Michael Gambon

King of Thieves

04/09/18

The Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary of April 2015 was always destined to be a contender for big screen dramatisation. This intriguing story, about a bunch of crooked old age pensioners who somehow manage to pull off the biggest theft in history, sounds promising enough on paper and, just three short years after the event, here’s the film, directed by James ‘The Theory of Everything‘ Marsh and boasting a clutch of revered veteran actors in the leading roles. What could possibly go wrong? But what promises to be a cracking crime drama turns out to be more of a mystery movie – the biggest mystery of all being who ever thought this script was ready to go before the cameras. I hate to say it, but this is criminal in the worst sense of the word.

Michael Caine plays Brian Reader, former money launderer, now going straight mostly due to the influence of his wife, Lyn. Played by Francesca Annis, she is the only female to get any lines in this film. Make the most of them, because within minutes of the opening, she is brown bread, Brian is lonely and he’s suddenly open to interesting offers. When a mysterious young man named Basil approaches him proposing one last job, Brian decides to pull together a bunch of his old cronies and go along with the idea. Yes, they’re going to rob Hatton Garden, but guess what? Basil has a key to the building, which somebody lent him ages ago and then forgot about (I know – don’t ask).

Soon Brian has his crew in place. They are Terry Perkins (Jim Broadbent), ‘Kenny’ Collins (Tom Courtenay), Carl Wood (Paul Whitehouse) and Danny James (Ray Winstone). Kenny also brings in his regular fence, Billy ‘the Fish’ Lincoln (Michael Gambon), who he thinks will come in very handy when they’re trying to dispose of stolen diamonds. Getting into the building turns out to be deceptively easy, but of course, no heist ever goes exactly to plan…

You’d think the biggest obstacle in the crooks’ way would be the brick wall they have to drill through but, trust me, this is nothing when compared to the film’s plodding script. It tries to be a treatise on the indignities of ageing but, instead, seems happy enough to have the thieves sitting around complaining about their respective ailments, or how they can’t figure out how to use the internet. Seriously, if you’ve managed to pull together such a complement of respected actors, it might be a good idea to give them some witty dialogue to deliver, but there’s never any danger of that. It’s hard to describe the dismal feeling of watching the great Michael Gambon reduced to the role of an incontinent fish seller, whose few words of dialogue mostly begin with the letter F. Likewise, Jim Broadbent is generally a delight on screen, but who decided to ask him to play a hard man? Courtenay’s character is deaf, which is hilarious in itself, right? And as for Winstone… well, let’s not even go there. Suffice to say this isn’t up there with his work on  Nil By Mouth.

It’s only close to the film’s conclusion where we get a glimpse of what this could have been,  a brief sequence where footage of each character is intercut with glimpses of the actors in their heyday. But it’s too little, too late – and, sadly, by the end of King of Thieves, it’s not just the vault wall that’s been bored.

You have been warned.

2.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Paddington 2

10/11/17

Paddington is a tough act to follow. That first film got everything right – a family entertainment that really did have something for everyone. It was also highly successful, so of course there was always going to be a sequel. The modestly titled Paddington 2 says it all. Not Paddington Episode Two, or Paddington Rides Again. No, this does exactly what it says on the tin –  a second adventure featuring Michael Bond’s celebrated ursine hero.

But, can it hope to be as good as its progenitor? The fact that the film’s release has been delayed for a month while the production company scrambles to disassociate itself from a certain Harvey Weinstein doesn’t augur well but, against all the odds, this second installment of the franchise manages to unfold its delightfully silly story without putting a single paw wrong.

The film opens with a flashback to darkest Peru, where Uncle Pastuzu (Michael Gambon) and Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) first encounter the orphaned bear cub who will become Paddington – and we discover that Aunt Lucy has a longheld ambition to visit the city of London. After the credits we nip smartly back to the present day, where Paddington is now a valued member of the Brown family, helping Henry (Hugh Bonneville), Mary (Sally Hawkins), Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) and Judy (Madeleine Harris). He’s also fitting in nicely with the community of the street on which he lives – cue plenty of cameos from what seems like scores of celebrated comic actors.

But with Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday approaching, Paddington is looking for a suitable present for his beloved aunt so, when his friend, Mr Gruber, (Jim Broadbent) who runs the local antique shop, shows him a charming (and rather expensive) pop-up book of the city, Paddington resolves to earn enough money to buy it for her. To this end, he tries his hand at window cleaning and barbering, both with suitably hilarious results. Then, by chance, his path crosses with that of has-been actor, Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), who, it transpires, wants the pop-up book for his own nefarious purposes…

Once again, the screenwriters have managed to capture the spirit of Michael Bond’s evergreen tales, presenting us with a storyline that will have people of all ages laughing uproariously – when they’re not clutching for their handkerchieves. Yes, this is undoubtedly manipulative stuff, but it’s done with such style and such sure-footedness, that you cannot help but be swept along. Scenes where the unthinkable happens and Paddington is actually sentenced to a spell in jail will have the hardest heart breaking into tiny pieces – and the little bear’s developing friendship with prison chef Knuckles McGinty (the ever dependable Brendan Gleeson) is a brilliant conceit which occasionally yields comedy gold.

It doesn’t end there. Paddington 2 is endlessly inventive (scenes where the little bear and his aunt cavort amidst a pop-up recreation of the city of London are a particular highlight). Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Hugh Grant (who, weirdly, we think we spotted walking a tiny dog near Rosslyn Chapel a couple of weeks ago). His turn as the self-obsessed Phoenix Buchanan is one of his best performances ever and he very nearly steals the show from the titular bear – still endearingly voiced by Ben Whishaw.

When you witness some of the absolute dross that passes for ‘family entertainment’ these days, it’s reassuring to see something as lovingly crafted as this. The next question? Can they do it a third time? Well, that remains to be seen. Meanwhile, this will do very nicely indeed.

5 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