Week two of the LFF puts us right in the heat of Oscar season, with directorial efforts from Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies) and Tom Hooper (The Damned United). If these names sound unfamiliar to you now, they certainly won’t be when Oscar season starts rolling around in January. Expect to keep hearing these people mentioned in passing on light entertainment shows like BBC Breakfast or Daybreak. As for whether they’re any good or not… well, read on and find out.
Of the two films this week, Another Year is probably the most disappointing. While not bad on any level, the sheer amount of hype leading up to the screening meant that it needed to meet or exceed such lofty expectations in order for it to qualify as the success so many people made it out to be. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen star as married couple Tom and Gerri (the inherent humour not ignored by the cast), who have to deal with the emotional traumas of their friends and family.
While it is, in typical Mike Leigh fashion, an truly ensemble production, it is Lesley Manville’s Mary that shines through. Delving into previous work by Brenda Blethyn and Imelda Staunton in Leigh films, Mary at first appears the standard ‘drunk friend’ character, but evolves during the film (set over the course of a year, given the film its title) in such nuanced levels that the final shot of her and a glass of wine manages to be extraordinarily gut-wrenching.
However, a brilliant performance does not a film make. While not bad in any way, I left the cinema wanting more from everyone involved. It is big on thematic issues and emotional beats, yet still manages to feel incomplete. Maybe this is just the weight of inordinately high expectations weighing down on my viewing; maybe it’s Leigh’s best work since Secrets and Lies and I haven’t realised it… maybe. (Rating: ****)
A film that certainly lived up to expectations was The King’s Speech. The historical drama about the friendship between King George VI (Colin Firth) and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the film is as flaccid and generic as many a historical drama that have come before it. Elevated out of mediocrity by a magnificent performance from Colin Firth, The King’s Speech should, but won’t, be forgotten quite quickly.
Set just before the onslaught of the Second World War, The King’s Speech focuses on the unusual tactics used by Lionel to try and cure the future King of his speech impediment. Originally designed as a play, if the film had only focused on this aspect of the story, it would have been a qualified success. Firth and Rush work wonderfully together and certain scenes are a real delight to watch (my favourite being one where the King has to utter profanities at an alarming speed). However, its focus on the broader issues such as the Abdication Crisis, while inherently relevant to the narrative, ends up dragging the entire film down. Its reductiveness of the issues involved in the film also doesn’t do any favours.
Still, the performances are admirable and the film is gorgeous to look at. It just never steps out of the historical biopic box and becomes something more than a stodgy, self-important drama. (Rating: ***)