The Films I've Watched This Year #45

Film Oh Romola, Romola, Romola, where for art thou, Romola? From here on in Garai has a bit of a career schism in which, with the exception of Glorious 39, she enjoys the lead role on television but ends up playing secondary roles of daughters, wives or BFFs in films were quite often, and Vanity Fair's a clear example of this, she could play the lead just as well if not better.  Perhaps it's a choice; carrying television series with long schedules then dipping into shorter roles in films.  That seems to be the impression might draw from this 2011 interview.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The point is she's still in that interstitial point of being thought of enough to be able to make television but entirely capable of playing character roles in films which is the very definition of the kind of actor who ends up playing Time Ladys.

As I mentioned the other day, Australian mini-series The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant is a fascinating shop window for the kinds of powers she'd bring to the Doctor, not least the necessary authority.  The piece itself is a bit halfy.  The first episode which sets up her character Mary Bryant's predicament, as a convict on the first ship to settle in Australia who breaks free of the authorities is amazingly pants in places with Jack Davenport playing an even more feckless version of his Pirates character in what's essentially the Torchwood equivalent of the old education series, How We Used To Live.  Endless exposition about the horrors of utilising convicts to build a colony punctuated by graphic scenes of sexual assault and torture.

But then in the second half, for an hour or so, everything clicks into place as a more intriguing chapter begins in which Bryant, her husband, children and various hangers on end up in an Italian colony where they attempt to build false identities.  Clearly the more intriguing story, you could imagine a film version told from the pov of the colonists attempting to decide if this group of apparent aristocrats are everything they say they are.  As intrigue gives way to tragedy, Garai's acting ability is on full display and she's heartbreaking, her Cornish accent cracks (forget what I said last week about accents).  Well worth three hours of your time so long as you're of a patient disposition.

Hugo 3D
As You Like It
Amazing Grace
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope

Garai's next film according to the IMDb was voice work as Helena on the English dub of the Spanish animation El sueƱo de una noche de San Juan or Midsummer Dream, which isn't available anywhere but tantalisingly has some box art on Amazon.  Garai's next film after that according to the IMDb was voice work as Ilona Tasuiev on the English version of the French animation Renaissance which is available everywhere and is sadly practically unwatchable.  A sub-2000AD story about the super rich attempting to find immortality, the animation utilises a graphic novel aesthetic to evoke film noir with the result that some scene are simply loads of black with various points of light which makes the action difficult to follow.

Romola is fine as are her co-stars especially Daniel Craig, but the enterprise falls into an animation uncanny valley because the characters they're playing look nothing like the actors which is less of a problem in other animation styles but a bit distracting here, especially when the character they're voicing looks like a famous French actor.  Who interest comes in the form of Sean Pertwee and Nina Sosanya who was about the only actor to come out of the Fear Her debacle with her reputation intact.  But on the whole you can imagine director Christian Volckman  and his crew slaving away on this for ages then watching as Sin City steals their thunder.

The rest of the week was spent rewatching films from a slightly different perspective.  This is my third time through Scoop which I've already reviewed twice on the blog, on first viewing and then in 2010 as part of the Woody Allen watch which is ongoing.  That's when I first noticed Garai and said:
"The big surprise this time was to notice Romola Garai as Scarlett’s best friend. Since 2006, she’s taken a few high profile roles, most recently as Emma in a BBC tv adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and in Stephen Poliakoff’s underrated Glorious 39 and I think has the potential to be the next Kate Winslet or at least the British Johansson. She doesn’t have much to do here other than be Scarlett’s facilitator and sounding board (“I can get you into a club to meet Peter” / “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”) but even then she’s luminous."
Which pretty much sums things up even if my predictions have gone a bit south since she's purposefully become neither of those things.  Like all the other British actors in this very rich cast, she's clearly agreed to do it so  she has a Woody Allen film on her CV and she's at least better served than Richard Briers and Toby Jones who seem to have found themselves in the waste bin on the computerised editing system for all but 0ne shot of them looking sullen on a barge.

Romola's role essentially that of Tony Roberts in Annie Hall, of walking in lateral tracking shots so that Scarlett as Woody's younger female avatar can fire jokes at her.  She does have one moment of agency while lying on a bed being told off by her mother but on the whole its all saucer eyes and teasing and not really having much in the way of a story for herself though it's not really that kind of film to be fair.  Despite being a BBC Film, Scoop still hasn't hasn't had a UK release but there are plenty of region 2 versions available on Amazon, including an Italian Blu-Ray.

For reasons I can't fathom, I really took against Branagh's HBO version of As You Like It first time around.  Not having bothered to write anything about that on the blog, my memory's a bit dim as to why, but I suspect it's because of the liberties played with the text to the point that some major characters are left with just a few lines and the Orientalism and it not being as epic as his theatrical releases notably Hamlet, not that anything could be as good as Hamlet.  But on a television budget what was I expecting?

This time around I found the whole thing a deeply emotional transcendent experience, from Patrick Doyle's ravishing soundtrack, to the golden photography to the touching performances especially from Brian Blessed in the dual roles of Duke's Senior and Frederick.  Plus having read much more theatrical history since then, I can appreciate the implications of Adrian Lester being here albeit not in his signature role as Rosalind, filled on this occasion by Bryce Dallas Howard.  who in her own way, for all the family connect is sort of the US Garai.  Perhaps Jurassic World will give her some traction.

Essentially two things pushed me over.  Garai of course as Celia, notably in the scene where staging requirements leave her sitting on the edge of a bridge, alone, contemplating nature while Rosalind sets out her test to Orlando, in the background throughout patiently waiting for Ken to say cut.  But also Kevin Kline's Jacques, a figure I sometimes fear I may have become especially in the closing moments when he's walking off just as the party's starting.  To break character for a second, that's just the sort of thing I need to do less of.

After two BBFs, Amazing Grace has Garai playing William Wilberforce's wife Barbara in what turns out to be the crucial role of persuading him to carry on with the necessary work of ending slavery.  But the real surprise in that lovely, oh you're really quite famous now but you weren't when I first saw this so I didn't notice you, is Benedict Cumberatch as William Pitt and clearly loving it.  Much of his IMDb is like that, loads of "I didn't realise he was in that..."  Creation?  Starter for Ten?  Four Lions!?!  Heartbeat!?!?!??!?

Ended the week on Star Wars for reasons you can imagine.  The BD on my 50 inch LED looked amazing, almost too detailed, with scuffs in paintwork, matting errors in space and prop shadows aplenty (across Sir Alec's body in the lightsaber scene).  Noticed this time?  The lack of women.  Apart from Aunt Beru and Leia and some background artists there are no women in the thing,  None of the Rebels are women.  None of the Imperials.  Where are they all?  Stuck in the 70s presumably.  Still, can't fault it otherwise ...

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