London Film Festival 2017 Reviews: Mudbound, Breathe, Battle of the Sexes, On Chesil Beach
Ivan Radford | On 08, Oct 2017
With Netflix, Amazon, MUBI and more all taking to London’s Leicester Square to showcase a diverse range of films, we head to the London Film Festival to review the latest films – and TV shows – either looking for distribution or heading to a streaming service near you.
“Jamie saw things in a different way. When his eyes were on me, I felt like I wasn’t invisible.” That’s Laura (Carey Mulligan) in Mudbound, a superb, poignant portrait of race and prejudice. Laura is the husband of Henry (Jason Clarke), who moves the family to the Mississippi Delta, where they take the lease on a farm, on which Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his wife, Florence (Mary J Blige), try to make ends meet sharecropping on their own tiny plot.
Uniting them all is the muddy brown of the landscape, the harsh realities of struggling in the rain, and the horrific trauma of war. In a post-WWII America, a friendship strikes up between their sons (Jason Mitchell’s Ronsel and Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie), and it’s that bond that offers a flash of reconciliation and hope amid generations of hatred, bigotry and persecution. Director Dee Rees, who co-wrote the screenplay with Virgil Williams from Hillary Jordan’s novel, crafts a rallying cry for empathy, with the film’s perspective shifting from character to character subtly throughout – voiceovers given to people whose voices are taken away. This is weighty, marvellous, important filmmaking that makes its period tale feel powerfully relevant to today.
Mudbound will be released on Netflix and have a limited theatrical release on 17th November
Battle of the Sexes
In 2013, The Battle of the Sexes chronicled the events leading up to the landmark tennis match in 1973 between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King – a match that saw the Wimbledon women’s champion deliver a smashing blow to to the sexist taunts of retired player Riggs, who declared he could beat any female tennis player on the court. Four yours after that documentary, the events are inevitably brought to life in a more conventional format, as Emma Stone and Steve Carell play the parts of the two historic contenders.
The result is cheerful fun, packed with colourful period detail, chauvinist pigs and women unafraid to stand up and make a difference. Emma Stone doesn’t always look the part as Bille Jean, but she makes up for it with her typically effusive, effervescent charm. Steve Carell, meanwhile, is indistinguishable from the gambling showman Bobby, who will say or do anything for a bet. Their excellent performances help the movie sweep along its formulaic path, but it’s the smaller moments, such as Stone’s scenes with Andrea Riseborough as hairdresser (and romantic interest) Marilyn Barnett, that really give this an ace edge – Simon “Slumdog Millionaire” Beaufoy’s script fuses Billie’s private battle to recognise her own sexuality with her public one, a balance that gives this a stronger emotional backhand than you might expect. With Sarah Silverman stealing every scene she can as the chain-smoking Women’s Tennis Association manager Gladys, the result is unashamedly crowd-pleasing entertainment – but at a time when gender equality in tennis prize money is still a relatively recent stride forward, this is the kind of story that should be bringing in as big a crowd as possible.
On Chesil Beach
Dominic Cooke brings Ian McEwan’s novella to live in this deeply moving drama about a young couple on their honeymoon on the titular British coastline. Billy Howle recalls Eddie Redmayne as country bumpkin Edward, who falls for Londoner Florence (an excellent Saoirse Ronan), and their chemistry is as warm as their arguments are awkward. The script, adapted by McEwan himself, weaves the source material’s elegant structure into their honeymoon, as we flash back to the early days of their happy courtship. But it’s the film’s refusal to shy away form the awkward embarrassment of first physical contact that carries the same melancholic weight as the original book, with Ronan’s superb performance capturing the alienation that can still be felt even in the bedroom. The final act lacks something of Florence’s viewpoint, and is let down slightly by some questionable make-up, but Cooke’s camera delicately balances the fragility of relationships with intimacy and detachment, finding deafening devastation in a silent tracking shot that pulls away from the couple, keeping each one of opposite sides of the frame.
The words “based on a true story” can easily be treated with caution, heralding the kind of heavy-handed biopic featuring a transformative performance by an actor depicting a famous figure. What if, though, that story isn’t one you already know? William Nicholson writes Breathe, a love story about two people who defy the odds, after Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracts polio and cannot move most of his body, leaving Diana (Claire Foy) to care for him. Going on to construct a wheelchair with breathing apparatus that allows him to live his life, they pave the way for real change in the world of medicine and disability care. Why did Nicholson write the script? For the simple reason that Robin and Diana were producer Jonathan Cavendish’s parents. The result is a quiet, understated portrait of a devoted couple that never loses sight of its personal connection – and that emotional investment in the story is shared by friend and director Andy Serkis, ensuring that this weepie will make you cry without ever making you feel manipulated. Serkis is superb in his directorial debut, opting not for grand technological feats but carefully jumping to handheld cameras when necessary and picking out a sunset between the silhouette of our lead couple as they kiss in Nairobi. Garfield and Foy are excellent, one bursting with vulnerability, the other full of steely resilience, both infectiously funny and overwhelmingly positive. Throw in Tom Hollander as identical twin brothers and Hugh Bonneville as a madcap inventor and you have a hugely winning drama that brings a true story to life with honest simplicity.