Douglas Booth

Mary Shelley

09/07/18

It’s one of the most fascinating stories in the history of literature – how an eighteen year old girl, albeit the daughter of two respected writers and the partner of an acclaimed poet, managed to create one of the most seminal novels of all time – a book that has never been out of print since its release in 1818, one that has been filmed and staged countless times… and a book, moreover, that is a brilliant metaphor for womankind’s lot in the male-dominated society of the period.

Here, Mary is played by Elle Fanning, doing that sleepy-eyed, sulky thing she does so perfectly, while the role of Percy Bysshe Shelley is played by Douglas Booth. Indeed, at times, it’s hard to decide which one of them is the most photogenic. When we first encounter Mary, she’s sixteen years old, living with her father, the bookseller William Godwin (Stephen Dillane), her argumentative stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont (Joanne Froggat), and her stepsister, Claire (Bel Powley). Mary is obsessed with reading Gothic horror stories and is already making her first tentative attempts at writing fiction but, as her father tells her, she needs to stop imitating others and ‘find her own voice.’

On a rare visit to one of her cousins in Scotland, she encounters the handsome Percy Shelley and there’s an instant attraction between them. Summoned back to London because of Claire’s fictional ‘illness’, Mary is astonished when Percy turns up at her father’s bookshop, having enlisted William as his patron. It’s only a matter of time before Mary and Percy are in the throes of a full-blown romance. It’s not all plain sailing though. For one thing, there’s the fact that Percy already has a wife and daughter, a little detail that he has completely neglected to mention. But Mary manages to put her doubts aside. She’s smitten.

And then, to the complete disgust of polite society, the two lovers decide to run away together, taking Claire along for the ride. The three of them live a dissolute existence, struggling to make money and frittering away whatever they earn on alcohol and extravagant parties. Percy believes in free love and it isn’t long before, much to Mary’s dismay,  he’s drawing Claire into his amorous clutches. Then, the trio find themselves invited by Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) to stay at his villa in Switzerland, where he and his personal physician, Dr John Polidori (Ben Hardy), are currently holidaying – and where all the elements are in place for the creation of a Gothic masterpiece.

Haifaa al Monsour’s film sticks fairly closely to the facts and, despite the odd contemporary-sounding phrase, Emma Jensen’s screenplay easily manages to hold the attention. If Shelley comes across as a privileged idiot, he’s totally eclipsed by Byron, who, as portrayed by Sturridge, is easily the most slappable person in nineteenth century Europe, prone to making vile utterances about the superiority of men and engaging in macho posturing. Indeed, amongst the young male characters, only Polidori emerges as genuinely decent, though the treatment he experiences at the hands of the two poets might give him good cause to be surly.

This is a good movie, handsomely staged and capably directed. It may be the first time that the extraordinary nature of Mary’s achievement has been fully realised onscreen. If the film is a little short on fireworks, it’s nonetheless offers a fascinating insight into the scandalous events that surrounded the creation of Frankenstein.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Loving Vincent

02/11/17

Once in a while a film comes along that is so original, it almost defies definition. This Polish-UK collaboration, is one such film. Billed as the first ‘fully-painted’ feature, it represents ten years’ work by more than one hundred artists. Shot conventionally at first, with a cast of distinguished actors, all chosen for their similarities to characters in Van Gogh’s art, each frame (and there are 165,000 of them) has then been painstakingly overpainted with oils. The result is that the screen seems to writhe and flicker with vibrant colours, the technique plunging the viewer headlong into the artist’s idiosyncratic world. At first, the effect is dazzling, almost overpowering, but once you settle into it, you begin to take notice of the story, which is presented rather like a detective mystery. Did the famous artist really commit suicide? Was he murdered? Or was he the victim of a childish prank gone wrong?

It’s a year since Van Gogh’s death and Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of Vincent’s close friend, Postman Joseph (Chris O Dowd) is charged with the thankless task of delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother, Theo. Armand reluctantly heads off to Paris where he talks to Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), who tells him that the letter cannot be delivered, as Theo too, is dead. He also assures Armand that Vincent was happy in the days leading up to his death and would never have dreamed of killing himself. Intrigued by this information,  Armand heads for Auvers Sur Oise, the little town where Vincent spent his last days, and starts looking for answers. But it seems everyone he talks to has a different opinion about what might have happened to him…

There’s no doubting the care and attention to detail that filmmakers Dorieta Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have lavished on Loving Vincent – and it’s amazing to note, that no matter how manipulated the film images are, the actors are always identifiable as themselves, even whilst looking exactly like their portrait counterparts. Jerome Flynn who plays Doctor Gachet is a particularly good example of this. The scene where we first meet him is like watching a famous painting come to life. I particularly like the regular monochrome flashbacks, where a more photorealistic technique is employed, which offers a welcome break from the barrage of multi-coloured visual fireworks. Lovers of Van Gogh’s work will have an absolute field day here spotting all the references to his most famous paintings (there are 120 of them) and though the various theories surrounding the artist’s death are nothing new in themselves, it’s interesting to have them presented for consideration in this way. It’s good too that we are left to make up our own minds about which particular theory to believe.

Does this work as a movie? Yes, I think so, but it certainly won’t appeal to everyone. If you don’t care for the artist’s work, this certainly isn’t going to float your boat. Loving Vincent has a limited release across the UK and may end up finding its biggest audiences on the small screen, but if you do get the chance to see it in a movie theatre, then go and immerse yourself in Vincent’s world. It really is quite an experience.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Limehouse Golem

11/09/17

This Ripper-esque murder mystery, adapted from the novel by Peter Ackroyd and written for the screen by Jane Goldman, has plenty of things to commend it, even if the story seems a little over-familiar. Bill Nighy (in a role originally intended for the late Alan Rickman) plays Inspector John Kildare, brought in by his superiors to investigate a series of grisly murders in the East End of London. Kildare, we quickly learn, has been passed over for promotion because he is a homosexual. The baffling nature of the crimes suggest he’s being offered as some kind of sacrificial lamb, somebody to take the inevitable hit when he fails to get a conviction.

Kildare is also drawn into the trial of former music hall star, Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), who stands accused of poisoning her husband, John (Sam Reid). The problem is that the dead man is one of the chief suspects for the Golem murders. The others are famous music hall star, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and Karl Marx (Henry Goodman): yes, that Karl Marx! Assisted by Constable George Flood (Daniel Mays), Kildare starts his investigation – and quickly discovers that he is wandering into a very tangled web indeed…

So yes, plenty to enjoy here – superlative performances from most of the cast (especially Booth), an intriguing look at the kind of entertainment laid on in the music halls of the period (I have to say, people must have been easily pleased in those days – it’s not exactly comedy gold) and some convincing recreations of Victorian London in all its grubby glory.  And yet, something doesn’t quite gel. The story unfolds slowly and fitfully, feeling longer than it’s one hour and forty nine minute running time. It only generates a full head of steam as it moves towards the final half hour or so. Nighy is always a pleasure to watch, but I couldn’t help feeling he wasn’t really given enough to do here, required mostly to stand around and look perplexed.

It would be criminal to give away the ending, so I won’t – but suffice to say, that I thought it was one of the stronger elements of the film. Rookie director Juan Carlos Medina may not have the lightness of touch needed to make this work perfectly, but it’s nonetheless a decent effort.

Be warned, though, the visceral murder scenes are not for the squeamish.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney