Morfydd Clark

St Maud

03/02/21

Amazon Prime Video

St Maud is another movie that got away. Released just before cinemas across the country closed their doors, we’ve been literally counting the days to its release on streaming networks. Finally, it’s available and though, inevitably, some of its visceral power must be diluted by viewing it on a smaller screen, it’s nonetheless an assured and confident debut from writer/director Rose Glass.

In a taut one hour, twenty-four minutes, the film manages to keep me guessing right up to the final shocking frame: is Maud simply deluded? Or is there something more to the series of religious ‘visions’ that afflict her on a day-to-day basis? The result, though unremittingly bleak, is undeniably compelling.

Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a former nurse, banished from the hospital where she formally worked for reasons that are only hinted at. We soon learn that ‘Maud’ isn’t even her real name, which explains how she comes to be working in the private sector, caring for the tragic Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) in her home. Amanda is a former dancer and choreographer, a leading light of the theatrical world, now gradually succumbing to the ravages of cancer of the spine, unable to stand, let alone perform a pirouette.

At first, Maud seems like the perfect carer – polite, attentive and gentle – but, as she and Amanda become closer, so Maud is increasingly convinced that Amanda is transgressing God’s laws. Initially, this merely encourages Maud to overstep the mark as a carer, meddling in Amanda’s personal life – but it’s only a matter of time before the mounting conflict results in tragedy.

Set in a sleazy, rain-splashed Scarborough, Glass takes every opportunity to depict the seaside resort as some kind of hell on earth, employing skewed perspectives, even turning the camera lens upside down at key moments in the narrative. The extended sequence where Maud attempts to go out for a ‘night on the town’ is unlikely to put the place on the tourist maps. Clark is phenomenal in the lead role, depicting Maud as an uneasy mixture of smiling geniality and twisted anxiety. I never know which aspect is going to emerge at any given moment, and it’s this uncertainty that keeps me on the edge of my seat throughout.

For Rose Glass, the timing has been disastrous, but it’s interesting to note that, despite everything, St Maud managed to find its way onto many critics’ top-ten films for 2020.’ I’m late to the game but have to agree: this is an astonishing first flight for a director. I look forward to seeing where she goes next.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Personal History of David Copperfield

21/01/20

I arrive at the cinema expecting great things. The trailer for Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield promises a rollicking ride through one of Dickens’ best loved tales, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds.

The promise is kept: it is a rollicking ride. A bit too rollicking, if I’m honest, careening  through the 350,000 word novel at breakneck speed. Well, it’s a lot to fit into two hours. There’s nothing here I’d lose – no padding or filler required – but I’d be tempted to add an extra thirty minutes to the running time, just to give the story space to breathe.

Dev Patel is the eponymous hero of his own life, and very good he is too, all genial affability despite his social-climbing and urgent need to impress. Born a gentleman, he’s forced into poverty when his widowed mother remarries, and his stepfather (Darren Boyd) takes against the boy. Young David is not too worried at first: the poverty he’s witnessed so far – visiting Peggotty’s quirky, loving family in their upturned boat/house – has given him a romanticised impression of the working person’s lot. A back-breaking job in a bottle factory soon disabuses him of this worldview, and he determines to find a way to live a better life.

Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie form a show-stealing double-act as David’s aunt Betsey Trotwood and her cousin Mr Dick respectively; in fact, there are almost too many perfectly-captured vignettes featuring too many wonderful actors. There’s Anna Maxwell Martin playing school mistress Mrs Strong – whoosh! There’s Benedict Wong as the ever-thirsty Mr Wickfield, and Rosalind Eleazar as his daughter, Agnes – whoosh! Daisy May Cooper’s Peggotty is warmly, wittily portrayed; Morfydd Clark’s Dora Spenlow a frothy, silly delight. I do like the sense of breathless chaos: the lack of deference to period drama genre-norms; the diverse casting that proves it can (and should) be done. There’s just no time to focus in on anything before it’s gone.

In short, each scene is beautifully rendered; each character cleverly drawn. But the story feels a little superficial, with none of the darkness or political poignancy of Dickens’ semi-autobiographical novel.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield