Sally Hawkins

Review: Paddington

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PaddingtonThe Pitch: The Immigration Game.

The Review: What’s the first thing you think of when you think of a bear? Is it a vicious creature that weighs several times what you do that could rip you limb from limb and looks like this?

Angry Bear

Probably not. Which would explain why people have had to be warned in the US recently against taking selfies with bears. That’s right:

Grizzly Selfie

No, that’s fine, you see how close you can get, mate, if it comes any closer it probably just wants a cuddle. And he’s not alone either.

Grizzly Selfie 2

So why do the authorities need need to go to the lengths of warning people not to get up close and personal to bears? Could it be because, through our stories and tales, we have created an image of bears as being cuddly and friendly, often charming, almost self-deprecating? When we think of bears we undoubtedly think more of this:

Always my favourite as a child. Well, that, Chorlton And The Wheelies and Knight Rider.
Always my favourite as a child. Well, that, Chorlton And The Wheelies and Knight Rider.

Or possibly this:

A quick Google found no-one stupid enough to have a tiger selfie in the wild, although people have genuinely died trying in zoos.
A quick Google found no-one stupid enough to have a tiger selfie in the wild, although people have genuinely died trying in zoos.

No-one anthropomorphises bears like us Brits, and after Winnie and his mates have been stealing the limelight for years, it’s now the turn of the bear from Darkest Peru to worm his way back into our affections. If you’re about the same age as me (fortyish) and British, then this will be the kind of image of Paddington that will have you flashing back to your childhood faster than a food critic eating ratatouille:

Paddington Old

But as anthropomorphisms go, Paddington takes some beating. This duffle-coat wearing, suitcase carrying gentleman has a fondness for marmalade and a unforced formality that might make him the most polite bear you’ve ever met. But be careful, for although he won’t be detaching your limbs from their sockets with his vicious teeth or sharp claws anytime soon, he might still be just as dangerous as any of his wilder cousins.

Where so many children’s adaptations have failed to capture the magic of their original inspiration, Paddington nails both the tone and characterisation from the outset. Put aside any concerns you have that the movie Paddington isn’t an exact replica of the one you see in that last image, for while the outside may have had a CGI makeover, the inside is as charming, gently ruffled and unmistakably a classic British archetype as you’ll ever hope to find. From the moment that the Brown family first meet this bear on a train station platform, his earnest and understated plea for assistance in the face of Mr. Brown’s suspicions that this bear should be avoided as he may be some form of undesirable salesman, the film absolutely and critically nails the exact tone necessary to allow this bear to win you over. Not only does Paddington no longer resemble his original source outwardly, but the Browns are also physically less than a passing resemblance, but it matters not. From Ben Whishaw’s perfect voice casting as the Peruvian charmer to Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as the Browns and even Julie Walters as eccentric housekeeper Mrs Brown and Peter Capaldi as grumpy next-door neighbour Mr Curry, everyone involved has the feel and the attitude of the original Paddington stories to a tee, right down to Paddington’s trademark hard stares.

It also helps that director and co-writer Paul King has a background in the absurd, from his last feature Bunny And The Bull to his time on The Mighty Boosh, and Paddington’s world is just far enough off-kilter to remain enchanting while avoiding crossing the line of being grating. The Browns might live in a fictional London road that would seem twee for a Richard Curtis film, not to mention one where the few non-white faces are of the fourth-wall breaking band seen singing on street corners, but it’s an enchanting world that Paddington’s been dropped into and crucially one with a superb amount of attention to detail. From the “found” part of a Lost and Found sign flickering on when Paddington first meets Mrs Brown to the careful way in which Paddington’s traditional costume is assembled, King has finely honed every single detail and created an escapist paradise. There’s a host of British talent put to good use both on the screen and behind the camera, and while not everything is flawless, the CGI no longer evokes memories of the Creepy Paddington meme that started with the release of the first images and saw the likes of this being photoshopped:

Creepy Paddington

The production values are of a good enough standard not to take you out of the meticulously created world at any point.

As mentioned earlier, it’s a world into which jeopardy is introduced, but not at anywhere near the levels of most similar films and the only way this Paddington might be likely to kill you is with his kindness. Nicole Kidman is introduced as a nominal baddie, but she and henchman Kayvan Novak get relatively little screen time and the stakes never get raised anything above the titular bear. That’s fine, and it’s nice to see a film that has the courage of its convictions and doesn’t get unnecessarily bogged down in saving the universe or trying to broker world peace. It’s simple and enchanting, yet manages to sneak in enough to keep the grown-ups happy as well as the children. It is also playfully dangerous with the way in which it shows us a migrant bear, effectively the kind of benefit-claiming hanger-on so derided by right-wing political parties, but actually serves as the most positive advertisement for racial integration you could possibly imagine. It would have been understandable to fear Paddington, not for his actions or his demeanour but for the possibility of yet another treasured childhood memory being trampled, but this one has been treasured and the result is little short of a heart-warming triumph wrapped up with a gentle message of tolerance. Just remember though, as cute as this fictional Peruvian resident is, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security or into getting any selfies with his real-life cousins any time soon, no matter how adorable they might be:

Actual spectacled bear from Peru.
Actual spectacled bear from Peru. He is pretty adorable. Fancy some marmalade, old chap?

Why see it at the cinema: I can’t say this clearly enough: it’s an absolute delight, and will have audiences of all ages laughing and fully engaged. Aim to see it in as full a cinema as possible. Additionally, the rich level of background detail demands to be seen in the cinema to be fully appreciated.

What about the rating? Controversial, this one. Rated PG for dangerous behaviour, mild threat, innuendo, infrequent mild bad language. Very young children might be a little intimidated by the baddies, but most of the rest is just a very cautious approach from the BBFC. I’ve seen PGs that were a lot worse.

My cinema experience: Seen in a half full screen at Saturday teatime in Cineworld Cambridge. It’s often the case that child-friendly films sell out during the day and then struggle for evening audiences, and this was no exception, although with strong word of mouth the equivalent showing this weekend may be fuller. Either way, the audience was enraptured by the adventures of the duffel coat wearing marmalade addict and there was plenty of audience noise of the right kinds to make the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience. (And it wasn’t just the kids making noise, I heard plenty of adults getting very emotionally caught up with the film too.)

The Score: 9/10

Review: Submarine

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The Pitch: There’s the odd weed but no Moss in this New Wave…

The Review: It’s easy to form preconceptions when a well known figure turns their hand to directing, especially when that person has portrayed some very distinctive figures in cult comedies of the last ten years. From Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace via The Mighty Boosh to The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade has created some memorable characters, but it would be easy to pigeon-hole him to expect a certain kind of film. It would be easy to pigeon-hole me as someone who writes obvious introductions to their reviews, and this has only served to underline that as of course Ayoade delivers a film well distanced from such expectations. Submarine wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and indeed on most of the rest of its clothing, and what Ayoade has served up can be described in one sentence as a traditional British working class coming of age drama with a Welsh flavour, filtered through the French New Wave in the manner of Wes Anderson.

That it’s so easily summed up is no discredit to the film, but actually doesn’t do it too much of a disservice either. The narrative revolves around Oliver (Craig Roberts) and the twin distractions in his life; his shambling attempts to strike up a relationship with classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). This is offset by his investigations into his parents’ love live and the potential intrusion of an interloping neighbour (Paddy Considine) with whom his mother (Sally Hawkins) has some prior history. In typical fashion, Craig’s own preoccupations and expectations result in him doing both increasing badly and his attempts to rectify one only serve to have an adverse affect on the other.

As with the movements that have inspired it, Submarine is as much about the small details as it is about the larger plot. The Wes Anderson comparison is probably the key here, the characters feeling very much as if they could inhabit the same literary universe and having their own quirks and foibles. Roberts and Paige are magnetic in their roles, and both feel very much destined for long careers, Roberts especially managing to capture both the everyman anonymity and the eccentricity of his character. Considine gets the most to chew of the scenery of the adults, while Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the parents are much more restrained, but still get to have their moments to shine, especially as the plot strands draw to resolution. As for Ayoade, despite the obvious influences he shows a sure grip on the material at all times and keeps a gentle flow of humour running throughout the picture, but also manages to tap real emotions once in a while as well.

There’s no doubt that the stylistic choices of the New Wave are a natural fit for Oliver’s psyche, even shown at one point laying on the floor listening to Serge Gainsbourg, capturing perfectly the existential angst that seems to inevitably beset teenagers of his kind, at least in films. That was also undoubtedly an influence for Wes Anderson, but the difference between this and Anderson’s best work is that the characters, even when wholly unsympathetic, still manage to have some sense of warmth which is missing from most of the protagonists here, an icy feeling blowing through the film until almost the last scenes. There are a few distinctive touches, not least Alex Turner’s gorgeous songs which perfectly complement Andrew Hewitt’s score, but really there’s more that’s imitation than innovation. So Submarine, while great on its own terms, falls short of classic status, but there’s enough here to suggest that those who’ve not already got a classic film on their CV will have one to add sooner or later. With Ayoade, you feel that it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.

Why see it at the cinema: Taking so much inspiration from a movement that spoke the language of cinema means that there’s plenty that benefits from being projected on a larger screen.

The Score: 8/10

Cambridge Film Festival Review: Made In Dagenham

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The Pitch: Ford Fiasco.

The Review: The true (or inspired by) story of the plucky underdogs who rise up and achieve has become a staple of British cinema over the past two decades. In everything from Brassed Off to Calendar Girls, that feeling of gritty realism that is still gritty in a faintly British, middle class way, more Richard Curtis than Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, so a movie such as Made In Dagenham comes loaded with expectations. It is almost inevitable that a story such as this, ripe for such a big screen conversion, would be made eventually, but thankfully this version comes loaded with talent and packed with quality.

It’s a simple concept: female workers at the Ford Dagenham plant, who make up a tiny proportion of the overall workforce as they supply the stitched seating and other accoutrements, feel that their low pay and lower grading in comparison to their male colleagues (most of whom are husbands who work in the main plant) are unacceptable, and spurred on by sympathetic shop steward Albert (Bob Hoskins) they begin the battle to get their rights, led by the reserved but determined Rita (Sally Hawkins). Soon their actions get the attention of the government and the female Secretary of State, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson), but the question is how far will they be willing to go, or indeed will their husbands want them to go?

The script does a nice job of offsetting the familial tensions created between the two sides of the workforce with the ongoing struggles to get their case heard. Hawkins, Hoskins and Richardson are all playing the type of roles they’ve played before, but in each case bring something fresh; Hoskins has an understated cheekiness and fits well into the all female environment, Hawkins has the fearless optimism from previous roles such as Happy-Go-Lucky’s Poppy, but also handles herself well in the more heated exchanges at home with husband Eddie (Daniel Mays), and Richardson perfectly captures the bold-as-brass, no nonsense attitude of the Secretary and her unwillingness to back down, even when up against the Prime Minister (John Sessions’ slightly caricaturish Harold Wilson). The supporting cast are all excellent, especially Geraldine James as Hawkins’ right hand woman and Rosamund Pike as her unlikely ally from the middle classes.

We may think we know where the story’s headed, but there’s pain and pathos in the transition, and director Nigel Cole keeps things moving along well, never allowing the pace to sag but still finding time for the dramatic moments to breathe when the time is right. The grimness of the working conditions and the brown Sixties tones are a wonderful setting for such a story, and the whole package has just the kind of feelgood nature, but tinged with something deeper, that the best of its contemporaries has tried to capture. Hopefully British audiences haven’t tired of this kind of story yet, as Made In Dagenham proves that there’s still plenty of interesting avenues to explore in the story of the plucky Brit.

Why see it at the cinema: The Sixties design, shown off at its best on the London escapades, shines through the struggles and will capture you visually, but this is a feel good entertainment – you’ll feel better in the company of lots of others.

The Score: 8/10