Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022)

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) is a fairy tale, a kitchen-sink Cinderella story, in the tradition of those energetic comedies made at Ealing Studio throughout the nineteen-fifties.

Salt of the earth cleaning lady Mrs. Harris, irreplaceable in an unseen kind of way, falls in love with a couture Dior owned by one of her employers, and resolves to get one for herself.

Hard work and good luck conspire to get Mrs. Harris (Lesley Manville) the money she needs. There’s a small reward for handing in a precious ring, added to a lump sum from her backdated widow’s pension, that’s put with the winnings from a sneaky bet. Quicker than you can say, I will go to the ball, she’s clutching a small fortune, as tightly as her dreams of a dress, arriving in Paris just in time to crash the latest Dior show.

If fortune favours the bold, naivety, persistence, and a kind heart favours Mrs. Harris, letting her win over the younger members of house Dior, and wrangling the second best dress of her dreams. Her first is nabbed by the snobby wife of a businessman, who’s petty frock grab is as pouty as her sullen daughter.

As the dress comes to life, so does Mrs. Harris, slowly discovering her joie de vivre for the first time. Part of me wishes it wasn’t a dress bringing her out of her shell, animating her. It feels patronising for her to be defined that way. Which is perhaps why it’s set in the nineteen-fifties? It’s less plausible outside of that frame.

Mrs. Harris is an unapologetically optimistic film, old inspiring young, breathing new life in the old, all spurred on by Mrs. Harris and her indomitable spirit. This optimism comes with a side order of nostalgia, appealing to ideas about our past that just aren’t real, but it is a Cinderella story about a beautiful princess, in a stunning frock, finding her prince.

Truth is, for all of its faults, I was charmed by a warm hearted film.

https://www.imdb.com/titleg/tt5151570/

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White Noise (2022)

Noah Baumbach’s adaptation, of Don DeLillo’s 1985 book of the same name, is an absurdist joyride through the American dream.

DeLillo‘s book, described as a cornerstone of postmodern literature, has been translated into a film that is both self-aware and ironic. The most obvious example is in the stylised dialogue, an anxious stream of consciousness that brings on and exasperates feelings of distance and isolation. Everyone talks but no one listens. So when professor of Hitler studies Jack (Adam Driver), and his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig), are forced to take their children and flee an “airborne toxic event”, fears of death become physically and emotionally all consuming, especially for Babette. Watch with expectations and you’ll be disappointed. Watch without and you’ll be intrigued.

The end title are joy with an original track, New Body Rumba, by LCD Soundsystem, who apparently “reunited to record their first new music in over five years for the film”.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6160448/

The Wonder (2022)

Faith and science clash in the rural midlands of Ireland in 1862. English nurse “Lib” Wright (Florence Pugh), steadfast veteran of the Crimean war, has been brought from London, hired to observe the eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who despite not eating remains fit and healthy. Is the girl faking, being surreptitiously fed, or is she as many claim, a miracle?

Pugh is commanding, tough, vulnerable, complicit in teasing a compelling performance from the young Cassidy. Director Sebastián Lelio leans into the stifled emotions, without offering judgment, letting the uncomfortable truths of the story live, emerge from events. His choice to bookend the story in the sets from the film, is unique and some might say superfluous? I read it as highlighting our own willingness to believe a fiction. That or a nod to the book the story is based on by Emma Donoghue. Neither would surprise me.

An interesting film that makes you believe in the story.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9288822/

The Alienist 2018–2020

I was asked to write three hundred words on a scripted TV show. This is what I wrote.

The Alienist is a thriller set in New York at the close of the nineteenth century. A time when sexism, racism, and corruption are endemic. Where poverty chafes against wealth, and someone is preying on the boys that work the streets and brothels of midtown.

The Alienist

When the mutilated corpse of a boy is found on the scaffolds of the Williamsburg Bridge, psychologist Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) enlists the help of friend and illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) to make drawings of the murder. Convinced it’s linked to the murder of a former patient, Kreizler uses his connection with the newly appointed police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), to involve himself in the investigation, where he is joined by the first woman to work for the NYPD, Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning).

Using Kreizler’s psychological insights, and the latest pathology techniques, employed by detectives Lucius and Marcus Isaacson (Matthew Shear and Douglas Smith), the group slowly builds a profile of the killer, and set out to stop him. 

The production does a good job of recreating the squalor of the time, but does nothing to contextualise that poverty. It’s hinted at. Marcus meets single-mother Ester (Daisy Bevan) handing out leaflets for a socialist rally. But their brief affair is dealt with on a personal level, missing the chance to explore the upheavals that are intrinsic to the social changes they’re part of.

The main characters are complicated, with traumatic histories, that unfortunately rub too gently against their environment. Howard is perhaps the best example. It’s as if she’s going through the motions of being independent, a trailblazer, without the sternness of a woman battling the expectations of her class and sex.

Overall it’s a familiar set-up, in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, and while it gently challenges the morays of the time, they’re merely the backdrop to the mystery, rather than an integral part of the story.

Ashes in the Snow (2018)

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 lead to the Soviet annexation of the Baltic region in 1940. This was followed by political repression and mass deportations, under the so-called Serov Instructions. Hundreds of thousands, entire families, were forcibly removed from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and sent to work in Siberian labour camps. It’s a sad film about a period in history we should all know more about. Powley is compelling as the 16-year-old Lina, an innocent finding the strength to survive Soviet brutality.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3759298/

The Good Nurse (2022)

All the tension in this low key “we know who done it” is in the unknowns of Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). What will he do to his college Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) when he realises she’s on to him? Good but not great.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4273800/

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