Belfast

21/02/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film, Belfast, opens in supremely confident style.

We are presented with sleek, full-colour images of the city as it is now – the kind of scenes that might grace a corporate promotional video. And then the camera cranes up over a wall and, suddenly, we’re back in the summer of ’69, viewing events in starkly contrasting monochrome, as children run and play happily in the streets of humble terraced houses.

Amongst them is Buddy (Jude Hill), eight years old, wielding a wooden sword and a dustbin-lid shield. But the serenity of the scene is rudely disrupted by the arrival of a gang of masked men brandishing blazing torches and Molotov cocktails, extremist Protestants come to oust the Catholics who have dared to dwell on these streets. Buddy and his family are Protestant too and have happily lived alongside their Catholic neighbours for years, but now find themselves swept up in the ensuing violence.

It’s a powerful moment as we witness Buddy’s terror, the unexpected suddenness of this sea change literally freezing him in his tracks.

Then a gentler story begins to unfold, and we witness key events through Buddy’s naïve gaze. We are introduced to his Ma (Caitriona Balfe), to the father he idolises (Jamie Dornan), to his grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hands), and to the various neighbours and acquaintances who live in his familiar neighbourhood, a world he cherishes, suddenly transformed into something ugly and unpredictable.

Buddy’s father, a joiner by trade, works away from home in England, struggling to pay off his crushing tax debts. He’s keen to leave the city of his birth, to forge a new life for the family in England – but his wife is reluctant to leave and Buddy is obsessed with staying close to the girl at school he’s fallen in love with and hopes to marry one day.

Besides, how could he even think of leaving his beloved grandparents behind?

Branagh writes and directs here and handles both crafts with consummate skill, walking with ease the perilous tightrope between affection and sentimentality. Happily, he rarely puts a foot wrong. Buddy’s formative experiences include a visit to the theatre to see A Christmas Carol (with a lovely final performance from John Sessions – to whom the film is dedicated) and regular forays to the cinema, where we see extracts from Westerns High Noon and The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance. (If a cinema showing of One Million Years BC doesn’t exactly tie-in with the year in which the film is set, well no matter. Buddy is an unreliable narrator and his memories are built on uncertain foundations.)

I love Belfast. It’s a classy production, from the vintage Van Morrison soundtrack to the brilliant performances from the supporting cast. Young Jude Hill is simply perfect as Buddy, offering up a range of emotions that challenge the abilities of veteran performers Dench and Hinds. Watch out for some delicious Easter eggs that point to Branagh’s destiny. This film is all about formative experiences, the kind that shape a young boy’s future forever.

Belfast is an absolute joy, ready to be sampled at cinemas across the UK.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Boiling Point

14/02/22

Amazon Prime Video

Stephen Graham is one of the most ubiquitous actors in the business. This is not to detract from his considerable powers as a performer, but he seems to be popping up all over the place in a whole range of different guises. Boiling Point, written and directed by Philip Barantini (and developed from his 2019 short of the same name), features Graham as head chef Andy Jones, currently helming one of Dalston’s trendiest and most in-demand fine-dining restaurants. Christmas is coming but Andy hasn’t got time to sit back and soak up the festive vibes. He’s running late.

When we first encounter him, he’s already in motion, trying to get to the restaurant for a sold-out pre- Christmas sitting, whilst fielding angry phone calls from the wife he’s recently separated from. She wants to know why he hasn’t been in touch to wish his son a happy birthday. Awkward.

It’s just the start of a breathless journey into a world of relentless high pressure – indeed, this may just qualify as the most stressful viewing experience I’ve had since Uncut Gems – and I mean that in a good way. The conceit here is that Andy’s night is ingeniously filmed in one continuous tracking shot, a device that only serves to amplify the ensuing claustrophobic madness. Unlike many films that are cunningly created using hidden edits, this is the real McCoy. One can only wonder at the pressure the actors must have been under to keep the casserole bubbling. (Trivia fans might care to know that the crew only had time for four takes – and they used the third!)

Once at the restaurant Andy has more problems waiting for him. An officious environmental health inspector is in the process of downgrading the venue’s certificate from five stars to a three; Andy’s team leader, Carly (Vinette Robinson), is pressing him for a wage increase; and it turns out that his old boss, celebrity chef Alistair Skye (Jason Flemying) has booked in to dine and has brought influential food critic Sarah Southworth (Lourdes Faberes) along as his guest…

Throw in the Instagram influencers who want something that’s not actually on the menu, and a boorish customer who keeps insulting the waiters, and you have a recipe for disaster.

What follows can only be described as riveting viewing. There are arguments, misunderstandings, conflicts and catastrophes for Andy to handle and, as the proceedings go from bad to worse, we learn more about his current situation and realise that his career – and possibly his life – is hanging in the balance. As the temperature steadily rises under a metaphorical pressure cooker, we actually relish the leisurely moment where one of the dishwashers strolls outside to empty the rubbish bins, before returning to the madness.

I have only one issue: one particular impending crisis is too heavily signposted, so when it finally comes to fruition, all the dramatic tension has been squandered.

But I’m nitpicking. All kudos to Barantini and cinematographer Matthew Lewis, who come close to rivalling the genius of Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, another genuine one-shot wonder. Those who enjoy propulsive, high stakes entertainment should strap themselves in for a memorable ride.

Those of you who hanker after a career in fine dining… maybe this frenetic feast won’t be to your taste.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

12/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

This eccentric biopic of Edwardian illustrator Louis Wain is a curious kettle of cat litter, a story so weird it can only be true. It’s centred around an impressive performance by Benedict Cumberbatch and features such a wealth of talent in the supporting roles that I can’t help feeling that the actor (also executive producer on this) must have called in some favours from his friends.

Cumberbatch portrays Wain at various points in his life, from bumbling, hyperactive youngster to grey and mentally frail in his final years. Cumberbatch manages to convince at just about every point of the journey. When we first meet Wain, he’s a freelance illustrator, who, at the age of twenty, is struggling to provide for the upkeep of his widowed mother (Phoebe Nicholls) and his five sisters, none of whom seem to have any prospect of marriage.

However, the family budget does stretch to paying for a governess to teach the younger girls and she’s Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), who, despite being ten years older than Louis, soon has him hanging on her every word in open-mouthed adoration, much to the disgust of his sour-faced older sister, Caroline (Andrea Riseborough).

It isn’t long before Louis and Emily have married and moved to a picturesque cottage in the countryside. But then Emily receives some devastating news about her health – and moments later, the couple discover an abandoned kitten wandering in their garden, whom they promptly christen Peter. The cat is to have a profound effect on Wain’s career…

The film’s early stretches have a charmingly ramshackle quality, and I’m initially prepared to put aside my reservations about the screenplay by Will Sharpe and Simon Stephenson, which fails to give actors of the quality of Riseborough enough to do. Other luminaries can be missed in the blink of an eye. Hayley Squires, Taika Waititi, Richard Ayoade, Julian Barrett… they flit across the screen like phantoms with barely a line of dialogue between them.

When Wain’s patron, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), assigns him a double-page spread in The Illustrated London News to be filled with images of ‘comical cats,’ the artist’s career takes an unexpected leap skywards, but the film fails to soar in the same manner. It becomes bogged down in Wain’s inescapable problems, including his increasingly desperate struggles with schizophrenia and his inability to profit from his own artistic endeavours. (Message to all aspiring illustrators: ensure you copyright your work before you put it in the public domain. You’re welcome.)

From this point, the story fails to maintain a consistent tone and Wain’s bizarre ‘electrical’ theories are never explained clearly enough for us to understand either what they are or why they are considered important enough to include in the title. In its final stretches the film becomes more and more surreal, with landscapes turning into paintings and people turning into cats, while a theremin whines mournfully on the soundtrack. Having Nick Cave appear as the author H.G. Wells seems a step too bizarre and makes me wonder if this is supposed to be one of the hallucinations that Wain suffered towards the end of his life. Whatever it means, it feels like a misstep.

So, all plaudits to Cumberbatch for yet another in his dazzling collection of character studies. It’s quite an about-turn after the toxic masculinity of The Power of the Dog. Perhaps Charms of the Cat would have been a more appropriate title?

And, as for the film that contains said performance, it’s muddled and a bit of a disappointment.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Being the Ricardos

11/01/22

Amazon Prime Video

I am actually old enough to remember watching I Love Lucy as a child – and can recall laughing out loud at the onscreen antics – though a quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that the show only launched in the year of my birth and ended in 1957, so I was probably already viewing re-runs. It was a game changer in many regards, the first scripted TV show to be filmed in front of a live audience using a (then) unique three-camera system. At the peak of its powers, it pulled in sixty million viewers.

Being the Ricardos is a fascinating look at the husband and wife duo on which the series was loosely based, as they approach a major flashpoint in their joint career. Midway through recording their second series, Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are hit by potential disaster. Ball has been investigated (and cleared) by the House Un-American Activities Committee, but the newspapers are now accusing her of being a communist. Also, she has just discovered she is pregnant with her second child and there’s no way her sponsors are going to allow a visibly pregnant woman onto the television screens, because viewers are going to start thinking about how she got pregnant in the first place and – well, not to put too fine a point upon it, her husband is Cuban…

I know. You could be forgiven for thinking that the series actually originated in the middle ages, but no, in the 1950s, such mundane revelations could stop a series dead in its tracks. So it’s going to take some nifty dance moves to get Lucy and Desi out of this one.

Writer/director Aaron Sorkin adopts a multi-faceted approach to telling his story, introducing it via a series of interviews with the show’s original writers and producer (all played by actors) and then cutting gleefully back and forth between Ball And Arnaz’s first meeting; their early experiences in radio, film and music; the recreation of the recording of a live show and all points in between.

We learn fairly quickly that Ball is an inveterate micro-manager, who trusts nobody’s instincts as much as her own, and that Arnaz is an astute businessman with an eye for self-preservation and a yen for booze, card games and female company. We also meet the duo’s regular co-stars, William Frawley (JK Simmons) and Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda), whose careers are inextricably entwined with those of their employers, and who are not slow to express their dissatisfaction with the way they’re expected to play second fiddle. There’s also an appealing rivalry between the show’s two main writers, Madelyn Pugh (Alia Shawkat) and Bob Carroll (Jake Lacy).

The script positively crackles with witty putdowns and snarky one-liners and Kidman’s performance (which has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe) is extraordinary, nailing Ball’s look, voice and presence in seemingly effortless fashion. Mind you, the cast are uniformly good and the era convincingly evoked. As the story switches expertly back and forth, no scene is allowed to outstay its welcome.

So much more than just another biopic, Being the Ricardos sneaked quietly straight onto Amazon Prime in the UK, but, with a strong Oscar buzz behind it, expect to hear a lot more about it in the days to come.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The 355

08/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

The 355 is a lot of fun. It’s a wet afternoon in Edinburgh, and we’re in the mood for some light-hearted distraction, and these female secret agents tick that box expertly. This film is a lively addition to the action-spy pantheon.

It’s an international affair, with operatives from the UK (Lupita Nyong’o), the USA (Jessica Chastain), Germany (Diane Kruger) and Colombia (Penélope Cruz) teaming up to find a hard-drive with the power to destroy the world. Okay, so the stakes are ludicrously high, but they always are in this genre, and director Simon Kinberg does enough to persuade me to suspend my disbelief. It’s not ground-breaking – in fact, it’s pretty generic – but I don’t mind that. I think it’s okay to do ‘James Bond, but with women’ – because, well, why not? This film is both accomplished and diverting, and the performances are universally strong.

The pace is furious, so we’re never given time to dwell on any of the more outré details, which is probably a good thing. We’re in Colombia, then Washington DC, then Paris; Berlin, London, Paris again, Marrakesh, Shanghai. It’s a frantic journey around the globe, the team an object lesson in international relations.

The action scenes are nicely choreographed, and always feel fresh, the standouts being shot in a fish market and the Paris Metro. I’m not sure why Mace (Chastain) wears heels to the former shootout (this isn’t a film that focuses on what the women wear, nor are there any silly sexist jokes about inappropriate footwear), but that’s just a small detail. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky in places but, for the main part, the writing is sprightly and engaging.

In short, The 355 isn’t going to change the world its protagonists save, but it might just brighten up your day.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Matrix: Resurrections

06/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Few movie fans would deny that 1999’s The Matrix was a game-changer.

Back then, this uber-stylish, martial arts-infused sci-fi mash up looked like nothing else that had gone before. It introduced the innovative ‘bullet-time’ technique and had its followers feverishly discussing what it might all mean. But then of course, its success meant that in 2003 there were a couple of over-elaborate sequels – Reloaded and Revolutions – which seemed to take the whole idea a bit too seriously for comfort. Over the intervening years, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the concept would ever justify another reboot, but nevertheless, here it is, with just one of the Wachowski siblings (Lana) at the helm. So what’s left to say?

As if to demonstrate that the filmmakers mean business, Resurrections kicks off with a lavishly mounted action sequence, where characters we haven’t met before observe others, who resemble ones we already know. A confusing fight scene ensues, guns fire, people run up walls and vehicles dutifully explode, while the protagonists mumble things that might mean something to me if I’d only watched the three previous films recently… but it’s been years, and the mutterings mean zilch.

Then the plot kicks in and things don’t really get any better.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is an award-winning designer of a video game called The Matrix. A fellow worker grumbles that ‘Warner Brothers’ are keen for Thomas to produce a sequel, but he’s not sure that’s a good idea. (See, we’re really going meta here!) Thomas has other things on his mind. In a coffee shop he visits regularly, he’s started noticing a woman called Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), who looks uncannily like his old flame Trinity. Hmm. The names are similar. Could she still be alive, despite having died in an earlier film? Thomas’s analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) assures him that he’s just getting mixed up between what’s real and those crazy video games he creates. But Thomas can’t help but wonder. Is his ‘reality’ real … or just another cunningly crafted construct of The Matrix?

Take a wild guess.

For all of its attempts at ‘nod-wink-cleverness,’ Resurrections feels like it’s trying to be a greatest hits package, only – where the original was fleet-footed and powered by its own internal logic – this just feels bloated and, for the most part, incoherent. Still, familiar scenes keep popping up with annoying regularity. Red pill, green pill? Tick! A reprise of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit? You got it! Morpheus (this time played by Yaha Abdul -Mateen II) crossing his arms and firing two automatic weapons simultaneously? It’s right there, baby!

But where the original was nimble, Resurrections feels lumbering and confused. It’s really coming to something when you can’t follow a simple punch-up without wanting to rewind it for a second look. Reeves stumbles through this mess looking bewildered. Perhaps he’s wondering why this isn’t another John Wick movie. He’s not helped by brief cutaways to the original film, where he looks more awake and like he actually knows what’s happening to him.

And then in comes Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, who, being older – and therefore supposedly wiser – than most of the other characters, speaks like a collection of audible fridge magnets. At which point I kind of give up on trying to follow the ridiculously complicated storyline. I think it basically comes down to everyone trying to reunite Thomas with Trinity, whilst destroying an awful lot of vehicles and buildings in the process. And it’s important for them to be together again, because… nope, sorry. Must have missed that.

The simple truth is that The Matrix was a smart little movie that never needed to be remade, reloaded, rebooted or – as is clearly the case here – reheated. The film runs for a formidable two hours and thirty- five minutes, but trust me, it feels much, much longer than that.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Theatre Bouquets 2021

2021 was a disappointing year for theatre lovers. The venues were dark for many months and, when they finally opened again, there was an understandable tendency to go with surefire hits that had already established their ability to put bums on seats. In August, the Edinburgh Fringe – usually packed with new material – was a shadow of its former self. But, against all the odds, some playmakers still managed to make their mark, and we were able to enjoy some exciting material. Here are the standouts:

Shook – theSpaceUK

‘… a stunning piece all round: the writing, direction and performances combine to create something really powerful and yet humbling. A fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood.’

Screen 9 The Pleasance

‘… While this is nobody’s idea of a fun night out at The Fringe, it’s nonetheless an enervating and thought-provoking theatrical experience, not to be missed.’

The Enemy – King’s Theatre

‘… combines Ibsen’s timeless appeal with something bold and fresh. It’s almost guaranteed to get bums on seats, while simultaneously allowing playmakers a chance to experiment. Good call!’

Life is a DreamThe Lyceum

‘… what comes across so powerfully here is the magical feel of the production and the excitement of seeing something new, fresh and innovative.’

Sleeping Beauty – King’s Theatre

‘…as warm and comforting as a comfy cardy or a mug of hot chocolate – exactly what’s needed on a cold winter’s night.’

Film Bouquets 2021

It’s that time again – time to look back and select our favourite films of the past year. It’s been more difficult than usual, because of course, many of the films we saw in the early months of 2021 had to be watched on small screens at home. But we gave it our best shot. It’s probably also worth pointing out that the movies we’ve chosen are not necessarily based on their original scores, but on how much they’ve stayed with us since first viewing them.

Promising Young Woman

‘Emerald Fennel’s debut film is fresh, funny, terrifying and compelling…. and Mulligan is perfect for the central role: one minute she’s all sweet vulnerability, the next a steely avenging angel.’

Minari

‘… gentle, lyrical and beautifully understated, yet in those lovingly crafted twists and turns lies a powerful message about the importance of family and the folly of blind ambition.’

Nomadland

‘Chloe Zhao’s extraordinary film draws a line that can be traced back to the pioneers of the Old West – or perhaps more accurately to the migrant workers of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men…’

The Father

‘… Hopkins takes his character through a range of moods and manifestations – from grandstanding showoff to sly insinuator – before delivering a final, desperate scene that is absolutely devastating.’

Another Round

‘This is a film that highlights the powerful allure of alcohol, a film that makes you understand why so many of us can’t help but dance to its tune.’

Limbo

‘Ben Sharrock has created a mesmerising, slow burn of a story, the bleakness undercut by moments of humour and genuine poignancy. The result is curiously heartwarming.’

Last Night in Soho

‘Edgar Wright swoops and soars and segues through the various unearthly set pieces with consummate skill and, while terrible things happen to Ellie, she is never allowed to be ‘the victim.’

Dune

‘After the long shutdown of the pandemic, what we need next is an epic – a big sprawling sci-fi adventure with stunning alien landscapes and awe-inducing special effects…’

The Last Duel

‘Both Damon and Driver excel as men driven by their own overbearing privilege, while Comer dazzles in every frame, clearly on the verge of becoming a major star of the big screen.’

Petite Maman

‘… relates its intimate story over just seventy-two minutes and yet, in its own muted way, it’s a magical experience, with a central premise that stays with me long after the credits have rolled.’

Licorice Pizza

03/01/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some of my all-time favourite films.

Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood are all gems, a triumvirate that any filmmaker would be proud to leave as a cinematic legacy. But more recently, his work has underwhelmed me. Inherent Vice (2014) was an incoherent mess and 2017’s Phantom Thread – though wildly acclaimed by many critics – left me curiously unmoved.

On the face of it then, Licorice Pizza feels like a return to his comfort zone, exploring the sleazy canyons of the San Fernando Valley in the early 70s, an era that yielded such delights in Boogie Nights. This is the story of Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a supremely confident fifteen-year-old child ‘actor’ and all- round entrepreneur, with an extended family working to his orders on a variety of different projects. While it quickly becomes clear that Gary may be overestimating his own genius, he seems to have convinced a surprising number of others to give his projects a whirl.

Then, out of the blue, he falls in love at first sight with Alana (Alana Haim) who is twenty-five and makes no bones about telling Gary that he hasn’t a hope in hell of ending up with her. (This age thing, by the way, feels needlessly controversial. Hoffman’s actual age is eighteen and Haim thirty, so it would have had the same dynamic if they’d simply nudged Gary’s age up a year or so. Just saying.)

Despite Alana’s protestations, something sticks and she agrees to meet him for a drink. Soon enough, she becomes his loyal sidekick (although she’s insistent that they’re just friends), and he’s trying to get her into the movies…

What follows is an exuberant scramble of a film, as Gary and Alana run (and I mean literally) all around the valley, struggling through the ups and downs of an on/off relationship, while Gary tries out his madcap enterprises, setting himself up as a purveyor of waterbeds and – when the oncoming fuel crisis puts the kibosh on that – relaunching himself as the owner of a pinball arcade. The anarchic sprawl that ensues in that emporium probably mirrors the kind of youthful carnage that was played out in the Licorice Pizza record stores from which the film takes its name. – but that’s just my best guess.

Along the way, the duo encounter ageing action-movie star, Jack Holden (Sean Penn), desperate to impress Alana with an impromptu motorbike stunt, and terrifying coke freak Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) who urgently wants to purchase a water bed for his wife, Barbara Streisand! Watch out too for a sensational cameo from Harriet Samsom Harris as Gary’s agent, Mary Grady, who delivers an object lesson in how to make the most of limited screen time.

This is a kinetic, adrenalin-fuelled movie, pushed along by bold, swooping cinematography and a no-holds-barred 70s soundtrack. Hoffman (the son of Anderson’s old muse, Philip Seymour Hoffman) is terrific as Gary and has great chemistry with Haim. She is, of course, a member of the rock trio that bears her name (for whom Anderson has shot several videos) and, as if to emphasise the ‘home movie’ feel of the project, Haim’s sisters – and even her parents – have supporting roles to play in this story.

While Licorice Pizza can’t claim to be up there with the very best of Anderson’s films, it nevertheless delivers a thoroughly enjoyable ride as Gary and Alana run side-by-side and finally – inevitably- towards each other. I fully expect to see its two stars going on to greater things.

And for Paul Thomas Anderson, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Lost Daughter

02/02/22

Netflix

I really want to like The Lost Daughter. After all, it’s directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and stars two of my favourite actors, Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley. The reviews I’ve read have all been glowing, so I’m expecting great things. And yet, in the end, it just doesn’t seem to have enough heft: it’s all build up, with weak foundations and no catharsis.

Colman and Buckley both play Leda Caruso. Buckley, of course, plays the younger iteration, a twenty-something post-grad student, struggling to balance her burgeoning academic career with the demands of her marriage and two young children. Time has rendered such issues less pressing for Colman’s Leda, who – approaching fifty – is now a professor, free to spend the summer alone on a Greek island, her adult daughters busy leading their own lives.

The movie opens with Colman’s Leda collapsing on the beach, so we know from the start that something isn’t right. In a series of flashbacks, we are shown what has brought Leda here, from the working-holiday immediately preceding her fall to the ‘crushing responsibility’ of motherhood that overwhelmed her younger self.

At first, the holiday seems idyllic. The island is undoubtedly beautiful; Leda’s apartment is charming; the sun is shining; the beach is quiet. There are hints that something is amiss: the mouldy fruit in the bowl; an insect buzzing on her pillow. But all seems well until a large, brash American family arrives, rudely interrupting Leda’s peace. When their matriarch, Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk), pregnant for the first time at forty-two, asks Leda to move her lounger so that the family can sit together, Leda stubbornly refuses. And an animosity is born that overshadows her whole stay…

Despite her instinctive dislike of the family, Leda finds herself drawn to Callie’s glamorous sister-in-law, Nina (Dakota Johnson), whose relationship with her daughter, Elena (Athena Martin), reminds Leda of her own past. When Elena goes missing, Leda helps to find her, and the two women form an uneasy bond.

So far, so good. As a character study, this film is wonderful. Leda is a complex and interesting woman, whose conflicting desires and ambivalence towards parenthood make her an all-too-rare sight on our screens. But, though it pains me to say it, the casting doesn’t quite work. No one can reasonably argue that Colman and Buckley aren’t terrific actors, and they both deliver here, offering detailed and nuanced performances. But they don’t cohere: their Ledas are two different people. It’s not just the way they look; audiences are used to suspending their disbelief on that account. They sound so very different though – Buckley’s sonorous tones at odds with Colman’s girlish, higher-pitched voice – and their movement doesn’t match either.

Gyllenhaal’s direction isn’t bad. She utilises close-ups to excellent effect, and really ramps up the tension: a sense of all-pervading menace is cleverly evinced. But what’s the point, I wonder, if it never amounts to anything? I’m left frustrated by the damp squib of an ending, with nothing calamitous ever revealed or resolved.

A little internet searching shows me the missing piece: in Elena Ferrante’s source novel, Leda is from Naples (instead of ‘Shipley, near Leeds’) and the invading family is also Neapolitan. The sense of dread Leda feels when she encounters them isn’t just snobbery, it’s actual fear, based on her own past, and her own experience of a Mafia-style clan. Perhaps it’s this change that makes Leda’s sense of foreboding harder to understand – and weakens the story in the process.

It feels like a squandered opportunity.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield