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Reviews Film round-up: January 10 2018

The Star's critics ALAN FRANK and MARIA DUARTE review this week's releases: Darkest Hour, A Woman's Life, My Life Story, and Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

Darkest Hour (PG)
Directed by Joe Wright
4/5

IF THE Golden Globes — showbiz's annual orgy of self-adoration — are to be taken seriously, then Gary Oldman, eminently a well-deserved winner of the best performance by an actor award, should already be making space on his shelves for his Oscar and BAFTA.

His portrait of Winston Churchill in a complex and demanding role is a tour de force. In lesser hands, it might simply have become a tour de farce.

But Oldman is riveting  as we follow Churchill’s battle to decide whether to negotiate with Hitler when the Allies seemed to be on the brink of defeat and he faced life-or-death decisions on how to save British forces trapped by the nazis in Dunkirk.

He is of course the film’s dramatic centre and Oldman never misses a beat, even making credible the unlikely sequence when Churchill takes a tube train to Westminster and bonds with fellow passengers, thus confirming he is doing the right thing in ignoring Hitler and Mussolini — the Italians had offered to negotiate with the nazis on Britain’s behalf.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay may possibly owe more to fiction than fact but he gives Churchill  some memorable lines. “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is its mouth,” he says at one point and demands: “Will you stop interrupting me while I am interrupting you!”

Ronald Pickup as the dying Neville Chamberlain, Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal  of George VI  — surprisingly without a stutter — and Kirstin Scott Thomas’s Clemmie Churchill provide sterling support

But it’s Oldman’s triumph all the way. And, marking a welcome recovery from the disaster that was Pan, director Joe Wright also hits all the right marks.

Alan Frank

A Woman's Life (12A)
Directed by Stephane Brize
3/5

THIS visually arresting adaptation of Guy de Maupassant's novel is a poignant depiction of the harsh realities of a woman beholden to men in the 19th century.

Set in Normandy, it tells the story of French noblewoman Jeanne (Judith Chemla) who, after leaving convent school, marries local viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud). He proves to be a miserly and unfaithful husband, but she is forced to grin and bear her miserable marriage due to the restrictive social and moral codes of the time.

Jeanne suffers a rude awakening and finds, much like now, that as a woman she has no voice.

Stephane Brize delivers an exquisitely shot and thought-provoking drama, told through fragmented flashbacks that at times prove a little confusing. Those that depict Jeanne's happier moments are sun-drenched and full of colour while her current plight, filmed in greys and dark blues, is portrayed as dark and bleak.

Jeanne lives in constant denial as those closest to her betray her and lead her to financial ruin, including her only son.

Chemla gives a nuanced performance, while Arlaud is convincingly charming and duplicitous as her cad of a husband. But you just want to shake Jeanne out of her ridiculous reverie and tell her to take what is left of her dwindling fortune and run.

Maria Duarte  

My Life Story (15)
Directed by Julien Temple
4/5

IN MY Life Story, Julien Temple delivers a superb documentary on the wisecracking and singing onstage of Madness frontman Graham McPherson, aka Suggs, in what is a fascinating and very funny film.

Not wishing to be seen as a singing Scotsman, schoolboy Suggs found his stage name by plunging a pin into an encyclopaedia, impaling jazz musician Peter Suggs — hence the moniker.

Here, he  displays razor-sharp comic timing and unexpected dramatic sincerity when, motivated by the death of his beloved cat on his 50th birthday, he sets out learn about the father he never knew.

Temple uses Suggs’s blend of stage comedy and song, wittily accompanied by pianist-stooge Dean Mumford, to tell the story of the rise and rise of Madness and there's engaging documentary footage charting his early life in Soho with his jazz-singing mother from Liverpool, working in gangster-owned clubs, his schooldays and a misspent youth that serendipitously created Madness and well-deserved pop stardom.

Islington in London was the home of Madness’s original rise to fame at the Hope and Anchor pub, while their one-off farewell concert in the capital's Finsbury Park in 1992 triggered the fabled “Madstock” earthquake, when the dancing audience caused nearby tower blocks to be evacuated and scored five on the Richter scale, as a bona fide seismologist amusingly testifies.

Temple also follows Suggs on his search for the truth about his late drug-addicted father, an odyssey adding potent emotional power to a hugely entertaining biopic that leaves you wanting to know more about its subject.

If you’re a Suggs/Madness fan, you’re in for a treat.  And, even if you’re not, you might be hard put not to enjoy yourself.
AF

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars (15)
Directed by Lili Fini Zanuck
3/5

AS MUSICAL biographies go, this seems to be more about how guitarist Eric Clapton succumbed and then overcame his addiction to heroin and drink than his standing in the music world.

Lili Fini Zanuck's documentary explores the life and work of Clapton through some of the people that have known him such as BB King, Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, with the first half  exploring his childhood, dysfunctional family life and how he fell in love with blues music.

It's absolutely fascinating and the archive film footage of his time in the Yardbirds, Cream and his association with the Beatles and Hendrix, interwoven with interviews with the main players and Clapton himself, is captivating.

But, though reputedly one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time, you're none the wiser by the end of this film as to how or why.

Nevertheless, a great first port of call for anyone who knows little or nothing about “God.”
MD 

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