Tag: Patricia Clarkson

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.


The Party


Weighing in at a very modest seventy-one minutes, what The Party lacks in screen time it makes up for in detail. Writer/director Sally Potter has delivered a punchy dramedy that boldly fizzes with black humour and satire. While it doesn’t entirely avoid the oft-maligned staginess of a chamber-piece (a curse that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the writing is up to snuff), Potter has kept things visually as silver-tongued as her script, and it works … most of the time. 

Kristin Scott Thomas plays the political matriarch Janet, who fresh off a promotion, puts together a small soirée to celebrate. The wonderful ensemble cast makes up the collection of invitees, each one giving this dark comedy plenty of meat and drink to dine on.  There is Janet’s liberal-idealist friend April (Patricia Clarkson) with her hippy boyfriend Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) in tow; there’s the academic Martha (Cherry Jones) and her pregnant partner Jinny (Emily Mortimer)—they’re a gay couple who both argue over the correct level of radical feminism to assume; and finally the outsider, a cocaine-snorting suit (Cillian Murphy). 

Janet’s husband Bill, played by an overly forlorn Timothy Spall, sits sullenly as this dynamite-laden bandolier of guests file in and proceed to bristle with thorny exchanges and barbed retorts.  It doesn’t take long before everyone begins lobbing bombshell announcements into the champaign and canapés. 

With very little plot, the film risks becoming too script centric and while Potter’s screenplay weaves some spell-binding wit, it does occasionally become knowingly smug. Thankfully, Potter doesn’t let things get too stuffy and counters with some nice visual flourishes that utilise the limited set size to good effect. Shot entirely in black-and-white and utilising some lively camera and lighting choices, The Party is clearly giving a knowing wink to the screwball comedies of yesteryear.

The Party will likely split its audience into two camps.  Some will find it bright, buoyant, playful, and sharp-witted.  The cynical among us will most likely find it smarmy, morose, and irritating.  Suffice to say, if you enter the theatre with the correct attitude you’ll probably have a lot of fun with this film. 

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.