Rory Kinnear



Cineworld, Edinburgh

What is it about writer/director Alex Garland? He’s a man who continually comes up with great ideas, but from his collected works, I’d be hard pressed to pick out one film that’s truly satisfying. Men is a good case in point. For a good two thirds of this atmospheric folk horror tale, I’m absolutely loving it.

But then…

Harper (Jessie Buckley) has recently been through a tough time. She’s mourning her husband, James (Paapa Essiedu), and is haunted by the idea that he’s committed suicide because she wanted to divorce him. Badly in need of respite, she heads off to a remote country guesthouse in the hope that a bit of solitude will help to heal her wounds. There, she is greeted by the owner, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear), a plummy, officious sort who playfully chides her for helping herself to an apple from his tree when she arrives. ‘Forbidden fruit and all that.’

Harper decides to take a walk in the countryside, (in a glorious extended sequence that really shows off the skills of cinematographer, Rob Hardy) and begins to think that she may be on the road to recovery. But then she has a spooky encounter in an abandoned railway tunnel and shortly thereafter, is terrorised by a naked man, who she thinks, may be stalking her.

As she encounters more of the local population (nearly all of them male), she begins to realise that this isn’t going to be the peaceful sojourn she’s been hoping for…

You’ll already have read that the film’s big conceit is that every male character (except for James) is played by Rory Kinnear – and played brilliantly, I might add, his creations ranging from a deliciously sinister local priest to a troubled teenage boy. Buckley too is terrific, in a challenging role where she is obliged to do most of her emoting in silence.

The film’s subtext would be perfectly clear even without the massive clue offered in its title. All of Kinnear’s characters are examples of toxic masculinity, the essence instilled from birth and manifested in different ways – in sarcasm, in outmoded chivalric beliefs and, sometimes, in outright violence. These men all stem from the same poisoned root. The idea is perfectly expressed in the film’s first two thirds and no viewer will be in any doubt about Garland’s intentions.

So why, I ask myself, does he decide, in the film’s final stretch, to double down on the message, presenting an extended body-horror climax that tells us pretty much what we already know. I feel as though I’m being bludgeoned repeatedly over the head with the same premise, as though I can’t be trusted to appreciate its meaning.

And then, there’s the final bit, which without any warning throws a handful of doubt into the mix, obfuscating that message and ensuring that I leave the cinema feeling confused.

At any rate, it’s a disappointing conclusion to a film that has me hooked from the start.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Brexit: The Uncivil War



As an unabashed remainer (and a sore loser), I didn’t bother to seek this out on its theatrical release. But enough political water has passed under the bridge for it to pique my interest when I spot it still lurking on Netflix. Besides, it’s interesting to look back on this story at a time when Dominic Cummings has become arguably the most loathed man in the UK. He’s played here by Benedict Cumberbatch, who doesn’t look anything like the real McCoy, but who delivers a pretty good impersonation nonetheless.

Any fears I might have that the film would portray Cummings as some kind of maverick hero figure are soon dismissed. It’s clear that writer James Graham has no particular love for his subject. Indeed, Cummings is depicted as a self-serving nihilist, a man handed a difficult job, plus complete autonomy, who is determined to win at any cost, no matter how many lies and misdirections he needs to spin. The Cummings depicted here has no political convictions whatsoever, just the all-consuming need to demonstrate that he knows how to bend the voting masses to his will.

The film does a pretty good job of nailing the sequence of events that led to the ‘Leave’ victory and uses a combination of lookalike actors – Richard Goulding is a pretty convincing Boris Johnson and Paul Ryan spot on as Nigel Farage – with occasional glimpses of some of the real players thrown in for good measure. It’s left to Rory Kinnear as Craig Oliver, leader of the ‘Remain’ movement, to portray one of the few sympathetic (if inept) characters in this story. His bewilderment as he sees the possibility of winning the campaign rapidly slipping away from him is palpable and there’s a lovely scene where he and Cummings have a pint together and realise just how much of a game-changer the referendum has been – and how little the two men have in common.

It’s to the film’s credit that it never really takes sides. The Remain campaign is shown to be out of touch, unable or unwilling to change its traditional approach to suit the social-media-dominated times. Leave voters aren’t demonised either – they demonstrate legitimate concerns about the way they’ve been increasingly sidelined over the years.

If nothing else, this is eloquent proof that Cummings, a man who cares not a jot about political values might have no hesitation in flouting a set of rules he helped to create – and why Johnson and his crew might be so desperate to hang onto him, no matter what the cost to their credibility.

While I can’t say I enjoy this film – it feels suspiciously like having my nose rubbed in something rather nasty – it’s a thoroughly decent investigation of recent political history. And those seeking answers will find them here.

4 stars

Philip Caveney




As somebody who lived and worked in Manchester for many years, the title of this film strikes a resonant chord with me. It refers to a particularly horrible massacre which occurred in the summer of 1819, when a huge crowd of peaceful pro-democracy campaigners marched to St Peter’s Field to hear a speech by acclaimed orator Henry Hunt, and were promptly set upon by the local yeomanry and a detachment of Hussars with sabres drawn. In the ensuing melee, 15 people were killed and more than 500 were seriously injured. The event was subsequently airbrushed from the pages of history and rarely spoken of. It’s not taught (much) in schools and many people – even those who live in the city where it occurred – have never heard of it.

One man who clearly thinks of this as a major injustice is Mike Leigh. Peterloo is his attempt to rectify the situation and it represents his most ambitious undertaking to date, portraying the slow build-up to the event and the massacre itself, whilst still employing his unique (at least in film) improvisational technique, where the actors inhabit their characters and devise their own dialogue. I’m sorry to say that I don’t think it works too well when applied to something of such immense scale. Sure, Leigh has visited the pages of history before, both in Topsy Turvey and in Mr Turner but, in both cases, he was working on a smaller canvas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally a huge fan of Leigh’s films, but what works brilliantly when applied to more intimate events founders somewhat here. Mind you, to be fair, the film does start well.

We meet Joseph (David Moorst), a young bugler at the Battle of Waterloo, clearly deeply and permanently traumatised by his experiences. The war over, he heads home on foot, to find his family struggling to survive in a country assailed by the corn laws, which prohibit the import of cheap grain. Family matriarch, Nellie (Maxine Peake), and her husband, weaver Joshua (Pierce Quigley), can barely afford to eat, so it’s hardly surprising when they find themselves increasingly drawn into the pro-democracy movement and looking forward to the great day at St Peter’s Field, when thousands of people in similar situations will come together to challenge the powers-that-be. The settings are convincingly done. Here is real squalor, real hardship, a million miles away from the chocolate box imagery so beloved of many period dramas – and early scenes of luckless individuals in court being sentenced to heinous punishments are powerful stuff.

But there are a lot of characters to take in – so many that, inevitably, acclaimed actors are demoted to tiny, walk-on roles. And there are speeches – a lot of speeches – so many that the film’s two hour running time starts to drag, especially in the long sequence depicting the mass gathering at St Peter’s Field. Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear), heralded as a hero by the protesters, is depicted as a rather unpleasant, horribly self-serving prig who clearly thinks himself a cut above the working-class people whose plight he is supposed to be representing. The people would clearly have been better served by speaking for themselves.

If there’s a problem, it’s that virtually every establishment character we encounter is a smirking, pompous and downright unpleasant individual verging on caricature. This reaches its apotheosis in Tim McInnery’s turn as the Prince Regent, a bloated, giggling buffoon, not so much out of touch with the electorate as living on another planet. Of course the ruling classes’ behaviour was abominable, but this seems crude and over-simplistic.

And then of course, there’s the massacre itself, a lengthy sequence that really ought to bring us to tears of outrage – but the film’s 12A rating obliges Leigh to hold back from making it too visceral and the result, with sabres clearly hitting little more than fresh air just feels clumsy and unfocused. If ever a sequence cried out to be properly storyboarded, this is it.

This isn’t a total dud. Indeed, there’s plenty here that does work but, I think, too much that really doesn’t. I feel bad for not having enjoyed it more. I really wanted to like it, but ultimately, it feels like a missed opportunity. This is such an important subject, one that symbolises a turning point in British history and the democratic movement. I can’t help feeling that it deserves a better film than this.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney



Let’s face it, Macbeth’s biggest problem is its ubiquity. Easily the most accessible of Shakespeare’s plays – and arguably one of the most powerful – we’ve seen so many average versions of it over the years (amongst which I am inclined to include Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film adaptation) that a production really needs to do something very special with the source material in order to make it an enticing proposition. I’m therefore delighted to say that the National Theatre’s latest production, directed by Rufus Norris and seen here via a live cinema linkup,  does exactly that, giving us a Macbeth that rivals the very best of them.

It almost goes without saying that both Rory Kinnear (in the title role) and Anne Marie Duff (as his manipulative wife) submit exceptional performances, giving those oh-so-familiar lines enough oomph to make you feel as though you’re actually hearing them for the first time. No mean feat.  But it’s the production design that really shines. This version takes place in what might well be a post-apocalyptic world, where a civil war has just been bloodily disputed and where everything has a grungy ‘make do and mend’ look. Severed heads are proudly displayed in supermarket carrier bags, food is served in battered mess tins and even Macbeth’s armour is contrived from found items battered into shape, which have to be literally gaffa-taped onto him before each battle. Duncan (Stephen Boxer)’s royal regalia comprises an ill-fitting red velvet suit, that might have been salvaged from a charity shop. It provides the one splash of vibrant colour in an otherwise drab and scuffed world.

Production designer Rae Smith has created a huge wood and metal arch upon which much of the action plays out. It somehow contrives to be both heavily industrial yet strangely ethereal as it swings silently back and forth. It is poised over a revolving circular stage, so that each successive scene can glide effortlessly into position. In one sequence, the Weird Sisters move with the turning of that central wheel like the protagonists of a particularly disturbing nightmare. There’s some great use of regional accents: Trevor Fox’s Porter is a dour Geordie; Patrick O’ Kane’s MacDuff a pugnacious Irishman. Oh, and the element that lets down so many stage productions – that climactic battle – is delivered here with enough zeal and gusto to be truly convincing. You’ll believe that a head can be bloodily severed.

Of course, if you’re reading this and you weren’t at last night’s showing, you’ve already missed your chance to see the live broadcast, but the good news is that the production is heading out on a UK and Ireland tour from late September, so – if it’s showing anywhere near you – do take the opportunity to see it. It will serve to remind you that Shakespeare, when convincingly done, can be truly and utterly enthralling.

5 stars

Philip Caveney


Man Up



Some films are little more than entertaining fluff, but as entertaining fluff goes, Man Up is right there with the best of them. It boasts two likeable leads in Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, a great supporting cast, a witty script by Tess Morris and a genuine ‘feel good’ tone that carries you effortlessly through to its (pleasingly predictable) ending.

Lake Bell is Nancy, a thirty something female with a poor record in the relationships game. At the film’s start, she’d supposed to be attending the engagement party of a couple of friends, where she’s been set up on a blind date, but opts instead to eat a burger alone in her hotel room and watch The Silence of the Lambs. Pestered by her sister, Elaine (Sharon Horgan) to get in there and give it a shot, she goes to meet the man in question. The ensuing toe-curling conversation is one of the film’s funniest scenes. On the train home, she meets Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who is herself en route to a blind date, carrying a cheesy self-help book for the purposes of identification. By chance, Nancy ends up with the book and with the blind date, Jack (Simon Pegg), a forty year old would-be artist who is still hurting from the pain of the separation from his ex. Caught up in the moment, Nancy allows Jack to think that she is actually Jessica and the two of them embark on a night of drinking and conversation, made all the more challenging by Nancy’s desperate attempts to ‘be’ Jessica – who it turns out, is a twenty four year old triathlete! It’s all going swimmingly until they visit a bowling alley and bump into Sean (Rory Kinnear) one of Nancy’s ex schoolmates and a man who has been nursing a (rather creepy) obsession with her ever since…

Mistaken identity is a familiar conceit in the movies and many have tried this idea with average results, but Man Up is a superior product in most respects. The quirky script has far more surprises up its sleeve than you might expect from a subject like this and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments along the way, even if we know all along that Jack and Nancy are made for each other and there’s no way the filmmakers would dream of letting us down in that regard. If you’re expecting the earth to move, this may not be for you, but if you’re in the market for a quirky, heartwarming feel good picture, you could frankly do a lot worse than this.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney