“I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!”
Amleth, The Northman
The Northman’s thin plot takes the barest bones of Hamlet — a son sworn to avenge his father and kill his usurper uncle — but succeeds in transplanting this revenge tale into a compellingly foreboding world of Norse mythology. Robert Eggers seeks verisimilitude not only in bringing to life Viking reality but also their mythology and ritual practices. Atmospherically akin to The Green Knight, the pacing requires patience though Viking violence provides more action. The budget and scale may have increased dramatically from Eggers’ previous projects like The Lighthouse, but The Northman retains the same intensity through personal conflict. Alexander Skarsgård is a brooding presence, hulking and animalistic, humanised through his gentler interactions with the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy as an understanding counterpoint. The characters are (or feel themselves to be) pawns to the whims of fate, and the cinematography reflects this with vast Icelandic vistas that dwarf individuals in the frame. It may be difficult to find joy in the world Eggers has created but the uncompromising experience is more gripping than most big budget modern cinema.
“A surgeon never kills a patient. An anaesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.”
Yorgos Lanthimos excels at capturing the disjointed nature of human connection, with conversations unfolding in fits and starts albeit using deliberately unnatural dialogue. This deeply allegorical tale is less accessible than The Favourite, bearing a greater tonal connection to The Lobster by way of Jordan Peele’s more unsettling worlds. Cinematography plays a major part in that disquiet: low, wide-angle tracking shots cause architecture to loom over characters, whilst unusually high shots peer down from a disembodied vantage. Colin Farrell is clearly in sync with Lanthimos’ style on the their second outing together, gradually revealing the layers of a surgeon with a god complex who is forced to confront his own hubris. Many of the locations are fittingly clinical, with rigid lines feeling at odds with the film’s loose logic. Knowing the plot in advance would weaken the film but passing familiarity with the Greek myth of Iphigenia is helpful in decoding its allusions. Ultimately Lanthimos is uncompromising in his vision — surely knowing that the result will appeal only to arthouse audiences — but his intentions are not always apparent onscreen.
Sofia Coppola’s output is frustrating not because of its decline in quality since her first two films but because there are routinely glimmers of that greatness in her later work. With the arrival of a wounded soldier bringing disruption and jealousy to an isolated girls’ school during the American Civil War, The Beguiled crafts some captivating character moments in its first hour, through a heavily vignetted haze of desaturated colour that often approaches sepia. Oona Laurence stands out as the young girl who initiates the story. I haven’t seen the Clint Eastwood original, but Coppola’s take on the material is ponderous and predictable. The serene pacing works well initially but, once the dominoes topple into pure Southern Gothic, Coppola is evidently out of her depth as I don’t think titter-inducing ridiculous was the intention.
“Mrs Brown says that in London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. I think she must be right — because although I don’t look like anyone else, I really do feel at home.”
Ben Whishaw voices the marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru with an adorable charm and naiveté that Colin Firth (previously considered for the role) would have struggled to bring. Paddington is a timely immigrant story about how we all benefit from embracing our differences. Much of this rests on Hugh Bonneville as Mr Brown, as he moves from initial mistrust to concern for his family to ultimate acceptance. The film is structured as a caper story culminating in an escape sequence with enjoyable nods for adult viewers to franchises like Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible. Of particular note is the surprising calypso soundtrack (the music of Notting Hill immigrants when Michael Bond wrote his books), with a band appearing around London to mirror Paddington’s mood.
Neil Gaiman’s short story about adolescent insecurity, with a literal approach to the alien nature of the opposite sex, does not obviously lend itself to a feature-length film. Mitchell’s film draws out every theme available in the story, straddling disparate genres as he presents the 1970s punk scene, a coming-of-age tale about individuality, alien tourism, and a sweet love story. Elle Fanning (still 17 at the time of filming) delivers wonderfully as an alien driven to rebel and experience the world. However, the film’s erratic nature will prove highly divisive. Whether you enjoy the experience will be clear from the titular house party early in the film: either you can embrace its weirdness or it will send you running for the comfort of something saner and more coherent.