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. 

 

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD

Cert 12A 130mins Stars 3

Find a quiet place in the corner of your heart for this gentle Japanese animation.

Melancholy and reflective in tone, the script encourages us to consider the effect of conflict on the least privileged in society and is full of stealthy anti-war rhetoric.

With the war kept at arms length for much of the time, there is an emphasis on the wonder of the natural world and the simple pleasures of drawing and cooking.

Naive, uneducated and impoverished, young Suzo is married off in haste at the outbreak of the Second World War.

She leaves her family in Hiroshima and moves to a farm above a military port, where her husband works as a lowly clerk.

The filmmakers respect our knowledge of the horrors which lie in Suzo’s future, and by focussing on the details of her day by day drudgery, they create a heavy cloud of tension which looms over the film.

 

CHURCHILL

Cert PG 98min Stars 4

Brian Cox gives a rich full bodied performance as the UK’s greatest Prime Minister in this compelling wartime drama.

Suitably stately and sombre, it’s a sometimes stagey account of his days leading up to D-Day in June, 1944. Having steered the country through the war, Churchill is affronted when marginalised by the allied Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower.

Moving between gravitas, charm, weariness and anger, Cox essays a deeply personal portrait of Winston Churchill. This is a man haunted by his disastrous campaign at Gallipoli in the First World War and anxious to avoid unnecessary bloodshed on the Normandy beaches.

As the outcome of the Second World War isn’t in doubt, we’re presented with a superbly performed character study, with each principal actor given their chance to shine.

Julian Wadham, John Slattery and James Purefoy respectively play Montgomery, Eisenhower, King George VI and and each give a distinctive interpretation of the very different personalities.

Miranda Richardson is sadly rationed as Churchill’s no-nonsense wife, Clementine, possibly because she dominates whenever she enters a room.

There are echoes of Shakespeare’s King Lear in this moving account as Cox humanises the great man, capturing his mood swings, self doubt, irascible spirit and sharp wit. Cox savours his dialogue, swilling words around his mouth as Churchill does his ever present Scotch and cigars

With an insistence on the importance of General’s leading from the front and concern for civilian casualties, the brisk script is inherently critical of the vogue for drone warfare.

An absence of spectacle and battles allows the elegant photography to conjure a carefully composed mood of apprehension and fear.

The power and intelligence of the film swell up on us, erupting in a magnificent piece of Churchillian oratory which may well inspire people to stand in the aisles and salute. It would be fully deserved by the film, and the man.

WONDER WOMAN

Cert 12A 140mins Stars 4

A super powered supermodel breaks the hero mould in this thrilling, involving and funny action spectacular.

Glamazon Israeli actress Gal Gadot is undeniably kick ass as the Amazon warrior princess. And she impresses in quieter scenes as her civilian alter ego Diana Prince. In these she’s an endearing mix of Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman and Christopher Reeves’ Clarke Kent.

Gadot benefits enormously by being paired with Chris Pine as ace spy and airman, Steve Trevor. Best known as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Pine’s gift for romantic comedy is astutely deployed in a hand holding role to aid the less experienced actress.

Leaving her home of Paradise Island to fight on the Belgian front, Wonder Woman seeks to kill the legendary Aries. Diana holds the ancient greek god of war responsible for the mass carnage and believes he’s taken the form of Danny Huston’s German general, Ludendorff.

There is hope and optimism as the old fashioned values of sacrifice, courage and duty are dressed up in state of art CGI.

A long way from the daft TV series starring Lynda Carter, this Wonder Woman is strong, smart and sexy. As one character says of her ‘I’m both frightened and aroused’.

From Supergirl to Catwoman female superhero films have been terrible. After fifteen super successful films starring various masked heroes, Marvel have no plans to make one.

This is despite their having the globally popular actress Scarlett Johansson playing a more significant character, the Black Widow, and even giving Ant-Man his own movie.

Meanwhile lead by the anguished Henry Cavill as Superman, the DC comics film adaptations have been overly long, dark and dull.

Director Patty Jenkins blows all this away with a fabulous mix of epic fantasy, wartime romance and screwball comedy.

Easily the best DC superhero film since Christian Bale hung up his Batman cowl, this woman is a downright wonder.

THE SECRET SCRIPTURE

Cert 12A 108mins Stars 2

Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan has previously delivered great work, such as the socially aware dramas, My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father.

Sadly this overwrought production is a muddled affair, with elements of gothic horror, mystery drama, and wartime romance, all jostling to dominate.

Eric Bana’s dashing doctor has been summoned to assess Rose McNulty. Accused of killing her baby, the fragile widow has since been held in a mental asylum for forty years. As the narrative flits between then and now, a personalised bible holds clues to the truth.

There’s no shortage of impassioned performances, with Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara play the old and young versions of Rose.

But Sheridan’s cynicism at small town hypocrisy, punitive Irish republicanism and the brutal church, all sit uneasily with a deep lying sentimentality.

An oppressive score leaves no room for subtlety, and the script contains no secret worthy of the name.

 

 

THEIR FINEST

Cert 12A 117mins Stars 4

Gemma Arteton makes movie magic in this hugely entertaining second world war comedy drama.

The actress deploys her ample talent as Catrin, a writer who inadvertently wages a one woman war on sexism in the British film industry. It’s a gift of a role which makes the most of her ability to be warm, vulnerable, smart and sexy.

Meanwhile wily old trouper Bill Nighy leads a first class platoon of homegrown supporting talent, which includes Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan and Jeremy Irons.

Working though the Blitz, Catrin discovers looking like a Bond girl in a male dominated environment provides additional hazards.

Equipped with a wedding ring, a thick skin and a desire to succeed, Catrin shares a small office with the cynical senior writer, Tom, played by the dependable Sam Claflin.

They must concoct a screenplay celebrating an heroic episode from the evacuation of Dunkirk. But their work is complicated when they discover the ‘facts’ involved in their story are not as have been reported in the press.

With deception is key to filmmaking, especially in the art of propaganda, Their Finest explores the way great fictions can reveal even larger truths, and looks at the way lies are employed to serve a greater good. But the tone is never strident and the story is never neglected.

Plus there’s a lot of fun with the mechanics and tricks of filmmaking, and affectionate spoofs of the period style of cinema.

Confident and sure footed, the script seems to commit a clumsy narrative stumble as it nears its destination. But its necessary to allow this uplifting and inspirational tale to reach its empowering conclusion.

Handsomely photographed, wonderfully played and full of humour, this is a thoroughly British crowd pleaser in every way. All the more surprising then, it was directed by a Dane, the talented Lone Scherfig.

DUNKIRK (2017)

Cert 12A 106mins Stars 5

Christopher Nolan makes a full frontal assault on the Oscars with this spectacular Second World War action epic and a 21 gun salute to the Dunkirk spirit.

The writer/director allies astonishing technical ability with inventive storytelling to deliver a vision of war which is serious, respectful and thrilling.

Just to the north of  Calais, 340,000 Allied troops are being bombarded by the German airforce, and praying for a miracle evacuation from the bleak shores of the French port, Dunkirk.

We see the history-defining battle from land, sea and air, with each theatre of war launching a ferocious attack on your senses.

We’re put in a Spitfire cockpit during a dogfight, in the belly of ship as it’s torpedoed,  and on the beach strafed by enemy aircraft.

Oscar winner Mark Rylance is suitably stoic as a pilot of one of the famous ‘little ships’, the flotilla of civilian craft who crossed the English Channel to rescue the soldiers.

Young Brit newcomer Fionn Whitehead heads the ensemble cast as one of the British soldiers desperate to get off the beach. He’s joined by pop star Harry Styles in his feature film acting debut.

The inclusion of the One Direction singer looked from a distance the worst type of publicity hungry casting. But if you didn’t know who the  was, you‘d probably be picking him out as an actor to watch in the future.

Tom Hardy is ace as a Spitfire pilot tasked with protecting the ships from the air. He’s probably the only actor in Hollywood happy to have his face obscured by an oxygen mask for pretty much all his screen time.

Surviving real life Spitfires were used in filming and seeing these magnificent and graceful planes in full flight is incurably romantic.

With a compelling story, there is no need for Hollywood romance, jokes in tight or gung ho heroics. And it doesn’t matter the sparse dialogue is mostly functional and the fictitious characters are not explored in depth.

A typically time warping narrative from the Memento director means scenes are repeated from different views, adding perspective, poignancy and a great amount of tension. Eventually the Dunkirk spirit is distilled into a single searing image, perfectly capturing the burning sacrifices made.

After his ponderous sci-fi opus Interstellar, and his bloated Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, this is Nolan’s finest film and a superb return to form.

So prepare yourself to take  flight with his immersive and emotional masterpiece.