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.

Film Review: Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins offers few surprises for those that have seen the trailer. The film is an entertaining comedy drama with great performances.

Heiress Florence Foster Jenkins is a long-time patron of the arts. She dreams of being an opera singer, not quite realising the limitations of her voice. Her husband St. Clair does his best to keep Florence in the dark, but she yearns to perform…

Based on the New York socialite with an inflated sense of talent, Florence Foster Jenkins could have been a mean or unforgiving portrayal. In director Stephen Frears capable hands, however, the subject is handled amiably. The film focuses on the title character’s later years, leading up to her performance at Carnegie Hall. Frears concentrates on the protagonist and those she was close to, rather than the performance itself.

Stephen Frears needed to tread a narrow line in creating the comedy derived from Florence’s vocal abilities, and not making the character into a clown. The director executes this well; the film is a warm portrait of an interesting and generous person. Similarly, her relationships are portrayed with depth and feeling. The film does not fall back on the trope of the gold-digging younger spouse.

Florence Foster Jenkins reflects the different aspects of its title character. Florence is not a pantomime dame. More serious elements of the protagonist are depicted with the requisite emotion. Frears colours his character with strength and weakness. The lead performance from Meryl Streep is as convincing as ever. Hugh Grant plays the toff as ever, although St Clair is more three dimensional than this. Simon Helberg is wonderfully expressive as Cosme. Costumes in the film are beguiling, and the music is great.

Florence Foster Jenkins is predictable, but good writing, directing and performances mean that this is not a deterrent. Unlike Florence herself, the film hits all the right notes.

Previews: Captain America: Civil War Posters, and more!

Plenty of blockbusters in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including Captain America: Civil War posters, X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgence and more…

Captain America: Civil War Posters

Captain America: Civil War poster

Are you #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan? These new Captain America: Civil War posters highlight the division in the Avengers. Captain America: Civil War is as much a follow-up to Avengers: Age of Ultron as it is to 2014’s superlative Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and a host of other Marvel stars, Captain America: Civil War hits UK screens on 29th April 2016.

Captain America: Civil War Iron Man

Welcome To Me Trailer

Welcome To Me is about a lottery winner who decides to spend her winnings on creating her own talkshow. Kristen Wiig stars at the winner inspired by Oprah Winfrey, and the film also stars James Marsden, Wes Bentley and Joan Cusack. Welcome To Me will be released in cinemas and on Sky Store on 25th March 2016.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse Poster

X-Men: Apocalypse Poster

Michael Fassbender’s Magneto leads the four horsemen of the apocalypse in this new poster for X-Men: Apocalypse. The film sees the return of familiar characters from previous instalment as well as new additions played by Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner and others. X-Men: Apocalypse blasts onto UK screens on 18th May 2016.

Florence Foster Jenkins Trailer

Florence Foster Jenkins star Meryl Streep as the New York heiress. She has a desire to sing, but her voice does not live up to her concert-hall aspirations. Also starring Hugh Grant, the film is directed by Stephen Frears. Florence Foster Jenkins is released in cinemas on 6th May 2016.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children First Look

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Well this looks mildly terrifying. Here is one of the first images released from Tim Burton’s upcoming Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Based on the bestselling novel, the film stars Eva Green, Allison Janney, and Samuel L. Jackson. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will be released in UK cinemas in Autumn 2016.

Demolition Trailer

Demolition is about a successful investment banker who struggles to cope after the tragic death of his wife. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper. Directed by Dallas Buyers Club helmer Jean-Marc Valleé, Demolition hits UK cinemas on 29th April 2016.

Independence Day: Resurgence Poster

IDR Poster

Here is a new poster for the delayed sequel Independence Day: Resurgence. The film is set twenty years after the original, and sees the return of director Roland Emmerich and cast members Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Vivica A. Fox. Independence Day: Resurgence launches on UK screens on 23rd June 2016.

Film Review: Philomena

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.