sat 06/02/2016

Film reviews, news & interviews


Graham Fuller

Trumbo depicts the 13-year struggle by the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) to break the blacklist imposed on him and the other members of the Hollywood Ten in 1947. By continuing to get his scripts produced throughout the Fifties, Trumbo made a heroic, if morally complex stand against rabid Red Scare-mongers like the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and John Wayne (David James Elliott). It’s disappointing that his courage and brinkmanship should grace a movie with no...

DVD: Bill

Graham Rickson

The jokes come thick and fast in this debut feature from the team behind the BBC’s Horrible Histories. Released theatrically to little fanfare last autumn, Richard Bracewell’s Bill is a delight – a joyously funny film which wears its erudition lightly. An examination of Shakespeare’s lost early years, it follows the young writer’s unwitting embroilment in a fiendish Spanish plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Matthew Baynton’s Shakespeare is a likeable doofus, kicked out of his boy band Mortal...

Six of the best: Film


 The Assassin ★★★★★ How not to kill your former fiancé in medieval ChinaThe Big Short ★★★★ Director Adam McKay successfully makes a drama out of...

DVD: 99 Homes

Tom Birchenough

The opening scene of Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes plunges us into the darker depths of American society, post-2008 financial crisis. We’re in the world...


Graham Fuller

Toward the end of Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, a tough-as-nails Hollywood diva played by Jane Fonda informs Harvey Keitel’s creatively spent director...


Matt Wolf

Oscar hopeful refocuses recent events as a modern-day tragedy

DVD: Tangerines

Tom Birchenough

Powerful, understated anti-war film brings Estonian and Georgian forces together

The Big Short

Adam Sweeting

Director Adam McKay successfully makes a drama out of a crisis

DVD: The Jacques Rivette Collection

Kieron Tyler

Art-auteur’s lost films could be the year’s most important home cinema release

The Assassin

Graham Fuller

How not to kill your former fiancé in medieval China

Lost in Karastan

Tom Birchenough

The wilder reaches of bizarre explored in filmic excursion to post-Soviet climes

DVD: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Kieron Tyler

Magnetic, slow-burn performance from Robert Mitchum in Peter Yates’ dark crime drama

The Revenant

Adam Sweeting

Frontier survival epic achieves mythic force

Seven sides of Alan Rickman


He was much more than one of the great British villains, as these clips demonstrate

DVD: Ration Books and Rabbit Pies - Films from the Home Front

Graham Rickson

Assorted wartime propaganda shorts, high on entertainment value


Matt Wolf

Oscar hopeful about a confined space is vastly affecting


Emma Simmonds

Stallone retreats to the sidelines in this latest addition to the 'Rocky' saga

DVD: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Jasper Rees

Bel Powley explores teenage sexuality in Seventies San Francisco

The Hateful Eight

Graham Fuller

Quentin Tarantino's racially themed mystery Western is clever but heartless

DVD: 45 Years

Mark Kidel

Bravura performances by Rampling and Courtenay let down by poor dialogue

A War

Tom Birchenough

The 'Borgen' inheritance? Danish war drama charts conflict at home and abroad

DVD: Love

Nick Hasted

Gaspar Noé finds human warmth amidst the penile provocations

DVD: Lambert and Stamp

Mark Kidel

Fascinating account of The Who's unsung Svengalis


Adam Sweeting

Jennifer Lawrence shines again in David O Russell's entrepreneurial fable

The Danish Girl

Emma Simmonds

Beautiful but sanitised adaptation of a heartbreaking story, from Tom Hooper

DVD: The Gunman

Kieron Tyler

Risible Sean Penn actioner is a full-blown misfire

Best (and Worst) of 2015: Film


Spectre-less and franchise-free, what The Arts Desk film critics loved and loathed

DVD: The Czechoslovak New Wave - A Collection, Vol. 2

Tom Birchenough

Three stylistically different films from one of the most remarkable cinema movements of the 20th century

In the Heart of the Sea

Matt Wolf

Ron Howard's seafaring drama is pretty but waterlogged

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

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