Tag Archives | british films

Liverpool In the 50s & 60s – Of Time And the City (Terence Davies)

Let’s be honest. I thought this film was über-pretentious. Sure, it is beautifully made and there were truly funny moments, but half of the time I found myself thinking he was trying too hard to make it as arty as possible. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not as cultivated as I thought. Terence Davies uses newsreel footage and his own voice to show his experience of growing up in Liverpool during the 1950s and 60s and the decadence and end end of the city he used to know. I didn’t think much of his account, but the old images of Liverpool are wonderful. As a long time Beatles fan, I’ve always imagined what Liverpool was like back then, what people wore, what they did, etc. My needs are now more than satisfied.

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Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) Mike Leigh

Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkings) is a 30-year-old primary school teacher from North London who seems to be stuck in her childhood herself. Her constantly optimistic and cheerful take on life can get annoying at some points, when it just seems like she is completely unaware of the reality of her surroundings. What we find out later, is that this is just her way of coping with it.

The film follows Poppy’s daily routine; her classes, her homelife with her best friend Zoe, the relationship with her sisters, booze-fuelled nights out with her girlfriends and her driving lessons with Scott (wonderfully played by Eddie Marsan) a racist, homophobic cynical instructor who is Poppy’s polar opposite.

An action-packed plot is sacrificed in favour of an in-depth character study. Through these glimpses of everyday life, one can see the different aspects that make up Poppy’s personality. During the course of the film she encounters three main problems: a case of bullying and physical abuse at the school where she teaches, her driving instructor develops a rather creepy obsession with her, and an encounter with a tramp in a scene that could be taken straight out of a Beckett play.

These episodes allow us to see her dealing with hard situations, which she does with a surprising ease that reveals that she is not as happy-go-lucky as the title might imply. The driving instructor is everything Poppy is not; he is fussy, racist, homophobic and prone to lose his patience. In other words, he is hilarious. The car scenes had me laughing out loud at the cinema, and not only because of the driver’s constant spitting. Poppy irritates him – which is not the most difficult thing in the world – and she knows and loves it. He knows he is going to end up enraged, but he is too stubborn to give up and takes himself too seriously to joke with her. The resulting wild contrast of two very different personalities gives way to really funny scenes. I particularly enjoyed the moments when the driving instructor is talking directly to the camera, his distorted face shown in an extreme close-up, allowing us to visualise as well as hear his rage. Poppy laughs at him, and so do we.


As we were getting out of the cinema, talking about how funny the driving instructor was, the couple behind us said “qué coñazo de película”, which literally translates as “what a big cunt of a film” and means they found it really fucking boring. From the reviews I’ve read online it seems that, with this one, it really is a love it or hate it debate. I understand that some people might be disappointed at the lack of action or the presence of unhappy, negative characters (especially those who went to watch it misguided by the horrible Spanish translation of the title: “Happy: a Tale About Happiness”). I thought the plot could have been a bit stronger, but this lack of action is exactly what draws us closer to the characters, the real soul of the film.

I find it quite surprising that Mike Leigh made a film like this after his 2004 film Vera Drake, a darker feature about abortion in 1950s Britain. To me, it’s a bit like a British version of Amèlie. Less chic, for loser kids instead of cool pretentious indie kids, and more real.

Things I liked:

  • The fact that, in the flamenco class, everybody screams “my space”.

  • An amazing lamp with a hawaiian hula dancer.

  • ‘Common People’ by Pulp playing at the club scene.

  • The driving instructor’s final amazingly angry rant.

  • En-rah-ha! En-rah-ha!

  • Her very strange combination of underwear.

  • The really good performances.

  • Seeing London. It’s always nice.

I actually love Amèlie.

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Atonement (2007) Joe Wright

After reading many good things about it, I finally got round to watching ‘Atonement’ last night. I knew nothing about it before watching it other than it was directed by the guy who also directed the latest film adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Now I kind of wish I had read the book before watching the movie.

‘Atonement’ tells the love story of Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), which sees itself prematurely interrupted when Cecilia’s 13-year-old sister Briony, wonderfully played by Saorsie Ronan accuses the latter of a crime he didn’t commit. These accusations irrevocably change the course of the three characters’ lives.

The film is divided into three parts dominated by Briony’s point of view. The first one takes place in the Tallis’ family house and reproduces the events that led to the lovers’ separation. The second is set during WWII, when Robbie is in the army and the girls are nurses and the last third shows an old Briony who has become a successful writer. Guess what her latest book is about. Yeah, ok. We all know.

I really liked the first part, but the rest of the film failed to engage me. I loved the repetition of events in order to show them from different points of view. While Briony’s character was intriguing and interesting to me, I didn’t really want to know what happened to the two lovers, I completely failed to connect with them. I feel this film would have been a lot more interesting if it had focused more in the inner lives of the characters and less in other aspects. The last part of the film is really good, but after a dragging second hour where the film only lived up to the expectations the first half set on me in very few moments, I wasn’t willing to change my mind. This is not to say that ‘Atonement’ isn’t a good film, but I honestly don’t believe it deserves all the praise it’s been getting.


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4 weeks before Christmas: Love Actually

Last night, four weeks before Christmas, a national channel decided to show Love Actually on TV. Anybody who condemns Christmas movies for being too cheesy should be slapped across the face. Twice. Cheese is what Christmas is for. As my mother said: “it’s always the same actors!”. So yeah, nothing new or unexpected here, so I’ll do what I do best; make lists:Good:

  • Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister is hilarious, especially the bit where he’s dancing around Downing Street.
  • I find the fact that the American president is portrayed as a wanker extremely amusing.
  • The version of ‘All You Need Is Love’ at Keira Knightley’s wedding is fantastic.
  • When the singer writes something related to tiny cocks on a poster of the boyband Blue.
  • Alan Rickmann.
  • Lobsters in a Christmas play.
  • Women wearing non-sexy underwear, it’s more realistic.
  • Hugh Grant talking to a portrait of Margaret Thatcher.
  • Claudia Schiffer appearing out of nowhere.
  • Nice shots of London at Christmas.
  • The scene of Emma Thompson at her bedroom after receiving her present.
  • Landing at Marseille’s airport and getting to Portugal in a taxi ride (I know this wasn’t intentional, but still).

Bad:
  • The dubbing. The guy who goes to America talks in exactly the same accent as the girls with the exception that he uses “weird” words that nobody else uses in the whole film. They could have given them at least a South American accent or something like that.
  • It feels a bit rushed, and while that goes together with the rush of Christmas shopping, I’d like to see some of the stories developed a bit more.
  • That guy who is secretly in love with Keira Knightley should blatantly be in love with her husband. Now that would have been good!
  • The whole Portuguese bit wasn’t subtitled in the Spanish version and I didn’t understand a word. Also, Portugal is portrayed as a bit of a third world country. Poor form.

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