Category Archives: British Film

Annus Mirabilis as seen from the back row

Blake Backlash takes Philip Larkin’s declaration that ‘sexual intercourse began in 1963’ as point-of-departure to explore cinematic depictions of sex in early ‘60s British cinema. Or maybe he just watches some old films and tells you about the dirty bits.

Pumpkin Eater Continue reading Annus Mirabilis as seen from the back row

Bly spirits: revisiting Jack Clayton’s The Innocents

The Innocents, Jack Clayton’s haunting take on The Turn of the Screw, is back in cinemas. Viv Wilby plucks up the courage to get spooked all over again.

INN2 Continue reading Bly spirits: revisiting Jack Clayton’s The Innocents

London Film Festival 2013: Closing Day Round-Up

The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, 2013)

Ralph Fiennes’ second outing as director, following Coriolanus, sees him shift from one of the traditional choices of the serious thesp-turned-filmmaker, Shakespeare, to the other – costume drama.  An adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s biography, The Invisible Woman is the story of Nelly Ternan, the actress who for many years was the mistress of Charles Dickens.

We initially meet Nelly (Felicity Jones) some years after Dickens’ death; now married with a family, she is directing a school production of a play by Wilkie Collins. This stirs up memories of how she first met Dickens when, aged 18, she performed in the same author’s play.

The Charles Dickens presented here is a showman who lives in the full glare of celebrity (in one scene, he is mobbed by adoring fans).  He is larger than life, effusive if perhaps somewhat egotistical, and shows a warmth not generally associated with Fiennes.  However, once you get over the shock that Dickens isn’t being played by Simon Callow, Fiennes is quite successful in the role; I particularly enjoyed his scenes with Tom Hollander as Wilkie Collins.

Unfortunately, I was less engaged in his relationship with Nelly, whose dilemma really should be the most interesting element of the film.  Though the pair are swiftly attracted to each other, Nelly is reluctant to enter into a sexual relationship with a married man (though I was unclear exactly what she was expecting to happen).  Her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) is more conflicted, concerned for her daughter’s reputation but pragmatic enough to recognise a chance for economic security when she sees it.  Dickens’ behaviour is also cause for concern; in at least one instance, he treats his family in an utterly unconscionable manner.

In a film about an illicit relationship, it is odd that it’s over 70 minutes before we get any sense of passion between the two leads.  Whether this sense of restraint was the choice of Dickens or of Fiennes, I can only guess; either way, it makes this tasteful, well-performed film a colder affair than you feel it should be. – Gareth Negus

The Invisible Woman is due for release in the UK on 7 February 2014. Continue reading London Film Festival 2013: Closing Day Round-Up

London Film Festival: Day Eight Update

The Sacrament (Ti West, 2013)


Ti West, the man the festival brochures like to call the king of slow-burn horror, has been promoted (possibly not the right word) from FrightFest to full London Film Festival status for his latest film.  A non-supernatural cult horror largely inspired by, though not specifically based on, the Jonestown massacre, it’s a found footage film, which may have you moaning already.

The found footage is presented in the manner of The Last Exorcism rather than The Blair Witch Project, in that it’s been edited – sometimes in such a way as to suggest there were more cameramen available than the script leads us to believe – and given a suitably doomy score.

The film follows two reporters from Vice ,which I was surprised to learn is actually a real thing, into a remote hippy-ish cult, which the sister (Amy Seimetz of Upstream Color) of a friend has joined. Initially, all seems like peace and love, despite the armed guards at the gate. But things take a sinister turn once the reporters start asking questions of the cult leader, Father (Gene Jones).

I greatly enjoyed West’s last two films, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers; unfortunately, The Sacrament didn’t work so well for me. Part of that was down to my expectations – I had anticipated that Eden Parish would hold a supernatural secret, and was disappointed that the threat turned out to be more prosaic. That, of course, is my problem rather than the film’s. The real flaw is that, having arrived at the camp, the leads’ subsequent actions have basically no effect on what transpires. They run around filming, and do quite a bit of shouting, but fail to exert any influence on who lives and who dies. They can only observe, and hope not to get killed.

Perhaps that was West’s intended point, and what he saw as the true horror of the situation. It’s good to see him trying new subject matter and expand his range, but while The Sacrament includes individual moments that shock, it failed to move me as drama. Gareth Negus

The Sacrament is showing at the London Film Festival on Wednesday 16 October. Continue reading London Film Festival: Day Eight Update

London Film Festival: The Witches

In the first of today’s two LFF updates, Ricky Young reflects on a handsome restoration of an ugly film 

The Witches

Today sees the LFF unveiling of the restored version of overlooked Hammer potboiler The Witches. Directed by Cyril Frankel and written by Nigel Kneale, it stars Hitchcock Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine in what would turn out to be her last cinematic role.

The Witches rarely gets much of a mention when discussing Hammer’s output – none of the big Hammer names or stars are involved – and despite the admittedly glorious-looking restoration, it’s not hard to see why. Even at their tackiest, the Hammer greats always had a spark of audience-pleasing oomph at their core. The Witches’ most exciting moment features six seconds of runaway livestock. Make of that what you will. Continue reading London Film Festival: The Witches

Clock This!

Richard Curtis has a new film out and it’s very good. Yes, it is. Ron Swanson reports.

"Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past." Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy wrap their heads around a paradox.
“Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.” Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy wrap their heads around a chronological paradox. With hilarious results.

It’s nicely in keeping with Richard Curtis’ films’ apologetically stylised view of England that I’m tempted to start this positive review of his new movie, About Time, with an apology, or more accurately, a justification. It’s tempting to put my emotional reaction to his film down to the fact that I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, or that I was having a bad week, or that the idea of time travel has always made me want to cry. If I knew how to winsomely stutter in print, I would totally give it a go.

As it is, no justification is needed. It may seem like trifling praise indeed, to claim that About Time is Curtis’ best film, but I like Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Love, Actually quite a lot, and this absolutely soars past them. While it may benefit from the lowered expectations caused by the clusterfuck that was The Boat that Rocked and an insipid and oddly charmless trailer, this is a film that makes me hope there’s more to come from Curtis. Continue reading Clock This!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Mostly Film writers recall their fleeting experiences at the business end of filmmaking

Indy Datta

Tacita Dean’s ‘Film’ in a film. META.

So my mate Gavin was making a film, and he asked me if I wanted to be an extra in one scene. Obviously, when the call came I had been hoping to hear that his star, Kris Marshall, just wasn’t measuring up, and, he’d been thinking – and this was so crazy it just might work – but did I think I could possibly pretend to be in love with a beautiful French actress (Annelise Hesme) just for the duration of a wistful romantic comedy but, sadly, no. Still, as my drama teacher always said, possibly, there are no small parts, only small actors. Maybe this could be the start of something big.

Continue reading Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Smiley’s People

Emma Street explains why Ben Wheatley’s new film is – and isn’t – like The Breakfast Club

Michael Smiley in A Field In England

Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England was released last Friday across all platforms with the possible exception of kinetoscope. Viewers were offered the option of watching the film at the cinema, on DVD, via digital download or by tuning in to Film4 at 10:45 where the whole thing broadcast without ad breaks.

I dipped my toe in the multiple release formats experience by watching it first on television on Friday night and then seeing it on the big screen on Sunday at the ICA. This showing was followed by a question and answer session with director Ben Wheatley and actor Reece Sheersmith, who stars in the film and is better known as one of the League of Gentlemen. In this session Wheatley discussed how he chose to shoot the film chronologically in order to allow the actors the opportunity to grow with their characters. He also shared his thoughts on the cinematic advantages of shooting in black and white – how it prevents viewers becoming distracted by attractive scenery or costumes and focuses attention on character’s faces. Black and white footage, he says, also highlights dirt and grime.

In which case, he certainly achieved the look he was going for. The images that remain with you after watching A Field In England are the moods, reactions and suffering written on the protagonists’ faces  and the grubby muddiness of their surroundings. Continue reading Smiley’s People