James Cosmo

Outlaw King

 

23/11/18

In a move that is happening with increasing regularity, Outlaw King has gone straight to Netflix. When this first started, I imagined it would only be an occasional thing, but now, it seems, the streaming company have their eyes on the Oscars. The inevitable result is that brilliant films like the Coen Brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs have been afforded the same treatment; and Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming release, the Oscar-tipped Roma, looks certain to follow an identical path. Oh sure, it will have a ‘limited theatrical release,’ but that may only amount to one week in a few cinemas in London in order to qualify for competition. Ultimately, it means that British cinema goers are going to miss out and this worries me. I love cinema and I want to see it supported not sidelined.

Ironically, this powerful action movie, based around the life of Robert the Bruce is yet another film that really deserves to be viewed on the big screen. There’s sumptuous location photography, filmed (in what is becoming the exception rather than the rule) in the places where the story actually happened. The time is clearly right for the subject. Consigned to a supporting role in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Robert the Bruce is an important figure in Scottish history, and the man chiefly responsible for securing its independence from England.

When we first meet Robert (Chris Pine), he is renewing his fealty to King Edward the First of England (Stephen Dillane), mostly at the insistence of his elderly father, Robert Senior (James Cosmo), who feels he’s seen enough bloodshed for one lifetime and fears the consequences of taking on his country’s occupiers. Robert reluctantly toes the line, paying his exorbitant taxes and even agreeing to marry Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh, building on her star making role in Lady Macbeth), a woman he has never even met before. But the capture and murder of Scottish rebel leader, William Wallace, brings about a change of heart in Robert and, against all contrary advice, he takes up his sword and sets about trying to unite Scotland against a common enemy. It’s no easy matter and he has plenty of defeats to overcome before he can make any progress. But as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’

David Mackenzie makes an assured job of all this, handling the more intimate scenes and the epic battles with equal aplomb. The growing relationship between Robert and Elizabeth is sensitively handled but the film is unflinching when it comes to the visceral – a scene where one character is hung, drawn and quartered is certainly not for the faint-hearted. A climactic cavalry charge is so brilliantly immersive, I find myself wincing at every hack of a claymore, every thrust of a lance. Again, this really needs the scale of a cinema screen to fully bring Barry Ackroyd’s superb cinematography to life – even the biggest of home screens cannot hope to do it justice.

Pine handles the Scots accent convincingly enough and there’s nice supporting work by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the pugnacious James Douglas, one of Robert’s closest allies. Those hoping for an appearance by the infamous spider of legend will be sadly disappointed, but lovers of stirring action will find plenty to enjoy here.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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T2: Trainspotting

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29/01/17

It’s twenty years after the events of Trainspotting and the only running feet in evidence belong to a stranger, pounding a treadmill in a busy gym. But as we quickly discover, mortality waits in the wings, ready to claim the lives of the unwary.

Following the death of his mother, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to his home city to pay his respects and to look up his old cronies. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a hopeless junkie and just about ready to end his own life when Renton comes (quite literally) to his rescue. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is running his auntie’s dilapidated pub and attempting to make a dishonest living by blackmailing a series of victims with the help of his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Angela Nedyalkova). Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still languishing in prison, but with the help of another inmate and a well-aimed shiv, manages to effect an escape. Time has not mellowed him in the slightest and he is still intent on avenging himself on the man who double-crossed him all those years ago. It’s strangely satisfying to note that Carlyle still excels at playing the consummate psychopath and it’s all too easy to understand Renton’s terror of his old adversary.

With T2, director Danny Boyle has crafted a sequel that more than pays lip service to its iconic predecessor. In fact, in certain respects, it betters the original. As a study of the city of Edinburgh, for instance, it’s a massive step up – Trainspotting was largely filmed in and around Glasgow, but T2 takes advantage of many of its home city’s most screenworthy locations. The cinematography of Anthony Dodd Mantle looks absolutely stunning and, as you would hope, there’s an energetic and propulsive soundtrack, a mixture of new material and golden oldies.

John Hodge’s screenplay is particularly astute, taking time to pay homage to many of the original film’s most iconic scenes and in many cases, subverting them. Renton’s ‘choose life’ speech is given a contemporary reboot, (spoken in of all places, in the fourth floor brasserie at Harvey Nicks) while Spud takes on the mantle of novelist Irvine Welsh as he starts to write down the foursome’s youthful adventures as a kind of prototype novel. (Keen-eyed viewers will spot the real Welsh in a cameo, reprising the role of wheeler-dealer Mikey). Occasional flashbacks to the first film and to the childhoods of the four main characters lend a bitter-sweet air of melancholy to the proceedings.

Not everything is perfect. It would have been nice to see Kelly McDonald and Shirley Henderson given a little more to do here and I would have liked to hear more from Renton’s widowed father (James Cosmo), but I suppose you can’t have everything. These shortcomings aside, T2 ranks as one of the most satisfying sequels ever, largely because it has the intelligence to honour its origins without being allowed to turn into a pale imitation. The packed Sunday afternoon screening we attended paid eloquent testimony to the fact that Danny Boyle has a palpable, and well deserved hit on his hands.

T2 also features one of the most memorable final sequences of recent years as Renton, back in his childhood bedroom, finally rocks out to a new version of Lust For Life.

Don’t miss this one, it’s a keeper.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney