Film Review: ‘Dark Waters’ ★★★★★

Direction: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan, Nathaniel Rich
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp
Victor Garber, Bill Pullman
Length: 126 minutes
Rating: 12A

A David v Goliath story that concerns all of us. Watch and learn.

On November 19, 2018, BBC Four broadcast an international documentary under its Storyville strand called ‘Poisoning America: The Devil We Know’. As horrifying as it was infuriating, this film burned itself into my memory due to its exposure of deliberate contamination and abhorrent exploitation by the financially blinded controllers of the DuPont chemical corporation against its own workforce, the state and the country. Not content with knowingly poisoning America, however, DuPont has poisoned every living creature on the planet. ‘Dark Waters’ dramatizes this frightening story to excellent effect.

Robert Billot (Ruffalo) is a corporate defence attorney for chemical companies. Adapted from the 2016 New York Times article ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’, he enters the story in 1998 Cincinnati where he is approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Camp) whose livestock has been almost annihilated. While gesturing to the cow graveyard that was once his farmland, Tennant informs Billot at the scene of the crime that he has lost 190 cows before shooting another twice in the head as it charges them both uncontrollably. 191.

We follow one man as he takes on an empire and its structure in an attempt to break through the silence and subterfuge. If you think exposing the secrets of a corporation you once used to defend would be easy, think again. If DuPont thought that an information dump of thousands of paper files would be enough to put him off, they were wrong. Indeed, the cardboard boxes containing these files fill an entire room at the law firm, evoking the maze of Area 51 as featured in the first and fourth Indiana Jones films. A room with no view.

Mark Ruffalo as Mark Billot and Bill Camp as Wilbur Tennant – © 2020 Focus Features. A Comcast Company.

What Billot discovers is actually unbelievable. According to DuPont themselves, PFOA-C8 is an unregulated forever chemical that the body can’t break down so it can’t leave the bloodstream allowing it to accumulate over time. It causes cancer in people and animals and birth defects in babies, including those of the women that worked there. The chemical is used in the manufacture of Teflon, used on non-stick pans. DuPont conducted experiments on people and animals without their knowledge and all developed cancer, and the corporation disposed of hundreds of gallons of toxic waste upriver from Tennant’s farm.

At one point in ‘Dark Waters’, we learn that complainants have only one year to file suit after learning their water supply has been contaminated. DuPont dispatched letters to West Virginia informing residents that while the water wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t life-threatening 11 months ago, leaving Billot and his colleagues only one month to act. In a scene of striking resemblance, we learn the exact same information from the 2000 film ‘Erin Brockovich’ in which Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was to blame, exhibiting proof that this evil manipulation of lives is still occurring at the highest level of business two decades on.

Assuredly directed by Todd Haynes, ‘Dark Waters’ is a cerebral exploration that unfolds in chronological order over 40 years. Slow pacing and a limited character count keep this story leisurely and focused, allowing us to process the events taking place. Unsurprisingly, we are confronted with a capitalist culture of greed; profits at all costs with complete disrespect for humanity and the environment. What is surprising is the unfathomable scale of these high crimes and misdemeanours at a corporation which in the very act of poisoning others, would also be poisoning themselves.

Anne Hathaway as Sarah Billot – © 2020 Focus Features. A Comcast Company.

The most impressive (nay, inspiring) aspect is the dedication and resilience of Billot as he relentlessly and restlessly battles Donnelly and Tom Terp (Robbins) at the corporation and the firm respectively. In fact, the stress of such work on his marriage and finances inflicts a minor stroke, landing him in hospital. With the support of his wife Sarah (Hathaway) he continues. It was only five years ago that DuPont finally settled the class action lawsuit for $671million, but only after they attempted to default on their agreement to compensate victims, forcing Billot to fight each case against them one by one. After the first three victims were awarded over $1million each, DuPont reconsidered.

Anchored by Ruffalo (also producer), Camp and Hathaway, all of whom deliver fine performances, ‘Dark Waters’ benefits immensely from its composer Marcelo Zarvos and cinematographer Edward Lachman. Light country music while driving cross-country is interspersed with dark war horns in the multi-storey car park, the de facto location for general foreboding while uncovering conspiracies. In contrast to ‘Erin Brockovich’ with its warm summer tones, the winter setting of ‘Dark Waters’ makes the already bleak subject matter even bleaker creating an atmosphere of near-constant cold monotone that David Fincher would be proud of. So cold. Just like hard cash.

‘Dark Waters’ is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Greed’ ★★★

Direction: Michael Winterbottom
Screenplay: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson
Length: 104 minutes
Rating: R

Actor Steve Coogan as Sir Michael McCreadie, the English Malcolm Tucker, in ‘Greed’ | © Channel Four Television Corporation 2020

Satire sowing the rise and fall of a high street fashion gladiator. Remind you of anyone?

Sir Richard McCreadie (Coogan) is a fashion magnate preparing to host his 60th birthday on the Greek island of Mykonos, complete with Gladiator style dress robes, wooden colosseum and lions (no, really). He is a disrespectful monster, humiliating his subordinates and superiors alike, yet all the while being thoroughly entertaining. Any normal person would run for the hills but the problem is he is a billionaire, so people are willing to ignore his explosive verbal diarrhoea for reasons I actually can’t identify.

Why do people put up with such assault, I wonder? Nobody he abuses appears to be very well paid yet celebrities are falling over themselves to work with him. Is it the proximity to success or chance of career advancement? It can’t be the money as he doesn’t appear to be the sharing type.

Flashbacks of his childhood and education at a private school provide us with enough understanding of his development of a thick skin and abrasive attitude even if we don’t necessarily sympathise. From gambling with, or rather against, his fellow students at home to bartering with tuk-tuk drivers abroad, his undivided ambition to make money regardless of failure, which happened several times, warrants some form of admiration. His methods, however, are not warranted in any fashion, even when achieving success.

McCreadie exhibits all the grandiose characteristics of a mafia godfather rather than the oily boss of a clothing empire but that doesn’t mean his reign is any less bloody. His dressing up as a gladiator only adds to the deranged emperor image he wants to dissipate. Despite a fire claiming the lives of the exploited workers (arguably slaves) in the supply factories that feed the low-cost fashion economy, he carries on taunting the refugees on the beach below his sprawling complex.

Steve Coogan is excellent as McCreadie, a man whose life is as artificial as his self-importance, as is Shirley Henderson who almost steals the show as Margaret McCreadie, Richard’s Irish megalomaniac mother. Wonder who he gets it from? Wonder no more.

David Mitchell is equally as good as McCreadie’s biographer whose interviews with those who encountered McCreadie at various points in his life serve as the backbone of ‘Greed’. We get a crash course in tax avoidance in the middle and the shocking facts of fast fashion at the end of the film.

Essentially, McCreadie is the English Malcolm Tucker. Although both are manipulative and enthralling, Tucker operates in the shadows while McCreadie exists in the spotlight. His charismatic but superficial public image, exploitation of low-paid foreign workers and corruption of financial accounts for personal gain scream of one individual in particular. His overconfidence merging into egomaniacal fantasy, sneering behaviour at a parliamentary inquiry and suggestions by those parliamentarians to remove his knighthood are a wealth of evidence to suggest McCreadie is based, at least in part, on one person.

It would have been more satisfying if the fallout from the twist in the tale and the publication of McCreadie’s biography were fleshed out more, however, neither of these would feature McCreadie prominently, only of the reaction of others, so their omission is somewhat understandable. As it stands, the denouement leaves more questions than answers and more complexity than certainty. Perhaps symbolic of the unpredictability of the emperor and his countless new clothes.

‘Greed’ is in cinemas now.

“It’s an honest portrayal of Scottish people ” – Our Ladies director speaks to EN4 News

Stop what you’re doing, grab your girlies and get ready to be hit by a wave of nostalgia.

For the first time in forever, there is a film based in Scotland, about Scottish culture that isn’t “Trainspotting”… no, it’s not “Trainspotting 2” either.

Broxburn born film director, Michael Caton-Jones, has stepped out of Hollywood film-making to step back into the culture he is more than familiar with and presents us with “Our Ladies”.

Based on Alan Warner’s novel “The Sopranos”, set in the year 1996, “Our Ladies” follows a group of Catholic schoolgirls from the Scottish Highlands who go on a trip to Edinburgh for a choir competition.

Focusing less on singing and more on boys and booze, the film is a coming-of-age for these six young Scottish ladies.

Credit: Sigma Films

Speaking exclusively to EN4News, Caton-Jones said that he felt he was the only one who could do it justice: “It was the first time I had ever read anything that was accurate and honest about the way I had grown up and I felt at that time. There weren’t many directors with my background.”

He first secured the rights to adapt Warner’s book 20 years ago as what was initially going to be a side project.

It has taken the director years to find financial backing to be able to make the film, with many places not getting the hype about a female-led film until recently.

“I found other people’s perceptions [of the characters] the strangest thing. ‘Oh, you can’t let them behave like that!’ Well, how can’t you?

“I remember my big sister and her pals, I thought they were great fun. I grew up in Scotland, with Scottish women and I don’t find them wallflowers, I find them equals.”

The actresses in the film are largely unknown.

Eve Austin, Tallulah Greive, Abigail Lawrie, Rona Morison, Marli Sui and Sally Messham star in the film and each have roots here in Scotland.

“What I was trying to do was make an honest portrayal of the way people are” (Credit: Sigma Films)

The director told EN4 News that he didn’t feel he could stuff this film full of recognisable faces: “The advantages of having a cast that nobody recognises is that it looks like a completely fresh view of the world, because you’re delighted that you’re finding these people and believing them.”

This is not the first time Caton-Jones has picked an undiscovered actor for a role.

In 1993, he cast the little-known Leonardo DiCaprio in his first film, “This Boy’s Life” and was thanked by DiCaprio in his Oscar acceptance speech for giving him his first role.

As someone who comes from “a very working-class background”, the film-maker feels it can be difficult to get opportunities, especially here in Scotland.

“I find there is a lot of talent in Scotland, but I don’t feel that there are a lot of ways of channelling that.

“I’m a nice working-class boy, and very few of them come through in the film industry.”

As a coming-of-age film, set and filmed entirely in Scotland, “Our Ladies” is one of the first of its kind in the film industry.

It has been hailed as a “must-see” by leading British film magazine, Sight and Sound, after its world premiere in London last year.

It is due to make its Scottish debut at Glasgow Film Festival at the end of this month.

“What I was trying to do was make an honest portrayal of the way people are and the way they behave and because I’m Scottish, I know these people intimately,” he said, “The things that happen to these girls could happen to anybody, anywhere in the world and it’s the universality of that that you’re trying to create.”

“Our Ladies” will be released across the UK on March 6 this year.

Anywhere but London: Event celebrating British movies set outside of the UK capital launches at Summerhall

Credit: EN4 News

After realising how many UK films are centred around London, Summerhall programmer, Tom Forster, decided to put on an event highlighting films set outside the big smoke.

Beginning with Danny Boyle’s cult classic Trainspotting, the event features films about working-class men in Sheffield and a local radio station under siege in Norwich.

I met up with Forster in Summerhall’s café, where he told me where the idea came from: “I thought ‘I wonder how many movies are not set in London?’ – It turns out not a lot!”

Tom tells me that beginning the event with Trainspotting was no accident: “It’s the first Scottish movie that comes to mind.”. I ask him if it’s a kicker that the plot drives the film to London: “Yeah” he laughs: “It is!”.

After this he goes on: “Most things get driven to London at some point, it is like a little black hole… money and talent, just everything drifts down.”. Coming back to the characters in Trainspotting travelling down to London Tom muses: “I think it proves the point quite well actually.”.

We move onto the themes of films set outside England’s capital: “Everyone’s typically very poor, deprived, drug addicted, up against werewolves, they’re in the army or they’ve come back from the army and they’ve got nothing.” Continuing: “They’re all set in really dystopian kind of apocalyptic looking landscapes.”.

A main driving force behind the event was to showcase a diverse rage stories set outside the capital: “There’s only two movies I can think of set in Sheffield, one looks at terrorism and the other looks at economic depravity… looking outside of London there are a lot of interesting stories to tell”.

To hear our full conversation check out the track below:

If you’d like to catch any of the films this event is showcasing, you have until the 29th of February to head down to Summerhall.

Film Review: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ ★★★★

Direction: Marielle Heller
Screenplay: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: PG

Enchanting and surprising.  A golden adventure.

Using the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod as inspiration, this film follows witty yet cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Rhys), as he is tasked with writing a profile on television personality Fred Rogers (Hanks) and how this friendship will change the course of his life. For those unaware, Rogers was an American national treasure who presented the widely adored children’s series ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ for over thirty years. Overjoyed reactions from Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall to his mere presence says it all.

Much like the medium of television, Rogers’ life and work is an interesting conundrum of both authenticity and artificiality. While the miniature town and city sets and puppets on the programme are toys by design, the host and the home from which he presents are life-size, also by choice.

For a person of such purity, Rogers is not a character as Vogel presumes but also not a saint as Rogers’ wife points out. He has, and wants, to work at it. Rogers is a just a man who believes in recapturing the imagination of childhood in adulthood and delivering that message to each demographic on-screen and off. Vogel finds this genuineness difficult to believe, setting the stage for a meeting of opposing minds but eventually kindred spirits. This is the story of how that happens.

For his supporting performance as Fred Rogers, Tom Hanks received Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations | © 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Tencent Pictures (USA) LLC. All Rights Reserved

Originally filmed with live musicians at WQED Studios in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ has been wonderfully reenacted in standard definition picture format and aspect ratio to contrast the real world going on away from the camera lens. Much like the format of Rogers’ show, the film unfolds as a children’s story covering challenging adult themes, introduced and concluded by Hanks’ Rogers.

A film of this sweetness and delicacy necessitates that we suspend our disbelief and befriend our imagination once more. My advice is to watch with the soft embrace of Rogers and not the hard scepticism of Vogel, despite those qualities required of their respective work. Resistance is futile.

As it turns out, adults need Rogers as much as children do. As adults, we are trained to resist childish play, but playing brings us closer to our humanity. Playing as children was often the time when we were happiest and holding on to that ability to play may help us find fulfilment as adults. Rogers reminds us of this.

On the set of ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood’ Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, based on journalist Tom Junod who wrote Can You Say…”Hero?” after meeting Fred Rogers | © 2019 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Tencent Pictures (USA) LLC. All Rights Reserved

Similar to the end credits of ‘Saving Mr Banks’, where Hanks embodies Walt Disney, another American icon beloved by children, we are granted access to the original recordings of Rogers at work in archive footage of an episode of the children’s television programme. A nice touch. While Hanks played the supporting role in both films and shamefully wasn’t nominated for any major awards for ‘Saving Mr Banks’, after almost two decades he has received his sixth Oscar nomination for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’. Another nice touch.

Both films dramatise the interactions between lesser-known writers and high-profile figures with the life of the former very much in the spotlight. With the scandalous exemption of an Oscar nomination, Emma Thompson’s dominating performance as Mary Poppins‘ author P. L. Travers in ‘Saving Mr Banks’ was the focus of most awards season attention however, this time, Matthew Rhys’ subtle turn as Esquire magazine journalist in ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ has been largely overlooked. An overly crowded leading category race, perhaps? Who can say for sure?

At one moment, Hanks’ Rogers breaks the fourth wall. Not with a weapon of course, but by staring down the camera lens at the film’s audience just as he does to the audience of children on his television programme. At the end of one episode, he says: “I like you just the way you are.” We need to say these words out loud to ourselves more often than we do. Or at least have somebody like Rogers who can do it for us. Of that I can say for sure.

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Film Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ ★★★

Direction: Robert Eggers
Screenplay: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: 15

Powerful suspense, hauntingly surreal.

Loosely inspired by an unfinished story from the father of horror himself – Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse is a truly chilling journey that descends into madness.

Shot on black and white 35-millimeter film, The Lighthouse is something of a throwback to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, George A. Romero and other pioneers of horror-cinema.

The Lighthouse finds our leading men on an isolated island somewhere off the coast of New England, during the late 19th century. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) takes a job as a ‘wickie’ (lighthouse-keeper) where he must serve a 4-week contract under the supervision of an elderly and poorly-tempered ex-seaman (Willem Dafoe).

What follows is a series of events that leaves both men questioning reality, their sanity and their relationship with each other.

The Lighthouse is, for the most part, very impressive. The isolated setting allows for a build-up of tension that will leave you squirming in your seat. This is complemented perfectly by the gloomy, black and white visual style.

The only issue with the film was the ending, which was left far too ambiguous. Audiences often appreciate filmmakers who can leave a little up to interpretation, but The Lighthouse relied too heavily on the watcher. Resulting in the ending being rather confusing and admittedly, a little disappointing.

The Lighthouse is in cinemas now.

★★★

Awards season podcast: BAFTAs 2020 preview

In the first of two podcasts, Adam Zawadzki and Ony McFadden preview the 73rd British Academy Film Awards.

 

Tune in next week for a preview of the 92nd Academy Awards.

Film Review: ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ ★★★★

Direction: Armando Iannucci
Screenplay: Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell
Cast: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi,
Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse, Aneurin Barnard, Daisy May Cooper
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: PG

An unexpectedly escapist delight of independent cinema from the master of satire.

In a similar fashion to ‘In the Loop’ and ‘The Death of Stalin’, writer/director Armando Iannucci envelops this comedy-drama with his usual flair for surreal humour. While those previous projects focused on the power games played by political manipulators in gloriously absurdist style, they are much colder in comparison to his new release. And so they should be, if they weren’t then the chaos wouldn’t be as hysterical. Although all are undeniably beautifully crafted works, this film is set apart by its surprisingly romantic tone. After all, this is ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ from childhood to adulthood. A rather more emotional story of both struggle and success that is ultimately uplifting, as well as being hilariously bizarre.

A tale of two halves, each stage in the life of David Copperfield (Patel) is coloured in light and dark. From his idyllic childhood in the country filled with imagination to the poverty and humiliation of the factory in the city. From the eccentricity of his relatives Mr. Dick (Laurie) and Betsy Trotwood (Swinton), both of whom give brilliant performances, back in the country to the return to hardship after their bankruptcy back in the city. From falling in love and losing a friend to regaining financial control and being fulfilled by writing and companionship, this Copperfield story is injected with an eclectic cast of great British talent. Laurie, Swinton, Capaldi and Wishaw are able to take flight from the platform of smart writing; uproarious and melancholy.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ Poster | © Lions Gate International (UK) Limited.

Nominated for an impressive 11 British Independent Film Awards, ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ won five including Best Screenplay for Iannucci and Blackwell, Best Supporting Actor for Laurie and Best Casting for Sarah Crowe. She is also nominated for a BAFTA in the same category, created this year, disappointingly the film’s only nomination there. Even recognition in the Best British Film category, where commercially modest but nevertheless critically acclaimed independent films overlooked elsewhere at major awards ceremonies usually do well, was also denied. It deserved better.

My only criticism, admittedly trivial in relation to the overall excellence, is that by condensing a large part of a life into two hours, a lot of breathing space for greater analysis is unavailable. With multiple characters and myriad locations to fit in, the fast pace of the film could have benefited from moments to pause. Conversely, no scenes or situations ever feel rushed while each of the major supporting players appear throughout with new material to develop their characters. But maybe that was the point; the high speed of unfolding events also keeps the film fresh and maintains our engagement in an age of ever reducing attention spans. And with that, I’ve solved nothing.

Actor Dev Patel in character as David Copperfield in ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ | © Channel Four Television Corporation 2020

Many people have asked the question: ‘What would you say to your younger self?’ As the very last words of the film, Copperfield says to his younger self, “Don’t worry. We’ll make it through and we’ll have quite the ride on the way”. Symbolic of the film’s warm nature from the beginning, we now have the answer in the most hopeful of endings. Refreshingly heartfelt and beautifully made, Iannucci has delivered an entertaining comedy and impactful drama that warranted more attention this awards season. Especially at the BAFTAs.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

The British Academy Film Awards’ will be broadcast at 21:00 on Sunday 2 February 2020 on BBC One and HD. The BBC News Channel and HD will broadcast ‘Baftas 2020: Red Carpet Show’ at 17:15 and ‘Baftas 2020: Results Show’ at 21:30 on Sunday 2 February and ‘Baftas 2020: Extra Time’ at 00:30 on Monday 3 February 2020.

Film Review: ‘Bombshell’ ★★★★

Direction: Jay Roach
Screenplay: Charles Randolph
Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow,
Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: 15

A stylishly executed drama that captures the cultural zeitgeist.

Set in 2016, Megan Kelly (Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) and Kayla Pospisil (Robbie) have been sexually harassed by predatory Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes (Lithgow) but are at different stages of their lives and careers. News anchor Carlson is fired after angering the network and its audience before preparing to sue Ailes, Kelly is the current star news anchor questioning whether to come forward against Ailes, and Posposil is a new arrival at what she thought would be her dream job.

In ‘Bombshell’, we have a backstage pass to watch the high pressure and competition of 24-hour cable news where the camera is always on the move; panning, zooming and refocusing, reflecting the fast pace and constant rate of change. Transformed by subtle prosthetics and vocal register, Theron is particularly impressive as Kelly, delivering dialogue in voiceover and breaking the fourth wall (as do Kidman and Robbie) to provide us with context on Fox News and her place within it as she strides through the newsroom sets.

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie in character as Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and Kayla Pospisil, respectively | © 2019 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

Director Jay Roach, who also helmed the HBO political drama films ‘Recount’, ‘Game Change’ and ‘All The Way’, brings much of the same class and flair for behind the scenes storytelling to this biographical drama as he brought to ‘Trumbo’, his previous cinema release. Also in voiceover is the shocking testimony from other survivors of sexual harassment at the hands of Ailes, an unexpected and commanding move.

Both ‘Bombshell’ and the Showtime limited series ‘The Loudest Voice’, which depicts the rise and fall of Roger Ailes over twenty years as he builds Fox News into the media powerhouse that exists today, have received significant awards season attention. While Theron and Robbie have collected Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for their leading and supporting performances in the film, respectively, Kidman and Lithgow were overlooked for their supporting turns. In contrast, Russell Crowe won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ailes while the limited series was also nominated.

John Lithgow in character as Roger Ailes | © 2019 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

While ‘Bombshell’ focuses more on Kelly and ‘The Loudest Voice’ on Ailes, both projects recognise the pivotal role of Carlson in the downfall of Ailes. By stepping into the firing line, literally and metaphorically, to expose the sexual harassment by Ailes, other women were encouraged to come forward. But this decision was a huge risk considering the media machine and toxic culture that opposed them. It would leave their lives, career and relationships vulnerable to attack. After surviving assault in private, they would need to withstand further onslaught in public with no guarantee of effecting significant change.

Since 2016, there has been a monumental cultural shift in action for survivors and reactions against perpetrators of sexual harassment, with particular reference to individuals and industries in the public eye. But how much of the system has changed when the settlements for accusers are much lower than abusers, as highlighted at the end of the film?

‘Bombshell’ broadcasts this heart-breaking news from the women’s point of view.

‘Bombshell’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★

Film Review: ‘1917’ ★★★★★

A war drama of extraordinary technical and emotional achievement.

Often the simplest plots are the best for epic staging. Two young British soldiers, Lance (George MacKay) and Tom (Dean-Charles Chapman) have been charged by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) with preventing the planned attack by the 2nd Battalion of Devonshire Regiment who mistakenly believe the Germans are in full retreat but are actually tactically withdrawing. With field telephone lines cut, they must deliver the message by hand to save the lives of 1,600 men before the attack the following day.

A treacherous descent into destruction develops as the protagonists move cautiously through a maze of death. Like the soldiers, we’re held in a ubiquitous state of tension, by both the leading characters’ progress and the cerebral writhing of Thomas Newman’s score.

With each challenge Schofield and Blake surpass, the further they journey from relative safety adding to the sense of foreboding. Louder and softer the music groans, evoking the sound of far off shelling, and the image that while all is quiet here and now, it is only temporary as battles are raging somewhere and death is never far away.

Lance Corporals Will Schofield (MacKay) and Tom Blake (Chapman) make their way through the barbed wire of No Man’s Land in ‘1917’ | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Step by step, the characters walk the story through dangerously cramped trenches, hazardous underground tunnels and battle-scarred farmland. Completely isolated, in fear of their lives and only each other for survival, Schofield and Blake still press on. One wrong move could be their last. Just one story of true heroism representative of so many that fought, died and survived an unimaginable existence. The tragedy of war is inescapable. But life goes on.

An entire world has been created in ‘1917’. What unfolds before us is a miraculous combination of forensic planning in screenwriting and production. And the meticulous precision of acting and directing in order to execute what is essentially a cinematic play staged on location in real time but that never feels staged for effect. One-shot filming requires a faultless performance from cast and crew and all should be commended for the distinctive qualities this gives the film.

Schofield (MacKay) hauls himself out of a river of bodies to deliver a message that will spare 1,600 lives | © 2020 Universal Pictures

Violent sequences alternate with moments of great beauty. Death and life intertwine. Crossing the broken bridge, escaping the bombed town and running through open battle are all stand-out set-pieces. While Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch add gravitas to pivotal moments, Claire Duburcq and Richard Madden provide sensitive relief. And then there’s George MacKay. Despite enduring such mental and physical extremities that are truly unbelievable in order to make this film as great as it is, he has infuriatingly been left out of the Best Actor categories this awards season. Thankfully, the film as a whole has not.

Winner of two Golden Globes (Best Director and Motion Picture – Drama) from three nominations, ‘1917’ has also been nominated for nine BAFTAs, including Best Film, and ten Oscars, including Best Picture. While Sam Mendes won Best Director at the Critics’ Choice Awards (in a tie with Bong Joon-Ho for ‘Parasite’), one of its three wins from eight nominations, ‘Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood’ won Best Picture.

An almighty gamble has paid off and the one-shot wonder of ‘1917’ should be handsomely rewarded as an iconic cinematic accomplishment alone. It deserves to be experienced on the big screen and will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. As the lone tree stands tall at the denouement of the film, so can the filmmakers.

‘1917’ is in cinemas now.
★★★★★

 

Billie Eilish shakes (and stirs) Bond fans

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