Tag Archives: period drama

Decades Blogathon – The Battle Of Algiers (1966)

Here’s my contribution to Decades Blogathon, hosted by Mark from https://threerowsback.com and Tom from http://digitalshortbread.com/
Thank you guys!!

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1966

Welcome to another day of the event of the year: the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for Super Tuesday it’s the turn of Marta from Ramblings of a Cinephile, who turns her sights on the masterpiece that is The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The gritty and rather bloody story of the uprising that led to the independence of Algeria in 1962 is shot by Gillo Pontecorvo in a compelling style.

Commissioned by the Algerian government less than a decade after the facts, it shows both sides in an unforgiving way – from the terrorist attacks of the Algerian militants to the tortures of the French army. Pontecorvo…

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Oldies but goldies: Il Gattopardo (1963)

Director: Luchino Visconti; Main Cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia CardinalePaolo StoppaRomolo Valli;

Gattopardo

In this sumptuous and luscious adaptation of the eponymous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Visconti paints a rich portrait of Sicily during the war of independence in 1860 and the following years, bringing to life Prince Fabrizio (Lancaster) and his family and retainers.  In a period of political and social upheaval Fabrizio Cordero, Prince of Salina, refuses to take sides while his young and dashing nephew, Tancredi (Delon) Prince of Falconieri, joins Garibaldi and his volunteers to free Sicily from the Bourbons and be part of the newly created kingdom of Italy. The two characters embody the dichotomy of old and new: Fabrizio represents the fading aristocracy while Tancredi, who is smart and ambitious, is the emerging ruling class.

Prince Fabrizio is cynical and jaded but also proud of his name and family and attached to tradition. He is torn between upholding the continuity of upper class values, and breaking tradition to secure continuity of his family’s influence. On the other hand, Tancredi sees right away the need for the aristocracy to adapt and transform itself in order to be influential when the new order is established. As a mean to this end he fights on the side of the revolutionary (later joining the regular Savoy army) and starts courting Angelica (Cardinale), beautiful daughter of Don Calogero Sedara (Stoppa), nouveau riche and newly elected mayor of Donnafugata (small town near the Salina estate).

The film follows quite faithfully the book, keeping as main theme the struggle between mortality and decay (death, fading of beauty, fading of memories, change of political system.) and abstraction and eternity (the prince’s love for the stars and calculations, continuity and resilience to change of the Sicilian people). Burt Lancaster’s brilliant and nuanced performance (the best of his career) is what makes it really work, lavish and rich costumes and settings notwithstanding, and Delon and Cardinale are perfect and stunningly beautiful in their roles.

The most memorable sequence is the ball when Angelica is officially presented as Tancredi’s fiancee and the most memorable quote (directly from the book) is:  Things will have to change in order that they remain the same (said by Prince Fabrizio)Spectacular and captivating —9/10

This post is part of the Beyond the Cover – Books to Film Blogathon organised by Now Voyaging and Speakeasy. Go and check all the great posts out in this blogathon:

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Suffragette

Director: Sarah Gavron; Main Cast: Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham CarterBen WhishawRomola GaraiBrendan GleesonMeryl Streep;

Suffragette

Heartfelt and compelling story about a fight for fundamental rights (one of many in human history) seen through the eyes of Maud (Mulligan), who goes from downtrodden worker bee in a industrial laundry and submissive wife to staunch supporter and activist of the Women’s Social and Political Union at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mulligan’s character evolves slowly, spurred by another worker, Violet (Duff), recently arrived at the laundry, and then charmed by collected, singleminded Edith (Bonham Carter), a local medical doctor. Maud is capable and smart, hard worker and loving mother but she has been told all her life that she will never amount to anything (both with words and violence) and that made her submissive and scared. However, once Maud glimpses another way of approaching life, seeing women like her stand up for themselves and fight, she starts to find her inner strength and becomes an activist. Everything begins with a public hearing of a MP’s committee for women’s enfranchisement: Maud gives a matter-of-fact but convincing testimony of her life as worker. From that moment on, the audience dives, along with Maud, in the activities of the women’s movement that, incited by their charismatic leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep), are taken up a notch. What follows is a series of historical documented actions: firebombing of letterboxes, blowing up empty country estates, hunger strikes during imprisonment and Emily Davison’s martyrdom at the Epsom Derby. As we follow the struggle of these women to see recognised their right to vote, we get to know also the minds of the men. Unfortunately they aren’t portrayed in a positive light. Sonny (Whishaw) is Maud’s rather spineless husband, who kicks her out of their house because of peer-pressure from colleagues and acquaintances; inspector Steed (Gleeson) is the armed response of the Government, trained to deal with anarchists, bolsheviks and Irish insurgents, who treats these women as a dangerous threat to society. The supervisor at the laundry is downright vicious and the various Government’s officials are patronising, dismissive or out for blood and all very vague entities. The only redeeming male figure is Edith’s husband, who supports and protects her as much as possible. Unfortunately he’s a very marginal character in the story, which is a pity because it would have added an interesting point of view. Sarah Gavron’s film is engaging and show us historical events that are very seldom shown at the cinema. Carey Mulligan’s performance conveys both strength and vulnerability very effectively and she’s helped by a solid supporting cast.  Illuminating —7.5/10

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Wolf Hall (TV mini-series)

wolf-hall

Main Cast: Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis, Claire FoyJoanne WhalleyBernard HillJessica RaineJonathan PryceAnton Lesser;

One might be tempted to say: do we really need yet another take on Henry VIII and his desperate need for a male heir? Well, yes. Forget bodice ripping and Henry’s cavorting with all the pretty ladies while the peers of the realm fight for his favour, this is more A Man For All Seasons only in reverse. This time around the hero of the piece is Thomas Cromwell (Rylance) and his cautious and shrewd navigation of the dangerous waters of Henry’s (Lewis) court. The story starts with the fall from grace of Cardinal Wolsey (Pryce), the banishment of Catherine (Whalley) from Henry’s side and the rise to power of Anne (Floy), the Boleyns and the Duke of Norfolk (Hill). The villain is embodied by Thomas More (Lesser), unrelenting and quite fanatic in all matters pertaining religion and the Holy Church. Notwithstanding the fact that Cromwell is Wolsey’s protege, he manages to achieve a position of power and to help Henry solving his Great Matter and finally marry Anna. We all know the fate of the second queen, what is interesting is the characters’ study and the political maneuvering. This mini-series is a six-part adaptation of two of Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and it leans more towards the Reform, presenting the Catholic Church and his chief defender and champion, More, in a rather harsh light. It also doesn’t pull punches when it comes to look at family relationships of the rich and powerful with their perpetual scheming and always selfish motives. It’s hard to find a character to root for, even Cromwell comes across mostly as an ambitious man who needs to prove his worth to the world. However he’s not without redeeming qualities and it is exactly these shades of grey that makes the story more captivating. The acting is top-notch, in particular, Mark Rylance gives a very nuanced performance and Lewis brings the right gravitas as Henry. The settings and costumes are a great complement to a slow-burning but engaging tale. Enthralling —8/10

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Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)

The-Molly-Maguires

Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha EggarFrank Finlay;

Martin Ritt takes us back to 1876 and the harsh life of Irish immigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He focuses on the social drama of the early struggles between workers and company owners and, in particular, on the rather violent methods adopted by both sides. Written and co-produced by Walter Bernstein, this film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis. We follow the actions of Jack Kehoe (Connery) and James McParland (Harris): the former a hardened worker and leader of the titular secret society, the latter an undercover detective of the Pinkerton agency, employed by the local police to infiltrate and unmask the Mollies. In a stunning opening scene of almost fifteen minutes, without any dialogue, we are made acquainted with the grueling work of the miners and the trenchant approach of the Mollies to battling exploitation. I must add that the score by Henry Mancini is not only very effective in the opening scene but a nice complement to the whole film. We meet then James McKenna (McParland’s undercover identity), new in town and looking for a job in the mine, of course his first stop is at the pub for a pint and a brawl (there will be more of both down the line), the Irish way to present oneself as a potential friend? Well, it works… sort of… slowly but surely James gets closer to Jack and in the inner circle of the Mollies. At times, the viewer might doubt where his loyalty really lies (kudos to Harris for playing very well the ambiguity) since James and Jack are both  working class immigrants from Ireland with essentially the same aspiration: advancement in this new society. In the end, however, the law will prevail but it is a sour victory, James is left with the weight of his betrayal, although he tries his best to shake it off and justify it as a mean to an end. It was promoted more as a Connery’s film since he was fresh from his stint as 007 but, to me, this is a Harris’ film, he has the lion share of the story and the acting chops to carry it. The supporting cast is solid and Ritt has some inspired directing choices. To add more Irish flavour to the tale there aren’t only pints and bar brawls but a heated rugby match and a few traditional songs in the score (played with period instruments), so it makes for a perfect St. Patrick’s day film if you are not looking for light entertainment. Satisfying —7.5/10

This is my contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o’thon hosted by Diana & Connie at Silver Scenes, you can read all the other entries here:

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Mr Selfridge (season 1)

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Main Cast: Jeremy PivenFrances O’ConnorAisling LoftusGrégory FitoussiTrystan GravelleAmanda AbbingtonTom Goodman-HillKatherine KellySamuel WestZoë Tapper;

Harry Selfridge (Piven),  visionary American tycoon, moves with his family to London in 1908, to open a high-end department store. Based on the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead and written by Andrew Davis (Pride and Prejudice, Wives and Daughters among his works), it follows not only the struggles and successes of  the titular character but it gives us insights on his employees, friends and family. Using a well-tested formula of upstair/downstair, we navigate through both high society and working class worlds, with a little dose of what goes on in between. As an outsider in the upper crust of London, Selfridge needs a sort of sponsor or patron to be accepted and, thanks to friend and journalist Frank Edwards (West), he finds just that in Lady Mae (Kelly). Her shrewd and calculated moves help Harry greatly and set him and his store on the path of success. What I found particularly interesting are his publicity stunts using the celebrities of the time (a pilot, an explorer, Arthur Conan Doyle, a renown ballerina) and his idea to enlist a famous showgirl, Ellen Love (Tapper) as “the spirit of Selfridge” (an ante litteram celebrity endorsement). As it can be foreseen from the beginning, matters will end up quite entangled between Ms Love and Mr Selfridge. Among Harry’s family, the focus is mostly on his wife Rose (O’Connor) who is reserved, sensible and with an independent streak that will lead to a surprise. On the employee front, the attention is on: the ingénue Agnes Towler (Loftus), shop girl with big dreams and a lot of determination; Henri Leclair (Fitoussi), French genius designer, who creates artful tableaux for the windows of the store; Victor Colleano (Gravelle), waiter with a talent for cooking; Mr Groove (Goodman-Hill), chief of staff and capable right hand of the boss, and Miss Mardle (Abbington), head of the accessory department who seems a little too controlled for her own good. At the beginning I found Piven’s performance a bit grating, even over the top, but then I realised it was just his take on the character when he finally started to show more nuances. I must say: kudos! Occasionally, however, I wished for a witty one-liner of the Dowager Countess of Grantham or a caustic comment from Lady Mary to jazz up a scene. Other times I ended up thinking: “Carson would find this rather unseemly”.  Still, the story has a good pace and the cast works well. The costumes, the sets and the production design are splendid, they add indeed charm to each episode but at times they feel like one of Henri’s store windows: beautiful but distant. My overall impression is that Mr Selfridge is to Downton Abbey as Elizabeth Gaskell is to Jane Austen. Nonetheless a good fix for period drama withdrawal. Pleasant —6.5/10

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Diplomatie

diplomatie

Director: Volker Schlöndorff; Main Cast: André Dussollier, Niels ArestrupBurghart KlaußnerRobert Stadlober;

Cyril Gely adapted for the screen his play by the same title about a battle of wills between Dietrich von Choltitz (Arestrup), the German military governor of occupied Paris, and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling (Dussollier). The film takes place during the fateful night of the 24th of August 1944, after von Choltitz has received the order to reduce Paris to a pile of rubbles since the Allies are about to liberate it. Nordling shows up, rather unexpectedly, to the governor’s office and try to convince von Choltitz to disobey his orders. The two men know each other quite well and try to use it as an advantage in this bloodless confrontation. Of course we all know that Paris was never destroyed but it is still interesting to see Nordling pleading with von Choltitz, tellling him he will go down in history as the man who laid waste to a beautiful and emblematic city. On the other hand, the governor thinks he has no other choice, since Hitler has threatened the well-being of his family. It seems to me that diplomacy looks a lot like poker: you don’t play the cards you play the man. Although very static, it is still an engaging film, thanks to the brilliant performance of the two leads. I also like the use of original footage of the Allies entering Paris, not new but effective (and it probably saved some money on production!). It’s still an entertaining story even if it is not completely accurate from a historical point of view. Diverting —7/10

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Mr Turner

Mr-Turner

Director: Mike Leigh; Main Cast: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy AtkinsonMarion Bailey;

Visually stunning biopic of J.M.W. Turner (Spall): dedicated, single-minded and inquisitive painter of the 19th century. Mike Leigh’s take on Turner is focused on the last twenty-five years of his life, when he’s already an established artist and master of the craft. Turner spends his time either travelling (abroad or in the country) or painting in his London’s home, which he shares with his beloved, aging father William (Jesson) and Hannah (Atkinson), faithful housekeeper who has feelings (not returned) for the painter. The film gives a dichotomous portrayal: on one hand the genius of the light rendered on canvas, on the other the eccentric, at time cantankerous, man with a rather complex personal life. We witness Turner’s determined study of light in any condition of time and weather, even going to extreme measures like being tied up to the mast of a ship to observe a snow storm at sea. Both celebrated and reviled by public and critics (including royalty), he is popular among his fellow artists of the Royal Academy, although considered peculiar as shown in a couple of quite effective scenes. During one of his trips to the seaside, he befriends a local landlady, Ms Booth (Bailey), with whom he eventually lives in secret in Chelsea until his death. Mike Leigh manages to balance well the dichotomy in Turner’s life and describes skillfully this man, who grew up in the bohemian world of Covent Garden, but was later held accountable by the more rigid Victorian moral standards. Timothy Spall really owns the role, giving an intense and convincing performance and injecting some humanity in a character that could come across as too cold and detached. Special kudos also to Dorothy Atkinson for her Hannah. Powerful —8/10

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Il Giovane Favoloso

il-giovane-favoloso

 

Director: Mario Martone; Main Cast: Elio Germano, Michele RiondinoMassimo PopolizioIsabella RagoneseAnna MouglalisEdoardo NatoliValerio Binasco;

The life and struggles of Giacomo Leopardi, Italian poet and philosopher of the early 19th century. We follow Giacomo (Germano) from his early, intense studies in his childhood’s home in Recanati, under the tutelage of priests and rigidly supervised by his father Montaldo (Popolizio), reactionary and narrow minded, to the time he spent in Florence, Rome and Naples, where he met (and established few life-long friendships) with historians, classicists, poets and intellectuals. His youth in Recanati, although plagued by both physical and emotional ailments, is sweetened by the presence of his younger siblings Carlo (Natoli) and Paolina (Ragonese), playmates and allies who lighten the burden of suffocating and controlling parents. The fire of rebellion is ignited by the visit of Pietro Giordano (Binasco), a classicist, with whom Giacomo has been exchanging letters over the years, keeping alive their friendship and fruitful collaboration. After a failed attempt to escape his stifling, oppressing home, it will take Giacomo a few more years to finally be free to roam the world (well, just Italy, as it turns out). The story moves then to the final years of Giacomo’s life. We find him in Florence, living with his good friend Antonio Ranieri (Riondino), writer and free-thinker exiled from his native Naples for his political views. Antonio is quite the opposite of Giacomo: charming and outgoing, at ease in social gatherings and with the ladies. Giacomo’s inner pain and his deteriorating health are the roots of his pessimistic view of the world that set him apart from his contemporaries. He is criticised and shunned by other intellectuals, not only in Florence but also in Rome and Naples, where the two friends moved, in an attempt at finding a more suitable environment for the fragile poet. One flaw of the film is the lack of details about the complex political situation in Italy at the time, which was entwined with the literary world and a key element in Leopardi’s life. Throughout the film there are explicit and implicit references to his poems and other writings which, although very beautiful, might not be fully appreciated by viewers unfamiliar with his work. Elio Germano gives a spellbinding performance as the sickly but brilliant poet and Michele Riondino is quite effective as the roguishly charming but loyal friend. The sure hand of Mario Martone at the helm, the supporting cast, the beautiful photography and production design contribute as well to make this film a little gem. Enchanting —7.5/10

 

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