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Thursday, 16 May 2019

Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (2018)

Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


16 May


Three Tweets [maybe more ?] about Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð) (2018)








Postlude (with TAKE ONE) :






Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Three Tweets about Tenebrae

Three Tweets about Tenebrae (during Festival of the Voice in Cambridge)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


9 May


Three Tweets about Tenebrae :

A concert at King's College, Cambridge, by invitation from
Cambridge Early Music (in conjunction with Concerts at King's) for its Festival of the Voice,
on Friday 10 May 2019 at 7.30 p.m.








Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 3 May 2019

Bonnard : Mirrors, photographic effects, alluring views through windows, and - of course - nudes*

Responses, by Tweet, to and during a visit to Pierre Bonnard : The Colour of Memory

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


3 May


Responses, by Tweet, to and during a visit to the [C C Land] exhibition Pierre Bonnard : The Colour of Memory on Friday 3 May 2019







End-notes :

* But, never all that convincing usually with human faces, the best of these nudes are seen from the back...



Even so, it is puzzling that - as allegedly still true of 'glamour models' - the woman is naked, but obliged to wear black court shoes ? (In this case, they may actually be slippers, but in other nudes in the show, they are definitely shoes.)




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 2 May 2019

This is a review (work in progress) of Scotch : The Golden Dram (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


2 May


This is a review (work in progress) of Scotch : The Golden Dram (2018), which was shown at a special screening at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Thursday 2 May 2019 (and followed by a guided tasting of two expressions of Bruichladdich (they supplied the Scotch, wine and spirit merchants Bacchanalia the tuition))


Scotch : The Golden Dram* largely concerns distilling as it occurs on The Isle of Islay (which qualifies as a whisky region in its own right, and is especially known for a number of celebrated peated whiskies**), largely considering the distillery of Bruichladdich, and largely taking as its focus Jim McEwan, who, at the beginning of the century, oversaw the re-opening of the distillery (as a sideways move from decades at Bowmore, also on Islay, and the one visible – except on a day with mist on the intervening sea-loch – from the other).




This is not an unreasonable proposition, since, in common with John McDougall (whose memoir, pictured above, was authored for him by whisky writer Gavin D. Smith), McEwan is acknowledged as being from the tradition of having done every job in whisky-making, and therefore using an account of his life-story is well able to provide a general outline that would touch upon many topics (as well as celebrating McEwan's signoficant contribution, as judged by his peers, to the world of Scotch***).

However, one matter that features in McDougall’s book, but was not really touched upon here directly, is the speculative business per se of buying casks, and of the independent bottlers (such as Provenance, Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory) who release distilleries’ single malts under their name (i.e. labelled and packaged differently from the distillery’s own usual bottlings) : although we did see this side of things in the form of an interview with the proprietor of a firm that makes very high-end glassware for releases (where sometimes there might only be as few as a handful of bottles produced, and with matching price tags - which we could see, from a series of images of bottles and a caption to say what they sell for, in some cases go for amounts into the hundreds of thousands of pounds).


There are also some important health-warnings to be given concerning what this film does, and does not, seem to set out do – even if it may once have intended otherwise**** (a full-length documentary, which is, say, of ninety minutes to two hours, may typically have shot fifty times more material that has not been used). They may help indicate, even if the film-makers seem not to have considered the point very clearly, for whom and when it may be suitable, as it may assume too much for the general viewer ? :


1. The film does not, fully or in order, take one through the whole process of how whisky is made.

For this, a tour around a distillery that still runs a malting-floor is the ideal answer, and the film probably shows us the floor at Bowmore (does Bruichladdich have its own, as Kildalton, also on Islay, does ?). However, some might prefer Laphroaig, yet another Islay distillery, because the craic and the tours are always good, as it is not in the brand’s interests for the tour-guide to give a negative experience, such as reading the material from a laminated card (Jura, 2014) ; or not knowing, when asked, whether the temperature at which fermentation takes place is important (Bruichladdich, 2004).

Laphroaig recognizes that people have taken the trouble to travel to Islay to visit some of the distilleries (even if the serenity and sense of being away from the ordinary run of things also and always make the trip to Islay worthwhile) : the pity is that, with such a beautiful island, The Golden Dram does not use the best views, but only a few, fairly stock ones, to which it cuts away, and which serve as little more than punctuation).


2. Some of the stages in the whisky-making process are talked about in some detail, such as fermentation (which has its own section, with a heading). (However, although the film shows how the head rises on the liquid in the fermentation-vessel (the ‘wash-back’), which the yeast creates during fermentation, it does not choose to mention that it is kept in check – to stop it overflowing the vessel – by rotating blades inside the lid (‘switcher-blades’).)

For this reason, there are terms such as ‘low wines’ or ‘malted barley’ that are simply there in what speakers tell us, and left unexplained : from this documentary, we will not learn when and why the ‘feints and low wines’ are collected (which would explain what they are), or what the process of malting barley is, or what it signifies. Rather, seemingly because we hear McEwan relate that, as a teenager on the way to school, he was often enough persuaded when he passed Bowmore distillery to stop to help with what was formerly the only and very labour-intensive way of malting barley (before modern malting-works were designed, such as that at Port Ellen on Islay, on the site of the now defunct distillery of that name).

So, apart from a shot of barley grains that are germinating, we are presented with footage of part of what is still carried on in some Islay distilleries (here, presumably, Bowmore), but no context that helps us relate to why the barley on the malting-floor requires turning every few hours, which is done with a ‘shiel’, an implement that resembles a spade, but with a flat blade, made of wood.


[...]


End-notes :

* The original title, according to IMDb, was Scotch: A Golden Dream.

** So no one could quite take seriously the given name of the director, Andrew Peat…

*** Even if, perhaps, the film overdoes this aspect in places, and seems too much like a tribute (or even hagiography ?) ?




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Everybody needs a friend ~ Greta

A response to Greta (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


2 May

A response to Greta (2018)



Black nails : Just to raise doubts where Frankie should place her trust, her friend Erica (Maika Monroe) - a little more fittingly for her age and manner ? - also has black nails*.





End-notes :

* Or is the suggestion of some Lynchean dual characterization (The Lost Highway (1997) or Mulholland Drive (2001)), where, on some level, Greta and Erica are the same person... ?




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Right on key : Claire Martin and her 'European Quartet'* at The Stables

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)






End-notes :

* Thinking, of course, of Keith J.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Kennington Bioscope Silent Comedy Weekend at The Cinema Museum - 27 and 28 April

A report on the Kennington Bioscope Silent Comedy Weekend (27-28 April 2019)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


28 April


A report from Sunday afternoon at The Cinema Museum on the
Kennington Bioscope Silent Comedy Weekend (27-28 April 2019)





Other Tweets :






Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

There are homecomings, and there are homecomings...

Some Tweets in response to Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows) (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


8 April


Some Tweets in response to Todos lo saben (Everybody Knows) (2018), as seen at Saffron Screen, Saffron Walden, on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8.00 p.m.









Epilogue :




Or, to give the closing words to @everyfilmneil, from the final sentences of his review (at www.everyfilm.co.uk) :

Farhadi has built a reputation through movies such as A Separation, The Salesman and my favourite of his films, The Past. Everybody Knows keeps up his tradition of keenly observed, tense drama. It helps that his most established cast to date are on great form.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 31 March 2019

No deal [so called] : An analogy in three Tweets

No deal [so called] : An analogy in three Tweets

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


31 March

No deal [so called] : An analogy in three Tweets















Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Lazzaro non mi piace molto

Five Tweets about Lazzaro Felice (Happy as Lazzaro) (2018) [and some links]

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


26 March


Five Tweets about Lazzaro Felice (Happy as Lazzaro) (2018) [and some links]








Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) : Some observations (work in progress)

Some observations (work in progress) about Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


24 March


Some observations (work in progress) about Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) (after a screening at Cottenham Community Cinema on Sunday 24 March at 7.30 p.m.)

* There are too many shots where we are shown Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), supposedly cogitating - it may be in such a film as Mamma Mia ! (2008), but, when Meryl Streep does it, we can see that she is thinking, not that she wants us to believe that she is thinking (nonetheless

* Some captions are, frankly, unnecessary - unless we are in a desperate state of ciné-literacy, it is obvious when it is [back to] the day of Live Aid, because we are re-visiting moments from the beginning of the film

* Some choices of scenes to shoot and / or in editing are not only clumsy, but make the film seem British in a bad way - cutting to Ray Foster (Mike Myers) when we do, as we knew anyway (and before this point in the history) what a massive hit the title-song was, seemed inept (and implausible of not only a nominee for, but the winner of (John Ottman), an Academy Award for 'Best Achievement in Film Editing'

* It is nice to have Lucy Boynton in the film, as Mary Austin, but one cannot think that some appearances / presentations of her are to please those who are not especial fans of Mercury, etc., etc., rather than for pure reasons of historicity

* The writing is clumsy, so, for example, Mary (Boynton) has gone from London to find Freddie in Munich : unless she doubts that she has the right address, there is no reason for the taxi to stay waiting (i.e. she clearly could not have envisaged the scene panning out as it does on arrival)


[...]




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 22 March 2019

Com’era, dov’era : Claire Denis and L'intrus (2004)

This is a response to L’intrus (The Intruder) (2004)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


This is a response to L’intrus (The Intruder) (2004)

Watching L'intrus (2004), one immediately has to ask who this intruder is¹ – in the opening titles, the word itself is introduced with visuals that connote suspicious questioning [personne qui s'introduit dans un lieu ou un groupe sans y être invitée] :

Although there are other candidates², one is a male who is inexplicably seen killed at night and, in daylight, his body concealed, whereas another – who, as the film proceeds, certainly seems to intrude – is the perpetrator of these actions. On this question and many others, the film's largely non-directive approach chooses not to give an answer. However, this style of presentation does not wholly leave viewers to make what they will of that which director Claire Denis and her co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau do show, because they still, at least, follow such conventions as signalling that the preceding sequence has been a dream³ by cutting to the sleeper (Louis), awakening in bed.

It is hardly uniquely true fact of Claire Denis' film that it leaves viewers to piece together what even the events consist in, let alone what they might signify, since a fairly arbitrary list of relevant film-references (i.e. a non-exhaustive one) would have to include the following (in order of date of release) :

* Mirror (1975) ~ Andrei Tarkovsky

* Eraserhead (1977) ~ David Lynch

* The Lost Highway (1997) ~ Lynch

* Mother and Son (1997) ~ Aleksandr Sokurov

* Code unknown (Code inconnu : Récit incomplet de divers voyages) (2000) ~ Michael Haneke


After the opening scenes², which serve to ‘leap-frog’ us to him, the film broadly follows Louis (played by Michel Subor), but, despite our seeing him engaged in his semi-naturist activities, and with his seeming delight in the company of his huskies, we cannot easily understand his living as he does, let alone why or for how long he has done so. In the film’s terms, he just is – depicted as he is, and how he is.

However, just as Denis does not always expressly delineate moving the location to another territory (or where it is – there are no captions, which in conventional films tell audiences ‘where they are’), so she does not leave more than partial clues as to matters such as : the passing of time (again, mainstream films often employ captions with the date and / or time) ; why we might be in that place now ; and what motivates the actions that we see. (As with the mise-en-scène, Louis Trebor is depicted in situ, and we derive any context in an incidental way.) Other continents are simply seen to be where Louis has travelled to, without the narrative contrivance of showing airport departure-boards as other films usually would (or planes taking off or landing), because that is all implicit in the change in what is in front of the camera.

Unlike in the case of Mirror, where Tarkovsky also has the same actor play mother and daughter, and so we must therefore concentrate to discern past from present, memory from scenes that have been imagined, Claire Denis may appear not to deviate significantly from time being seen in a linear way. Instead, in this film, time is rooted in the places to which Louis journeys - as a force from which the past emanates ? Yet, as part of Denis’ directorial telescoping of time, Louis has an operation without our knowing quite how, when or where, quite as if those things both do not matter and will not be allowed to matter to us – because we cannot ‘get behind’ what her fellow screenwriter and she choose to give to us in the artefact that is the film. Even so, Louis’ evident ill-health and a visit to the bank link us to his being away, and to the procedure, before all of which we had hardly heard speak.

We learn his desire for the future, and – in a scene with more dialogue than at any other point – of a ludicrous attempt to satisfy it, a moment that is not only a bizarre 'beauty parade', just between those holding it and taking part and us, but also a connection with the substitutionary universe of the early work of Yorgos Lanthimos. Louis seems satisfied with what happens, and we may accordingly surmise that he cannot be affected by what he does not know – we cannot escape the symbolism that we have seen the scars that the operation gave him now mirrored.


The film has a poetry to it, and there is a release of vibrant colour when a ship is launched, but there is nothing intrinsic to the film that still needs to be found : the act of creation is – engaging with it – in and through us. What would it be to search for greater meaning than this ? (Self-referentially, regardless of what Louis most wants, he almost certainly does not get what he decided that he was seeking.)

What Denis hints at is that, if it is seen as an observer, all life has a quality of mysteriousness – and therefore, perhaps, she suggests the fragmentary nature (or even obliquity) of what, even when we are actual participants, we understand of what is taking place ?


End-notes :

¹ With its title, a film can have us on edge, waiting to see how much (or little) relevance it will have to our interpreting what we will see / have seen : it may be pinned on when, at some telling moment, a character names the word or phrase (as, sensationally, in the closing line of Chinatown (1974)).

In Frances Ha (2012), it proves to be a quirky note that is sounded right at the end (in a visual joke) ; in Lady Bird (2017), it is what Christine insists on calling herself at high school (even if we might not unhelpfully delve into why, and think of the children’s rhyme) ; whereas Aquarius (2016) is named for the featured apartment-block, and its water symbolism.

² Is, for example, 'the intruder' the man whose vehicle has been waved through, on the other side, but who (indicated to stop once he has crossed) a much-congratulated sniffer-dog finds to have something hidden in a container of wipes ? (This man seems to play no further part in the film, but, later, other people are seen disappearing off, into the undergrowth and away from the headlights, during a drive along dark roads at night - are they intruders, too ?)

The customs officer who fêtes the sniffer-dog also proves not to be the film's concern, but is our link to what follows, after a slightly fetishistic sex-scene with her partner that centres on her uniform – might we not equally feel, at that moment, that it is we who intrude ?


³ Or, at the film’s outset (and after a medium shot of a border control), the national flags that we are shown establish that we are on the Swiss side.

Query : in the case of the last shot that we last see, which is followed by the closing credits (and so which cannot be announced in this way), can we even meaningfully ask whether is it 'real', or a dream / fantasy ?




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 24 February 2019

LAU at The Stables with Midnight and Closedown

Some Tweets about Lau (@LAUMusic), in performance at The Stables, Milton Keynes

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


24 February

Some Tweets about Lau (@LAUMusic), in performance at The Stables (@StablesMK), Wavendon, Milton Keynes, on Sunday 24 February 2019 at 8.00 p.m.










Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 18 February 2019

Two Tweets in initial astonishment at the vividity and richness of image and meaning in Orphée (1950)

Astonishment at the vividity and richness of image and meaning in Orphée (1950)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


18 February


Astonishment at the vividity and richness of image and meaning in Orphée (1950)





Jacqueline Pearce RIP (Servalan)


Épilogue :





End-notes :

* Seen at Saffron Screen (the community cinema on the premises of Saffron Walden County High School, Saffron Walden, Essex).




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Titanic (1997) : revisionism, after the fact ?

Titanic (1997) : revisionism, after the fact ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


10 February

Titanic (1997) : revisionism, after the fact ?




In the RMS Titanic version of Verona, a member of the Montague family would not have been travelling steerage, and, although Cameron believes that his lovers, Jack and Rose, somehow mirror Shakespeare's couple, it is hard to see how :







Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 4 February 2019

What did Ezra Pound’s typewriter say to Dorothy Parker’s ? (work in progress)

Jottings about Can you Ever Forgive me ? (2018) (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


4 February

Jottings about Can you Ever Forgive me ? (2018) (work in progress)


Non-spoilery observations :

* Based, as Molly’s Game (2017) was, on Lee Israel’s own account of what happened*, one inevitably asks : Is being Based upon a true story a good enough reason to make a film ? **.

* The character of Lee Israel is not dissimilar to that of Oscar Isaac’s in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) - does one want to be inside her that much (even if the film better slants our understanding of her than that of The Coen Brothers) ?


The rest :

* She chucks away the typewriters and the other material (as if one, i.e. the Feds, could not infer their existence from the various artefacts that she produced, but they do not seem interested anyway) – yet, at the end of the film, Israel still has the note-paper that she had printed for Dorothy Parker (and the look-alike)

* Jack goes into one of the bookshops with the real letter from ?? in the collection at Yale (on his suggestion that she leave one of her copies there, and sells the genuine item), but he accepts only $300 for it – more inexplicably, as if the Feds could have been waiting for him there, he is next shown (after cutting away to Israel, waiting) being interviewed by them on the premises


End-notes :

* With, seemingly none of the consequences that were attendant upon Molly Bloom’s publication of her book…

** Since Big Eyes (2014) showed that a good reason is not a sufficient reason, and the screenplay has to / ought to make the story worth the telling.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Sounding different - and sounding just the same as always...

Perhaps, in disguise, some responses to a recital of string quartets in Cambridge...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


31 January

Perhaps, in disguise, some responses to a recital of string quartets in Cambridge...



A standard account or explanation of the poor reception of the first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms (in D Minor, Op. 15) is that there was insufficient familiarity with the work, probably by players and audience alike, but does one - although there are people who go to certain orchestral concerts, because they want to hear works played just the way that they know them - want to allow the fact that one knows a work to solidify how it is to sound ? (More scope to change that, perhaps, as a solo performer, or a conductor, than if, say, the members of a string quartet or trio attempt to come to 'anbsp;democratic agreement' after arguing points over ?)




Two theses here, then. One is that, accepted that there is an overlap between performance practice and playing a composition by Tchaikovsky in the style of Vivaldi (or vice versa), chamber musicians can easily respond to each other to avoid the familiar, and, by introducing small changes in emphasis, etc., they can bring us the piece with new ears.

The other is that one could, for example, adopt quite different approaches to the sound of the first two movements (Allegro and Molto adagio, etc., respectively) of the second of Beethoven's so-called Razumovsky quartets (Op. 59), but, if the Allegretto and Presto, in the nature of their playing, do not (or not easily) lend themselves to one's continuing in that vein, one may not meaningfully have transformed a listener's experience of the quartet as a unity.


What gives hope that music can be so, and artists give us a studied insight that shapes the whole piece, are such examples as :

* Imogen Cooper's three live double-CD performances of Schubert, where the care is in the structure of the individual programmes and in the way that she gives us a coherent reading of each work

* Likewise, when Angela Hewitt played the whole Book II (BWV 870-893) of Das wohltemperierte Klavier at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

* When Nicholas Collon conducted a programme of Vaughan Williams, Britten and Elgar at The Corn Exchange, Cambridge




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 28 January 2019

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


28 January

Some responses to Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)


From @JimGR's review :

The true issue is [the face-to-face meeting] is shot more like a perfume advert : bed sheets artfully hung everywhere to obscure the women’s view both literally and metaphorically, gently brushed aside one at a time in soft light.




[The review by Jim Ross (@JimGR), for TAKE ONE, can be found here]


Whether this scene is also referencing such things as David Inshaw’s The Badminton Game (1972-1973), or The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), one doubts that the impetus for including it is John Guy’s book Queen of Scots : The True Life of Mary Stuart, on which the film says that it is based. Between them, first-time director Josie Rourke and first-time screenwriter Beau Willimon have decided to structure their film by having all the politicking that was to come about after Mary’s being taken into ‘protective custody’ - including what ensued by way of investigation into the death of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and the circumstances in which it happened - subsumed into cinematic imagery that invokes mirrors and confusion, and then, as the shoot-out, resolved by an over-frank discussion that supposedly, at this moment, gave Elizabeth determination (which had been seen long eluding her)¹.



It is as if they have built backwards from this point to determine what the scope of the rest of the film will be (where they make simplifications to the established fact (e.g. the fact that Mary had to break out of prison), and truncate time (such as the that between the death of Darnlet and her marriage to Bothwell), yet with no good reason – as Jim Ross says, the scene feels out of place, and, in #UCFF's view, it is sentimental, and overladen with meaning and portents. In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), the mirror-scene [the link is to YouTube] had a context, however, of the actual interplay between Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth, as the titular Lady), Michael O’Hara (Orson Welles), Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) and others, whereas Queen of Scots effectively has none, except the jockeying between the English and Scottish courts², and some messages and portraits passed between the queens (inevitably reminding, as in the case of Elizabeth’s father and Anne of Cleves, that portraits were the closest to photographs, but could mislead).


The film is not quite as lacking in being even handed as this, but the implication is that
Mary is a force of nature, and, when confronted with her, Elizabeth has no doubt that she will and must
clip her wings


For them to really work out who was who was never, except in the case of the Welles, part of and a vindication of the film that preceded this point, because Mary and Elizabeth have no actual past other than at a remove. A few moments of hide and seek and then seeing each other has Mary say stupid things to the cousin whom she expects to help her such as that Elizabeth is her inferior, and Elizabeth concluding that the qualities for which she was envious of Mary are actually what have brought about her downfall. Willimon and Rourke want to root everything that happened hereafter in this moment, at the point when Mary has come to England to be supported to get her throne back (as she is no longer Queen of Scots, and her son James is her half-brother’s ward), and the result is to highlight the artificiality with which they have differently portrayed the lives of Mary and Elizabeth.

It does not cement what we have seen of this Queen of Scots martyr-figure (King of the Jews ?), but unpicks the joins in the film, because we all know enough to understand that there was a whole world to what went on regarding Mary when she was in England¹, which cannot be sketched in with three captions. (And it cannot be sketched in by Simon Russell-Beale, sounding Shakespearean and, as with Lowden, not of a piece, because we probably know that the demise of Mary was as much a botch as that of Charles I : having seen how the film theatricalizes what Mary was wearing when she died, and then read an account, one marvels at what this cabaret-style presentation is for.)


* * * * *


Other things grated, too. The music of the two courts seemed woefully undifferentiated, as if they did not have different classical traditions. Sometimes, spotting the historic interiors was more interesting than the massed action that went on in them - with the script's uneven modern inflections and idiom (especially in the case of Darnley) just a distraction from both.




Darnley, played by Jack Lowden, seemed intent on rendering the part as if he were Eddie Izzard³, and his lines and manner just grated – fine that the film made gestures in the direction of theatricals and other entertainments for royalty at the time, but too much there was out of register. As John Knox, there appeared to be an element of historicity to what we see, but David Tennant was still ‘hammy’ with his acting⁴, and he is implausibly thrust into the first formal court appearance over which Mary seeks to preside (with the emphasis much on the 'seeking to') and the rough-hewn nature of those proceedings (not least compared with those in England).

Finally, the film is called Mary, Queen of Scots, seems to want to flesh out her claims as a worthwhile figure (if something of a victim ?), and at the same time not very unobviously point up some matters that, then as now, affect how England and Scotland relate to each other. How has the film benefited us, though, rather than our watching it benefited its makers ?


End-notes :

¹ Which, in no clear way, explains why Mary was taken into Elizabeth's protection on 18 May 1568, but did not die until 8 February 1587.

² And wanting to depict Mary as playful, fun-loving and affectionate, whereas Elizabeth simply is not, and largely accedes to what her advisers suggest (and puts an intense amount of trust in William Cecil, who, played here by Guy Pearce, may have been a powerful politician, but gave the impression of being either past it or from some very bygone age - despite Elizabeth's factually being his elder by thirteen years), is the facile contention that the film wants to make for much of its run-time.



³ Not the Izzard who is a pefectly competent actor, but he of his stage-act, lampooning the utility of Le Francais d'aujourd'hui with Le singe est dans l'arbre.

⁴ He has an attentive congregation, but, for some reason, in a tiny church building.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge),