I’ve presented my Jesus freak side before or in other words, I’m sure my ambivalence towards my provenance has seeped into my blog especially when discussing religious movies. That important factor in my life makes me hesitant in fully embracing Robert Bolt‘s play A Man for All Seasons. Again, I’m crudely comparing the first cracks of this Renaissance-era schism to its counterpart across the pond. The American Civil War was formally about ‘the power struggle between the federation and its states but really it was about slavery. In that same vein, the play masquerades its main crisis that it’s about the protagonist, English Lord Chancellor Thomas More (Paul Scofield), and that he should be able to pledge allegiance to his religion over his country. But it’s really about calling his king King Henry VIII’s (Robert Shaw) and adulterer and his new seventeen-year-old wife Anne Boleyn (Vanessa Redgrave in a silent but nuanced performance) a whore. I read the play as part of my Catholic high school curriculum – I don’t remember our class performing it and in my mind all actors had the right to defend their own stance as the correct one. But Fred Zinneman‘s movie adaptation feels so one-sided. This is especially true in casting Henry and let’s be honest: if a director tells Shaw (charming and handsome as he is and what is wrong with me?) to yell and be a boor it’s not like he’s going to say no. I can only imagine Seth MacFarlane being inspired by Shaw’s performance in portraying Peter Griffin’s real Irish dad.
But I do like the lawyer-like talk in vogue for the movie second half. There’s a subplot about John Hurt’s character where the visuals do the storytelling and another one on More’s daughter’s marriage to a man who is against any religious institution, a postmodern touch to a traditional landscape. Scofield and Wendy Hiller, who plays his wife, are more subtle in the delivery of their flowery lines than I remember, the former earning that Oscar especially in the last scenes, where he has to bellow his last thoughts without overacting. It’s a fascinating look towards the Medieval/Renaissance struggle from a mid-twentieth century lens, the latter grappling with its own changing stances towards morality.
- Book Review: A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt (todworner.wordpress.com)
So that means yes, I’ve seen the film before in parts. I honestly thought that Glenda Jackson as Mary’s rival Queen Elizabeth I in this film, was the best in show. The way her head and hands move when she’s thinking up a plot to offer her own lover, Sir Robert Dudley, to Mary is fascinating. The first act of the film shows her driving the plot instead of being passive within it. When the rejected Dudley talks about how Mary has charmed him, Elizabeth also gets physically aggressive. Which is fun to watch.
Elizabeth almost steals the show because of the damage done when Mary repeatedly cries out ‘Francois,’ to her dead husband King Francis II. Mary sounds girly, lovesick, dependent. In a way, my fears about the character getting stuck like this has become true, Mary becoming a queen who’s repeatedly imprisoned by her enemies, never becoming a woman and person in her own right. Redgrave keeps pace with those plot points by giving her character a vitality – a woman in her mid-30’s convincingly portraying the youthful obliviousness of someone ten years younger or more. That, nonetheless, is a better portrayal than the saintly inhuman interpretation of Mary in an earlier John Ford film in 1936.
Of course, those two characters grow up. Elizabeth wants to survive and still holds grudges but won’t use her ruthlessness to even imprison and execute the woman who also happens to be her cousin. She feels sorry for having to send Mary to Forthingray. Mary repeats the same adulterous mistake with a Lord Bothwell that Elizabeth has made with Lord Dudley – Elizabeth suspected of murdering Dudley’s wife, Mary accused of murdering her own king consort for and with Bothwell. She isn’t convincing when she says that she has made peace with her God and pities Elizabeth. She nonetheless carries on to her beauty and dignity, fighting fer her crown till the end.
Mary’s story isn’t told in film with such frequency as Elizabeth’s, the latter being told in film or television every decade. It’s probably because Elizabeth, as an English Queen and one who has reigned for decades and made the kingdom into a superpower, whereas Mary’s seems like the story of an outsider, even if she is the matriarch of England’s future kings. Elizabeth’s is always shown as a victory, whereas Mary’s shows victory and defeat in both sides, which interests me more.
The Whistleblower doesn’t start with our lead, police officer Kathryn (Rachel Weisz), but with Luba and Raya, two local girls in the Ukraine partying it up. Luba tells Raya that she can get out of the latter’s job at her mom’s photocopying place and join her to a hotel job in Central Europe. And you already know where this movie is going.
Based on a true story, in trying to earn money in a short time, Kathryn’s doing peacekeeping in Bosnia for a British contract company called Democra, her family’s in the States. Kathryn thus has a strained relationship with her children, the eldest of whom is as old as the girls being trafficked. She has to be reminded of how ‘not motherly’ she is. Apparently saving young girls from pimps isn’t motherly. The tribulations in Kathy’s Bosnia occupies her mind so much, she and the audience sometimes forget about home.
I’ll stop yelling at my iPod now, where I’m writing this section of the review. Yelling not because of the movie but because of the jerks stopping Kathryn from helping these girls. The peacekeeping forces are a man’s world, most of them are demons but it would seem fictional if they show a vulnerable side. Besides, she only has one female ally (Vanessa Redgrave) out of the handful of female characters in the film. Yes, we still are unaware of ever so prevalent human trafficking. The film tackles the material with impact-filled storytelling – that’s all we ask for. 4/5.
The Merchant Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howards End has its Murnauesque tendencies. A drama about property, class, and family, the film’s first four minutes have no dialogue, as Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave), owner of the titular house, walks ghostly outside in the garden. She looks in while her husband Henry (Anthony Hopkins), the rest of her family, and a guest, Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter) are inside having a party. The film evokes a poetic atmosphere within the English suburbs, with the grass and wisteria and trees and the moon. Helen lightly blames the moonlight for her short engagement with one of the Wilcox son, Paul.
Helen’s poor friend Leonard Bast gets enthralled by his environment as well, and thus gets his silent sequences. They meet after a lecture on Beethoven’s Music and Meaning, showing his intellectual side despite his poverty. She steals his umbrella, he walks in the rain to get it back. He goes on walks because of a book he’s read, much to the chagrin of his wife Jacky. He also has a strange recollection of his first meeting with Helen, the gates close on him but she looks back, smiling.
Howards End is a movie of many tones, but I don’t mean that it’s uneven. There’s the comedy of errors tone, when the other Wilcox son Charles (James Wilby) drives the Schlegel aunt to the house. She confuses him for Paul and a row ensues. Helen and Margaret (Emma Thompson) are pretty funny characters themselves, calling themselves chatterboxes, the Schlegel children critical of their outspoken ways.
Then there’s the elegy, represented by Ruth. If you’ll indulge me in overreading, Ruth is also after a Biblical figure of unwavering loyalty and standing by her family. She was born in Howards End, Howard being a prominent name in some noblemen, a family plagued by tragedy. She’s kind of fragile, most of her children have grown up and married. and her husband tends to leave her in the house for business. She symbolizes permanence, shocked by the notion that Margaret has to move from the house where the latter was born. She has bursts of energy now and then, thanks to Margaret’s friendship, and there’s an implication that Henry and her family bring her down. This role’s part of the roles Redgrave has been getting in her later years, a woman haunted by her past.
There’s also a sense of urgency in the film’s drama, culminating in the forty minute mark, with Margaret becoming the protagonist. She’s like sunshine to this movie, her early moments especially with Ruth, we see her smiling and accommodating. Ruth’s last wish is that Margaret would inherit Howards End, Henry eventually asks Margaret to marry him. In Ruth’s last moments, she inadvertently passes the torch to Margaret, her silence replaced by Margaret’s protestations. Thompson made leading roles out of being the elder sister or friend with the voice of sanity, and her Margaret is still that archetype to Helen. But here in Howards End, she’s stuck between Helen’s idealism and Henry’s ruthless prejudice. Her last fight with Henry is one of the riveting arguments I’ve seen in a British period film and perfectly encapsulates Forster’s liberal stance.
There’s no need to say that Anthony Hopkins is amazing in this film. He plays his character with charm, ruthlessness yet repressed humiliation, opposite yet same from the cannibal that won him the Oscar. It’s reminiscent of other actors doing something different after their Oscar-winning or infamous roles. Like Marlon Brando dabbling in musicals after winning for “On the Waterfront,” or Denzel Washington becoming a sensitive shrink after becoming a psychotic cop, or Jack Nicholson playing a wounded playwright after playing a homicidal novelist, or John Wayne playing fatherly after playing racist.