialogue by THE QUEEN's Peter Morgan and Anthony McCarten? Seriously this was little more than an afternoon TV Movie of the week.

The only thing that saves the movie - I'm afraid to say as he's apparently a despicable man - is Bryan Singer's visual styling - particularly an opening dynamic walk through the backstage of Live Aid, and a lovely shot that takes us into the band's tour bus. 

Rami Mallek doesn't act - he does an impersonation. A very good one of Freddie's accent and physical performance.  But he struggles with his prosthetic teeth and an impersonation is NOT a holistic acting performance. That said, Freddie and Queen were just so bloody good, that even seeing an impersonation  inspires a lot of nostalgia and feel-good singalong warmth.  But that doesn't make this by any stretch of the imagination an awards-worthy film.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has a running time of 134 minutes and is rated PG-13.  It is on global release.


What an absolute surprise to find that Bradley Cooper's remake of A STAR IS BORN is so well-made, so well-acted, so desperately moving and watchable! I approached it with caution, a sense of wonder that it was necessary at all, but all my fears were over-turned by this beautifully naturalistic, painfully raw depiction of an ingenue tragically in love with a traumatised, alcoholic old showman. 

As in the other versions of the film (see below) the film begins with a meet-cute between the two artists. The first is the alcoholic country rock star Mason Craine, played by a grizzled Cooper, and fairly close in tone to Kris Kristofferson's interpretation of the role.  Cooper adopts an accent that's so deep and southern I sometimes struggled to hear him through his mumbling, but later realised this was to make his being Sam Elliott's younger brother credible.  It's a superb impersonation.  Cooper doesn't hold back at all from showing the true depths of drug abuse and depression, and the rare moments when his eyes light up seeing Ally (Lady Gaga) sing are genuinely delightful.  We know that, as in other versions of the tale, he isn't jealous of her at all. Rather it's a relationship founded on the idea of a jaded, cynical, weary man, falling in love with is art again through the genuine joy of his protégée making the same journey he once did. I utterly believed in his character, and despite knowing how every beat would play out in this version of the film so faithful to the 1976 predecessor, I was genuinely tense at the set pieces.  And I really loved the fact that movie shifted its centre of attention a little from the leading lady to the man's story.  Kudos to Cooper as screenwriter for giving us this backstory. 

Lady Gaga is truly a revelation as Ally (the screenwriters have finally ditched the name Esther - a shame!) Stripped of the make-up and bleach blonde hair of her stage persona, Lady Gaga is truly beautiful, and delivers a performance of real nuance, strength and charisma.  But there's an added bizarre-o aspect as we see Gaga essentially act out the beats of her own career - the first experience on a big stage, the first Grammy nominations. There's also a meta discussion about Ally refusing to "pretty up" and then acquiescing to further her career. In all this I remain surprised that Gaga herself, reflecting on her experience making this film and how stunning she looks on screen, continues to market herself as a persona.  After all, she is not credited under her actual name but as Gaga. And she went back to blonde as soon as the film was over.

The meta narrative continues with a final reflection from Mason Craine - that the artist only plays with the same 12 notes over and over, and all he can do is offer up to the world his interpretation of them.  This is essentially what Cooper is doing with this well-worn material. But in centring it on a story of childhood trauma, rehab, youtube videos and SNL sketches, he has both made it contemporary and more profound. 

A STAR IS BORN is rated R and has a running time of 136 minutes.  It is on global release.

You can read reviews of the previous versions of A STAR IS BORN here:

The 1937 version starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March [link]
The 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason [link]
The 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson [link]

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Sebastian Lelio follows up his superb A FANTASTIC WOMAN with DISOBEDIENCE - a drama based on the novel by Naomi Alderman - set in London's Orthodox Jewish community.  It stars Rachel Weisz as a Ronit and Rachel McAdams as Esti - two girls who fell in love as teenagers and realised that they were gay.  Their reactions were, however, different. Ronit left the community, went to New York, and has become a successful photographer, although has never fallen in love with anyone else.  Esti stayed in the community and married their childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).  She lives an apparently straight life, teaches in an Orthodox school, and is trying to make the best of things.

The movie opens with Ronit's father, a revered Rabbi, making his final sermon on the idea of free will and disobedience.  He collapses and dies, and Ronit returns for his funeral, setting the events of the film in motion.  Her character is difficult - at times I winced at her unwillingness to make nice just for the few days she's back - insisting talking about business at a sabbath meal even though she knows its offensive, or playing with wearing an orthodox wig.  But as I watched the film further I realised that this was exactly the point.  Ronit can't make nice - that's why she had to leave.  That's why she isn't Esti.  And yet as the film progressed I realised that Esti was actually the more interesting character, because while she appears to be compliant, she was actually the one who contacted Ronit and precipitated her return.  And so the discovered kiss at the centre of the film that triggers its second act crisis of conscience is not an unbelievable risk, and one that stretches credulity, but once again in Esti's character.  She wants to be discovered, triggered, and is in some sense using Ronit.

Which leads me, surprisingly, to the most fascinating character of all in the film - Dovid, played beautifully in a career-best performance by Alessandro Nivola.  In a film that is very respectful of the orthodox community, Dovid comes across as an intelligent man really trying his best to understand his wife's feelings, humble and empathetic.  He's the person in the community who is welcoming to Ronit despite their suspicion of her.  He's the person who really tries to understand how to do the right thing.  It's a truly moving depiction of a religious man without judgment or hypocrisy, and so rare to see on screen.

DISOBEDIENCE is rated R and has a running time of 114 minutes. It is available to screen on demand at Curzon Home Cinema and on limited release in cinemas.


New York.  A black kid is shot dead by a trigger happy racist cop.  The murder is captured by another young man on a cellphone.  MONSTERS AND MEN examines the consequences of events that have become sadly all too familiar, by focusing on three characters - a black cop who witnessed the murder and is himself subject to police harassment (John David Washington - BLACKKKLANSMAN) - the young father who captured the murder, has the courage to post his video online, and is then harassed by the police (Anthony Ramos - A STAR IS BORN) - and a teenage boy who can potentially have a very lucrative career with a sports scholarship unless he "causes trouble" by joining a protest (Kelvin Harrison Jr.)

For all three men, the murders causes a crisis of conscience and the drama lies in seeing whether they will have the courage to be "woke" and the provocation of the same question in ourselves.  Maybe I would join a protest.  I know I couldn't post a video, knowing the police have already been stalking my house, with my sleeping child next to me.  

For me, the most fascinating character is the cop, and it's interesting to contrast this character with Washington's role in BLACKKKLANSMAN.  In that movie, the most brutal racism is depicted on screen but Spike Lee also had the wit to give us moments of hilarity - walking a very fine tonal line. This movie - from talented first time writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green - is far quieter and more interior, and so calls for a more nuanced, in some ways more powerful performance. The opening scene of this film is thus its best. We see a character we know is a cop, but off duty, pulled over and ID checked by a white cop. The camera focusses on Washington's reaction - quiet anger - knowing if he acts out he will be subject to brutality.  The same brutality his colleagues mete out onto other black men in the neighbourhood. 

The resulting film is beautifully acted and deeply powerful and doesn't shy away from tough questions and debates. It's sadly too relevant. It also paints an authentic picture of a community on the edge.

MONSTERS AND MEN has a running time of 96 minutes and is rated R. It played Sundance 2018 where Reinaldo Marcus Green won a Special Jury Prize for Outstanding First Feature - Dramatic. It also played Toronto. It was released in the USA last September and is currently on release in the UK in cinemas and on demand.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


By now I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but how wonderful to confirm that all the hype is justified - SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is an absolutely delightful film! It's heart-warming, witty, visually inventive and has such a wonderfully light touch about diversity.  I cannot imagine a better version of Spider-man, and learning that this is based on a comic book series that pre-dates the latest live action version, I'm utterly disappointed that Sony/Marvel didn't take the bold step of using this continuity rather than reverting to the old one.

In this Spider-man story, Peter Parker dies early and his role as crime-fighting hero is taken over by a kind called Miles Morales (Shameikh Moore) - a young boy who just got bitten by a radioactive spider. Peter Parker  (Jake Johnson) is around just long enough to pass on a few tips before Spidey 2.0 is joined by a bunch of other Spideys from parallel universes - including a schlubby Peter Parker (Chris Pine), a female Spidey, a noir Spidey (brilliantly cast Nic Cage!) and even a Looney Tunes Spidey!  I am reliably informed that all of these are from old comic book series, and I have to say that I would pay good money to see a full length Spidey Noir movie starring Nic Cage.  All the different Spideys have to team up to save the world from evil Doc Ock - both sending back all the parallel universe spideys through Ock's evil machine, before Miles can destroy it for good.

What I love about this story is that doesn't condescend to it's young audience - giving them a story that hinges on parallel universes and rather hallucinogenic depictions of what it might look like to be in an unstable environment.  I also love the film's core message that anyone can be a hero - even if you haven't seen a hero on screen that looks like you before - whether because you're a girl, or an ethnic minority. In fact, anyone can be a supervillian too! Just look at female Doc Ock. It's a film that doesn't shy away from showing what it must mean to be a poor kid who gets selected for an elite school and has to leave his friend's behind. It's a film that will casually show a homeless person sleeping outside of a shiny building. And it's a film that will have a African-American/Latino kid speak to his mum in Spanish without feeling the need for subtitles. I love that courage, self-confidence and inclusion.

But most of all I just love how visually inventive this film is, and how manifestly the creators love comic books.  They have a real understanding about how the flow of panels works, how we turn a page on a story, even giving Miles thought bubbles as soon as he becomes a superhero.  This gives the film a wonderfully kinetic energy, real joy, and wit in also parodying the 3d blurring around its edges.

All in all, I really hope Sony/Marvel will capitalise on this film's success by continuing the Miles Morales storyline in animated form if nothing else.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated PG. 


PATERNO is a superb TV movie about the impact of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal on the legendary sports coach Joe Paterno - who was Sandusky's boss and became implicated in - at the very least not acting quickly enough when he became aware of the abuse - and at most - a cover-up. Paterno and his football programme had been responsible for elevating - arguably funding - their host university - and this film goes beyond looking at the personal emotional reaction of "JoPa" to the impact the scandal has on the wider community.  For British people, it's almost surreal seeing the seriousness with which college sport is taken in the USA and the riots that break out in Paterno's defense are quite shocking.  It is no wonder that this unhealthy elevation of a single aspect of college life to almost godlike status has created an environment in which the powers that be will be reluctant to besmirch the sport's character - even at the risk of child safety.

All of this is deftly handled and emotionally powerful thanks to assured direction by Barry Levinson (RAIN MAN) - an even-handed script by Debora Cahn (THE WEST WING) and John C Richards (NURSE BETTY) - and a powerful central performance by Al Pacino.  It's the first time in years that Pacino plays someone other than himself. Instead of the much parodied voice inflections and large character we get a Paterno who is old, unsure of himself, out of touch and both sympathetic and infuriating.  This ability to give a nuanced performance - to create a character that we feel deeply ambivalent about - is rarely seen but I guess Pacino just needs the material to motivate him.

PATERNO has a running time of 105 minutes. It was released by HBO in April 2018.  In the UK it's available on Sky On Demand. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019


RBG is a superbly curated documentary about iconic feminist and Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now known by millennial activists as the Notorious RBG. Many of us know her as the diminutive, smartly dressed, bespectacled justice who has clung on to her supreme court seat through two bouts of cancer, refused to retire, and has consistently written progressive dissents as the court has drifted ever right-ward. This is all incredibly impressive, but what this documentary does is give context and colour to her judicial record.  In particular, I loved seeing her as a beautiful young debutante, really quite stunning, falling in love with her wonderfully supportive husband. How many of us would love such a husband now let alone in the 1950s! - a man who prizes smarts as well as looks and consistently supported his wife's career despite the many obstacles she faced and the insane work hours.  To the first, this documentary reminds us how hard it was to simply get hired as a lawyer in the 50s and 60s.  To the latter, we learn than RBG would often go to the opera and then return to her desk, working till 4am.  She had to be prised away from her desk to eat. One wonders how her kids felt about that but the family members interviewed all seem very successful, loving and proud of their "bubbie". As for her husband, the letter he writes her from his deathbed is utterly moving and one of the most authentic and touching moments of the film.

The documentary also shows us that RBG's fight for justice has been far longer than her supreme court tenure.  She was a key driver of challenging unequal laws, and in the words of no less than Gloria Steinem, made Gloria feel that the constitution finally protected her too.  We get context and personal anecdote from NPR's legal correspondent Nina Totenberg. And we get the sense of a better, more civilised time in political discourse. It's genuinely surprising but touching to see that RBG and Scalia - on opposite sides of the ideological divide - could have respected each other's intellect and ethics enough to be good friends.  And in the light of the Kavanaugh hearings it's amazing to see flashbacks to RBG's own confirmation, where right wing politicians say directly that they disagree with her but that she has an absolute right to be confirmed.

Altogether this is an insightful, moving and sometimes surprising documentary that gives added context and colour to a woman who has rightfully become something of a latter day superhero.  

RBG has a running time of 98 minutes and is rated PG. The film played Sundance 2018 and was released in the USA last year. It is currently on release in cinemas and on streaming services in the UK.


FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is Michael Moore's latest agit-doc, purportedly focusing on the damage that the Trump presidency has done to democracy and freedom in the USA, and the rising risk of despotism.  Moore makes draws an explicit parallel between Trump and Hitler, and even lends credibility to this hyperbolic statement by interviewing Timothy Snyder - a professor of history at Yale and one of the foremost writers on fascism in Europe in the mid twentieth century.  But for the most part - and surprisingly - this isn't really a documentary about Trump at all.  Accusations of collusion with Russia are handled in a throwaway sentence at the start of the film.  Rather, Moore is far more concerned with the structural dysfunction in American politics that allowed Trump to come to power - and spends as much time criticising the Democratic party and Obama as Trump himself.  In fact, I was shocked to find no exploration of gerrymandering or voter suppression by the GOP, but plenty of exposure of the DCCC annointing candidates and trying to cut those deemed too left wing off at the knees.  To be sure, both are problematic but it seemed weird to focus on the one without the other.  Both stymie the democratic expression of the will of the people. Moore is more balanced when he returns to Flint Michigan to expose the water crisis - excoriating Governor Rick Snyder but also the flaccid response of Obama. 

The overall thesis of the film seems to be that Trump is just the most extreme expression of what the GOP does - which is to pander to the rich.  But that the Democrats have cleaved too far to the centre to try and win elections and have ended up being as corrupt and pointless as the GOP. He therefore shines his spotlight on the new radical left - whether that be Democratic Socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - or most movingly the survivors of Parkland - who are tearing up the rule book and demanding radical change.

The result is a film that seems at times frenetic - jumping from one topic to another and then back again. But I admire the ambition to show how everything is joined up and systemic rather than just focusing on the egregious behaviour of Trump. That said, I continue to find Moore's stunts tiring - cheapening the force of his arguments. 

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is rated R and has a running time of 128 minutes. It played Toronto and London 2018 and is now available to rent and own.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

JUNGLE BOOK (2016) - Crimbo Binge-watch #11

Disney's live action remake of its iconic animated classic is a triumph - a superbly executed mix of live action and animation and a respectful update of an old story.  I absolutely adore the original and was sceptical of the need for a remake, but found myself won over by this version's intelligent reworking, the beautifully rendered animal CGI, and the sheer charm of its lead actor, Neel Sethi.

As we all know, THE JUNGLE BOOK is the story of a young boy called Mowgli who has been raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. When Shere Khan the tiger (Idris Elba - suitably menacing) returns, he threatens to kill anyone who won't hand over the man cub to him. I love the fact that in this version we get more explanation of the tiger's hatred of man and fear of fire - he is battle-scarred from man's tiger hunts.  Accordingly the wolves hand Mowgli over to his friend Bagheera the panther (a perfectly cast Ben Kingsley) to take him to the man village. He rebels and runs away to be befriended by the hip bear Baloo (Bill Murray but I really thought it sounded like Bradley Cooper!)  They have a run in with a scheming ape (weird casting of Christopher Walken and yet it somehow works!) en route to a final confrontation.

If the casting choices really work well then so too does the reworking of the ending. I love the idea that instead of using Man's Red Flower to defeat Shere Khan, Mowgli turns away from the destructive violence of man and uses the group power of his animal friends.  That said, the decision to leave Mowgli in the jungle at the end of the film does feel like a cynical opening to a sequel. 

JUNGLE BOOK has a rating of PG and has a running time of 106 minutes.  It was released in 2016.

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES - Crimbo Binge-watch #10

Netflix' children's Christmas release is a rare reminder of just how charming Kurt Russell is.  This overlong rather mechanical film is only saved by his presence.  It takes a very dull 25 minutes for him to appear on screen as Santa, after which the movie ignites - although it could still have lost 15 mins from both pre and post Santa segments.  The director Clay Kaytis (THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE) should take note.  The premise has two kids who lost their fireman father and fight with each other staying up to video tape Santa coming down the chimney. They actually do catch him but also damage his sleigh. So become some "high-jinx" as they have to help him find transportation and his sack of presents to make all the christmas deliveries and save the spirit of Christmas. All that - including animated elves - is so much blah - but I very much enjoyed the idea of Santa telling grown ups what they really wanted for Christmas as kids, Kurt Russell doing a jailhouse rock number, and a fun cameo from Goldie Hawn. We need more of this couple on screen.

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES has a running time of 104 minutes and was released this Christmas on Netflix. 

THE CHILDREN ACT - Crimbo Binge-watch #9

Celebrated theatre director Richard Eyre (the superb NOTES ON A SCANDAL) returns to our screens with his adaptation of Booker Prize winning author Ian McEwan's THE CHILDREN ACT. A stunningly good Emma Thompson plays a high court judge who has to rule on a case where parents are refusing their child a life-saving blood transfusion on account of their faith.  The ruling is made, and without spoiling it, the ramifications are emotionally intense, both for the teenager involved and for the judge.  The teenager is played by Fionn Whitehead, who starred in DUNKIRK, but has far more to do here, and is really quite impressive, holding his own against Emma Thompson in an intellectually complex role. Stanley Tucci has rather less to do in what is essentially a two-hander.  

At first I thought this was going to be a rather sterile intellectual film, and the first half hour does take place mostly in court.  But as with all McEwan there's deep passion and provocation underneath that.  The film questions the idea of faith, the rights of children, and the sacrifice of family for career. It even questions the idea of judicial intervention and apparent neutrality. I found it to be a deeply stimulating film, and in its final scenes, profoundly moving.  I have no idea why Emma Thompson didn't receive wider recognition for her part. 

THE CHILDREN ACT has a rating of R and a running time of 104 minutes. It was released in 2018.


Director Bharat Nalluri (MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY) returns to our screens with a rather more well researched than had expected fictionalised account of how Charles Dickens wrote the iconic story A Christmas Carol. Adapted by Susan Coyne from a book by Les Standiford, the film paints a very convincing portrait of an author under great financial stress, with a taste for luxury, a large family to support, and an almost pathological fear of the poorhouse. Most fascinating is the portrayal of the relationship between Dickens and his father - a man who fell into debt, as a result of which Charles spent some of his childhood doing menial labour. Accordingly, this isn't a film about saving Scrooge (although it is) but about saving Dickens - allowing him to make some kind of amends with his father and truly celebrate the newly hyped holiday of Christmas which - lets be honest - wasn't so much invented by Dickens as Prince Albert. The second aspect of the script that I really liked was the idea of making the characters in A Christmas Carol come to life and lobby Dickens about what they want to happen to their characters. It lifted a rather conventional if well done costume drama into something more witty and revealing. The cast is also superb - featuring actors of the calibre of Miriam Margolyes and Jonathan Pryce (Dickens' father) and Christopher Plummer (Scrooge). If anything it's the rather banal Dan Stevens who lets down the show in the central role.

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS has a running time of 104 minutes and is rated PG. It was released in 2017.