Tag Archives: movies

Movies Reviews: Sissi, The Trilogy

When I was a little girl, the trilogy about Sissi, the unfortunate Austrian empress, was shown pretty much every Christmas season. I would always watch it. I remember my fascination with the beautiful Romy Schneider, and the glitz and glamour of the imperial court. Everything looked like a fairytale.

I may not have felt like that if I had been allowed to watch them all in their entirety. But come 9:00 pm, my mom, ignoring my begging to stay up just a little bit more, would send me swiftly to bed. When I became old enough to stay up till late, the movies were rarely shown.

So, I finally decided to track them down and finally view them all. Despite the appalling Italian dubbing, I enjoyed the movies a lot. Here are my thoughts on them:

Sissi (1955)

Sissi, the first movie in the trilogy, focuses on the fateful meeting of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his beautiful bride, Elizabeth of Bavaria. Elizabeth had travelled with her family to Bad Ischl, where her sister was supposed to be betrothed to Franz Ferdinand. But when the young Emperor met Sissi, he fell deeply in love with her, and declared he would marry no one else. Elizabeth, a free spirit and still immature young girl, was reluctant to become empress and take up the many responsibilities that came with that role. Yet, within the year, the couple was married.

The film is a highly romanticized account of their early relationship, with Sissi loving Franz as passionately as he loved her. Yet, you can still see the clouds looming in the background, as the young princess is torn between her love for her betrothed and her fear at being imprisoned in a gilded case at the Austrian court. Sissi, played by the lovely and talented Romy Schneider, is lively, spontaneous, and a tad mischievous. No wonder Franz, played by Karlheinz Böhm, whose life is strictly regulated by court etiquette and imperial duties, falls for her.

His mother, the Archduchess Sophie, believes Sissi unsuitable for her role, clearly stating her disapproval for the match, and, when it is evident that Franz will have his way, trying to turn her future daughter-in-law into a “proper” empress. She often comes across as cold and heartless, but that’s only because she anticipates the struggles her son and his bride will have to face in the future. Doesn’t matter how much they love each other, the demands of their empire will always come between them. Sissi’s family, instead, is, just like her, lively and spontaneous. The parents love each other and their brood of children very much and show their love at any opportunity.

The settings are beautiful. The mountain in Bavaria and Austria are breathtaking, and so is the imperial court with all its luxury and pageantry. Just like the costumes, the settings are as accurate as possible. I think this is the movie of the trilogy that I enjoyed the most as it perfectly captures the feelings of hope and joy that characterized the beginning of what turned out to be quite a tragic union.

The Young Empress (1956)

Elizabeth, now married, is doing her best to be a good empress. She’s learning foreign languages, especially Hungarian, which she, like the country, adores, and has a captivating, open, manner capable of charming all her subjects, even the most rebellious. She is a great asset to her imperial family, but she could have made even a bigger contribution if she had been better supported by her family. Instead, Franz often leaves his wife alone, and his mother decides, with his approval to take her young granddaughter away from her mother and raise her herself.

That was a cruel blow to Sissi, and the real beginning of her problems with her husband, as well as the breakdown of both her physical and mental health. Although not mentioned in the movie, Sissi would become so obsessed with her looks to starve herself and undergo rigorous exercise regimes to maintain her thin waist and looks, probably feeling like her body was the only thing in her life that she could control. Instead, what the movie shows is Sissi who, unable to endure life at court, starts spending more and more time away from it.

Costumes and settings too are once again beautiful and accurate. As in the first movie, all the actors do an excellent job. Schneider, though, shines above them all, poignantly portraying the charm and sorrows, privileges and tragedies of one of the most beautiful and famous women in the world.

Fateful Years Of An Empress

In the last movie of the trilogy, Sissi continues to capture the hearts of all she meets. But her marriage is still struggling and her health deteriorating. Although the movie doesn’t show the catalyst for her illness, which was the death of her first child, Sophie. Instead, throughout the movie, Sissi and Franz only have one child, Gisela. I understand the difficulties in telling Sissi’s story in just three movies. Including everything is certainly not possible. But focusing a bit more on the tragedies the couple faced would allow the viewer to better understand the empress’ illness and desperation.

Sissi gets so ill that doctors start despairing for her life. In the end, her mother Ludovika comes to her rescue. After her health is restored, Elizabeth starts travelling around Europe. But she still goes back to Franz, to be at his side when duty commands. One of this duties is the tour of the Italian regions annexed, against their will, to the empire. The imperial couple receives a cold, hostile reception, but once again Sissi, with her natural and unaffected charm, is able to win their love as well.

Fateful Years Of An Empress has the same pros as the other movies in the trilogy. Wonderful actors, stunning settings, and accurate costumes. Yet, it is the one that departs the most from history, which is why it is my least favourite. Even so, it’s a shame that Schneider felt so trapped in her role as Sissi that she refused to take part in more movies about the Austrian empress. They would have been wonderful too, I’m sure. Overall, though, it was a nice ending to a trilogy that captured quite well the first years of the marriage of the ill-fated lovers Sissi and Franz Joseph.

Have you ever seen the trilogy? If so, what do you think of it?

Movie Review: Lost In Austen

WARNING: THE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

I am a stickler for accuracy. That’s especially true when it comes to movies taken from or inspired by my favourite books, such as Pride & Prejudice. That’s why it took me a long, long time to sit down and watch Lost In Austen, an insane movie (originally a TV series) about Amanda, a fellow Janeite, who suddenly finds herself in the world of Pride & Prejudice, swapping places with Elizabeth Bennett. Sadly, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

I was warned that, to enjoy it, you really need to suspend all disbelief. But I was able to do so only to a certain extent. I could accept, although only barely, the travel details. Finding a door in your bathroom that leads to the world depicted in a book doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but then what time travel trick does? You must take a leap of faith to believe and enjoy these stories.

What I found a lot less believable was Amanda herself. Here is a girl, we are told, who has read Pride & Prejudice a thousand times and yet, once she finds herself in that world, she keeps making one mistake after another. It’s true that a lot of things are different, that the “plot” don’t exactly go forward as Austen planned, and that the characters aren’t very cooperative, behaving very differently from how we expect them to (they have no idea they are in a book after all).

But, you’d think that someone who has read the book so many times would at least know how to speak in 19th century English and have a basic knowledge of Regency manners. Apparently not. She tries, but fails miserably most of the time. She also keeps mumblings about how things aren’t going as they are supposed to, and how this person should end up married to that other person and so on, making me wonder why none of the other characters never summoned a doctor or something. I can’t blame Mrs Bennet for thinking that Amanda was some sort of contagious illness. She doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

I found it even more unbelievable that Mr Darcy should fall for Amanda. Mr Darcy wasn’t particularly fond of Elizabeth at first, but her devotion to her family, her upright character, and her wit eventually won him over. Amanda, every time they meet, either behaves like a lunatic or lies to him. And yet he falls in love with her. Why? How? This stuff could happen only in a movie. Jane Austen so wouldn’t have agreed.

What to say of the ending? To start with, it was way too rushed. Not all the loose ends were properly tied up, with is always disappointing. And so was Amanda’s decision to stay with Darcy rather than go back home. I can easily see why Elizabeth Bennet decided to stay in modern Hammersmith, but how can a modern woman used to the freedom and right to work we now enjoy be content with being a lady of leisure? Don’t get me wrong. I love Darcy as much as any other girl, but this ending just reinforces the myth that a husband, children, and a lot of money are all a woman needs to be happy. But we all know that, in a few years, Amanda will be bored stiff with it all. What then?

It’s not all bad, though. The actors are good, their lines witty, their costumes beautiful (well, as beautiful as Regency clothes can be, which isn’t much) and funny moments abound. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Amanda asked Mr Darcy to get into the water. I’d really like to know how she managed that! If, unlike me, you don’t mind all the crazy inconsistencies and are in the mood for something light that will just entertain you, rather than make you think, you may actually enjoy this. But, for sticklers like myself, there are just too many things that are wrong with it.

Movie Review: Northanger Abbey (1986)

I always thought that, out of all Jane Austen’s works, Northanger Abbey was the easiest to adapt in a movie. It is the most faced-paced, light-hearted, and features a Gothic element that works really well on screen. Yet, the 1986 film adaptation of this work falls short on so many levels. Where to start?

The movie is told through Catherine Morley’s eyes. As she fantasises a lot, we are treated to a lot of Gothic scenes, in which a helpless Catherine is saved from her enemies by a dashing hero. This scary element could have really added to the story, but it is so overused here to make the whole movie almost look like a cheap horror flick. That’s even more true because these fantasy scenes take up so much time that there just isn’t enough left to dedicate to the rest of the plot, which has been horribly cut and mangled.

Catherine meets Henry Tilney at a ball. But the whole occasion is cut so short that the viewer is left wondering what Catherine sees in him. John Thorpe, on the other hand, is present even too much at the beginning. The way he follows Catherine around everywhere, both with his eyes and body, is more reminiscent of a stalker than a suitor. And then, all of a sudden, he disappears. The friendship between Catherine and Isabella was developed too quickly too. One day they meet, the next Isabella reveals her love for James, and then the young man rushes to his parents to obtain their permission to marry.

I could cite many more examples, but these are enough to give you an idea of how many important scenes were removed to make room for Catherine’s Gothic dreams. They are a huge part of her personality, but if the movie-makers thought them so important, then they should have made the movie longer to fit everything in nicely. As it is, those who haven’t read the book are left wondering why the characters are acting the way they are. Why is Catherine interested in Henry? Why is John Thorpe interested in Catherine? Why is General Tilney so eager for Catherine to marry his son? Good luck figuring that out just by watching the movie.

A lot of the humour that makes Northanger Abbey such a wonderful satire of Gothic novels and pre-Regency society is also missing in the movie. The most obvious example of this? Henry Tilney’s characterization. A witty and charming young man, he’s a total bore in this movie. He spends more time preaching than charming Catherine, which is why it is so difficult to see what she finds in him. But at least Peter Firth did a decent job with the material he was given. He’s a great actor, and it’s not his fault if his Henry isn’t as brilliant as the Henry Austen penned.

What to say of the setting, costumes, and music? They are as beautiful as they are out of place. How could anyone think it was a good idea to choose Bodiam Castle as the location for the Northanger Abbey? Were there no abbeys available? The costumes are quite pretty, but a lot of characters wear things I doubt they would have been able to afford. And the ladies wear way too much makeup. The effect is nice, just not realistic. Ilona Sekacs’ score is a mixture of period music, new age, and synthesizers. Pretty and haunting, but hardly evokes the time period. I like the music, but I don’t think it is right for this movie.

So, didn’t I like anything about it? Well, I think all the actors, not just Firth, did their best with what they had to work with. The whole cast was excellent, but not enough to save the movie. Overall, this was a huge disappointment.

Did you see this adaptation? If so, what do you think of it?

Movie Review: The Lion In Winter (1968)

My life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. Henry Fitz-Empress, first Plantagenet, a king at twenty-one, the ablest soldier of an able time. He led men well, he cared for justice when he could and ruled, for thirty years, a state as great as Charlemagne’s. He married out of love, a woman out of legend. Not in Alexandria, or Rome, or Camelot has there been such a queen….

Christmas 1183. What should have been a joyous family occasion turned into a bitching-fighting tragedy. Like every year, King Henry II has reunited his family: his formidable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he keeps locked up in prison the rest of the time, and their three living sons, Richard, the eldest and Eleanor’s favourite; John, the youngest and Henry’s favourite; and Geoffrey, the middle son no one wants. What all the brothers want, though, is to be king, and with Eleanor now free to plot to put her favourite on the throne, against Henry’s wishes (he’d like to be succeeded by his beloved but incompetent youngest son), the holidays become an occasion for Henry to face the past, the way he’s lived his life, and how his deeds and mistakes will impact the future once he’s gone.

Straight away, Henry and Eleanor start playing the old game so beloved by estranged spouses of who can hurt the other more. To do it, they don’t hesitate to use their sons (who in their turn, plot with the French King Philip II, then at the English court to discuss the betrothal of his sister Alais), Henry’s mistress and Richard’s betrothed Alais (who had been raised by Eleanor like if she had been her own daughter; are you getting an headache now?), hurtful and probably false revelations about past affairs, and every other means at their disposal. In the end, Henry decides that he’s had enough of his family. He’s determined to get an annulment, declare their sons bastards, and get married to his mistress so that he can father more docile sons. Eleanor, of course, cannot allow this.

The Lion In Winter perfectly capture the tempestuous relationship between the royal couple. But while they were busy outwitting each other, and scheming for power, loss of which, as Eleanor all too well knew, could lead to imprisonment and death, is clear that the two still have feelings for each other. And yet they can’t help but hurt each other at any given opportunity. How can such a strong and powerful love as theirs turn to such distrust and hate? That’s the question that haunts Henry and, especially, Eleanor. And what’s even worse s that they both know that it’s too late to go back. Too much has happened in the past and, now that they’ve embarked on this destructive course, they must follow it to its very bitter end.

Katharine Hepburn, which played Eleanor, and Peter O’Toole, who gave life to Henry, were absolutely brilliant. Their performances were amazing, and so gut-wrenching. Both Eleanor and Henry were two formidable characters, and both actors stepped up to the challenge brilliantly, bringing to life both their strengths and vulnerabilities. Anthony Hopkins (Richard), John Castle (Geoffrey), and Timothy Dalton (Philip) were all great too. Instead, I found the performances of Nigel Terry, who played the annoying and useless John, and Jane Merrow, who played the dull Alais, less convincing. Merrow, in particular, was just ok. But maybe that just helps to emphasize how boring and safe Alais was compared to Eleanor and why, in his last years, Henry would find such a woman attractive.

Although The Lion In Winter is clearly set in the past, with costumes and settings that recreate the medieval era quite faithfully, the story feels very modern. The struggle between the family members is something that most viewers will be able to relate to. That, together with Hepburn and O’Toole’s performances, makes this movie a must-watch.

Movie Review: Gypsy (1962)

Many people consider Gypsy the best musical ever made. I’m not sure about that, but it is definitely one of the most tragic. Loosely based upon the life of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee and her aggressive stage mother, Mama Rose, the story shows how, under the glitz and glamour of showbiz, lies a seedy and corrupted world where becoming famous, by all means necessary, is the only thing that counts.

Gypsy Rose Lee, or Louise as she was initially called, never wanted to become famous. A quiet, anonymous life was all she craved as a child. But her mother would have none of it. Deprived as a child of her chance to become a star, she was determined that her daughters were gonna make it in vaudeville. She never seriously believed in Louise’s talent, though, and the little girl ended up dancing in the background dressed as a boy while her younger sister June took the prominent place in the limelight.

Despite all her efforts, the domineering and resourceful Rose only managed to achieve modest success for a brief time. Yet, she remained unwilling to make changes to the act and accept that vaudeville was dying, thus sabotaging the dream she had for her daughters. Eventually June, who, unlike her sister, really wanted to make it as an actress, got tired of always playing Baby June, got married and left. Louise hoped that her mother would now finally give up her showbiz dream, marry Herbie, and live quietly ever after. But Rose isn’t capable of that. Instead, she decided to turn Rose into a star. Eventually she becomes one. But not in vaudeville. In burlesque.

Rose isn’t happy about that. It’s true that she pushes her daughter on the stage for the first time, but she stresses that she should perform life a lady, just lowering her shoulder strap at the most. But Louise, who had always believed to be ugly and talentless, finds in burlesque something she’s good at. And she discovers how pretty she really is. For someone as damaged as her, it’s easy to mistake the applause and cheers from the leering men in the crowd for love and approval. And love her they might, but in the totally wrong way. Louise, for her part, tries to make her act lady-like, but in the end, that just becomes a gimmick that cannot hide the fact that she’s making a living by taking her clothes off for crowds of men.

Natalie Wood is great in the part of Gypsy Rose Lee. She has a naive, vulnerable charm that captures the torments, insecurities, and abuse Louise suffered as a child and that led her to choose a career as a stripper. With a mother like Rose, she never had the chance to be anything else. And while it would be easy to see Rose only as a monster mom, she is a victim too. Abandoned at a young age by her mother, and never receiving the support she needed to make her dreams come true by her father, Rose devotes all her efforts to give her daughters the life she always wanted to live. But by so doing, she ends up alone. Rosalind Russell played her, with her exuberance, restlessness, and many contradictions, perfectly.

The musical numbers are plentiful, beautiful, and short. My favourite songs are “Some People”, where Rose explains that she just can’t live the boring, domesticated life her daughters so desperately need and “Rose’s Turn”, in which she pours her heart out when, in the end, she’s finally left alone on the stage to reflect about her failures. It’s a powerful number. Unfortunately, the songs are so famous that not everyone listens the lyrics or music anymore, which is really a shame.

Gypsy is a great all round musical, with glitz and glamour, tragic and drama, wonderful music and brilliant acting. Although it can at times feel like the movie’s glamourizing strippers, its aim is to explain what led Gypsy Rose Lee to become one. The musical is a powerful reminder of the damage stage moms can inflict on their children, ruining their chances to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Sadly, it is a lesson too many parents haven’t learned yet.

Movie Review: Anne Of The Thousand Days

For six years, this year, and this, and this, and this, I did not love him. And then I did. Then I was his. I can count the days I was his in hundreds. The days we bedded. Married. Were Happy. Bore Elizabeth. Hated. Lusted. Bore a dead child… which condemned me… to death. In all one thousand days. Just a thousand. Strange. And of those thousand, one when we were both in love, only one, when our loves met and overlapped and were both mine and his. And when I no longer hated him, he began to hate me. Except for that one day.

I’ve always been fascinated about Anne Boleyn and have been reading anything I could lay my hands on about her, but when it comes to movies, I tend to procrastinate. It took me almost 32 years to finally watch Anne Of The Thousand Days, the famous movie adapted from a Broadway play of the same name, and when I did, I was somewhat disappointed. It’s not bad at all, but I guess, after all the hype, I expected something different… better. I can see why the movie got mixed reviews when it came out because I have mixed feelings about it too.

Let’s start with the good. Richard Burton is the best Henry VIII I have ever seen. He just exudes the Tudor monarch from every pore. He perfectly portrays Henry’s obsessive lust for Anne, his desperate determination to have a son, and his tendency to blame others for his problems and justify his cruel actions towards them. Had they died his hair red, his transformation would have been complete.

Genevieve Bujold was equally good. Her Anne is fiery and beautiful, not afraid to speak her mind about what she thinks nor to fight for her rights and those of her daughter. You would have never guessed this was her first role in Englis. She is my second favourite Anne Boleyn after Anne Dormer, although that’s mostly because of limitations imposed by Bujold’s Anne by the script. Whereas Dormer played Anne in a mini series that allowed her character to develop and show all its facets, Bujould had only two hours and a half to portray Anne Boleyn.

Because of that, you don’t get to see the vivacious charms, quick wit, and gracefulness that so captivated men. Henry is already captivated by Anne when the movie starts, not giving the viewers any reason about what caught his eye about her other than her beauty. And Anne’s wit comes out only to rebuff Henry’s advances and makes fun of him, his clumsy attempts at courting her, and his failures to get his first marriage annulled. The movie doesn’t even show her interest in religious reform. It was Anne who gave Henry a book arguing for the supremacy of kings over Popes, but in the movie it’s actually Cromwell that points that out to him.

Anne Boleyn should be the star of the movie, and although she has many great lines, like the one mentioned at the top of this post, her portrayal only shows us some sides of her character. That’s why I felt that this movie was mostly about Henry VIII and his obsessive lust for Anne than Anne herself. Bujold’s performance, though, is too good to relegate her Anne in the background.

Because the movie “only” lasted almost two hours and a half, it is quite rushed. Some parts of the movie, such as that about the divorce proceedings, are too condensed, short, and, to someone who’s not familiar with the whole story, a little confusing too. There are also quite a lot of inaccuracies. While it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for liberties to be taken in movies, there are some of them that are harder for me to forgive. Two examples are Henry’s presence at Anne’s trial, during which he personally interrogates Mark Smeaton, and his last meeting with Anne while the jury is deliberating. In reality, once Anne was arrested, he never saw her again.

Overall, Anne Of The Thousand Days features brilliant actors that make their characters come to life again, beautiful costumes, and poignant quotes. But it is too rushed, takes too many liberties with history, and, most importantly, doesn’t portray all the complex facets of Anne’s personality that made her such a fascinating and charming woman and allowed her to both rise so high and fall so low.

Have you seen this movie? If so, what did you think of it?

Movie Review: Mayerling

On 30 January 1889, the dead bodies of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his lover, Baroness Maria Vetsera, were discovered in the Imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. The official version is that Rudolf killed Maria in a suicide pact before taking his own life. But, another, more sinister theory suggests that the two lovers were murdered by political enemies. Personally, I believe the assassination theory. The suicide pact has always seemed too simple an explanation to me.

Plenty of royals, even married ones, have found ways to be with the women they loved. So, was suicide really necessary? It’s also true though, that as Rudolph used drugs and probably suffered from bouts of depression, he may have thought there was no other way for him to be with Maria bar in death. Depression twists our perception of things and can make any situation seem utterly hopeless and any problem without solution. Self-medication with drugs just makes things so much worse. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure what happened, unless new evidence should be discovered in the future.

This post, though, is not about my thoughts about Rudolph’s death, but on the 1968 movie inspired by the events at Mayerling. The movie espouses the suicide pact theory. Rudolph (played by Omar Sharif), kept away by his father from any real position of power for his liberal ideas and thwarted in his desire to be with Maria (Catherine Denevue), becomes so depressed that he decides to take his own life. Maria, who doesn’t want to live without him, asks him to kill her too. 

Although Sharif and Denevue are both great actors, they lack chemistry. There is so little spark between them that you can hardly believe they are madly in love with each other. Of course, this could have been intentional. This story is more about despair than passion, but still, I’d have loved to see more of the latter at least in the initial stages of their relationship, before the obstacles in their path seemed so large and indomitable to destroy all their hopes and lead them, ultimately, to their deaths.

The lack of emotions permeates the entire movie though. The cast is full of brilliant actors – James Mason plays the Emperor Franz Josef, Ava Gardner the Empress Elizabeth, and James Robertson Justice the Prince of Wales – but their performances are quite cold and detached, even when away from the prying eyes of the court. Instead, the movie is a feast for the eyes. The costumes, settings, and music are absolutely stunning and show us the opulence and decadence of a world long gone. Just for that, this movie is well worth a watch.

Movie Review: Moulin Rouge (1952)

Baz Luhrmann’s dazzling musical extravaganza, Moulin Rouge, is one of my all-time favourite movies. But I recently discovered another film of the same name, shot ion 1952, that brings the Moulin Rouge to life in a much more realistic way. This Moulin Rouge tells the story of Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, the scion of an ancient aristocratic family who, crippled at a young age, turns his back on his family and the shallow and disappearing world they inhabit, to make it as a street artist in Paris.

Convinced he will never find love because  he’s a cripple, Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer) finds solace in his art, drinking, and the company of the Moulin Rouge crew who, being outcasts themselves, treat him like one of their own. One day, he meets Marie (Cloette Marchand), a streetwalker he falls in love with. But Marie isn’t capable of loving anyone and just ends up breaking the artist’s heart. This just makes Henri even more cynical and bitter, to the point that he sabotages every future chance at romantic happiness. Even when the right woman comes along, he’s unable, or unwilling, to let her into his heart, and pushes her away instead. Only in his art, he never loses faith, but even that won’t be enough to save him in the end.

Jose Ferrer’s portrayal is both witty and haughty. He perfectly captures and conveys Toulouse-Lautrec’s need to be loved and appreciated for who he really is, but at the same time his cynicism and bitterness give him an air of remoteness and indifference that never allows the viewer to feel much sympathy for him. Henri both amused and annoyed me, but never moved me. I felt a lot more sorry for Marie, the girl who broke his heart, because, despite all her faults, she was more real.

The movie portrays both the glitz and glamour and the dark side and squallor of Bohemian Paris, as well as both the triumphs and failures of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life and career. And yet, like most Hollywood movies of the time (and of today, as some can argue), it is highly sanitized. Henri visited brothels quite frequently and caught syphilis which (together with his heavy drinking) caused his death. Yet, there’s no sign of that in the movie. Even his relationship with streetwalker Marie is romanticized, putting the emphasis on Henri’s feelings for her rather than on her profession.

The movie is a feast for the eyes. It won two Academy Awards, one for Best Art Direction – Set Direction (Color) and Best Costume Design (Color). It’s not surprising as bright colours are a big part of the movie. Together with the extravagant costumes, beautiful music, and colourful characters, it splendidly brings to life the excitement and joie de vivre of Paris and the Moulin Rouge, and of a long ago vanished era. It drags on a bit, but overall, it still makes for a compelling watch.

Movie Review: The Madness Of King George

King George III is remembered for two things: losing the American colonies and going mad. It’s his first bout of madness that is the subject of “The Madness of King George”. Although described as a comedy (and it does have lots of funny and witty scenes in it that will make you laugh out loud), it often feels more like a tragedy. Nigel Hawthorne does an excellent job at portraying the irascible and moral, stubborn and modest King as he descends into madness.

Hawthorne’s portrayal is very nuanced and vividly expresses the ranges of emotions, from anger to confusion and pain, the King experienced as his illness degenerated, as wells as the suffering and humiliation he felt as he submitted to the strait jacket and the harsh treatments his doctors employed to try and cure him. And, unlike the real King George, whose submissive and obedient wife became despondent and depressed at the first signs of his illness, Nigel’s King has a devoted Queen, brought to life by the brilliant Helen Mirren, who is determined to do what it takes to make him well. And when she is prevented from even seeing him, her pain is heartbreaking.

The Prince of Wales, played by Rupert Everett, is cast as the villain. Pleased at the King’s malady, he is busy conniving with politicians to be proclaimed regent and rule in his father’s place, and enjoying his time with his morganatic Catholic wife Maria Fitzherbert. I though this one-sided portrait of him quite lacking, as it didn’t show the viewer the conflicting feelings Prince George experienced at this time. In him, the genuine concern for his father was at war with the ardent desire to finally exercise some real power. In the movie, the frustrated prince keeps asking his father for something meaningful to do, but the only reply he gets is: “Smile and wave to the crowd, it’s what you’ re paid for!”. It’s quite hilarious.

Despite several inaccuracies, lots of attention is paid to detail to ensure that the court and the world George III inhabited were represented in as much an authentic way as it is possible. The costumes, complete with wigs, and the customs and etiquette of the time are fairly accurate. Overall, this is a wonderful movie that deals with some important themes, such as mental illness and the harsh way the patients were treated in the past, the loss of power and its shift from monarchy to parliament, and family feuding. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

~John Keats

John Keats is one of my favourite poets, so of course I had to watch Bright Star, the Jane Campion’s film about his love story with his muse Fanny Brawne. I didn’t know what to expect, apart from a tragic ending, but what I got was a charming, if sad movie, that, however, lacks that something to make it a true masterpiece.

Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), with her wit and her needle, captures the attention of Keats (Ben Wishaw) straight away. Fanny is a sort of aspiring fashion designer, always creating something new and beautiful with her needle (the clothes she wears in the movie, which I was actually surprised to like as I find Regency fashion terrible, are said to be her own elegant and elaborate creations). When Keats brother dies, she stitches a beautifully cushion for his grave, touching the poet deeply. But Fanny is also unafraid to speak her mind. After their first meeting, she’s intrigued enough to dispatch her sister to buy his book, wanting to see for herself if he’s a genius or a fool, and then, doesn’t hesitate to tell Keats she didn’t thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of course, love blossoms, but the path of true love never runs smoothly, especially when, like Keats, you’re too poor to marry. But that’s not the only thing that keeps them apart. Charles Brown, Keats’ best friend, rather than supporting the budding relationship of the poet, is painfully jealous of Fanny, and quite cruel to her. And then, of course, there’s Keats’ illness. There’s no happy ending for this couple, and yet they remain faithful and steadfast till the end. The devotion they have for each other is very touching, and what real love is all about.

However, Bright Star doesn’t have much of a plot. Instead, it’s more of a visual poem. Each scene features beautiful costumes, settings, music, and an emotional atmosphere. I especially loved the scene were the bedroom was filled with butterflies, all flying around in the small space. Absolutely stunning. The acting too was great. Both the leads and the supporting characters did a wonderful job with their characters and there was a nice chemistry between Cornish and Wishaw. Wishaw’s portrayal of Keats and his conflicting feelings, torn between his love for his art and that for Fanny, was particularly touching and convincing.

Bright Star is not your conventional love story. It’s a story of love and loss, poignant and emotional. It almost looks like an adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s works, but with no unexpected inheritance or a long-awaited marriage to put everything right. Yet, the slow plot and minimal dialogue can’t help but disappoint quite a few people. Does Bright Star make up in imagery and poignancy what it lacks in storyline? That’s up to you to decided. It almost did for me.