Life of Pi


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, was published in 2001 and won the Booker Prize the following year. In 2012, it was adapted into an impressive film, directed by Ang Lee. Of course, the inevitable next step was to adapt it for the stage, but that’s a very tall order. Would it be possible to convincingly present such a fantastical story in a theatre? Well, never underestimate what can be achieved with a suitable budget and state-of-the-art special effects. This version, beamed direct from London’s Wyndham Theatre as part of the NT Live season, is absolutely eye-popping.

The play opens in a hospital ward in Mexico, where our eponymous hero is being interviewed about his extraordinary survival in an open boat for 227 days, but his recollections are suddenly punctuated by a scene change so slick, I barely notice it happening, – until it has. 

It’s the 1960s and Piscine Molitor Patel (Hiran Abeysekera) lives in Pondicherry, India. Named after a swimming pool in France, he prefers his adopted nickname ‘Pi.’ His parents run a small zoo and Pi and his sister spend much of their time looking after the animals – including the latest arrival, a fierce Siberian tiger called Richard Parker.

And now it’s 1976 and, due to violent political unrest, Pi’s parents have decided to relocate their animals to a zoo in Canada. Pi, his family and all the animals board the Japanese freighter Tsintsum, and set off on a sea voyage. What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty, as it happens. Pi ends up stranded in a lifeboat with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and er… Richard Parker for company. 

Which is awkward, to say the very least.

To give him his due, Abeysekara offers an extraordinary performance in the lead role but, as you might expect, his efforts and those of his fellow performers are somewhat dwarfed by the aforementioned puppetry and special effects, which are quite frankly, off the scale. 

Let’s begin with Tim Hatley’s ingenious set designs, particularly those that deal with Pi’s adventures in the fateful lifeboat tossed upon stormy seas. Raging torrents of water appear to flood across the performance space, while shoals of fluorescent fish speed along just below the surface. I even gasp out loud at one point when Pi takes a nose dive onto an apparently solid stage… and disappears right through it, only to resurface in an entirely different spot a moment later. How have they done that? (With trapdoors, obviously, but it’s astonishing nevertheless.)

As are the animals – or, more accurately,  the puppets, designed by Nick Barnes, which are so intricately made that I actually keep forgetting they’re mechanical, which is ridiculous because I can quite clearly see the people operating them… and yet… and yet, I still believe they’re real, which is some accomplishment. Richard Parker is, of course, la bête du jour, the very essence of feline power, even able to switch into a comedic role as a fan of haute cuisine and back to a snarling, powerful predator, but – to be fair – every creature I see, right down to the swarms of multi coloured butterflies, is an astonishing creations.

Adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Max Webster, Life of Pi is like a magician’s box of tricks. There’s a small part of me that feels sorry for the cast of (mostly excellent) actors struggling to make themselves seen amidst all that sturm und drang, but I guess it’s just – ahem – the nature of the beast.

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney



NT Live: Cineworld, Edinburgh

Although we’re watching it in a cinema, Clint Dyer’s Othello is avowedly theatrical, overtly referencing the play’s stage history via a series of projected images as the audience trickles in. It’s a powerful conceit, acknowledging the fact that our interpretations of classic texts change with the times, informing us that this will be an Othello for the 2020s (and far removed from Olivier’s infamous 1960s blackface).

Dyer brings the play’s racism into sharp focus, as well as its sexism. Moving the action to the 1930s means that the widespread bigotry Othello (Giles Terera) endures fits into a recognisable framework of fascism. Brabantio (Jay Simpson), who doesn’t want his daughter to marry ‘a Moor’ – not even a super-soldier, credited with defeating the Turkish army – is far from alone in his prejudice. Indeed, we have a whole System (the chorus), all too willing to endorse his view. Roderigo (Jack Bardoe) is not played here as an amusing fool; instead, he is a jingoist, short on reason but bold in his assertions. Thus, as the only Black actor on stage, Terera’s Othello is isolated and visibly different from those around him, and his relationship with the politically-aware Desdemona (Rosy McEwen) is as much ideological as it is romantic.

In this context, it’s no surprise that an unscrupulous schemer such as Iago (Paul Hilton) can thrive. He is the ultimate embodiment of toxic masculinity, propelled by self-entitlement and envy; Hilton makes this Iago deliciously sinister. He abuses everyone: his wife, Emilia (Tanya Franks) bears the brunt of his frustration, but no one is immune. His bitter resentment sours everything, drags everybody down. Othello doesn’t stand a chance against such an insidious adversary, in such an imbalanced world.

Chloe Lamford’s set is stark and monochrome: a semicircular series of steps, suggestive of a Greek amphitheatre. The chorus heightens this notion, acting as a kind of on-stage audience, reflecting us back at ourselves. We are all the System, it seems to say; we are all complicit. The costumes (by Michael Vale) continue the monochrome theme, highlighting the binary opposition of black and white.

This is an excellent production: bold, contemplative, kinetic and engaging. Terera captures both Othello’s strength and his failings, his dignity and his deficiencies. We see his greatness, but also recognise and despise his misogyny when he tries to justify murdering Desdemona by saying he loved her “too well”. McEwen imbues Desdemona with a steadfast nature, confident and assertive to the end, but it is Franks’ Emilia who really surprises: I’ve never been so aware of her as a victim before, nor of her bravery in finally speaking out.

Dyer’s Othello is a complex, clever piece of work. It’s not a radical reworking – indeed, it’s almost entirely true to Shakespeare’s text – but the lens is very different.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Blue Jean


Cineworld, Edinburgh

It’s hard to remember sometimes, from our current vantage point, just how deeply ingrained homophobia was in 1980s Britain. Writer/director Georgia Oakley’s debut film takes us back to 1988, and the implementation of Margaret Thatcher’s controversial Clause 28, which explicitly banned schools and local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. I was in sixth form then, and I mostly remember finding it ridiculous – as if, without the clause, there would be advertisements everywhere. “Come on, kids! Be gay! It’s great!” But I only had the luxury of dismissing it as stupid because I was straight. I don’t know how it made the gay kids feel. I didn’t know anyone who said they were gay back then (although, of course, many have come out since). I don’t blame them for keeping schtum. I don’t remember the schoolyard as a place that celebrated difference.

Jean (Rosy McEwen) is a PE teacher. She’s also a lesbian, recently divorced from her husband, and enjoying a new relationship with Viv (Kerrie Hayes). But while Viv is at ease with herself – out and proud and politically engaged – Jean is less confident about her sexual identity. She’s still keen to fit in with the heteronormative world; she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, either at school or with her family. It’s a matter of survival: however shocking it may seem, she’s right to fear her that job is on the line. She manages by drawing a clear distinction between work and home: she lives in a different town from the one she teaches in, and refuses drinks invitations from her colleagues. Her social life revolves around a gay club and a lesbian commune, and here she’s free to be herself.

Until fifteen-year-old Lois (Lucy Halliday) shows up in the club. She’s belligerent and bold – and she’s also Jean’s student. Suddenly, Jean’s worlds collide. Her carefully segregated life is under threat, and she’s torn between fight or flight.

Oakley’s script gives us a clear insight into the era, and into the overt discrimination that permeated popular culture. McEwen shows us a young woman forced into a choice she doesn’t want to make: she has to be a hero or a failure; she can’t just be; the government’s weird preoccupation with consenting adults’ sex lives has a profound impact on real people. Hayes is heartbreaking as Viv, whose clear-eyed view never dulls her pain, and newcomer Halliday is mesmerising on the screen.

Clause 28 was finally repealed in 2003, and things have certainly improved – although, of course, there’s still a way to go. Blue Jean serves as an important reminder of why we can’t ever relax our vigilance, and why we mustn’t let things slide. People’s lives and happiness depend on it.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Crucible


NT Live: Cineworld, Edinburgh

It’s a Thursday night, and a bit of a scramble getting to the cinema after work for a 7pm start. There’s certainly no time for anything so trivial as say, food, this evening. Sure, it’s The Crucible, and we’ve read a lot about this latest production from the National Theatre. But is it worth skipping a meal for?

Thankfully, Lyndsey Turner’s interpretation of Arthur Miller’s timeless classic is so absorbing that we forget our empty bellies: we’re right there in Salem, Massachusetts, drawn into the destructive hysteria of the seventeenth century witch trials.

The story is well-known. A restrictive society collapses in on itself; petty grievances escalate into accusations of witchcraft; accusations of witchcraft further escalate into a feverish cull. Powerful men exploit vulnerable children, and women pay the price.

In this production, power imbalance is given centre stage. Erin Doherty’s Abigail Williams is no feisty seductress; instead, she’s a troubled teenager, all stroppy self-absorption and wounded spite. I like the way the girls are styled – as artless kids, kicking against a regime that affords them little in the way of entertainment, let alone autonomy. Proctor’s attempt to blame Abigail for their affair is shown as fundamentally flawed. It is his transgression, because he is the adult.

But he’s a victim too, and Turner’s direction highlights class warfare as well as misogyny. Hathorne (Henry Everett) and Danforth (Matthew Marsh) represent the ruling elite, issuing diktats and seizing ever more control. Reverends Parris and Hale (Nick Fletcher and Fisayo Akinade respectively) are the useful middle-class idiots, serving up the workers to the toffs. They’re very different men, but they fulfil the same role: condemning the villagers to their dreadful fates.

Es Devlin’s roofed set is wonderfully oppressive, a sheet of rain acting as an extra barrier, showing how cut off and isolated the villagers are, making their implosion all the more credible. The costumes (by Catherine Fay) also work well to create a sense of timelessness: they’re sort-of period, sort-of modern; not-quite-now but not-quite then. And what is The Crucible if it’s not a play for all ages, exposing our ongoing susceptibility to witch-hunts, both literal and metaphorical?

Brendan Cowell’s John Proctor is fascinating. He’s a shambling contradiction of a man: an honest cheat; an exploitative victim. I think he might be my favourite of all the Proctors I’ve seen, illuminating the character’s complexities. Here, he’s styled almost as a lone cowboy – a broken maverick, who comes good in the end. “Because it is my name” is such a weighted line, fraught with audience expectation (akin to Lady Bracknell’s “A handbag?” or Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?”) and it’s nice to see it being played down, spoken softly, as if it’s a simple, self-evident thing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again: hurrah for NT Live. It means that our ‘national theatre’ really is national – easily accessible and (relatively) affordable. And definitely worth one missed evening meal.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield



Cineworld, Edinburgh

Todd Field’s Tár is a complex, demanding film. And yet, despite its difficult themes and its contemptuous, autocratic central character, it’s also engaging and exciting.

At first, I’m not quite sure. The film begins with the credit sequence. This feels pretty audacious in itself. They’re called ‘end credits’ for a reason, right? They’re for putting your coat on and fumbling your way down the stairs in the dark, not for actually watching. I mean, I don’t care who provided the catering truck, or who the post-production supervisor is. Here, I’m forced to watch, and to listen to the music (Elisa Vargas Fernandez’s Cura Mente).

Okay, so I’m unsettled, which I guess is the point, but from here we’re into an equally long opening scene, where we meet the eponymous Tár being interviewed. The discussion itself is deferred by an interminable introduction, listing not just the highlights, but every one of the great conductor’s achievements, and – when the questions do begin – they’re dry and academic, the answers a forensic examination of classical music from a maestro’s perspective. I find myself shifting in my seat, wondering how this is the film that’s just won Cate Blanchett a Golden Globe.

And then…

Suddenly, there’s a shift. We’re with Tár at Julliard, where she’s teaching a class. She’s angered by a young student’s dismissal of Bach as ‘irrelevant’, and we’re offered a glimpse of her scathing nature as she belittles his concerns. It’s a shocking moment – and it’s not the last. Because somebody is watching her…

Blanchett is utterly compelling. She towers; she glowers. Lydia Tár is both maestro and monster, impressive and imperious. She’s living her best life: conducting the prestigious Berliner Philharmoniker, launching her autobiography, Tár on Tár, flying first class around the world, and sharing a stunning apartment with her wife, Sharon (Nina Hoss), and their young daughter, Petra (Mila Bogojevic). But she’s also careless of other people’s feelings, and ruthless in her dealings, both personal and professional. She has dalliances with some of the impressionable young women she mentors, then ditches them when she grows bored. Nothing seems to touch her – until it all comes crashing down.

The whole thing is disquieting, elements of melodrama and thriller juxtaposed with the minutiae of how a professional orchestra works. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Both the story arc and the characters are unconventional, the precise, deliberate nature of the structure mirrored by Tár’s meticulous dissection of Mahler’s fifth symphony.

By the time the end-end credits roll, I’m a complete convert. This is a fascinating film, so densely packed I know I need to watch it again (something I rarely do). Quite simply, Tár is a masterpiece.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

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

She Said


Cineworld. Edinburgh

She Said sets out its stall in the first few minutes. New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is about to publish a story about women being sexually abused by a presidential candidate, and the accused man calls to refute the claims. He’s boorish and threatening. The story is published, and the victims learn they were right to be afraid of speaking up. While they get death threats and envelopes of dog shit through the post, Donald Trump gets elected president.

So when Twohey and her colleague, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), begin to investigate rumours about Harvey Weinstein, they know what an uphill battle they face. The system is skewed in favour of powerful men. Uncovering the truth is relatively easy; acquiring sufficient evidence to publish it is horribly complex. As if persuading understandably anxious women to out themselves to a global audience weren’t difficult enough, there are also NDAs to contend with. How are these malignant settlements even allowed to exist? They’re just get-out-of-jail-free cards for rich arseholes, who can easily afford to spaff megabucks on silencing the people they abuse. But Twohey and Kantor are tenacious, and refuse to give up. It’s not easy for either of them. Kantor has a young family, and Twohey is in the throes of post-natal depression. Calls come at all times of the day and night – both threats from trolls and revelations from sources – but still, they can’t let go. It matters too much. So they grit their teeth and crack on, relying on their partners to do the lion’s share of parenting. (It’s refreshing, actually, to see Ron Lieber and Tom Pelphrey in these peripheral, domestic roles that are usually reserved for women.)

Maria Schrader’s understated direction works well, illuminating the sheer grit required to bring a prolific sex offender to account. The screenplay, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, draws on the book written by the two journalists, and focuses on the painful process rather than the assaults. This is one instance where telling is better than showing: we don’t need to see these women being abused. Instead, we see the aftermath. We see how, while Weinstein continued to live the high life, perpetuating his attacks over and over again, any woman who dared to reject him or, worse, complain about his behaviour, had her life turned upside down. From Ashley Judd (appearing here as herself) being blacklisted and branded ‘a nightmare to work with’ to Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) fleeing to Guatemala, the fallout was immense.

The performances are detailed and meticulous. Kazan and Mulligan both fizz with pent-up energy, and the supporting cast are just as committed. Jennifer Ehle stands out as Laura Madden, attacked by Weinstein back when she was a young assistant, naïve and excited to be working for him. Thirty years later, she has a double mastectomy to deal with, so speaking out seems urgent, not least to show her daughters that they don’t need to internalise abuse.

She Said does a good job of highlighting the inherent power discrepancies in our society, and how ‘consent’ is problematic if one party holds the other’s prospects in their hands. It also shows how we can fight back.


4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Tim Minchin: BACK


Cineworld, Edinburgh

The tagline for BACK promises “old songs, new songs and fuck you songs” – and that’s exactly what we get. It’s great to see Minchin ‘back’ on the stage, albeit – for today – via the medium of screen. I loved Matilda, and am truly sorry his animated movie was so cruelly canned, but I did miss Tim-the-performer while he was working on those other projects, and BACK is a triumphant return.

I admire his resilience. Whatever private tears were shed over the Hollywood let-down, his public self is irrepressible. And I imagine live performances as popular as these provide quite the tonic for a bruised ego.

BACK is wide-ranging – both topically and musically. There’s an ode to cheese, a rant about progressives’ infighting and a plaintive memorial to a lost loved one; there’s a capella, solo piano and an accomplished eight-piece band. This makes sense: after all, the show is loosely constructed as a memoir, looking back at almost thirty years of an unusual career.

Three hours seem to fly by. Minchin’s ebullience makes him fascinating to watch, as well as listen to: this is as much a spectacle as it is an evening of song. As if his trademark bare feet, big hair and eyeliner weren’t arresting enough, he’s rarely still, jumping on and off the piano, doing backward rolls off the stool, and even sweeping broken glass off the stage (his own glass, I should add; the crowd is on his side).

Standout moments include If I Didn’t Have You, for it’s cheeky observations, and I’ll Take Lonely Tonight, for its wistful honesty, but the whole show works well. I find myself impressed anew by Minchin’s witty lyrics and musical dexterity, and I’m also engaged by his attempt to confront the thorny issue of ‘cancel culture’ from a liberal standpoint, highlighting the hypocrisy of promoting empathy via rage.

The tour is over, but this recording remains, and – if you get the chance to see it – do. Minchin is a joy.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris


Cineworld, Edinburgh

I am poorly when I see the 1992 teleplay, Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris, nursing a cold. I am lying on my sofa with the TV on, drifting in and out of sleep. At one point, I wake up, and there are Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and, wait, is that Fred from Corrie? Is this a fever dream? I find myself engaging with the story, and watching through to the end. On occasion, I mention it to friends, but nobody has ever heard of it. They look at me sceptically. I let it go…

So I’m weirdly excited about this latest iteration of the tale, which I now know is based on a novel by Paul Gallico. Lesley Manville stars as the titular Mrs Harris (her ‘H’ restored), with Isabelle Huppert and Jason Isaacs as the big name support.

It’s London, 1957. Ada Harris knows in her heart that she’s a war widow, but she’s been waiting years for Eddie’s death to be confirmed. In the meantime, she’s working as a charwoman, cleaning up after a succession of indolent rich folk. She’s not unhappy exactly: she has a busy social life, drinking, dancing and ‘going to the dogs’ with her friends, Violet (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Isaacs). But something is missing and, when Ada catches a glimpse of an exquisite couture gown in Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor)’s bedroom, she realises exactly what that missing something is…

A posh frock from Paris is beyond Mrs Harris’s slender means, but she’s a determined woman, and sets to with admirable grit, making savings wherever she can. Take the bus to work? No, not when she can walk. And what does she need with evenings out? Better to spend the time altering and repairing people’s clothes, bringing in a few extra shillings. Despite her hard work, however, that Dior dress is still way out of reach.

Until a series of fortunate events occurs, and – of course – she’s off to Paris! (Come on, that’s hardly a spoiler; it’s literally in the title.) The streets of the French capital appear to be paved with litter (there’s a bin strike, which we citizens of Edinburgh can certainly relate to), but Ada rises easily above the stink. She’s having the time of her life, and – with the help of André (Lucas Bravo), Natasha (Alba Baptista) and the dashing Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) – she’s rediscovering her mojo. Sure, Mme Colbert (Huppert) is a bit sneery, and Mme Avallon (Guilaine Londez) seems to view her as an enemy, but so what? A couture gown is on its way; what could possibly go wrong?

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is essentially a fairytale, although it’s not very grim. It’s a frothy concoction, signifying little, but it’s eminently watchable, with warm, engaging characters, and a satisfying (if predictable) story arc. Under Anthony Fabian’s direction, this primarily Hungarian production (no, I don’t know why either) is beautifully shot, and Felix Wiedemann’s cinematography really captures the ethereal beauty of the clothes, so vital to the tale. It’s refreshing to see a love story that doesn’t patronise an older woman, and I’m pleased that the ‘fish out of water’ stuff is played down. Ada is independent: she has lived alone through a war and is used to city life, and she mixes with all kinds. It’s no surprise that she can hold her own in a Parisian restaurant, nor that she’s unfazed by the unfamiliar etiquette of a Dior fashion show. Perhaps the most important theme is one of societal change: just as the political elite in Paris have to accept that the workers won’t settle for poverty wages any more, neither will Ada continue to put up with late payments and disrespect from her employers. The war was a real turning point, and its longterm implications are starting to be felt.

I don’t really know how this compares to the teleplay, because I wasn’t fully compos mentis when I was watching that, but I do know that it’s more enjoyable to see Mrs Harris finding her dream dress when I’m not in a Lemsip fug. And at the cinema too, which is always better (true fact, no counter-arguments accepted).

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Parallel Mothers


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Pedro Almadóvar’s latest film is as fascinating as you’d expect; the veteran director is no stranger to serious stories, improbably furnished with lush images and unlikely melodrama. In this sense, Parallel Mothers is more of the same. But it is, of course, gloriously original too, and very much its own film.

Actually, maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe this is really two different films, because the two main strands are very disparate and never really converge. They’re parallel, if you like.

We open with the first – and arguably most interesting – strand. In a studio in Madrid, Janis (Penélope Cruz) is taking photographs of Arturo (Israel Elejalde), an eminent archaeologist. She seizes the opportunity to ask for his help: she wants him to excavate a potential grave-site, where, she believes, her great-grandfather is buried, along with nine other early victims of the  Franco regime. The impact of the past on the present is superbly realised, and reinforces the importance of Spain’s Law of Historical Memory, which – shockingly – only began the process of identifying and exhuming mass graves in 2007. I’m embarrassingly ignorant about the Spanish Civil War; this movie has already made me read up on the basics, and I’m keen to learn more, so – for me, at least – it’s proved successful in raising awareness, which is clearly part of Almadóvar’s aim.

The second strand is more domestic. Janis and Arturo have a casual relationship, which results in a very-much-unplanned pregnancy. She’s delighted; he’s not. He’s married; his wife has cancer; he doesn’t want to start a family. They part amicably. Janis doesn’t mind the idea of raising a child on her own; after all, her own mother did it, and her grandmother too.

In the maternity hospital, Janis’s roommate is a frightened teenager. Ana (Milena Smit) doesn’t want a baby. She’s got all the material support she could need: her mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), is a wealthy actress with a big house, and there are staff too: a housekeeper and a nanny. But the emotional support is lacking, and she turns to Janis for comfort. The two women are very different, but their situations similar enough to allow them to bond.

Until something unforeseen happens…

The film ends with a quotation from Eduardo Galeano: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.” This is true of the bodies piled in anonymous graves, and it’s true of the contemporary secret Janis uncovers too.

There are more parallels: between Lorca’s exposé of “the grotesque treatment of women in Spain” in Doña Rosita the Spinster (Teresa’s latest role) and Ana’s tragic backstory; between Janis and her own free spirit of a mum, dead at twenty-seven from an overdose.

There is also humour, and beautiful domestic scenery. Ana and Janis bond over stereotypical ‘women’s work’ – the food imagery is very evocative, and I leave the cinema feeling hungry.

And yet…

This film is gorgeous to watch, thanks to José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography, but there’s no getting past the fact that some plot points are skated over. Without giving any spoilers, I can’t say too much, but there’s a gaping hole where officialdom and bureaucracy should be, and perhaps the tying up of the ‘mothers’ strand feels a little glib.

There’s no glibness in the final shot though; that’s as profound as they come. I’d have liked a better balance between the two strands, I think: the domestic story overshadows the historical one.

But, without doubt, this is a film to watch.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield