Film Review: Blackbird

Director Roger Michell’s drama Blackbird features a stellar cast on excellent form. 

Lily has a terminal illness and is in decline. She gathers her family together for one last weekend before she dies…

Focusing on a terminally ill woman who wishes to take her life before her condition worsens, Blackbird functions as a last supper for protagonist and her family. The film takes place over the course of a weekend, with characters looking with trepidation to the final goodbye with Lily.

A remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart (Christian Torpe writes this screenplay as well), Blackbird focuses on a difficult issue. Euthanasia is illegal where Blackbird is set, and the film deals with the agency of the individual as well as the spectre of mortality. As the weekend progresses, more issues come to light within the family dynamic. Michell explores these themes with a gentle touch. 

Despite the subject matter, Blackbird is not a total tearjerker. There are laughs to be had; Michell effectively balances light and dark. There are messages illuminated by the film, yet it is most interesting when it concentrates on the flawed and all too human characters at play. 

One of the aspects of Blackbird which stands out is the wealth of the family. The beautiful and spacious house, the fine wine, and the expectation of parents all point to a comfortable family. This is a film that does not cut across social strata; there is a privilege for Lily to take her life on exactly her own terms which would not be afforded to everyone in her position. 

Susan Sarandon delivers a solid performance as Lily. It is the supporting cast however, who do the heavy lifting. Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska are excellent as daughters Jennifer and Anna. Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson and Lindsay Duncan are also great. The ensemble cast really does elevate the film.

Blackbird tackles a tricky subject with both sobriety and humour. Roger Michell gets the best out of his cast. 

Blackbird is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

Writer-director Roger Michell’s My Cousin Rachel is a sumptuous mystery drama. The clandestine nature of the film is engaging throughout, aided by a dynamic performance from Rachel Weisz.

After his guardian Ambose dies, Philip plots revenge against his wife Rachel. He believes Rachel is responsible for Ambrose’s death. Yet Philip’s feelings become muddled after he meets Rachel…

Based on the Daphne du Maurier novel, Roger Michell’s adaptation of My Cousin Rachel is a delightfully escapist affair. The period setting is lavish, and gives room for the gothic storyline to unfold.  The narrative is carefully woven, revealing only as much as is necessary at any given time. Rachel is given a significant introduction before she is seen on screen. This works well to give an impression of the character, from more than one viewpoint. When Rachel does arrive on screen for the first time, the necessary anticipation has been achieved.

Philip is an interesting protagonist in that he increasingly frustrates viewers by his attitude, yet still elicits sympathy.  Rachel meanwhile is an enigma; audiences will do their best to suss her out. A minor qualm is that it feels like almost every mention or action takes place to be referred to later in the film. Nonetheless, this is a minor issue, given that the narrative works well otherwise.

The broad landscapes are beautifully photographed by cinematographer Mike Eley. Lighting is used to a very effective degree in the interior scenes. The art direction is great in styling a lavish period film. Rachel Weisz delivers a strong performance as Rachel. She hits the right tone in being enigmatic and enchanting. Sam Claflin is well cast as Philip, whilst Holliday Grainger provides good support.

My Cousin Rachel is an entertaining adaptation of du Maurier’s novel. The film efficaciously enrobes a period drama with memorable gothic elements.

Film Review: Hyde Park on Hudson

Viewers that have seen the trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson will know exactly what to expect. Although the film boasts great costumes, art direction and performances, it lacks anything more substantial than this.

Margaret Suckley is invited to spend time with her distant relative, Franklin D Roosevelt, President of America. As their friendship develops, the President is engaged with the forthcoming visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England, who are due to spend the weekend at Hyde Park on Hudson…

Everything moves along pleasantly in Hyde Park on Hudson, but without any real purpose. There is some humour in Roger Michell’s film, but a lack of strong dramatic moments. This means the narrative plods along rather. The film takes a steady course, with no real change in emotion or tension. There is a distinct lack of peaks in the narrative. The problem with this is that the crux that the final third depends on goes with a whimper rather than a bang.

Hyde Park on Hudson functions as The King’s Speech 2. There is a surprising amount of time given to Bertie and Elizabeth, given that the focus of the film revolves around the relationship between Franklin and Margaret. Franklin D. Roosevelt is such an interesting character, but this film offers a snippet of a brief period in his life rather than a biopic.

Bill Murray, Laura Linney and Olivia Williams all offer great performances. The film has sumptuous visuals and the feel of a polished period piece. The score is entirely in keeping with the style of the film.

The film certainly looks the part, and the performances lead to the expectation of something more. Hyde Park on Hudson is let down by the absence of a gripping narrative.

Hyde Park on Hudson is being screened at the London Film Festival in October 2012.

Film Review: Morning Glory

Morning Glory is an energetic and wonderfully upbeat movie. Director Roger Michell offers the right mix of comedy, drama and romance to make Morning Glory a highly entertaining film.

Hard-working morning television producer Becky Fuller dreams of working on the Today show. When she is fired from her current role, Becky applies for jobs tirelessly. When she is given the opportunity to work on a struggling network television breakfast show, she jumps at the chance. Becky has a trying time dealing with her hosts, however…

Aline Brosh McKenna’s script is excellent. The film is humorous throughout, yet the story still has real substance. The characters are well written, and their relationships appear genuine. The tone of Morning Glory is light; however the film is not mere fluff. There are moments of emotion and drama that work just as well as the frequent comedy.

One aspect that makes Morning Glory so likeable is the depiction of its protagonist Becky. She is a career-driven young woman whose hard work pays off. Morning Glory is closer to Working Girl than The Devil Wears Prada in this respect, even though Brosh McKenna also wrote the latter film’s screenplay. While Devil Wears Prada suggests there is a cost to forging ahead so strongly with your career, Morning Glory offers a more positive message akin to that of Working Girl. Becky does not have to give up on relationship or play dirty tricks to get ahead; her sheer determination allows her to succeed in all areas of her life.

Roger Michell directs Morning Glory with buoyancy, never allowing the pace to become stagnant. The film features a substantial amount of television footage of the show, which helps to underscore the contrast between the calm on screen and the manic of the backstage. Morning Glory wisely grounds itself in reality, in terms of television shows and personalities. Thus, the audience can draw on real parallels between the network and its real competitors. British viewers may say more than a little irony in the fact that the show is called ‘Daybreak’.

Rachel McAdams is bright and amiable as Becky. McAdams offers a formidable performance, and holds her own against heavyweights Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. Ford seems to be having a lot of fun with Pomeroy’s grumpy man persona, while Keaton is perfectly cast as his co-host Colleen Peck. Matt Malloy stands out among the supporting cast as weatherman Ernie.

Morning Glory is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It doesn’t take it self too seriously either, judging by the fact that the network is called ‘IBS’. Perhaps the most amusing film released this month.