Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Naked Civil Servant - Blu-ray / DVD Review

The Naked Civil Servant - Blu-ray / DVD
“But it’s my crusade. It’s part of my existence. To make them understand,” says Quentin Crisp. And a worthy crusade, which we will all understand, by the worthy watch, that is, The Naked Civil Servant.

In this day and age of sexual liberation, it may be hard to remember a time where we were sadly, not free to be who we wanted be. If you can cast your mind only as far back as 1966, when it was illegal to be homosexual. You would be a criminal to love, or to engage in same sex relations.

In the United Kingdom, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 would change that when it decriminalised homosexual acts, between two men over the age of 21. It is only as far back as an amendment to the act, in 2000, that the legal age of consent would match that of a heterosexuals, to the age of 16.

Adapted from the autobiography by Quentin Crisp, it takes a brave man to boldly go against what is, I quote, “considered normal.” And for the first half of Quentin Crisp’s life, homosexuality was of course, illegal.

Born Denis Charles Pratt, Christmas Day, 1908, he would go on to defy conformity. Again, I quote, be “a martyr to the cause.” And to stand for being whoever he wanted to be.

This for me is why The Naked Civil Servant is so socially significant.

We have all come to know what an exceptional actor the late Sir John Hurt was, but his portrayal of Quentin Crisp, when you really watch, is truly remarkable.

“Well, I flatter myself that London has never seen a performance like that since Sybil Thorndike’s, St Joan,” says Hurt in voiceover. And as such could be said for his BAFTA winning performance.

The purity of his performance, in his deeply moving monologue, proceeding this quip, will bring a tear to your eye. 

John Hurt plays Quentin Crisp
We discover that Crisp has an aversion to housework, “After the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse.” But Hurt wipes away the surface, to discover the layers beneath. Because when you look past the accurately portrayed flamboyance of self-confessed exhibitionist, Hurt reveals so much more of his inner life.

1976 when The Naked Civil Servant originally aired, was only nine years after the de-criminalisation of homosexuality. I would image the decision for an actor to accept this part, would have been a brave one too. Did Hurt himself wittingly or not, set his own precedent within his own profession?

Sadly, a question I will never be able to put to him now.

The nuanced performance is so subtle and gradual, as we travel through the decades of Crisp’s life revealing his state of mind, confidence and acceptance of himself. It truly is the work of a genius.

And to today, I believe that Crisp would approve of his make-over as The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition.

Quentin Crisp
The Blu-ray and DVD also comes with some insightful bonus features of interviews with the raconteur and self-confessed effeminate homosexual, which will further amplify the accuracy of John Hurt’s performance.

“People hate what they don’t understand,” says Crisp. Sadly that statement is as true today, as it ever was.

And that’s why it is so important that work like The Naked Civil Servant doesn’t get forgotten. It entertains, but more importantly it educates. It teaches the very real dangers people faced because they were different. But most of all it teaches us acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves, but most of all each other.

The Naked Civil Servant can be seen in select cinemas nationwide 28th May, 2017.

And is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 5th June. Distributed by Network.

Words by Claire Bueno

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Celebrating 40 Years of Abigail’s Party

Celebrating 40 years since the BBC broadcast of Abigail’s Party. Actress Alison Steadman OBE, and producer Margaret Mattheson reminisce about this wonderful play, and the wonderful experience making this cult classic.

I’m a lucky individual. I get to see films and then interview the filmmakers all about it, it really is the perfect job. And on Sunday, 14th May at the Arthouse cinema, Crouch End, following a screening of Abigail’s Party, I had the opportunity to exercise my passion.

“OK, you’re up,” said the duty manager.

I was so caught in conversation with Margaret Mattheson about the current state of television, I’d lost track of time, as we walked towards the screening room.

“Errr, but where’s Alison?”

“She’s on her way, she’s a little late.”

Well, that threw the interview I’d planned out the window. Time to follow Abigail’s Party director, Mike Leigh’s lead, and …. Improvise!

I made my apologies to the audience that our star, Alison Steadman was going to be joining us imminently and commenced with the Q&A.

“So, what was it about the play that attracted you in the first place?” OK. I confess to going into default mode.

The BBC producer began her answer, as the door flew open and in walked the tour de force that is, Alison Steadman.

“I’m so sorry,” she appealed to the audience.

She took her seat, and the Q&A could truly begin.
Claire Bueno interviews Alison Steadman & Margaret Mattheson
Alison picked up the question, and took us back to when they originally performed the play at the Hampstead Theatre.

The actors had no script, not in the traditional sense. Mike Leigh’s improvisational technique was such that that the five actors built their own characters, they were not allowed to talk about each other’s characters and on stage the performance was completely improvised.

I imagine thrilling and terrifying at the same time!

At the time the BBC broadcast a series called Play for Today. This series heralded plays that became series in their own right, such as Rumpole of the Bailey and Boys From The Black Stuff.

Margaret explained that Abigail’s Party’s broadcast happened serendipitously.

The play scheduled to film, fell through and they needed to fill in with another one; urgently. Cue Abigail’s Party.

Alison was pregnant at the time, which made recording this play even more time sensitive.

Margaret informed us that Abigail’s Party was filmed chronologically in three days, with a three camera set-up. They wouldn’t do it like that now.

Alison enlightened us that at the time the BBC worked to time. But the crew were so impressed by the performances and the quality of the work, they were happy to work through until 10pm.

On her character, the overpowering Beverly, Leigh had asked Alison, “What did Beverly do for a living?”

“She sells beauty products in a department store.”

So, as part of her preparation, Alison visited a department store in Essex and watched how the demonstrator, with a tiny microphone mouthpiece worked the crowd. Alison noted how the demonstrator picked out a girl in the audience with no make-up who would have the biggest transformation to impress her audience. And from this demonstrator, Beverly was created.

Having performed Beverly on stage and projecting to an audience, did Alison have to tone her down for TV?

“No.” Was Alison’s answer, she was going to play her big!
Cast of the BBC broadcast of Abigail's Party

I asked if the secret to the play’s success was the characters having relatable traits. They could been anyone’s neighbours.

“I hope they’re not mine!” Margaret and Alison laughed unanimously.

Forty years on, would Margaret and Alison like to revisit Beverly and see what she’s doing now?”

“No, I don’t really like sequels,” said Margaret.

And for the lady who, as a child loved to do impressions and make people laugh. Who confessed was no good and English and Maths, and whose mother would turn off the TV so she could impersonate Hilda Baker. Would she like to inhabit Beverly once more?

She confessed if it hadn’t been for the Play for Today recording, it would have been incredibly difficult to have let the part, the play and her fellow performers go. But no, she is happy to leave Beverly where she left her back in 1977, though she imagines she’s on her fourth husband now.

Alison recalled how Mike Leigh had to sit and write the script as it was being performed, and that it had to be dramatically reduced to 90 minutes to fit the BBC’s time slot.

Well, that 90 minutes has lasted the test of time. The themes may have changed; women needing permission from their husbands to take driving lessons, for instance, but some things don’t. Solid performances that reveal something new with every viewing, solid direction from a director who understands the magic of acting and the institution that is the BBC.

Happy Birthday Abigail’s Party.
Words by Claire Bueno

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Midnight Sun Review

Opening scene: Close-up of a man’s torturous face as we zoom out to reveal the man strapped to helicopter blades rotating to his grisly demise. Brutal, but I’m hooked!

Midnight Sun DVD & Blu-ray release
I’m a sucker for a detective drama, I’ve watched a lot, and Midnight Sun does not disappoint.

Midnight Sun is a Scandi-noir crime-thriller from the critically acclaimed writers of The Bridge, Måns Mårlind and BjörnStein. So those credentials speak for themselves.

What I have always admired about Scandinavian filmmaking, be it film or TV, is the bravery in their writing. They are not afraid to shock, and they not inhibited by political correctness. They serve the story, and tell it, how it needs to be told.

Our thriller is set in Kiruna, a small mining village in Northern Sweden. And is infused with the indigenous Sami mysticism, as abstract members of the community meet their untimely death, in the most imaginative of ways.

The acting is flawless. You really have to congratulate Leila Bekhti and Gustaf Hammarsten, who really keep you on your toes with their performances. As detective team Kahina Zadi and Anders Harneskare neither are particularly sympathetic characters yet, you are compelled to watch them to discover if they are what they seem.

And as you can imagine with a show set in Northern Sweden, you are going to be swept away by the scenery alone but doesn’t hide away from the challenges presented by living in constant daylight.

Following its recent broadcast on Sky Atlantic, Midnight Sun is now available on Blu-ray / DVD and is worth the investment in time as much as financially.

Thank goodness for the binge watch, as I was gripped from beginning to end of Midnight Sun.

Cert. 15 | Running Time: 8x 1hr episodes | RRP: DVD £29.99 & Blu-ray £34.99

Words by Claire Bueno

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lady Macbeth, Review and Interview

19th Century femme fatal Florence Pugh delivers a killer performance in the screen adaptation of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

When I first heard the film, Lady Macbeth was screening at the British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival (LFF) in 2016. I instantly thought, it was a film based on Shakespeare’s ‘the’ Lady Macbeth. Wrong! But I would soon be put right.

Lady Macbeth is an adaptation of the novella, written by the Russian writer, Nikolai Leskov, back in 1865. But don’t be disheartened that this was not penned by the bard. As this Lady Macbeth is as rich, complex and as refreshingly diabolical as the original, which made this film a compelling watch.

“What sketched out in the novella was essentially the plot. And what you needed to do, and what Alice Birch, the screenwriter did was to create character, and to create real people so brilliantly,” said the film’s director, William Oldroyd when I interviewed him, and the cast, at the BFI LFF Premiere.

Oldroyd continued: “She developed psychology, she made them breathe. Then you get Florence (Pugh) involved, which is totally three dimensional.”

Leading lady, Florence Pugh delivered a mesmerising performance in her break out role as Abbie Mortimer, in Carol Morley’s critically acclaimed, The Falling. And prepare to be further spellbound by her portrayal as Katherine, the young bride, married off to a wealthy, but heartless landowner, who is destined to live a life of solitude.

Florence Pugh as Katherine

“Well, she’s a killer, which I’m sure every single actress would want to play,” laughs Pugh, on her anti-heroine.

“She’s just an interesting character. In 1865, she kicks back, and it’s so unlike everything we’ve seen before. She goes out and gets what she wants, she likes how she wants to live. She experiences life without the cages of what men have told her to do.”

And kick back she does, as Katherine doesn’t let anyone stand in her way. Yet for all her dastardly deeds, you never loose investment in her.

As a director, William Oldroyd’s background is in theatre, and it shows. Two of our greatest film directors that instantly jump to mind are, Danny Boyle and Kenneth Branagh, who are also firmly anchored in theatre. The secret to their success is undoubtedly their understanding and investment paid to creating three-dimensional, layered parts that their actors can breathe life into.

And in Lady Macbeth, Oldroyd has skilfully captured that.

“You’ve got to build a trust. That’s why the rehearsal process is so important,” says Oldroyd. “You can’t just get an actor to do something, if they can’t trust you. Especially if there’s intimacy, and those sort of violent scenes. They need to know they’re in a safe pair of hands.”

He continued: “Part of the rehearsal, or shooting process they felt I could ask them to do anything, and they know I wasn’t going to exploit them.”

A sentiment echoed by the leading lady: “By the time we started filming we’d done most of the intimate scenes. But we planned it, and it wasn’t shocking.”

Singer, songwriter and now turned actor, Cosmo Jarvis also delivers a memorable debut performance, portraying strength with vulnerability and most notably having a conscience!

“I like the dialogue, the way it was written,” says Jarvis.

“It was entertaining in an uncontrived way, it seemed quite realistic, and I liked that first. And I liked that Sebastian was a normal guy.”

Filming in the North East was the ideal location. Couple that with the crafted use of lighting, sets up a bleak, stark, minimalist back drop that acts as the perfect metaphor for the life that faces young Katherine.

What was fascinating to learn, and rare for filmmaking, is that they shot the film in chronological order.

“We had about a week of solid rehearsals,” says Pugh. “The day before we started filming, Will, made us go through the whole film because we were filming in the one location. It was great in terms of going around the house and figuring where we needed to be, and he made us go through the film in chronological order, of going up and down the stairs and back down to the kitchen, not the kitchen, but the sitting room.”

She continued: “I remember saying, ‘do I really need to go up to the bedroom again?’ And he said, ‘yeah because this is how boring and monotonous her life was.’”

Boring and monotonous Katherine’s life may have been, but they are not words you would use for Lady MacBeth. It is a fine example of independent filmmaking and worthy of support. It may be a period drama, but a drama that contemporary audiences will be entertained by.

Lady Macbeth opens in UK cinemas on 28 April
Words by Claire Bueno

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Do You Own The Dancefloor? Review

“Nostalgia is a disease,” says Tony Wilson, broadcaster, Factory Records and Hacienda owner. A question that’s explored by the ambitious documentary, Do You Own The Dancefloor?

Chatting to a friend over a pint, Chris Hughes talks about a piece of wood he has hanging on his wall. An artefact of the now demolished Manchester nightclub, The Hacienda. Goaded by the friend into discovering the whereabouts of other items of the club, Chris took the challenge and embarked on a journey of directing his first film. 

Director, Chris Hughes
For those clubbing in the 80s and 90s, The Hacienda, was the Mecca for dance music. But before the rave scene swept in, it was a venue designed to showcase emerging talent like the Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets.

This 90 minute documentary is infused with colourful characters, and effectively captures their personalities. Interviews include Oasis’s Liam Gallagher, New Order’s Peter Hook, resident DJs Dave Haslam and Graeme Park, plus Hacienda employees and regulars. 

The film has effectively crafted a three act structure. The rise of the converted warehouse. Its literal fall, as articles are auctioned off. And its legacy.

Stylistically, the motion graphics have faithfully followed Hacienda architect and designer, Ben Kelly’s original chevron design.

And you couldn’t have a documentary about a music venue, and not have a solid soundtrack. Again, the film succeeds, with toe tapping tunes that never distract.

Nine years in the making, all proceeds go to charities. Kidneys for Life and Cancer Research UK, which is perhaps why the doc, has not received its deserved distribution. 

The film is about more than memorabilia. It’s people connecting to their personal history and iconic buildings of cultural significance, being preserved.

Did I like Do You Own The Dancefloor? I’ll quote Dave Haslam: “I was mad for it!”

For future screenings visit http://www.doyouownthedancefloor.co.uk/
Words by Claire Bueno

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Sense of an Ending Red Capret Gala

Acting maestros Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling and Dame Harriet Walter arrive at the Picturehouse Central, on Thursday 6th April to promote their new film, The Sense of an Ending.

Based on the Man Booker Prize winning novel by Julian Barnes, prepare to do a little introspection as the film is without doubt a thought provoking film.

The joy as always of watching the magic of Jim Broadbent at work is often observing, not what he says, it’s what he doesn’t. And in The Sense of an Ending be sure to look out for those wonderful moments, as they don’t disappoint.

“It sort of opens up your memories of the past, you start thinking back to your own experiences because I’m exactly the same age as Tony Webster, who I play, and the same sort of cultural background, of all boys school. I mean, I knew where he was coming from, I recognise him.” said the Oscar winning actor.

You can always guarantee actress, Charlotte Rampling will deliver a performance that resonates. And in The Sense of an Ending, there’s a real air of haunting sadness.

The Oscar nominee laughs: “That mystery that always attracts me. Yeah, those rather stern ladies, you know, that don't open up very easily… But when the do open up!”

On playing the younger Veronica, did Freya Mavor collaborate with Rampling at all?

“So, we discussed. We had a lot of conversations via email before we started filming, just to give our own impressions on the character and on the film. And then during filming, she’d done all, she’d completed all her scenes by the time I came in to start my own, which was very sad. I didn’t get to see her on set.”

Mavor continued: “We met up afterwards. She's a wonderful, wonderful woman, we have an amazing relationship."

An important tool for any actor, is their ability to listen. And in this story, Harriet Walter’s character, Margaret, Tony’s ex-wife, does a lot of listening.

“One of the great acting exercises is to see, if you can just listen. Even though you’ve heard it six times that day, and really genuinely see if you don’t hear it slightly differently every minute.”

For a story where memories, nostalgia and coming to terms with one’s past, lays at the very heart of it, director, Ritesh Batra succeeds in creating a film that is not overly sentimental. It feels realistic and very relatable. 

Complete interviews include actors Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Freya Mavor, director Ritesh Batra and producer Ed Rubin.

The Sense of an Ending. In Cinemas 14th April. Distributed by StudioCanal.
Words by Claire Bueno

Friday, 24 March 2017

Tribute to Sir John Hurt

It was no secret that Sir John Hurt was suffering with pancreatic cancer, but the shock of his death, shook the world.

As the BAFTA and Golden Globe winning actor leaves an impeccable body of work behind, Claire Bueno revisits her interviews. She shares, his insight, his support of independent filmmaking, and his fascination with the true identity of Shakespeare.

In Norfolk, on the 25th January, Britain lost one its most celebrated actors, Sir John Vincent Hurt, CBE, aged 77. He left behind a back catalogue of work that spanned over 50 years, from The Elephant Man, Alien, Harry Potter, to Doctor Who.

The film, television and stage actor was diagnosed with cancer in June 2015, but continued to work up until his death.

Born 22nd January 1940, he grew up in Shirebrook, a coal mining village in Derbyshire. His father, was a vicar and his mother, an amateur dramatics enthusiast. Hurt won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where he studied for two years.

He had a no-nonsense, candid approach. With ill prepared journalists, he was never rude and always the consummate professional. But for the journalist who had made that little extra effort, he had incredible warmth, wisdom and modesty.

“I love working with first time directors. People to watch out for, is if they’ve had a very successful first film. Don’t do their second, don’t do second time directors, do their third, but not their second.” Hurt laughed back in February 2011, at the premiere of Brighton Rock, but you knew he was being deadly serious.

Claire Bueno interviews John Hurt at Brighton Rock
Claire Bueno interviews John Hurt at Brighton Rock

“As far as I’m concerned, my springboard is the script, and the direction is the director, in a sense. And with that you play, and the rest is your imagination.”

And what scripts he chose.

As a child, Hurt was discouraged in playing with the other children, in the village. And perhaps that is why he played characters like John Merrick in The Elephant Man, and Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, and latterly An Englishman In New York. Did Hurt somehow identify with people who were deemed outsiders, or pariahs?

Whether the role was non-fiction or fictional, Sir John’s approach to the character remained the same. “You have a sense of responsibility in any part you play. Just because it happens to be non-fiction, doesn’t make it an added responsibility,” he said at the London Film and Comic Con (LFCC) in October 2011. “It’s the same responsibility really. I think, because something didn’t actually exist, doesn’t mean you treat it badly.”

A fine example of this can be witnessed in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller, Alien. Hurt’s sinewy, jerky body as the Alien bursts out of Kane, is as chilling to watch today as it was in 1979.

“My criteria, is that the script, should stand the chance of working on the level it is intended to work on. If you’re going to have science fiction, it needs character, because I don’t think you can do it, just on effects.”

The twice Oscar nominated actor was a huge advocate of independent filmmaking and was often spotted walking down the red carpet at the British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival (LFF).

“This is what our film business is, it’s the independent world,” he told me at the Moët British Independent Film Awards (MBIFA) in December 2012.

“We don’t have studios, and we don’t have masses of money behind us. And so we have to carefully distribute the monies that we have, amongst the talent, which is growing and growing.”

“We have a lot of talent.”

The actor, having appeared in many a blockbuster and indie film, reflected: “I think there always has been in the independent world a much greater area for experimentation, because you can afford to experiment, for not so much money.”

“What we are missing at the minute is the intermediary film. 15 to 20 million dollar pictures.”

When asked if an actor of his calibre could bring gravitas to an independent film, he replied modestly: “I wouldn’t know how to add gravitas to a film.”
“Oh heavens. I try to do the same as I’ve always done. I try to play whatever part I’m playing.”

Having worked with some of the Shakespearean greats like Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud, Hurt had his own theories on the Bard.

“The whole identification of Shakespeare fascinates me hugely. It also fascinates me that all the books written about it, are all American. Because in this country, we rather want to keep the Stratfordian myth alive.”

For a humble actor whose performances motivated and inspired contemporaries such as Bradley Cooper, did Hurt’s motivation change over the years? He paused, thought, and with his unforgettable raspy voice replied: “It’s a big question. I don’t think things have changed, not a great deal.”

Words by Claire Bueno