Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Kristin Scott Thomas’

Darkest Hour ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th February, 2018

Darkest HourJoe Wright’s somewhat fictionalised biopic of Winston Churchill (a tour de force by actor Gary Oldman, unrecognisable beneath remarkable prosthetic makeup that convincingly brings back to life Britain’s war-time bulldog) recounts the tense weeks of May 1940, when the Germans were sweeping west across continental Europe and the bulk of the British army was stranded on the French coast. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister who had declared Peace for Our Time after meeting Adolf Hitler in Munich two years earlier, was ousted but it was by no means inevitable that Winston Churchill would succeed him as Leader of the Conservative Party, as he had quite a lot of inconvenient political baggage, too, including several years as a defector to the Liberal Party and, more damningly, ownership of the disastrous Gallipoli landings in the First World War. In Anthony McCarten’s powerful screenplay, Chamberlain and the Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax, are pitted against Churchill as proponents of peace negotiations with Hitler, to be brokered by Mussolini. Churchill gambled to stand and fight instead, saved by the successful evacuation of most of the 300,000 men from the beach at Dunkirk and the power of his own rhetoric, which roused and united the nation as well as the House of Commons. But the key to the success of Darkest Hour is the delicate balance between the bluster and bullying of the politician Churchill with the self-doubt and vulnerability of the man that existed behind the facade. Winston’s three important relationships in the film are with his wife Clementine (convincingly played by Kristen Scott Thomas), King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) and his young secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) — all sensitively handled, at times with humour that pricks the tension of the dramatic times. Visually, the film is sumptuous, the atmosphere enhanced by Joe Wright’s characteristic tracking shots of Londoners going about their daily business. There is an almost dream-like sequence in an underground carriage when Churchill sounds out ordinary people as to whether they are ready to resist to the death. I found that jarred rather with the realism of most of the rest of the footage. But the evocation of determined national spirit will wow many cinema audiences during our own period of a different kind of political uncertainty. And Gary Oldman’s towering performance largely makes up for any historical shortcomings.


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The Party *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th October, 2017

The PartyWhen an ambitious Labour politician is appointed Shadow Health Secretary, she invites her closest friends round to the house for a small celebration. But from the moment her neglected husband starts acting weirdly it becomes clear that things are not going to plan. That turns out to be the understatement of the year, as the complex plots strands of this rich black comedy become ever more tangled and extreme. Tightly constructed, Sally Potter’s film The Party is shot in black-and-white, intensifying resonances of 1960s’ French cinéma d’auteur, as well as Look Back in Anger and other kitchen-sink dramas. The contemporary twist is that this is essentially a film about women, by a woman, and with a stellar cast of female actors, including a bravura performance by Kristin Scott Thomas as the increasingly discombobulated politician hostess, Janet. The screenplay — by Sally Potter herself — fizzes and the camera work is brilliant, some of the most effective shots being taken at floor level. All in all, this is a wonderful, subversive package of surprises, leaving this viewer at least stunned and with much food for thought.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th April, 2012

Impossible dreams are what drive humankind forward: we were given free will to think the unthinkable. Karl Popper used to talk about creative leaps of the imagination and although doubtless some people will think me pretentious for saying so, that is what came to my mind as I emerged from watching Lasse Holstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Based on the best-selling novel by Paul Torday, the movie recounts the quest by an extremely rich Arab shekih (Amr Waked) to reproduce the thrill (for him) of salmon fishing on one of his Scottish Highland estates, but in the Yemen, with the aid of a dam, a Scottish ichthyologist (Ewan McGregor) and a smart young female public relations-cum-mnagement consultant (Emily Blunt). Like many dreams,the scheme is preposterous, yet passion and commitment — and pots of money — make it happen, even if initial victory is swept away by the forces of reaction. It’s a powerful story, shot against wonderful backdrops of Scotland and Morocco (a safer stand-in for the Yemen) and there is much acting, notably by Ewan McGregor, whose portrayal of the single-minded fish specialist is both bathetic and endearing. Kristin Scott Thomas as the hard-nosed (indeed, hard everything) press relations guru of a shallow British Prime Minister is a sort of cross between Alistair Campbell and Cruella De Ville; it may be a caricature but it is an effective one and underlines her potenial as a bitchy Maggie Smith for future cameo roles. All in all, a feel-good film that mixes high drama with some good jokes and an often intelligent script. Another ‘hit’ for the British film industry, I’m sure.

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