A United Kingdom: film review

I was sceptical about going to see A United Kingdom. From the trailers I thought it looked like the typical film about forbidden love with racial tensions and the tagline ‘based on a true story’ thrown in for good measure. 

But a viewing at Pinewood Studios left me pleasantly surprised: it’s a charming film that is as much about politics and the country of Botswana as it is about forbidden love – though the couple of Seretse (David Oyelowo) and Ruth (Rosamund Pike) is at the heart of the plot and the pair carry the film well.

The story begins in London where Ruth’s sister – who inexiplcably has an east-end accent when Ruth’s is very home counties (as Pike ususally is) – invites Ruth to a missionary dance. While she is there, she and Seretse catch each others’ eyes across the room. She laughs at his jokes and he sweeps her off her feet on the dancefloor – it’s love at first sight. It’s only after the second date that Ruth discovers who he really is: Seretse Khama, heir to the thrown of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and he must return there soon as he has finished his studies in London.

During a brief period of courting, they experience abuse on the street for being a mixed race couple, and face objection from Ruth’s father. As her sister puts it: “Daddy won’t like Seretse; he’s more clever than him and he’s black.” But the pair decide that they are very much in love and want to spend the rest of their lives togther. 

So Seretse proposes to Ruth and asks her to come to Botswana with him. She accepts, of course, or there would be no story. The happy couple are not welcomed with open arms, but are instead met with disdain from the people in the Khama’s tribe. A white woman is not seen as fit to be queen of the Botswanan people, despite Ruth’s effort to integrate and learn the language. 

Seretse’s uncle in particular disapproves. But this is more than a domenstic squabble when a royal family is ivolved, it becomes a state affair. But unlike Prince Edward who chose to renounce the throne to be with Wallis Simpson, the American woman who stole his heart, Seretse loves both Ruth and his people and still wants to claim his rightful place as ruler of the Botswanan people.

But there are not just domestic and internal rows: the British and South African governments get involved. Queen Victoria pledged to protect Botswana when Seretse’s grandfather was King, so the Brits still have a stake in the country. But bordering with South Africa, the courty has ties here too – where apartheid is currrently taking place, so obviously they are not happy with a white woman marrying the black King. 

The pair fight for their love and for Seretse’s place on the throne, while Seretse equally fights for democracy and equal rights in his country as segregration is already spreading: one Ruth’s first night in Botswana, she stays in a hotel for Whites only – Seretse is only allowed in becuase he is the Prince, but even then they have to hide out in their room, dancing to the music playing through the walls from the bar and drinking gin and giggling like teenagers hiding from their parents.

The film is well shot, with great contrast between the grey, rainy scenes of London and the rich reds and brown of Botswana. Pike looks beautiful as ever, wearing barely a scrap of makeup and a variety of colourful printed tea dresses as she tries to make a good impression with Seretse’s family and people; his aunt is particularly ferocious and hard to impress. 

Seretse and Ruth face plenty of hurdles in their relationship, and you wonder if it’s worth it. But they never give up. And become something of a symbold of hope and race relations, somthing which is commented upon at the end of the film in a quote from Nelson Mandela, stating how the Khama’s did great things for race relations.

The end of the film left me with a lump in my throat; it is a charming and moving film and it’s a shame that it hasn’t received any BAFTA nominations. It’s very much a British film – produced by BBC Film and BFI and about a period in British history. It’s scary to think that all of this racism and colonialism happened not so long ago, but it is an uplifting film nonetheless. 

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Great movie couples who did it more than once

Sometimes onscreen couples have undeniable chemistry, so much so that the are cast oppostite eacch other in more than one film. With Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling receiving rave reviews for La La Land, I thought I’d take a look at them and some of my other favourite film couples who have starred together in multiple movies.

 

  
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

These two are currently the hottest duo in Hollywood thanks to their latest roles in La La Land. But this isn’t the first time they’ve appeared onscreen together. The pair first struck up an on-screen relationship in Crazy, Stupid Love where Gosling played the arrogant, but lovable Jacob, and Stone was Hannah, a law student who wanted more spark from a relationship. Little does she know, he’s teaching her newly single father how to get girls. They’re comedic pairing and chemistry was evident in the scene where Jacob takes Hannah back to his place and they try to recreate the famous Dirty Dancing lift and Hannah admires Jacob’s abs: “It’s like you’re Photoshopped!”

In Gangster Squad, she was the mol to his mobster, well actually her was a Seargent, but, you know. Oozing old school glamour, much like in La La Land, the pair worked their smouldering glares and the 1940s flick that unfortunately flopped, partly due to the cinema shoot-out ending being changed following a sad massacre in Colorado at a screening of The Dark Knight. But Gosling and Stone stood out, for all the right reasons in this film.

They are currently sweeping boards at awards ceremonies for their portrayal of a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress in La La Land, a homage to old school Hollywood. If you haven’t seen it already, what are you waiting for?!

   

 
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Speaking of old school Hollywood, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were the golden couple of the golden age of film, co-starring in 10 films together, making them the biggest repeat offenders on this list.

Top Hat is probably the most famous of their films, but let’s not forget Swing Time, The Gay Divorce, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, Flying Down to Rio, Roberta, Carefree, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and the Barkleys of Broadway.

Some of their dance routines have gone down in history as the best in the business: Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Swing Time, Night and Day and Cheek to Cheek top the list and can make anyone nostalgic for vintage films – even if like me you weren’t around during their inception.

Although sadly, unlike other pairings on this list who seem to have a great friendship off-screen as well, Astaire and Rogers reportedly did not have such a fine romance and were consumed by “conflict, envy and mistrust” according to The Express and books published about the pair. What a shame.

 

  

 

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper

Thanks mostly to David O. Russell, fan-favourites Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have had several film pairings, the first being in Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook.

Unfortunately for Cooper, Lawrence always seems to come off better for these pairings, having won two Oscars for her portrayals of Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook and for Rosalyn in American Hustle.

In Silver Linings Playbook, they both play people struggling with past relationships and mental illnesses and who come together to enter a dance competition, learning a lot about each other and themselves in the process. Their antagonistic chemistry is hilarious and their quick-fire quips make for entertaining dialogue. A must-see.

Although they were not playing a couple in American Hustle, this was another play where their comedic timings and dry sense of humour shone through, thanks again to David O. Russell’s brilliant script. Lawrence is hilarious as the inept house wife of Chrisitian Bale’s con-man who blows up a microwave while wearing couture tracksuits.

Joy was Lawrence, but Bradley Cooper shone through as Neil Walker, the man a QVC who helps Joy to bring her invention of the Wonder Mop to the nation and turn her from a struggling mother of one trying to keep her father’s business afloat to a successful businesswoman.  

One of the pair’s not-so-successful movie outings was Serena, set in Depression-era North Carolina about a forbidden love between a timber baron and his new wife, Serena. The film was met was poor reviews – perhaps the pair should stick to comedy with O. Russell.

 

  

 

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughy

Alright, alright, alright. This is a cute pairing if we ever saw one. Starting with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughy have great chemistry. It was fun to watch the sparks fly in the rom-com that saw Hudson try to ditch McConaughy as part of a column she was writing for Composure magazine, and McConaughy try to woo her to win a bit that would let him manage a diamond account at his advertising firm. Hilarity ensues. 

They were such a popular pairing that the pair had a second, although not as successful, turn in Fool’s Gold. The film is stupid, but fun. And the scenery and the people – mainly Hudson and McConaughy- are beautiful as the exes who reunite to do some treasure hunting and go scuba diving, fly sea planes and take part in some hand to hand combat in the process. (Not so much) hilarity ensues.
  

 

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet

Ah, Leo and Kate. Since they first appeared opposite each other in Titanic, when everyone was rooting for the class-divided, star-crossed lovers, they have earned a place in the public’s heart.

When DiCaprio was cast in Titanic, he was already well-established as a young actor, having been nominated for awards for his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. But Kate was a relative unknown who has since said she badgered James Cameron to cast her and even sent him a rose from “His Rose”. Good job she did – she was excellent as Rose DeWhitt Bukater. Jack and Rose. It’s a shame he met such a sad fate, but no one will ever forget THAT drawing scene, nor them ‘flying’ at the helm of the Titanic. Sigh.

The pair were reunited in Revolution Road, which was directed by Winslet’s then-husband, Sam Mendes. She has also since spoken of how it was awkward filming love scenes with another man in front of her husband, and even worse, having her husband give pointers! Cringe.

 

   

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks

The queen of 90s rom-coms and the king of, um, life, Tom Hanks are a great pairing. You’ve Got Mail is one of my personal favourite rom-coms with Ryan starring as Kathleen who struggles to keep her independent book store and her mother’s legacy alive when Hank’s book superstore opens up right over the road. What they don’t know is that while they despise each other in real life, the pair are falling in love over email after meeting in an anonymous chatroom as Shopgirl and NY152.

Prior to You’ve Got Mail, they coupled up in Joe Versus the Volcano, and another classic 90s film: Sleepless in Seattle. Like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle was a film where the romantic leads didn’t actually share the screen at the same time much as recently widowed Sam (Hanks) called up a radio show, listened to by Annie (Ryan) until the pair had a romantic meeting up the top of the Empire State Building, echoing the classic film An Affair to Remember.

 

Other notable on-screen couples include: Al Pacino and Michelle Phifer, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Rachel McAdams and Owen Wilson, Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves and John Hamm and Kirtin Wiig. Are there any that I’ve missed?

 

La La Land: Review

La La Land is simply stunning. In this cold, wet, miserable winter weather, it’s the dose of sunshine we all need. I feel like I’m just repeating all the superlatives and adjectives already used to describe this film, but it is truly spectacular, touching, uplifting and beautiful to watch.

The film is the perfect update if a Hollywood classic, right from the opening scene, ‘Shot in Cinemascope’ in a deep colour before sweeping down onto a gridlocked highway whose motorists break into song – a little High School Musical, but colourful and fun – before the main characters’ initial meet cute – though this one is not so cute as it involves honking horns and flipping the finger in a moment of road rage. 

The next meet cute between Mia, Emma Stone’s doe eyed barista/wannabe actress and striving jazz pianist Seb, played by a fast fingered Ryan Gosling is the clip that we all see in the trailers, when Mia happens upon a jazz bar and is captured by Seb’s soulful tinkling on the ivories. Though all is not as we would necessarily hope… The story of the two ingenues continues from here as they repeatedly bump into each other around Hollywood.  

  
Ryan Gosling’s jazz piano is fantastic – he reportedly did not need a hand double and learnt to play to a high standard within just three months, a fantastic feat and surely something that will help him in awards season – he’s already bagged the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, one of a record-breaking seven Globes that the film received, among Best Actress for Stone, Best Director for Damien Chazelle and Best Film (Comedy or Musical). 

Deep purples, romantic reds, calming hues of green – the film is a palette of opulent joy. The costumes are great, with Mia and her girls in block primary coloured dresses a stand-out as they swish their way down the street to a Hollywood party. There’s lots of shots at dusk: sunrise and sunset where the sky is the most outstanding colours, echoing the blues and purples of the film’s poster shot. 

The now iconic scene of the pair dancing on a Hollywood hill the sun rises, Mia in a yellow dress to brilliantly offset the deep purple backdrop rings true to the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And the sequence hints at Gene Kelly Singin’ in the Rain as Seb swings round a lamppost and something similar to the beginnings of Astaire’s ceiling dance as the couple tap their way along a bench while still seated. It’s quite a sequence, and while they are both impressive and there’s definite sparks despite the lyrics “Not a spark in sight, what a waste of a lovely night”. Yet there is something unpolished about the routine, but that helps it seem all the more authentic and charming.

  
It’s not just the visuals that are spectacular: the award-winning score is as catchy as it is enchanting. And like the unpolished dancing, the giggles and gasps and interrupted spoken words in the songs make it all the more real and likeable. Emma Stone seems like she has a mediocre voice until she sings in her final audition with such gusto and emotion that it had me welling up: it’s a beautiful belter. John Legend is a great addition to the cast as Seb’s old friend and band mate with the ‘Let’s start a fire’ set-piece sounding like it could have come straight off his latest album album.

Emma Stone’s signature doe eyes and lanky, yet elegant frame paired with Ryan Gosling’s ‘won’t eat his cereal’ brooding face and quick witted jibes are a great pairing. The two have worked together before, and like Astaire and Rogers before them, I hope they continue to do so. Emma Watson was reportedly originally cast as Mia but thy had to re-cast due to her conflicts with Beauty and the Beast. I think Stone suits the role better with her trademark goofiness adding another element of likability to Mia. 

Mia and Seb’s relationship seems to revolve around cars. They first meet in a traffic jam, they meet again at a party and Mia gets out of an awkward conversation with a writer by asking Seb to fetch her keys from the valley, which turned into a hung for the cars. Seb always blasts his horn when he arrives to collect my and… There’s more but I don’t want to leave any spoilers but the storey significantly revolves around journeys and cars. 

There’s a beautiful symmetry to the whole film, the story told in season’s, although in southern California there’s not much variation in the weather to indicate the transitions. The film comes full circle and is satisfying, although not for reasons you might expect. Look out for the final montage sequence: it is spectacular.

La La Land was enchanting and brought a tear or two to my eyes, although most the time I could simply feel myself involuntarily smiling. Not to echo the words of other critics, but it’s hard not to: it’s a feel-good homage to the golden age of Hollywood and it doesn’t disappoint. Even if you’re not a musical lover, there’s a still a good chance you will fall in love with La La Land – it’s hard to resist such a treat for the eyes and ears. Go see it now! 

What Carrie Fisher Taught Us

We were all shocked and upset on 27th December to hear the terrible news that Carrie Fisher, much loved for her role as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars, had passed away. Her life was cut short when she still had so much to give; but we should remember what she left us: great films, books, jokes and memories and try to act on her words of wisdom.


Girls can be princesses too

Carrie was just 19 when she was cast as Princess Leia in the big budget sci-fi film Star Wars in 1977, the same age her mother Debbie Reynolds was when she got her big break in Singin’ In The Rain. Yes, she was a princess, but despite her please of “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi; you’re my only hope”, this young woman was more than a damsel in distress; she turned into a feminist icon.

Yes, she still requires some rescuing, but she grabbed blasters and took part in shoot outs with Stormtroopers, was strong with the Force and was gutsy enough to stand up to Darth Vader (damn scary) in an attempt to save her home planet. And in subsequent films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, she turned from Princess Leia to General Leia Organa; a woman in a position of military power, directing rebel briefs and playing a vital role in leading the strategy on defeating the Empire, not just a figurehead.  

Star Wars Director, George Lucas said of Carrie Fisher: “She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess – feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think.”
  
True, her character was written by Lucas so her feminist words were not strictly hers, but they came from her mouth and she delivered them and enacted the iconic character that so many girls now want to dress up as come Halloween in a white robe with the iconic buns on either side their head. Leia was a distressing damsel rather than a damsel in distress, and now people are petitioning for Disney to make her an official Disney Princess.

She truly embraced the role. She once said: “I had a lot of fun killing Jabba the Hutt. They asked me on the day if I wanted to have a stunt double kill Jabba. No! That’s the best time I ever had as an actor. And the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster.”

It became a role that defined her career. And while she fell of the radar and suffered following her abuse of drugs during and after filming the Star Wars sequels, she became one the most iconic female characters in film. Forget your Disney princesses, this is what a real princess looks like.


Writing is a great outlet

As well as being a celebrated actress, Carrie was also a successful author, penning memoirs about her life. Not only playing a princess on-screen, she was something of Hollywood royalty, born to Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher in 1956. It’s no wonder she went into the wonderful world of showbiz – and thank goodness she did, she had so much wit, poise and wisdom to share.

Following her turn in Star Wars, she wrote Postcards From the Edge; a frank experience about her struggle with drugs at the height of her fame. The book was adapted for the big screen to the synonymous film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Streep received an Oscar nomination for her role as an aspiring actress struggling with drugs and other life dramas in the successful film.

She went on to aid in the writing of Sister Act and So I Married an Axe Murderer. In terms of literature, she also wrote further books, including her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist: which she was promoting in the UK just weeks before her death.

  

It’s ok to talk about mental illness

Something Carrie talked about quite openly in her books was her struggle with bipolar disorder and depression. Carrie often came across as mad as bag of snakes in interviews, but that was part of her charm: she never offended, just spoke her mind. Unfortunately her mind was plagued by mental illness. But at a time when it was still taboo to talk about (you could argue it still is now), she was frank and honest about how she dealt with her mental illness: “I don’t feel I’m particularly messed up… I’ve always been quite sane about being insane.”  

She became an advocate for mental illness: professing that it does not define you: ”I don’t want to be… ashamed of anything. And because generally someone who has bipolar doesn’t have just bipolar, they have bipolar and they have a life and a job and a kid and a hat and parents, so it’s not your overriding identity, it’s just something that you have, but not the only thing – even if it’s quite a big thing.”

Many praised her for her openness on the controversial topic. She helped many people identify their own troubles and encouraged people to reach out for help. “When you get [in that mental stats] it’s hard to talk. You are reaching out from such a far away place. What do you say? You don’t want to be a burden and you don’t want to seem like you feel sorry for yourself and it’s humiliating among so many other things.”

Carrie was just 19 when she was cast as Princess Leia in the big budget sci-fi film Star Wars in 1977, the same age her mother Debbie Reynolds was when she got her big break in Singin’ In The Rain. Yes, she was a princess, but despite her please of “Help me Obi Wan Kanobi; you’re my only hope”, this young woman was more than a damsel in distress; she turned into a feminist icon.
 
Yes, she still requires some rescuing, but she grabbed blasters and took part in shoot outs with Stormtroopers, was strong with the Force and was gutsy enough to stand up to Darth Vader (damn scary) in an attempt to save her home planet. And in subsequent films, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, she turned from Princess Leia to Commander Leia Organa; a woman in a position of military power, directing rebel briefs and playing a vital role in leading the strategy on defeating the Empire, not just a figurehead.  
 
Star Wars Director, George Lucas said of Carrie Fisher: “She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colourful personality that everyone loved. In Star Wars she was our great and powerful princess – feisty, wise and full of hope in a role that was more difficult than most people might think.”
 
True, her character was written by Lucas so her feminist words were not strictly hers, but they came from her mouth and she delivered them and enacted the iconic character that so many girls now want to dress up as come Halloween in a white robe with the iconic buns on either side their head. Leia was a distressing damsel rather than a damsel in distress, and now people are petitioning for Disney to make her an official Disney Princess.
 
She truly embraced the role. She once said: “I had a lot of fun killing Jabba the Hutt. They asked me on the day if I wanted to have a stunt double kill Jabba. No! That’s the best time I ever had as an actor. And the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster.”
 
It became a role that defined her career. And while she fell of the radar and suffered following her abuse of drugs during and after filming the Star Wars sequels, she became one the most iconic female characters in film. Forget your Disney princesses, this is what a real princess looks like.
 
 

It’s never too late for a comeback

“The curse of Star Wars” is often talked about as many of the actors (with the exception of Harrison Ford) didn’t go on to have sparkling acting careers. While Carrie had success with her writing and had a few small roles in films such as When Harry Met Sally and cameos in television shows like The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock and Sex and the City, her film career never really took off again.

That was until 2014 when Star Wars was rebooted and she returned to the role that made her famous. This reignited her passion for the spotlight, and she began to do press again: going on talk shows and giving interviews. She even wrote her final memoir and was filming scenes for guest starring in British sitcom Catastrophe.

She even shed light on a brief affair she had with Harrison Ford while filming The Empire Strikes Back, when Ford was married, which had remained secret for nearly 40 years. Of course the media sensationalised it: on-set affairs are always salacious gossip – even if it did happen four decades go!

Carrie has filmed scenes for the next Star Wars film, Episode VIII, but there are no questions around how Disney are going to conclude her character’s story in the final film following her early passing. In Star Wars: Rogue One, she made a brief cameo appearance as her 19-year-old self thanks to some CGI trickey. Additionally, Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarkin, despite dying in 1994, by using highly detailed special effects. Perhaps they could do the same for Leia?

She may no longer be with us, but Carrie Fisher’s legacy will live on and we can look forward to seeing her in the next Star Wars instalment and episodes of Catastrophe. Her wit and enthusiasm will be sorely missed. In the words of Carrie Fisher, “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.” RIP.