Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Bonneville’

Downton Abbey **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th September, 2019

Downton AbbeyI am one of that rare breed of people in Britain who never watched a single episode of the long-running cult TV series Downton Abbey, though I did sit in on a live interview with its creator, Julian Fellowes, some years ago. One day, I thought, they will make a film of it, which I shall go to see, even though nostalgia-infused upstairs-downstairs dramas aren’t really my thing. This is indeed that feature film. The screenplay is also by Lord Fellowes and the cast will be familiar to fans of the TV show. In fact, I suspect it was mainly made to provide comfort and sustenance to those who had been feeling Downton withdrawal symptoms. The action is set in the late 1920s — after the general strike has caused a few shudders — and centres on an imagined visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Downton Abbey as part of a royal peregrination among fine houses in Yorkshire and other points North. Highclere Castle (the real “Downton Abbey”) is as glorious as ever in its starring role and Harewood House puts in a cameo appearance. Cue for National Trust members to swoon. And in all fairness, it is all very beautiful. Of course it is the intrigues and amours of both the extended Crawley family and their devoted servants that provide the meat in this period piece stew. A couple of new excitements, including an attempted assassination and a police raid on a pop-up gay dance venue, add an extra frisson, but otherwise the film just drifts gently along like a cricket match on a late summer’s afternoon. Hugh Bonneville, as the Earl of Grantham, is charmingly ineffectual; it is the women of the household who have  some gumption. Maggie Smith as the Dowager matriarch has a few spicy, acid quips and asides, but the part does not stretch her. Remember, this is an actor who is capable of something as remarkable and magnificent as the eponymous The Lady in the Van. There are some handsome men and some pretty women in Downton Abbey, which will please many punters. And I suppose as a couple of hours of escapism from 2019 Brexit Britain the movie has its uses. But, oh dear, surely it could have been less superficial and cutesy make-believe?

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Paddington 2 *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th November, 2017

Paddington 2I am usually wary of films with the number “2” in their title, as sequels rarely live up to brilliant originals. But Paddington 2 will not disappoint those who loved its predecessor. Paddington Bear is neither as twee as Disney’s Winnie the Pooh nor as gross as Ted (especially in Ted 2). Instead, he is endearingly clumsy and charmingly naive, so that audiences of any age will be rooting for him as he faces new and dangerous challenges. Not least of these are the machinations of the fiendish and self-obsessed former star of the stage, Phoenix Buchanan, now reduced to doing dog food commercials, a la Clement Freud. Buchanan is played with relish by Hugh Grant, devious and smarmy to the nth degree and as fated for failure as any pantomime villain. Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown is the somewhat clueless paterfamilias in a very British household whose other members, including the children, fortunately have much more nous. There’s a nice little cameo by Joanna Lumley, effectively sending up herself, and a number of cinematographic references that will amuse genuine film buffs, from a scene that could be straight out of Murder on the Orient Express to Paddington running across train carriage roofs like Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. The chase scenes are fast paced, but some of the most effective comedy is often from gags in which Paddington is on his own, for example pretending to be a rubbish bin in Paddington Station or catastrophically attempting to work as a window-cleaner. It is all jolly fun, with Ben Whishaw giving Paddington an earnest, innocant little voice that matches his moral propriety. Perfect stuff in the run-up to Christmas, and I can’t help feeling that the recently-deceased creator of the Paddington books, Michael Bond, would have loved it.

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Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th November, 2014

PaddingtonWhen I was a small boy I often used to go to the cinema in Monton near Eccles, which had a sixpenny Saturday afternoon matinée. And it was there that for the one and only time in my life I sat through a film twice: 101 Dalmatians. I don’t suppose there are many cinemas left in the country where one could just stay put to see a film a second time, but had I been a child today and were it possible, I would have stayed on for a second showing of Paddington, Paul King’s affectionate take on the Paddington Bear stories, which I saw at my local Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green this evening. I have never read the books, and I know the author was a little taken aback by some of the liberties the film takes with his characters, but the overall result is a triumph. It could all have been mawkishly saccharine — particularly in the run-up to Christmas — but from the black and white prologue onward, giving a very camp and tongue-in-cheek impression of the Explorer Mongomery Clyde engaging with the bears in Deepest Peru, the film is a riot of fun action, sharp characterisation and a mixture of gags aimed at an adult audience as well as at kids. There’s even a referential bow to 101 Dalmatians, in that the malignant taxidermist Millicent (played by Nicole Kidman in a blonde wig) is a mirror image of Cruella de Ville. Half the members of the Garrick Club, from Hugh Bonneville (as Mr Brown) to Michael Gambon (the voice of Uncle Pastuzo), seem to have been involved in the film’s making. Indeed, Paddington revels in its Britishness, at times nostalgic, but never reactionary or UKIPpy. Rather, like the calypso that ends the film, it is a celebration of multicultural London, a city that might seem cold and wet at first but which usually in the end opens its heart to someone whoever they are and wherever they come from.

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