The Labour Party gave us the NHS, but right now they're dithering and debating over a policy that could save it. Senior Labour figures are arguing about whether to make an election pledge for more NHS funding. Under the Coalition, funding is being cut, services are going downhill and waiting lists are on the rise. This suits big business, as a damaged health service is easier to privatise. Labour need to promise to do something. Pro NHS experts argue a 1p tax rise to pay for healthcare is exactly what the NHS and the country need. Ed Miliband will want to make an announcement at the party conference next week. Sign this petition and help tip him the right way.
OK so some of Pride is very clunky in places and not all of the character storylines are as strong as you'd like, but let's face it this subject matter meant it was always going to get a favourable score from me. Pride is inspired by the true life alliance of lesbian and gay men support group for the miners during their strike of 84/85. With a strong cast including well known and familiar names like Paddy Considine, Billy Nighy (the strongest I've seen him in on the big screen in some time), Imelda Staunton (hilarious), Andrew Scott (giving a performance I actually enjoyed) Joseph Gilgun, Liz White and Dominic West (occasionally veering close to an almost Simon Callow-like performance) alongside promising (relative) newcomers such as Ben Schnetzer (the heart of the film), Faye Marsay, George MacKay and Jessica Gunning as miner's wife Sian James (who is now an MP), it's a feelgood movie that gives notions of solidarity, socialism and supporting one another some much needed oxygen, leaving this viewer feeling like he'd just enjoyed a breath of fresh air in this somewhat selfish society.
An accurate 80s atmosphere and a committed intention not only to depict the agendas of both victimised and prejudiced groups but also to be honest enough in representing the animosity help from a lesbian and gay group often faced, added greatly to a project that, overall, can rightly take its place alongside films like Brassed Off and The Full Monty. Now go and watch it, because you'll be touched, you'll smile, you'll be angry about the politics of one woman who purposefully and systematically set about trying to destroy many people's whole way of life and you'll be even angrier to consider we've let those bastards in again. But above all you'll FEEL. Oh and there may have been um, something in my eye during the rendition of Bread and Roses.
And amidst all this talk of 'Great Scots' we have the sad news that veteran Scottish actor Angus Lennie has passed away at a nursing home in Acton aged 84.
Lennie pretty much created a stereotypical wily and loveable Scottish persona for film and TV and starred in such classic WWII movies as The Great Escape and 633 Squadron which would see him paired up with Hollywood greats like Steve McQueen and Cliff Robertson, his diminutive frame gazing adoringly up at them as their comic and ill fated sidekick.
Lennie was a familiar figure on TV too most notably for playing the cantankerous chef Shughie McFee in Crossroads and roles in two Doctor Who serials, The Ice Warriors in the 1960s and Terror of the Zygons in the 70s.
Mauled by the critics on its initial release, Ryan's Daughter a small story delivered by David Lean on an 'excessive scale' (to quote Roger Ebert) has matured and been mercifully reevaluated to stand alongside the director's epic greats. It is perhaps fair to Ebert et al to say that the story is slight but the scale bold, but I don't think the film suffers from that at all. For me it's a thing of beauty and has now been recognised as such. It's a hard heart who cannot appreciate we're witness to exceptional film making here.
I love the performances; I genuinely don't think Trevor Howard bettered his performance here as Father Huw, it's a real bravura turn that manages to tick all the boxes of the whisky priest stereotype yet rises above such one dimensional trappings to be something believable at each and every turn.
Likewise, Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles offer wonderful and captivating turns as the schoolteacher Shaughnessy and his young wife Rosy. Mitchum's character is largely referred to as good man and the audience could not argue with that classification. A sensitive soul with a saintly patience, the actor draws back his usual laconic style to deliver something much more studied and interesting. I really like his performance here. Miles is nothing but perfection as the well meaning but somewhat shallow and naive daughter of the title; a woman who was 'meant for the wide world' and is suffering as a result of her captivity on the small and rural Irish coastline. And she looks at her most beautiful too.
One man who has seen that wide world and suffered because of it is Major Doryan who becomes 'the other man'. Played by Christopher Jones, who as a Brando/Dean clone was perhaps always more of a poster boy than an actor, he's an enigmatic and almost ethereal presence throughout the film as the shellshocked officer, with a clipped delivery provided by Julian Holloway in the dub when Lean became too frustrated by Jones' flat vocal style.
A virtually unrecognisable John Mills plays 'the village idiot' Michael; a mute man who probably had a form of cerebral palsy. As was noted in Ricky Gervais' Extras, the awards season love a good mental and/or physical disability performance and sure enough, Mills won an Oscar for his role here. As much as this film has been reappraised down the years, unfortunately Mills' role has been criticised, likened too broad and comedic. Personally, I have no such problems with it and find it very sweet and endearing and with more than a grain of truth to it. Where I think it can have criticism levelled against it is perhaps in Maurice Jarre's over intrusive use of his score to literally carpet Mills' scenes and in the script itself, which has Mills be a handy and coincidental witness to every illicit bit of action that occurs.
And finally, rounding out the main players, we have Leo McKern as Ryan, the local publican, informer and Rosy's father. A man of bluster, he's a cowardly but deeply understandable presence and McKern's quicksilver presence invests much into the role.
Lean's visuals are of course superb and the storm scenes are still a thing of sheer wonder - who needs CGI?! I strongly advise sitting as close to the TV as possible during those scenes to get the maximum effect the small screen can give this film. Another visual moment that stays with you is immediately after the intermission when Mitchum spies his young wife with the British officer. It's played out almost as a silent melodrama, with Jarre's score - which totally conjures up the discordant emotion of doing something you know you oughtn't - filling the screen almost as much as the beautiful Oscar winning cinematography from Freddie Young.
So what if you find yourself wondering just how bad is each character's peripheral vision?! Two things also need mentioning; I love how the little girl Cathy (or Kathy?) clearly has a thing for Mitchum's Shaughnessy. She's almost a reassuring notion for the viewer; that there'll be another woman in that village who will not settle for the sheep like mentality of those around her. And lastly on the subject of the villagers, how much of a grade A bitch is Moureen?!
Based on a novel by Liverpudlian author John Brophy, this film from 1950 is directed by Michael Anderson (The Dambusters, Around The World In 80 Days etc) and is set around the Liverpool docks and the lives of those who reside and work there. Its a story that manages to hold (or maybe create?) the template of a working class narrative of unemployment and love alongside a rich seam of melodrama, one that Liverpudlian fiction continues to excel in and employ to this very day.
Love in Liverpool; Richard Burton and Avis Scott
Waterfront is little more than a modest little b-movie with a slim running time of just 75 minutes that is perhaps notable now solely for its casting of the young Richard Burton as Ben Satterthwaite, an out of work ship's engineer during the Great Depression of the 30s desperate for a job so he can afford to marry Avis Scott's Nora McCabe. A curious twist of fate involving her troublesome father (Robert Newton) returning to the fold after fourteen years at sea may just give them that opportunity.
Robert Newton delivers another roguish turn
The authentic and very striking location shoot around the city is fascinating for those familiar with Liverpool (with scenes shot around the pier head, the docks, the Empire, George Henry Lee's, Derby Road and nearby Chester) but what is considerably less authentic but just as striking (for all the wrong reasons) are the accents the cast choose to adopt; with a very young Richard Burton and Kenneth Griffith seeming to want to convince us, against their intentions, that Liverpool is in fact in Wales, whilst London girls Avis Scott (one time BBC continuity announcer who, it was said, was fired for being 'too sexy for TV!') and Susan Shaw (star of the Huggetts films) play sisters and seem to mimic their characters' mother, Kathleen Harrison's natural Lancastrian accent. Playing the estranged husband/father, Robert Newton does as he pleases, with an accent that seems to lodge itself in broad cockney. Nonetheless, they are all very watchable and affecting in a film that doesn't outstay its welcome and is available to watch in full on YouTube.
Fourteen years after its release (and twenty-one years after the events that inspired the movie) Erin Brockovich is a strange one to reflect upon. Back in 2000 it was huge, one of that year's must watch movies, with some considerable hype. Watching it back then, I wasn't altogether convinced the hype was justified; Erin Brockovich was essentially Silkwood, with a little of Norma Rae thrown in, the working class woman who takes a stand, changing both her life, the lives of others and - it could be argued - a part of the world for the better. I guess it was so warmly received because such a movie hadn't been around since the late 70s. Watching it now so far down the line the movie takes its place amongst those predecessors to the extent that it would probably serve as a good double or triple bill with such fare. But Steven Soderbergh's movie lacks bite (PG&E, the Goliath like utility company that Brockovich helped prove contaminated the drinking water in Hinkley, California and was negligent in such knowledge, is kept at arm's length and as such is never really confronted head on in any meaningful way) and seems to believe a film with something to say should be overlong and aimless, as if its importance could only truly be weighed by a 2hr 5min running time. The pacing of the piece is far too relaxed to be truly compelling or justifiably as angry as it ought to be. Soderbergh is no Ken Loach, and the US equivalent of such a pugnacious storyteller is the sort of director this kind of project deserved.
Still held in high regard as Julia Roberts finest film/performance (she won the Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild awards that year) the first hour is great; she dispenses her movie star image to play the somewhat tarty, twice divorced single mom of three and, in doing so, offers the audience something fresh and distinctive. But once Brockovich's crusade commences, much of Roberts' actual performance - all the characterisation and foibles - falls by the wayside and she becomes the 'movie star' once more,and the lack of clear character progression/development doesn't help her here either. It's still her best role in my eyes - with the scene about an hour and 20 in where she stuns the contemptuous PG&E lawyers into silence being a highpoint - but her success with the film may have more to do with gong givers just liking an old fashioned underdog story in black and white. Albert Finney offers a fine, if somewhat workmanlike serviceable, support as Ed Masry, the lawyer Brockovich convinces to take the case.
Ultimately lacking in bite and in need of a tighter focus, Erin Brockovich is still relatively engaging enough and perhaps manages to pass the message of big business not always being good on to audiences who would not normally seek out (more politicised) films with such an agenda.