Tuesday, 10 November 2015

More toys for the boys

Jenny on Spectre

When my sons were small, it was forbidden for boys to have proper dolls, though now you can buy baby dolls with convincing male genitalia, which is jolly nice and only fair to girls. Then, boys had to make do with Action Man and Star Wars ‘figures’ as their dolls. Action Man came with multiple enticing outfits and opportunities for dressing and undressing, though alas, ultra-masculine though he was, he did not have anything much under his camouflage pants. Talking to my older son about all of this, he reminded me that he had also been very fond of a certain white James Bond car.

It suddenly came to me watching Spectre that of course Sam Mendes and his crew must all have been small boys at much the same time, and now, how wonderful, they get to play with the action figures for real! This probably accounts for the constant homage to earlier Bond films. Fluffy white cat with sulky expression? Tick. Train? Tick. Villain’s strangely retro Space Age Evil Lair? Tick. Villain’s Nehru jacket? Tick. I’m not sure if we are meant to see these references as giving us a wink of sly humour or whether they are deadly serious. What is certain is that this is a Fanboy tribute of an attentive and loving kind.

This movie is stylish and clever. The pre-credit sequence is set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead and it is as good as or better than any other film in the Bond canon. It has a long tracking shot of staggering virtuosity and I’m still trying to work out how it was done. The production design is consistently brilliant. Bond survives his ordeals, as ever, without a scratch, so for instance having been tortured by having his skull drilled by Christoph Waltz, with one bound is he free in an immaculate freshly ironed white shirt. Naturally there is no sign of blood, gore, brain damage or the smoke and debris from the massive explosion he has just caused. The final reel, set spectacularly in London, is beautifully made, CGI blending invisibly with the real thing.

My problem is the one I have always had with the Bond franchise. I have no interest whatsoever in guns, bombs, handcuffs, cars, helicopters, planes, trains, explosions, spies, fights, car chases, buildings-demolition, murders, gadgets or action-driven plots. So I dozed off in the second reel and may have missed some nuances in whatever sketchy plot there was.

I did notice that Daniel Craig is not required to do much in the way of acting. All those doubting persons who thought him too short, too blond, too ordinary etc to be JB have certainly been proved wrong in a big way. But fine actor that he is, all he really has to do here is pout, give piercing stares from his lovely blue eyes, make manspreading poses and point a gun. The love scenes are embarrassing. He looks as if he can barely disguise his distaste for them so thank goodness we were spared anything explicit.

And now I’m a little concerned for Daniel. In my other life as a career coach I have worked with people who have got all the money, fame and fancy titles that they ever dreamed of, yet their lives feel empty. He has let slip that he does not want to make another Bond and I can see why. He must want to get back to something that will show off his depth and range and not just his gymbod. But that is going to be so difficult when the world, and not least Ms Broccoli, will press hard for him to go on being Bond.

As for me, these exciting super-hero boy-films are not my cup of tea. Give me a nice slow French family melodrama with terrible subtitles any day.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

History as hovis commercial

Jenny on Suffragette

I made myself go to this film.

I find myself at odds with what so many of the critics have to say about it. Since they are almost all men perhaps they're afraid of being seen not to like it for fear of being dubbed sexist or unsympathetic to the Cause.

I thought it was good acting applied to bad history. The film suggests the following – all exaggerations, sloppily thought through, or just plain wrong

All male persons are total bastards or just feeble wimps

All women are heroines

The acts of terrorism by the militant branch of the Suffragettes were justified

Emily Davison's reckless and heroic act resulted in women getting the vote

The Suffragette movement resulted in getting universal suffrage for women (hmm, only 16 years later so there’s a bit of a time lag, and since it's entirely set in 1912 the film overlooks the impact of WW1)

A working class woman could rise to a position of influence in a movement run by aristocrats and upper middle class women

It was always winter

It was always raining

There was always smog and every room was smoky

People only ever lit their rooms with candles and paraffin lamps

You can get away with lumpen extras and terrible CGI in a period film especially if you film on available light in dark, smoky wintery rooms and against whatever light there is

If you have fussy hand held camera work and equally fussy editing that makes up for a very boring script

Brendan Gleeson will be condemned to playing policemen until he is too old to be plausible in the part.

It reminded me of Vera Drake, another period film shot in grey, dark green and sepia with a working class heroine, and which I also disliked for its utter lack of plausibility and specious stereotyping.

I thought by far the best bit was the brutal horror of the force feeding scene and the acknowledgement that women could not be allowed to die because of the political embarrassment it would cause. The film does succeed in making the point that so many men hate and fear women - interesting that one of the trailers was for the film about Malala, so the issue is still with us.

Joe’s heckle

Oh, Jenny, I liked it so much more than you did! Of course I’m sympathetic to the cause of female suffrage (aren’t we all?) but that wouldn’t be enough to persuade me. I’m actually quite resistant to the sentimental treatment of modish causes. Pride bothered me, much as I enjoyed it, because it felt too easy to have our tears jerked over the destruction of South Wales mining communities in a nostalgic kind of way, when, as a society, we’d let it happen and had just installed an ultra-Thatcherite government to do more of the same.  

I’m probably less concerned about historical accuracy than you are. I could have tolerated the historical distortions in The Imitation Game if they’d made the story more rather than less internally coherent. To take just one example, it made no sense that the rest of the code-breakers were so resistant to Turing’s machine, even to the point of violence (in observance of the Hollywood convention that drama is not occurring unless things are getting smashed) when they clearly all understood the enormous odds against solving the problem with nothing but pencil and paper.

At a human level, I found the story told in Suffragette fairly compelling. If there were inaccurate period details I didn’t spot them. I think you may be right on the unlikely rise of the working class heroine through the ranks of the movement. I didn’t register it in class terms, though, but rather as an issue of pace and scope – a bit too much happening too quickly to too few characters. Perhaps the film erred here on the side of dramatic economy, with Maud serving as survivor of sexual abuse, oppressed female worker, powerless mother, suffragette recruit, potential government agent, torture victim, and witness to the final horror. This filled out her role at the cost of making the suffragette organisation feel under-populated.

I don’t think the film suggested that Emily Davison’s death led directly to female suffrage. Maud is clearly traumatised by it. Helen Bonham Carter’s character, Edith Ellyn (also fictional, I now see) seems deeply despondent. They both react as if to a defeat. Maud’s last words to Edith are to the effect that they must go on (with the struggle). The upswing in mood comes only right at the end, with the funeral presented as publicity coup, which is immediately followed by the actual dates of legislation. Films about historic struggles tend to simplify the causes of victory. This one struck me as being less guilty than most.

You felt that the film justified acts of terrorism. I thought it was more ambiguous. Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) has a persuasive moment when he tells Maud how close the bombing of Lloyd-George’s country house came to killing the housekeeper. When Edith is criticised for leading impressionable young women into violent criminal behaviour, it seemed to me we were invited to make the connection with the grooming methods of today’s ISIS recruiters.

I assume Steed fell into the bastard category for you. I found him more complicated. The class issue is interestingly touched on when he tries to persuade Maud that she is being exploited by privileged women with much less to lose. His appeal to some kind of class solidarity here felt like more than just a “good cop” routine.

His ministerial boss (Samuel West) was more one-dimensional, as was Maud’s employer – another character burdened, you could argue, with too much social weight, representing both cruel overseer and unrestrained abuser. Her husband Sonny (Ben Wishaw), on the other hand, though he gives up their child for adoption while she’s on the run, is certainly no brute, and not exactly a wimp either, just a decent man of his time, trapped within socially determined limits. The women of the neighbourhood who ostracise the family play their own role in this desperate outcome.   

Monday, 10 August 2015

Confident, stylish and funny

Jenny on The Diary of a Teenage Girl 

The scene is a classroom on the first day of term in a college of further education where as a very young graduate many decades ago I have been hired to teach teenage students. I am bemused to be sent outside, along with all the girls in the class, while the head of the college addresses the boys. Why? One of the boys kindly explains a few days later. ‘It was about wanking, Miss, he says. ‘Sir told us we had to be polite and keep our hands out of our pockets.’

Ah, those were the days. Teenage boys were assumed to be in dire need of rules to rein them in, while girls were sweet little virginal persons with no sexual feelings who needed protection from the overheated male herd. As a teenage girl myself in the very recent past, I knew all too well how untrue this was, but assumed that I was somehow unique.

The Diary of Teenage Girl knows better. Minnie is a 15 year old who records her sexual adventures on a tape recorder in San Francisco, 1976. She gets into a highly inappropriate relationship with her mother’s layabout lover, she has jack-rabbiting sex with a boy from her school class, she experiments with drugs, she experiments with a girlfriend - and she is without shame or guilt. Minnie’s self-absorbed mother (Kirsten Wiig) has little time for proper parenting, her pompous stepfather is mostly absent and her father long gone, so Minnie longs for love, longs to be touched, longs to be noticed and to be special to someone. She aspires to be a cartoonist, and wonderfully authentic teenage-style hand drawn animations appear at frequent intervals in the film.

The most brilliant thing about this brilliant, confident, stylish and funny film is the way it captures the voice of a 15 year old girl. Minnie is not ‘mature’ or ‘old for her years’, she is exactly what so many 15 year old girls are: articulate but in a recognisably teenage way, full of bravado yet insecure, capable of massive misjudgements yet possessing a moral core that you know will never be compromised – and she has no idea how beautiful she is.

The contrast between this film and the smoothly sanitized teen films of Hollywood, some of whose trailers preceded our viewing, is comic indeed. Minnie is not well dressed – she wears terrible flares throughout. She badly needs a new haircut. But she is not a Lolita temptress-cum-victim. Nor is she the intense outsider of Blue is the Warmest Color or the Troubled Teen of Andrea Arnold’s excellent Fish Tank. The film does not condone or condemn. Somehow we know that Minnie’s passion is her drawing and that when her fan letter to a real life graphic artist (Aline Kominsky) is warmly answered, this is all the encouragement she needs. Although set safely in the past, the film is of course about contemporary themes and this may be mightily uncomfortable for some viewers.

The performances are terrific. Bel Powley, a British 23 year old plays Minnie with an intensity and naturalness that is electrifying. The Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård plays the boyfriend so flawlessly that you can see exactly why Minnie could be entranced by him, as well as exactly why she eventually realises that the guy is a creep. The film is shot in soft, sludgy tones that capture perfectly the foggy sun and shabby exteriors of 1970s San Francisco as well as the full-on ghastliness of 1970s fashion, smoking, make-up and décor – the decade that never knew it had not an iota of taste.

The movie has an 18 Certificate but I do hope that clever teenage girls exactly like our heroine will somehow find a way to see it. Its ultimate messages are: Girls, you need to love yourselves first. When you do this, everything else follows. And by the way, it’s OK to like sex. 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Outwardly persuaded but inwardly unmoved

Joe on Inside Out

I sometimes think, Jenny, that I haven’t given animated films the attention they deserve. Not having children, I’ve missed out on classics such Chicken Run and Toy Story, which adult friends have praised for their wit, psychological subtlety and narrative sophistication. If I’d managed to achieve even the lowly status of weekend dad, I might have kept abreast of this burgeoning creative field. As it is I’m pretty much a cartoon virgin.

I’m afraid Inside Out didn’t do much to win me over. It gave me a lot to think about. It also gave me a lot of time to think about it in, while the ramshackle story rattled along. I realise I’m not the target audience, but I was left puzzled as to who the target audience might be.

It took me back to Everyman (which we reviewed last week). The anonymous author of that medieval allegory was interested only in moral issues, so the component parts of the human character are divided according to whether they’ll help him or not on his final journey to judgement. In the Inside Out version of the human psyche, all the internal characters are equally useful, equally valued. That certainly appealed to the secular humanist in me.

And how interesting that they are all emotions. It set me thinking about an Enlightenment version in which Reason would be precariously enthroned above rebellious characters such as Feeling and Fancy, who would be quelled only when it was revealed that they were secretly in league with Madness. The Romantic sequel would show Reason, quailing in the face of a tsunami of the Sublime, rescued by Imagination, her sails billowing triumphantly. By the mid-twentieth century, I suppose we’d have been watching poor battered Ego, squashed between a lordly Superego and a lewd and scabrous Id. That one would need an 18-certificate.

These thoughts left me more favourably inclined towards Inside Out, whose ideas of how the mind works are at least based on research, not guesswork or wishful thinking or patriarchal models passed down from antiquity. And so far as it has an ideology, it’s an ideology I can get behind, which values self-acceptance and suggests that bad feelings are better processed than punished. 

But allegory is a form with preachy tendencies. 150 years after Everyman, John Bunyan flagged up the message of Pilgrim’s Progress with characters called Timorous and Mr Worldly Wiseman. He didn’t want his readers to forget for a moment that the story was just there to sugar the pill. Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t the most exciting yarn, but it’s better than a sermon.

Inside Out is in this tradition. It’s better than a lecture. Bunyan showed us Pilgrim’s journey towards the Celestial City. Pixar takes us, in the company of Joy and Sadness and a half-forgotten imaginary friend, through the memory bank into the depths of the unconscious. It’s a story of danger and adventure and breath-taking escapes. But you’re never allowed to forget that this inside journey is just a metaphor for the day-to-day conflicts of family life. It struck me that, for a film that presents the human experience as a negotiation among emotions, Inside Out imposes on its viewers a surprisingly cognitive experience. 

Jenny’s heckle

No one can touch Pixar in their fabulous technical competence and their ability to tell a story. They can play to adults and to children simultaneously. Toy Story will appeal to any adult who remembers the pain of growing up and to any child who knows that their beloved toys are real. The characters are realised in depth and the plotting grips, whatever your age.

When I took my then seven year old granddaughter to WALL-E, she watched a touching love story. I watched a searing satire about our casual self-indulgence and the brutal destruction of our planet. Every time I see some tragically obese person sweatily trying to ease themselves into a seat on the bus I see those ranks of cheerfully fat people in WALL-E who can no longer walk and need to be transported everywhere by mechanical means on their new planet. I would put this movie on my top ten list of most brilliant ever.

But like you, I was disappointed with Inside Out. It’s ambitious. It reflects current neuroscience in basing the plot on evidence that the limbic system, the seat of our emotions, trumps the prefrontal cortex, the source of our self-flattering designation of our species as homo sapiens. It is accurate in plumping for one version of what these emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy and sadness. Iis sophisticated in showing that some sadness is inevitable (though odd in suggesting that rationality never prevails, in spite of the fact that in the story this is what eventually happens). 

Pixar maybe got gripped by the science and forgot the need to tell the story. Their homunculi—the five emotions—seem only superficially developed. The human characters seem notional. The plot droops in the middle. Technically, of course, it’s just brilliant. The best bit to me was the final credits, superbly handled, reminding those of us who are parents that the challenge is lifelong, you just cannot get it right, those darned kids will always be one step ahead of where you think they ought to be. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Preachers and other wind machines

Jenny on Everyman

Sometimes what the National Theatre does is so flawless, so utterly perfect that you watch feeling you scarcely dare draw breath. Nicholas Hytner’s Othello was like this: a story unfolding into tragedy so raw and so believable with such perfect casting, such naturalistic acting and direction that you saw the whole familiar play in a new light. But sometimes it all seems to go horribly wrong on a scale only the NT can aspire to.  

There is a special style of NT over-the-topness: machinery clunking its way out of the depths of the stage, howling wind, thunderclaps, flashing lights, huge objects descending unexpectedly, unpleasant music, scenes involving refuse and trash, people tearing their clothes off for no very good reason. And, oh, that shouty, gurning, spitting style of performing: why? why? All their actors have learnt pro-jec-tion from their time at RADA or Central; their attractively articulated whispers would be heard perfectly at the back of the stalls.

Everyman is a 15th century morality play that has been rewritten in strange doggerel, maybe intended to be amusing, by Carol Ann Duffy and given a contemporary setting. The message: curb your wicked ways you hedonistic sinners clubbing your way through cocaine and booze and spending stupidly with your Mastercards in temples of consumerism like John Lewis. Even you nice middle class people in the Olivier auditorium with your glasses of prosecco are not exempt. Death is coming for you anyway and you will have to account for yourselves before God – in this case a cleaner who keeps her Marigolds on at all times, perhaps to avoid accidentally touching any disgustingly contaminated human.

But yes, it has been thoroughly National-Theatre-ised: high level noise throughout, a wind machine trundled around the stage, gaudy persons (inspired by Star Wars perhaps, but dressed in gold), objects and people flown in, flown out, jerky music, debauchery and dancing, and something embarrassingly ostentatious about the whole concept. The trouble is: where is the story? Answer: there isn’t one, it’s a morality play, silly, you don’t look for emotional engagement, you come to be improved.

One of my companions fell asleep during the noisiest scene, despite having tried vainly to keep herself awake with salted popcorn and despite knowing that salt is very bad for her blood pressure. Her main worry on being jogged discreetly awake was to ask whether she had been snoring, not what she had missed in the plot. The performances are wonderful; Chiwetel Ejiofor is especially brilliant but what can even the best actor do with such insubstantial material?

So the question is, did this morality play improve us? Sadly not. We went straight out to a noisy tapas bar and consumed a lot of wine in double quick time, paying for it with our Mastercards.

Joe's heckle

You’re right about the tapas and the wine, Jenny. At least we resisted the jug of sangria, which we might have had free with my loyalty card. But you’re wrong about the play. I’d call the National’s Everyman bold, brash and innovative, though riddled with paradoxes and contradictions. 
Our companion fell asleep too soon. She was nodding off during the domestic scene, poignant and comic, in which Everyman calls unexpectedly on his neglected family – sick mother, senile father, resentful sister left holding it all together. Startled to see the oxygen cylinder his mother pulls behind her, Everyman asks, “What’s that?” And his sister replies, “Well it’s not a Dyson.” The mad old man keeps making a break for the door – “somebody knocked” – to be steered back to his chair by the sister. Yes, she explains, increasingly exasperated, it was your son, your son knocked, he’s here. Until at last the knocking comes again and it’s death, still in pursuit. A brilliantly paced interlude, full of sadness, laughter and menace.

She snored her way through the powerful scene where Everyman meets Knowledge in the person of a homeless drunk and is confronted with his own selfishness and the impact of his self-indulgence on the planet: “I thought it was a coin I could spend every day”. And with impressive dedication, she even slept through the simulated tsunami that followed, and so missed Duffy’s  rhyming of tsunami with “You and whose army?” You see, Jenny, I’m a sucker for a rhyme. I’m also a sucker for a wind machine, particularly one that’s dragged about the stage by the cast and has the force to tear people’s clothes off. And I’m conscious that climate change is the most important danger we face – more important than Grexit, more important than the defunding of the BBC, more important even than ISIS – and yet the hardest to dramatize. Did they pull it off? Not really, but they gave it some welly.

And of course it was preachy. To no effect, in our case. As you say, we didn’t mend our ways. In fact the whole project was inherently absurd – to take a 600-year-old text with the title “A treatyse how the hye fader of heven sendeth dethe to somon every creature to come and gyve a counte for theyr lyves inthis worlde”, without any characters as we understand them but only allegorical representations of abstractions such as Fellowship, Good-deeds and Discretion, and whose original purpose was to promote a strange medieval notion of debt-bondage to God that hardly any of us, performers or watchers, can still actually believe in, and to turn this into a vehicle for exploring contemporary concerns – utterly absurd and yet madly, gloriously so. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A strangely thin vision of the West

Joe on Slow West

There’s a spare, fable-like quality to Slow West that I found initially impressive.  We meet Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smitt-McPhee), an earnest wide-eyed teenager, alone somewhere in the middle of the vast north American continent and heading west in pursuit of the girl he loves. 

The dangers of this environment are starkly illustrated when Jay runs into a group of renegade soldiers on a brutal hunt for Native Americans. The boy is rescued by a taciturn, cigar-chewing outlaw, Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender). And you know that these two, the moonstruck innocent and the cynical gunslinger, are destined to complete a journey together – a journey with a moral dimension, no doubt.

The acting is great, the photography’s beautiful, the pace nicely controlled, and for a while I bought the dreamlike oddity of the journey. I enjoyed the three Congolese buskers, singing of love by the side of the path, though their laidback performance is incongruous in this savage place where no one is safe and white men shoot Indians for sport, and though their portentous significance is rather too obviously signposted by Jay’s observation that ‘love, like death, is universal’.

In its own way, the general goods store seemed equally unlikely, plonked somewhere on the road, apparently unconnected to any kind of human settlement. The fact that the place is shot up by desperate travellers within minutes of our first encountering it seemed rather too convenient in dramatic terms. But the wonder, I couldn’t help thinking, was that it hadn’t happened years before.

After a while it was this lack of context that began to bother me. Early on we see Jay finding his way with a compass. He’s going west – what other guide would he need? Everyone else is going west as well, including an outlaw gang, of which Silas was once a member, and a lone bounty-hunter armed with a hi-tech rifle and a clerical collar – except, of course, the ones who are going east. At one point Jay and Silas briefly debate the possibility of shaking off the gang by going north instead. But west it has to be because that’s where the girl is. And so somehow it’s not surprising that when they come across a corn field with a farmhouse in the middle Jay is in no doubt that it’s where the girl lives, and he’s right – not surprising in terms of the film’s internal logic, but bafflingly random in terms of American geography.

Perhaps this is meant to suggest the fabulous nature of Jay’s quest – the quiet simplicity of the farmhouse has already been weirdly anticipated in a dream he has on the road. Perhaps it’s meant to be funny. If so, the joke fatally weakened my sense of engagement. It was around this time that it occurred to me that the West evoked in this film is not unlike Ambridge – a long thin Ambridge running across a continent, where there’s a farm and a shop and a vicar making house-calls and everyone knows everyone else, and family values finally assert themselves, though only after some bouts of very un-Ambridge-like carnage. 

Jenny's heckle

Oh Joe, Joe. You are so kind and so moderate. You recognize that directors and producers mostly don’t set out to make bad films and that they are doing their best. You liked this film. I found it unbearable.

The great Philip French, wonderful film critic now retired, more wonderful even than the also wonderful late Roger Ebert, did have one weakness in his writing career. He could not disguise his boyish love for action films, including Westerns. Even when he recommended them, I passed up on the opportunity to see what it was that he liked so much, though usually I was docile in following his lead and rarely disagreed with his majestic judgements. This time, lured by the plaudits of the (95% male) critics, I decided to swallow my scepticism.

The movie is faithful to the Western genre. The actors don’t need to bother much with learning lines because there are so few to learn. The hero communicates in grunts, in looks - or through silence. He likes his horse more than he likes people. In the Wild West world, people actually cannot speak in multi-clause sentences. All disputes, even when trivial, are resolved by shooting. This is because the genre depends on the characters having a very poor grasp of influencing skills. It’s either give in or fight to the death – literally. The idea of maybe – umm - negotiating and discussing, occurs to no one. Women do not feature in Westerns except as steamy temptresses or as coinage for possession: in this film, literally as bounty.

Slow West has a peculiar plot. A teenager in 19th c Scotland is so fixed on a naïve first love that somehow he can get himself to America to follow her. Then, he is miraculously able to track down this love. Why would an obscure incident in Scotland attract bounty hunters many thousands of miles away? None of this is ever explained. Yes, as Joe says, it’s just like Ambridge: a vicar, a shop, a farm, families and some implausible dramas. I noticed that, even in this primitive and violent society, young women were apparently able to buy eyeliner and mascara. Perhaps there was more in that village store than seemed to be suggested by the production designer.
You should go to see this film if you like horses, guns, close-ups of guns, random meaningless violence, Coen Brothers films (see above), attempts at black humour that are not funny, New Zealand, Michael Fassbender. If none of these interests you then don’t bother.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Flawed but irresistible

Jenny on Far from the Madding Crowd

As a child I used to sneak-read my mother’s Woman’s Weekly, especially the short stories. The story rarely varied from the formula where the young woman fell in love with a bounder or was tempted to have a career but realized in the nick of time that her true path was to marry the sensible boy next door, give up the career and become a happy housewife.

Compare this with Thomas Hardy’s unsettling and erotically charged novel Far From The Madding Crowd, written in 1874, the basis of many films and adaptations, the latest from Thomas Vinterberg. Bathsheba is impetuous, controlling, seductive, intelligent. Yet she falls for the bounder, Frank Troy, in this case the skinny, rosebud-lipped Tom Sturridge with an unfortunate moustache. In her case there is not one but two other choices she might make, Gabriel Oak the decent but dull farmer and William Boldwood a wealthy gentleman with depression and fetishistic issues. Bathsheba does not want to give up her career, nor does she; she likes running her farm and fails to see why she needs a man.

The problem with Vinterberg’s enjoyable film is that I can’t see why any feisty young woman would choose Tom Sturridge, even in his red soldier jacket, over the excitingly chunky Matthias Schoenaerts. This was a bit of a plot hole for me. Watching the famous scene where Troy does showy-offy things with his sword I found myself thinking, ‘Why is that girl letting that silly bloke slash his sword about like that? Someone will get hurt!’ I don’t think this is what Hardy intended, which was Freud before Freud.

Hardy’s novel is set in Dorset, as the film helpfully explains in the opening caption, ‘200 miles from London’. But really you’d never know from the voices. I imagine the Danish director discussing accents with his cast.

‘Let’s not bother with that Dorset burr’ he says. ‘Our North American audiences won’t understand it and so few actors can do it anyway, it would all come out sounding a bit Ambridge, so why don’t we just let everyone talk in their normal voice?’

The actors are delighted – no boring lessons with a voice coach! So Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen, excellent) talks in his native Port Talbot, Matthias Schoenaerts is RP English with a touch of Antwerp and Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba enunciates beautifully in RADA-approved consonants at the end of every word that needs them. In fact come to think of it, the Royal Shakespeare Company could have made this film, though maybe with a few added comedy peasants.

It’s completely ravishing, except that nobody gets ravished; if you love rolling cliffs, dawns and sunsets and violins then you’ll be in heaven. It’s all rather breezy and most of Hardy’s explicitly gender-bending gothic stuff has gone. We know from the start that we’re seeing a peculiarly contorted romantic drama and we know how it will end, in this case with a wholly yukky close-up kiss. I loved it though – always knew that Woman’s Weekly stuff was a lie.