12 posts categorized "British Cinema"

May 21, 2016


I  Daniel BlakeCannes, France —There wasn’t a dry eye in the Salle du Soixantieme for the Cannes screening of Ken Loach’s brilliant social drama. 

The film corresponds to Stephane Brize’s “The Measure of a Man,” which played in competition at Cannes in 2015. That picture told of dire social conditions for France’s oppressed working-class. Naturally, Loach’s film (authored by his longtime collaborator Paul Laverty) is set in the modern day United Kingdom. Where “Measure” fell short of satisfactorily enunciating a conspiracy of unethical corporatized agencies whose clear purpose is to exile citizens to the fringes of society, Laverty’s obviously researched script delves deeper into the black market underground that people are forced into choosing.

We also witness the banal ways that modern bureaucracies conspire to abuse, humiliate, and weaken people’s daily lives. If you didn’t believe there was an international war on the working class before seeing this film, you will grasp that fact before the credits roll. “I, Daniel Blake” is a clarion call for the united sea change of social revolution represented by such humanitarian standard bearers as Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader.

Using a cast of unknown (semi-professional) actors, Loach allows mundane social conditions that most of us are familiar with, to guide the escalating social drama. Colin Coombs gives a wonderfully contained performance as Daniel Blake, an experienced carpenter put out of his occupation due to a heart attack he suffered on the job. A man in his mid-50s, Blake’s unfamiliarity with using computers proves a major obstacle in traversing the UK's intentionally choppy bureaucratic waters to maintain his “Employment and Support Allowance” from the government. Every government agent he encounters uses corporate double-speak to abuse him. Frustrating hours spent on hold are only exacerbated when he finally gets someone on the phone. Daniel Blake is in danger of losing his benefits because an unseen “decision-maker” has denied Blake’s doctor’s diagnoses that he is unfit to work. The state forces him to spend 35 hours a week looking for work that he can’t accept if, or when, he gets a job offer.

I  Daniel Blake

While at the agency fighting for his benefits, Blake witnesses Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother with two children in tow, being refused service because she was late for her appointment. Blake speaks up in Katie’s defense when security guards attempt to eject her from the building. The two political outcasts strike up a meaningful friendship as Daniel comes to Katie's aid in helping repair conditions in her unheated apartment.

Dramatically understated, and yet precisely composed, "I, Daniel Blake" breathes with authenticity and unaffected emotion. While some critics have a tendency to be dismissive of Ken Loach for his constancy of purpose, I would argue that it is this exact trait that makes his films so compelling. It takes a special filmmaker to maintain such constancy of purpose. Long live Ken Loach.

Rated R. 100 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

Cannes 69 Complete from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

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November 13, 2013


DevilsFew audiences have seen Ken Russell’s highly stylized depiction of the 17th-century destruction of the autonomous fortressed city of Loudun at the hands of Cardinal Richelieu and his witch-hunting assistants. Even fewer audiences have watched Russell’s unedited 117-minute version. This is due to a furor stirred up by the Catholic Church, which urged the studio to chop up the film before its release — with the assistance of the then-Catholic Russell himself. British and American censors made further cuts, which generated various attenuated versions of Ken Russell’s masterpiece of historically fueled religious and political invective. Even the version I screened was missing eight minutes from the original — so much for being a completest.

Russell’s audacious script — based on John Whiting’s 1960 play “The Devils” and on Aldous Huxley’s book “The Devils of Loudun” — is about “the self-destruction of a citadel from within.” King Louis XIII reigns over France. He tacitly honors an agreement he made with the recently deceased Governor of Loudun not to invade the walled city, now overseen by Urbain Grandier (lustfully played by Oliver Reed). Nevertheless, Louis’s troops have been toppling similar such fortified towns across France with the excuse of preventing a Protestant uprising as a useful political foothold for the monarch's ambitions to consolidate power.


Father Grandier is viewed as something of a rock star among the local order of Ursuline nuns thanks, in part, to his unguarded reputation as a sexually voracious womanizer. Reed’s Grandier is a larger-than-life figure of sensual magnetism. However, just as Grandier discovers true love in the arms of Madeline (Gemma Jones) — a woman he marries in a private ceremony — Sister Jeanne des Agnes (Vanessa Redgrave), the hunchback head of the town’s convent, requests Grandier to become confessor the convent in the hopes of being penetrated by Grandier’s holy rod. He declines. Sister Jeanne’s idolizing of Grandier involves an all-encompassing sexual preoccupation that turns into the fierce rejection of a [imagined] lover scorned. Sister Jeanne and her flock present a perfect Achilles heel for military taskmaster Baron Jean de Laubardemont to exploit as possessed victims of Satan, in order to infiltrate and take over the city. Laubardemont chomps at the bit, wanting nothing more than to demolish the city’s protective walls.


Derek Jarman’s visceral production design is the outrageous work of a mad genius. The entire city of Loudun is made up of sharp white bricks with black mortar. The bold visual effect is chilling. An element of horror infects everything onscreen. Redgrave’s staggering performance as Sister Jeanne prefigures Regan’s demonically possessed character in William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” There’s no question that Friedkin drew on “The Devils” for inspiration. Witness Jeanne’s contorted neck-and back-bending performance during her exorcism at the hands of the debauched inquisitor Father Pierre Barre (Michael Gothard).

Not even a clever ploy by a disguised King Louis himself — revealing that Father Pierre’s exorcisms are pure fiction — can prevent Laubardemont and his men from putting Father Grandier on trial before a kangaroo court. Russell’s nudity filled political statement regarding mass “corruption and brainwashing by Church, State, and commerce” caused him to abandon his Catholic faith. “The Devils’ remains a terrifying reminder of the ruthless tactics used by similar forces to marginalize and manipulate populations the world over.


Rated X. 109 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 02, 2012


Deep Blue SeaMusky with a dry wit that induces laugh-out-loud chuckles, Terence Davies’ spot-on adaptation of Terence Rattigan's brilliant 1952 theatrical stage drama is a finely crafted gem of British post-World War II malaise.

The filmmakers carry off the difficult feat of putting the audience into the uncomfortably melancholy mind of the story's romantic leading lady. Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) is intensely intellectual, and defined by a passion that draws her away from a wealthy, emotionally remote husband (Sir William Collyer — wonderfully played with tonal depth by Simon Russell Beale). Rachel Weisz keenly exposes her character’s emotional, psychological, and sexual conflicts during a time of rebuilding from war’s devastating effects. A master of creating character — in the Stanislavski sense — Weisz creates a complex portrayal of human desire.

The Deep Blue Sea - International Films - Independent Films | Music Box  Films

Hester falls passionately in love with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a handsome RAF pilot returning from military duty. Tom Hiddleston’s dashing Freddie finds his fiercely physical passion for Hester challenged by something that she does which introduces the film’s dark melodramatic context. Rattigan’s refined dialogue bites and tears between characters we, the audience, intuitively comprehend on elemental levels.

WATCH: Rachel Weisz Surprised at Her U.S. Awards Season Momentum |  Anglophenia | BBC America

The story’s love-triangle motivates the characters’ actions of loyalty and betrayal, which necessarily arrive with equal ferocity to the physical acts that cause them. From a production standpoint the film is beautifully charged with organic elements of costume and production design to reflect the subject's post-war era.

The Deep Blue Sea Movie Stills - Tom Hiddleston Image (26445571) - Fanpop

“The Deep Blue Sea” is about a very “blue” (fatalistic) young woman who makes a terrible mistake from which there is no romantic return. It’s a terrible cost. Such is the culturally loaded narrative landscape that director Davies exquisitely captures in every pulse of Terence Rattigan’s source material.

Lovers Try to Stay Above Water in The Deep Blue Sea | The Village Voice

Rated R. 98 mins.

4 Stars

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