Archive for April, 2011


Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , on April 14, 2011 by alexlarman


Again, a mea culpa, as this film’s been out for ages and I am following well in the vanguard of other writers and bloggers. However, I have to confess to being put off by what seemed unjustified hype – as with True Grit, I always feel wary of reading a rave review about a film that can’t specify why it’s so good. However, here it’s rather easy. Richard Ayoade, hitherto best known as the heroically geeky Moss from The IT Crowd, has established himself as a much more interesting director than many of his peers in his adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s acclaimed novel. Cinematically this is in a league apart from Chris Morris, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, instead opting for a formal classicism, mixed with wry adventurousness that nods in equal parts to French New Wave and Rushmore-era Wes Anderson.

Set in a cleverly evoked 80s Wales that’s devoid of male voice choirs or sheep shagging jokes – this definitely isn’t Twin Town – the action revolves around permanently duffelcoat-clad, briefcase-wielding teenager Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who isn’t especially popular at school, and who will happily join in the bullying of the only girl he’s ever kissed before to impress the apparently unattainable Jordana (Yasmin Page), to whom he wishes to lose his virginity. All however is not well at home. His depressed marine biologist father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is developing a form of agoraphobia, and his miserable mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is contemplating an affair with her old flame, the ridiculously mulleted ‘psychic’ Graham (Paddy Considine). Oh, and all isn’t necessarily well with Jordana and her family, either.

With a variety of cinematic tropes that any Anderson fan will enjoy – slow motion, knowing and literate narration, in-jokes that include a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from exec producer Ben Stiller, of all people – Ayoade confidently announces himself as a director of no little chutzpah and visual ability. Helped immeasurably by Erik Wilson’s cinematography and Alex Turner’s Nick Drake-esque songs, he simultaneously makes Swansea look miserable and weirdly beautiful. His script is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, with deadpan moments of black comedy that are all the more hilarious for being underplayed, and he’s helped by Roberts, forever looking faintly furtive in his increasingly bizarre forays into sex and death, and Page, who brings a likeability and humanity to a character who might otherwise have ended up a cipher, a la Scott Pilgrim’s Ramona.

It’s probably too odd and opaque for mainstream audiences, and I think that it will be a cult success rather than one to bother awards ceremonies. But it’s highly recommended and a joy from start to finish. How can you not warm to a film that contains the line, as part of an attempted rapprochement, ‘Mum gave a handjob to a mystic in the back of a van’?




Cause Celebre

Posted in Theatre with tags , , , , on April 1, 2011 by alexlarman


The Terence Rattigan re-evaluation continues apace. In this, his centenary year, there have already been revivals of The Deep Blue Sea in Sheffield and Flare Path in the West End, with Chichester boasting new productions of The Browning Version and The Deep Blue Sea (a perennial favourite) later in the year. Thea Sharrock, who directed last year’s revelatory revival of After The Dance, has now returned with a new staging at the Old Vic of Rattigan’s last play, Cause Celebre, written in 1977. Some might ask ‘Why this surge of interest?’ It isn’t just because of fortuitous timing, but more because Rattigan’s ‘well made plays’, sneered at and forgotten in the rush to laud Angry Young Men and the theatre of the absurd, now seem like far more compelling theatrical experiences, offering incisive characterisation, sparkling repartee and a significant emotional punch.

It would be untrue to say that Cause Celebre is Rattigan’s finest work, though even mid-standard Rattigan towers above much 20th century drama. Written for radio, and adapted for the stage while he was dying of cancer, its use of short scenes, flashbacks and cross-cutting between characters all smack of television and film; fittingly, given that much of his career in the last two decades of his life saw him concentrate on these media. It’s based around the infamous 1936 trial of Alma Rattenbury who, along with her 17 year old lover George Wood, was accused of murdering her elderly husband Francis ‘Rats’ Rattenbury. As ever with British society, it was her sex life that was on trial as much as her criminal acts, and Rattigan makes this explicit with a secondary plot revolving around the morally priggish jury forewoman Edith Templeton (a stern Niamh Cusack) whose cold adherence to conventional morality results in the destruction of her family.

The play’s appeal lies in Rattigan’s ever-splendid skills of characterisation and dialogue. The court case, which occupies most of the play’s second half, is beautifully depicted, thanks in this production to Nicholas Jones’ superb performance as Alma’s cunning defence lawyer O’Connor, forever producing rhetorical sallies and the legal equivalents of rabbits out of hats. It’s directly comparable to the great extended scene at the first half of The Winslow Boy, as England’s most famous lawyer, Sir Robert Morton, takes the titular boy’s proclamation of innocence apart piece by piece, before reversing the entire scene on its head.

Sharrock is also enormously aided by a charismatic central performance from Anne Marie-Duff as Alma. Arguably Duff is too complex and vital an actress for the comparatively straightforward role as written, but she brings enormous poignancy and compassion to a character who might well have been schematic in the extreme on the page. Rattigan’s conception of Alma is someone who might be morally lacking by the strictures of the time, but has an innate life force that stands in stark contrast to the prigs and the bullies who surround her.  For that, it’s worth seeing a variable but often fascinating play, written by a fading master.