Lin Manuel-Miranda

Hamilton

15/01/21

Disney +

Yes, I know, I know. What took us so long?

Well, I’ll be absolutely honest. I had some trepidation about watching this and most of it can be attributed to one three letter word. Rap. I haven’t previously been known for my appreciation of that musical form. Furthermore, I’m also unashamed to say that I’d never heard of Alexander Hamilton until Lin Manuel Miranda’s celebrated musical took the world by storm. But, finally here it is on Disney +, just waiting for me to get up the courage to press the button. Eventually, I can put it off no longer…

And of course, there is a large helping of humble pie waiting to be consumed. And while some of this most assuredly is rap – even in my ignorance, I picked up on a brief homage to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – for the most part it’s an assured musical packed with memorable songs and some swaggering performances.

Alexander Hamilton (Lin Manuel Miranda) was an American statesman, politician , military commander, lawyer, banker and economist. (But what did he do in his spare time, you might ask?) The musical follows his progress from eager student to influential founding father; it marks his first encounters with Aaron Burr ((Leslie Odom Jnr), and his time as right-hand man to George Washington (Chris Jackson). There’s his romance and marriage to Eliza (Phillipa Soo), his platonic relationship with her sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and his skirmishes with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs). Whenever things threaten to become a tad too serious, up pops Jonathan Groff as a simpering, preening King George, to lament about the loss of his colonies, accompanied by a jolly, bouncing melody.

After some initial reluctance, I find myself increasingly drawn into the story. It’s a complicated one that lends itself surprisingly well to the disciplines of the form. It’s interesting to note that when Shakespeare’s plays were first produced, they were performed in iambic pentameter, the voices strictly tied to the rhythm, which is, in a way, what Miranda is doing here, the different vocal exchanges perfectly judged and executed.

And, while it’s mostly about the songs and the incisive wordplay, there are also plenty of theatrical flourishes to catch the eye, excellent ensemble choreography, superb costumes and some astute stagecraft. Hamilton looks like a class act and that also contributes to its success.

So, yes, I’m glad I finally watched this and also I’m pleased that I learned something about an era of American history I previously knew little about. Strangely, with everything that’s happening in the USA right now, maybe I saw it at exactly the right time.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Mary Poppins Returns

 

23/12/18

Sporting a ‘what it says on the can’ title, Mary Poppins Returns is a thoroughly decent and handsomely mounted sequel to one of Disney’s most iconic films. I’ll ‘fess up right here and now and say that I don’t hold the original movie in the kind of esteem that some of my friends evidently do – but I entirely understand that, with its combination of whimsy and fantasy, it’s become a popular Christmas perennial.

The sequel takes place in depression-era London, some twenty years after the events of the first film, where the Banks children have grown up to a rather more depressing reality than they’ve been used to. Michael (Ben Whishaw) is a recently bereaved widower with three adorable young children to look after, while his sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), has devoted her life to working for worthy causes. Michael hasn’t been too diligent about paying the bills and is now in danger of losing the beloved family home to the very bank he works for, after failing to keep up the repayments on a loan. The bank’s dastardly new manager, Wilkins (Colin Firth), is taking every step to ensure that the family home will soon be subject to repossession.

Into this troubled scenario, floats Mary (Emily Blunt), hanging onto the tail of a passing kite. Blunt is perhaps the logical actor to fill those famous red shoes,  but her incarnation is sterner and, it has be said, a good deal more mischievous than her predecessor. She is clearly in cahoots with local lamplighter, Jack (Lin Manuel-Miranda), and together the two of them lead the Banks children into a whole series of magical situations.

If this sounds familiar, it ought to. The sequel sticks pretty closely to the format of the first film, replete with song and dance numbers – one of which is rather more fruity than you’d ever have expected from Julie Andrews – cleverly animated sequences (an underwater spectacle is perhaps the standout) and brief appearances from high calibre guest stars like Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury and a very spry Dick Van Dyke.

As I said, it’s all decently done, but perhaps, in the end, that over-familiarity works against it. Nothing here comes as a surprise and some of the plot strands are so needlessly over-complicated, they can only be solved by Mary – but she does have an infuriating habit of hanging back until the last possible moment. Also, sadly, none of the songs here are quite as memorable as the likes of Go Fly A Kite or A Spoonful of Sugar.

If you’re looking for a suitable Christmas film for all the family, this is probably the logical one to aim for, but be warned, you may not come out singing one of the songs.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney