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Review: Skyfall


Warning: Some Spoilers follow!

Let’s start by the bucking the trend of unanimous praise and addressing Skyfall’s major flaw. Is there a truly jaw dropping action sequence? Yes, many of you will sharply reply, have you not seen the pre-titles sequence? It’s certainly true that the early action in Istanbul is impressive, exotic and engaging. You cannot get more outrageous and dazzling than that digger sequence on the train. There is also plenty of variety, with the action hurtling along from shadowy apartment, to four wheeled and two wheeled pursuit, before crashing down onto the train tracks in breathless but effortlessly stylish fashion.

However, Sam Mendes (American BeautyRoad to Perdition) revealed in an interview with The Culture Show on BBC 2 that his benchmark for the opening action scene was Casino Royale’s free running crane extravaganza, which culminated in a bruising embassy shoot-out. For me, the Istanbul chase sequence in Skyfall does not come close to the action spectacle in Casino Royale. This may well be because almost all of the pre-titles sequence has been showcased in trailers or promotional footage, dampening its impact in the cinema. I would prefer to see less of the key action sequence in future, but the marketing clearly worked, given the takings at the box office. Nevertheless, Casino Royale also has the Miami airport scene, the stairwell fight at the hotel and the somewhat overblown climax of the sinking house in Venice. Skyfall, for the majority of its runtime, plays out at a much lower key in terms of action. Even Quantum of Solace, for all its faults, has action scenes that could arguably trump Skyfall’s. Its opening car chase and Siena based rooftop foot chase may feel like add ons to Casino Royale, with disappointingly Bourne-esque execution at times, but they remain excellent action set pieces.

Yet Skyfall is wowing critics, fans and ordinary cinemagoers at once. In the UK opening weekend and opening week box office records have been broken. How is it getting away with it? Surely Bond should be getting a grilling for failing to go bigger with the action, because bigger means better, right? Wrong. The reason for Skyfall’s success is that good storytelling tops mindless and meaningless action spectacle every time. Casino Royale had a convincing love story and the added thrill of seeing a newly qualified 007. This gave its action sequences more punch, along with a refreshing, new, gritty approach. Skyfall’s pre-titles sequence betters even Casino Royale in terms of drama though, and this is perhaps the most important ingredient in any action scene.

In many ways the pre-titles sequence of Skyfall sums up the entire film. It incorporates key elements of the plot by splitting the focus between Bond, Eve (Naomie Harris) and M’s office back in London. After an incredibly sophisticated and iconic opening few seconds to the film, in which Thomas Newman’s (The Shawshank Redemption) score and Roger Deakins’ (A Beautiful Mind) cinematography lusciously combine (and not for the last time), Bond is faced with a dying fellow agent. His immediate reaction is to help but M issues stern orders to leave him and pursue an assailant with top secret information. The tension between Bond’s operational instincts in the field and M’s merciless, increasingly desperate objectives in the MI6 boardroom is instantly evident, and the thematic spine to the film is established. Mendes then uses all his expertise, from the world of theatre as well as film, to juggle an action sequence with many layers (he has compared it to Russian dolls), setting up new characters, relationships and plot points as well as thrilling his audience.

So crucially the action in Skyfall is plot focused, and this plays a role in ensuring that this is a really good film full stop, not just a good Bond film. Many reviewers have played up the similarities to recent superhero epics, such as The Dark Knight, that thanks to Christopher Nolan’s (Memento,InceptionThe Dark Knight Rises) darker edged talents brought previously laughable villains and protagonists brilliantly into the modern world. However, any Bond fan will rigorously dispute the influence of these films. There are some noticeable similarities, with glimmers of Newman’s score resembling Hans Zimmer’s Bat themed work and certain lines of dialogue echoing Nolan’s trilogy, but most of these are coincidental. For the most part Newman’s score cleverly references the Bond canon created by John Barry, even if David Arnold perhaps understands the series better. And John Logan’s involvement with the script, originally drafted, as usual, by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, has produced some classic Bondian dialogue with a twist. The real invigorating influence at work, as Daniel Craig is the first to point out, is Ian Fleming’s original books.

Skyfall is a journey from Craig’s modern, gritty Bond back towards a traditional, but refreshed, 007 dynamic with his allies. Some have seen it as disjointed but those behind Skyfall knew exactly what they were doing. In creating a story that pays homage to some key moments and themes of James Bond’s 50 year cinematic history, the makers of Skyfall have allowed 007 to follow an arc that gradually restores humour and fun, along with some classic ingredients. All the while though a modern Bond is emerging, who is the best of the books and the films, and not at all dated.

The resurrection of some classic Bond allies is a very wise move that seems to have set up an exciting immediate future for Daniel Craig’s tenure, as well as a secure, longer term legacy for his successor. Ben Whishaw (The Hollow Crown) and Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus) are excellent additions, whilst Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is given room to deliver her best ever performance as M. Of course a considerable chunk of Bond’s character comes from his existence as a lone wolf but these moments that cast 007 as the solitary, wandering assassin are given greater weight in Skyfall because of his relationships with his friends, colleagues and employers. For example, my favourite action scene of the film is a shoot-out in Whitehall at an inquiry into M’s competence. The sight of so many quality actors involved in such a bullet ridden scene gave me goosebumps, even during my second viewing of the film. Indeed, Bond’s rush across London, which is mostly just him against the bad guy, with some fun touches from Whishaw’s youthful Q, is equally riveting because we know he cares about the people in danger at the other end. There’s also the thrill of watching a Bond film transform the tedium of the Tube into endless tunnels of possibility.

I haven’t even mentioned Javier Bardem’s (No Country for Old Men) blonde baddie, Silva. He provides the genuine threat that Quantum of Solace so seriously lacked. Only an actor of Bardem’s calibre could pull off some of the absurdities of his character. His eccentric fashion sense, his homoerotic taunts and his delightfully scripted anecdotes make him unforgettable from the first time you see him. But it’s his back story and his reasons for vengeance against M and MI6, physically embodied by his deformity, which makes him a great villain. From the moment we meet him Skyfall accelerates confidently into top gear with a burst of mad nitrous oxide into the tank. We’ve already been treated to the botched operation in Istanbul, Bond and MI6’s decline, and Bond’s partial reawakening in Shanghai and Macau’s casino by the time we meet Silva. Bond’s neon lit, stealthy approach of hired gun Patrice in Shanghai is a particular highlight, due to the gorgeousness of the visuals and the tension ramped up by the soundtrack. Bond’s flirty conversation with Severine in the casino, and his knowing insights about her background, is also a great moment. But Silva’s introduction takes us straight to the heart of the film.

In Skyfall we perhaps get closer to who James Bond is, and where he comes from, than ever before. Xan Brooks (of The Guardian) has criticised Skyfall for losing sight of what a James Bond film is and trying to do something too poignant, too clever. There will no doubt be those who agree with him. They will argue that taking the final third of the film to Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland is a step too far. I disagree. As I’ve already said, Skyfall is both a good film and a good James Bond film. The two things needn’t contradict each other. There are some conversations with emotional undertones, but they remain undertones. Bond never breaks down over the fact that he is an orphan. In fact his front of charm and bravery seems to thicken on home soil; it’s as if he’s returned home at last with a fine new suit to be proud of, and of course he’s staying strong for M. The Oedipal nature of Skyfall has been discussed by almost every reviewer and I certainly believe it’s been over hyped. Bond and M’s mutual respect, and underlying tenderness, is undoubtedly a central pillar of the plot though. In my view, Bond’s relationship with his family home and M gives Skyfall substance, and these relationships are handled perfectly by Mendes, who never undermines 007’s traditionally solid character.

The action sequences on the moors of Scotland are refreshingly unique in the Bond series. They also invert the normal dynamic of a Bond film; rather than the story ending in a villain’s lair, the villain comes home to Bond. Ultimately Skyfall’s real climax takes place back in London, with the unveiling of some new allies and Bond receiving a symbolic gift; a British bulldog. The bulldog represents a very British sense of endurance and perseverance, embodied in the character of 007. But it also perfectly summarises the ability of the James Bond franchise to evolve and reinvent itself, so that James Bond will always, always return.

Unbelievably stylish, with a great story and a fantastic cast, Skyfall sets the template for a new James Bond formula. Craig and Mendes simultaneously embrace and kill off the old, so that 007 can be reborn into a new era.

Parade’s End – Episode 1 – Review


Parade’s End has been billed as the television event of the autumn by those in the know. On paper it certainly boasts an impressive creative team, with acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard returning to television after an absence of over twenty years to pen a personal labour of love, an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s four book series from the 1920s. Benedict Cumberbatch spearheads a remarkable cast, all of whom are finely decked out in period costume. Surely this expensive BBC and HBO co-production is ready made to replicate the mass market appeal of Downton Abbey? In theory yes, but Parade’s End has high brow, literary DNA that makes it an altogether different beast from Julian Fellowes and ITV’s aristocratic love child.

Cumberbatch’s character, Christopher Tietjens, is the heart of this sprawling Edwardian story. He is a government statistician, with a superhuman mind, and today such a figure would be replaced by a computer. According to reports Stoppard wanted Cumberbatch for the part, and no one else, from the very beginning of a long writing process that stretches back into the 1990s. Of course back then, pre-Sherlock, Cumberbatch was a relative nobody in the acting universe. But something about the actor’s ability to suppress emotion and project immense intelligence convinced Stoppard that he was the perfect fit for Tietjens. Yesterday in Edinburgh Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss expressed similar sentiments about casting Cumberbatch as the world’s most famous detective; they only ever auditioned him for the part. Something appears to have clicked into place in an increasingly extraordinary acting career. Perhaps Cumberbatch is even more of a genius than the characters he plays.

Comparisons will be made between the characters of Christopher Tietjens and Sherlock Holmes, but they will mostly be misleading. Both possess brilliant minds and revel in acquiring seemingly dull details about anything and everything. Both hide a fragile emotional core from the world. However, arguably Sherlock keeps his emotions under wraps far better than Tietjens. Early reviews of the opening episode all touch on the climate of emotional repression in Edwardian society, and Tietjens’ resulting coldness, but I was surprised by his frequent vulnerability. On numerous occasions he refers to himself as “soft” and can scarcely disguise the pain in his face. He also loses his temper in public, with individuals and the establishment gossip they mindlessly pander to. Having said that he is a fiercely traditional and principled man, who lives his life by a set of values that seem increasingly out of date, both politically and socially. Contrast this with Sherlock who, in Conan Doyle’s books and particularly the new series, despises the flaws of the status quo.

Sherlock’s success is hard to match, but Cumberbatch could give the performance of his career in Parade’s End. The sheer depth of the material provides wonderful opportunities for all the actors involved. As author Julian Barnes writes in The Guardian, “the emotional level of the novel is high”. I have not read Ford’s book but its multi-layered power to absorb is clear from the obvious fascination that comes through in articles written by Barnes and others. Episode 1 of the adaptation also demonstrates the complexity and quality of the characterisation on show.

Tietjens is married to Sylvia, who is deliciously played by Rebecca Hall. In the opening scenes of Friday night’s series opener we flit between their first meeting (and subsequent romp) on a train and later, unhappier times, with Sylvia practically blackmailing Tietjens into marriage and then gallivanting around Europe with a lover, just to taunt him. In Sylvia, Hall is playing a character pleasingly out of her comfort zone, who oozes sex and seems to desire destruction out of nothing more than restlessness. In his Guardian piece Barnes describes Sylvia as the “most possessed evil character in 20th century fiction”. And yet there is something likeable about her. Despite her malice, or indeed because of it, she is tremendous fun to watch and she confesses that beneath her antics lies a frustrating affection for Tietjens, who has made all other men seem infantile and foolish to her.

For his part, Tietjens refuses to abandon the conventions of marriage and gentlemanly conduct. So he simply takes the sadistic betrayal Sylvia continually rubs in his face. He hardens himself to her games and is forced to take her back when she telegrams from Europe, fed up with her latest lover. When his friend and colleague, Macmaster (played by a refined version of Stephen Graham, of Pirates of the Caribbean and This is England fame) quotes love poetry at him, Tietjens harshly describes such talk as “congealed bacon fat”.

The psychology of this odd and manipulating marriage may be fascinating, but the episode really takes flight when Tietjens discovers there is hope for him to enjoy a real loving relationship. On a golfing trip with government figures two suffragettes raid the green, ambushing an MP and fleeing dramatically. The next day Tietjens realises he knows one of the charismatic pair, Valentine (played by Adelaide Clemens), as he breakfasts at the home of an amusingly mad vicar. She is clever and fiercely principled like him, and during a coach ride through the fog which ends in a symbolic collision between modernity and tradition, the two form an affectionate bond.

Suddenly Tietjens’ torment reaches a new level, with the knowledge of what he is missing. The episode ends with Cumberbatch sobbing into a horse in an empty field. The trajectory of a series that will encompass the First World War, the struggle for women’s rights and the personal lives of the characters is set, but where this rich parade will end is far from clear. I for one cannot wait to find out.

The Cabin in the Woods : Beware of the Hype as well as the Spoilers


The Cabin in the Woods has set sections of the internet ablaze with excited chatter. It’s been dubbed by many as a ‘game changer’, which chews up the horror film genre and spits out a deformed, witty and mind blowing analysis. Whilst it is an undoubtedly clever deconstruction of a genre, it is also very vulnerable to being overhyped, like a lot of modern movies.

Friends and colleagues left me in a state of feverish excitement before I saw the film. Their ranting and raving catapulted my expectations into the stratosphere. I was already aware of the positive critical buzz but it’s ultimately the endorsement of those that you trust that tips the balance. I spent the entire runtime of The Cabin in the Woods waiting for great things, which never quite materialised.

Ideally you should see the film without reading or hearing anything about it. However, for most of us, that simply isn’t realistic in today’s world. Before you decide to see a film you have to be convinced, by a trailer, a poster or a good old fashioned review. The trailer for The Cabin in the Woods drops a few huge hints towards its ‘game changing’ premise. I was assured by those who had seen it that the twists and turns still had tremendous impact. For me, they simply didn’t.

The Cabin the Woods is still a good film, stuffed with quality and interesting ideas. It begins by introducing us to a set of characters, all archetypes in their own way; there’s a geek, a jock, a stoner, a hot chick and a good girl. All of these characters are then fleshed out deftly, with unusual skill and some cracking dialogue. In fact most of the dialogue, from a script co-written by director Drew Goddard and Avengers chief Joss Whedon, is top notch. It’s refreshing to see a horror film in which characterisation is given so much care and attention. The problem is that the clever premise of the film, which I’m trying not to spoil, leads to a rapid unravelling of the plot without any great sense of peril.

Indeed, most reviews have pointed out that the key flaw of The Cabin in the Woods is the lack of genuine scares. The reason for this is obvious now that I’ve seen it; it is primarily a comedy in tone, not a horror. I laughed loudly and uncontrollably at several points, no doubt irritating those around me in the cinema trying to be frightened. Its entire structure and plot exposes the ridiculousness of the horror genre. The jaw dropping twist turned out to be ludicrous, simply reinforcing the point.

Whedon and Goddard describe the film as a ‘loving hate letter’ to horror movies and it is ultimately hate dressed up as love. The force of the narrative is limited by the grand in-joke. Had the horror been better paced and more arresting, The Cabin in the Woods would have edged closer to being great and compelling, rather than good and interesting.

DVD Review: Dream House


Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz are Hollywood’s latest power couple. Together they are more than capable of flying the flag for Britain in the vast cinematic universe. Iconic movies from recent years litter their CVs, from The Mummy to Casino Royale. Interestingly, and perhaps dangerously for their happiness, they will go head to head in 2012, both critically and at the box office, when Weisz stars in The Bourne Legacy and Craig returns as James Bond in Skyfall. Every aspect of this super spy battle will play out under a media spotlight, but their real life relationship began on the set of a film that would turn out to be an unnoticed flop, in every department, despite the A-list names attached.

Dream House is a film ripe for critical clichés. It suffers from a severe identity crisis. Marketed as a horror and psychological thriller, it succeeds at being neither. It is telling that the cover of the DVD is adorned with a vague quote, “scary thrills”, from a publication as prestigious as The Daily Star. The movie has a mere 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and most reviewers only throw out the odd crumb of kindness because they feel sorry for the talented stars, mired by the mess. Ironically though, the terrible reception for Dream House at the tail end of 2011 may be its saving grace on DVD.

Dream House was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting it to be. The slightest bit of research into the film will expose its dodgy development and crisis ridden path to release. Scenes were hastily reshot at the last minute and there were huge creative differences. The trailer reveals the major twist, stripping the narrative naked so that there is no interest or excitement left to be discovered when you sit down to watch the film itself. In any case the story is an uninspiring creature, which simply mimics much better films from the horror and thriller genres.

For what it’s worth, Craig and Weisz play Will and Libby, a happy couple settling down in their dream home in the country. Will has left his job at a publishing company to write his own book. Libby doesn’t seem to be doing much, so clearly this couple are as financially comfortable as Craig and Weisz in the real world. Their kids require little effort and are just great fun. But then things start going bump outside and the neighbour (Naomi Watts) is acting “mysteriously” by refusing to answer Will’s questions. Eventually the family discover that a murder took place in their beloved new home.

If you manage to forget the precise nature of the twist, despite the trailer’s best efforts, there are some surprises left in Dream House.  I remembered the twist about a quarter of the way through the film, after some pretty obvious clues refreshed my memory. Rather than having an excruciating wait until the end, I was shocked to find that Dream House proudly unveils its big secret half way through its short 88 minute runtime. Initially I saw this as a bold move. It completely wrong footed me, and I presumed it meant that there was a real, even more satisfying reveal to come.

Perhaps my lowered expectations were going to allow me to enjoy Dream House. Or perhaps not. There were a couple of ounces of plot left to add to the mix, but the final ingredients took forever to fall into the pot. This is where the identity crisis comes in. Once the twist jumps out on us, Daniel Craig takes centre stage. Most of the awful attempts at horror stop and Craig is left to convince us that the twist was plausible, and that its impact is emotionally horrific for his character. In fairness to the film, you do get the satisfaction of saying to yourself “oh that’s why she said that earlier”. Everything before the twist fits and makes sense. But pretty much everything after the twist is an anti-climax.

There are aspects to Dream House that will almost make you like it. It’s nice to watch a film that doesn’t fall back on the ridiculously supernatural to be unsettling. The simple fact that there was a murder in your house is never really exploited to its fullest though, and by the end the film is as ludicrous as any other disappointing horror. Its structure is all over the place. It is neither scary, nor jumpy, nor thrilling. Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts give atrocious performances, after being given very little to work with by the script. Daniel Craig is left to the carry the film, and whilst he is not bad, he is also far from his best. Having said all this, Dream House is an acceptable DVD rental that will get you talking with whoever you choose to watch it with.

 

DVD Review: Sensation


The opening minutes of Sensation are not a stimulating thrill ride or a feast for the senses. In fact, they could be described as bleak. I’m going to be careful not to mislead you here; I don’t want the word bleak to imply that the early scenes are moving, or interestingly dark. Instead, I mean bleak as in “without hope or expectation of success or improvement”. The world of central character Donal is defined by its dullness and the fact that it is never likely to change. His uneventful life has left him numb, and so emotionless that when he discovers his father dead on the stair lift, he uses the remote to bring the cold corpse slowly down, rather than rushing up.

You may find that, as I did, the start of Sensation will induce that “where have I seen him before?” feeling. This was the most pressing thing about the film for its first quarter of an hour, that nagging frustration that is impossible to shake.  So I paused the film, utilised a well known internet search engine and discovered that lead actor Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Donal, also played Bill Weasley in the last few Harry Potter films. Cue the knowing nod that accompanies the phrase “I knew I recognised him!”. Curiosity quenched, I could now begin to concentrate on the film itself.

Following the funeral of Donal’s father we watch a young man shuffle through a very lonely existence. The really disheartening thing about Donal’s grief is that it is so minimal. He had clearly been expecting his father’s death and we do not really witness any sadness relating to it. It’s also clear that Donal’s loneliness goes back far, far further than the eventual demise of his sick dad. His best friend Karl, who lives in a caravan on Donal’s farm land, suggests that the funds freed up by his father’s death might be the making of Donal. But Donal has no idea how to use the cash wisely in the nothingness of the Irish countryside. His only half plan is to move to Dublin.

This complicated, but essentially sympathetic portrayal of Donal, is offset by hints towards a darker side of his character. That initial moment where he waits for the stair lift’s grim and personal cargo to descend is both shocking and repulsive. It’s symbolic of Donal’s laziness, lack of drive and dangerous naivety.  Whilst Donal’s problems are real and capable of inspiring sympathy, his only solace is sordid and shameful. Ignorant of girls and relationships, Donal is fascinated by sex. However, his perception of sex is skewed by the internet. His only experience of it comes from the online world, where he sports the nickname of “Sweetdick” in a chat room. He masturbates furiously, in a way that seems to be a brutal release. He seems to have little awareness of intimacy, although a dim desire for it grows once he has satisfied his raw lust.

Suddenly not lacking in cash after receiving a sizeable inheritance, Donal’s first port of call is a website advertising escorts. One of them, called Courtney, has been recommended to him by an online chat room buddy. At first, he tentatively asks for an hour with her, only to be persuaded over the phone that the “full girlfriend experience” will be worth his while (and hers, financially). They meet in a restaurant, where she is surprised that he actually wants to eat. She reassures him that seduction is not necessary, but Donal orders a chicken kiev anyway. That’s where the civilized behaviour stops though. Back at his farm, Donal rapidly enjoys what he’s paid for. As Courtney says later, this is not Pretty Woman.

But the parallels are certainly there. Donal has money, albeit not on the scale of Richard Gere’s millionaire, but enough to make him of use to Courtney, whose real name is Kim. When events ensure that Kim and Donal get to know each other personally, they begin to form an ambiguous bond. Their feelings are tested and disguised because of the shadowy, theatrical business of the sex trade. Donal starts out wanting to help Kim rescue herself. He then falls for her, before ending up seeing her as a commodity.

Boiled down to its basics, Sensation is a simple story about two very different, lonely people crossing paths. It stands above this classic blueprint because of the strength of its characterisation and acting. Donal is volatile and unpredictable because of his troubled youth, and Kim is determined and twisted because of her profession. You’re never quite sure where their true loyalties lie. In this way Sensation is realistic, with its incorporation of modern themes and the lack of trust between a group of people who have recently joined forces in a backstabbing industry. However, Sensation also has many weak points. Its fringe characters are less well acted and unconvincingly drawn. The ending is rushed and more than a little predictable, and sections of the film drag. In my view, this is an excellent effort from writer/director Tom Hall. It is occasionally funny, although not to the point of laughter, and ultimately touching, despite a difficult subject matter.

DVD Review: The Deep Blue Sea


Think of post-war Britain and an archive of stock images springs to mind. There was the tyranny of the rationing card and the pile of rubble down the road that used to be a neighbour’s house. There were widows, orphans and military veterans. Cigarettes were a stylish release from the everyday gloom, rather than a health risk. Pubs were indispensable social hubs full of heart warming camaraderie and spontaneous singing.

Life in Britain after the eventual triumph of 1945 then, trudged on as if viewed through a sepia lens. In short, all was brown. Dresses, walls, shirts, cars, pubs, drinks, underwear, sheets, food, packaging and carpets, were all various shades of drab. Surely, despite the truth underlining it, this clichéd view of how things were then must be a gross simplification? Apparently no, according to director Terence Davies, that was just how it was. Speaking in an interview from The Deep Blue Sea’s special features, he claims that you only ever saw primary colours on particular sweet wrappers, along with the occasional glimpse of red when someone got engaged.

Davies has been widely praised for his total understanding of post-war Britain. He lived through it in his formative years and talks about personal memories in the interview on the DVD. He has also expressed his knowledge of the subject numerous times on film, in fictitious and factual form. Despite The Deep Blue Sea being an adaptation of a Terence Rattigan play, Davies’ own independent influences are evident throughout. At times these directorial flights of fancy give the film a lift, but at others they feel like thoroughly artificial flourishes that deflate the drama.

Much of The Deep Blue Sea is told in flashback as its protagonist, Rachel Weisz’s Hester Collyer, recovers from an attempted suicide attempt. Initially we are wrapped up in the mood of the story and Davies does appear to have a masterful command over the details of the period. Quickly though, the background to Hester’s affair with Tom Hiddleston’s pilot Freddie Page becomes extremely tiresome. There is the odd interesting flashpoint, such as a quietly dramatic dinner with Hester’s mother-in-law. Here, Hester is lectured on the downsides of passion, whilst her husband, Simon Russell Beale’s much older judge, looks on passively. Hester defiantly stands her ground, convinced of the importance of excitement in such a dull world. She does not hate her husband; in fact they mostly get on well and share platonic affection. But Hester craves something more in her life.

That something more turns out to be a younger man, and perhaps the sex such a man can supply on demand. Hiddleston is handsome and charming, pulling off a decent impression of a restless RAF chap. It’s easy enough to see why Weisz jumps for him over Russell Beale. However, the supposed passion of their affair never really comes across. This might be because of the sensibilities of the time. Or it might be because of what happens in the final part of the film.

I was very tempted to write off The Deep Blue Sea as tasteful melodrama until its climax. For all the praise heaped on the performances of Weisz and Hiddleston, they appeared to be sporadically brilliant, but more often ridiculous. Hiddleston’s pompous pilot was 90% impersonation, 10% acting. Weisz’s Hester was beautiful but unrealistically pathetic. Then a shouting match outside a pub saves The Deep Blue Sea from drowning in its period features. The argument between the lovers is so loud and fierce that it makes up for many of the terrible lines in the script. This is not just because we finally see some drama in drab 50s London, but also because the narrative finally gets an injection of believable characterisation.

Page and Screen: Thinking about kids? Don’t read We Need To Talk About Kevin this Mother’s Day


Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday, according to my traditionalist Dad) is when we celebrate the unsung heroes of society. Mothers are the underappreciated glue holding together such fundamentals of everyday life as law, order and excessive cleanliness. There is no higher calling than motherhood. Political leaders, from Stalin to Cameron, have recognised that a good mother, providing a solid foundation for a good family, is the perfect platform for a great nation. Who do men beg for in their darkest hour? Not their wives, but their mothers. Whose betrayal pushes Hamlet to the brink of madness? His mother’s. And who saved the day in the last Doctor Who Christmas special? You guessed it, the mum.

In the build up to Mother’s Day, the commercialised clutter clogging up the high streets is physical evidence of the cult of motherhood. The perception is that this is the one day of the year that we openly show our gratitude to the women who brought us into the world. Lionel Shriver’s now well known book, We Need To Talk About Kevin, is bold enough to suggest that mothers are often showered with too much praise and attention. In fact, it is largely about the way society continually worships its mums and the burden this places on ordinary women who don’t fall completely in love with the role. The novel has a controversial reputation and this is just one of the big ideas within its pages with the potential to shock.

I’m yet to see Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Shriver’s novel and would be interested to hear your thoughts below readers, because inevitably the hype around the book has focused on the high school shooting that the narrative grows towards. I feel that the themes relating to the violence raised by the story are secondary to other issues Shriver illuminates with her writing. For me the most convincing parts of the book, where both Shriver’s style and substance were at their best, was early on, as central character Eva contemplates having a child and then finds the experience of birth and early motherhood underwhelming and depressing. In an article for The Guardian last year, Shriver claims to be happy with Ramsay’s “thematically loyal” version of her book. But the marketing has focused on Ezra Miller’s angry and angst ridden adolescent, rather than Tilda Swinton’s struggle with motherhood, and one of my friends was horrified that ordinary looking John C. Reilly was chosen to play handsome husband Franklin.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is at its most horrifying when Eva feels totally trapped by her son. She is certain that her bawling infant harbours feelings of resentment and hatred towards her. The book actually becomes less and less frightening as we get closer to the shooting itself. Teenage Kevin is brooding, spiteful and distant, and his mother has come to accept their detachment somewhat. The preceding enforced attachment is far more chilling. In general the characters and ideas are more engaging and powerful early on; in fact the book runs out of steam as we slide towards the atrocity, with the twist at the end not proving revelatory enough to make up for this.

Shriver’s phrasing, imagery and dialogue are all exemplary at times, but occasionally the format, of letters to her absent husband, feels artificial and forced, leading to clumsy writing lacking in subtlety. I was fascinated by Eva as a career woman, gripped by the debate she had with herself about becoming a mother. Perhaps Shriver is at her best during these sections of the novel because juggling a successful career is what she knows well. Eva was pressured into motherhood and it’s appalling to witness her regrets and pure disgust at herself for feeling nothing towards her own offspring. How many mothers feel compelled to have kids because it’s normal, because of peer pressure? How many find themselves chronically disappointed afterwards? The book concedes its originality when it loses sight of this disturbing observation, resorting to painting Kevin as some sort of evil, devil child, ought to wreck his mother’s life.

I am essentially saying that the scariest idea in We Need To Talk About Kevin is not emotionless kids and teenagers suddenly killing their classmates with arrows. It is in fact the notion of something you have great expectations for turning out to be crushingly disappointing. What if that first kiss is just an awkward clash of tongues and intermingling saliva? What if the FA Cup final ends 0-0? What if the sex on your honeymoon is someway short of ecstasy filled spiritual union? As film fans, we perhaps know this fear better than most. Imagine watching Raging Bull or Citizen Kane and thinking nothing more than “meh”. With adaptations, the fear is especially acute. What if, when I finally see Ramsay’s adaptation, she has failed to capture all the things I’ve mentioned above that I liked about this book? But this fear is perhaps a vital part of the thrill of watching adaptations, and life in general. The knowledge that you might be disappointed just makes it so much better when you’re not.