Month: February 2022



Cineworld, Edinburgh

The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a rather unlikely one; nonetheless, over the years it has fired the imaginations of film and theatre directors alike, sometimes with spectacular results. In 1990, it brought director Jean-Paul Rappeneau and his lead actor, Gerard Depardieu, much acclaim in a movie adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s source play. And, a few years earlier than that, Steve Martin had already turned it into the much-admired contemporary comedy, Roxanne.

In both films, of course, Cyrano was a character with a comically oversized nose – something that his adversaries mentioned at their peril.

In Cyrano, director Joe Wright adopts a different approach. The hero of his story, though a brave and valiant soldier, is small of stature; and, as portrayed by Peter Dinklage, this simple premise turns out to be a masterstroke, the character’s inner turmoil told mainly through the cleverly nuanced expressions on his face. Everything else about the story stays pretty much the same – though I should probably add that this is a musical version, with songs by Aaron and Bryce Dessner.

Cyrano is desperately in love with Roxanne (Hayley Bennett), a poor and (it must be said) somewhat shallow young woman, who is considered a great beauty in her home town. She is pursued by many men, among them the rich but odious De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). When Roxanne summons Cyrano to meet her in private, he dares to hope that she might have reciprocal feelings for him; instead she confesses that she has fallen in love with Christian de Neuvillette (Kelvin Harrison Jr), a handsome new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment. Could Cyrano keep an eye on Christian and protect him from any harm?

Cyrano is so enamoured of Roxanne that he reluctantly agrees to help – and, when it turns out that Christian isn’t very good with words, Cyrano becomes the man who writes the many love letters that ‘Christian’ regularly sends to Roxanne. As Cyrano unfurls the deluge of longing he has nurtured for so long, the task nearly unhinges him.

Filmed on location in Southern Italy, Cyrano makes few concessions to realism. Instead, Wright’s film plays out through a series of highly stylised backgrounds with garish costumes, masks and makeup used to create a vibrant world that seems to virtually pulse with colour. Soldiers practising with swords move gracefully into dance routines, while large stretches of the dialogue are spoken in rhyme. It’s only when the film reaches its later stretches (and the location switches to the snow-covered heights of Mount Etna) that the brutal reality of war seems to bleach all colour from the screen and the story descends headlong into tragedy.

The songs are distinctive, plaintive and affecting, particularly in the scene where three soldiers, about to go out to their deaths in battle, leave letters to their loved ones, singing the words as they hand the pages to a messenger. It would already have been the film’s most moving sequence, but thoughts of the current conflict in Ukraine seem to lend it extra poignancy, and my eyes fill as it unfolds. If you’re already familiar with the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, you’ll know that there’s also a coda to this tale that isn’t exactly the happy ending you might have wished for.

This is undoubtedly Dinklage’s film, revealing impressive new depths to his acting, but Bennett is good too and her final scenes with Dinklage will probably send you out into the night with tears running down your face. If I’m making it sound like something of an ordeal, it really isn’t. Wright is adept at making every scene look ravishing, as he did in his under-appreciated adaptation of Anna Karenina. It’s the very theatricality of the telling that makes this film so powerful – and, in its own way, unique

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Rocky Horror Show


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

‘It’s just a jump to the left… and then a step to the righ-hi-hi-hight!’

It’s hard to believe that Richard O’Brien’s shlock-horror musical began its theatrical journey way back in 1973. Like many others, I didn’t actually witness it until The Rocky Horror Picture Show hit cinema screens in 1975. I can honestly say I’d never seen anything like it. The sexual politics were startling to say the least, Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter virtually burned up the screen, and yet the film didn’t make much of an impact at the box office. Go figure.

It wasn’t until much, MUCH later that it began to build its dedicated cult following.

Die-hard fans are only slightly in evidence at the King’s Theatre tonight, a few brave souls sporting French maid outfits, stockings and suspenders – which may have more to do with the Scottish weather than anything else. But the elderly couple sitting in front of me are clearly longtime fans, singing along with every single number and helping each other into the aisle to smash The Time Warp.

Rocky Horror is just a gloriously silly romp with canny sci-fi references, backed up by a whole string of banging songs. From the opening chords onwards, I’m hooked.

Brad (Ore Oduba) and Janet (Haley Flaherty) are two wholesome (okay, repressed) people, whose car breaks down one stormy night. They take refuge in that creepy-looking castle they passed a couple of miles back. Here they meet their unconventional host, Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb), his handyman, Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe), his maid Magenta (Suzie AcAdam) and a whole gaggle of deranged characters with a propensity for dissolute behaviour.

Furter, it transpires, has been working on a special project and Brad and Janet have arrived on the very night he plans to unveil Rocky (Ben Westhead), the perfect sexual companion.

This production, directed by Christopher Luscombe, moves like the proverbial tiger on vaseline – the dance routines are brilliantly executed, Webb is wonderfully flamboyant as Furter and, of course, the presence of The Narrator (Philip Franks) is the production’s trump card. Suave, sophisticated and delightfully potty-mouthed, he fields interjections from the more vocal followers and offers a few pithy observations in return. One of them, about Prince Andrew, has the entire audience applauding.

Okay, so the first half still features the lion’s share of the best songs – which has always slightly unbalanced the production – and there are a couple of scenes in the second half that, viewed through a contemporary gaze do feel a bit… well, rapey… but of course, this was written at a time when the subject of sexual politics was in its infancy. O’ Brien’s main theme – that people should embrace and celebrate their sexual identities – still seems somehow ahead of the game forty-nine years after the show’s birth. And it seems highly unlikely that anybody is going to attempt an update this late in the game.

This is an absolute delight. As the performers thunder into a reprise of the show’s two best songs, the entire audience is up on its feet, clapping, dancing and singing along. Few nights out at the theatre are as deliriously enjoyable as this – and as we wander out into the night, we’re still humming The Time Warp.

After so long shut away in glum silence, we all deserve a large helping of Rocky. If this doesn’t put a great big stupid grin on your face, then nothing will.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney



Cineworld, Edinburgh

Has there ever been a truly satisfying movie adapted from a video game? Not that I’ve seen.

It’s a conundrum when you consider that most games are cinematic in their scope and yet, time and again, they somehow fail to make the transition. Uncharted has been wallowing in production-hell for a very long time. Indeed, the original plan was to have Mark Wahlberg play young adventurer Nathan Drake, but time has moved on, and he has to be content with playing the father-figure, Sully, to Tom Holland’s Nathan.

Holland, fresh from box-office-conquering success in Spider-Man: No Way Home, could probably have chosen pretty much anything for his next project, so it’s interesting that he’s gone for this. He’s a self-professed gaming fan, so perhaps that’s what lured him. I should perhaps state at this point that I have never played the Uncharted game – in fact, apart from a few goes at Tomb Raider way back in the day, I have never felt the need to scratch the gaming itch.

Uncharted is a fun project, which makes no secret of the fact that it’s highly derivative, borrowing heavily from films that have gone before it: a splash of Oceans 11, a measure of National Treasure and a great big dollop of Indiana Jones. Indeed, the script, put together by no less than five screenwriters, openly references the latter movie several times, just in case we’ve missed the allusion.

When we first meet Nathan, he’s hanging grimly onto a shipping container trailing out of the back of a transport plane (as you do), a sequence lifted directly from the Playstation game that inspired the film. It’s pretty full on for an introduction, but happily the story then skips back to young Nathan’s life in an orphanage and his hero worship of his younger brother, Sam (Rudy Pankow). Sam is obsessed with the idea of finding treasure – specifically the lost gold of Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. But after breaking too many rules, he’s obliged to skip town and, after that, Nathan only hears from him occasionally, via a series of mysterious postcards from all around the world.

Back in the present day, Nathan is approached by Sully, who’s looking for somebody to help him find a lost treasure and, of course, it turns out to be the same one that Sam was looking for all those years ago. Sully also mentions that he knows Sam, so Nathan dutifully enlists with him. What follows is an elaborately plotted heist-treasure-hunt-action-spectacular. Thrown into the mix are Antonio Banderas as the ruthless Santiago Moncada, a man whose family history makes him believe the treasure rightfully belongs to him, his vicious hench-woman, Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), who is very handy with a blade, and another treasure seeker, Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), who might be trustworthy, but probably isn’t.

The action set pieces are nicely done, though the film’s 12A certificate sometimes jars with the onscreen violence. Vicious punches leave not a hint of a bruise and there’s what must qualify as the least bloody throat cutting-scene I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. It just feels odd. But I enjoy the banter between Nathan and Sully, and a climactic sequence featuring helicopters and Spanish galleons is definitely a highlight.

All in all, this is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but there’s nothing in Uncharted that will linger long in the memory. Fans of the game will doubtless complain that this doesn’t stick closely enough to the source material, while for me, the inevitable post-credit sequence which teases a second instalment, doesn’t feel in the least bit tempting.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney



NOW Cinema

Our on-going efforts to catch up with some of the movies that were lost in lockdown continues. Freaky was released at the worst possible time for a film of this kind. Here is something that really needs to be seen with a bunch of friends, in an actual cinema, to be fully appreciated. But, needs must and all that.

To be honest, Christopher Landon and Michael Kennedy’s spoof slasher movie starts unpromisingly as we see four teenagers gorily despatched by the Blissfield Butcher, a masked killer in the (jugular) vein of Michael Myers. Indeed, there are clear nods to Halloween and other classics of the genre, but the problem is that there’s no real suspense generated here, the killings suspended in that lonely wasteland somewhere between horror and comedy.

Just as I’m thinking of reaching for the ‘off’ switch, however, the film plays its trump card, as The Butcher (Vince Vaughan) attacks troubled teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) with an ancient Aztec dagger and things change significantly. For this, it turns out, is a body-swap story (working title Freaky Friday the 13th). Now Millie is running around in the body of a six-foot-plus male serial killer and she’s having the devil of a job convincing her best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’ Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), that she’s worthy of their trust.

Meanwhile, The Butcher is wandering gleefully around the high school in Millie’s petite frame, exacting bloody revenge on everyone who is mean to him – and that vengeance is not exclusively directed at his fellow students, either. Teacher Mr Bernardi (Alan Ruck) is also due a healthy dose of comeuppance.

And suddenly it’s working! This edgy mix of killer-thriller and high school romcom feels fresh and inventive, while Vaughan gives a nicely nuanced performance that’s much more adept than the high-camp caricature familiar from this genre. Newton handles her inner malevolence with skill and Osherovich, as Millie’s snarky gay friend, is given some genuinely funny lines to deliver. As he observes to Nyla: ‘You’re black, I’m gay. We are SO dead!’

The subsequent killings have much more impact now that we actually have characters that we can care about – and the pace is too frantic to allow time to consider the improbabilities of the plot.

But, you can’t help but wonder, how on earth are they ever going to tie these various strands into a satisfying conclusion? Suffice to say they do, and, most refreshing of all, there’s no attempt to dangle the possibility of a sequel.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Bedknobs and Broomsticks


Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

There’s no doubt about it: director Candice Edmunds has created something wonderful here. From the first moment, it’s clear we’re in for a spectacle, and the extended opening sequence is an absolute triumph. It’s 1940. A cosy, intimate family scene is devastated by a bomb. The walls come tumbling down, the parents disappear, and three children stand wide-eyed in the chaos of an air-raid. They’re hustled out of London and onto a train. Not a word is spoken. The storm clouds – held aloft on sticks – are two-dimensional cutouts; ditto the train. It’s cheeky and inventive, exactly the sort of unabashed theatricality I adore.

It’s a good job Edmunds is so skilled, because the story – based on the 1971 Disney movie and Mary Norton’s earlier novels – is horribly muddled, a hybrid of whimsy and threat that doesn’t quite work. It always was. Even as a child, I didn’t like Norton’s The Magic Bedknob or Bonfires and Broomsticks. They have neither the light-hearted charm of Mary Poppins nor the gravitas of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

The three orphaned children are Charlie (Conor O’Hara), Carrie (Izabella Bucknell) and Paul (Aidan Oti). They’re evacuated to the remote Dorset village of Pepperinge Eye, where they’re taken in by the mysterious Eglantine Price (Dianne Pilkington). At first mistrustful, their fears are soon assuaged, despite the fact that their newly appointed guardian is an apprentice witch. Because she’s not just any witch, but a witch with a mission: Miss Price is going to stop the Battle of Britain.

Sadly, the writing isn’t strong enough to carry off this coup de théâtre: lurching from a fanciful undersea dance to a terrifying armed encounter just feels odd and unsettling. The historical backdrop to the tale is largely accurate, and then – for no real reason – not. The ending is unnecessarily convoluted. And, The Beautiful Briny aside, the music isn’t the Sherman brothers’ best work either.

Nevertheless, this musical production is beautifully staged and performed – and, viewed as a collection of set pieces, it’s literally fantastic. Kudos to Jamie Harrison, the set and illusion designer: there are so many clever tricks here, and I can’t fathom out how all of them are done. Pilkington is well-cast in the main role, and Charles Brunton’s Emelius Brown exudes loveable ineptitude. Jacqui DuBois’ postmistress/museum curator Mrs Hobday is very funny too.

I love the ensemble work. The puppetry is delightful, and the choreography vibrant and enchanting.

This is a first-rate piece of theatre, too good for a second-rate tale.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

The Wedding Singer


Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

The Rose Theatre is packed, the twelve-piece band are noisily tuning up their instruments and the atmosphere of mounting excitement is palpable. It’s only when you return to events like this that you realise how much you’ve missed them.

The Wedding Singer is an excellent choice for a student production. Inspired by Adam Sandler’s 1998 comedy – you remember, back when Sandler was actually funny – and set some time in the 1980s, this is a funny, breezy musical all about the American preoccupation with marriage. While there are a few technical issues with the sound equipment in the first half, it never gets in the way of the general air of exuberance as the ensemble cast dance energetically around the stage, moving in unison with well-rehearsed aplomb.

Robbie Hart (Chris Kane) makes his living as… well, the clue’s in the title. Together with his two best friends, Sammy (Beni Barker) and George (Joey Lawson), he writes customised songs to suit every occasion. He’s also looking forward to his own impending marriage to Linda (Megan Le Brocq), even though he finds himself powerfully drawn to waitress Julia (Phoebe Sampson). When he’s left at the altar by Linda, it ought to be a simple transference of affection, but it’s complicated. Julia has just become engaged to the odious Glen (Mitchell Collins), a yuppie dedicated to making money. What hope is there for a struggling musician who lives in his Grandma Rosie (Rachel Meek)’s basement?

With foot-tapping tunes, some very funny lines and plenty of 80s cultural references, The Wedding Singer offers a guaranteed good night out and the crowd is vocal in its appreciation. Hart and Sampson have genuine chemistry together, while Collins (looking for all the world like a young Mark Wahlberg) is magnificently sleazy, and Meek exercises her comic skills as Robbie’s groovy granny, still well able to strut her stuff. But it’s also important to say there are no weak links here, with every performer giving one hundred percent.

If I have a criticism of tonight’s show it’s of the unnecessarily long interval between acts. The show inevitably loses some of its momentum and the cast have to work their respective socks off to recover from it – but recover they do and the final wild applause feels genuinely well-deserved.

We’ve missed these student shows so much over the lockdown. It’s truly enervating to see so much young talent given the opportunity to shine. Those in need of a guaranteed pick-me-up should head down to the Rose Theatre pronto.

But don’t hang about, it’s only on for three more performances.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Dresser


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Dresser is about a poorly actor. He’s famous – a big draw – and the company fears that his illness might preclude him from appearing on stage as the eponymous King Lear (itself a play where the lead character is afflicted by old age and ill health). It’s somewhat ironic, then, that Julian Clary, in the titular role of Norman, has been obliged to drop out of tonight’s performance, and we have an understudy in his place.

But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and Clary’s absence provides an opportunity for supporting actor Samuel Holmes to step into his shoes and I’m happy to report that he nails the camp, manipulative Norman with aplomb. How would Clary have handled the role? I’ll probably never know. That’s show business.

It’s 1941 and the London theatres are struggling through the rigours of the blitz. As the minutes tick relentlessly by towards yet another performance, actor-manager ‘Sir’ (Matthew Kelly) is nowhere to be found. His wife, ‘Her Ladyship’ (Emma Amos), due to play Cordelia opposite him, tells Norman that she’s just left him on a hospital ward. Stage manager Madge (Rebecca Charles) wants to call off the show but Norman vehemently stalls her, insisting that the man he has been dressing for so many years has never missed a performance yet. He’ll be there.

Sure enough, Sir comes plodding dutifully in, looking like he’s gone ten rounds with a heavyweight boxer. Of course he’ll go on! If only he could remember which of the bard’s plays he’s actually supposed to be doing tonight … and if only he was still strong enough to carry his wife onstage for her final scene.

Ronald Harwood’s play (memorably filmed in 1983 with Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney) is inspired by the five years that Harwood spent working as a dresser to Sir Donald Wolfit – a situation I can relate to, as I worked briefly as a dresser to Sylvester McCoy, when he was Puck in Theatr Clwyd’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It depicts an age when the term ‘the show must go on’ really earned its stripes, when actor-managers like Sir really did keep the theatrical wheels turning. It’s cleverly staged: a seedy dressing room rises magically to reveal the wings of a theatre, where anxious cast and crew can look out onto whatever’s happening on stage.

While the play feels rather static, full of complex speeches, it’s nevertheless beautifully written and there are some bitterly funny lines to savour, particularly from Norman, who is adept at slaying his adversaries with acerbic one-liners. He also has a faultless memory of every town the company has played in and seems to reserve special contempt for Colwyn Bay (hailing from North Wales, we’re acutely aware of this one!).

The parallels between Sir’s current situation and those of the character he’s depicting are astutely drawn and there’s a brilliant onstage metamorphosis, where Sir, a rambling shivering figure in grubby underwear, gradually transforms into Shakespeare’s king. And of course, there are also the parallels between Lear and his fool – a relationship that’s echoed in the play’s poignant conclusion.

Kelly is terrific in his role – endlessly self-aggrandising but caught in the headlights of his advancing senility – while congratulations should go to Holmes, who must have been rehearsing those lines up to the opening, and who never fluffs one of them.

All the best to Mr Clary for a swift recovery.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Maki & Ramen – Omakase Sushi Bar


Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

It’s what can only be described as a dreich night in Edinburgh. The rain has been coming down for hours and shows no signs of letting up. An attempt to seek solace at our usual haunt, The Cameo, backfires when we discover the place has been taken over for a quiz about ‘Chick Flicks’ – which is in neither of our wheelhouses. Then we remember, we still haven’t spent the money my in-laws gave me for my birthday back in December…

We make a quick call to Maki & Ramen and they have a table for us. Result!

Back when we were first in Edinburgh, this venue housed the ramshackle but rather delightful Kampong Ah Lee, which specialised in delightful Malaysian cuisine and spectacularly tacky wall art. Now the place is part of a mini-chain of restaurants, all in Edinburgh city centre, and the cuisine is Japanese (indeed, I visited it briefly in 2017, shortly after its name-change, while it still hadn’t settled on its game plan). When we arrive, the place is bustling with other bedraggled customers seeking refuge from the rain, but the friendly staff are well-organised and pretty soon we’re sipping our drinks and perusing the menu. Since ‘omakase’ literally means ‘dishes selected by the chef,’ we’re happy to let our waiter recommend some dishes she thinks we might enjoy.

We start with a grilled sushi set which is very good indeed: seven pieces of seafood (salmon, clam and prawn) wrapped around sticky rice, and so tender, they virtually melt in the mouth – as does the side of pork gyoza, which is accompanied by a portion of crisp endamame beans.

On a night like this, of course, a big warming bowl of ramen is an appropriate choice. I opt for chicken karaage, the chunks of tender meat encased in a really light and fluffy batter, while Susan chooses the salmon ramen. Both bowls come to the table piping hot, the broth fiery and satisfying. And both bowls contain a perfectly soft boiled egg and a selection of greens.

I’d like to tell you that while we’re eating the rain gradually recedes, that the skies roll miraculously back and (despite it being after eight o clock) the sun blazes benignly down upon us. Obviously, none of this happens, but for a while, I can actually imagine it. And, as far as a ‘pick-you-up’ goes, this is exactly what we needed.

We’ll be back before very much longer.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Death on the Nile


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Kenneth Branagh earned himself a lot of brownie points for the sublime Belfast, but quickly squanders most of them in this, his second Agatha Christie adaptation. While it’s a definite improvement on his previous attempt, Murder on the Orient Express (which suffered from a bad case of too many actors in cameo roles), it still struggles to escape from the suffocating confines of the genre.

Mind you, it opens with a totally unexpected sequence set in the First World War, where we meet a digitally de-aged Poirot as a solider in the trenches, already flexing his powers of deduction. And then we are offered an origin story for that famous moustache. Interesting…

But all too soon, the action has moved on to 1937 and more familiar territory. Poirot is in a nightclub, fussing over some desserts, listening to blues singer Salome Otterburn (Sophie Okonedo) and watching as a certain Simon Doyle indulges in some rather dirty dancing with his fiancée, Jacqueline de Belfort (Emma McKey). The fact that Doyle is played by the recently disgraced Armie Hammer is, um, awkward, to say the least (and when I reflect that the previous film had a pivotal role for Johnny Depp, it makes me wonder is there isn’t some kind of ‘Curse of the Christies’ going on here).

Anyway, six weeks later, Doyle is climbing aboard a cruise ship in Egypt with his new bride… Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot). Things get even more uncomfortable when Jacqueline arrives and spends her time glaring balefully at the newly weds over the lobster and fizzy wine. Honestly, if looks could kill!

Okay, this is Christie territory, so it’s a hardly a spoiler to say that somebody winds up murdered, which puts a proper crimp on the festivities. The perpetrator could be any of the passengers, all of them played by well know faces: Annette Bening, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Russell Brand, Letitia Wright. Place your bets, folks – unless, like me, you saw the 1978 version or have read the book, and already know whodunnit.

Which, I must confess, spoils it somewhat.

It’s all handsomely done and this time around there’s enough focus on the various players to make it feel that they’re more than just cardboard cutouts. Egypt is lovingly recreated in CGI and the shameful opulence of the era is shown in unflinching detail. Here is an age where somebody can throw the contents of a champagne glass into the Nile and declare ‘there’s plenty more where that came from’ while starving people watch in silence from the river bank.

Okay, it was a different time, but at the end of the day, this feels hopelessly antiquated and badly in need of updating. Diehard Christie fans will doubtless tell themselves that Branagh has done his subject proud, and yes, perhaps he has – but I for one will be in no great hurry to see another Poirot movie. Unless, that is, it can offer something more unexpected than an origin story for some facial hair.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney



Cineworld, Edinburgh

Writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle, is a modern re-working of Beauty and the Beast (renamed here in the subtitle as The Dragon and the Freckled Princess). This animation is a delight: a fresh, thought-provoking take on the fairytale. Is it sentimental? Yes. Does that bother me? Not one jot.

Suzu (voiced by Kaho Nakamura) is a troubled seventeen-year-old. Her mother died when Suzu was a little girl, and she’s never really come to terms with the loss. She is moody and taciturn with her father (Kôji Yakusho), and struggles to express herself. Suzu and her mother always used to sing together, but now – even under the patient guidance of her mother’s choir friends – Suzu can’t find her voice; she’s desperately shy and self-conscious.

But in the virtual world of ‘U,’ Suzu can use an avatar and, at this remove, her emotions all come tumbling out – in song. Her haunting voice and plaintive lyrics attract a lot of attention, and, as Suzu’s best friend, Hiroka (Lilas Ikuta), is a tech-savvy genius, her alter-ego, ‘Belle’ soon becomes a star. In U, at least, everything is going well… until a mysterious beast disrupts one of Belle’s performances, and she embarks on a quest to discover his identity.

This Studio Chizu production is gloriously animated. The real world backdrops are rendered in intricate detail, in stark contrast with the dizzying, eye-popping invention of the virtual world. And the story works well: the characters are fully-rounded – complex and flawed; their relationships are credible. The not-so-subtle allusions to Twitter pile-ons and trolls – represented here by Justin (Toshiyuki Morikawa) and his vigilante group – depict the problematic aspects of social media, but the main impression is one of positivity. U is a place of opportunity, an egalitarian space, where preconceptions don’t count.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is in its message that our virtual selves can work in harmony with our real selves, serving to bolster our confidence. Belle allows Suzu to sing again and, having practised in the safe space of U, she feels able to open up at school and home. We hear negative stories all the time, about how fake images and pretence are damaging our lives. But Hosoda asks us to see things differently, to consider how we might harness this technology to become the best versions of ourselves. It’s a fascinating take.

My only quibble is with the cinema rather than the movie. This is a children’s film, squarely aimed at a middle-grade to teen audience. So why is it only showing once a day, at 8pm, when most youngsters are at home, getting ready for bed? Of course, it works for adults too, and I enjoy it immensely, but it seems a shame to limit its potential in this way.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield