15 February 2013

The Prince and Me (starring Julia Stiles and Luke Mably)

I’m not quite sure how this ended up on my wishlist, since I had not heard of any of the cast of this film. Perhaps it was my liking for other ‘rom coms’, or perhaps someone recommended it to me. In any case, I was pleased to be given it for Christmas, and, in the aftermath of a protracted cold and cough, it promised some lighthearted viewing that would not tax my brain cells too much.

‘The Prince and Me’ has been called a modern Cinderella story, but in my view, that’s far from the case. Paige (Julia Stiles) might be a commoner, but she’s party of a contented farming family, with parents who welcome her and any random friends she might bring home. She’s studying to be a doctor in Wisconsin, and is highly focused on her work, slightly to the annoyance of her friends who are rather more into having fun. Paige works in the evening as a waitress, presumably to fund her studies - but she’s no geek; she likes hanging out with friends, and although she doesn’t want romance (having no time free) she’s a very likeable, believable young woman.

Eddie (Luke Mably) is the Crown Prince of Denmark. But, at the start of the film, he has hardly been a Prince Charming. He likes nothing more than fast cars and fast women... and is also utterly bored. His parents are almost in despair.

Then Eddie sees a TV show in which university students in Wisconsin remove their tops on request, and decided that this would be a much better place for him than stuffy old Denmark. Naturally he tells his parents that he wants to study in the US and turn his life around - and that he does not even want them to fund him. They insist that his minder Soren (Ben Miller) should accompany him, and Eddie decides to be incognito, determined to throw himself entirely into student life.

There are plenty of amusing moments as Eddie and Soren learn to deal with the squalid nature of student accommodation, the demands of university classes, and the fact that the girls are nothing like the TV show. Eddie and Paige find themselves unwilling lab partners, and - unsurprisingly - their initial hostility develops into a real friendship...

Oh, it’s predictable, of course. At least, the ending is. But there’s a lot in this film, which is much more intelligent than the DVD cover would suggest. We get quite an insight into royal life, at least, from the vantage point of Hollywood. I doubt if it’s realistic, but there are some rather stunning sets and costumes. There’s also a very funny interlude at Paige’s home town, where Eddie takes part in a traditional lawnmower race at a country fair - and when watching the extra later, we learned that this is based on a real event, and that members of the lawnmower racing association were involved in this part of the movie.

It’s Julia Stiles who really carries this film, as far as I’m concerned. She has just the right blend of indignation, inspiration and imagination. I thought that her character made an excellent 21st century role model; I did have some concern towards the end, that she might deny all her principles... but then was very impressed with the way it was all resolved.

There were several places where we laughed - yes, my husband enjoyed this as much as I did - and several where we were completely engrossed in the action. Expecting a bit of silliness, we enjoyed this film very much.

We watched the extras afterwards - just the standard deleted scenes, a few bloopers, and some commentary. The bloopers were mildly amusing, the deleted scenes interesting (there were a couple which we felt should have been included in the movie). The commentary was fascinating, describing the way the film was made, interviewing the person who produced the amazing costumes for the royalty, and giving some insights into how the film was achieved.

Definitely recommended.

(I understand that there are several sequels, which are considered inferior and not worth watching, partly because Paige is played by a different actress)

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

04 February 2013

My House in Umbria (starring Maggie Smith)

From time to time, Amazon recommends various films to me based on others I have rated. I can only assume that it suggested 'My House in Umbria' because I have liked other films featuring Dame Maggie Smith. It sounded like an interesting film so I put it on my wishlist, and was given it for Christmas.

Maggie Smith is, indeed, brilliant as the romantic novelist Emily Delahunty. It's only gradually that we learn that she has a very sordid past; I'm not sure that it really adds anything to the plot, other than to show the contrast with her current wealthy and altruistic lifestyle.

On her way to Rome by train, a terrorist bomb explodes, killing four passengers, injuring others - including Emily - and orphaning a child.

I assume this film, which was originally made for TV, is set in about the 1950s, based on the cars, old-fashioned record players and general props. It moves at that kind of pace, and is primarily a character-based story: As the survivors recover, Emily invites them - including the orphaned Aimee - to stay at her house in Umbria. There they all begin to find some measure of healing... at least, until Aimee's rather cold uncle arrives.

Gorgeous scenery, and wonderful acting by Dame Maggie, who must have been about 70 when this was made in 2003, but could easily pass for 60.  I was also very impressed with Ronnie Barker, playing an elderly general who lost his daughter in the explosion. It's a far cry from his usual humorous roles.  Emmy Clark as Aimee is a bit flat, but then her character is clearly suffering from what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.  She and Emily strike up an odd friendship, based perhaps on their mutual neediness.

There are one or two moments of humour amidst the slightly dark plot, and a wonderful inspector (Giancarlo Giannini) who is determined to get to the bottom of the explosion. I wasn't sure that I entirely understood the political ramifications, but it didn't much matter.

I suppose my only slight niggle is that Emily's character becomes rather strange towards the end, forcing confidences and drinking too heavily - something that seems unconnected to her earlier character. Still, the story flows well, and we found ourselves caught up entirely with the diverse people as they gradually blended into a little family.  The ending, if a little unlikely, is very satisfying -  we liked the film very much.

'My House in Umbria' is rated 12 in the UK, which seems about right to me, given the flashbacks of past abuse in Emily's life. I doubt if it would be of much interest to anyone under the age of about 14 or 15 anyway.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews