Philomena – LFF Film Review

Philomena

Ah, Judi Dench. Does it get any better than seeing her take the lead role in a film? I have a great love for the Dame and was very excited to get to see her take the title role in Philomena. The film is based upon the true story of an Irish Catholic woman’s search for the son she was forced to give up as an unmarried mother. Despite trying to find him for years she has had no success due to lack of co-operation from the nuns who took her child away. On her son’s fiftieth birthday she finally tells her daughter about the missing member of their family and together they approach Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who is looking for a human interest story to gain a foothold back in journalism.

Thanks to the efforts of Sixsmith, largely driven by a need for a success rather than any emotional attachment to the story, Philomena and Martin trace her son from Ireland to America and go on a transatlantic journey in pursuit of the truth. Along the way Martin softens towards Philomena’s plight and they connect over the voyage of discovery despite often coming to clashes due to differing backgrounds and impatience with one another’s religious beliefs. Martin becomes increasingly sympathetic as you see just how distressed he becomes at the way Philomena has been treated and the fact that he ends up taking greater offence even than she does at the crimes of the Church.

Director Stephen Frears has had a mixed bag of films in recent years with the likes of The Queen and Tamara Drewe but with Philomena he is back on top form. Despite a slightly shaky start during which not all the jokes were landing the film gradually warmed up the audience with the laughs coming much more easily as the film went on. Co-writer Steve Coogan was for a change more of the straight man as it was Judi Dench who got the lion’s share of the killer lines. Admittedly sometimes this was as simple as hearing Dench swear, because seeing older characters use curse words is always good for an easy laugh, but often it was more through her excellent portrayal of a woman who can wax lyrical about the salad cart at a Harvester or recall in detail the plot of the romance novel she has been reading. Philomena is a vibrant character and not merely a deperate victim of curcumstance.

Philomena is not an out-and-out comedy however as the story being told is a complicated one involving the forced separation of a mother and child. Some of the discoveries made in America were heartwarming and others heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to admit that this film brought about my first tears of the festival. It must have been the lack of sleep…

Not quite perfect but a funny and emotional film that give Judi Dench’s acting chops a too infrequent showcase. Steve Coogan co-stars in his fourth excellent film of the year showing he is far more than just Alan Partridge. I laughed, I cried, I text my mum and sister to ensure they go and see it.

Philomena screens at the festival on the 16th, 17th and 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 1st November 2013.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Neil and Rob Gibbons – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Screenwriters Interview

Neil and Rob Gibbons

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa opened in UK cinemas yesterday and our friends over at AskMen.com have been lucky enough to sit down with the film’s screenwriters Neil and Rob Gibbons to talk about breaking into comedy and working with Steve Coogan on writing Alan Partridge from Mid Morning Matters through to Alpha Papa. They were also kind enough to let us share with you our highlight from the unedited interview so read on below where Neil and Rob discuss how they came to write for UK comedy’s most cringeworthy character and what collaborating with Steve Coogan is really like.

Neil: [Our] new agent sent the scripts to Baby Cow and literally within 48 hours we were sat in front of Henry Normal and Steve Coogan, with them saying “we really like your stuff, I really liked the line about” this or the way you did that.

Rob: When you’ve been struggling to get somewhere and you have those guys not just saying it’s good, but saying a specific line, then you’re just, “wow”. Actually, the line that Steve liked was pretty shit, but, you know.

It was a sitcom about a guy with an imaginary friend, of which there are quite a few around, but they just liked elements of it and some of the lines. So Steve said that he liked the Northern sensibility of it, which fitted with the way he used to do Paul and Pauline Calf. And that he’d been looking for writers for a few years with the same sensibility and quality of lines that could basically bring them back for a one-off. He then asked us if we’d be interested in doing that and coming up with a half-hour show. The meeting finished and we went to the lift. Steve’s assistant followed us out and said, “Boys, I know Steve can be quite forceful. I just wanted to let you know, it’s entirely up to you, you don’t have to say yes and take your time.” And we said, “Oh, thank you. We will, thank you.” And the lifts doors shut and we were like, “Of course we’re going to fucking do it!” So, anyway, we wrote it, but it didn’t for some reason. But from there, we started doing more stuff with them, mainly for the tour he did a few years ago with a lot of his characters.

Neil: At the party after his tour had wrapped up, Steve said that he was planning on Alan doing this travelogue programme, where he rediscovers the old Britain through blacksmiths and stuff like that. But the germ of that idea we later brought back for Places of My Life. But he seemed to like our Partridge style. There’s two versions of Alan, one on stage and one “real Alan”. Mid Morning Matters happened quite soon after that. From that point on, we’ve been all Partridge.

Mid Morning Matters

Rob: I remember being in meetings with Steve and improvising Partridge material. You have ten minutes of absolutely nothing and finally you get a great line and feel terrific for the rest of the day. And Neil would say to me the next day, “you realise that was in series two of I’m Alan Partridge, don’t you? I just didn’t want to say in the meetings.” 90% of the time it’s me, Neil and Steve in a room and Armando if he’s around.

Neil: He’s a sort-of godfather. He’s very good at anchoring things back to the Partridge essence. So, if you take too much of a divergence, he’ll close that road.

Rob: With Mid Morning Matters, which were self-contained 12 minute episodes just in the radio studio, we would write a script, take it in, pull it apart with Steve and rebuild it again. But sometimes we start from scratch with Steve in a room. Both times the process is the same, really. You start talking about the joke and why it doesn’t work and then try and improvise ways to fix it. And you have to sort-of do that in an Alan voice.

Neil: Even if you did the best Partridge impression in the world, it’s still going to be rubbish because you’re doing it in front of Alan Partridge.

Rob: But you have to go halfway because otherwise it’s not clear if it’ll work. Sometimes Steve will be “doing Alan” and then he’ll say something like “last night I saw a great episode of Air Crash Investigation,” and you haven’t realised he’s back as Steve. You’ll start writing it done and he’ll say, “Oh, no. That was me.”

Neil: On the day of the shoot, we’d often have to write fresh scripts! Everything we’ve ever done with Steve kinda goes like that. Even when they did I’m Alan Partridge in front of a live audience changes were being made right up until the last-minute.

Rob: And you have to buy into that or you’ll get spat out the other end. I remember on the first day of anything we do Partridge-wise, any new cast or crew just goes a bit pale. There’ll say, “This can’t be how it goes?” The first day of the film, all the assistant directors were just looking around as we’d be doing a take, then stop, change the line again. Get halfway through, stop, change it again. We were getting to somewhere good, but it wasn’t always set it stone when we started shooting it. The crew were all looking around saying, “Surely it can’t be like this for eight weeks?” They were coming up to Neil and I saying, “You’ve done this before, this is a one-off, right?” and we’d say, “No, no, this is quite a good day, actually.” And it went on from there.

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa

Neil: As a writer though, those environments are good though, because you don’t ever become precious about lines. Because you’re writing new lines constantly. Just by its nature, once you start getting into that speed of churn, good stuff gets chucked out when it shouldn’t do. It has its benefits, too, and you come up with some inspired stuff on the day, when you’re there and react to what’s around you on set, but there is some unfortunate wastage. Armando on Twitter at the moment is burning though this 200 page document of unused Alan material. I guarantee that’ll be boiled down from many, many more pages. We’ve probably got more than that each. People ask how many drafts of the movie script did we do and I’m not sure there was ever even in a draft. There was just constantly a swirling cloud of starlings constantly juggling jokes in the air.

Neil: There’s more Mid Morning Matters lined up for early next year. So we’ve got six months. We had the book, the Sky specials and then the movie and I think we lost perspective a bit about what was funny and what was working and what wasn’t.

Rob: I think when you turn up at 6am for a day of shooting on a film and you don’t go home until 9pm and you’re at home doing rewrites until 2am, it’s very easy to think, “Fuck this”. It’s stressful and it’s hard work. But all of it is because we’re fussy and picky about wanting to make it good. It’s painful to do it. Good stuff doesn’t often come out when it’s too easy for you. You should never forget, too, that it’s Partridge. He’s a gift for a writer.

Neil: You hear those stories about American team writing, where you’ve got a ball-breaker sat around a table and it’s very industrial and things get shut down. With Partridge, it’s high pressure and you’ve got to bring your A game and come out with stuff on demand, but it’s always a laugh. It’s a really good laugh.

The rest of this interview detailing how to write comedy can be found at AskMen.com

The Look of Love – Film Review

The Look of Love

A few weeks ago I navigated the urban maze of Soho in London to reach the Soho Screening Rooms and watch The Look of Love. The film opens on Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) driving in a car with his granddaughter through the urban maze of Soho in London. As they drive Raymond points out the various properties he owns and explains that he bought them all for his daughter, Debbie (Imogen Poots), who has recently died from a drug overdose. Raymond then sits down to watch an old interview featuring his daughter and himself as we flashback to the start of his career…

Paul Raymond was once Britain’s richest man, his money coming from the aforementioned properties and a lucrative history in strip clubs, sex comedies, and what some would call pornographic magazines. In The Look of Love we follow Raymond’s career as he profits from displays of flesh in numerous forms, end his adulterous marriage with Jean Raymond (Anna Friel) and takes up with showgirl Amber (Tamsin Egerton) to indulge in a life of sex, drugs, and an apartment designed by Ringo Starr.

The Look of Love - Addison, Poots, & Coogan

The Look of Love has been blessed with an amazing cast largely filled with comic actors in not so comic roles. Steve Coogan nearly completely banishes Alan Partridge from your mind as he is transformed into a blonde Lothario and Chris Addison’s performance as the drug happy editor Tony Power is worth the ticket price alone. Other smaller roles are filled by the likes of Miles Jupp, Sarah Solemani, David Walliams, Simon Bird, Matt Lucas, and Stephen Fry. Heck we even get the marvellous James Lance who is never in enough films. Tamsin Egerton makes the most of her first proper leading role and is more ballsy than brave as she plays the character most often seen unclothed and with the most depth.

Director Michael Winterbottom is not one to shy away from onscreen nudity and sure enough we are presented with a plethora of scantily clad young women on stage, in swimming pools, and cavorting in Raymond’s bedroom which features sun lamps and a retractable roof. The nudity is not presented in an overly exploitative manner but is simply present in as great a quantity as it was in Raymond’s real life. For a film filled with sex and nudity there isn’t too much to titillate here for better or worse. With some exceptions perhaps…

The Look of Love - Tamsin Egerton

That said there isn’t a huge deal of depth to be found either. Events from Raymond’s life are paraded in front of us with unquestionably fine acting and direction but somehow the essence of the man escapes us. The film is solidly made; if you kick it, it won’t fall down, but look inside and it is mostly empty. By the end of the film I knew a lot about what Raymond had done but had no insight into why he had done it. Why did he love Amber above all the other women who passed through his bed? Why did he love his daughter so much yet dismiss his sons? Why did Jean put up with his philandering? The Look of Love is an enjoyable film and provides the winning combination of a perfect cast and all that nudity but it doesn’t uncover anything revealing about Paul Raymond as a character.

For a film about a man who pushed the boundaries in his time there are surprisingly few boundaries pushed onscreen. And this is from the director that brought graphic sex to the multiplex. There were moments where I could feel Winterbottom censoring himself as he shied away from fully exploiting the world of Paul Raymond. The last thing this film needed was tasteful nudity. While it is ostensibly a good thing to not exploit sex and nudity this is a film about “The King of Soho” at the end of the day and I only needed to walk for 2 minutes from the screening room to see the neon clad impact of his life, something the film failed to capture.

A film worth seeing but probably just the once, The Look of Love is in UK cinemas on 26th April 2013.