Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"England Is Mine"

Morrissey bio-pic “England Is Mine” seems not to have stormed the box-office, perhaps unsurprisingly, since non-Smiths lovers will all have steered clear, casual fans will be disappointed by the absence of Smiths music, and others may have been put off by some of the singer’s more intemperate political comments of the past few years. Also, reviews have tended to be lukewarm. I have to say, however, that I loved it.
The story follows Stretford’s Steven Morrissey from his days as a writer of self-important letters to the NME, via a false start to his rock star career alongside Billy Duffy (later of The Cult), and a number of reverses which see him slump into stasis, to the very start of a creative partnership with chirpy young Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston). Mark Gill, who co-wrote the screenplay with William Thacker, shows an assured directorial touch, finding poetry in glum Manchester locations which, frequently and inevitably reference future Smiths lyrics (cemeteries, fairgrounds, iron bridges etc).
Jack Lowden, unrecognisable from his turn as a fighter pilot in “Dunkirk”, is a more robust Morrissey than the fey eccentric of caricature, reflecting the hero’s portrayal of himself, in his excellent autobiography, as having been sporty in early adolescence. He is also surrounded by women, most notably Jessica Brown Findlay as Linder Sterling; and although he shows no interest in them, the only hint of other sexual preferences here is in his choice of cover version for his debut gig with the Nosebleeds.
Jessica Brown Findlay & Jack Lowden

The supporting cast is excellent, especially Simone Kirby as his supportive mother; not to mention Graeme Hawley as the exasperated boss in Steven’s Inland Revenue job who is well aware that the constantly tardy youth is spending much of his time filling notebooks with reflections on how idiotic everyone is other than himself.
Rather than a conventional rock star tale, this is the story of a young man with big but vague ideas slowly growing in confidence. Perhaps it misses a trick at the very end by avoiding a triumphal tableau; this, though, is in tune with the tone of the whole film - inspirational in a determinedly low-key manner.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017


I realised, as I settled in to watch “Dunkirk” that I have seen all of Christopher Nolan’s feature-length films on the big screen (apart from his low-budget debut “Following”, which I caught up with on television). It was, therefore, the promise of an all-enveloping cinematic experience which drew me to resist my long-standing aversion to war films (“Apocalypse Now” excepted). I have to say I’m glad I made the effort.

Even on a standard cinema screen, Nolan is adept at ensuring that we are up close and personal in all of the three story-strands. The action is most sweatily tense when as we follow the fate of the British WW2 soldiers, overseen by an anxious Kenneth Branagh, waiting to be evacuated from the French coast and facing constant danger from Nazi bombers. Mark Rylance’s plucky boat-owner, setting off across the Channel to rescue stranded troops faces his own traumas; and the plucky Spitfire pilots, led by Tom Hardy, tasked with fending off German planes, are stuck with the most conventionally heroic and visually familiar narrative elements.

Nolan’s cleverly-structured script situates the three stories in different time-scales, ensuring that they converge at a climactic point. The dialogue is straight from period cinema, but the sense of dread is palpable, and in the midst of impeccably choreographed and photographed mayhem - hats off to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema - at least one tragedy comes out of nowhere. Hans Zimmer’s score riffs cleverly on Elgar, and subtly ramps up the tension.

There have been many bloodier or angrier or more frenetic war films, and Joe Wright’s “Atonement” certainly gave far more of a sense of the scale of the event – 400,000 troops are spoken of here, but largely unseen. It is Nolan’s focus on individual experiences, however which, with great effectiveness, conveys the sense being a part of greater events whilst still being isolated from them.

This is filmmaking at its most involvingly cinematic.

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