Director: Richard Curtis. Universal/Studio Canal/Working Title/DNA Films. (15).
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy.
Writer: Richard Curtis.
Camera: Michael Coulter.
Music: Craig Armstrong.
Sets: Jim Clay.
Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Gregor Fisher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Kris Marshall, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Rodrigo Santoro, Edward Hardwicke, Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards.
The love lives of eight very different couples in London are chronicled in the run up to Christmas.
Largely successful, Brit-portmanteau picture that could have been titled Luvvies Actually given how much of Equity’s register has been emptied to fatten up the cast list.
Right at the top of the bill (and that has never been an indication of quality in such star-studded pictures) is Grant as a love-lorn and single Prime Minister chasing clumsy new tea-girl McCutcheon. This is a gormless and charmless pairing, Grant’s aggravating, stuttering bluster by now a cliche, a cinematic short-cut of performance. McCutcheon is a chirpy ‘cockernee’ sparra’. Well, what else would she be? Her post- Eastenders debut was never going to push expectations.
Such ego-heavy productions groan at the seams with performers ecstatically trying to out act each other. Oddly though, the turns that stick in the memory here are those that don’t try too hard. Neeson trying it on with thinly veiled supermodel Schiffer (ignore the awful child crowing them on), Rickman contemplates a mid-life affair encouraged by nice friend Thompson and there is a heartbreaking threesome in Knightley, Ejiofor and Lincoln. The denouement to this particular thread of the story is literally a wrench, brilliantly and shockingly delivered by these actors.
There are still more powerful turns. In terms of comedy, Nighy and Fisher score most strongly in the entire film. They feature as a washed up eighties pop star and his long-suffering manager, trapped forever in a sexually unfulfilling bromance. Nighy is given one last shot at music immortality with a fairly ropey Christmas single. There can be no greater satisfaction for a cynical British audience, in this part of the story at least, to hear him refer (to Fisher’s horror) to Ant and Dec as “Ant or Dec” and note to their audience of largely under 15 year olds: “Kids, don’t buy drugs. Become a rock star and people will buy them for you”. This has to be the best line that Curtis has ever dropped into a motion picture screenplay. Thank you Richard!
For drama though, take a bow Ms Linney. One of the handful of visiting foreigners in this film, she can hold her head up high that, on celluloid at least, she juggles a difficult storyline perfectly as a woman trying to placate a mentally unbalanced brother and maintain the interest of horny Brazilian colleague Santoro. She deserves an Oscar for managing to keep her hands off him. This is the most impressive straight performance in the whole film.
Atkinson, who shares Curtis’ love of the extended similie and that certain Oxbridge humour (they both worked together on the Blackadder TV series) ties elements of the movie together as an obsequious Department Store sales clerk in some ill advised pantomime, but the film still scores because the humour and feel-good factor are nicely balanced with believable festive angst.
Director: Oliver Parker
Producer: Barnaby Thompson. Writer: Toby Finlay. Camera: Roger Pratt. Music: Charlie Mole. Sets: John Beard.
Colin Firth, Ben Barnes, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Rebecca Hall, Emilia Fox, Ben Chaplin, Fiona Shaw, Caroline Goodall, Maryam D’abo, Douglas Henshall, Jo Woodcock.
Young and impressionable heir Dorian Gray (Barnes) returns to London and the large, mouldering house and fortune he has inherited. Instantly befriended by the older, decadent and wicked Lord Henry Wootton (Firth) and his artist friend Basil Hallward (Chaplin), he is soon plunged into a world of heavy drinking, opium taking, casual sex and late-night orgies. Dorian makes an accidental Faustian pact to never grow old whilst always indulging in life’s pleasures, a deal captured in Hallward’s painting of him. But as Dorian enjoys the hedonistic pleasures of London and remains fresh faced and handsome, the image of him in the portrait slowly begins to age and decay, reflecting the moral rot of his character.
Playwright Oscar Wilde’s only novel, a classic of Victorian Gothic horror, has been filmed and staged many times over, even being made into a ballet. Here it is dusted off again and, despite the bustles, bodices and bowler hats on display, this time it is aimed squarely at a 21st century, hardcore clubbing audience in their twenties.
The film is now shorn of Wilde’s full title The Picture of Dorian Gray, presumably to focus attention even more tightly on the narcissistic main character. It also spotlights the awkwardness of playing him for the chosen actor.
Dorian Gray is a difficult role to fulfil. Described throughout Wilde’s book as having heart-stopping beauty, he is also a ruthlessly cruel, self-obsessed aesthete with irresistible charisma. The problem for most dramatists adapting the novel is that Dorian always ends up looking lovely whilst everyone else does the wit and schmoozing. Narnia’s Barnes gets the dubious honour of portraing the titular cad and promptly plays Dorian with all the conviction of a blindfolded catwalk model on roller-skates; unbalanced, directionless.
Predictably then it’s left to those in the other roles to bolster the film. Firth plays Lord Wooton with lip-smacking wit and frivolity. He had been the darling of British drawing room theatre and film long before he won his Oscar for The King’s Speech, playing heroic if slightly bland Englishmen of upstanding virtue (his little sister from TV’s Pride and Prejudice, Fox, even plays his wife here). It is a complete guilty pleasure to see him exercising his villainous muscles for once and helping to bring the script’s cutting witticisms to life.
Writer Finlay has scribbled a gamier, more licentious version of the book to keep it relevant to modern eyes, with a heavy emphasis on class A substances, binge drinking and hetero and homo-sex (the latter never being more than a subtle whisper in Wilde’s writing, for obvious reasons) but he still manages, as movie mogul Sam Goldwyn once cleverly put it, to “bring it bang up to date with some snappy 19th Century dialogue”. There is a musty, old fashioned feel to the drama despite the moral anachronisms.
Parker, a bit of a Wilde cinema expert after writing and directing acclaimed star-heavy versions of The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, is here reduced to the director’s chair only and it’s interesting to ponder how much swifter and smarter this fluffy piece might have been if he’d had more singular control. But what we are left with is a pretty, funny and engaging ornament that manages to cast a certain spell, rather like the lead character.
Film review of the Oscar winning drama starring Colin Firth as King George VI and how a speech therapist helped him overcome a stammer.