Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Last Christmas.

Posted: December 3, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson.

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Kate (Clarke) is a young woman adrift in the world. She’s something of a nomad, crashing with friends who soon throw her out because of her disruptive behaviour. She drinks heavily and flits between one night stands, and whilst she still dreams of being a professional singer, her auditions get her nowhere, leaving her working full time as an elf in an all year round Christmas shop run by snarky Santa (Yeoh) and avoiding her mother (Thompson).

Then one day she meets a handsome, yet odd man named Tom (Golding) who she’s attracted to. They begin a platonic romance, but why does he keep disappearing then reappearing when Kate needs him most? Will she reconnect with her family, will she stop her self -destructive behaviour and most of all, will she solve the mystery of Tom?

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A film directed by the helmer of Bridesmaids, written by Emma Thompson, featuring an engaging cast and the music of the late, great George Michael. What could go wrong? Well going by many of the critics almost everything, and so I approached this with trepidation.

So what did I think? Well it’s cheesy, twee, and machine tooled within an inch of its life to tug on your heartstrings. It’s also not half as clever as it thinks it is. But you know what, I still liked it, and come the end I had a lump in my throat that wasn’t down to tonsillitis, because completely unexpectedly, and against my better (or should that be bitter?) judgement, this hit me right in the feels.

2518-fp-00067r-1573827710The film’s biggest asset is its cast. After years as the mirthless mother of dragons, everyone’s favourite Khaleesi is having fun with a role that could have so easily been telephoned in, yet Clarke invests herself totally in the part. She’s loveable and annoying in equal measure, yet also carries a hint of melancholy because she’s so clearly broken, it’s just that she doesn’t know how to fix herself, and it’s obvious that Clarke channels her own health issues into Kate, a woman who had her own brush with death. She’s onscreen for most of the film bouncing around like a pinball and has you rooting for her in that Bridget Jones kinda way.

As Tom, Golding plays the kind of handsome, wise, nice guy that even I could fall for, and he and Clarke have great chemistry. He doesn’t have a lot to work with but much like Clarke wrings all the pathos he can out of it.

As ‘Santa’ Yeoh is a hoot with limited screen time, sarcastic and dismissive of Kate, yet in a totally affectionate way, though it is amusing that someone so grumpy could love Christmas enough to run a year-round x-mas shop! If her romance seems a trifle forced this isn’t Yeoh’s fault, and from Bond girl and martial artist, to mirror universe Starfleet captain and now romantic comedy star she proves she can successfully turn her hand to anything.

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“So you were in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I was the mother of Dragons. Small world.”

If there’s a weak link then oddly it’s Thompson, whose portrayal of Kate’s Yugoslavian mother has its moments—many of the film’s finniest—yet feels oddly broad compared to the slightly more nuanced performances around her, and one wonders if a less well known character actor might have played the part better.

The script leaves no romantic comedy trope out in the cold, and is a trifle too on the nose at times, and the Brexit subplot is well meaning but clunky as Marley’s chains, and talking of Marley its obvious too many critics treated this as a straight up romcom rather than what it really is, a Christmas redemption story in the style of things like A Christmas Carol or it’s a Wonderful life. Only time will tell if this film sinks from view or becomes a somewhat cheesy Christmas staple. I can see the latter.

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The twist is something you may see coming, especially given the obvious clue hanging over the film, and your enjoyment may depend on how you view the plot turn when it arrives, but for me it worked in the context of the film, and if nothing else the film does stick to its own internal logic, which is where a lot of fantastical films fall down.

Outside of the titular song, the music of George Michael is scattered haphazardly throughout the film, and you can’t help feeling that a bit more effort should have been taken to truly honour his work, though there’s a nice cameo near the end.

It’s a bit clunky, a bit preposterous, a bit obvious and is trying way to hard to be a Richard Curtis film, but then again I probably enjoyed it more than this year’s actual Richard Curtis film, and it scores points for not quite being the film you think it is. There are a multitude of little cameos and it lives in that ever so slightly faux London inhabited by the likes of Bridget Jones and Paddington, but so what, I like Bridge and that Peruvian immigrant, and though this isn’t on the same level, I liked Last Christmas as well, for all it’s faults you can’t deny its heart is in the right place.

Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna.

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Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Reyes) is a young woman living in Mexico and working at a car assembly plant. She thinks of herself as an ordinary young woman, until a Rev-9 Terminator (Luna) travels back from the future to kill her. Luckily Dani is protected by Grace (Davis) another time traveller, this time human, sent back to protect her. Grace has been enhanced with technology, but she still struggles to fight off the Terminator, until Sarah Connor (Hamilton, duh) arrives to intervene.

Sarah has been living an aimless existence since a tragedy that befell her several decades before, but she has found meaning in destroying the Terminators Skynet despatched through time, receiving cryptic messages warning her when one is due to arrive.

Sarah and Grace form an uneasy alliance to protect Dani, but it may take more than the two of them to destroy the Rev-9, it may take the assistance of a T-800 (Arnie obviously) who Sarah has every reason to hate.

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It’s kinda scary to think we now have six Terminator films, especially considering T2 supposedly saved humanity from the Skynet dominated future, but then again if T2 didn’t really warrant a sequel, you could argue Terminator didn’t either, but a world without T2 doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s still hard to choose between them, in part because, much like Alien and Aliens, they’re vastly different films. What I think most everyone was sure about is that in terms of sequels it’s been a case of diminishing returns. T3 was a bland actioner partly redeemed by a heck of a twist at the end. Salvation was just terrible, committing the worst cinematic crime of being dull, and Genisys was an unholy mess, but at least it wasn’t boring.

The sheer potential of the franchise can’t be held back however, and has prompted another entry in the series. Cameron returning in a story and production capacity, and the hiring of Deadpool director Miller gave people hope that Dark Fate might be good.

I’ll be honest here, by ten minutes in I was seriously worried. The film’s opening is incredibly clunky, committing the cardinal sin of dropping us into the action rather than giving us time to get used to the characters. The Rev-9 is on Dani’s case within minutes, I appreciate it’s a more advanced model and all, but remember when Arnie had to go raid a gun shop and use the phone book to try and track Sarah Connor down?

But then Linda Hamilton turned up and things took an upward turn. The film settles down and things again shift in a positive direction. And then Arnie turns up and from here on it’s a roller coaster ride of a film, and an enjoyable one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t in the same league as Terminator or T2, but it’s the third best film in the franchise by a country mile and that’s about the best we could have hoped for.

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The casting helps, and at the centre of it all is Hamilton. Much like Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween sequel of last year Hamilton returns to perhaps her greatest role, and she’s a hoot. Grouchy, world weary, damaged yet strong …this might be my favourite of her Sarah Connor performance, Terminator Sarah was a touch too simpering, T2 Sarah too fanatical. Hamilton has fun, and yet again demonstrates why it’s a crime she hasn’t had more success as an actor than she’s had.

I’ve yet to see Mackenzie Davis give a poor performance in anything, and she’s great as Grace, driven and stubborn and desperate to protect Dani at all costs and she has great dynamics with both Hamilton and Reyes and she always convinces as a battle hardened warrior.

Reyes does a good job as the initially innocent Dani, and never seems overawed by the talent surrounding her.

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Luna does a decent job as the all new Terminator, appearing threatening or friendly as his mission dictates. I’m still not entirely sure about the solid endoskeleton and liquid metal exoskeleton, and it seems like just a case of “What can we do different Terminator wise?” but it does make for some fun scenes, allowing a single Terminator to double team his opponents as required.

And then there’s Arnie.

imagesHis inclusion in this film is preposterous, but I don’t care because he’s great, he’ll never be the greatest actor in the world, but he has presence and comic timing many better actors would kill for. It’s hard to imagine the film without him and he gets many of the funniest lines, yet at the same time he never overshadows the female triumvirate at the heart of the film.

Plot wise the film undertakes some temporal contortions to contrive a new Terminator with a new target, but clearly a lot of work has gone into the story and for the most part it works. There’s one thing that happens early on that’s annoying—and I do hate the ‘kill a character off to make room for a new story’ trope, but it annoyed me less as I was swept up by the story. Kudos on the script front as well to the level of consistency, Grace’s enhancements take a toll on her body and she needs regular injections to counteract this, in a lesser film this would have been forgotten as the film progressed but not here.

The action scenes are frenetic and there’s obviously a lot of CGI. Maybe too many were showcased in the trailer, but this at least wasn’t the re-tread of T2 I was expecting it to be.

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Whether I genuinely enjoyed this in its own right, or merely because it was so refreshing to see a competent Terminator film again is something only repeat viewings will clarify, and calling it the third best Terminator film may be damning it with faint praise but it’s funny, action packed and features engaging characters, and maybe it’s just not possible to make something as good as we got in 1984 and 1992. It’s just a shame Dark Fate seems to have done poorly at the box office, so will we see another semi-reboot eventually? I hope not, either continue with this new timeline or, and here’s a radical idea, just accept the franchise is never going to hit the heights of 1992 again.

For the record my current rankings of the Terminator franchise go something like this…

  • Terminator/T2
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • Dark Fate
  • T3
  • Genisys
  • Salvation

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Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.

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It’s ten years since the zombie outbreak, and ten years since a bunch of disparate survivors, Tallahassee (Harrelson) Columbus (Eisenberg) Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) came together as a messed up post-apocalyptic family. They’ve recently been holed up in the Whitehouse, but no longer a child, Little Rock is eager to meet other people and is tired of Tallahassee treating her like a kid. When Columbus proposes to Wichita, the sisters make their excuses and head back on the road, leaving Tallahassee and Columbus to decide, do they go on the road again themselves, and if they do, is it time to break up their partnership?

With the group divided, and a new breed of near indestructible super zombies on the rampage, life in Zombieland has never been so precarious!

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When Zombieland came out in 2009 it was a huge hit, and almost right away there was talk of a sequel. I don’t think anyone expected it would take ten years for a sequel to reach the screen, and given the success some of the cast have had in the intervening time (cough Emma Stone cough) I think the more time that passed the less likely a follow up seemed.

Yet here we are.

I enjoyed it, but I suspect it would have been a far better film if it’d arrived in 2011 rather than 2019.

The biggest flaw is that whilst ten years have passed, the characters (with one exception) haven’t changed. It’s like they’ve been preserved in amber. They dress the same, they act the same, they snipe at each other in exactly the same way…watching a film set in a zombie apocalypse requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but believing that people haven’t changed their look in ten years is pushing it. It’s like no one has grown or developed in any way, as an example Wichita and Columbus have been a couple for ten years, yet she chooses now to get cold feet and he jumps into bed with someone else almost immediately? It’s incredibly jarring.

Oddly the one character who has changed is Little Rock, if for no other reason than the fact that Breslin isn’t a child anymore, yet oddly she’s the one of the four least well served by the script, which doesn’t always seem to know how to use her, and so dumps her in a lazy romantic subplot that in the end goes nowhere.

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I suppose you can understand why they’ve kept the characters the same, and one of the films saving grace is the interplay between the characters, in particular Harrelson and Eisenberg, though Stone’s increasing frustration with the two men is a hoot as well. Eisenberg plays the geeky Columbus to a tee, but as before Harrelson seems to be having the most fun as Tallahassee.

This time he gets some romance with Rosario Dawson’s Nevada, who kicks some serious butt, and there’s amusement to be had from Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, but the standout new character has to be Zoey Deutch as blonde bimbo Madison. Deutch’s comic timing and delivery is spot on and frankly she’s a hoot.

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While some set pieces fall a little flat, there’s still a lot of fun to be had—and please stay for the end credits, sadly the surprise was spoiled for me but trust me, it’s worth it—even if it does feel like a warmed over rehash of the first film. It doesn’t need to exist, and in truth it’s a trifle forgettable, but it’s enjoyable enough while you’re watching it.

Rule #74 Maybe don’t make Zombieland 3!

 

Judy

Posted: October 22, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Rupert Goold. Starring Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock and Jessie Buckley.

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In 1969, and with her unreliability meaning she struggles to get work in the United States, Judy Garland (Zellweger) accepts an offer to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London. She’s initially a hit, but her ongoing struggles with drugs and alcohol make her performances increasingly variable, one night she gets a standing ovation, the next she’s booed off stage.

As her life begins to unravel, she flashes back to her life a child star, and the strictures that were placed upon her that still haunt her decades later.

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It’s definitely the era of the biopic. I worked out I’ve seen four at the cinema in the last year. Bohemian Rhapsody, Stan and Ollie, Rocketman and now Judy, and to some degree or another I’ve enjoyed them all. Judy eschews the broad canvas of time employed by Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman and focuses on a specific part of its subject’s life. It perhaps has most in common with Stan and Ollie. Both films revolve around fading stars who leave Hollywood and decamp to London in order to perhaps get one final hurrah.

Whilst Stan and Ollie is a relatively light, affectionate piece—albeit one that packs an emotional punch—Judy is something darker. Laurel and Hardy had their vices, but they were nowhere near as messed up as Judy Garland, and the film pulls few punches in its flashbacks to the 1930s, where Darci Shaw does an excellent job with limited screen time as the young Judy. Here we see the starlet deprived of food and fed a diet of amphetamines to keep her working (and burn her fat off) and barbiturates to allow her to sleep and in the present day of 1969 Judy is still addicted to drugs, and still has issues with food. She’s now added booze to her list of problems.

I’ll be honest, it took a little while to accept Zellweger as Judy, not because she doesn’t put in a fine performance, but because she’s so recognisable she doesn’t always get lost in the role the way Taron Egerton did in Rocketman for example. Instead you often can’t lose sight of the fact that this is Zellweger playing Judy Garland, but then again perhaps Judy Garland was playing Judy Garland?

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My opinion shifted during the film. Maybe I just needed to acclimatise, but whatever the reason in the space of two hours I went from “This is Judy Garland’s Diary” to “Give that woman an Oscar, now!” Certainly Zellweger deserves a nomination at least, if only for that final performance of Over the Rainbow.

The film is well put together, and whilst the script rarely surprises—these biopics tend to have their own tropes and this film is no exception—there are two areas where the film truly comes alive. The first is all razzmatazz. When Zellweger gets on stage she owns it, and her singing is wonderful; and kudos for not only singing well, but singing well like Judy Garland. The second area is more intimate, and features (an imagined as it turns out) incident where Judy goes home with two gay men for dinner. It’s heartfelt, and beautifully scripted and acted, by Zellweger and Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira as Stan and Dan.

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“My singing wasn’t that bad, was it?”

As the woman charged with keeping tabs on Judy, Buckley is very good as Rosalyn Wilder, never quite letting her disdain for some of Judy’s actions mask her growing affection for her. Wittrock is similarly good as Mickey Deans, the man who’ll become Judy’s last husband. There’s also decent work for Rufus Sewell as Judy’s ex-husband, though Michael Gambon has little to do as impresario   Bernard Delfont.

Really this is Zellweger’s film all the way though, and even if at times she doesn’t quite vanish into the part, she’s never less than mesmerising, and boy that girl can sing!

A solid film that rises above average by virtue of a great central performance and some wonderful musical numbers. It may not have the exuberance of Rocketman or the joy of Stan and Ollie, but Judy still deserves her place on centre stage.

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Joker

Posted: October 15, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy.

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Gotham City in the 1980s is a destitute place. There is large scale unemployment and a garbagemen strike sees trash piling up everywhere. Crime is rife. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is an aspiring comedian who makes a living as a party clown. His outfit often marks him out as a target for thugs, as does a condition that cause him to involuntarily laugh at inappropriate moments. He lives with his mother Penny (Conroy) and is attracted to his neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz.) Arthur has mental health issues and relies on social services for medication.

Constantly harassed, and with funding taken away from the support he relies on, Arthur becomes more and more disconnected from society. His stand-up routine flops, and when he’s mocked by his idol, talk show host Murray Franklin (De Niro) he becomes increasingly estranged from reality.

How much degradation can one man take before he breaks, and what does it take to turn a mild-mannered man into Batman’s arch nemesis, the clown prince of crime himself. Joker?

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So here we are. Joker arrives, riding waves of adoration and controversy. A film that at once is lauded for a sensitive portrayal of mental health, yet derided as reinforcing stereotypes about people with mental health problems being a danger. A film supposedly a beacon for incels, to the point where some theatres in America took precautions lest someone try to emulate the mass shooter who targeted a Dark Knight showing.

To be honest much of the chatter has magnified certain elements of the film, but whilst dark, extremely dark, at times, this isn’t a film that’s anywhere near as hollow and nasty as something like Rambo. Joker has something to say, and even though you might not like what that is, you can’t deny its importance.

Beyond anything else however, Joker is an exceptionally fine piece of filmmaking, and you have to admire the chutzpah of making an R rated Joker film that riffs on Martin Scorsese films. I’ve read several interviews with Todd Phillips, and he rarely comes across well, but you have to give the guy kudos for a fantastic exercise in direction. Gotham is a dark, twisted and yet utterly grounded city, and whilst personally I’d always lean towards a slightly more gothic Gotham (somewhere between the Burton movies and the Gotham tv series) you can’t fault that the city is a character in itself. Ostensibly it’s New York in the 70s and 80s with the serial numbers filed off, but it feels real, a visceral nightmare of a city, the perfect breeding ground for a chaotic villain like Joker.

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However good the script is, however good the direction is, the true reason for its success is Phoenix who is simply mesmerising. Arthur’s fear, anger and frustration are etched into the actor’s features, he makes us empathise with a man we might not always like, and the transition from meek and mild, to bloodthirsty confidence is utterly convincing. Phoenix lost a lot of weight for the part, leaving Arthur Fleck sinewy, almost skeletal, which is perfect for the character. I’m still surprised, and slightly disturbed, that Phoenix clearly took some inspiration from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, and often Arthur dances naked, admiring his form in the mirror, clearly trying to understand his own nature. It’s not a connection I would have thought of, but it works perfectly here, and manages to make Phoenix’s Joker very different from all the other screen incarnations we’ve seen. This isn’t a broad take ala Romero or Nicholson, and it isn’t the slithering, reptilian Joker of Ledger either. And thank goodness it isn’t the preposterously over done gangster Joker that Jared Leto foisted on us.

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Is he the best incarnation of the Joker? That’s up for debate, but he’s the perfect Joker for this film. And I think it needs to be stressed, it isn’t that Joker is a phenomenal comic book movie. First and foremost, it’s a phenomenal movie in its own right, and I hope both the film and its star get Oscar nods.

The cast is sparse, but American Horror story’s Conroy is superb as Arthur’s mum, and their relationship is uncomfortable without ever crossing the line into icky, and De Niro is in good form as a smarmy talk show host, reinforcing those Scorsese links if you hadn’t already noticed.

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There are a few elements I’m not completely sold on. I don’t like turning Thomas Wayne into a blustering blowhard, and whilst Arthur is never really portrayed as a hero, at times he veers a little too close to antihero, which the Joker really shouldn’t be. These are minor quibbles though, in what is a fantastic piece of cinema with something to say about mental health, inequality, austerity and society in general.

And there is one element I particularly love (feel free to skip this as it’s slightly spoilery) and that is the set of steps that features heavily. For much of the film we see Arthur doggedly trudging up hill, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders struggling with society’s expectations. Later on, when he’s become Joker, he gleefully dances down those very steps, a literal descent into madness, but he’s confident now, breezy even, because he’s finally happy with who he is. That was the moment I realised just how good this film was.

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I can see how it won’t be for everyone, and if your idea of the Joker is Caesar Romero prepare for one hell of a shock, but this is top notch filmmaking on every level, with a standout performance from perhaps one of the finest actors currently working in Hollywood.

Man, if you’d told me two of my favourite films this year would have come out of DC I really wouldn’t have believed you! (the other being Shazam!)

Highly recommended.

 

Ad Astra

Posted: October 11, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.

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In the near future the solar system is hit by a succession of power surges that threaten to wipe out humanity. After almost being killed by one such surge, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is informed by space command that the surges may have originated from Neptune, where a mission known as the Lima Project disappeared 16 years before. The commander of the Lima project was Roy’s father H. Clifford McBride (Jones).

Roy is tasked with going to Mars to send a signal to Neptune, in the hopes that his father is still alive. His journey begins on the Moon, where he comes under attack from brigands on the lunar surface, and as he travellers on to Mars he will encounter other dangers.

Is his father still alive though, and if he is can Roy reach him in time to stop the Lima Project destroying all life in the solar system?

When the trailers came out for Ad Astra I got excited, a cerebral science fiction film that promised action as well, throw in fantastic cinematography and Brad Pitt and surely it was going to be a cracker.

What’s amazing about Ad Astra is how all those things combine to make a film that’s so inert, committing the cardinal sin of being boring, to the point that even the action scenes are dull. The fact they make little narrative sense just adds annoyance to the tedium.

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On the face of it this is Apocalypse Now in space, only instead of heading upriver to find colonel Kurtz, Roy is heading to the outermost reaches of the solar system to find his father who may or may not have gone insane. The trouble is that with any kind of quest or road movie, it’s a fine line between a journey that feels organic and one that feels like a series of lines drawn between random spots on the map, and too often it feels like the plot of driving the characters rather than the characters driving the plot.

It doesn’t help that many of the set pieces don’t make any sense. The moon buggy gun battle for example. Why does Pitt even have to take a moon buggy anyway rather than taking a shuttle to the other side of the moon? Don’t even get me started on how come the Moon seems to have Earth normal gravity. I can accept some artistic license once we reach Mars given its gravity is almost 40% of Earth, on the Moon gravity is just a little over 15%.

Once he heads into space we then have a random distress call that diverts his ship to a space station where we get another set piece, again it’s random and seems to serve no purposes other than to, presumably, pep up a script it was felt wasn’t exciting enough. Each set piece has the feel of something inserted because it was felt something had to happen, like those books that swear they can teach you to write a script (remember your inciting incident needs to happen on page 25 or you fail!)

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As the insular Roy, Pitt is very good, or at least he would be if writer/director Gray allowed him to be. Pitt’s performance is spot on, but clearly Gray didn’t have faith in his star, because why else would almost every scene of Pitt clearly struggling with his inner demons be accompanied by a voiceover where Roy explains what’s going through his head. The comparisons with First Man are startling, that too featured a closed off, insular astronaut, but whereas Damien Chazelle let Gosling’s acting do the talking, Gray feels the need to tell rather than show.

When he shows up Jones is good, he just doesn’t get nearly enough to do, and the ending is something of a damp squib, still he fares better than Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler and Ruth Negga who are all completely wasted in wafer thin roles.

The most annoying thing is that there’s the kernel of a great idea here about the existential horror of being alone in the universe, it’s just handled so poorly. I wonder if one day we might get a Blade Runner style redux; strip out the voice over, lose fifteen or twenty minutes and there might be an interesting film here, but as it stands for me this failed on pretty much every level (though it looks good). My advice, watch First Man instead.

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Downton Abbey

Posted: October 4, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Michael Engler. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and many, many others!

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Its 1927 and the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley (Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) receive word from Buckingham Palace that the King and Queen plan to come to Downton Abbey to stay during a royal tour. Whilst the news is greeted with excitement both above and below stairs, it soon becomes apparent that even though the royals are only staying one night, their visit will cause headaches for all concerned, especially when it becomes clear that the royal household’s own servants will be expecting to supplant Downton Abbey’s redoubtable staff for the duration of the stay. Throw in a potential assassination, a thief, several romantic trysts and some other assorted domestic kerfuffles, and it promises to be a very busy time for all concerned!

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So, I was never a fan of Downton when it was on TV, but I have watched the odd episode here and there, and read a few articles so I didn’t go into this blind, still I likely wasn’t as up to speed as fans will have been. Thankfully my lack of expert knowledge didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest because, a few minor issues aside, I found this to be a very engaging, very good film.

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The first thing to say is that a huge part of its success must be laid at the feet of Julian Fellowes. His script is a master class in squeezing dozens of characters and plotlines into a relatively short film, and not only that, but providing enough of a character sketch to allow newcomers to understand who’s who and what’s going on, without alienating existing viewers. It’s also a script that takes many clearly beloved characters and gives each his or her moment to shine. That some get more to sink their teeth into than others is probably unavoidable, what’s clear is that no one’s excluded.

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There are some missteps, a potential assassination plot winds up little more than a damp squib for instance, but on the whole,  each interweaving tale has a beginning middle and end. You could argue it doesn’t do anything really radical, except it does, and one plot involving a gay character in the 1920s is thoughtfully handled, feels very honest and isn’t the kind of hackneyed thing we might once have got. Other than that you can argue it’s a trifle predictable, but predictable isn’t always a bad thing, especially not when its done this well. I was never bored, and the script manages to be funny, sad, sweet and uplifting without ever really crossing the line into saccharine. In particular Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are a joy to watch (as I believe they are in the show) and their snarky banter is almost worth the price of admission alone.

It’s hard to single out specific cast members, because everyone feels very at home in the characters, but aside from Smith and Wilton, Allen Leech makes for an amiable romantic lead as Tom, and Kevin Doyle gets one of the funniest moments as a starstruck footman—and the film is laugh out loud funny at times—while Robert James-Collier gets the meatiest, and in some ways sweetest, story as Barrow.

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The direction is good, and the cinematography suitably luxurious. At times, especially in the first act, the director seems a little too in love with the house, and eventually all the drone shots become a trifle wearing. On occasion it feels a little televisual, but these moments are few and far between, and as enjoyable as it is there’s something a little odd about two groups of servants bickering as posh folk luxuriate above but this never spoiled my pleasure, and again this lead to some highly amusing scenes, and credit to David Haig as the official page of the back staircase (or whatever he was).

To begin with I was wary but by the end I was enjoying myself so much that I’m now seriously thinking about binge watching the show now, and if there’s a sequel, well sign me up!

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I’d like to nail my colours to the mast, team Edith all the way, Mary can go take a running jump 😉