The Essex Serpent: Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in gripping, gothic TV

For better or worse, this is serious, thinky telly where the serpents are metaphorical

By Ed Power

With Game of Thrones on the way back with a dragon-enriched prequel series, many of us will suddenly be in the mood once more for stirring tales of long-necked beasts losing their tempers in a variety of destructive ways. Being unfamiliar with Sarah Perry’s 2016 bestseller The Essex Serpent, I therefore went into Apple’s adaptation (Apple TV +, Friday) foolishly expecting at least one CGI monster before the end of the first episode.

But this, for better or worse, is serious, thinky telly where the serpents are metaphorical and the biggest special effect is the stubble dappling Tom Hiddleston’s A-lister chin.

He plays a worldly rector aghast when his flock starts to pay heed to rumours of a long-necked monster prowling his parish of Aldwinter in coastal Essex in 1893. Hiddleston is best known as charming anti-hero Loki in the Marvel films. Here, however, he is rigorously buttoned down as a man of reason opposite Claire Danes, who portrays Cora Seaborne, a well-to-do widow who has taken up amateur palaeontology following the death from throat cancer of her abusive husband.

With Netflix having gone all in on reality TV and Shonda Rhimes capers, Apple is one of the few remaining repositories of what used to be called “prestige television”. This, as we all know, means slow-moving fare featuring big names grappling with big ideas – and typically adapted from a middle-brow novel.

All those boxes are ticked with The Essex Serpent. Now, obviously, this sort of thing isn’t for everyone. As one of those who likes their serpents very much nonfigurative and given to biting people’s heads off, I find myself constantly yelling “get on with it” while hoping that Hiddleston would suddenly transform into Loki, the whole fandango revealed to be a secret Marvel spin-off.

Yet it is solidly assembled. Danes’s English accent is impeccable – even better than Joe Alwyn’s in Conversations with Friends – and Hiddleston gives good “hunky vicar” as he casts meaningful gazes as Cora (despite being married to Clémence Poésy’s Stella). In other words, it has everything apart from the actual serpent – and, as reminder why prestige television is important and we should continue to watch it, adds up to a gripping gothic slow-burner.

Source: The Essex Serpent: Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in gripping, gothic TV

Why “L’Événement” is the most beautiful French film of 2021

Awarded the Golden Lion in Venice, Audrey Diwan’s second film delivers a moving adaptation of the novel, and the story, by Annie Ernaux.

40 years old, Audrey Diwan has already been a journalist at Glamor , editorial director of Stylist , writer, collection director, screenwriter, and finally, director. Until this magnificent Golden Lion unanimously awarded in Venice for L’Événement , his second film, adapted from the book by Annie Ernaux  [ . . . ]

Continue story at Vogue: Why “L’Événement” is the most beautiful French film of 2021

New on DVD: The Night Porter

By Graham Fuller | the Arts Desk

The Night Porter depicts the consuming sadomasochistic love affair of an SS officer, Max (Dirk Bogarde), and the Catholic woman, Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), whom he both tortures and protects when she is a teenage concentration camp inmate, and who becomes his partner in a protracted liebestod when they meet by chance in Vienna 12 years after the war’s end. Think of it as the anti-Casablanca.

in 1957, Max is the eponymous hotel employee, ashamed of appearing in daylight, and Lucia is the decorous wife of a famous American conductor. They are drawn together again by mutual desire and guilt, but she is emotionally stronger now than he is, and serene in the notion that their story can only end one way.

Their love may have begun with a monstrous male gaze – posing as a white-coated camp doctor, Max filmed Lucia in close-up as she shuffled with other naked female prisoners toward “the showers” – but by the end it manifests purity and tenderness. That doesn’t mitigate Lucia having warmed to her role as Max’s rescued Nazi slut or Max having smirkingly gifted her, Salome-like, the head of her camp bully during the notorious cabaret sequence. Yet director Liliana Cavani does hint at joint redemption in their final act.

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The story behind the best British horror film in years

Video nasties and censorship are tackled head on in the sinister Sundance hit. Jacob Stolworthy speaks to its star Niamh Algar and director-co-writer Prano Bailey-Bond about the process from inception to fruition

Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight section has long been the holy grail for any burgeoning horror director. It’s where The Blair Witch Project (1999) kick-started the found-footage phenomenon; where Saw (2004) launched one of the most successful franchises in history; and, more recently, where It Follows (2014) and Hereditary (2018) were first unleashed, reinvigorating modern horror. Censor, which received its world premiere at this year’s virtual Sundance on Saturday (30 January), is a worthy addition to that list. In fact, it is one of the best horror films in years.

Directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Censor tells the story of Enid (Niamh Algar), a young woman who makes a living tucked away in dingy screening rooms, watching depraved and gory films. In her notepad, she scribbles down the timings of the cuts she thinks need to be made before they’re viewed by the public.

For Enid, this fastidiousness doesn’t stem from a love of film but a sense of duty. During a tense dinner with her parents, she rebukes her father for suggesting otherwise. “It’s not entertainment,” she snaps. ”I do it to protect people.”

Like any psychological film worth its salt, nothing’s as it seems. The arrival of video nasty supremo Frederick North’s new film (creepily titled Don’t Go in the Church) sends Enid spiralling. Before long, she’s on a mission to find a sister who went missing years before. It’s here where the film kicks into gear leading to one of the most memorable climaxes for quite some time.

The idea of the film germinated “ages ago”, says Bailey-Bond, after she read an article on Hammer Horror, the London-based company known for its gothic films featuring the characters of Dracula, Frankenstein and more. Continue reading

Welsh filmmakers shortlisted for LGBT+ prize

Two Welsh filmmakers have spoken of their joy of being shortlisted at this year’s Iris Prize.

Anna Winstone who directed Rhiw Goch (On the Red Hill) and Ian Smith, who made Go Home Polish, made the final 15 for the Best Short category.

For the first time in the Cardiff LGBT+ film festival’s history a film from the Netherlands was awarded the £30,000 prize.

Short Calf Muscle, by Victoria Warmerdam, was crowned the winner.

The organisers of the festival, which is now in its 14th year, said the money would allow the producer to make a new short film in Wales.

Winstone, 27, from Cardiff, said she was “screaming” when she learned her film had been shortlisted.

“Iris is such a big deal in the film world and for our short, whereby we borrowed a camera and only had a budget of £150, to have been selected was incredible, I thought they had made a mistake,” said Winstone.

Her documentary tells the story of a gay couple, Mike and Peredur, who inherit a house just outside Machynlleth, Powys, from an older gay couple George and Reg. The story is of the house – their sanctuary

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