fri 09/10/2015

Film reviews, news & interviews


Emma Simmonds

"I just wanna know what I'm getting into," states FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), not unreasonably, as she heads blindly down the rabbit hole. She emerges into a lawless land where bad guys rule, police fearfully follow and her own side's principles have become unrecognisably warped, with their tactics questionable and objectives increasingly hard to grasp. Sicario is a nail-bitingly tense, precision-crafted and ferociously critical look at the US war on drugs from French-Canadian director...

DVD: Sparrows Can’t Sing

Kieron Tyler

Sparrows Can’t Sing can be seen in many ways. The film, completed in 1962 and released to British cinemas in March 1963, features an extraordinary cast which now seems an uncanny roll call of British character and comic actors: James Booth, Avis Bunnage, Yootha Joyce, Roy Kinnear, Stephen Lewis, Murray Melvin, Arthur Mullard, Victor Spinetti, Barbara Windsor and more. For this alone, Sparrows Can't Sing would be a landmark.It is also a classic comedy and funny - frequently, extremely so. It was...

10 Questions for Director Sarah Gavron

Demetrios Matheou

Director Sarah Gavron tends to make films with strong social content. Her TV movie This Little Life (2003) concerned a couple’s struggles after the...

Red Army

Tom Birchenough

There’s a screen quotation late in this remarkable documentary that reads, “An outstanding athlete cannot belong totally to himself.” The words are...

DVD: London Road

Jasper Rees

It’s a long old haul from the MGM musical to London Road. Alecky Blythe’s hugely original account of the murder in 2006 of five sex workers in...


Jasper Rees

The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore

DVD: Danny Collins

Adam Sweeting

Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey

Tom Birchenough

Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment

The Martian

Demetrios Matheou

Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure

DVD: Hard to Be a God

Graham Fuller

The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck

Rio+Film, Barbican

James Woodall

Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital

Just Jim

David Kettle

Submarine star Craig Roberts' coming-of-age debut feature is flawed but bracingly inventive


Demetrios Matheou

Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan star in an insightful biopic of James Dean

London Film Festival 2015


theartsdesk casts ahead to an LFF programme bursting with possibilities

Mia Madre

Emma Simmonds

Nanni Moretti gets painfully personal with this impeccably judged family drama

DVD: Dragon's Return

Tom Birchenough

Immaculate restoration of 1967 Slovak film, complete with remarkable score

DVD: L'Eclisse

Mark Kidel

Antonioni's 1962 classic of alienation loses none of its power

Listed: The Best Mountain Movies


As Everest opens, theartsdesk dons crampons to clamber among the cinematic peaks


Adam Sweeting

Spectacle and tragedy in the Himalayan death zone

DVD: CitizenFour

Tom Birchenough

The revelations and personality of Edward Snowden in Laura Poitras's studied documentary


Kieron Tyler

Affecting Oscar-nominated Estonian-Georgian plea for tolerance

A Girl at My Door

Kieron Tyler

Complex yet gripping feminist examination of South Korean social attitudes

Horse Money

Graham Fuller

The phantoms of Portuguese colonialism haunt Pedro Costa's masterpiece

DVD: The Tribe

Kieron Tyler

Home viewing reveals a dance-like quality to Miroslav Slaboshpitskiy’s strange Ukrainian film

Listed: 10 Multiplying Actors


From Alec Guinness to Lindsay Lohan, the actors who have wowed dual roles or more

Irrational Man

Matt Wolf

Woody Allen creates an absorbing and keenly plotted moral maze

DVD: Vivre sa vie

Graham Fuller

Anna Karina's prostitute inspired Jean-Luc Godard to make a New Wave classic

Misery Loves Comedy

David Kettle

Breezy but frustratingly lightweight dissection from US comedian Kevin Pollak


Tom Birchenough

Abel Ferrara’s elliptical take on the last days of the great Italian director

Footnote: a brief history of British film

England was movie-mad long before the US. Contrary to appearances in a Hollywood-dominated world, the celluloid film process was patented in London in 1890 and by 1905 minute-long films of news and horse-racing were being made and shown widely in purpose-built cinemas, with added sound. The race to set up a film industry, though, was swiftly won by the entrepreneurial Americans, attracting eager new UK talents like Charlie Chaplin. However, it was a British film that in 1925 was the world's first in-flight movie, and soon the arrival of young suspense genius Alfred Hitchcock and a new legal requirement for a "quota" of British film in cinemas assisted a golden age for UK film. Under the leadership of Alexander Korda's London Films, Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929) is considered the first true sound movie, documentary techniques developed and the first Technicolor movies were made.

Brief_EncounterWhen war intervened, British filmmakers turned effectively to lean, effective propaganda documentaries and heroic, studio-based war-films. After Hitchcock too left for Hollywood, David Lean launched into an epic career with Brief Encounter (pictured), Powell and Pressburger took up the fantasy mantle with The Red Shoes, while Carol Reed created Anglo films noirs such as The Third Man. Fifties tastes were more domestic, with Ealing comedies succeeded by Hammer horror and Carry-Ons; and more challenging in the Sixties, with New Wave films about sex and class by Lindsay Anderson, Joseph Losey and Tony Richardson. But it was Sixties British escapism which finally went global: the Bond films, Lean's Dr Zhivago, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music made Sean Connery, Julie Christie and Julie Andrews Hollywood's top stars.

In the 1970s, recession and the TV boom undermined cinema-going and censorship changes brought controversy: a British porn boom and scandals over The Devils, Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange. While Hollywood fielded Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese epics, Britain riposted with The Killing Fields, Chariots of Fire and Gandhi, but 1980s recession dealt a sharp blow to British cinema, and the Rank Organisation closed, after more than half a century. However more recently social comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Full Monty, and royal dramas such as The Queen and The King's Speech have enhanced British reputation for wit, social observation and character acting.

As more films are globally co-produced, the success of British individual talents has come to outweigh the modest showing of the industry itself. Every week The Arts Desk reviews latest releases as well as leading international film festivals, and features in-depth career interviews with leading stars. Its writers include Jasper Rees, Graham Fuller, Anne Billson, Nick Hasted, Alexandra Coghlan, Veronica Lee, Emma Simmonds, Adam Sweeting and Matt Wolf

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?

latest in Today

CD: Youssou N'Dour et Le Super Etoile de Dakar - Fattel...

Powerful and exuberant early live album from the Senegalese legend

They say it's John's birthday

John Lennon was born 75 years ago. To blow out the candles we revisit every...

Unforgotten, ITV

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar lead stellar cast into the murky criminal...

Sebadoh, Ramsgate Music Hall

The US indie rock band played a small gig that gave a big return


Denis Villeneuve is at the helm and Emily Blunt at the fore of a brutal nar...

Doctor Foster, Series Finale, BBC One

Gripping melodrama reaches its conclusion

Eventide, Arcola Theatre

Evocation of rudderless rural lives is beautifully staged

Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind, Rainbow, Birmingham

Evergreen punk blues man unveils his new band and tears the place down

DVD: Sparrows Can’t Sing

A not-so-Swinging Sixties in Joan Littlewood’s comedic yet fiercely politic...

10 Questions for Director Sarah Gavron

As Suffragette opens the London Film Festival, its director reflects on a g...


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters