Downton Abbey review – business as usual

The film version of the popular TV series is perfectly pleasant. Film review by Demetrios Matheou

Despite the fact that the Downton Abbey 2015 Christmas special wrapped the series up with a seemingly watertight bow, a cinema offering of Julian Fellowes’ much-loved creation was perhaps inevitable. And so virtually all of the series cast and a few new ones descend upon the fictitious Yorkshire pile for more misadventures upstairs and down.

With no loose ends, Fellowes needed to devise a new dilemma to unite the Crawleys and the many staff who keep their privileged lives on track in 1927. Cue a letter from Buckingham Palace that heralds the imminent visit to Downton of King George V and Queen Mary.

“This won’t help us to economise,” worries Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) the only one in her family who seems to seriously wonder whether the aristocracy needs to hang up its finery and downsize to, well, a manor house.

But the main question for her parents Robert and Cora, the Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, pictured below) and their pampered clan is what on earth to wear. For Mr Carson (Jim Carter), the curmudgeonly butler rushed out of retirement for the big event, lady’s maid Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) and their fellow servants, it’s how to continue to work their fingers to the bone – and do Downton proud – when the Royal’s own entourage is rudely intent on taking over.

There were a number of factors behind the series’ popularity: nostalgia for an England long gone, a fetishist’s fascination for the accoutrements of privilege, the gilded soap opera of gossip, scandal and romance, Dame Maggie Smith’s scheming dowager countess stealing every scene, a template in which a multitude of crises were invariably solved with as much effort as it takes to say “golly”. All these ingredients are now in play, lent a fittingly sumptuous, big screen sheen by director Michael Engler and his production team.

The final season of the series happened to be one of its most uneventful, which is to say lame, only one death of a marginal character marring a steady winding down to happy ever after. And the film clearly has no intention of spoiling the party. Even an IRA threat to the king and an unfortunate introduction into the local gay scene for the butler Barrow (Robert James Collier) are resolved with such ease that few of the major characters are ever aware.

It’s a long way from the film that put Fellowes on the map as a writer and allowed him to make Downton in the first place, Robert Altman’s magnificent Gosford Park, which offered a far more complex and barbed view of the class divide.

“I do love our adventures,” sighs Cora as this one jollies along. “But isn’t it fun when they’re over,” replies Robert. If only they were.


PJ Harvey Documentary A Dog Called Money Announced

The film about her 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project will premiere next year

PJ Harvey is the subject of a new documentary called A Dog Called Money, Stereogum reports. Directed by Irish photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy—who is a frequent Harvey collaborator—the documentary follows the creation of Harvey’s 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project. It features footage of the musician recording in London, as well as their travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C. A Dog Called Money is set to premiere at Berlinale 2019, the Berlin International Film Festival, in February.

Earlier this year, PJ Harvey shared her Dark River soundtrack song “An Acre of Land.” In September, she announced that she’ll be scoring the stage adaptation of the 1950 film All About Eve.

Source: PJ Harvey Documentary A Dog Called Money Announced

The Primal Attraction of ‘Beast’

Arresting lead performances give this British psychological thriller an alluringly dangerous sexual energy.

At first it comes on like a grim version of Sixteen Candles: a young, flame-haired woman flees her house after being upstaged at her own birthday party (where her older sister makes a happy announcement, with perfect malicious timing), then gets tipsy at a club and ends up with a dodgy boy who turns out to be a creep. Life is almost comically frustrating for Moll (Jessie Buckley), but Beast is no John Hughes scenario. Moll’s not a teenager anymore, and her stunted existence—she lives with her parents and helps tend a father with dementia—is shadowed by a troubling incident from her past.

Beast, which played during the first week of SIFF, is Michael Pearce’s feature writing/directing debut. The beast stalking the Isle of Jersey—that small enclave of Englishness just off the coast of France—has already killed a handful of people, including a victim slain the night of Moll’s birthday. Pearce rolls out the story as a whodunit, scattering a few viable suspects around—but Moll’s family, and the police, think the main candidate is Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn), the rough, scar-faced young man who came to Moll’s rescue the night she ran away. Moll and Pascal, both cast out by society, rush toward each other as though magnetized. She knows he could be the killer, but after having been surrounded by dullards on a small island all her life, the intoxication of their chemistry overwhelms her. When an insinuating police officer (Trystan Gravelle) interrogates Moll and asks whether her sex life with Pascal has been out of the ordinary, she contemptuously replies, “It’s not ordinary. It’s amazing.”

This is mad love, always rich turf for the movies. We see Moll taking dangerous risks on Pascal’s account, and we worry about her, but we also sense her exhilaration. The premise is a little like Nicholas Ray’s great film noir In a Lonely Place (1950), where we watch Humphrey Bogart begin a romance with Gloria Grahame while he’s under suspicion for murder—except that Beast shows us the dynamic from the female perspective. Pearce adds a sinister undercurrent: Moll, after all, must herself be considered one of the suspects.

I wish Beast fulfilled all its early promise, but it stumbles toward the end, and its caricature of domestic asphyxiation seems a little canned—did Moll’s mother (ably played by Geraldine James) have to be quite such a brittle harridan? The movie is memorable, though, because of the two lead performances. The Irish-born Buckley has seen success in longform TV shows like Taboo and BBC’s War and Peace, while Flynn is a musician and actor, perhaps best known as the youthful version of Albert Einstein in Genius. They’re mesmerizing. When movie stars are cast as misfits, it can produce unconvincing results (see Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie and Johnny). No such problem here. Buckley and Flynn are both arresting—and it’ll be surprising if their careers don’t take off—but they don’t come across like stars. They look as though they’d stepped out of the pages of an old folk tale hatched from an insular island culture like Jersey’s: two phantom spirits, not entirely to be trusted.

Source: SEATTLE TIMES The Primal Attraction of ‘Beast’ | Seattle Weekly

Johnny Flynn: ‘We’re waking up to uncomfortable truths about ourselves’ 

The actor and singer on his love of gardening, why audiences need to feel uncomfortable, and his new film, Beast

As well as being a singer-songwriter with folk band the Sussex Wit, Johnny Flynn has had a number of acting roles in theatre, TV and film, including Clouds of Sils Maria. Michael Pearce’s film Beast, in cinemas from 27 April, is about the relationship between Moll (Jessie Buckley) and Pascal (Flynn), an outsider who is considered a suspect in a string of violent crimes.

This is quite a hard film to describe without spoilers, so I’ll let you do it…
I think a good way of framing it is as an adult fairytale, in which dark, subconscious forces in these repressed characters collide with the surface of the real world. This is what happens in a lot of traditional fairytales – they’re a way of understanding our darker nature. The name of the film is quite apt, because you don’t know who or what the beast is, and it asks that question once you start watching.


Did you and Michael Pearce make a decision on whether your character was guilty or not?
We played around with it: when we were filming we might emphasise it one way, then do another take where it was more ambiguous. You can watch the film and have a feeling about it one way, then reflect and actually think it was totally different. I’ve seen it once and it felt like a different film to the one I had in my head when we were doing it – in a really good way.

How did you manage to find the right balance between charming and dangerous?
The thing about Pascal is he believes in himself: he’s fought against the system all his life and has hit an equilibrium where he’s established a life for himself. I had a lot of sympathy for him – it’s important when you’re playing a character to believe in your own validity. I wanted him to have the same sense of release in meeting Moll that she has in meeting him. You have to believe they have something special and could potentially save each other somehow.

What do you think attracts Jessie Buckley’s character to someone who is potentially dangerous?
Michael grew up in Jersey and he showed us a side of it that has this small-island mentality – conservative, stuffy, suburban – and Moll is from that environment. Pascal represents a sense of freedom, and when we meet her she’s desperate to get out – even though it seems quite dangerous, it’s thrilling. He’s the only person who really sees her and treats her with respect, without her having to apologise all the time for something she did in her past.

Can making audiences uncomfortable be a healthy thing?
Definitely. I think we’re waking up, as a race, to uncomfortable truths about ourselves. We’ve been kind of rolling along in this bubble, needing soporific entertainment to ease us along, and suddenly we’ve woken up to all these things that have exploded in ourselves: realisations about the lack of equality between men and women, or the way we’ve dealt with difficult decisions in the last two years. We all have these shades in our nature: it’s a spectrum within all of us. So I think that’s a clever form of storytelling at the moment, where you’ve been lulled into a sense of agreeing with something, because we need to have those sides of ourselves questioned.

If you’re playing quite a dark role, is it difficult getting out of character at the end of the day?
I’ve just come back from doing Hangmen, a Martin McDonagh play in New York, and that character is definitely some sort of psychopath. Our job as actors is to invent the things that bridge ourselves with the characters, so you have to build something if it’s not there – you try and learn what makes people behave in a certain way. It’s interesting coming back to neutral and remembering who you are and what your moral standing point is in the world. But I find I miss characters as I leave them behind.

Were you glad when your Channel 4 show Scrotal Recall was renamed Lovesick after moving to Netflix?
I think I was the only one who was weirdly attached to the name. I like really bad puns – proper, red-top, nasty puns – I find them funny. But it did make it easier to tell the headmistress of my son’s nursery what I was doing. Netflix did all these polls in America, and even the people who liked the show wouldn’t tell anyone about it because they didn’t want to have to say the word “scrotal”.

On Twitter you describe yourself as a musician/actor/gardener. How’s your garden coming along?
I was in New York until about two weeks ago, and I’ve come straight down to Wales with the family, so I haven’t really been to the garden in London this year. But I’d stolen a load of wild garlic from a walk somewhere, and I was really excited to see that’s starting to come up, as well as all these tulip and daffodil bulbs I’d put in the ground about two years ago. They were given to me by a cousin who died last year, so it’s lovely that they’ve come back.

Source: Johnny Flynn: ‘We’re waking up to uncomfortable truths about ourselves’ | Film | The Guardian