Mini reviews: Suffragette, Brooklyn, Macbeth

Awards season is over. But before we greet the arrival of 2016’s summer blockbusters, some of the Best Picture nominees are still on the big screen, possibly enjoying a little post-Oscars boost.

There are also got some great recent and recent-ish movie releases available on DVD/Blu-ray and on digital.

March is Women’s History Month, so therefore, I thought I should start with…

Suffragette

The fight for women’s voting rights in the UK is a complicated narrative that began in the nineteenth century and dragged on for years. The campaign took many forms and involved various divisions and splinter groups.

Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan have set their story just before the outbreak of the First World War, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were intensifying their demonstrations and acts of militancy.

The movie’s focus is not on the famous Pankhurst family or other powerful, real-life figures, but on the fictional character of plain old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). She’s a London washerwoman who becomes involved in the turmoil when she sees a co-worker lob a brick through a shop window.

Maud has few joys besides her small, sickly son. As she becomes increasingly drawn in to the movement she discovers a different way of looking at life. She takes up the WPSU’s motto: “Deeds not words”. Her new stance brings her into conflict with her husband, her employer and of course, the authorities.

Mulligan is inescapably modern and patrician, no matter ‘ow much she drops ‘er h’s. But her palpable intelligence serves the film well. She throws herself into the role with such furious conviction it’s impossible not to care.

Mulligan’s performance, along with support from Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff (plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Meryl Streep) make this well-made historical drama engrossing and moving.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a wholesome, refreshing drama that casts a spell on the viewer. Based on Colm Tóibín’s award-winning 2009 novel, it follows a young 1950s Irish woman starting a new life in the titular New York borough.

Eilish (Saoirse Ronan) is from a small town in the Emerald Isle, where her only bonds are her mother and older sister. Eilis’ part-time job comes with a gossipy, bitter boss known as Nettles Kelly (Brid Brennan).

Across the sea in Brooklyn, Eilish lives in a boarding house with other women, attends night classes and meets a charming Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen). Best of all she has Julie Walters as her landlady and a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) to watch over her as she battles homesickness.

Just as Eilish is blossoming, deaths and marriages call her back to Ireland. She meets the reserved Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the kind of lad who wasn’t around when she left. (Or maybe, her new experiences mean she sees people in a different way.) Ultimately, Eilish has to make a wrenching decision.

You never fear for Eilish as a young woman abroad because you know she’s going to make all the right choices. As played by Ronan, Eilish is sweet, respectable, and slightly steely – watch Ronan’s blue eyes in the final scene between the young émigrée and the spiteful Nettles Kelly.

It is a beautiful film – lovely and gentle without ever becoming boring or syrupy. It could have failed in the hands of a lesser actress than Ronan, whom casting directors will no longer see as a kid, but as a serious leading lady.

Macbeth

I won’t be the first to say that this is Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation, where the production values of HBO collide with the Bard’s verse. Of course, the playwright based his famous tale of treachery and tyranny on historical accounts of Scottish rulers, while George R.R. Martin’s books are hugely inspired by the country’s history.

Director Justin Kurzel’s re-working of Shakespeare’s classic tale is one of stark landscapes, mud and battle scenes. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was heavily influenced by Norse clothing and architecture, and there is a distinct Vikings-feel. Kurzel’s brother Jed composed the breathtaking, hypnotic score.

Out of the cold Scottish mist comes Michael Fassbender as warrior nobleman Macbeth. Fassbender’s Macbeth is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress; he endures flashbacks in slow-mo while soldiers slain in battle haunt him with their thousand-yard stares.

Marion Cotillard is Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to gain the throne from King Duncan (David Thewlis). Cotillard is the first French actress to portray Lady Macbeth on film in an English-language production.

She makes the character more sympathetic than expected – in this version, her scheming is linked to grief and a lost child. She goads Macbeth into his first evil act, which seems to totally unhinge him for good. Cotillard then seems to slink back in terror as Fassbender gets scarier and bloodier.

Fassbender, Cotillard, director Kurzel and composer Kurzel have all now reunited to make Assassin’s Creed.

2 thoughts on “Mini reviews: Suffragette, Brooklyn, Macbeth

  1. Josh Hammond

    I saw Macbeth last autumn and didn’t know quite what to think. There were things I liked (the addition of the Macbeths’ dead son, the starkness of the production design and cinematography) but some I didn’t (I feel like too much of the play was cut – what’s left doesn’t make a lot of sense if you don’t already know the story). But after reading your review I’m giving it another chance.

    Reply

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