Love And Friendship

Director: Walt Stillman (2016)

Like TV’s Downton Abbey but with wit and considerably better breeding, this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan is an elegant waspish joy.

There’s corsets for the ladies and mutton chops for the chaps. With a full carriage of wealthy suitors, impoverished friends and watchful servants, it’s a sharp eyed trot though the drawing rooms of nineteenth century stately homes.

Kate Beckinsale is ravishing in scarlet as the penniless widow out to secure a good marriage for herself and her daughter. As young Frederica an impressive Morfydd Clark suffers her mother’s machinations with determined grace.

Tom Bennett is marvellously silly as the stupid, wealthy and available Sir James Martin. Chloe Sevigny, Jemma Redgrave and Stephen Fry are swept up with the gossip, intrigue and social commentary as it flits between London the crisp English countryside.

Under the comic assault of Austen’s withering writing, the cast contrive to keep a straight face with far more success than I managed to do.

Though the selfish, arrogant and manipulative Lady Susan is a collection of unattractive traits, we warm to her because she is alarmingly funny, decisive, intelligent and not to be denied her pleasure because society frowns upon her doing so.

It would be intriguing to read Austen’s thoughts on the gender divide in 2016, a year in which it’s possible to argue this year’s best role for a fortysomething actress was written by herself 200 years ago.



The Call Up

Director: Charles Barker (2016)

I was tempted to go MIA while watching this misfiring sci fi action thriller.

Virtual reality gamers feeling the real pain of warfare is a strong premise. But the potential is carelessly squandered by the lack of polish in the script. This translates into a deficit of onscreen urgency, tension or humour.

Eight expert online gamers are invited to the top floor of a tower block.

Identified to each other only by their avartars, they’re squeezed into full immersion technology suits; an unforgiving combo of nylon jump suits and white armour.

Believing they’re playing a hi-tech version of paintball, they’re instructed to fight their way past ‘terrorists’ to the ground floor.

This is a similar scenario to the comic book adaptation Dredd (2012) and Indonesian martial arts movie The Raid: Redemption (2012). It worked brilliantly there but not so much here.

A strangely muted pace and the workaday action lacks the gleeful sadism of recent low similar budget flicks such as The Purge (2013).

The player with highest points will win £100,000 prize money. However the team quickly discover being shot involves pain, injury and even death. This is definitely not what they  signed up for.

Sadly the twist ending isn’t worth waiting for. Plus the characters are so thinly sketched we don’t care.

Morfydd Clark and Ali Cook are among the hard working actors struggling to inject life into a sterile environment.

There’s some sweet design in the costumes and technology but even assuming for the budget constraints, the location dressing is uninspired.

What should compensate is scorching action, great dialogue, the sense of a wider world, a critique of game playing or perhaps an examination of the correlation between on and off screen violence. And all of this is missing.

By setting itself low ambitions and barely achieving them, experiencing The Call Up was far too much a call of duty.