Gillian Anderson

The Pale Blue Eye

12/01/23

Netflix

It’s the year 1830 and, at West Point military academy, a student has been found hanged. More puzzlingly, his heart has been removed post mortem. Veteran detective August Landor (Christian Bale) is recruited by Captain Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) and Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall) to investigate. He is somewhat surprised to discover that he has an ally amongst the cadets in the gangling form of Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), who – as well as exhibiting a flair for writing dark poetry – is also an amateur sleuth. Soon, another murder occurs…

Director Scott Cooper has worked with Bale before (most memorably on the hard hitting western, Hostiles), but The Pale Blue Eye, based on a source novel by Louis Bayard, is a much more laid back affair, handsomely filmed and starring a clutch of accomplished character actors in minor roles. However, the women in particular have a thin time of it. Any film that offers the likes of Gillian Anderson and Charlotte Gainsbourg such thankless, underwritten roles should hang its head in shame.

Ultimately, The Pale Blue Eye is a two-hander between Bale and Melling (the latter having a field day as the wide-eyed, melodramatic young author). The result is an atmospheric story, with a distinctly Gothic flavour and some genuine surprises hidden within its twisty-turny plot – so it’s a pity that the eventual solution to the mystery is so risible – and that the reasons for the murders should prove to be so clumsily reductive about both disability and violence against women.

Poe aficionados will doubtless have fun spotting the various references to the great author’s work, but ultimately this feels like a missed opportunity.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Viceroy’s House

06/03/17

It’s 1947 and Lord Louis Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) is given the dubious honour of being the last British Viceroy of India. With his magisterial wife, Edwina (Gillian Anderson) at his side, he arrives in Delhi with the full knowledge that he has been handed a poisoned chalice. The India that he leaves behind will be subject to the innate animosity between its Hindu and Muslim inhabitants. There is already much talk about the founding of a new country, Pakistan. Meanwhile, Hindi Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal), working as a servant in the Viceroy’s House, reunites his acquaintance with Aelia (Huma Qureshi) a young Muslim woman he met some years earlier and who has now been promised by her father, Ali (the late Om Puri) to another man, as part of an arranged marriage. But as Jeet and Aelia spend time together, they begin to realise they are falling in love…

The partition of India is a fascinating and shameful slice of recent history and frankly one that deserves a better film than this. ‘Show don’t tell’ is a well known adage in storytelling but sadly, nobody seems to have told the screenwriters of this tale, as repeatedly, characters tell us of far more interesting events happening offscreen. The occasional use of a bit of vintage newsreel isn’t enough to pep things up and inevitably, I found my attention wandering. It’s no good telling me about a massacre on a train. I need to see it!

The performances are, as you might expect, exemplary. Bonneville dashes off the kind of ‘decent fellow’ routine he could do in his sleep, while Anderson portrays a character that is so painfully posh, she can’t even seem to walk without affectation. The film chooses to skip over her real life affair with Nehru (played here by Tanveer Gani) and there’s a suggestion that the Mountbattens stayed on after partition in order to help ease the transition, which is at best fanciful and at worst, a downright lie. Mahatma Ghandi (Neeraj Kabi) totters on for a scene or two and Michael Gambon offers a decent turn as the oleaginous General Hastings, but there’s the distinct feeling that a much more compelling story is happening just a few streets away from the gilded corridors of the titular palace. Most damning of all, the love affair element feels somehow superfluous, grafted on to make this more palatable to a wider audience, but as it stands, this is like history seen through Downtown Abbey coloured glasses – lacking in grit, action and verité.

Not awful, you understand, just a bit so-so.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney