A long way from home (2013) dir: Virginia Gilbert

A bit of a curiosity for me is this UK/French co-production, as there were things I liked about this film and stuff that really annoyed.

Based on a short story by the writer/director Virgina Gilbert the film tells the story of a retired couple  in their late 60s early 70s, Joseph and Brenda (James Fox and Brenda Fricker), who now spend their empty days in a monotonous routine in the South of France. When they meet a young couple on holiday (Natalie Dormer and Paul Nicholls), Joseph finds himself irresistibly drawn to the woman – the beautiful Suzanne.

So the annoying stuff first:  story? Ahh, it just didn’t really feel meaty enough, the frailty of growing old is touched upon then forgotten and the whole endeavour wasn’t helped by the use of a lot of cutaways (shots of stuff edited in between scenes) and long starts to scenes (often using lengthy pans before the ‘action’ began). For me some of these really jarred and it just felt like they were being used to pad out the film’s 80 odd minute running time. Basically the film could have been a great short film – but then that would have made it a bit of an expensive undertaking.

I’m pretty rock solid when it comes to paying attention in films and suddenly the story picked up dreamatically (and I mean dreamatically):  Joseph lies to his wife, Brenda, about a day trip he is undertaking when in fact he is secretly meeting up with Suzanne. He takes her and her boyfriend, Mark,  to a vineyard just so Joseph can be with her, and there’s a definite sexual frisson happening when they’re together. After the day out Mark wants to thank Joseph by taking him and Brenda  out to dinner.  Joseph makes some excuses. Fails to put Mark off. Oh fuck. How’s Joseph going to handle this? Brenda’s shown a sign of Alzheimers, maybe (we never know), perhaps he’ll use that to make his lie work? Now things are beginning to motor. We’re going some where.

Next scene Joesph’s with Brenda and I discover that I must have misheard the whole thing,  as Brenda clearly knows about this day out – it wasn’t a secret tryst  at all. No lies.  No deceit. No tension.  It was all wishful thinking on my part. Crap.

Sorry but it would have been better if Joseph had lied to his wife about this!

And what the fuck was the old man at the game of Boules about? Please tell me!

And it has a poor use of music…..I’m making the film sound terrible it is not, just really annoying in parts… it could have been…. so…

Stuff I really liked and which make the film worth a look: James Fox and Brenda Fricker. In particular Brenda Fricker who delivers a masterclass in how a look can convey a thousand words. These two fabulous actors raise the film above it’s source material and imbue their characters with real humanity.  They live the dream but the dream is empty.


Don’t Worry About Me (2009) dir: David Morrissey

David Morrissey is one of the UK’s great actors and this is his first feature film as a director. Adapted from the play ‘The Pool’ originally written and performed by Helen Elizabeth and James Brough, Morrissey worked on the screenplay with them and bravely cast them in this film. Shot in three and a half weeks in Liverpool with the £100K budget raised from local businesses, the film is about a new romantic relationship, spread over one day, between Tina (Helen Elizabeth) and David (James Brough), and how this relationship allows Tina to address her painful past and move on with her life.

Simply shot but often effectively framed by stills photographer Stuart Nicolas White, the film pretty much stands or falls on its two leads who are at the centre of the story and this I felt was it’s great strength and weakness. Neither actor had worked on screen before so the director obviously brought his considerable experience to aid and refine their performances. The result is that Helen Elizabeth is fantastic in her role, making her character ‘Tina’ a real natural screen persona. She’s so good that James Brough’s ‘David’ can be seen very much acting his socks off, but his director is not getting the same level of natural performance from him.

The film is definitely worth catching for Helen Elizabeth’s fine portrayal. It’s an interesting story and you definitely care about the characters and want to know what will happen to them. David Morrissey has done a pretty good job with his first film and I look forward to his next. In the UK it’s being released on DVD and being screened on the BBC in March.

Freestyle (2010) dir: Kolton Lee

The third project from Film London’s microwave scheme where a film is produced for a budget of £100,000 (with all the constraints that brings), ‘Freestyle’ is the sort of story that usually comes out of American indie cinema and is probably the first British basketball related movie.

The story of two black teenagers from ‘opposite sides of the tracks’, ‘Ondene’ (Lucy Konadu) from a well off family who have hopes of her going to Oxford University and ‘Leon’ (Arinze Kene) a basketball freestyler who lives on a council estate. Leon is secretly studying and has dreams of going to university but needs to win the Freestyle championships so he can use the prize money for his tuition fees.

The film is small scale, though thanks to director Kolton Lee and the producing team around him, achieves much beyond its budget. The story is simply told but wears its heart on its sleeve. I have to say that I didn’t immediately warm to the film but by the end was won over by its charm and the enthusiasm of the cast.

Talking of which, the cast had a mixture of non-actors (who would actually be able to freestyle for the film) and experienced actors. Both groups acquit themselves pretty well, in particular Rhoda M’Hango (‘Prunella’) a basketball enthusiast who went for the part of an extra but is great here as Ondene’s antagonist and Alfie Allen (‘Jez’) who has all the best lines and really carves out his role.

In the UK it has a multi-platform release (including selected independent cinemas) on the 26th February and is out on DVD a week later, and although aimed squarely at a teen audience has much to offer anyone looking for a different type of British film.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) dir: Boyle & Tandan

The story of two children from the slums in Mumbai, destiny and ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’.

This film is pretty much outstanding in all departments. Technically,  visually and also storywise (it’s based on a book) with a great soundtrack by A.R. Rahman – it all comes together beautifully. The film actually comes alive on the screen in front of your eyes – which is pretty rare indeed.  Don’t wait for the DVD or dodgy download. You have to go see it on the big screen. I’ve been to Mumbai and watching the film I was often thinking ‘how did they manage to film that?’. For example, in one sequence the camera whizzes through the slums and shanty towns (capturing so much detail as it goes!) as policeman chase the two young brothers (I’m guessing but maybe they were 5 or 6 years old), then pulls back to follow the chase from the air. Looks easy and we kind of take it for granted in a big Hollywood movie, but here it just kind of looked so much better and cooler.

I’d say this is the best Danny Boyle film I’ve seen, and here he shares his director credit with Loveleen Tandan, originally the casting agent, but I think here she went on to direct the 2nd unit material, as well as work with the children (who had no acting experience) to help bring out the wonderful performances from them. In fact, each of the six young actors, playing the two brothers as they grow up, are excellent. Often different actors playing the same role as that character grows up, don’t really convince. Here it’s pretty seemless.

Although the film is full of joy it also doesn’t avoid the harsh contradictions that exist in India, so there is poverty, death and crime.

This is truly a great film with a real heartbeat and soul.  Even the ending won me over.

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