Month: December 2022



Warwick Road, Carlisle

Even the best laid plans can sometimes go awry. We are travelling home from North Wales to Edinburgh, by train – on my birthday. A restaurant is booked for the evening of our arrival. What can possibly go wrong?

Well, plenty as it turns out. We haven’t factored in the possibility of near-biblical weather conditions that put an impenetrable flood between us and our home city. At Preston, we manage to fight our way aboard a train heading north but we are warned that it cannot possibly go any further north than Carlisle, a place we’ve never visited.

Once ensconced in a frantically-sought hotel room, we remind ourselves that I’m supposed to be enjoying a birthday meal tonight, so we put out an online shout to various groups asking for recommendations in Carlisle. We get plenty of suggestions but one name keeps recurring. Alexandro’s Greek Restaurant. And, as it transpires, humping our baggage in the direction of our hotel, we happen to walk right past the place. Kismet? Perhaps. At any rate, I venture inside and am able to secure a table for two.

A few hours later, we’re back, suitably fortified by a couple of drinks at the rather swish (but very friendly) Barton’s Yard, just a few steps away. The place is busy – it’s a Friday night after all – and we settle down to look at the extensive menu, while the unmistakable sound of bazoukis twang happily away in the background. Memories of tavernas on remote Greek islands come drifting back to me. We notice that, for thirty pounds a head, we can order a three course mezze – a chef’s selection of all the best dishes on offer. This absolves us of the responsibility of actually making a decision so we order that and settle back in our seats. We don’t have to wait long.

The starters arrive in a cluster because they’re all designed to go together. There’s a delectable trio of dips, freshly made hummus, tzatziki and taramosolata, with a bowl of fresh bread and a grilled pitta .There are kaserokoketes, deep fried croquettes stuffed with mixed cheeses, there’s sarmadakia, vine leaves stuffed with rice and raisins, as well as a bowl of fasolia fournou, a delightfully spiced stew of butter beans with tomato, chilli and oregano. Of course, I’ve eaten all of these before – usually on Greek holidays – but they are perfectly executed and mouthwateringly indulgent. We polish them off very quickly indeed.

The main courses follow swiftly on. There’s a generous platter of barbecued chicken on skewers, succulent and delicately spiced, and a beef stifado, slow-cooked until it virtually melts in the mouth. There’s moussaka (of course there’s moussaka!) but this is better than most I’ve sampled over the years, full of flavour and splendidly aromatic. Then there’s a wonderful Horiatiki – a Greek salad, which features chunks of some of the best feta I’ve tasted on this side of the Mediterranean, and just in case we can find room for it, there’s also a bowl of saffron rice.

We’ve often observed that it’s generally the puddings that let a restaurant down, but happily this is not the case here. The final platter features chunks of baklava, given a festive twist by the inclusion of mincemeat. This is a substance I usually dislike but not so here, because the result is gorgeously gooey and rather splendid. So are the karydopita, slices of walnut and cinnamon sponge soaked in vanilla and lemon syrup and topped with crushed walnuts. Add a couple of scoops of homemade ice cream and a selection of soft fruit and we are struggling to finish, but reluctant to leave so much as a crumb.

Alexandro’s is a family-run business that nails its objectives with aplomb. The staff are friendly and informative, and the atmosphere is relaxed. I really have no complaints. Should you find yourself in Carlisle with time on your hands, a visit to this fabulous Greek restaurant should be high on your ‘to do’ list. It doesn’t entirely make up for being stuck in the wrong city at an awkward time of year, but it certainly helps.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Theatre Bouquets 2022

After the slim pickings of the last two years, 2022 feels like a palpable return to form: finally, emphatically, theatre is back! We’ve relished the wide range of productions we’ve seen over the year. As ever, it was difficult to choose our particular favourites, but those listed below have really resonated with us.

Singin’ in the Rain (Festival Theatre, Edinburgh)

Singin’ in the Rain is a delight from start to finish. It never falters, never loses pace and manages to honour the great film that inspired it. One of the most supremely entertaining shows I’ve seen in a very long time. Slick, assured, technically brilliant – it never puts a hoof wrong.

Wuthering Heights (King’s Theatre, Edinburgh)

In this Wise Children production, Emma Rice strips Wuthering Heights down to its beating heart, illuminates its essence. This is a chaotic, frenzied telling, a stage so bursting with life and energy that it’s sometimes hard to know where to look. It’s dazzling; it’s dizzying – and I adore it. 

Red Ellen (Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)

Red Ellen is a fascinating tale, ripped from the pages of political history. Wils Wilson’s propulsive direction has Ellen hurtling from one scene to the next, which keeps the pot bubbling furiously.

Prima Facie (NT Live, The Cameo, Edinburgh)

This is a call to action that walks the walk, directly supporting The Schools Consent Project, “educating and empowering young people to understand and engage with the issues surrounding consent and sexual assault”. It’s also a powerful, tear-inducing play – and Jodie Cromer is a formidable talent.

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh)

Samuel Barnett inhabits his role completely, spitting out a constant stream of pithy one liners and wry observations with apparent ease. Marcelo Dos Santos’ script is utterly compelling and Matthew Xia’s exemplary direction ensures that the pace is never allowed to flag.

Hungry (Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh)

This sharply written two-hander examines the relationship between Lori (Eleanor Sutton), a chef from a relatively privileged background, and Bex (Melissa Lowe), a waitress from the local estate. This is a cleverly observed exploration of both class and race, brilliantly written and superbly acted. Hungry is a class act, so assured that, even amidst the host of treasures we saw at this year’s Roundabout, it dazzles like a precious gem.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings (Summerhall (Main Hall), Edinburgh)

It’s hard to encapsulate what makes this such a powerful and moving experience, but that’s exactly what it is – a spellbinding slice of storytelling, so brilliantly conceived and engineered that it makes the incredible seem real. You’ll believe a man can fly.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh)

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen Macbeth in its various shapes and guises – but I think it’s fairly safe to say we’ve never seen it quite like this. This raucous, visceral reimagining of the story captures the essence of the piece more eloquently than pretty much any other production I’ve seen.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh)

This was Martin McDonagh’s debut piece and, while it might not have the assuredness of his later works, it nonetheless displays all the hallmarks of an exciting new talent flexing his muscles. The influence of Harold Pinter is surely there in the awkward pauses, the repetitions, the elevation of innocuous comments to a weird form of poetry – and the performances are exemplary.

Don’t. Make. Tea. (Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh)

Don’t. Make. Tea. is a dystopian vision of an all-too credible near future, a play laced with dark humour and some genuine surprises. Cleverly crafted to be accessible to the widest possible audience, it’s an exciting slice of contemporary theatre.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney

Film Bouquets 2022

2022 was a surprisingly good year for film, although – as cinephiles – it was worrying to note that audiences seemed happy enough to continue watching movies at home after last year’s lockdowns ended. Cinemas were feeling the pinch and there was a lot of talk of this being the end of an era, while others pinned their hope on Avatar: The Way of Water bringing people back in droves. Here at B&B, we’ve always believed that the big screen is the best possible place to watch a movie, so we were delighted to be back in our local multiplex and indie venues. Here’s our selection of the films that have really stayed with us throughout the year.


Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film was the first must-see of the year – an absolute joy, with a brilliant central performance from newcomer Jude Hill. This film is all about formative experiences, the kind that shape a young boy’s future.

Nightmare Alley

A new film from Guillermo del Toro is always cause for celebration. This bleak, dark tale is the work of a gifted director at the peak of his powers, handling a tricky subject with consummate skill.

Red Rocket

Director Sean Baker’s ability to depict working-class life is his real strength and Red Rocket, powered by astonishing performances by Simon Rex and Suzanna Son, offers a brilliant exploration of Trump’s America.

The Worst Person in the World

Joaquin Trier’s film is a rare beauty, a picaresque tale of life and love in contemporary Oslo. It’s built around a superb, award-winning performance by Renate Reinsve. A film that positively buzzes with invention.


Baz Luhrmann’s biopic is a big, brash, noisy exploration of the late singer’s life and times. Against all the odds, Austin Butler makes the role his own and Tom Hank’s portrayal of the sleazy, manipulative Colonel Tom Parker is also right on the button.

Bones and All

Luca Guadadigno’s visceral tale of love and cannibalism is a brilliant reinvention of a well-worn trope which can be seen as an allegory about drug addiction. It’s brilliant stuff, but not for the faint-hearted – by turns romantic and repugnant.

She Said

This searing account of the uncovering of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes by two Washington Post journalists is timely and superbly recreated, with excellent performances from Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in the central roles.

The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh’s film is a beautifully observed contemplation of the thankless futility of human existence. This is his best offering since the sublime In Bruges, with wonderful performances from Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.


A gorgeous film, sweetly sad and tinged with tragedy. Debut writer/director Charlotte Wells knocks it out of the park with her first feature, coaxing extraordinary performances from Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio. An absolute must-see.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Not content with one title in our selection, del Toro has two – despite the fact that we had to watch Pinocchio on the small screen. Few films deserve the description ‘masterpiece’ as thoroughly as this one.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery



Rian Johnson’s Knives Out garnered plenty of admirers on its release in 2019, though I felt at the time that it was a case of style over substance. Call me old fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that one of the basic requirements of a whodunnit is that it should be hard to crack and, in this case, it really wasn’t. The sequel (helpfully subtitled A Knives Out Mystery, just in case we’ve missed the connection) recently enjoyed a week in cinemas – at a time when we couldn’t see it. It now appears on Netflix, who financed it and they will also be funding several further instalments. The reviews haven’t been quite so ecstatic this time around, but perhaps ironically, I find this one an improvement on the original, mainly by virtue of the fact that I really can’t guess where it’s headed – though it should also be said that there is a glaring plot hole in there that should have been plugged. (See if you can spot it!)

Once again, this is very stylish, bright and kinetic. We’re offered a selection of – mostly repellent – characters who feel more like caricatures than real people. We learn more about ‘the world’s greatest detective’, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who apparently is fond of sitting in his bath whilst wearing a fez (as you do) and who appears to share his home with a very famous housemate. It all begins with a bunch of seemingly unconnected individuals receiving invitations to an exclusive party on billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton)’s private Greek island.

The invites come in the form of elaborate puzzle boxes, which must be deciphered. Soon enough, Blanc is standing on the dockside with the other guests, who include hapless socialite Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), muscle bound YouTuber, Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and Bron’s former business partner, Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe). It soon becomes clear that Blanc hasn’t actually been invited to this bash, so his presence is only the first in a whole series of mysteries to be solved.The action is set in 2020, so hats off to Johnson for actually referencing the COVID pandemic, with the characters wearing masks and being all awkward about hugging and shaking hands, something that’s barely ever been referenced in the cinema so far.

Once on the island and inside Bron’s super luxurious home – the centrepiece of which resembles a huge er… glass onion – the host announces that they will all be playing an elaborate murder mystery game. At some point in the evening, he will be ‘killed’ and the guests will have to work out whodunnit…

So far, so Agatha Christie, but it should be said that nothing here goes according to anybody’s plan and, while I feel the early stretches of Glass Onion take some sticking with, once we’ve reached the midpoint, a huge revelation in the form of a series of flashbacks makes everything much more interesting. From here, the proceedings become ever more unhinged, ever more labyrinthine, as Johnson throws aside the conventions of the genre and begins to have fun with proceedings. It’s here too that his central tenet becomes clear. We’re continually reminded that nothing is hidden, nothing is opaque and that the answers to every puzzle are right there in front of us.

It’s clever but, once again, there’s a sense of distance. Because I don’t believe in any of these people, the result is like watching an expert game of chess, with the director manipulating the action like a grandmaster. I’m watching with a sense of detachment rather than being swept up in the proceedings.

Ultimately Glass Onion is an interesting exercise in legerdemain, and Netflix will doubtless do well with it. It will be interesting to see where the series of films goes from here but, for me at least, this feels like a step in the right direction.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs


Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s late December and it’s time for another panto from the King’s Theatre… 

Oh no it’s not! Because of course, the Old Lady of Leven Street is closed, awaiting its much heralded refurbishment, so this time the regular crew have relocated to the Festival Theatre, a much bigger space, but one that they fill with their usual raucous aplomb. This year’s panto is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which has a more complicated plot than most. Perhaps with this in mind, the set designer has usefully created a hi-tech ‘magic mirror’ which offers us a lengthy preamble to set the scene. Unfortunately, a bunch of latecomers troop across in front of me during this sequence, so I’m left to figure things out on that score. 

As usual May (Allan Stewart) is the absolute star of the show (she’s a Nurse this time around). Stewart has his persona fine-tuned to perfection, skipping around the stage in stilettos while offering perfectly-timed put-downs. Grant Stott eschews drag and plays it straight as the evil Lord Lucifer (the clue’s in the name), currently trapped in the magic mirror and hoping to gain his release with the help of the wicked Queen Dragonella (Liz Ewing). Jordan Young returns as Muddles, and has his physical routines down to a T. Muddles, of course,  is in love with the Princess Snow White (Francesca Ross), but she only has eyes for the handsome Prince Hamish (Brian James Leys). Meanwhile, Dragonella’s daughter, Princess Lavinia (Clare Gray), is having second thoughts about being such a thoroughly bad egg…

Look, with these pantos, the plot hardly matters. They are really just an excuse to have a fun time, and it’s clear from the exuberant reception as the curtain goes up that the audience has a lot of love for these seasoned performers and are ready to shout ‘It’s behind you!’ and bellow their best boos every time Stott stalks onto the stage. There’s the familiar check list of sure-fire comedy routines, some new additions (Stott’s song about the Edinburgh trams goes down a storm), plenty of references both topical and regional and, naturally, there are seven talented (and brilliantly costumed) dwarfs – with Kyle Herd even doubling as Nicola Sturgeon for a dance routine.

I laugh, I clap, I cheer, I boo and I genuinely have a great time with this charming production. They’ve started somewhat later than usual, so those who want to grab a generous helping of Ho, Ho. Ho! should book early to avoid disappointment. The show’s on until January 22nd, so come on, what are you waiting for? It’s not Christmas without a good panto. 

(And the first person to say “Oh yes it is” will be politely asked to leave.)

Merry Christmas everyone!

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Triangle of Sadness


Amazon Prime Video

Writer/director Ruben Östlund clearly has an axe to grind with the rich and privileged. This film amounts to a pretty effective take-down of such people, skewering their pretensions and their innate sense of ownership. Most of the characters depicted are repellent in their own individual ways, so it’s very much to Östlund’s credit that he actually manages to make me care so much about what happens to them.

Carl (Harris Dickinson) is a male model, already suffering the indignities of casting agents muttering that he ‘may need some botox’ just three years after hitting it big in a series of fragrance ads. His ultra-manipulative girlfriend, Yaya (Charlbi Dean), is an influencer, unable to eat a meal without taking thirty shots of herself supposedly enjoying the food. The two maintain a prickly relationship.

Yaya has recently wangled an invitation for her and Carl to go on an ultra-luxurious ocean cruise, along with a collection of super-rich guests, including oligarch, Dimitri (Zlatko Buric),  who’s made his fortune from selling manure, and charming old couple, Winston (Oliver Ford Davies) and Clementine (Amanda Walker), who have become filthy rich from selling military grade weapons. ‘Our hand grenades are very popular,’ they tell Carl, proudly.

Urged on by head of staff, Paula (Vicki Berlin), the ship’s crew do everything they can to fulfil their guests’ every whim, no matter how demeaning, how utterly facile it might be. Meanwhile, Captain Thomas Smith (Woody Harrelson) skulks alone in his cabin, drinking too much alcohol and attempting to keep his distance from the passengers he clearly despises… 

But a storm is coming and, when it coincides with the Captain’s Dinner, it soon becomes apparent that this trip is going to be anything but plain sailing…

Like an Admirable Crichton for our time, Triangle of Sadness is full of delights, by turns excoriating, hilarious and insightful. At times it’s also unpleasant – scenes where an ocean storm induces an outbreak of mass vomiting amongst the passengers are really not for the faint hearted. While the film admittedly loses a little momentum in its final third, when the action transfers to a desert island, it nonetheless still has plenty to say about the human condition, when former toilet cleaner, Abigail (Dolly Le Leon), spots an opportunity to take on the role of leader, by simple virtue of the fact that she’s the only one capable of doing anything practical. Östlund seems to be pointing out that no matter how much we might hate the privileged, when offered the chance to step into their shoes, few of us are willing to pass it up. And to what lengths are we prepared to go to in order to cling onto it?

A late revelation leaves Abigail with a difficult decision on her hands and brings the film to a breathless conclusion. I’ve always hated the idea of going on an ocean cruise and Triangle of Sadness hasn’t made me change my mind. But this film is well worth embarking on.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Kora by Tom Kitchin


Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

We visited Kora a few days after it opened, back in July, and loved it. But then it was in its infancy, and Mr Kitchin was a friendly and visible presence. The perfect storm of Brexit, COVID and cost-of-living crisis means that restaurants are even more vulnerable than they were before, and he was clearly focused on giving this place a decent start. The question is, five months on, with a slightly longer menu and the restaurant staff given more autonomy, is Kora still delivering five star meals?

The answer is: yes. Yes, it is.

It’s a welcoming place, with a cosy, informal vibe; the staff are warm without being overbearing, professional without being stuffy. The diners before us are running a little late, so we have to wait a while for our table, but we’re happy enough to sit at the bar with some wine (a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc), perusing the menu. It’s hard to pick from the delights on offer.

In the end, we both opt for the salmon starter. This comprises two thick slices of smoked salmon, served with a buckwheat galette, spinach, a perfectly poached egg and a buttery hollandaise sauce. It’s mouthwateringly-wonderful: the thick orange yolk cascading over everything; the salmon robust yet still delicate. It’s a great beginning!

My main course is the Sika deer: a venison pithivier with some medium rare roasted loin, both cooked to perfection. I’m worried before it arrives that it’ll be too much, too rich, with all the pastry and red meat, but it’s perfectly judged, so that I feel satisfied rather than bloated. This comes with celeriac, which, although not my favourite vegetable, is beautifully cooked, and complements the meat well. Perhaps it would be better to have something fresh and green to offset all that richness, but this is just a minor quibble.

Philip has the partridge, which comes en croute, with a roasted leg on the side, as well as some salsify. This is succulent, well-spiced and subtly flavoured, the pastry flaky and crisp. He declares it to be ‘faultless’ and relishes every mouthful.

Philip’s pudding is chocolate, i.e. warm doughnut balls, a dark chocolate sauce, and Chantilly cream. It’s one of those dishes that makes you say ‘oooh’ a lot; it feels indulgent and nostalgic in equal measure. My cinnamon is something of an eye-opener, so much more than its description gives away. A real contender for my ‘Off Menu dream meal dessert’, this consists of a cinnamon panna cotta, served with tart, crisp pieces of apple and an apple sorbet, with a small, warm cinnamon bun on the side. I just know I’ll be ordering this again before too long.

We decline coffee, pay our bill, and head off into the cold, night air. Kora is only a ten minute walk from home; what a privilege to live so near a place as stellar as this.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Avatar: the Way of Water


Cineworld, Edinburgh

There’s no denying the fact that, back in back in 2009, James Cameron’s Avatar was an absolute game-changer. It demonstrated the possibilities of digital filmmaking, relaunched the idea of 3D cinema and, in terms of the box office, was one of the most successful films in history. Of course there would be a sequel. It was a no-brainer. But we could have no idea, back then, how long it was going to take…

Thirteen years later, here I am in my local multiplex, staring at a giant screen through a pair of 3D glasses. It must be said that Pandora looks even more ravishing than it did last time. The world-building is second to none, the action set pieces as explosive as ever… but in terms of story, not an awful lot has changed. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has learned to love the Na’vi body he now inhabits and he and his wife, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), have acquired a family, mostly by traditional methods – though in the case of Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), through some scientific tinkering in a laboratory, taking genes from Grace Augustine’s avatar. Together the extended family live an undemanding life in their exotic jungle home, even finding room for Spider (Jack Champion), the human son of Sully’s old nemesis, Colonel Myles Quaritch.

But of course, happiness cannot last forever and all too soon, The Sky People (who sound disconcertingly like a 1980s dance troupe) return in force, landing their fleet of space craft with enough power to burn down hundreds of acres of forest. Among them is Quaritch (Stephen Lang), reanimated as a Na’vi version of his former self and assigned the role of hunting down Jake. After an initial skirmish with Quaritch and his crew, Jake realises that he is putting everyone in his tribe in danger, so the Sully family leave their familiar home and seek refuge among the people of the Metakayina Reef.

It’s here of course that the major difference from the first film comes into play. This new tribe is an aquatic one and much of the ensuing action takes place in and under the ocean as the Sullys learn how to operate in an unfamiliar environment. And the film does look exquisite, every frame captured in photo realistic style, the various denizens of the ocean portrayed with all the veracity of a Blue Planet documentary. It is an extraordinary technical achievement and you see exactly where all those millions of dollars have been spent.

But… The Way of Water has a three-hour-twelve-minute running time and, consequently, no matter how stunning it looks, I’m all too aware that there really isn’t enough story here to keep me fully engaged. Every set-piece seems to take forever to play out and, try as I might, I can’t help thinking about the other three (or is is four?) movies that Cameron has waiting in the wings. The final scenes take place in a sinking ship and have more than a nod to Titanic about them. This feels somehow meta: Cameron harking back to another of his former triumphs, where he took on the nay-sayers and won?

I find myself simultaneously hoping and doubting that The Way of Water is the film that will encourage audiences back to the cinema en masse. There are about eight of us at the afternoon screening I attend, which isn’t encouraging – but we’ll have to wait to see how it all plays out. Increasingly, however, the Avatar franchise is in danger of becoming James Cameron’s folly.

It’s massive, it’s impressive, but it’s ultimately an empty vessel. Can he really hope to rekindle those former glories?

The jury is out.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

White Noise


The Cameo, Edinburgh

Noah Baumbach’s latest film – based on the 1985 novel by Dom Delillo – is mostly about death: humanity’s fear of it, the inevitability of it and the final irrefutable truth that one day it comes to us all. If this makes White Noise sound about as much fun as a car crash at a funeral, don’t be misled. It’s a fascinating film, by turns absurdly funny, deeply puzzling and profoundly worrying. If, ultimately, it attempts to bite off a little more than it can chew, it’s nonetheless an ambitious and bravely experimental slice of filmmaking.

We’re somewhere in the American midwest where Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) is ‘Professor of Hitler Studies’ at the prestigious ‘College on the Hill’, where he’s fond of waxing lyrical about the rise of the Nazis without, it seems, any inkling of how distressing a subject it actually is. He’s also hiding the embarrassing fact that he can’t speak a word of German. Jack enjoys an adversarial friendship with another lecturer, Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), who specialises in two main subjects, Elvis and er… car crashes. A scene where the two men attempt to engage in a kind of intellectual battle of wits in front of a spellbound class is a particular highlight.

Jack lives with his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), and their extended family. Both have had previous marriages and the gaggle of kids who live with them are all better informed than either of their parents. The family lives in a bubble of domestic bliss, interspersed with regular trips to a gigantic, day-glo supermarket, which seems to hold for them the importance of a church. But not everything is quite as cosy as it seems. What are those pills that Babette is secretly taking? And why, when challenged, does she deny their very existence?

Matters take a dramatic turn for the worse when a freight train laden with dangerous chemicals collides with an articulated lorry, carrying something equally nasty. The result in an ‘airborne toxic event’ which sends clouds of deadly fumes into the sky. The Gladney family – and just about everybody else in the vicinity – vacate their home in a desperate attempt to escape. But what exactly are they fleeing from? And what’s the prognosis if you’re exposed to those ‘deadly’ clouds? Nobody seems to know.

White Noise offers as many questions as it does answers. If not everything we’re offered here quite comes off, much of it works brilliantly. Baumbach’s vision of suburban America is packed full of surprises, from doctors who clearly don’t care about the welfare of their patients to a Mother Superior who rubbishes the idea of heaven and angels. There are perfectly judged performances from Driver and Gerwig (particularly the latter who plays her role as if in a permanent drug daze) and Lol Crawley’s cinematography gives everything an unearthly sheen.

In the film’s final third, Jack finds himself driven to seek out the person responsible for Babette’s addiction, but even that doesn’t follow the lines you’d generally expect to encounter in such a narrative. It’s here that the film begins to feel a little too unhinged, though the enterprise is rescued by a delightful end-credit sequence.

It’s an ingenious device that keeps me glued to my seat until the screen finally fades to black.  

3. 8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Silent Twins


Cineworld, Edinburgh

The real-life silent twins of the title are Jennifer and June Gibbons, born in 1963, who refused – for years – to speak to anyone but each other. No one really knows why, but there are myriad theories: they were outsiders – the only Black kids in their small Welsh town; they were bullied; one was controlling the other – or, more crudely, they were ‘disturbed’.

Certainly ‘disturbed’ was the verdict of a baffled legal system, which over-reacted to the girls’ teenage crimes of petty theft and arson, and sent them to Broadmoor high security mental health hospital – a place more commonly associated with hardened murderers than wayward kids. How did they get through the eleven long years they spent there?

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska shows us how: by retreating into their rich inner lives. In this illuminating biopic, adapted by Andrea Seigel from the book by journalist Marjorie Wallace (played here by Jodhi May), we see that Jenny and June are far from mute and far from short of things to say. They just have a different way of expressing themselves. In reality, their so-called ‘secret language’ was a mixture of Bajan slang and super-fast English, which they used to tell stories to each other; here, their tales are depicted as distinctive animations. The girls are writers, producing countless reams of short stories, poems, even novels, spending their meagre benefits on foolscap, typewriter ink and – eventually – vanity publishing. They refuse to engage with their seemingly lovely family, rejecting any offers of help. Sent to separate schools for kids with special educational needs, they both become further withdrawn, refusing to move or eat, let alone speak. They’re driven by their art: once school is behind them, they realise they need to interact with the outside world – how can they write about romance if they’ve never experienced it? But romance is in short supply in their dalliances with the odious Wayne (Jack Bandeira)…

If only all biopics were as imaginative, engaging and sensitive as this! Jenny and June are not presented here as curiosities, but as troubled young people, let down by a system totally lacking in empathy, keen to other them, to set them apart. We see them as little girls (Eva-Arianna Baxter and Leah Mondesir-Simmonds) and as young women (Tamara Lawrance and Letitia Wright), by turns mischievous and vulnerable, selfish and self-absorbed. The four performances are exemplary, like a house of mirrors, amplifying the twins’ co-dependence, as well as the monstrous cruelty of sending them to an institution destined to destroy them, breaking two butterflies on a barbaric wheel.

Smoczynska imbues the girls’ story with humanity: there is sweetness here, and humour, as well as misery and obsession. It’s a thought-provoking, insightful piece of work.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield