Tag: Bill Nighy


Verdict: A stylish and smart big-screen treatment the Austin classic.

The oft-adapted classic, Jane Austin’s Emma, seems to be a screenwriters dream. Not least because of the book’s intriguing plot contrivances that drip with romantic machinations, but more because it has at its centre a wonderfully complex female character that bristles with feisty agency. Emma is a story of misguided match-making as she (played by a mischievous Anya Taylor-Joy) plays cupid for others who blindly bare the brunt of her bad advice.  Needless to say, things go horribly wrong.

Kiwi word-smith Eleanor Catton appears to have relished her opportunity to adapt the queen of romantic mismanagement for the big screen. Plunging her pen deep into the pages of Austin’s book, Catton has gilded this plucky production with delightful attention to Austin’s wonderfully witty prose. She has avoided pandering to the “Downton Abbey sect” and its more easily digestible frippery. Rather, this version feels more faithful to the source material than prior renditions which will no doubt delight fans of Austin. Those less familiar with Austin’s work might find the sharp word-play and dizzying array of characters a tad disorienting.  It is a complex web that Emma weaves and it appears that Catton doesn’t suffer fools, so if its a more contemporary version you’re after, then perhaps Amy Heckerling’s Beverly Hill’s update, Clueless (a good film in its own right), might be a better option.

The film’s tagline “Handsome, clever, and rich” is not only an apt summation of its protagonist, but also describes Catton’s intelligent screenplay and a production that brims with all the trimmings that come with a romantic romp through the early nineteenth century. Costumes, finery and luxuriously green-gardened estates—it’s all there along with an excellent ensemble cast that includes Bill Nighy hitting peak Nighy.

If I had one reservation, it is that director Autumn de Wilde, in her feature debut, hasn’t quite lived up to her music-video roots. Her name might look lovely on the poster, but the film’s beautiful production design and vivid cinematography should’ve been weaved into something a little more kinetic.  But de Wilde’s lack is thankfully made up for by Catton’s biting script and Anya Taylor-Joy whose embodiment of Emma proves a whimsical delight.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Sometimes Always Never

Sam Riley (left) and Bill Nighy (right) star in Sometimes Always NeverIn his debut feature, director Carl Hunter has embraced a very British vibe with this low-key dramedy about a missing person, a mourning father, and, umm, Scrabble. And what better person to play its mainstay—an unconventional Scrabble-obsessed tailor—than the inimitable Bill Nighy. Like him or not (and for the record, I like him), he plays these kinds of roles with aplomb.

Alan (Nighy) pines for his missing son who walked out after a heated game of scrabble, mysteriously never to be seen again. Although the film doesn’t clarify when the disappearance occurred, it’s still fresh enough for Alan to clutch onto unrealistic hopes of his return—much to the chagrin of his other son Peter (Sam Riley from Control) who wishes he’d just move on with his life.  However, some fresh evidence leads to a road trip that forces the two to reflect on their own relationship.

Although the “prodigal son” trope is a well-worn one, it does provide this tale with a solid bounding-board from which to launch its character study. And as the father/son dynamics play out, the two find themselves in some very comical situations— most notably, Alan, who hustles another grieving dad (wonderfully played by Tim McInnerny) out of 200 pounds over a game of (yes) Scrabble.

The camera-work is wall-hangingly beautiful, each shot being carefully framed with a lush pallet that sings loudly the film’s whimsical sensibilities.  However, cinematographer Richard Stoddard might’ve pushed the boat out too far with a style that doesn’t quite match the substance.  Pretty to look at, yes, but Frank Cottrell Boyce’s comparatively pallid screenplay is worse off for the distraction. That said, the usually sombre Boyce, who penned the surprisingly dark AA Milne biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin, has thankfully lightened up and laced this film with some fairly quick-witted comedy—it’s a perfect fit for Nighy whose dry delivery seems to delight in soaking up Boyce’s more gloomy tendencies. 

Sometimes Always Never is a quintessentially British film; a damp slice of seaside village life, often ponderous and offbeat (perhaps to a fault, depending on your tolerance) but curiously endearing.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Bookshop

tbsOn my way to work, I saw a young student walking along the footpath, open book in one hand, a half-eaten apple in the other, lost in what must’ve been a good read.  It was a nostalgic moment and a sight so seldom seen nowadays. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that The Bookshop gave me that same feeling; it is, after all a film that celebrates bibliophilia and deals in the currency of nostalgia.

Based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop is set in 1959 and tells the tale of Florence Green (Emily Mortimer). She is an earnest but plucky young widower whose decision to open a bookstore in the English township of Hardborough ruffles a few feathers—most notably, the town’s toffee-nosed aristocrat Violet Garmart (a role that is deliciously rendered by the wonderful Patricia Clarkson).  Her plans to scupper Florence’s venture supplies the film its narrative focus. It’s not a particularly complex story, but the devil is in the detail and Florence’s belligerence in the face of a town’s rejection personifies the film’s investigation of courage in the face of classism.  

Bill Nighy turns in a typically screen-steeling performance as Florence’s confidant and ally, Edmund Brundish. But even his quirky style as the knight in shining grey-hair provides little relief from the film’s surprisingly bleak tone. Yes, The Bookshop is slightly more sombre than expected, but thankfully it avoids the temptation to pander to today’s voracious appetite for feel-good twee and whimsy.

Isobel Coixet, who both directed and adapted Fitzgerald’s book, has done and good job of creating a great deal of atmosphere and drawn out some wonderful performances from her top-draw cast. 

The film does, however, have a few minor problems; the editing is particularly loose in parts, and some of the supporting roles feel very stilted. But what it lacks in one chapter it makes up for in another—specifically with some beautiful sound design and notable cinematography.  The Bookshop is certainly no page-turner, but it remains engaging enough to be worth seeing.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.

Their Finest

tfinestDanish director Lone Scherfig has certainly taken a shine to English stories.  She piggy-backed on Nick Hornby’s screenplay with her 2009 surprise hit, An Education, which brought the wonderful Carey Mulligan to a wider audience; then in 2011 adapted David Nichols’ best selling novel in One Day. Now Scherfig has Gemma Arterton putting on an awkward Welsh accent in a war-time film that has equal measures of romance, drama, and comedy.

Set in London during the Second World War, Catrin (Arterton) accidentally lands a role as a script writer for a studio that is commissioned to make propaganda films that buoy the spirits of the nation. She soon discovers that creating the perfect script means walking a narrow path fraught with the terms and conditions set by the Secretary of War — “authenticity informed by optimism” is their catchphrase. Most notably, it requires that the story be factual, which is easier said than done when Catrin discovers a workable story but from a unreliable source. Oh, and the film must have an American … because “Your film must show your American sisters that this is a war their husbands should be fighting.”  The search for American talent reveals an obligatory chiseled jawed “hero” whose inability to act offers hilarious results as they attempt to make him look “authentic”.

Of course there is the love story that is de rigueur for films such as this.  Catrin’s fellow script writer (and boss) Tom, played by Sam Claflin (Me Before You), waits in the margins while Catrin sorts out the relationship with her cheating husband. Its all fairly predicable, but thankfully not handled with a heavy hand. Their Finest really elevates itself above mediocrity however, in the on-set wrangling of the eclectic bunch of actors who need to work closely with the script writers — one of whom is the charming and affable Bill Nighy. He plays the consummate goof, an actor lost in his art and constantly losing sense of the occasion.

Although predictable in parts, Their Finest remains an interesting story that is delicately laced with an appropriate level of tragedy given its war-time setting. It unabashedly contrasts this with plenty of feminist rhetoric, which on occasion feels a little forced. It certainly isn’t a remarkable film by any stretch, but as a piece of sentimental entertainment it is easily digestible and certainly worth your time, if only just to see Nighy’s delightful antics.

You can see the published review here.