Film Review: Red Joan

Trevor Nunn’s mystery drama Red Joan is a broadly entertaining watch, although it is not quite the tense narrative the premise suggests.

Joan Stanley, a retired civil servant, is arrested at her home in a surprising turn of events. She is accused of being a spy for Russia following World War II. As the police question her, Joan looks back on her time as a student…

Inspired by a true story, Red Joan has all the components required to make a riveting spy thriller. After all, there is the war time activity, the varying factions in Joan’s life, and the question over her collusion. Yet director Trevor Nunn and screenwriter Lindsay Shapero opt for a different tact, offering instead a melodrama with a mystery slant. This may disappoint some viewers, but overall the film is executed fairly well within this genre. 

The narrative is told through lengthy flashbacks. Viewers do not know whether Joan is guilty, and Nunn keeps viewers guessing for a significant portion of the film. As the main players become clear, Joan’s beliefs are ambiguous. This sense of mystery helps to reel viewers in. Once the the question of Joan’s guilt is answered, Red Joan has offered enough in terms of characters and plotting to keep viewers engaged. 

Joan is an interesting protagonist. She seems miles apart from what the police accuse her of, at least in the beginning. As the film progresses, the question of persuasion and motivation becomes more prevalent. Does Joan believe in the cause, or is her head just turned by Leo? The answer given in the final third of the film feels like a cop out. It is too neat, and in keeping with the “very British drama” feel. 

Production values are good throughout. Performances are also solid. Sophie Cookson is believable as the young Joan, whilst Tereza Srbova’s charisma shines through. Judi Dench is reliable as always. 

More than anything, Red Joan feels like wasted potential. All the ingredients to make a great film were present, yet the execution disappoints. Whilst Nunn’s film does entertain, it is not particularly memorable or thought provoking. 

Film Review: Victoria & Abdul

Stephen Frears’ Victoria & Abdul is a by-the-numbers comedy drama that offers decent performances from its two leads.

In her later years, Queen Victoria is cantankerous and weary of the constant royal functions. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with Abdul, a young Indian clerk who is stacked with presenting her with a commemorative coin…

For those who have viewed the trailer, there is Nothing in Victoria & Abdul that is unexpected. Directed by Stephen Frears with a screenplay by Lee Hall, the film hits the predicted notes in terms of humour, emotion, and archetypes. Frears garners decent laughs in the first half, before a more somber second innings.

The central premise of an odd couple works well, particularly as there is a basis in reality. The burgeoning friendship between the pair is fun to watch. The master (or rather mistress) and servant dynamic is always at play, whether implicit or explicit. As such, the relationship has its charm, yet the fact that it is based on a deeply uneven grounding is inescapable.

Victoria & Abdul makes a number of references to Britain’s ruling of India at the time. Yet the unease at this is only depicted through the supporting character of Mohammed, who seems rather modern in his disdain. Abdul, on the other hand, is the dutiful servant. His unquestioning loyalty makes him seem a little abstract and difficult to fully empathise with.

Race and religion undoubtedly have a role to play in the story. The suspicions and disregard of the household staff appear in keeping with attitudes of the era. There are some references that do seem to be included for modern audiences however. In addition to this, there are other elements that require a suspension of disbelief. For example, Bertie’s involvement in the minutiae seems far fetched. However, the film does admit it is just loosely based on real events.

The screenplay has that quaint British humour that should appeal to audiences that seek out this film. Judi Dench is given more than one stoic speech; the kind we often see from her. In a sense, the film is almost a sequel to Mrs Brown, even making explicit reference to events of that film. Dench delivers as competent a performance as ever. Ali Fazal is also good as Abdul. The costumes are wonderful, as is the set design.

Victoria & Abdul probably will not make any new admirers of the British period drama, but should satisfy fans of this genre nevertheless.

Previews: Dunkirk Poster, Baby Driver, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the latest Dunkirk poster, plus Baby Driver, American Made, and more…

Dunkirk Poster

Here is the latest Dunkirk poster. Writer-director Christopher Nolan turns his attention to the war movie, after excelling in a number of other genres. The film stars Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Kenneth Branagh. Dunkirk hits cinema and IMAX screens on 21st July 2017.

Baby Driver Clip

This clip sheds light on the central character in Edgar Wright’s upcoming Baby Driver. Starring Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, and Lily James, the film is about a getaway driver who wishes to leave his criminal life behind. Baby Driver is out in UK cinemas on 28th June 2017.

American Made Trailer

Tom Cruise reunites with Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman for American Made. The film is based on the real-life exploits of pilot Barry Seal, who is recruited by the CIA to run a covert operation. Also starring Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, and Caleb Landry Jones, American Made is due for release on 25th August 2017.

Goodbye Christopher Robin Poster

Here is the new poster for Goodbye Christopher Robin. The film is based on the family who created one of the world’s most beloved bear, Winnie the Pooh. It revolves around the relationship between writer A.A. Milne and his son Christopher. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, and Kelly Macdonald, Goodbye Christopher Robin will be out in cinemas on 29th September 2017.

Murder on the Orient Express Trailer

This trailer for Murder on the Orient Express looks sumptuous. The film looks to have one of the most star-studded casts of the year, with Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Judi Dench among some of the passengers on the fateful train. Director Kenneth Branagh stars as famous detective Hercule Poirot; comparisons to David Suchet will be inevitable. Based on one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express is set for release on 3rd November 2017.

Previews: Allied Trailer, John Wick: Chapter Two, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions including the Allied trailer, Moana, John Wick: Chapter Two and more…

Allied Trailer

Brad Pitt has dominated the entertainment news this week, so in good timing the Allied trailer dropped. The film stars Pitt as an intelligence officer who encounters Marion Cotillard’s Resistance fighter. Set in 1942, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis. Allied will hit UK screens on 25th November 2016.

Moana Trailer

Here is the latest trailer for Disney’s Moana. It is Disney’s first film set in the South Pacific. Moana will be the first mainly CGI-animated movie from directors Ron Clements and John Musker. Moana is set for release in UK cinemas on 2nd December 2016.

John Wick: Chapter Two Poster

John Wick Chapter Two

Here is the first look at John Wick: Chapter Two. The film is a follow up to 2014’s John Wick.  The hitman is forced out retirement by a former associate in this sequel. Starring Keanu Reeves, John Wick: Chapter Two is scheduled for release on 17th February 2017.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children Featurette

This featurette for Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children focuses on the vision of director Tim Burton. Stars Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Judi Dench and others talk about working with the director on this film. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is out in UK cinemas on 29th September 2016.

Passengers Trailer

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in sci-fi thriller Passengers. By slightly more important than them, there are robots in this film. Passengers is about two passengers being transported to another planet on a spaceship. The film will be released in UK cinemas on 21st December 2016.

Annabelle 2 Teaser Trailer

This teaser trailer, or trailer announcement trailer, for Annabelle 2 does not reveal much, except for the creepiest doll ever. The film is about the doll-maker who is responsible for the monstrous creation, with a nun and some orphans thrown in for good measure. Horror sequel Annabelle 2 will hit UK screens in May 2017.

Film Review: Philomena


Philomena is a drama ably directed by Stephen Frears. What could have been a very melancholy tale is given some lightness without negating from the emotion at hand.

Government advisor Martin Sixsmith is looking to get back into writing after being fired from his role in the Labour party. He picks up the story of Philomena Lee, and her search for the son who has taken away from her decades before…

Based on the true story of Philomena Lee’s search and Martin Sixsmith’s book, Philomena is successful in highlighting a real injustice. It does this by focusing on the story of just one of the effected.

The narrative unfolds as it develops in Martin’s article. This framing of the narrative with how the story is panning out in its ‘human interest’ angle is a nice touch.

The main characters in Philomena are likeable. Martin and Philomena are opposable, but this makes them work as an unlikely duo. There are moments of heightened emotion, thanks to the good writing and direction. There is also a good deal of light humour. This gives the characters a three dimensional edge; showing a different side to them in spite of the serious story.

The exploration of religion and faith is a key theme in Philomena. This is explored through both the overall narrative and the personal persuasions of the protagonists. Frears offers some balance in his depiction of the subject of faith. Both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan offer fine performances.

What makes Philomena engaging is its developed characters and well-crafted story. The fact that it is a true story certainly gives the film an edge in terms of poignancy.

Philomena is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Film Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a comedy drama that should satisfy the audience it is aimed at. The film is sufficiently enjoyable, although below the surface some of the depictions are troubling.

Following her husband’s death, Evelyn needs to sell her flat to clear her husband’s debts. Muriel needs an operation but the will have to wait six months unless she travels abroad for the procedure. These two ladies form part of a group that travel to India’s Best Marigold Hotel, where everything is not quite how it was advertised…

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel features a fairly predictable chain of events. The opening sequence successfully introduces the main characters succinctly, as well as their reason for travelling. Good performances by the solid cast and sympathetic characters make the film enjoyable.

The problem with John Madden’s film is that the film relies too much on stereotypes and archetypal characters. A few of the main characters appear to adhere to some rigid functions. Furthermore, some of the characters change too much in what is a short space of time, which renders them inauthentic. The turn around of Sonny’s mother, for example, occurs very suddenly, which suggests a failure in plotting.

The depiction of the Indian supporting characters highlight the use of stereotypes. India is portrayed as a country which respects the elderly, which is clearly in keeping with the theme. Nevertheless, the glee with which the Asian characters serve and acquiesce to their English guests leaves a sour taste. Although a spectrum of social classes is depicted in the film, it seems like a sanitised view of the country where the poor are grateful to be acknowledged by the English visitor and the city is brimmed solely with colour and bustle.

Judi Dench offers a good performance as Evelyn. Bill Nighy is cast in a more serious role than he is usually associated with, but the actor does well. Maggie Smith is as strong as ever, while Dev Patel hams it up perfectly as the irrepressible Sonny. Some of the film’s narration is a little bit sanctimonious, but the overall tone is fine.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an entertaining enough film, but would have been better without the disquieting stereotypes.

J Edgar Posters

Leonardo DiCaprio looks angry in these new posters for J Edgar. A quick Google search informs me that J Edgar Hoover did not really look like DiCaprio when he was younger. I have no doubt, however, that the actor will give a powerful performance. J Edgar is directed by Clint Eastwood and also stars Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer and Judi Dench. This one has Oscar nominations written all over it. J Edgar is released in cinemas on 20th January 2012.