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Cézanne et Moi


Cézanne et Moi

Back to Amazon Prime and French films, the latest being this biographical story of the friendship between Paul Cézanne and Emil Zola. These schoolboy friends maintained a relationship throughout their lives, but this friendship was tempered by bad feeling when Zola, whose mother struggled financially after his father died, became more bourgeois, while the little-rich-boy Cézanne, from a wealthy banking family, wasted his genius in a devil-may-care life of women and contempt for authority. His work was consistently relegated to the Salon des Refusés, which displayed work not accepted by the jury of the Paris Salon.

In matters of love, or more correctly sex, Cézanne has no problems while Zola's timidity prevents him from approaching women. He becomes entranced by one of Cézanne's model's, and mistress, who calls herself Gabrielle. As the film jumps from youth to their more mature lives, we see Zola married to Gabrielle, although she now uses her real name, Alexandrine (née Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley).

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The Man Who Invented Christmas


The Man Who Invented Christmas

Of course Charles Dickens didn't invent Christmas, but his short story 'A Christmas Carol' arguably influenced people's sentiments during the festive season and changed the nature of the festival.

Dan Stevens, who infamously deserted Downton Abbey immediately after marrying Lady Mary, breaking many hearts in the process, plays Dickens. Let's hope the Abbey fans have forgiven him. Reviews would tend to indicate that they have, since although some of the more 'serious' critics have rubbished this film audience approval is high. For me it seemed less like a feature film and more of a BBC period drama, much in the fashion of Dickensian, which was broadcast in early 2016 but didn't survive for a second series.

After some very successful novels Dickens is going through a lean patch. Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit haven't been well received, and having moved the family into a more prestigious abode money is becoming tight. To secure an advance from his publishers he is nudged by his friend, John Foster, into committing to a new book, which he says will be about Christmas, and will be published within a very short timescale ready for the festive holiday. But he is shown as having what we would now call writers' block.

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Victoria & Abdul


Victoria & Abdul


Judi Dench once again plays Queen Victoria in this light and amusing story of how the ageing Queen became quite enchanted with a young Indian man, who had come to present a gift from India as part of the sovereign's Golden Jubilee. The film is inspired by a true story, although the leading credits do append the word 'mostly' after the 'based on true events' slogan.

There is no doubt, however, that Abdul became a very close confidant of the Queen, and she rewarded him handsomely as a result. This didn't go down well with the royal household, and much of the film's humour arises from the reaction of the assembled dignitaries who watch on in disgust as this low-born Indian receives the Queen's closest attention. Victoria's Albert had died many years earlier, and her friendship with John Brown, the subject of Dench's other outing as Victoria, was sorely missed after he also died. Abdul filled this void.

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The Limehouse Golam


The Limehouse Golam

Set in 1880 London, this film dramatises what were referred to as the Ratcliffe Highway murders (of 1811) and links these to the fabled Golam, a being from Jewish folklore that is magically created from inanimate matter, normally clay. Set in London's Limehouse district it conveys the gas lit seediness of the area, bringing to mind the equally realistic depiction in Ripper Street. The comparison with Jack the Ripper is unavoidable.

The story starts at the end, as we are told by the music hall favourite Dan Leno, who we will see play an important part in the tale. And what a tale it is. Bill Nighy plays Inspector John Kildare, taking a role that was originally written for Alan Rickman. Nighy, however, plays the character with a mix of subdued humour and professional integrity, as he pursues a killer that has eluded his boss, who has unloaded the case onto Kildare to protect his own reputation. Kildare is aided by police officer George Flood, sympathetically played by Daniel Mays.

Much of the story revolves around Music Hall, and we are introduced to Lizzie Cree, a music hall darling who is accused of murdering her husband, John Cree. Theirs was a troubled marriage, partly because of her husband's behaviour, but also because their maid was a former performer at the music hall, who had not made life easy for Lizzie. Why was she the maid? You may well ask.

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Detroit


Detroit

Detroit is a very intense film and one that leaves you shocked as to the violence meted out to a group of innocent people, and incredulous as to the lack of justice these people received. Set around the 1967 riots one can't help feeling that not a lot has changed, with police killings still invariably not resulting in convictions, and sometimes with charges not even being instigated.

The troubles start after a police raid on an unlicensed drinking club where returning black veterans were celebrating. This in itself appears as an entirely unjustified and heavy handed action, resulting in spectators starting to protest and after a while throwing rocks. This soon escalates into what is referred to as the 12th Street Riot. With local authorities and elected representatives unable to restore order Governor George W Romney calls in the Michigan National Guard and army paratroopers. Looting is rife and properties are being torched. It is like a war zone. Cruising around and watching this are three cops, and witnessing a looter, one of them, Philip Krauss gives chase. Unable to catch the fleeing negro he shoots him in the back, and although the man carries on running he later dies of his wounds. Krauss is called in to the office back at the station and rebuked for his actions, being told that a murder charge may follow. But Krauss turns out to be nothing less than a psychopath, who is allowed back out into the melee.

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Dunkirk


Dunkirk

We went to see Dunkirk yesterday on the day of its UK opening. It has received very positive reviews and in my opinion rightly so. This is not a war film in the usual genre, in that there is very little fighting. That is already over as we see thousands of troops waiting on a beach, in the vain and it would appear rapidly vanishing hope of being rescued. Exposed, cold, defeated and almost defenceless, they wait while the German aircraft attack.

The story is told through the eyes of Tommy, an ordinary soldier who at the beginning of the film only just escapes with his life from a small group that comes under German fire. On arriving at the beach he soon realises the hopelessness of it all and sets out to make his own luck by pretending to be a stretcher bearer carrying an injured soldier to the Red Cross ship moored at the mole (the word for a pier/causeway not used so much these days). It would be giving too much away to recount what then happens, but it's worth mentioning that the events that follow are shown many times during the film, on each occasion from the perspective of a different person. This can initially be a bit confusing until you realise what's happening.

While Tommy is the thread which permeates the story, we are also introduced to Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), the skipper of one of the famous flotilla of small boats that set out to rescue the troops. Accompanied by his son, Peter, and a young friend, George, they make their way to Dunkirk, picking up on the way a seriously shell-shocked soldier, the sole survivor of a torpedoed rescue ship. The soldier's paranoid resistance to returning to Dunkirk leads to tragedy, but this doesn't stop Mr Dawson who knows what's expected of him.

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The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)


The Man with the Iron Heart (HHhH)

I mentioned in the last review that we had been in Lille, France. It was very hot while we were there, and on the Sunday afternoon, with the town being very quiet and the temperature soaring, we decided to spend a couple of hours in the air conditioned cinema. The choice of English language films was limited, and we decided to go for HHhH, which is the French title of this French made film. It is a film about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, HHhH being an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich (Himmler's brain is called Heydrich), a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany at the time. Cetainly Heydrich is portrayed as being the brain behind the 'Final Solution', although my research suggests that this was a programme that evolved rather than being promoted exclusively by Heydrich. He was, however, a very unsavoury character, regarded by many historians as the darkest figure within the Nazi elite.

This is not an easy film, depicting as it does acts of extreme violence against the Czech people during the German occupation in 1942. Reinhard Heydrich, a disgraced naval officer who rejected his existing lover when he met Lina von Osten, a member of the Nazi Party and daughter of a German aristocrat, played very convincingly in the film by Rosamund Pike. Lina persuaded Heydrich to look into joining Himmler's counter intelligence division and he was subsequently appointed by Himmler as director of the Reich Main Security Office, and later Adolf Hitler appointed him Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.

This film tells effectively two stories, one being the life of Heydrich and the other of the Czech and Slovak soldiers, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík, who were trained by the British Special Operations Executive to assassinate Heydrich. Heydrich is portrayed as evil, a not unfair depiction according to historians. He is also shown as being less than loving to his wife, at one point telling her that if she complains about his trips away one more time, she will cease to be his wife. His treatment of Resistance fighters is brutal, most opting to take a poison capsule rather than be captured alive. In one harrowing scene towards the end of the film, a young boy is made to witness his father being tortured as a way of getting him to talk. Quite upsetting.

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My Cousin Rachel


My Cousin Rachel

From Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel, which I haven't read, this period drama treats us to some beautiful cinematography and a story that leaves you undecided as to whether the eponymous Rachel is a woman or a witch.

Philip Ashley was raised by his cousin Ambrose, who he regards and loves as a father. When Ambrose becomes ill he goes to Florence for the more beneficial climate, and while there falls in love with Rachel. His letters back to Philip initially contain nothing but praise for this woman, but after he marries her the tone changes completely. He accuses her of blocking his letters and worse, and pleads to come home to get away from this devil woman. Philip travels to Italy to see Ambrose but when he arrives it's too late. His cousin has died and Rachel has gone. He meets Rainaldi, who turns out to be Rachel's co-conspirator, if indeed a conspiracy is involved. At this stage Philip promises retribution on Rachel.

When Rachel ultimately appears at Philip's house all thoughts of retribution melt away. He is clearly enthralled by her from the moment they first meet. And so he becomes deeper and deeper absorbed, losing interest in his close friend Louise, who clearly has feelings for him and is becoming increasingly concerned. Philip's 25th birthday is approaching, when he will inherit everything that is held in trust. His feelings for Rachel cause him to draft a new will that leaves everything to her, on condition she will forfeit everything if she remarries. He also removes all the family jewellery from the safe keeping of his solicitor. With the jewellery in a bag and the will in his pocket, he romantically climbs the ivy up to Rachel's room, where at the stroke of midnight he fulfils his desire to be intimate with her. But in the morning she has gone, leaving him to celebrate his birthday alone. She later returns having gone to Philip's godfather, Nick Kendall, Louise's father, where she says she sought to clarify certain aspects of the will. After a less than romantic bit of love making in the bluebells, Rachel later rejects Philip's assumption that they will marry and we know that his feelings for her are not being returned.

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The Promise


The Promise

This is a film that takes an important if much contested historical event as the setting for a love triangle. The event is the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, although Turkey has never accepted the term genocide for what took place. The love triangle is between Mikael, an Armenian medical student, Ana, an Armenian raised largely in Paris and her boyfriend, Chris, an American journalist.

Mikael has left his village for Constantinople to study medicine. He is betrothed to Maral back in his village, the dowry he received funding his studies. Mikael's father has told him to contact an uncle in Constantinople who runs a successful business and it is when Mikael goes to his uncle's house that he meets Ana, who appears to be a form of governess for the children. Meanwhile, in medical school Mikael makes friends with Emre, a reluctant student but the son of high-ranking Turkish official. At a reception at Emre's house Mikael again meets Ana who's with her boyfriend Chris. Ana and Mikael, who are mutually attracted to each other, subsequently begin a relationship

It isn't long before things turn nasty as Armenians are rounded up and fear spreads. Mikael is temporarily reprieved thanks to his friend Emre, but as a result Emre himself incurs the displeasure of his father. Ana and Mikael witness the ransacked shop of his uncle and Mikael goes to try to secure his uncle's release. Emre again tries to help, but this time his influence isn't strong enough and Mikael ends up doing hard labour on a railway construction project under the eyes of brutal Turkish soldiers. A chain of events result in his escape and he eventually makes his way back to his village where his family and Maral are waiting. Maral's father insists on a quick wedding after which the couple move to a remote cabin.

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The Lost City of Z


The Lost City of Z

I went to see this film knowing no more about the story than what I had previously gleaned from the cinema trailer. I had assumed that it was a story of a single adventure into the Amazon, but in fact it charts how Percy Fawcett, after his first reluctant journey there, becomes obsessed with finding the lost city of an advanced civilisation. I also didn't realise that the film was based on a real-life character.

The story starts in Ireland, where Fawcett is an army captain who has been somewhat sidelined, the snobbishness of the officer class looking down on his family because, we are later informed, of his father's problems with alcohol. He is embarrassed by being unable to display any medals, having not had the opportunity to earn any. He unexpectedly receives orders to report to the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) in London, where he is offered the opportunity to make his mark by leading a mapping survey to establish the border between Brazil and Bolivia. The RGS were to act as an uninterested third party in this politically charged exercise.

We see Fawcett, accompanied by Corporal Henry Costin, making their way through the jungle, at one point bizarrely encountering an opera in full voice at the encampment of a trader. After agreeing terms for the help of an Indian guide they continue to look for the upstream source of the river, although I couldn't quite work out how their raft seemed to be following the downstream flow of the river. A small detail. They find the source, a waterfall, and Fawcett also discovers pottery that convinces him that at one time an advanced civilisation lived in the area. Unfortunately they had insufficient food to stay and explore further.

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Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)


Hors la Loi (Outside the Law)

This film is set against the backdrop of the Algerian independence movement. It follows the life of three brothers from the end of the Second World War up to Algerian independence in 1962, although we are in fact first introduced to them when, as children, their father's land was taken away from the family in Algeria. The film has attracted controversy in respect of historical accuracy, with accusations that it portrays the French as the villains, while likening the Algerians to the Resistance during the War. I must say that I certainly came away with that feeling.

As adult brothers we are next introduced to the three of them, Messaoud, Abdelkader and Saïd, at a parade in the Algerian town of Sétif. This was on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered. The film depicts the French forces opening fire on the marchers, the impression given that it was French aggression, while historical reports are more equivocal, indicating that there was aggression on both sides. Whatever the truth, it is acknowledged that this event was a turning point in Franco-Algerian relations, leading to the Algerian War of 1954-1962. In February 2005 the French ambassador to Algeria formally apologised for the massacre, referring to it as an "inexcusable tragedy".

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Viceroy's House


Viceroy's House

Viceroy's House shows us the last days of Britain's three hundred year involvement in India, which commenced with the formation of the East India Company in 1600. When Lord Louis Mountbatten arrives with his wife and daughter to enact the final handing over of the country, India is already a country being torn apart by religious differences between the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu populations. Regarded as somebody who could bring together the leaders of the religious groups, Mountbatten, along with his wife, Edwina, initially try hard to be more inclusive and break down some of the imperialist attitudes. But it soon becomes apparent that things are already spiralling out of control, so Mountbatten's strongly held view that the sub-continent should not be partitioned is beginning to seem impossible to deliver.

We are also treated to a romance between a young Hindu man, Jeet, and a young Muslim woman, Aalia. Jeet helped her father when he was imprisoned by the British and had never forgotten Aalia. It is a relationship that is beset with problems, she being already 'promised', while the very idea of a couple from different religions being romantically involved was unthinkable at that time. Their experience mirrors at a personal level the hopes and fears of the nation.

Against his principles, and Edwina's conscience, Mountbatten is effectively forced into agreeing to partition, the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah refusing to come to the negotiations unless partition is on the table. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand are vehemently against partition, Gandhi in particular warning of the consequences. A barrister is brought over from Britain to draw up the line of partition within a matter of weeks, a task he regards as impossible bearing in mind the consequences for the millions of people who would be affected. In the end, however, his job is made a lot easier because, unbeknown to Mountbatten, decisions had already been made years earlier. Mountbatten finds out that he has been misled but is now powerless to do anything about it.

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Hidden Figures


Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is a drama based on the events surrounding America's attempt to put their first astronaut in orbit around the Earth in 1961. Russia has already got into space and there is a fear that it will use its advantage for military purposes by launching a bomb. In this frenetic atmosphere is a group of coloured women who are in place at the Langley Research Center because of their mathematical skills. The leading light of the group is Katherine Goble, a prodigious maths genius whose brilliance is nearly stifled by virtue of her being coloured in 1960s Virginia where racial segregation is still practised.

The film focusses on a trio of coloured women, Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Vaughan progresses to become the expert on the newly installed IBM mainframe computer, the IBM engineers seemingly being unable to get the beast working properly. There is a scene where she visits the local library to get a book on FORTRAN programming, only to be told that she isn't allowed in the whites' section, the book being unavailable in the coloureds' area. The third of the trio, Jackson, is assigned to the section building the Mercury space capsule, where the lead engineer suggests that she pursues an engineering qualification. The only problem is that the local colleges that teach engineering don't admit coloured people. Given the prejudice that existed it's a wonder that America ever succeeded in its space programme.

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Hacksaw Ridge

This week's film at the cinema was Hacksaw Ridge. I hadn't researched it beforehand and must say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Hacksaw Ridge

It's a film of two parts. The first charts the early life of Desmond Doss, a country lad from Virginia who learns a salutary lesson early in life when he nearly kills his brother in a fight. This episode, along with the influence of his religious mother, and his Seventh-Day Adventist religion, reinforces in him the commandment that states, 'Thou shalt not kill'. When the young men in the town start signing up to fight in World War II, Desmomd feels that he must too. But his religious and conscientious beliefs mean that he does not want to fight. He wants to save lives as a medic. This desire arose from an incident whereby he effectively saves the life of a young man, an event that also leads to him meeting a nurse, Dorothy Shutte, to whom he is instantly attracted. A rather innocent courtship ensues and the couple arrange to be married on Desmond's first leave period from his army training.

And so to the second part of the film, a much darker and hard-hitting affair. The army isn't ready to receive a recruit who is a conscientious objector, who refuses to contemplate killing and who won't even hold a rifle. His superiors set out to make life so uncomfortable for him that he will chose to seek a discharge. But they hadn't reckoned with his resolve, and after a courts martial hearing that unexpectedly fails to convict Desmond, he is free to join the other troops and go to war unarmed.

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Les Anarchistes

I'm back to watching French films on Amazon Prime while I'm on my exercise bike. I've had a break while I watched Season 3 of Arrow, which quite frankly has started to become a bit too daft as they try to develop new plot lines. Everyone's turning into a superhero of sorts!

Anyway, back to Les Anarchistes. As the Guardian reviewer said, "…. a film that couldn’t be any more French if it tried." It opened the Canne's Critics Week in 2015. Set in Paris in 1899, Jean Albertini is a normal policeman who is taken aside by a superior and asked to infiltrate an anarchists' group. He gets himself a job at the nail factory, a hellish sort of place where the workers have plenty to grumble about, and where members of the group are employed. He strikes up a particular friendship with Elisée Mayer, after 'saving' him during a police raid, which itself was a set-up to enable Jean to prove his loyalty to the group.

Les Anarchistes

While Elisée clearly trusts Jean, other members of the group are less sure. Elisée seems not to be in the best of health, and his girlfriend, Judith, soon starts to develop an interest in Jean, feelings that Jean willingly reciprocates. We therefore have the classic dilemma of the infiltrator having split loyalties between his police role and his feelings for Judith.

The anarchists exploits become more and more daring, while Jean continues to feed intelligence to his superior. We see Jean becoming concerned as he is obliged to participate in criminality and at one point asks to be taken off the case, a request that is firmly rejected. The dichotomy has to come to an end and as you may imagine there isn't a clean solution.

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Risen

Our film at the cinema this week was Risen, a story recounting the events between Christ's crucifixion and his subsequent rising. A sort of sequel to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which I didn't see. I'm by no means religious, and this choice of film was more to do with the alternatives on offer being less appealing. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Risen

The consensus seems to be that it is a far more soft-centred film than The Passion, and certainly once an early battle scene and the aftermath of the crucifixion were out of the way, the film was more about love and wonderment than blood and gore.

Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman tribune who is at the beck and call of Pontius Pilote, played by Peter Firth. Pontius, as we know, was responsible for the Nazerine's crucifixion, and now he wants Clavius to clear up the mess. In particular they are worried by the fact that Yeshua (Jesus) said he would rise again, and both Pontius and the Jewish elders are very anxious that the body is not taken by the disciples as a way of 'proving' this prophecy. But, of course, the body does disappear, and Clavius is charged with finding it.

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In the Heart of the Sea

My first visit to the cinema in 2016 and we saw In the Heart of the Sea.

In the Heart of the Sea

The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick's 2000 non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired the novel Moby-Dick.

Herman Melville, the subsequent author of Moby Dick, visits Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the whaleship Essex's last voyage. Nickerson has previously refused to discuss with anybody the events of that voyage, and it's only when his wife intervenes that he agrees to do so.

As he recounts the story, the film takes us back to that fateful voyage. Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) is first mate to Captain George Pollard. Chase is an experienced whaler who had been promised his own captaincy, only to be denied by the parachuting in of Pollard, from an established whaling family. There is animosity from the off, which nearly costs them the ship fairly early into the voyage. After an early success they stop off in Ecuador, where a Spanish captain recounts visiting 'Offshore Grounds' some 2000 miles away, but where his ship was destroyed by a white whale. This is scoffed at as a 'mariner's tale' by the crew of the Essex and they set off to find the whales.

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Bridge of Spies

Spielberg does it again. As soon as I saw the trailer for this film I knew that I wanted to see it, and I wasn't disappointed.

Bridge of Spies

Based on actual events, the film shows how a New York lawyer, James Donovan, at first defends a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, and then goes on to organise and carry out a prisoner exchange with the Russians in the recently segregated East Berlin.

Tom Hanks is his usual solid self in playing Donovan, while Mark Rylance gives a remarkable performance as Abel. The paranoia of the Cold War is expertly displayed as Donovan ups the ante by not only negotiating the repatriation of pilot Gary Powers, whose spy plane was shot down by the Russians, but also a hapless American student who had been taken by the East German authorities. The Russians didn't think much of the East Germans being involved, and vice versa, while the CIA was only interested in Powers. But Donovan, forever principled, stuck to his guns, to everybody's consternation.

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Suffragette

We saw the film Suffragette this week. I was impressed.

Suffragette

It seems hard to believe, even though we know it's true, that not so long ago women had to resort to civil disobedience to get the vote. Even more surprising, according to historical information that appeared on the screen after the film, is that a woman had no legal rights over her child until 1925. This meant that a husband could place their child for adoption and the wife could do nothing about it - absolutely astonishing.

Rotten Tomatoes shows the same enjoyment rating from both audiences and critics (79%), which doesn't happen very often. Perversely, in their cast listing they don't show Carey Mulligan, which must be an editorial omission, as she is without doubt the star of the film. She has already shown herself to be an accomplished actor and in this film she excels.

The general impression of the Suffragettes is, I believe, one of educated and society ladies, but Mulligan plays a working class woman (Maud). The film thus shows both the plight of these women at the beginning of the last century, which didn't have much to recommend it, and the fact that they too played a part in the furtherance of universal suffrage. And many paid a high price, as in Maud's case.

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Far From the Madding Crowd

I went to see Far From the Madding Crowd today. Most reviews compare it unfavourably with the 1967 adaptation, but as I haven't seen that, I can't comment. Nor have I read the book so am unable to make comparisons there either.

Far From the Madding Crowd

From this viewpoint of not being able to compare, I must say I found the film enjoyable and compelling. Hardy doesn't seem to do 'happy' and this story certainly has its share of heartache, although I understand that among his works it is one that at least has the semblance of a happy ending.

Carey Mulligan was to my mind beautifully cast as Bathsheba. The mystery of course is how such an independent woman could have made such a profound error of judgement with her marriage, an error that was almost immediately apparent to her and everybody else. No doubt this is Hardy's take on the female psyche, but having said this it is a plot line that appears in many stories and dare I say just as often in real life.

The scenery is beautiful, as is the depiction of farm life in those distant non-mechanised days. It was no doubt far less romantic than it appears. The interiors were also beautifully shot.

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Les Jardins du Roi

Les jardins du Roi
While in Nice, France, I went to see Les Jardins du Roi (The King's Gardens), which was entitled A Little Chaos in the UK.

Kate Winslet plays a sort of 17th Century Charlie Dimmock who is hired by Louis XIV's chief landscape architect to help create the lavish garden at Versailles. This raises a few eyebrows in the royal court and, of course, romance is in the air. Alan Rickman as the Louis XIV adds his usual brand of humour and the whole thing is a bit whimsical.

It received poor reviews and I must say it wasn't the most memorable of films. However, the French dialogue wasn't too complicated and while I didn't understand everything, there were a lot of sentences and words that I got. It is of course wholly appropriate for this film to have a French dialogue.

The final scene was pure saccharine.


Woman in Gold

We saw Woman in Gold this week. A true story of how Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee, took on the Austrian government to try to reclaim art work that was stolen by the Nazis during the war. She was helped by Randol Schoenberg, a young American lawyer who was himself of Austrian lineage, a fact that led him to an emotional realisation that this was not just another legal case, but something that mattered to him greatly on a personal level.

The Woman in Gold

Reviews have been somewhat mixed but I was interested in seeing the film based on the trailer, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was yet another reminder of atrocities suffered by the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis, with flashbacks showing us how the Woman in Gold, a painting of Maria's aunt by Gustav Klimt, came to be appropriated from the family home. Maria and her husband escaped the Nazis but she suffered the pain of leaving her parents behind, something that haunted her throughout her life, as revealed towards the end of the film.

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Selma

We saw Selma yesterday. Following on from Lincoln, The Help, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave, there has certainly been a lot of African-American history on view in the cinemas lately. It is good that we are continually reminded of the struggle that these people endured, and to a large extent still endure.

Selma

Selma tells the story of the fight for suffrage following the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which legally desegregated the South. Discrimination was still rife and it was extremely difficult for black people to register to vote in certain areas. The town of Selma was chosen as the place to make a stand against this injustice, with a march from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt at the march got no further than crossing the town's Edmund Pettus Bridge, where it was met by police, troopers and deputies, who viciously attacked the unarmed marchers while white civilians cheered. These images were transmitted across America and the world, resulting in disgust and widespread support for the marchers.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

We saw Exodus today. The reviews have been pretty awful and there's been a bit of a fuss over the casting white actors in the lead roles. Not a good start then!

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I think I must be reasonably easily pleased as I didn't find it all that bad. I agree that the lead players didn't come over as very Egyptian, so perhaps some of the criticism is warranted. The story was sufficiently dynamic for me not to find the 154 minutes running time overly long, which can't be said for some films of that length. The special effects were, as you would expect, impressive. We've become so used to computer generated scenes now that they're no longer quite as awe inspiring, but the long list of computer design artists shown in the credits gives you some idea of the amount of work that goes into creating these simulations.

I must admit that my biblical knowledge is limited but I found it quite shocking how the Egyptians supposedly suffered at the hands of God. He seems to have lost that inclination nowadays as otherwise there would be quite a few people out there who might be feeling his wrath. Depicting God as a child was also an interesting take on things. Or was it just that Moses saw him as a child because of his longing for his own son?

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The Book Thief

We saw The Book Thief yesterday.

I hadn't checked any reviews before going, which as it turned out was probably fortuitous as some were not good. I say fortuitous as I liked this film, and it would have been a pity if I hadn't have gone because of unfavourable reviews.

Sophie Nélisse who played the principal character, Leisel, was, to my mind, exceptional, as were Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson who played her adoptive parents, and Nico Liersch who plays Leisel's friend Rudy. The depiction of how children were indoctrinated into the Nazi system, and the treatment of jews, communists and others who didn't meet the Nazi ideal, serve as a reminder of what can happen when a country turns against those who it believes are detrimental to society. Something that we should perhaps be aware of today as right wing diatribe seeks to demonise peoples from other countries. The poverty of the German people, as depicted, was, I suppose, part of the reason why the Nazis were able to gain support, by offering a better Germany, albeit at the expense of virtually everybody else.

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The Railway Man

From one depiction of man's inhumanity to man in 12 Years a Slave to another. This time at the hands of the Japanese during the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway.

I saw The Bridge Over the River Kwai many years ago, and the fact that it has stuck firmly in my memory is testament to the impact it made. One can't begin to imagine the trauma suffered by the soldiers who actually were put to work on the railway, and this latest film probably gives an even better insight into this than did the earlier film, which concentrated solely on horrors of the time, rather than psychological aftermath.

Colin Firth was his usual brilliant self, although Jeremy Irvine was equally good as the young Eric Lomax, and remarkably like the photograph of the actual Eric Lomax that we are shown at the end of the film.

It seems that the film actually over dramatised the eventual meeting between Lomax and his tormentor, but notwithstanding this bit of creative licence, the denouement was uplifting, as it would have been in real life, and re-establishes belief in the human spirit.

Needless to say, I think that this is another must-see film. The problem is that there have been so many good films lately it's been difficult to catch them all. Not to worry, the DVDs will arrive in no time.


12 Years a Slave

This film was harrowing to put it mildly. Fantastic production values with brilliant acting made the horror of what was being portrayed all the more disquieting.

It is a film to shame humankind. But of course other atrocities continue to this day across the world. One of the most poignant scenes is where the 'gentleman farmer' preaches Christianity to the slaves and manages to find a passage in the scriptures that actually justifies his treatment of them. It's quite amazing what can be done in the name of religion, another problem that the world is still wrestling with.

This is a must-see film.


The Butler

Yesterday's film was The Butler. The reviews were mixed with more than one making reference to 'Downton Abbey', which sort of degrades the film's credentials somewhat.

For me the reminder of the extremes of racism that existed in America was sobering; in fact quite shocking. And, of course, many problems still exist, as we recently witnessed in the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman. In the film, Cecil Gaines (The Butler) is shown as a child witnessing the cold blooded murder of his father by their white 'boss'. No retribution. No arrest. No trial. Blacks had no rights. Kill them and bury them. Much has changed, but there again, much has not.

I enjoyed the film although in defence of the less favourable reviews I did feel that something was lacking. I can't put my finger on it. Perhaps it tried to fit too much in, spanning what was a long life and a number of administrations. But, having said that, it's definitely worth seeing.


The Free State of Jones

Today we saw The Free State of Jones, a drama set during the American Civil War. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight, a man who walked away from the civil war conflict to set up a community of like-minded people, including a number of former slaves. The reviews have been mixed, some professional critics having a problem with the fact that it's "yet another" black slavery story told from a white perspective. Audiences, meanwhile, see-saw between thinking it to be brilliant, to believing that it is too long, has too many sub plots and is too slow. I enjoyed it, if for nothing else that it showed once more the struggle that then existed, and still exists to this day, for African Americans seeking equality in society.

The Free State of Jones

A young kinsman of Knight is killed during a battle, and this is the catalyst for him deserting, albeit initially solely to return his son's body home. Having been branded a deserter there's no going back and after escaping a posse with chase dogs he is helped to a refuge in the Mississippi swamps, where he meets former slaves. Meanwhile the confederate soldiers are taking food and livestock from farming families and Knight's support for them transforms him and his group from being merely a nuisance into a perceived threat to the confederacy. His group grows as he convinces them that the real enemy are the land owners, whose sons are not conscripted. "We are fighting a war for their cotton".

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Lincoln

Today's film was Lincoln.

My detailed knowledge of American history is not good enough to know how many liberties were taken in the making of this film. I'm sure there were a few. That accepted, it was a very compelling story and extremely well acted by Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Fields and Tommy Lee Jones in particular.

As you would expect from Spielberg, the period setting was totally convincing, and I noted in the credits that a White House historical society had played a part in the contemporaneous portrayal of the appearance of this iconic building.

What came as a bit of a surprise was that it was the Democrats who were vehemently opposed to the passing of the thirteenth amendment, enacting the banning of slavery. And if accurately described, it was truly an uncompromising opposition. There is a revealing scene when having been appalled by the suggestion that the freed slaves may also get the vote, the members of the House were seen to be even more repulsed by the suggestion that emancipation may then come to women. We've certainly moved on somewhat since 1865.

For me it was 2½ hours of great cinema.


The Sapphires

Our cinema experience today was The Sapphires.

I didn't expect a great deal of it but must admit to being pleasantly surprised.

Definitely in the 'feel good' movie category, with some really good singing, lots of humour and, of course, romance. Plus the Vietnam war as a side-show. Basically The Commitments meets Good Morning, Vietnam.

The reviews have been generally good and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

And it's based on a true story.