Testament of Youth (2014) vs. Suite Française (2015) | Tit For Tat

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In which Emily compares two recent British period dramas focusing on women in war: Testament of Youth, a coming-of-age tale based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of the First World War, and Suite Française which explores the illicit affair between a married French woman and a Nazi officer during the French occupation.

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Watch “Elinor and Marianne Take Barton”, an updated online adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

THE DETAILS:
Testament of Youth (2014)
Director: James Kent
Writer: Juliette Towhidi
Production Companies: BBC Films, Heyday Films

Main cast: Alicia Vikander (Vera Brittain), Kit Harington (Roland Leighton), Emily Watson (Mrs Brittain), Hayley Atwell (Hope), Colin Morgan (Victor Richardson), Taron Egerton (Edward Brittain), Anna Chancellor (Mrs Leighton), Dominic West (Mr Brittain), Miranda Richardson (Miss Lorimer).


Suite Française (2015)
Director: Saul Dibb
Writers: Matt Charman and Saul Dibb
Production Companies: TF1 Productions, Alliance Films, Qwerty Films, Scope Films

Main cast: Michelle Williams (Lucile Angellier), Kristin Scott-Thomas (Madame Angellier), Matthias Schoenaerts (Lieutenant Bruno von Falk), Ruth Wilson (Madeline Labarie), Sam Riley (Benoit Labarie), Lambert Wilson (Viscount de Montmort), Harriet Wilson (Viscontess de Montmort), Margot Robbie (Celine Joseph).


Watch my review of Sense and Sensibility (1995) here.

Read my review of Testament of Youth (2014) here.

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Serena (2014) Review

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Image: indiewire.com

Dear reader,

Going to see a movie which is unremittingly awful is never pleasant. However, watching a film with a brilliant start gradually smoulder and die is nothing less than excruciating. This was unfortunately what I experienced whilst watching Susanne Bier’s Serena, a film with so much promise: an intriguing concept, stunning actors and design, but marred by a muddled execution and some poor creative choices.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (review)

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Image: erinmorgenstern.com

Dear reader,

Since its publication in 2011, Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus has attracted a host of positive reviews from critics and readers alike. Everyone, from Audrey Niffenegger (of The Time Traveller’s Wife fame) to The Times, Guardian and Heat, has been falling in love with this book and this adoration has been well-documented in paper and online. My interest was piqued by the promise of historical fantasy and the decorative black and white front cover. (There are some bibliophiles strong enough not to be swayed by gorgeous cover art. I, unfortunately, am not one of them.) In the book world, hype often comes before a fall, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The Night Circus not only lives up to the magical, spectacular reputation it has garnered, but actually (for the most part) exceeds it.

‘The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.’

Trying to put what The Night Circus is about into words is a difficult, almost impossible task. The novel is about atmosphere, fantasy and imagination, and large parts of the book are devoted to individual vignettes surrounding the creation and workings of the titular circus. This is not a book with a traditional, straightforward plot made from a series of cause-and-effect events. But broadly, The Night Circus is about Celia, the daughter of a stage illusionist called Prospero the Enchanter who also happens to be a real magician.

When her mother commits suicide, Celia is sent to live with her cold and somewhat cruel father. Prospero pits Celia against the adopted son of one of his rivals in a contest of magical skill using the newly-created Cirque des Rêves as the venue. What follows is an enchanting and multi-layered story which details not just the growing love between Celia and her rival Marco, but also the circus itself.

Le Cirque des Rêves is far more than a backdrop to the story. In short sequences interspersed with the main action of the story, Morgenstern introduces us to the different spectacles found at the circus: from illusionists to tarot readers, labyrinths, snake charmers and acrobats. We are given an overwhelming sensory experience which truly brings you into the world of the Night Circus.  The main story explains to the reader how the circus was conceived and created, from the wonderfully elaborate clock to the black and white costumes designed for the performers, and even the human cost to those whose job it is to create and maintain the circus.

All this is done without stripping away any of the wonder or mystery which makes the circus itself so appealing

It is not only Morgenstern’s imagination which makes the world she creates so appealing, but her writing style as well. I can’t remember the last contemporary title which was so enjoyable to read for the language alone. When Marco creates an illusion of a boat, she writes: “The wind increases, sending waves of dark ink crashing into the ship. Pages fall from the sails, swirling around them like leaves.” As well as being a novelist, Erin Morgenstern is also a visual artist, and has even created a deck of monochrome tarot cards in keeping with the themes of the book. The author’s interest in art and theatre translates to the rich imagery she uses to realise the Night Circus.

With such a dazzling world as the setting, it is almost inevitable that many of the characters fade somewhat into the background. Celia Bowen herself is a likeable heroine who tolerates her father’s cruelty and the toll of circus life with brave pragmatism. But her rival and love interest, Marco, and many members of the supporting cast are not fully fleshed out and this, coupled with the sheer number of them, can make it difficult to keep track of who everyone is and what their relationships are to the other characters.

I found Celia’s attraction to Marco to be a little rushed. She spends a sizeable portion of the book unaware of her rival’s very existence, then what feels like a few pages later, she is declaring her undying love and prepared to sacrifice her life for him. This could arguably be explained by the story’s debt to fairy tales, a genre not much fettered by realistic relationship development. But as the Celia – Marco romance is such a significant element of the book, in my opinion it would have been good to devote more time to developing its earlier stages.

Whether the somewhat thinly drawn characters will impact on your enjoyment depends very much on the kind of reader you are: some will be able to embrace The Night Circus’ emphasis on atmosphere and spectacle over realistic, detailed characterisation, but readers who need a strong, goal-oriented protagonist may struggle with The Night Circus’ kaleidoscope of characters.

Image: theliteraryplatform.com

The Night Circus is not just a case of reading words printed on paper. Like the greatest books, it is an immersive experience. I have never been happier to leave the real world than when I departed for Morgenstern’s exquisitely imagined Cirque des Rêves. Summit Entertainment has already optioned The Night Circus, meaning that we could very well see a film in a few years’ time. Although Morgenstern’s visual style might appear ideal for celluloid, I can’t help but feel that a lot of the charm might get lost in translation. When the circus’ attractions are all rendered in computer generated effects rather than in your imagination, you lose the play between reality and magic which the book creates.

Despite the influences of theatre, visual art, cinema and circus performance, The Night Circus is a uniquely literary experience. This is escapism at its finest and most beautiful, a dazzling and witty story of illusions and love, with a world I am already looking forward to revisiting.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Review

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Dear reader,

Yes, the time has come for me to review one of the most hotly anticipated and most derided films of this year: Fifty Shades of Grey (2015).

In brief, a talented cast and crew try their utmost to deliver a decent film, but their efforts are somewhat marred by the fact that they’re, you know, adapting Fifty Shades of Grey.

You all know the story: meek college student Anastasia Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way Steele interviews masochistic billionaire Christian Grey for the student newspaper. The two are smitten with each other, but Christian’s ‘tortured past’ has given him a predilection for bondage, and he introduces Ana to a new world of sex, wealth and anatomical improbability.

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Testament of Youth (2015) Film Review

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Image: meetup.com

Dear reader,

I went to see Testament of Youth (2015) last weekend. The film wasn’t playing at the cinema in my town, so it was quite a trek to go to see it! However, it was completely worth it: Testament of Youth is an intelligent, moving testament to courage, love and the indomitable spirit of its heroine.

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‘The Theory of Everything’ (2014): Review

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(Image: en.wikipedia.org)

Dear reader,

When I went to see The Theory of Everything, I was expecting a dull, awards bait-y “great white man struggles against his disabilities”, but I was actually surprisingly charmed by this film. Yes, it’s light on science, but I don’t go to the cinema for a physics lecture anyway.

Eddie Redmayne is a gem as Stephen Hawking.

It’s almost impossible to believe whilst watching this film that Redmayne is a perfectly healthy, able-bodied young man, and he also captures the wit, charm and stubborn-ness which makes Hawking such a well-known figure. Felicity Jones is ok as Jane Hawking. She’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but she gives exactly the same “nice, serious English rose” performance as her work in The Invisible Woman, Northanger Abbey and most of the rest of her oeuvre. The girl needs a better agent, or to be more adventurous with the parts she chooses, because she’s currently stuck on repeat. I want someone to David Fincher her like what happened to Helena Bohnam-Carter in Fight Club. She should play a drug addict or something.

Jones isn’t helped by the fact that, despite this film supposedly being an even split between Stephen and Jane, she has much less to do and also has to attempt to deliver some of the film’s hokiest lines with a straight face.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this film, and even had a little cry at one or two points. It’s funny and poignant in all the right places, with some exquisite cinematography and excellent performances across the board. Plus the British cuties were out in force, what with Eddie Redmayne, Charlie Cox (Stardust) and Harry Lloyd (Robin HoodGreat Expectations). I enjoyed.

xoxo Emily Rose

Read my interview with the director and writer of The Theory of Everything here.

 The Theory of Everything: Interviews with the director and writer

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(Image: comingsoon.net)

Dear reader,

The Theory of Everything is one of the most exciting British films of the year, and has been garnering plenty of Oscar buzz (especially Eddie Redmayne for his astounding performance as the young Stephen Hawking). I met the director and the writer of the Hawking biopic in a room at the luxurious Claridge’s hotel, which was decorated for Christmas like a real winter wonderland. Antony McCartan, a New Zealand born writer for stage, screen and prose, is chatty and immediately engaging, demonstrating real passion for his subject matter behind the wise-cracks. James Marsh, a director most well-known for his documentaries such as Project Nimm and Man on Wire, is the quieter of the two, but when he does speak, his answers are thought-provoking and insightful.

“I read Jane Hawking’s autobiography [Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen] in 2004, and was inspired by the incredible courage and beauty of their personal life,” says McCartan. “I was already in awe of Stephen’s achievements and I thought if we could marry the two, we’d have a shot at an exceptional film.”

McCartan’s first job was to get the rights to the book from Jane Hawking. “I had naively imagined I could do that in one afternoon with my enormous charm,” McCartan says wryly. “But it’s very sensitive material and it turned out to be quite a scary thing for someone to show up and say they want to make a movie of your life. You’re shining a big searchlight into someone’s intimate life.

In the end, it took eight years for them to grow into the idea: Jane, then the children and finally Stephen.

“I had made it very clear from the beginning that I wanted script control and that because her autobiography had been unflinching, I thought her story demanded an unflinching approach. And, to her credit, neither she nor Stephen ever asked for any of the more delicate information to be taken out. I think that’s a tribute to their bravery and their honesty.”

And how did James Marsh come on board?

“We asked him,” grins McCartan. “We thought that was a polite way to do it.”

“I was under the impression that it was a biopic of Stephen Hawking and I wasn’t sure I’d be the right person to take that on,” states Marsh. “I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was something altogether different. Having Jane’s character as an equal voice in the film was a deciding factor for me: Stephen is a public figure to whom we have some access, whereas Jane’s story is not so well-known. The love story was surprising too and that really is the definition of the film, a portrait of a relationship between two people. I was surprised and delighted by the script… It was a gift.”

“James was a gift,” says McCartan. “Once he was on board, this very slow-moving project suddenly got wings. Everyone wanted to make a movie with James Marsh directing.”

James Marsh said that casting the film was surprisingly straightforward. “There’s a generation of great young British actors and actresses. Eddie [Redmayne] had just done Les Miserables… When I contacted him, he understood almost immediately what the script entailed. Once I’d met him, I was pretty sure that he was the one and everyone came on board pretty quickly after that.”

“Felicity Jones is an actress I’ve had my eye on for a while; I thought she was really interesting in Like Crazy and The Invisible Woman. I met her and we read them [Eddie and Felicity] together and they immediately worked off each other…So that gave us a lot of confidence because this was the defining choice of the film – if we cast inadequately, then the film was going to fall apart on day one.”

“Eddie was as daunted by the role as I was to make the film, which was a very good starting point. Fear makes you work. He spent time with a vocal coach, a movement coach, met people with motor neurone disease and was able to detail his performance very specifically. If you watch the film more than once, you see how detailed his performance is and how intentional everything is that he does. The physicality had to be there every day as a given for the performance to come through.”

Stephen Hawking said he could have been watching himself, which is an extraordinary compliment to Eddie.

“Eddie was his own worst critic and he would often ask for another take when he felt he hadn’t done it quite right. It was uncomfortable every day for him and he had to reposition some of his muscles, to forget some and make others work in his face. But, as he always said, it was not like having the illness, because he could always get up and walk away.”

When McCartan was asked how he approached the adaptation of a real-life story, he explains, “I took out the boring bits, kept all the interesting ones and fused scenes together. Those are the necessary elisions and conflations that you have to – and should – make. Sometimes you do great disservice to the emotional truth if you doggedly stay with every fact. So you work out what your theme is and you serve your theme. Our theme was time, the nature of time, and what it does to people.”

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones with physicist Stephen Hawking (Image: tinyobsessions.wordpress.com)

We honour all the major scientific break-throughs. They aren’t the boring bits – the boring bits are doing the laundry and putting gas in the car. We had to suggest the enormous, dull workload of Jane in a very few scenes without labouring it. She was a Trojan and although we don’t devote a lot of screen time to it, people (especially women) come away from the movie saying that she must have been a saint to raise three children and look after Stephen.”

“Stephen hasn’t written an autobiography and was on record saying he didn’t seek any investigation of his personal life,” says McCartan. “He wanted the focus to be on his work. But fortunately there’s a lot in the public domain about him and we brought in a physicist, an ex-student of Stephen’s, to help shine light on the science. Jane’s book gave a lot of insight into Stephen, especially when he got the diagnosis. Jane showed the depths to which he sunk. Hawking’s an artist, he’s under-celebrated as a writer of prose. So something of the witty, Oscar Wilde maverick about him was probably the touchstone for me.”

Marsh adds that, “A Brief History of Time is very pithy, well-written in a simple way, because each word is an agony to produce.”

Both men agree that the feedback from the Hawking family has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Stephen, Jane and the children all felt that the world we had created was very familiar,” says McCartan. Marsh adds that, “They all praised the honesty of the depiction of the marriage, which was a very generous thing for them to say.”

Any tips for aspiring writers and directors? “Don’t do it!” grins McCartan, mischievously.

“You can spend a lifetime not working,” says Marsh. “There’s been an element of luck in my career. You can’t really manufacture luck – the main thing you need is to be curious about the world… That’s a good starting point for any creative endeavour.

“Any good idea you have comes from hard work.

“There’s no reservoir of inspirational genius – you have to work, work, work and then you have an idea that’s worth having,” says Marsh, but adds, “Studying the great works of screenplays and movies was how I learnt how to make films.”

McCartan adds, “Everybody I know who’s ever worked in a creative role and has been one way or another successful, would have done it without any rewards. They would have done it in the absence of money or fame – you just have to do it.”

Eddie Redmayne has already won an award at SAG 2015, but will he triumph at the Oscars too? We’ll find out later this year…

Read my review of The Theory of Everything here.

Thirty Before Thirty

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Dear reader,

I am terrified of wasting my twenties! If you know me at all, I can’t stand being stuck in a routine and I think that’s very easy to do when you have to Be An Adult and Do Responsible Things

Inspired by Books and Quills, I’ve made a list of the Thirty Things I Want to Do Before I’m Thirty.

1. Live in London

2. Go on an overseas holiday with a friend (and no parental involvement)

3. Make a blog

4. Fall in love

5. Kiss someone in the rain

6. Read all the books on my ‘100 Book Challenge’

7. Watch everything on my ‘100 Movies/TV Shows Challenge’

8. Learn First Aid

9. Visit Warwick Castle (I go to the University of Warwick and I’ve never been there! Shame on me… Plus I love all things The Kingmaker’s Daughter and Richard/Anne)

10. Complete a novel (as in, edit etc not just the first draft)

11. Eat yoghurt on the steps of the Met (Gossip Girl style)

12. Send a love letter

13. Fill my entire Q & A book (a friend gave me a neat book with a question per day for the next five years)

14. Dress as a fictional character

15. Go to a midnight screening of a film

16. Pass my driving test

17. Take an art class

18. Fill a sketchbook with drawings

19. Go to the carnival in Venice

20. Volunteer for a good cause

21. Graduate from university

22. See a musician I love live

23. Have a job where I get paid to do stuff (every graduate’s dream)

24. Go to an outdoor cinema

25. Help a friend with something important

26. Meet a celebrity I admire

27. Become good at some sort of craft

28. Get paid to do something creative (every artist’s dream)

29. Make a scrapbook

30. Go ice-skating (and hopefully don’t die)

I’m nearly 21, which gives me nine years and two months to complete this list. Will I succeed or fail miserably? Only time will tell…