BAFTA to keep theatrical eligibility and add casting prize

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – BAFTA announced today that, following what it calls a “broad consultation”, eligibility rules regarding the theatrical release required for a film to qualify for the EE British Academy Film Awards will not change for 2020. It also said there will be a new award for casting and the Original Music award will be renamed Original Score.

The consultation advice received “demonstrated that many films deserving of consideration would be excluded if any attempt were made to extend the minimum exclusive theatrical release,” said Film Committee chairman Marc Samuelson.

Films will be eligible if they have been exhibited publicly to a paying audience on at least 10 commercial screens in the United Kindom for at least seven days in aggregate and will expect that all films will be entered “within the spirit of the rules and not purely to qualify for awards”, Samuelson said. Eligibility rules were last amended in 2016 and reviewed annually “and they do remain considerably more stringent than AMPAS”, Samuelson said.

The Film Committe aims to ensure that entrants respect industry norms so that films are released broadly across a wide geographical area, are scheduled at conventional cinema times and are not four-walled, he said: “We strongly suggest that admission figures are shared. We are confident that following out consultation with the industry that our rules are balanced, fit for purpose and will continue to allow for the breadth of films from mainstream to indies to be eligible.”

Samuelson said the new Casting Award will “recognise outstanding achievement in the craft of casting and its vital importance in film-making”. A casting prize also will be introduced to the Television Craft Awards in 2020.

The amended Original Score award, he said, will “reflect a more specific focus on composer and score and acknowledge the integral part they play in contributing to the narrative, atmosphere and emotional landscape of film”. 

The Film Awards have been moved forward to Sunday Feb. 2, 2020, once again at the Royal Albert Hall, with nominations to be announced on Tuesday Jan. 7. All nominated films must have a theatrical release by the Friday prior to the awards ceremony with an extended window for Films Not in the English Language to Feb. 28. All films to be released after Jan. 20 must be screened to BAFTA voters by Dec. 11.

“The intention is to allow distributors and exhibitors a small amount of additional time to find the release window these films deserve and therefore give the public more opportunity to see them,” Samuelson said.

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TIFF19 announces first galas and closing film ‘Radioactive’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Working Title’s 19th-century biopic “Radioactive”, starring Rosamund Pike (pictured) as Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie, will have its world premiere at the closing gala of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 14.

Organisers announced a first raft of 18 galas and 38 special presentations including 29 world premieres and six international debuts for the 44th TIFF, which runs Sept. 5-15.

“Radioactive”, produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and Paul Webster of Shoebox Films, is based on a graphic novel by Lauren Redness that tells of Marie Curie’s work and relationship with fellow scientist Pierre Curie, played by Sam Riley (“Maleficent”). The film is directed by Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her 2007 animated feature “Persepolis”.

British filmmaker Roger Michell’s “Blackbird”, starring Kate Winslet, Sam Neill and Rainn Wilson in a drama of a terminally ill woman who tries to get her family back together, also will have its world premiere at a TIFF gala.

Other British films to have world premieres at the festival will include Armando Iannucci’s “The Personal History of David Copperfield” starring Dev Patel, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie; Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s “Ordinary Love” starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville; Michael Winterbottom’s “Greed” starring Asa Butterfield and Isla Fisher; William Nicholson’s “Hope Gap” starring Annette Bening and Bill Nighy; Coky Giedroyc’s “How to Build a Girl” starring Emma Thompson and Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) and Peter Cattaneo’s “Military Wives” starring Sharon Hogan (“Women on the Verge”) and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks as legendary American children’s television host Fred Rogers will have its world premiere at a gala. Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”) co-stars as a journalist who interviews him while going through troubles with his own father, played by Chris Cooper (“Adapatation”). 

Other titles with world premieres include Jill Culton’s animated feature “Abominable”; Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” starring Jennifer Lopez; Justin Kursel’s “True History of the Kelly Gang” starring George MacKay, Russell Crowe and Charlie Hunnam; Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” starring Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx; and Francois Girard’s “The Song of Names” starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen.

More films will be announced over the coming weeks. 

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Robbie Robertson and The Band doc to open TIFF 2019

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The documentary feature ‘Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band’ will have its world premiere at the Opening Night Gala of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 5, TIFF announced today.

Directed by Daniel Roher (‘Ghosts of Our Forest’), it is the first time a Canadian documentary has opened the festival. Based on Robbie Robertson’s 2016 memoir, ‘Testimony’, the film features “rare archival footage, photography, iconic songs, and interviews with many of Robertson’s friends and collaborators, including Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, and Ronnie Hawkins,” organisers said.

The documentary “takes audiences on a musical journey and shows us just what it takes to build one of the most significant groups in rock history,” said TIFF Executive Director & Co-Head Joana Vicente. Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are among the executive producers.

 

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Sidney Lumet on high comedy and great acting

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – American filmmaker Sidney Lumet, who was born 95 years ago today and died in 2011, made a series of fine and gripping social dramas from the 1950s through the 1980s but he was a big fan of high comedy and the performers who could carry it off.

He told me, “I think there’s a large underestimation of high-comedy. For years, they kept saying, oh, Cary Grant, he’s charming but he can’t act but, by Jesus, that’s acting, let me tell you. It’s very hard acting, it’s wonderful acting. People equate seriousness with quality and that isn’t so.”

He worked with Sean Connery on five pictures, two intense dramas – ‘The Hill’ (1965) and ‘The Offence’ (1973) – two capers – ‘The Anderson Tapes’ (1989) and ‘Family Business’ (1989) – and one high comedy, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (pictured left with Vanessa Redgrave). He had huge respect for the Scottish star’s talent: “Sean’s Bond performances were just brilliant. Those are delightful movies and that’s real work going on there, it’s not by accident. If you’ve seen Roger Moore as Bond, the wit has gone out of them completely.

“Christopher Reeve is a first-rate actor. Those ‘Superman’ performances are really witty. He knows what he’s doing. That’s an actor up there. He’s wonderful in ‘The Bostonians’ (1984). The day after I saw ‘King Kong’ (1976), I asked to see Jessica Lange because I thought she was the most exciting young comedienne since Carol Lombard. John Malkovich in ‘Places of the Heart’ (1984). I think he’s the most excting actor since Marlon Brando. I saw him in ‘Death of a Salesman’ in New York and he’s a stunning actor, amazing to me. There’s Tom Hulce in ‘Animal House’ (1978), right? But he’s brilliant in ‘Amadeus’ (1984), wonderful. I think he’s the best thing in it.”

Lumet was in Toronto in September 1984 to promote ‘Garbo Talks’ which he described as “a piece of fluff” about a man (Ron Silver) who tries to grant his garrulous and colourful New York mother her dying wish, which is to meet legendary silent film star Greta Garbo. The man’s mother is played by Anne Bancroft (pictured above and top with Ron Silver), who earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. “Annie is very, very funny,” Lumet told me. “Of, course, she lives with it. She said one day, ‘Look who I’m married to [Mel Brooks]. She had never seen a Garbo film and when she took the part she went into the Metro screening room and screened every one. She came out starry eyed, just gaga.” Bancroft died aged 86 in 2001.

Lumet agreed that he was not known for comedy. “I always felt it wasn’t a narural talent to me,” he said. “but it’s something from a technique point of view that you can learn. I ruined a couple of pictures trying to learn – ‘The Group’ (Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, 1966) and ‘Bye Bye Braverman’ (George Segal, Jessica Walter, 1968) – those are two pictures that I hurt seriously.”

When “Murder on the Orient Express” came along, he thought back to what he called “the best comedy play ever written” – Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest”. He said, “I took it literally, right down to the pun in the title and Lady Bracknell and ‘A handbag?’. What is unimportant becomes the most important and what’s terribly important, you throw away.”

On “Orient Express” (with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, above), he spent hours working on the little things: “Whether it would be a green mint or a white mint against a silver platter, all those kinds of details becoming increasingly important. That holds true for the acting, too, part of the comic style. How many comedies have we seen where that’s the core of it going back to ‘It Happened One Night’ where it’s not important that a girl is missing, what’s important is whether or not she’s a virgin at the end of the picture. That reversal of values meant a great deal to me.”

He said ‘Network’ (Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, 1976) would not have worked so well if he hadn’t made ‘Orient Express’ ahead of it: ‘I learned so much on the Poirot picture that the drama in ‘Network’ works awfully well because it’s as funny as it is. ‘Just Tell Me What You Want’ (Ali MacGraw, Alan King, 1980) was a totally unsuccessful movie but it’s a terrific film, a very funny film.”

He was pleased with his co-stars in ‘Garbo Talks’. He said he doubted that Ron Silver, who plays the son, would ever be a leading man (he didn’t and he died aged 62 in 2009) but “he’s a tremendous actor, a big talent”. Catherine Hicks (left), who plays a woman who befriends the son, had read for the role played by Charlotte Rampling in ‘The Verdict’, he said, “She’s was wrong for that part but I was so impressed that I remembered her; she’s an extraordinary comedienne.” And Carrie Fisher, who plays the son’s embittered wife? “Oh, she’s wonderful. There she is, Princess Leia all the time and nobody remembers her in ‘Shampoo’ where she was marvellous!”

Lumet made three films with Henry Fonda – “12 Angry Men’ (1957, left), ‘Stage Struck’ (1958) and ‘Fail Safe’ (1964) – and two with Al Pacino – ‘Serpico’ (1973) and ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (below) – and he swore by both actors. “Their training grounds were different but they had one thing totally in common which is that you couldn’t beat them into doing anything false. They don’t know how. Fonda’s generation was more disciplined. Fonda, just in terms of discipline, it was so total that if the script girl said, ‘You had you cigarette in your right hand’ and Fonda said, ‘No, I had it in my left,’ I would trust him and not the script girl. That comes out of making 60, 70 movies.”

He gravitated toward actors who were amusing, he said, like two of his stars in ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ ( 1962): “Katharine Hepburn was very funny and Ralph Richardson was uproarious. Fonda was really rather dour and yet he had great humour in his acting.” Stars were different today, he said: “If somebody like Garbo or Marlene Dietrich came along I think we’d laugh them off the screen. We’re not interested in that personal kind of acting. Those people just used their persona. I don’t think we like that so much any more. It’s not better or worse. Just different.”

Sidney Lumet was nominated for the Academy Award for best director for ’12 Angry Men’ (1957), ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (1975), ‘Network’ (1976) and ‘The Verdict’ (1982 and for best adapted screenply with Jay Presson Allen for ‘Prince of the City’ (1981). He received an honourary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2005.

His 1965 film ‘The Hill’ (left) was nominated as Best Film in the BAFTA Awards and also Best British Film, as was ‘The Deadly Affair’ (James Mason, 1968). He earned a best director nod at the British academy awards in 1974 for ‘Serpico’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (1974) plus ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘Network’.

He directed Henry Fonda to a best actor award nomination in the Oscars for ’12 Angry Men’, Rod Steiger for ‘The Pawnbroker’ (1966), Al Pacino for the same award ib ‘Serpico’, Albert Finney in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and Richard Burton in ‘Equus’ (1978). Katharine Hepburn was nominated as best actress for ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ (1963). Ingrid Bergman won the Academy and BAFTA awards as best supporting actress for ‘Murder on the Orient Express and best supporting actor nods went to Chris Sarandon for ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, John Gielgud for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and Peter Firth for ‘Equus’. Gielgud won the BAFTA award for best supporting actor and Jenny Agutter won as best supporting actress for ‘Equus’ while Colin Blakely was nominated as best supporting actor for the same film.

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‘Under Fire’ with Nolte, Cassidy and Hackman new on Blu-ray

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Great news! Roger Spottiswood’s excellent  1983 political thriller ‘Under Fire’ starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy,  Ed Harris and Jean-Louis Trintignant is out today on Blu-ray Disc in the U.K. from Eureka Entertainment.

The film, which deals with reporters covering the Sandinista rebellion in Nicaragua in 1979, ranks amongst the finest movies set in Latin American countries subject to dire mischief by American interests. Other top-liners are Oliver Stone’s ‘Salvador’ (1986) starring James Woods (music by Georges Delarue) and Costa-Gavras’s  two, ‘State of Siege’ (1972), set in Paraguay and starring Yves Montand and Renato Salvatori (music by Vangelis) and ‘Missing’ (1982) set in Chile and starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek (music in both by Mikis Theodorakis).

Each film confronts the issues of political subservision in countries beset by dictators and rebels and how unreliable reports are from all sides. The central subject in ‘Under Fire’ is the role of journalists when they discover criminal wrongdoing and become sympathetic to the oppressed. Photographs play such an important role in reporting and dissembling and both Nolte’s fotog and Cassidy’s reporter must confront a dilemma compounded by brutal repression by regional powers and callous disregard by American agents.

In his 1983 review, which contains too many spoilers to be read before watching the film, he observes correctly that the film “shows us a war in which morality is hard to define and harder to practice’. All five stars deliver naturalistic performances that enhance the credibility of the film and there’s plenty of suspenseful action with many thrilling sequences.

Roger Spottiswood, now 74, is a Canadian film director who co-wrote Walter Hill’s ‘48hrs’ (1982) and directed a pretty good drama about CIA’s dirty dealings during the Vietnam War, ‘Air America’ (1990) with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. and a not bad James Bond picture, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997) with Pierce Brosnan. ‘Under Fire’ is by far his best film.

Nick Nolte (left), a vastly underrated actor with terrific performances in films such as ‘Cannery Row’ (1982), ‘48Hrs.’ (1082), ‘Q&A’ (1990), ‘Cape Fear’ (1991), ‘Mulholland Falls’ (1996), ‘The Good Thief’ (2002),  plays a news photographer who hops from war zones in Africa to Central America to Africa. Joanna Cassidy (below right), who should have been a major movie star after this film and ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) but who has had a long and distinguished TV career in shows such as ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘Call Me Fitz’, ‘Odd Mom Out’ and ‘Too Old to Die Young’, plays a resourceful radio reporter. Double Oscar-winner Gene Hackman, whose stellar films are too numerous to mention, is a seasoned senior television reporter with dreams of becoming a network anchorman. A romantic triangle between the three adds to the tension.

The also underrated Ed Harris (below left)  – ‘The Right Stuff’ 1983, ‘The Rock’ 1996, ‘The Truman Show’ 1998, ‘Apaloosa’ 2008, TV’s ‘Westworld’ – is a ruthless mercenary who also hops around doing dirty work on whichever side the CIA decides to support next. Jean-Louis Trintignant (‘A Man and a Woman’ 1966, ‘The Conformist’ 1970, ‘Amour’ (2013) plays a French gunrunner and all-round meddler in troubled affairs.

Scripted by Clayton Frohman (‘Defiance’ 2008) and Ron Shelton ‘Bull Durham’ 1996, ‘Tin Cup’ (1998), the film is shot by cinematographer John Alcott (‘A Clockwork Orange’ 1971 with an Oscar for ‘Barry Lyndon’ 1975 and features an outstanding score by Oscar-winner Jerry Goldsmith (‘Patton’ 1970, ‘Chinatown’ 1974, ‘The Wind and the Lion’ 1974, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ 1979, ‘L.A. Confidential’ 1997, with an Oscar for ‘The Omen’ 1976). Goldsmith received the 14th of his 18 Academy Award nominations for his score, which features soloist Pat Metheny on guitar. The soundtrack is on Warner Bros.

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That time with a lobster on a boat off New Brunswick

By Ray Bennett / The Windsor Star / Feb. 19 1972

When eating a lobster, don’t break open its body on a boat in the Bay of Passamaquoddy, you may never eat lobster again.

Don’t misunderstand, the lobster in New Brunswick is as fine you’l get anywhere. There were members of our party, as we gently rode the Atlantic waters off southern New Brunswick in the the good ship Bo-peep, who devoured their lobsters with the nonchalance of a galloping gourmet.

But there were those of us who broke open the bodies of our lobsters in the Bay of Passamaquoddy. We may never eat lobster again.

There were eight of us from various Canadian newspapers taking a look at Air Canada’s Maritimes Explorer Tour, which offers a seven-day trip to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick at 30% reductions for flight and accommodations starting after Labor Day.

The tour cannot be said to be the best way to see the Maritimes. The basic plan calls for you to arrive in Moncton, New Brunswick, on the sixth day of the tour and fly home on the seventh but there is an extension tour available although of course at extra cost.

We were given a glimpse of the extension tour and it appears to be worthwhile if only for the visit included to St. Andrews, where we took a ride on the Bo-peep.

First, though, we saw Fredericton, a sedately charming city that is the capital of the province and where just about everyone you speak to works for the government.

Fleet Street newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook spent his youth in New Brunswick and he did Fredericton proud with his benefactions. In return, it seems that the people of the capital city have named every other building after the man.

We were there only for one afternoon and evening. There is not much nightlife – just one club. But the day we arrived, the provincial drinking age limit had been lowered to 19 and the discotheque Cosmopolitan was jumping with gregarious youngsters celebrating their first legal drink in public.

The drive from Fredericton to St. Andrews takes you past Mactequac Provincial Park on the Saint John River. Mactequac is a vast pastoral playground with hundreds of camp and trailer sites, two beach areas and facilities for just about all the sports you can name.

Heading south, you come across rivers and places with some of the most delightfully tongue-twisting names in Canada. There’s Magaguadavic Lake, Digdequash River, Oromocto, Chamcook and, finally, the Bay of Passamaquoddy. According to the New Brunswick tourism department, there is even a place in the province where the Skoodawabskooksis unites with the Skoodawabskook but this has yet to be proven.

Passamaquoddy Bay is tucked in the larger Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick from Nova Scotia. Cruising along in the Bo-peep lobster board, which plies the waters for the huge Conley company in St. Andrews, is a pleasure not to be missed and tours can be arranged.

Bo-peep’s Captain, Don Hurley, is a ruddy-faced fisherman with a salty sense of humour and an endless string of coastal anecdoes. He and Conley manager George Beasley are as fine a pair of seamen you’d find to sail with. Throw in a trio of nubile and authoritative young ladies from the tourism department and a box full of cooked lobsters and life appears complete. Unless you make the mistake of breaking open the body of your lobster.

The waters of the Bay of Passamaquoddy were as still as the birds in an eclipse of the sun. The sun, far from eclipsed, was blazing down. The Bo-peep chugged gently in the background as Captain Hurley told us tales of lobsters and fish, poachers and the sea. Two of the girls had donned sun-and-eye-catching bikinis while ice-cold wine cooled the inner man.

My lobster sat on my plate. I broke open its body. I shouldn’t have done that. There is an organ deep in the body of a lobster called the tamale – in most other living things, it’s called the liver. It’s an oozing green liquid putrescence. To some people, it’s a delicacy but then some people will eat anything.

The scene that had been all bright blue sky and water and tanned bodies turned green to match the tamale. Even the wine looked green. In deference to our hospitable hosts, I tried valiantly to devour a piece of meat from a claw but the damage was done. I may never eat lobster again.

[Editor’s Note: This was the third in a series on The Maritimes written by Star staff writer Ray Bennett, who recently toured the area.]

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FILM REVIEW: Natalie Portman in ‘Vox Lux’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Just as in ‘Jackie’ two years ago, Natalie Portman gives a scintillating performance of a driven and complicated woman in a not very successful picture. Director and screenwriter Brady Corbet’s ‘Vox Lux’, which opens today in the United Kingdom, tells of a pop superstar named Celeste who survived a mass murder as a teenager, is a bit of a mess but even though she enters the picture late, Portman is mesmerising.

Corbet takes aim at fame in the picture and ties it to the kind of shattering events that change lives forever. With a patronising voice over by Willem Dafoe, the story unfolds in labeled chapters starting with a harrowing school shooting in 2001 that, while badly wounded, the teenaged Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) survives. To aid with her recovery, she and her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) write a song that Celeste performs in a church service. A recording of it is posted on the internet and results in instant fame as she becomes a pop sensation.

Cut to 2017 and Celeste is a full-blown pop diva, a tough and brassy superstar with a broad New York accent plus a drink and drugs habit that has contributed to a scandal over her response to a driving incident and visual links to an act of terrorism. With her career in jeopardy, she sets out to launch a new album with a concert back where the  school shooting took place. The potential for disaster is made worse due to her difficult relationship with her teenaged daughter (also played by Raffey Cassidy, pictured with Portman left), the sister she bullies and her demanding manager (Jude Law).

Portman does for Celeste what she did for Jackie Kennedy and turns her into a dynamic confusion of brilliant talent, outrage, arrogance and fragile vulnerability. Whether it’s family, management, the press or fans, she faces every challenge with ferocity. In a better film, she would be a shoo-in for awards and Raffey Cassidy, with two similar roles to play, would be right there with her. As it is, between some riveting scenes, the film lags with sequences that barely make sense. A bizarre score by Scott Walker adds to the dislocation and the original songs provided by Sia are merely generic pop. Cinematographer Lol Crawley, production designer Sam Lisenco and costume designer Keri Langerman, though, make it all look good. The production numbers are staged vividly and Portman delivers magnificently.

Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Released: US Dec. 7 (Neon) / UK: TBA 2019; Cast: Natalie Portman; Jude Law; Raffey Cassidy; Stacy Martin; Jennifer Ehle; Natasha Romanova; Writer, director: Brady Corbet; Director of photography: Lol Crawley; Production designer: Sam Lisenco; Music: Scott Walker; Editor: Matthew Hannam; Costume designer: Keri Langerman; Producers: D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, David Litvak, Michel Litvak, Robert Salerno, Gary Michael Walters, Brian Young; Executive producers: Mark Gillespie, Jude Law, Svetlana Metkina, Natalie Portman; Production: Killer Films, Andrew Lauren Productions, Bold Films; Rating: US: R; Running time: 110 minutes

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Cheers to our Will, not sorry old George

By Ray Bennett

Today is St. George’s Day named for the patron saint of several places  such as Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal and Russia. Oh, and England. We English, of course, don’t mark April 23 in the boozy way the Irish do on St. Paddy’s Day. That would never do. It happens also to be Shakespeare’s birthday and we’d much rather honour our Will.

St. George is many things to many people including orthodox churchgoers, freemasons, Arthurians and boy scouts. In fact, he was some Turkish bloke employed as a soldier by the Roman Empire who was said to have slayed a long-tailed beast. He came in useful as a martyr for medieval spin-doctors who needed to put a bit of gloss on the Crusades and placed at the heart of all things chivalrous and knightly. When Edward III established the Order of the Garter in 1350, he decided old George would make a fine patron saint.

The Bard made a brave attempt to encourage us to love St. George in his play ‘Henry V’ by having the young king tout the saint in a rousing speech aimed at getting every Englishman’s dander up in order to smite the French. It didn’t really take. We’d much rather celebrate Shakespeare, who was born 455 years ago today.

As London theatre critic for The Hollywood Reporter in the first decade of this century, I was privileged to see a great many splendid stage productions of the works of Shakespeare. Here are some great memories.

‘Hamlet’  National Theatre April 2004

‘For his first staging of the play since 1970, Trevor Nunn has chosen a 23-year-old unknown named Ben Whishaw, who catapults instantly to fame with his unforgettable performance. As the young rebel with a cause, Whishaw (pictured with Imogen Stubbs as Gertrude) actually looks more like the early Anthony Perkins, knife thin and gangly, his fear striking out from jangling neuroses and hormones, but who also possesses great calm with beseeching eyes and a killer smile.’

‘Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2’ National Theatre May 2005

‘Nicholas Hytner’s immaculate production of William Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 1” is so vibrant and enthralling that it cries out to finally be made as a movie. Michael Gambon as Falstaff and Matthew Macfadyen as Prince Hal (top picture) lead a splendid cast. Staged it in conjunction with the more sombrely dramatic “Henry IV, Part 2”, the two plays make up six hours of the most persuasive argument that Shakespeare is as relevant today as ever.”

‘Macbeth’ A Chichester Festival Theatre production at the Gielgud Theatre September 2007

‘Seldom can Shakespeare’s murky Scottish tragedy “Macbeth” been have staged with so much clarity and emotional punch as in Rupert Goold’s exhilarating production at London’s Gielgud Theatre. Framed in the manner of a gangster film, it stars Patrick Stewart in probably the finest performance of his career in the title role and he is matched in intensity by Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth (above with Stewart) and Michael Feast as Macduff.’ 

‘Othello’ Donmar Warehouse December 2007

‘Audiences who flock to see Michael Grandage’s exceptional production of “Othello” at the Donmar Warehouse because of stars Ewan McGregor (as Iago) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (in the title role) will not be disappointed but it’s Shakespeare’s women who steal the show. Kelly Reilly and Michelle Fairley are mesmerizing as the wives whose faith in their men is betrayed wickedly. Reilly is heartbreaking as the faithful but doomed Desdemona and Fairley brings flint to Emilia, who finally sees how she has been duped. Ejiofor captures the nobility and trusting nature of the warrior Othello while McGregor portrays the duplicitous Iago as a cur eager for his master’s approval while doing everything he can to destroy him. Tom Hiddleston co-stars as Cassio (pictured with Reilly)’

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ National Theatre December 2007

‘Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker (pictured) breathe new life into the roles of belated lovers Benedick and Beatrice in Nicholas Hytner’s warmly enjoyable production of “Much Ado About Nothing” at London’s National Theatre. Beale and Wanamaker find the irony and humor in a couple that once shared something like love but lost it along the way. Encouraged by mischievous friends and family to believe that each is smitten with the other, they convey their characters’ loneliness and misgivings about contemplating happiness.’

‘Twelfth Night’ National Theatre January 2011

British stage legend Peter Hall celebrates his 80th birthday by directing his movie star daughter Rebecca Hall (pictured with Simon Callow as Sir Toby Belch) in a lyrical and musical production of Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedy Twelfth Night that shows his touch is as deft as ever. Clad in brilliantly colored period costumes and accompanied by Mick Sands’ sprightly music for cello, mandola and flutes, the players engage one other like sure-footed dancers and the play’s insightful wit is given full measure.’

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Argentina’s Daniel Tarrab takes time to tango

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Argentinian composer Daniel Tarrab, who has had a long and successful career writing film scores, has released an album of jazz-influenced tango pieces titled ‘Otra Mirada (Another Look)’ on Silva Screen Records.

It shows that the Buenos Aires composer, whose films with Andrés Goldstein include ‘The Whore and the Whale’ (2004),  ‘XXY’ (2007) and ’Wakolda (a.k.a The German Doctor)’ (2013), has brought his usual passion to the project.

The eight tracks veer far away from the classic Piazzolla form of tango and are created specifically to encourage improvisation. Tarrab plays piano and contrabass on the album with Nestor Marconi on bandoneon and Pablo Agri on violin and a string section drawn from the Orquesta Filarmonica Nacional. Together, they make some marvellous music.

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Film Review Brief: Trevor Nunn’s ‘Red Joan’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Trevor Nunn’s slightly old-fashioned espionage drama ‘Red Joan’, which opens in the United Kingdom today, won’t set any box-office records but it is an absorbing drama.

Sophie Cookson (pictured above with Stephen Campbell Moore) is very impressive as idealistic young physicist Joan Stanley who gets involved with a group of intellectual communists at Cambridge just before World War II and ends up in a plot to share the secrets of the atom bomb with the Soviet Union. Tom Hughes and Ben Miles co-star.

The story is told in flashbacks with Judi Dench as the older Joan. Theatre legend Nunn shows he knows about film too. George Fenton’s score is typically evocative. It screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018.

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