27 June 2012

Where Angels Fear to Tread (starring Helena Bonham Carter and Rupert Graves)

I assume that Amazon recommended this film to me, some time ago, because I told them that I enjoyed 'Room with a View'. Or perhaps it was due to my liking films with some of the same actresses in. It's perhaps a pity that I didn't read the reviews more carefully; while most of them are high, I should have taken note of the mention of 'tragedy' which might have put me off.

'Where Angels Fear to Tread' is an adaptation of another of EM Forster's novels, although I haven't read it. And am not inspired to do so having watched the film. It's set in the early part of the 19th century, initially in the UK, and the majority in Italy. I found it difficult to get into - the sound quality of our DVD isn't that great, so it was hard to catch some of the conversation, but I got the gist of it. The recently widowed and rather strong-willed Lilia (Helen Mirren) is going on holiday in Italy with a rather serious companion, her friend Caroline (Helena Bonham Carter). Lilia's daughter Irma is to stay behind with her somewhat snooty in-laws.

Letters start to arrive, culminating in one announcing that Lilia has fallen in love and is getting married. Her hapless brother-in-law Philip (nicely played by Julian Graves) is sent out to stop this shocking event, only to find that he's too late. And then Lilia, past the first passionate stages of married life, discovers that life as an Italian wife is even more restrictive than it was in the UK.

So far so good. There are some mildly amusing moments and plenty of attractive scenery, as well as some nice Italian (and British) stereotypes of the era.  The cast are believable (albeit difficult to hear) and my only real annoyance in the first part of the film is that despite several conversations in Italian, there are no available subtitles on the DVD. I did frequently find myself confusing Caroline with Helena Bonham Carter's character Lucy in 'Room with a View' even though they have rather different personalities - but despite Caroline supposedly being rather dowdy, they looked very similar.

Unfortunately, the second part of the film features increasing tragedy, peppered with violence and sadness. Again I'm sure I missed quite a bit of the subtleties with the poor soundtrack (Helena Bonham Carter, quietly spoken anyway, is particularly difficult to hear) but the overall storyline was clear - and quite depressing. Even the ending was somewhat without hope. Perhaps it reflects real life, but I prefer films that provide positive escapism.

I was surprised to find that in both the UK and US, the rating is PG. Quite apart from the subject-matter being unsuitable for children, there was more violence than I was comfortable watching, and one decidedly intimate scene which admittedly did not show anything directly, but implied a great deal. I would rate this at least 12/PG-13.

Not a film I expect to watch again. But that's just my personal taste - others rate it highly, and it certainly has a high quality cast.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

22 June 2012

Shakespeare in Love (starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow)

We weren't entirely sure what to expect from 'Shakespeare in Love', but it was recommended to us by several friends. It sat on our to-be-watched shelf for some time until we pulled it out to see this week. We wondered if it might be based on real events, but soon realised that, while set in Elizabethan England and featuring some real people (including Her Majesty), the entire storyline was fictitious.

The plot revolves around Will Shakespeare as a young man, brilliantly portrayed by Joseph Fiennes. He's written a few good plays - though nothing really outstanding - but is much fonder of wine and women than he is of writing. Besides, he seems to have a case of writers' block, not helped by pressure from the theatre owners who are themselves under pressure from debt-collectors. The plague has had devastating effects on entertainment, and there are those who would love to see the theatres closed.

Despite the rather sordid background, and one of two decidedly unpleasant scenes, this is a fairly light-hearted look at the period. It was a bonus to discover that the first Queen Elizabeth was played by Judi Dench, who seemed entirely at home in the role in a variety of stunning costumes, with some delightful dry humour.

Meanwhile Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), a spirited young theatre-goer, finds herself pledged by her father to be married to someone she barely knows (Colin Firth as a rather unappealing suitor, Lord Wessex). Viola dresses up as a young boy and auditions for one of Shakespeare's plays... something that would have been quite shocking at the time. Even more shocking for an upper-class lady, she falls in love with Will and a passionate affair begins... alongside rehearsals for the new play which he is writing. It started out as 'Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter' but gradually changes as his affair progresses.

There humour is understated but undoubtedly there, making me smile several times. There's inevitably some hot-blooded romance although nothing actually explicit; we didn't notice any seriously bad language at all. The UK rating of 15 seems about right although I wouldn't have been surprised if it were only 12; the more prudish US censors have set it at R (18). I'd have thought this would be a good way for teenagers struggling with Shakespeare at high school to see him as a real person in context, and understand a little more of the way that his plays were written and acted.

The production is lavishly done with wonderful settings and costumes, the whole being a very enjoyable film which well deserved its many awards.  We watched one of the extras too, with some of the cast and writers talking about the way the film was made - very interesting.


Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews