One of these days I will come to accept that music swelling at apparently emotional or poignant moments is a given in motion pictures. For the time being, however, it still irritates me like hell, and particularly so in Churchill, which takes far too long just to point out that Winston Churchill (Brian Cox, as in the actor Brian Cox CBE not the physicist Brian Cox OBE) objected to the precise tactics to be deployed on D-Day, only to whizz through his entire post D-Day life and career in a few written statements that flash up on screen just before the credits roll. The imbalance in terms of its narrative is ridiculous and almost embarrassing.
The cinematography itself is very good, with everything as London would feasibly have been during the Second World War. The costumes, the clipped tones of the well to do and the women-at-work-because-the-men-are-on-the-frontline. Nothing is normal about this Churchill, ever. He’s either screaming like a banshee, usually at his secretary, Helen Garrett (Ella Purnell), about anything from D-Day to double spacing, or otherwise he’s whispering – because the walls have ears and all that.
His wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson) at least sees reason in a film that, overall, is disappointingly repetitive. History repeats itself, the audience is repeatedly warned, and what happened in World War One should not be repeated in World War Two. Churchill, according to this film’s dialogue, trotted out a line about learning the lessons of the previous war so often I began to wonder if he was some sort of robot whose batteries could be switched off. This Churchill is gloriously incapable of doing anything except ranting and raving, hollering “I am the Prime Minister!”, but being unable to lead, such that General Eisenhower (John Slattery) and other military officials, in effect, led a de facto coup d’état because Churchill was so awful and pathetic.
It’s as bizarre as it sounds, and whether one thinks of Winston Churchill positively or not (of course he had his flaws – who doesn’t?), this film makes no sense.
The cinematography is less grand in A Man Called Ove, which suits the film and its title character (Rolf Lassgård) well, given his preference not to be wasteful. There’s a part of me that wants to take on certain characteristics of Ove (pronounced, as far as I could deduce in this Swedish film with English subtitles, oh-vee or sometimes oh-ver). I haven’t got it in me to march up to a customer service counter and rant about a faulty product in the angry and articulate way in which he does.
Yes, it gets a tad soppy and sentimental towards the end (which is why I haven’t plumped for the full five stars), but for the most part, this principled character is always entertaining, whether he’s telling his immediate neighbour Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) to get a grip – in more ways than one, given this is a driving lesson – or Anita (Chatarina Larsson), who lives on his street, to use an extra blanket if she can’t bleed her radiators.
Ove’s late wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll) keeps appearing, because of the film’s use of flashbacks, but their relationship explains a lot about Ove’s current state of mind and how he came to be the apparently grumpy old sod he is today. There are plenty of vivid examples in the film about Sonja still influencing Ove’s conduct. For instance, he takes in Mirsad (Poyan Karimi), one of his wife’s former students, when he has no place to turn after he (that is, Mirsad) is turfed out of a particularly conservative family home. About a minute earlier, he blasted his trademark fury at him, barking that he does not run a hotel.
Ove’s attempts to be taken by his own hand are repeatedly thwarted by circumstances – someone knocking on the door, someone knocking on his garage door, the rope that a noose was created out of snapping under his weight, some other “idiot” jumping in front of the morning commuter train Ove had pre- planned would take his life. It’s dark comedy, for sure, but it had me in cahoots. Like the novel on which it is based, this film is clichéd but nonetheless utterly engrossing.
I notice the Metro newspaper couldn’t decide whether to give Bat Out of Hell one star or five stars, and in the end plumped, strangely, for both. I am tempted to go the same way for this production of On The Town. It’s lovely. It’s filled with some wonderful dancing – just mention the name Drew McOnie to those who pay attention to the movers and shakers in the world of musical theatre, and it comes as no surprise that his direction and choreography are utterly first rate. His cast in this production is more than diverse enough to satisfy certain navel-gazing white critics who hate all-white casts. Or it would be, if they weren’t so relentlessly miserable come what may.
Why was I fleetingly tempted to consider a one star review? Because, goodness me, it drags. Too often I was left waiting for a dance sequence to finish so hopefully the story can go on. While the many dances were technically proficient, performed by a cast that made it all look so effortless, they didn’t seem to have much heart. There was more passion in Mark Heenehan’s Pitkin W. Bridgework standing and singing ‘I Understand’ than in some of the dance routines. They were so polished, so perfect, so professional, they were, in places, coming up short in terms of audience engagement. A work of fine art, yes, but one that doesn’t really say anything. While the dance routines were going on, narrative progression stops. I couldn’t work out, either, the significance of many of the movements or what certain characters were supposed to be doing or depicting.
Now, had this been Sadler’s Wells, or the Peacock Theatre, and I was watching a dance performance, I wouldn’t have minded. I would actually have enjoyed trying to decipher what was happening. But with musical numbers and extended spoken word scenes telling the audience all it needs to know, and then some, the dance routines come across as wholly unnecessary, utterly superfluous, and to be blunt, a could have been truncated. Though the one about a sailor who falls in love with a man should be retained, a demonstration of the love that dares not speak its name.
The company, truth be told, do a splendid job. The stop-start flow of the narrative (‘Come Up To My Place’, in which a taxi stops and starts, stops and starts, being a metaphor for the show as a whole) was rather frustrating, particularly as some (and by no means all) the humour in the show, when the dialogue is permitted to flow freely, brings the house down, even if it is shallow and predictable. An example: “Sex and art don’t mix. If they did, I’d have gone straight to the top.”
Madame Dilly (Maggie Steed) is a case in point. Oh joy! That general category of women past menopausal age portrayed as selfish, uncompromising and out of touch – yes, that’s original. Not. The younger women are at least well written as characters. Relatively speaking. Claire (Miriam-Teak Lee, making her professional debut in this production) sings so beautifully. Hildy (Lizzy Connolly), a taxi driver, entices her chosen sailor, Chip (Jacob Maynard) quite convincingly. Ivy (Siena Kelly) is a combination of vulnerable and sassy, the former down to her natural persona and the latter down largely to her day job (or should that be ‘night job’?).
It’s a tremendous effort, really. It just didn’t have enough sparkle to be anything more than very good dancing filling out a paper-thin plot. An American In Paris, at the Dominion Theatre at the time of writing, does it better.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.