I'm having a bit of a Romola Garai marathon of late and that meant, sooner or later, I had to watch the 2007 film Angel. It was with some trepidation I sat down to see it, after all it has some pretty scathing reviews.
And having watched it now, I can understand the reviews. Maybe it was because the previous film I'd seen was The Comic Strip Presents Red Top, that I kept imagining this tale of a young woman who becomes an overnight success as a romantic fiction writer in 1900s England in the hands of Peter Richardson, or as a French and Saunders sketch, but I don't think so - I think director François Ozon had his tongue firmly in cheek for much of this, and I'm not sure everyone gets that. But, when you see the ludicrous, laughable back projection and hear the sweeping score of Philippe Rombi that sounds like it belongs in some Hollywood technicolour period drama from the '50s, you just have to know that someone here is spoofing the conventions of this genre. Once I appreciated this, I actually had a whale of a time. The whole thing has a wonderfully light, satirical Gallic touch at odds with the usual Merchant Ivory style of costume drama and I admired the irony in an eponymous film called Angel that features a character who is anything but angelic. It seemed to me that Ozon wished to concentrate on the brattish, self centred nature of his heroine that many may consider acceptable in contemporary drama in these period confines and, as a result, delivers perhaps the most intriguing anti-heroine since Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp.
As Angel, Garai replaces her natural blonde hair for dark locks but looks just as divine. Many reviewers have cited her performance as irritating and over the top. I prefer to say it is more exuberant than OTT, but really, how else would one play someone so gloriously precocious and self centred? I actually began to wonder if it was Ozon and Garai's intention to suggest Angel had a form of Aspergers, as she was so unable to comprehend anything outside of her own febrile imagination. The film takes a more sombre and serious turn in the final half when the outbreak of WWI sees Angel separated from her husband, the penniless artist Esmé (Michael Fassbender) when he enlists to fight in the army. It is here that Angel actually develops some (small) appreciation of the outside world, removing herself from her usual fripperies and romantic melodramas to write fiction with a pacifist stance. It's a sign of maturity, but it's worth acknowledging that she is only delivered to this stage via her selfish desire to keep her husband (and her male staff) at home at her beck and call.
At heart, Angel also possesses an interesting question regarding the achievement of one's ambitions and dreams; does living the dream mean that you are ultimately detached from the realities of life - true love, an understanding of, and compassion for, your fellow man, maturity etc - that you may have only got to experience without fame and success that came with your goal? It's an intriguing philosophical query that permeates through the film's final stages as it becomes clear that Angel and her beau were doomed from the off, perhaps because their greatest loves were not each other, but in reality both their hopes of success and themselves. As such, it's hard pressed to call this a romance in its truest sense.
So in conclusion, it's OK not to like this but, y'know...