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Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots

“Our Hatred Is Precisely What They Hope For. I Know Your Heart Has More Within It Than The Men Who Counsel You…”

In a year which has begun with a rich abundance of non-fiction cinematic adventures ranging from the radical ripeness of The Favourite to the oddball, misjudgement of Welcome to Marwen, Mary Queen of Scots, the debut feature from British filmmaker, Josie Rourke, once again drops us into the realm of period historical drama, this time focusing on the trials and tribulations of Saoirse Ronan’s (Lady Bird) titular monarch during the latter stages of the sixteenth century. Touted as a delicious one-two of acting delight between Ronan and the glowing talent of Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as Queen Elizabeth, House of Cards showrunner, Beau Willimon, provides the screenplay for a movie which although plays its hand rather safely in regards to treading on familiar ground within a genre which nowadays takes something different to really stand out, is still an interesting, well designed and brilliantly acted work of drama and political intrigue. With a career predominantly based in the world of theatre before venturing into the world of big screen movie-making, it comes at no surprise that Rourke utilises her expansive knowledge of the stage for a film which for all intents and purposes, could have been left on the stage in the first place, but with a much bigger budget and two of the best actresses around to mould to her will, Mary Queen of Scots fails to be spectacular, instead settling for a straightforward, rather traditional, period drama piece with added David Tennant.

As with any film which has its storytelling roots based on historical events, Willimon’s screenplay relies on the audience’s willingness to accept that every portion of the events which unfold on screen are either truthful or shifted ever so slightly in order to benefit the drama as a whole, and whilst I can admit to barely being able to jot down the history of the British monarch on the back of a postage stamp, the story at the heart of the movie does seem to flow ever so nicely into constant backstabbing and Iago-esque devious plots of power shifting, one could argue that such extremities could indeed be fictional in their own right. However, like the saying goes, most stories are indeed stranger than fiction and with one foot previously in House of Cards franchise, Willimon’s political based writing technique and Rourke’s theatre based background does ultimately create a rather effective working partnership, one which is solidified by the mercurial talents of the rather radiant Saoirse Ronan, who in undoubtedly the leading role of the movie manages to encompass the balance between the light and the powerful as she meddles her way into assuming her “rightful” place on the throne. However, with the heavy handed focus on Ronan, it comes as a real shock therefore that Robbie is somewhat sidelined, with her Elizabeth slightly reduced to a monsterous, pale and much less developed version of the similarly mental health ridden Queen Anne in The Favourite. With the pacing of the movie really taking an extensive while to properly get going, the opening act of the movie does ultimately feel slightly weary and, dare I say it, rather dull, however, as soon as we move into the territory of foiled murder plots, rebellious undertakings and a central acting showdown which can be sorely placed in the Heat category, Mary Queen of Scots does show glances of real storytelling excellence, but in reviewing the piece as a whole, Rourke’s cinematic debut is similar to a glass of house Scotch whiskey; does the job rather nicely but fails to truly blow you away.

Overall Score: 6/10

90th Academy Awards: Best Actress

Oscars 2018: Best Actress

With Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri handing Francis McDormand her most juiciest on-screen role since Fargo, a film which of course also brought Academy Award success for the star, the category for Best Actress is seemingly over before it begins, with McDormand’s portrayal of the hateful, scenery chewing Mildred Hayes picking up awards in a similar ilk to Gary Oldman’s colossal domination of success as Winston Churchill, and whilst Saoirse Ronan’s role as the angsty, hysterically colourful titular teenager in Greta Gerwig’s masterful Lady Bird would be my own personal choice for the win, it seems my plead to the Academy will seemingly go rather unnoticed. Elsewhere, in a alternate universe, Sally Hawkins would undeniably lead the line for her outstanding performance in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water whilst Margot Robbie continues to show off her sturdy acting chops as the disgraced ice skating star, Tonya Harding in the wildly comical, I, Tonya, and with Meryl Streep capping off the nominations for The Post, it’s no surprise to say that this year’s ballot paper is one of the strongest in recent memory. As for the forgotten few, whatever anyone may think of the movie, Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely fabulous in Aronofsky’s divisive mother! in her best on-screen role to date, whilst who can forget Jessica Chastain’s performance as Molly Bloom in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, and whilst it’s a tad late to change the nominations, here are the top points for the Best Actress category…

Winner – Francis McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Personal Favourite – Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

Nomination Snub – Jennifer Lawrence (mother!)

Film Review: Lady Bird

“I Want You To Be The Very Best Version Of Yourself That You Can Be…”

Arriving as the final Best Picture nomination from the upcoming Academy Awards to be released in the UK before the ceremony takes place on the first weekend of March, Greta Gerwig (Jackie) halts her acting career for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, a coming of age comedy drama formed around a screenplay written by Gerwig herself and starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular troublesome teen from Sacramento, California who in her transference from school to college faces difficulties within both her home-life and her widening taste of the adolescent outside world. Supported by the likes of Laurie Metcalf (Toy Story 3), Tracy Letts (The Post) and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbours 2), Gerwig’s movie manages to break free from the cliches and pressures of coming-of-age dramas in which the film undeniably takes inspiration from, with the likes of particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and 2016’s little seen The Edge of Seventeen obvious reference points in terms of storyline, thanks to a tightly wound script which manages to balance each of the film’s leading characters with their own personal strengths, weaknesses and flaws, resulting in performances which not only feel perfectly rounded and entirely believable, but are so fundamentally humane and empathetic that the movie spins you around and grips you tightly from the opening scene in which we discover the roller-coaster nature of the relationship which is progressively examined between mother and daughter.

After shining in a wide array of roles including The Grand Budapest Hotel and particularly John Crowley’s magnificent 2015 romantic drama, Brooklyn, Ronan’s portrayal of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is an absorbing and entirely empathetic performance, an awards courting triumph which perfectly captures the wildly inconsistent emotion of teenage angst, acne faced and all, one which is aided profusely by the magnificently resonant aura which the Irish star brings to a leading role bursting with flavourful personality and charisma, a character who although is proven to be riddled with human error and socially shocking flaws, manages to be much more interesting than the standardised Hollywood image of a cinematic on-screen teenager. Although the flashy editing and electrifying pace of the movie interweaves Lady Bird’s in-school debacles and the choppy relationships with both the female and male sex, with Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet the cameo love interests whose personal narrative endpoints both end in extravagant fashion, the cornerstone of the movie is entirely focused on the exhausting battle between the child and parent, with Laurie Metcalf’s mother figure, Marion, a resoundingly commonplace thorn in the side of youthful curiosity of which many 21st century teenagers are more than accustomed to, with the performance of Metcalf equally as impressive as her younger counterpart, resulting in the many on-screen discussions between the two strong willed characters entirely captivating. With a deep level of care for the characters and precise direction from Gerwig who in her obvious admiration and pride for her screenplay manages to get the best out of even the most bit-part players of the piece, Lady Bird is flawless, a movie full with outstanding performances and a movie which manages to blend laugh out loud and perfectly pitched comic timing with elements of lachrymose inducing tenderness so effectively, you’ll think you would have known each of the film’s characters for years, and for a movie with a runtime with just over ninety minutes, it’s suffice to say, I would have happily stayed for much, much longer.

Overall Score: 10/10

88th Academy Awards: Best Actress

Best Actress

After last years’ predetermination at the BAFTA’s, with Julianne Moore winning the prestigious Best Actress award for Still Alice, a film that hadn’t hit UK cinemas at the time of the ceremony leaving the choice of winner solely in the hands of preview-screened critics, the Oscar’s soon followed suit and awarded Moore with her first award after many nominations for films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Far From Heaven. Completing this years’ nominations is a variety of talent ranging from rising stars to cinematic gems with each film definitely getting the vote of confidence from here at Black Ribbon, even Joy, the newest release from David O. Russell, which although features a riveting leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence has been regarded by many as a limp entry into the impressive canon Russell has already established, with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook doing particularly well at the prestigious ceremony in previous years. Could his and Lawrence’s success at the Oscar’s continue this year? Let’s ask the people in the know.

In the wise eyes of the bookies, Brie Larson is set to carry on her success at the BAFTA’s with her being odds on to pick up the Oscar for Best Actress in Lenny Abrahamson’s simply brilliant Room, a film which manages to carry the balance of the dark and the twisted yet ultimately proclaims itself as a life-affirming drama, featuring a world-class performance from young Jacob Tremblay who along with Larson brings the brilliance of the film to light, resulting in the rare occasion whereby I completely agree with the Academy. Sure, Cate Blanchett is rather flawless in Todd Haynes’ Carol and Saoirse Ronan continues her streak of being perfect in every way possible (CRUSH INCOMING) within the beautiful Brooklyn, but Larson is the stand-out, pulling in a performance that those at the Oscar voting table love; no make-up and a lot of crying. It might just be the start of something magical. Cringe.

Next Time: Best Director

Film Review: Brooklyn

“Homesickness Is Like Most Sicknesses, It Will Pass…”

Within the midst of spies, dystopian uprisings, and that gangster crime-lord caper with that guy from those pirate flicks in, all of which are set to hit or possibly miss within cinemas across the country over this week and the next, has been Brooklyn, a film so meagerly advertised and highlighted within both cinemas and TV spots, that such a distinct change from the rather familiar fashion of the many propaganda-esque ways in which certain flicks force themselves on audiences today, suggests a rather distinct lack of faith on the film’s standing against its’ cinematic rivals, most of which are either worn-out sequels or money-making blockbusters. Yet for the case of Brooklyn, a film which on the face of it seems rather low-key and inherently straightforward, it manages to encapsulate something that most of it cinematic contemporaries fail to grasp; a deep sense of heart and soul, powered fundamentally by a simply mesmerising performance by Saoirse Ronan, an actress who already sits high in pedigree in my own eyes but excels herself in one of the best dramas of the year so far.

When young Ellis Lacey (Ronan) leaves her homeland of Ireland for Brooklyn, US of A, for purposes not only focused on that of a career path but a fundamental change of scenery, she quickly falls for Italian-American Tony Fiorello who helps Ellis recover from her severe strain of homesickness away from both her mother and sister. Settling strongly into her new way of life, Ellis soon hears of tragedy from her homeland, forcing her to return back to Ireland where she soon realises there more have been more to life back home after all, resulting in Ellis making a hard choice regarding whether to stay in her beloved home of Ireland or return to her newly found way of life and love for Tony and the city of Brooklyn. What makes Brooklyn so magical is that within all its’ straightforwardness in terms of its’ plot and story-line, is a straight-faced way in which the film attempts to tell a tale without need for an over-zealous use of dramatic set-pieces or particular scenes that can be singled out as possible key scenes or memorable moments of magic. Instead, Brooklyn chooses to play out its’ tale of romance, alienation and choice in rather low-key fashion, something of which differentiates itself from most of its’ cinematic contemporaries in which action and epicness comes first whilst plot and characterisation comes second.

At the heart of Brooklyn is a truly spell-bounding performance from Saoirse Ronan, an actress who has impressed me in all of her back catalogue in which I have seen so far, with last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel being the standout Ronan role so far alongside acting pedigree such as Ralph Fiennes, Willem Defoe and Bill Murray, yet Brooklyn is a true testament to her acting abilities and skills, with her emotional range well and truly being tested in a role that if gone to someone else, may have resulted in a film that may have not been as engaging as it is with Ronan in the lead role. Maybe it’s just that Irish accent that results in a strange sense of affection for her, but Brooklyn, if anything, is the annual example of a low-key film being that good that to not be noticed from some sort of awarding body would be criminal, not that such an award would particularly matter in any sense with Brooklyn being a fundamentally wonderful movie, but to be recognised by the highest honours out there would be a testament to the film’s overall greatness. In the mood for overblown action, messy plot lines and lack of characterisation? Go watch The Hunger Games. In the mood for a downright damn good drama? Seek out Brooklyn, it’s really that good.

Overall Score: 9/10