A theatrical whodunit set in London’s West End in the 1950s with a delightful ensemble cast, See How They Run is a comedy drama that draws you along for an entertaining ride rather that setting up a particularly compelling mystery for the viewer to solve as an active participant. Gleefully self-referential with its setting during the initial run of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and machinations to adapt the play into a movie, it provides light satire of both the theatre and film industries. The ending is structurally foreshadowed without revealling the killer, but having the culprit ultimately reveal themselves unprompted is rarely satisfying. The journey is enjoyable, however, largely due to Mark Chappell’s deftly paced and witty script. Saoirse Ronan stands out as the enthusiastic but inexperienced constable, jumping to conclusions each time a suspect emerges. The cinematography juxtaposes the artificial opulence of the theatre with drab reality of the streets outside, Jamie Ramsey also being responsible for Living‘s recent depiction of period London. Brief split screen cuts are frequently deployed — used stylistically rather than for any narrative purpose — and the sudden changes to the aspect ratio can be jarring, feeling somewhat cartoonish. It is unlikely to be remembered beyond the end of the year, but See How They Run is a droll diversion despite its weaknesses as a whodunit.
“I start, and when the vision’s flown, I weep and I am all alone.”
Although renowned in the early 19th Century, fossil hunter Mary Anning does not receive the celebration she deserves. Ammonite addresses this, but focuses on her later life through the lens of an entirely speculative relationship. Whilst this feels strange for a real figure, the film uses her character to present an excellent portrayal of repression, isolation and desire. Kate Winslet has shown her preference for naturalistic roles over the glamorous, and that is immediately evident as Anning claws through mud on the grey beaches of Lyme Regis. This contrasts with the high society convalescing young wife played delicately by Saoirse Ronan, impulsive and naïve. When the women’s interest in one another becomes physical, there is a palpable sense of desperation to escape the isolation of their respective lives. Indeed, the most heartbreaking moments of Ammonite come not when Anning is denied happiness, but when we see her own repression pushes her to choose isolation — focusing on her work and spending her time by the sea, the white noise of the waves drowning out the part of her life she knows she is denying.
“I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition. Even in fiction.”
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Alcott’s classic novel blends a wonderful cast with modern feminist sensibilities. Where Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version was a direct translation of the novel, Gerwig is more ambitious in her approach. The most obvious change is choosing to tell story out of order, creating a meta narrative in the way scenes are juxtaposed. Introducing the women as young adults also reduces the inclination to infantilise them as children. It works best for those already familiar with the material as the chronology can feel slightly disjointed. Hearing of Laurie’s failed proposal at the start also robs the scene of any power when it finally arrives late in the film, but it also alters the way one views his childhood relationship with the girls. The key casting is Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet (both of whom starred in Gerwig’s Lady Bird). Ronan makes Jo’s proud wilfulness overtly dislikable in some scenes, trusting that we will come to understand her as the film proceeds. Meanwhile, Chalamet’s Laurie is both charming and brusque, with nuanced variation to his relationships with each of the sisters. The ambiguous ending, seemingly introduced by Gerwig as something of a critique, may offend purists, but it is entirely fitting for this adaptation.
Keira Knightley always seems most comfortable in a period piece. Although centred around a romance in the 1930s, Atonement is more a story about perspective, misunderstanding and consequences. We see a pivotal scene at a fountain from two perspectives, allowing us to appreciate how it was misconstrued by a child. Joe Wright’s camerawork allows the audience inside characters’ heads, used most notably in a sprawling six-minute long take on the Dunkirk beach. The film’s conclusion feels slightly rushed but still maintains the book’s tragic reveal, an ending that will undoubtedly be off-putting to some but should be little surprise for an adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel.
“I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.”
An alternative coming-of-age film, the focus is Catholic high school girl Christine (who has adopted the name “Lady Bird”) and her turbulent relationship with her mother. This is an unusually well-realised mother/daughter relationship, in which they both know they love one another, yet their strong-willed personalities frequently grate. Saoirse Ronan deftly avoids portraying Lady Bird as quirky for its own sake, instead making it a believable element of her awkward teenage self-expression, whilst still anxious about the perception of her wealthier peers. Religion largely takes a back seat to the more human elements of the story, in what struck me as a female counterpoint to Richard Linklater’s films about male adolescence.