Film in Detail
A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.
When the trailers for One Day, based on David Nicholls’ hugely popular novel, first appeared a couple of months ago, fans had a great time debating a lot of aspects of the film. But almost all of them agreed on one thing: the American actress Anne Hathaway’s attempt at a Yorkshire accent was a truly horrible thing.
Now that might seem a bit surprising because when Hathaway played a British character before, in Becoming Jane (2007), she got big ticks all round. But it turns out that doing what we’ll accept as a 19th century middle-class accent is one thing, and sounding like she grew up in Leeds in the 1980s quite another. A hurt Hathaway has told interviewers she put a lot of work into getting it right – and there is no reason not to believe her – but the result isn’t fooling anyone who has walked the streets of West Yorkshire, and lots who haven’t.
Hathaway is not the first big star to have trouble with accents that belong to a particular patch of the British Isles. Maybe the most famous of all is Dick Van Dyke’s bizarre version of Cockney as Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins (1964) (or ‘Mare-ee Bob-INNS’ as he says it). However, because Van Dyke sounds so amazingly wrong, his awful attempt at talking like a Londoner has become one of the fun things about a much-loved film.
In the early days after the arrival of the talking pictures in the late 1920s, no one was too worried about accurate accents. Finding movie stars who sounded as good as they looked was hard enough. With films like Lassie Come Home (1943) being shot in California, British accents came in a few basic varieties: clipped posh person, cheery servant, comedy Cockney, comedy northerner, impossible-to-understand Scot and the very Welsh Welsh used in How Green Was My Valley (1941).
There was a problem, though, when films were sold on how realistic they were. In 1959’s Room At The Top was considered a shockingly honest look at the British class system. The film’s main character, though, was played by Laurence Harvey, who was born in Lithuania and raised in South Africa. In Room At The Top, he only occasionally gets within a couple of hundred of miles of a Yorkshire accent – but then the rest of the cast don’t do much better. Within a couple of years, though, British films were full of northern actors like Albert Finney and Tom Courtney using what were more or less their own accents.
That is why nowadays a truly bad accent clangs so much more. Scot Ewan McGregor can do a pretty decent middle-class southern English accent, but when he tries Yorkshire (Brassed Off) or east London, the results can break the audience’s belief in the film. And when you cast yourself as a Scottish national hero – as Mel Gibson did in Braveheart (1995) – shouldn’t you have an obligation to sound like you grew up in the country?
But maybe the truth is accents aren’t easy. When an actor as usually brilliant as Don Cheadle manages something so weird as his horrible Cockney accent in the Ocean’s Eleven series, we have a choice. We can either stop worrying about regional accuracy – everything in movies is made-up anyway! – or start blaming the bad casting that put an actress like Anne Hathaway into a very British, very time and place specific film like One Day.
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For many of us in the west, what may seem like life or death decisions sometimes aren't really all that important when you take a step back from them. But for the characters of the thought-provoking film Sounds of Sand, almost every choice they make has truly life-changing implications. Because the family at the heart of this powerful tale school teacher Rahne, his wife Mouna and their three young children live an unnamed country somewhere in Africa facing what there is an all-too common crisis, that of the lack of water.
At the beginning of the film, the well in the family's village has all but run dry and so the entire population leaves. But Rahne and his family set out on a different route to the rest. The fate of the other group is unknown but for the family, what unfolds is a journey that brings them into contact with extreme danger (much of the country having been overrun by soldiers who persecute ordinary people) as well as the harsh realities of the sometimes beautiful but always inhospitable landscape of the sun-baked desert .
The film was made by Belgian director Marion Hansel, who decided to set the movie in an unnamed country because, she said, what was being portrayed occurred in many different places in Africa and she didn't want people watching to think they only happened in one. That's why the actors don't speak in regional languages or dialects, but French (the cast themselves come from various African countries).
In the end Hansel choose to make the film in the eastern African country of Djibouti, where 150 people would arrive every day looking for work. There was also a moment at which the crew encountered the same kind of violent conflict that Rahne and his family face. But the results prove that such hazards and complications were all worthwhile Sounds of Sand being a compelling and unique portrait of a way of life that seems distant in every way imaginable from that in Britain.
Back in 1964 Henri-Georges Clouzot, the great French director of (among others) Les Diaboliques, had a heart attack while he was filming a thriller called Inferno. Although he lived on until 1977, the film remained famously unfinished. Many years later, Clouzot's widow, Ines de Gonzalez, met French film historian Serge Bromberg in a lift. The widow revealed to the historian that she has 185 cans of original camera negative from the Inferno shoot
Bromberg, desperately excited, investigated the material Clouzot had left behind. He quickly discovered that had Inferno been finished (not only had Clouzot's heart attack wrecked the film, but leading actor Serge Reggiani had walked off the set), it would have been as groundbreaking as the director always maintained.
The relatively simple idea of Inferno came to Clouzot when he was suffering from insomnia. Marcel (played by Reggiani) is consumed by jealousy towards his new wife, Odette (Romy Schneider) and finds himself losing control on holiday in the south of France. Bromberg's challenge was to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and he does so with great imagination and daring. There is specially selected footage of Clouzot's archive TV interviews alongside newly-commissioned footage of two actors reading Marcel and Odette's dialogue from unfilmed scenes of the script.
And, of course, magical moments are picked from those daunting 185 cans. Clouzot's ambition was to get to the heart of romantic jealousy and to do so he experimented with colour in an unprecedented manner: vividly coloured dream sequences sit alongside images soaked in primary colours and scenes dramatically lit by artificial lighting. Given that we will never know how Inferno might have turned out, Bromberg's film offers a tantalising insight into what might have been...
"Bond blond?!?" Back in 2006, news that the world's most famous secret agent was to be played by star Daniel Craig in Casino Royale raised more than a few fans' eyebrows. Too serious, too actorly and, well, just too blond they said and, of course, they were wrong.
Tough, gritty and always ready with plenty of bone-crunching stunts, spectacular explosions and ice-cool one-liners, Craig's Bond was soon hailed as perhaps the best ever and now he's returning to cinemas with Quantum of Solace, the story of which begins where Casino... left off, and is such the first true sequel in the series.
Of course, we should have known there was nothing to worry about. The history of MI6's super-spy, on screen at least, has been one of constant reinvention, and arguments over who to best play him began at once: "I'm looking for Commander James Bond, not an overgrown stunt man," said no less a person than 007's creator, author Ian Fleming, about Sean Connery in Doctor No, Bond's cinematic debut.
In fact, it's Connery's physical presence and callous, almost cruel attitude that make an impact in what is a relatively stripped-down spy flick, using his fists rather than outlandish gadgets to beat the bad guys. But that's not to say that many of the series' hallmarks weren't already present. Evil genius? Yep. Secret lair? Of course. And then there's that theme tune.
From Russia With Love kept things similarly hand-to-hand (a highpoint being a bruising fight between Connery and Robert Shaw, confined to a claustrophobic train carriage), but it was Goldfinger where the risqué quips and outrageous kit of the true Bond blockbuster fell into place. This time, the film's archetypal greedy megalomaniac (with a suitably bizarre henchman) plans to detonate a nuclear device in Fort Knox and destabilise the global economy and, not for the last time, 007 seems to be the only man around able to save the world.
From then on, the films would become increasingly more spectacular and outrageous. Super-smoothy Roger Moore took over from Connery (there was an under-rated one-off crack at the role by George Lazenby), but after Moore's highpoint with The Spy Who Loved Me, featuring the iconic metal-toothed villain Jaws (Richard Kiel), the more tongue-in-cheek elements were threatening to take over.
When Moore finally hung up his Walther PPK pistol he was replaced by the deadpan Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. Although the film was critically acclaimed for its back-to-basics approach, after the comparative failure of Dalton's Licence to Kill, it took four subsequent outings with Pierce Brosnan as a once-again more slick and glamorous Bond before the world was ready for a rough-and-ready re-boot proper. His name was Craig.Daniel Craig.
Ruthless killer, feckless playboy, rugged-yet-sensitive hard man 007's character seems tough enough to survive all manner of changes. So what next? Perhaps it only a matter of time till we get to hear: "I've been expecting you.Mrs Bond." Well, if the fans can deal with James Blond.
Like many great artists, the true genius of John Keats, the Romantic poet who lived from 1795 to 1821, was not recognised in his all-too-brief lifetime. Killed by tuberculosis at just 25, he was initially hoping to pursue a career in medicine until, in 1814, he gave it up to become a full-time poet. His muse was Fanny Brawne the love of his short life and his companion till his death. The story of Keats and Brawne is as romantic as his poetry - and a perfect subject for a film.
In the wrong hands, their love story may have appeared sentimental and clichéd, a period piece with some verse thrown in. Yet, in Jane Campion's capable hands, the poetry and passion sit easily together both for those who love Keats and others who know very little about him. Ben Whishaw is perfectly pale and skinny as Keats while Abbie Cornish brings Brawne to life with a beguiling mix of control and openness.
Campion - the New Zealander whose previous films include An Angel At My Table, The Piano and Portrait of a Lady - knows when to adorn the screen with gorgeous meadows and longing glances, but she also knows when to focus on the dialogue. Brawne cannot marry Keats because he is too poor, so they communicate their burning passion through letters and talks - and, of course, poetry. Whishaw reads the poems with an understated elegance that makes Keats' situation - underrated, in love, ill - even more heartbreaking.
Thwarted love has been the focus of innumerable plays and films - you don't have to look any further than Romeo and Juliet - and it's a subject dealt with by Campion not just by stolen glances but also by extended moments of calm. In this sense, Bright Star is a measured film, but no less captivating for its refusal to be mawkish.
Perhaps the most moving scene in the film is also the most passionate. Keats and Brawne read stanzas from La Belle Dame Sans Merci and, despite the fact that both remain fully clothed, it's a tremendously steamy affair. Campion resolutely refuses to make populist films, but neither does she take herself - or her work - too seriously. "I'm someone who loves to play", she has said. "I make films so I can have fun with the characters."
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