The DCH Blog
Far from the Madding Crowd - a pre-screening review - Friday 2nd October 2015
In filming Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Thomas Vinterberg had not only to face comparison with a complex and involving novel, but also with John Schlesinger’s recently reissued 1967 adaptation. With great help from David Nicholls’s spry screenplay he manages to boil down the essence of the novel, while offering something pleasingly distinct from Schlesinger’s film. Nicholls has had to make some hard choices in his slimming of the narrative, and inevitably some of the novel’s subtleties have been lost, but taken in its own right this is a cracking tale of romance and intrigue.
Carey Mulligan is excellent in the lead, drawing on the emphasis Nicholls places on Bathsheba’s independent spirit in a way that taps into modern sensibilities, without lapsing into anachronism. The curious casting of Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak (and his even more curious accent) requires a suspension of disbelief but both Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge are tremendous. Sheen is a bag of worried twitches throughout – kindly yet unhinged - while Sturridge somehow manages to be an utter cad without ever entirely losing your sympathy.
The film is also glorious to look at – a picture postcard version of Hardy’s Britain that offers countless splendid vignettes of a countryside long gone that perhaps never was. If this comes as a surprise from a director better known for the grit of Festen and the gruelling The Hunt, it’s also a fascinating insight into how a foreign director views this quintessentially British classic.
By David Vass
Suite Française - a pre-screening review - Friday 25th September 2015
A Romantic World War drama that features a couple divided by allegiance, this is a story distinguished not so much by its own qualities, as having been written at the time of occupation, by an author that came to the cruellest end. The circumstances that surrounded the subsequent publication of Irène Némirovsky's novel make it difficult to objectively judge its film adaptation.
None-the-less, British co-writer and director Saul Dibb has managed to distil the essence of Némirovsky's work, which was in parts little more than notes, with sensitivity and style. With regional British accents standing in for the class divisions of rural France, and character traits nicely subverted (the civilised German plays piano while the French villagers spitefully betray each other) one is reminded of the BBC drama Secret Army. As with that excellent series, Dibb creates characters with nicely shifting moral centres. Madame Angellier (superbly played by Kristin Scott Thomas) may well be a loathsome profiteer, but that does not preclude heroism. Matthias Schoenaerts ensures officer Falk carries out his duties with an appropriate Teutonic efficiency, yet he still hides behind the bushes in fear of Madame Angellier’s wrath.
If the film teeters close to improbability, there is no denying it gives its audience the ending it wants. Any tendency toward melodrama is amply compensated for by the complex dimensions of its multi-faceted narrative, and its humane acceptance of the fallibility of human nature.
By David Vass
Dark Horse - the incredible true story of Dream Alliance - a pre-screening review - Thursday 17th September 2015
The extraordinary story of Dream Alliance, a racehorse brought up on an allotment in a depressed Welsh mining village, is one that is not remotely believable – it just happens to be true. Louise Osmond’s steely eyed documentary follows a syndicate of working class horse racing enthusiasts as they tackle the expense, and the endemic snobbery, of the sport of kings.
Using a carefully constructed patchwork of interviews, archive footage, and handsomely staged reconstructions, Osmond contrasts the world of a mining community with that of horseracing, in a way that is unapologetically polemical, without ever losing sight of the pragmatic good sense of folk involved. The syndicate members are never less than good humoured when speaking of their struggles - it is left to the film to display, in its playful juxtapositions, a palpable sense of indignation on their behalf as they try to lever open a door usually shut to all but the super-rich. As is made explicit, the horse comes to represent hope, not just for its owners, but for the entire town in which they live.
That said, the film is so much more than tiresome agitprop, its underlying politics quickly taking second place to the unfolding drama of the horse’s development. As success begins to raise as many questions as failure, the film sensitively handles the dichotomy of genuinely loving a horse while putting it in jeopardy. It’s a trajectory that builds to a heart-stopping climax.