Friday, 7 April 2017

Another three films you could enjoy: Arrival, A United Kingdom and Sing Street

One of the more confusing forms of science fiction writing involves time travel. People meeting themselves in the past or changing history in ways that might, perhaps, lead to their never having been born – it’s all just too much to get a mind around, if it’s as bound as ours are to following time in a single direction, at its own good pace.

But then you get the approach of Kort Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Here the protagonist doesn’t so much travel around in time as up and down his own lifetime, unable to change anything, but able to relive as often as he wishes all the best moments, or even some of the worst if he finds that useful. And if you don’t know Slaughterhouse 5, the book and the film are both outstanding in slightly different ways, so you have a joy in wait for you.

In Arrival, Louise Banks, winsomely played by underrated actor Amy Adams, learns that trick too. She’s a linguist, brought in to communicate with aliens who have arrived on earth for no reason anyone can tell, but with whom humans initially decide to talk, instead of just trying to exterminate them. So the first task she has to undertake is to learn to understand, and later use, a language about whose forms of expression she knows absolutely nothing. In the end, she learns not just language but something else just as powerful, from which she can derive the skills needed to prevent a potential catastrophe.

Amy Adams working on communicating with aliens in Arrival
A film that provides a fine way to spend a couple of hours.

The same is true of A United Kingdom. We’ve known the scriptwriter, Guy Hibbert, for years and it’s been uplifting to watch his career slowly develop and finally take off with some notable successes, including this one. Initially, most of his pieces were perhaps best characterised by words like “raw”: they provided powerful insights into some of the ghastly things people do to each other and the pain they inflict on all around, including themselves. More recently his work has retained its capacity to shock but adds to it some more gentle tones, that both entertain and uplift.

In the late 1940s, Seretse Khama was in line to become King of Bechuanaland, now Botswana and then a British protectorate (a colony in all but name). During his stay in England to study law, he met and fell in love with a (white) English woman, Ruth Williams. It was a joy to see David Oyelowo playing Seretse Khama, especially as the last time I saw him he was in a completely different role, with a different accent, playing Martin Luther King, in Selma. Rosamund Pike, previously the deadly protagonist of Gone Girl, was excellently cast as the gentle but determined, decent and dignified Williams.

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo in A United Kingdom
The mixed marriage between these two people caused major tensions both in England and in Africa. Khama’s uncle, who was acting as regent, and a great many of his future subjects, found it hard to understand why he could not have chosen a wife from among his own people. Meanwhile, just across the border in South Africa, apartheid had just been introduced and the last thing they wanted to see was a mixed couple on the throne of the country next door. The behaviour of Britain, anxious above all to placate the South Africans, major suppliers of uranium, was despicable; even one of the great iconic Labour governments, the one headed by Clement Attlee, behaved in ways that were frankly craven.

Hibbert writes this aspect masterfully, drawing the contrast between Attlee’s weakness and the principled stand taken by Winston Churchill and the Tories. Just until they got back into power and showed themselves to be far worse than the Labourites they replaced.

But at the centre of the story is a couple that faces intense hostility but finds a way, though quiet and dignity, to assert their rights and mould their own destiny. In doing so, they also prepare the ground for one of the most successful moves to independence of any nation previously under British dominion. A great story, well told, with an uplifting message – and boy, do we need those these days.

For unadulterated good cheer and unbridled fun, you could hardly do better than watch Sing Street. Set in a rough school in Dublin, among sixteen and seventeen-year olds, you might suspect that it is principally aimed at teenagers. I’m sure it’s appreciated by that age group, even though it’s set in 1985 so the music may not be entirely appropriate, but it appeals to a far older audience too (as I can testify).

Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is a classical figure: the beautiful, mysterious and unattainable older woman (she’s seventeen). Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is the younger admirer (he’s sixteen) who dares to approach her, to try to break the shell of her remoteness. To awaken her interest, he tells her he’s in a band; the moment he walks away from that first conversation, he tells his friend who’s been watching from a safe distance, “we’ve got to form a band”.

Lucy Boynton and Ferdia Walsh Peelo
The obscure object of desire and the admirer in Sing Street
The way they set about doing that is sheer delight. They have the encouragement and intelligent support of Conor's elder brother (a great character played by Jack Reynor), who failed to make the break he longed for from his dysfunctional family, and now gets the chance to live it vicariously through his brother instead. He coaches the emerging group to write songs which move from the embarrassingly amateurish to the surprisingly excellent.

Along the way, we get some great lines (“my mother’s in and out of hospital. She’s a nurse”), some good music and some excellent comic situations. The end, too, is a gem: the story wraps up at just the right moment, with a glorious, funny and optimistic scene.

Its also a pleasure to see Maria Doyle Kennedy as Conors mother, while his fathers played by Aidan Gillen (Little Finger in Game of Thrones).

Three fine films. If you haven’t seen them, you have a great pleasure in store. Three times over.

Four if you count Slaughterhouse Five.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waffle a talk without meaning and you voted for it and supported it in total without question, are you happy with that choice? An opposition whom Liv's in a dustbin, is that what you voted for. Labour wake up its 2017 get a grip and dream up some realistic policy's and I don't even vote for you, just some friendly advice.