EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

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QUEEN & SLIM

Cert 15 Stars 4

Fear and harassment on an online date leads to violence and a desperate bid for freedom in this confident, muscular, accomplished and heartbreaking US crime drama which always feels authentic and never exploitative.

When a white policeman is shot after he’s pulled them over, black citizens Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya try to escape to communist Cuba, a destination full of implicit criticism of US capitalism and its historical relationship with slave labour.

By turns thrilling, funny and moving, their journey progresses from being a road trip expose of US racial divisions to a lyrical love story, with a script which digs into ideas of social mobility, role models and solidarity.

However TV reports and social media bestows an unwelcome air of celebrity on the outlaw pair, feeding negative stereotypes and helping perpetuate a cycle of oppression.

As a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make a combative and sexy pair, and shockingly overlooked by the major awards the British acting duo could at least have expected some recognition from the BAFTAs.

NO FATHERS IN KASHMIR

Cert 15 Stars 3

There are few more promising dramatic scenarios than teenage romance in a war torn country, but this modern day coming-of-age tale is more concerned with raising awareness for its tragic real life background than delivering gripping spectacle.

Noor is a British teen visiting her grandparents who live in Kashmir, the poverty stricken border country which has been the centre of a war between India and Pakistani since 1947.

Zara Webb’s smartphone wielding attitude is wholly convincing, but she occasionally struggles to carry the emotional weight asked of her.

Through her relationship with a scooter-riding local charmer played by Shivam Raina, the script explores the tragedy of the thousands of ‘disappeared’ men who have been taken by the army, leaving the village women not knowing if they are wives or widows.

Threadbare thriller elements and grim reality sit uneasily with the underpowered romance and too many characters exist simply to explain a point of view.

There’s no doubting the filmmakers sincere intent but this may have been better structured as a straightforward documentary.

WEATHERING WITH YOU

Cert 12A Stars 4

This soaring animated adventure is a wondrous coming-of-age fable which drowns in a flood of gorgeous illustration and threatens to wash you away with its tender humour and emotional currents.

When 16 year old Hodaka runs away to Tokyo he falls for the beautiful Hina, a teenager possessed of the magical ability to make the rain stop sun shine.

As Japan suffers a deluge of biblical proportions, it’s a timely gift is which they put to practical use, but it comes with a terrible price which threatens the happiness of these star-crossed lovers.

Drawing on mythic tales of weather maidens and Sky dragons, and featuring a cast of colourful characters Charles Dickens would be proud of, it’s a whirlpool of eco-fantasy, and poignant love story of teenagers struggling to adapt to life in the big bad city.

Brit actor Riz Ahmed is joined by Lee Pace and Alison Brie in putting their voices to this this joyous affair which is a guaranteed ray of sun in the cold dark days of January.

 

THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS

Cert 12A 89mins Stars 2

There’s little to laugh at in this slight, limp, frustrating and maudlin millennial romcom.

The likeable Zosia Mamet stars as aspiring writer and singleton, Diana, who has moved to New York after three years in London.

She takes a job in a bridal shop and this is probably intended as irony but the script fails to build on the idea.

Moving into an apartment Diana is surprised to discover her ex-boyfriend is the boy living downstairs and OMG, in a new relationship.

Matthew Shear’s struggling musician Ben is such a remarkably unprepossessing presence I’m staggered he can romance not one but two attractive women during the course of the film.

And that’s without his default behaviour which is clingy, spineless and dull.

Thank goodness for Diana’s best friend Gabby, who brings energy and humour and is far more worthy of our attention than her sadly scant screen time allows.

Plus her love life seems much more dynamic, interesting and well, fun.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY

Cert 12A 124mins Stars 4

Tuck in to this crowd pleasing tasty feast of a post-war detective story. Served with a heart-warming helping of romance, it’s far more satisfying than it sounds.

Star of Disney’s live action Cinderella and formerly of Downton Abbey, Lily James takes centre stage as a successful author called Juliet.

She’s sent to Guernsey in 1946 to write about the eponymous book and cookery club, established by the locals as a self support group during the wartime Nazi occupation.

To underscore the film belongs to James, she’s given a full Hollywood entrance in a stunning yellow ballgown. Always an engaging presence, she sweeps us away with her considerable talent and charm.

Though initially welcomed by the club, its members are reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the founder member who is mysteriously ‘off island’. So Juliet sets off to uncover the truth of her disappearance.

Very much a love letter to literature of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so true to form our romantically named heroine is caught between the attentions of Glen Powell’s dashing American diplomat, and Michiel Huisman’s hunky book-loving farmer, called Darcy, sorry, Dawsey. 

With complex family loyalties and grief and anger for those lost in the war, the script takes a sideways glance at the UK’s torturous relationship with the European mainland.

This is an exception to the cinematic rule of thumb which says the length of a films’ title is in inverse proportion to its quality. It’s stuffed with rich characters and production design, and set on the picture postcard-pretty island.

Plus there’s great warmth and humour from supporting cast, particularly veteran stars Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtney.

Director Mike Newell is one of the great unsung heroes of British cinema, due to his unassuming signature style which always serves the audience by putting the story first.

The result is a rewarding and entertaining slice of British fare you can really get your teeth into. 

 

OVERBOARD

Cert 12A 112mins Stars 3

Allow yourself to drift along with this sunny and smooth sailing romcom and you’ll not be disappointed with your destination.

Anna Faris plays a struggling single mother, Kate, who convinces Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez’s amnesia-ridden wealthy playboy they’re married.

It’s a gender-flipped remake of the 1987 comedy starring Goldie Hawn as a socialite and Kurt Russell as working-class single father.

As ever Faris brings a wealth of charm and comic ability, and works well with Derbez, who is the one of the best known names in Latin American entertainment.

He plays the dashing and obnoxious Leonardo who lives on a super-yacht filled with bimbos and butlers, with Scots actor John Hannah cruising along as one of the latter.

Having insulted the hard working Kate, Leo later falls overboard drunk, and washes ashore with no memory.

This allows Kate to convince him they are married, enabling he to focus on her nursing exams while he goes out to work and looks after the housework and her three blonde daughters

The youngest two are ridiculously cute and the eldest is a suitably stroppy teen. Kate also enjoys an easy rapport with Eva Longoria, as her best friend, Theresa.

Though the story flounders early on, it finds it’s stroke and rhythm once Leonardo’s rehabilitation gets underway.

It’s all knowingly preposterous, and openly acknowledges its debt to the many appalling but hugely popular daytime Mexican soap operas.

And it’s not afraid to makes points about the extra unpaid domestic work women do after a hard day’s work.

As a wall is built between Mexico and the US in the real world, the film’s cross cultural love across the barricades borders on being a provocative political statement.

Although I was never swept away by the predictable romance and I wasn’t rolling in waves of laughter, it’s harmlessly enjoyable, appropriately forgettable, and a mild improvement on the original.