Love Actually (2003)

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Director: Richard Curtis. Universal/Studio Canal/Working Title/DNA Films. (15).

COMEDY


 


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.

SYNOPSIS

The love lives of eight very different couples in London are chronicled in the run up to Christmas.

REVIEW

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.

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Elizabeth (1998)

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Director: Shekhar Kapoor. Polygram/Working Title/Channel 4 Films

HISTORICAL/PERIOD/EPIC

Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Alison Owen. Writer: Michael Hirst. Camera: Remi Adefarasin. Music: David Hirschfelder. Sets: John Myhre.

Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Fanny Ardant, Eric Cantona, Vincent Cassel, Kathy Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Emily Mortimer, John Gielgud, James Frain, Jamie Foreman, Kelly Macdonald, Daniel Craig, Lily Allen.

SYNOPSIS

A period drama that tells the story of the early years of Elizabeth I’s (Blanchett) reign, from her days as a Protestant teenager under house arrest by her unbalanced half-sister Queen Mary (Burke) to uneasily taking the throne, surviving numerous assasination attempts and negotiating the tricky matter of marriage.

REVIEW

Bandit Queen director Kapoor being chosen  as the director of this Elizabeth I biopic that giddily subverts (and even inverts) the woman and the times she lived in, probably raised as many historian’s eyebrows as did writer Hirst’s unique, fact-eschewing take on one of Britain’s most famous Queens.

Casting Blanchett who, at this time, was not a major international movie star (though this would help change that) was the first stroke of genius in a film littered with some rather odd-ball casting choices. As many of us will know, Elizabeth Tudor was a complex, contradictory woman. Intelligent, but prone to great misjudgements. A virgin, yet outrageously flirtatious (and then some in this controversially gamey characterisation). Deep and intellectual yet also superficial. Capricious and swift, yet she would also prevaricate and dither. Blanchett, despite not being properly tried out in motion pictures, is able to capture all of this but never once makes Elizabeth seem like a text book perfect, clipped accent Glenda Jackson going for a BAFTA turn; Elizabeth is a fallible human, she is funny and has just that right amount of royal pizzazz. Elizabeth is a girl you might actually want to have a drink with.

She heads up a cast list that includes footballer Cantona as a French Ambassador, Burke as mad, Bloody (Queen) Mary, Cassel as the cross-dressing, bisexual Duke d’Anjou and, right down the cast list, singer Allen as a young Lady-in-Waiting (her mother was the clever casting director).

Attenborough has a cuddly charm as Elizabeth’s most trusted adviser Lord Burleigh. Fiennes makes a handsome Lord Dudley for Elizabeth to tinker with in scenes that show her status as a national Virgin should have been checked out under the medieval Trade Descriptions Act.

The period production of course looks fantastic but Kapoor is careful not to let it swamp her visual style too much. In a precursor to TV’s The Tudors (incidentally, also written by Hirst), she keeps the action and her actors moving, shedding the usual period drama format of static actors frozen to the spot orating and pontificating for effect. This brisk approach adds to the freshness of the drama.