A Bigger Splash – Film Review

A Bigger Splash

World-famous rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from throat surgery on a small Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when onto the island and into their lives bursts her former producer and beau Harry (Ralph Fiennes) with his recently discovered daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Trapped together in a luxurious villa the scene is set for jealousy, sex, and resentment as tensions of all kinds brew between a quartet of troubled characters; a ticking time bomb of hormones simmering in the heat.

Swinton is a chameleon as an actor and it is always a surprise to see what kind of character she will be playing. In A Bigger Splash Swinton plays it incredibly low-key as she tackles the role of a mostly mute singer who quietly oozes cool and sexuality. Swinton playing a more reserved character allows for Ralph Fiennes to go large as her bombastic ex. Rather than be cool and subtly sexual Fiennes is giving it his all, shouting from the rooftops and blasting sexual energy towards anyone foolish enough to cross his path. Before Fiennes arrives everything is serene but once he enters the film all is noise and energy. Fiennes is pure dad dancing, pelvis grinding, obnoxious energy and has never been better. He blasts into the calm poolside living with an unsettling jolt last seen produced by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. What a great double bill those films would make.

A Bigger Splash 2

Completing the quartet are Dakota Johnson as Harry’s daughter and Matthias Schoenaerts as Marianne’s partner and Harry’s former bestie. Both are more difficult to read that their counterparts as they observe the actions of others and quietly plot away in their heads. Johnson gives an infinitely more complex performance that Fifty Shades allowed and a sexier one too. I realise I’ve mentioned sex in every other sentence in this review but it runs at the heart of the film. While the actual sex in the film is minimal it is sex that drives every character’s motivations. It is what they are pursuing, resenting, or trying to avoid.

Luca Guadagnino’s direction gives us a film that is positively humming with energy. To watch the film is to have your pace racing. His camera moves around with great inventiveness and the music is at times playful and others timeless. Most importantly he has made a film that is a complete joy to watch. He has dialled up Fiennes to 11 and it is this performance that makes or break the film. Watching A Bigger Splash was pure enjoyment and admiration; a fine two hours spent in the dark of the cinema.

A Bigger Splash is a big, bold, brash, funny and shocking drama.

A Bigger Splash is in cinemas now.

The Invisible Woman – Film Review

The Invisible Woman - Felicity Jones

When watching a romantic drama you are well within your rights to expect the film to deliver two things; both romance and drama. Sadly The Invisible Woman does not satisfy in either of these departments as alas Felicity Jones has returned to films that aren’t quite good enough.

Ralph Fiennes is following up his perfectly fine directorial debut Coriolanus with a period drama about Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) and his young mistress Nelly (Felicity Jones). Nelly is the invisible woman of the title as her relationship with Dickens is one that is both formally arranged and kept a secret. As a director Fiennes adapts well to the change of pace as The Invisible Woman adopts a much lighter, quieter, and subtler tone to Coriolanus and Ralph is more than capable of coaxing fantastic performances from his cast including, but not limited to, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Hollander, and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Sadly the one actor Fiennes fails to properly shepherd is himself. Much as in Coriolanus his performance feels all too stagey and over the top. Fiennes’ Dickens is a bounding man filled with silliness and joy but I could never quite shake the feeling that I was watching a performance rather than a real character. Fiennes’ acting was on display for all to see like seeing a giant zip going down the back of his costume. There is no denying that Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor but when it comes to directing himself on-screen I have so far found him a little too unrestrained and theatrical.

The Invisible Woman - Ralph Fiennes Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones in contrast is fantastic (of course I would say that). Her performance is one of subtlety and nuance which is often stomped out by Fiennes pantomiming around by her side. The film’s strongest moments come in its framing scenes in which an older Nelly is looking back on the affair as she faces moving on with her life. Dickens is now referred to as merely a family friend rather than the greatest love of her life. Jones’ stoney gaze as she walks along a beach contemplating her future and her past is a masterclass in understated performance that Fiennes should spend some time considering.

Back in the period of Nelly’s relationship with Dickens things unravel and the film fails to convince. I never really felt a spark between the pair of supposed lovers and their relationship felt cold and dispassionate as a result. While you could see on the surface why Dickens might be physically attracted to Nelly and she to his stature and confidence they never interacted enough to give one another to fall head over heels in love. We are supposed to believe in a love strong enough for Nelly’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) to allow the affair, and for Dickens to betray his wife (a brilliantly rejected and dejected Joanna Scanlan), but frankly it all seemed like they were getting a little carried away.

Without a romance to believe in and no real drama considering everybody pretty much OK-ed the affair, we are left with just a collection of fine performances, one overacting director, and a lot of wigs and bonnets. Not without its merits The Invisible Woman is another case of a good premise going unfulfilled.

The Invisible Woman is in selected UK cinemas on 7th February and is released nationwide on 21st February.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Coriolanus – LFF Review

I lack any of the skills needed to write a satisfactory synopsis for Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s more complex plays so instead I point you towards Wikipedia to set the scene fully. Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Roman general Caius Martius, at first celebrated for fighting off rival forces from the Volscian army but later banished from Rome due to complicated political plotting. To take revenge on the city that betrayed him Martius joins the Volscian army, turning against his family and joining forces with his blood enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Coriolanus being one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, things don’t end well.

Fiennes and writer John Logan have brought Coriolanus into the modern-day, not through the dialogue but certainly in the setting; now a war-torn contemporary city filled with gunfire and explosions. The start of the film is incredibly intense, filled with loud gun fights, Shakespearean shouting and plenty of blood. This is all a bit much before 10am on a Sunday morning and it’s a relief once this all dies down when we can get back to studied dialogue and acting we Brits do so well.

That’s not to say that the Shakespearean shouting is all done. Ralph Fiennes seems unable to rein himself in as he spits his way through every monologue, trying to reach the back row of the upper circle but instead coming on a little strong considering he is in close-up rather than on stage. The rest of the cast, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain, give much more understated and cinema friendly performances. As a director Fiennes is restrained; keeping the camera moving but allows room for the actors to strut their stuff.

The highlight of the film is the appearance of Jon Snow as a newsreader, surprisingly comfortable with Shakespeare’s dialogue and a big help in grounding the film in our reality. Gerard Butler also impressed with his best work to date.

Coriolanus is a fine modern adaptation of nobody’s favourite play, suffering a little from overacting and a slightly saggy plot.

Coriolanus is in UK cinemas on 20th January 2012.

Page Eight – Tonight

Often the term “TV movie” means something of much lower quality than either regular TV or any film in the cinema, but this is different. This is the BBC and this is David Hare, a man with two Oscar nominations under his belt. Page Eight is a spy thriller about an MI5 officer (Bill Nighy) who sets out to find the truth after his friend and colleague dies suddenly.

Did you see what name I slipped in back there? That’s right, Bill Nighy is the star of this film. Bill Francis Nighy. And he’s not the only name to get excited about; Michael Gambon, Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones round out the cast. It’s no surprise this “TV movie” has been doing the festival circuit with actors like that on board.

Page Eight is on BBC One tonight at 9pm, and is followed by David Hare’s The Hours. What can I say? I’m excited.

The Harry Potter Retrospective – The Adults

While the younger cast of the Harry Potter series may well have been works in progress, the adult roles were filled with pretty much every working actor in Britain with a familiar face. It was these actors who initially kept us coming back for more, without whom we may never have learnt to love the boy wizard and his chums. Below we run through our top fifteen of the adult performances across the eight films in alphabetical order. We tried to whittle it down with no success.

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
Alan Rickman as Severus SnapeWe start with an actor whose performance has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, and often in the same film. As Harry’s most consistent antagonist Snape offered up an ambiguous character, often seeming to be more evil that he was. What makes Rickman’s performance legendary are his epic pauses and dangerously slow delivery, as if trying to get as much screen time as his brief dialogue will allow. In the final film Rickman delivers both his slowest speech and his most moving performance. There are few better in this list.

David Bradley as Argus Filch
David Bradley as Argus FilchIt’s hard to believe that in the earlier films the major danger was being caught out of bed by Filch, a far cry from the fantastical battles the franchise concludes with. While often a menace to our heroes, Filch was ultimately a fun character bringing two of the biggest laughs in the finale and a warm nostalgic feeling with them.
Continue reading