Thoughts from my brain – often about films

Carol: The power of a shoulder squeeze

The opening scene of Carol sees a man enter a hotel bar, order a drink and exchange a few words with the barman, the camera pans and we are aware of two women taking tea. Soon afterwards the man interrupts them and one of the women gets up to leave, as she does she gives the second woman’s shoulder a light squeeze, lingering as she removes her hand. My little brain starts ticking in the cinema – I know this, I think and then it hits me. In the opening scene of Brief Encounter we enter a busy station coffee shop, as the camera pans we see a man and woman taking tea. Soon afterwards they are interrupted and as the man gets up to leave, he gives the woman’s shoulder a light but firm squeeze.

In both Brief Encounter and Carol, you jump back through the timeline and return at the close to this scene, seeing the same movements, the same looks, the same shoulder squeeze, but with a totally different view. Wonderful stuff.

David Lean’s Brief Encounter was filmed and set in the 40’s and while the plot (the power of two people with a connection they shouldn’t have) and many of the emotions are timeless, it is firmly rooted in the era and terribly, terribly British. With a modern eye we just want Celia Johnson’s Laura to say ‘Oh SHUT UP’ to Dolly and run after Alec at the end, society and convention be damned. In Carol, I know we’re almost a decade later and in the US of A and this time only one of our star crossed lovers is married (and divorcing), but you can’t help but applaud when Rooney Mara’s Therese just packs a bag and gets in the car with the intoxicating Carol. Hell I would, it’s Cate Blanchett being absolutely stunning. Therese’s beau at one point says ‘You’ve just got a crush’. Well it may be a crush but we’ve all got one. I’ve had one on Cate since 1998 when I saw Elizabeth, she can makes my heart beat faster when she’s on screen and leaves me a touch breathless, but anyway…

If Brief Encounter is stuck in the 40’s, Carol felt timeless in every way. They managed to make it period 50’s perfect (the clothes, the cars, the cigarettes!) but without the soft focus or ‘clean’ feel that often dominates modern film making when setting films in the past. The use of 16mm film helps, but the attention to detail and the locations just made you feel you’d stepped into the TARDIS and out into 50’s New York rather than looking back at at a ‘quaint’ time. Todd Haynes framing makes us feel rather voyeuristic (a clever and deliberate choice that is understood when a certain event happens in the film) using car doors to peer around, filming from outside the window to watch a brightly lit party, lingering back and framing a scene through a door before getting closer. The effect is rather unnerving, more than once you feel as if you are following a character and should be ready to leap behind a car or into a doorway if they turn. This style builds a slightly nervous tension in the viewer, for me it was the ‘butterfly feeling’ of when you have a crush on someone, when you first start seeing someone and know it’s going somewhere, the nervous excitement of lust as it dips its toes into love.

Laura’s voice-over dominates Brief Encounter, we know exactly what she’s thinking all the way through. In Carol we have to rely on Blanchett and Mara’s performances alone. The chemistry between the two leads is astonishing, you can see in every scene the inner monologue, every motivation and every decision has been thought out and is clearly articulated in a word, a gesture and missed embrace. Therese is easier to figure out (not that Mara has an easy job and arguably has the longer journey to travel as a character) but we can identify with her ‘coming of age’ story, her exploration of who she is as a person, what she likes to drink ‘wine makes me feel naughty, in a good way’ and if she wants to seize life or just drift through on the safe path. Carol is more complex, is there something unnerving or untrustworthy about her you wonder, but this feeling is in sharp juxtaposition with Carol as a mother, the relationship is written and performed perfectly without being schmultzy, an easy trap to fall into.

The supporting cast are very much on the periphery of the central relationship, but are used to great effect and all feel full and realised. Jake Lacy as Richard, Therese’s incredulous but strangely understanding boyfriend ‘What? You’ve got one hell of a crush on this woman is what…’ and Kyle Chandler as Harge, Carol’s seemingly stereotypical, bullish 50’s husband, are both excellent. Chandler’s performance avoids the stereotype by allowing the character’s motivations to be driven by bewilderment rather than nastiness. A word too for Sarah Paulson as Carol’s closest friend Abby, Paulson does so much with very little screen-time, her scene with Harge at the door was so powerful. More Sarah Paulson, please Hollywood.

Blanchett doesn’t get the dramatic ‘perhaps I will just throw myself on the tracks’ moment that Celia Johnson gets in Brief Encounter – look at the eyes…Capture

‘I meant to do it Fred, I really meant to do it’… Carol’s cracks are slower to appear and though there are many moments when we feel she might shatter, Blanchett’s ‘railway whistle moment’ is when she is meeting with Harge and the lawyers, her delivery of the speech as she barely hangs on by a thread, sums up her whole character for me, totally brave and totally trapped in equal measure. ‘We’re not ugly people Harge’. 

I usually watch Brief Encounter alone and every time I feel the same tightness in my chest at certain moments, for me a viewing is utterly cathartic and Carol made me feel the same way. Carol deserves your attention, get to the cinema, but if you only watch it on DVD, dim the lights, turn off your phone and focus, don’t miss a moment, as every look, every shot is precise.

And if you haven’t seen Brief Encounter for goodness sake come round to mine, bring some tissues and we’ll have a movie night.




‘We’re half the human race, you can’t stop us all…’

My Mum told me about Emily Davison – I don’t remember when, it was one of the things I just always remember knowing, ‘you must use your right to vote, never take it for granted, women died for your right to vote – one women threw herself under the King’s horse to make the men listen’. Or something to that effect.  Probably my first encounter with the Suffragette movement was in Mary Poppins, lovely, cheery, singing Mrs Banks – I bet you never went on hunger strike, Mrs Banks. The suffrage movement pops up in the period dramas, Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs and so on, always quite clean, always middle or upper class. I’d never seen anything on screen about the so-called foot soldiers of the movement – the working classes. Until now.

Suffragette was every bit as brilliant as the trailer promised and my mind had imagined, and with a woman writing (Abi Morgan), a woman directing (Sarah Gavron) and over 50% of the listed producers women too, it was ‘well done sister suffragette’ indeed. The attention to detail was glorious, the costumes, the colour palette, the sets – every part of the film was dedicated to creating not a rose tinted view of history but a feeling of stepping straight into the middle of working class, east end London in 1912.

It’s not an easy watch, but Carey Mulligan is on top form, when she’s cast right, there is no one to rival her and this is wonderful casting. Mulligan finds a physicality with a solid grounding which makes you believe utterly in the hard background of her laundry worker, Maud, and she is the epicentre of the film. Mulligan has so much going on beyond her lines of script, her eyes giving us backstory, hopes and dreams in just a few moments of screen time – from the opening dreamlike gaze at the Oxford Street shop front, to her rapture at hearing Mrs Pankhurst speak – she makes it look so effortless, she just is Maud.

Mulligan shines too because of the surrounding cast (hooray for casting by Fiona Weir), casting Meryl Streep as Pankhurst was genius (apparently this was Mulligan’s Mum’s suggestion – hooray for Mums) and even more genius was to stay on Maud’s face, and the faces of the gathered Suffragettes, almost throughout Streep’s brief screen time. The film is not called ‘Mrs Pankhurst’ after all. Helena Bonham Carter is understated and quietly superb as the highly educated pharmacist (I wanted to be a doctor but…), Anne Marie Duff’s cheeky Violet seems to be a 2D ‘look I am new to this factory and I’ve got some naughty ideas’ role at first glance, put there to kick start Maud’s awakening, but Duff’s talent and Morgan’s script deliver so much more.  And of course a word for the wonderful men, Ben Whishaw finds a lovely truth in Sonny, Brendan Gleeson is on well trod ground as Inspector Steed but he does it so well and let’s have a shout out for Adam Michael Dodd, the least stage schooly child actor ever and just a delight as young George. It would have been easy for Morgan to write the men as minor, cliched characters but all credit – apart from the ever so horrible Laundry foreman (hooray for the hand burning), all the male characters were written as complete, flawed and complicated.

Gavron never allows us to forget who the film is about and that means utilising some seriously close camera work. We are right next to Maud all the time – when she dresses and plays with her son, when she laughs with her friend, her moment of triumph at Parliament and when she dances for her son in the rain after being separated from him. We are there when she wipes the sweat from her brow on the stifling laundry floor, as she is groped by the foreman, punched by a policeman, stripped by prison guards, when she tells her son never to forget her name as he is forcibly adopted, when she is force fed. As I said, it is not an easy watch – the violence against the women in the crowd after Chamberlain announces no change to the bill, the unrelenting and unflinching scene of force feeding, the absolutely heart wrenching scene when George is taken away, the shock of watching Davison step onto the racecourse, all of these moments, you want to look away, but you don’t.

However, it was the less obvious, the unspoken parts of this film that stayed with me and kept me churning as I walked out of the cinema and all the way home. The scarring on Maud’s right shoulder and upper arm, we assume from a laundry accident; a line shouted by one of the laundry workers ‘We ought to tell your husband Violet to sort you out’ and the next scene being Violet’s bruised and battered face – but no outrage at this, just an acceptance – a sign of the inevitable; the implicit but never really mentioned sexual abuse of Maud from a young age; the explicit ownership of women and children – that Sonny can give away George for adoption without Maud’s knowledge – when Romola Garai begs her MP husband to bail out all the arrested women ‘It’s my money, mine’ ‘But you are MY wife’. And Violet when she confesses she is pregnant to Maud, ‘Again? I can’t look after the ones I have got. And I am so tired.’  In those brief lines and with a look of utter desperation, she sums up generation upon generation of women through history and brings us bang up to date –  ‘reproductive coercion’ is a recognised part of domestic abuse – and however far we have come with equality, you cannot escape the fact that it’s women that have the babies.

It’s not a film that shouts, it’s a film that invites you in and says I have this amazing story, want to listen? So you can just take this film as a snapshot, a 100 or so minutes with these spectacularly brave women and if you like as an introduction to encourage you to read more and understand the history, the motivations. But the film ends with these lines:

‘The woman wanderer goes forth on the path towards freedom.” She wonders, “I am alone, utterly alone. Why do I go to this far land?” And reason says to her, “Silence, what do you hear? Thousands, and they beat this way. . . Feet of those who follow you. Lead on.’

I think that’s an invitation, isn’t it? I am with Caitlin Moran on feminism – I just want to be one of ‘The Guys’. So although the things I write now may feel aimed at women, it’s 2015, I want everyone to do this:

Women still don’t have equal pay in this country, women are still entirely judged on whether or not they have children, 2 women a week are killed by their partner or former partner…I could go on and on, but you pick your statistic, you pick your cause. I know it’s overwhelming these days, things have improved so much and there’s no simple, big cause to fight for like an equal vote, but that doesn’t mean we should be idle. A month or so ago I signed a petition to get a transgender women( who had lived as a women for all of her adult life, but hadn’t had reassignment surgery) moved from an all-male prison to a female prison. And it worked. She was moved. And it felt good. So use your right to vote, and if you don’t want to, go to the polls and write ‘you all suck’ on your ballot paper, but show up. If you see sexism, call it out, if you see or suspect violence or abuse say something, support a women’s refuge or charity, write to your MP to address cuts to local services, sign that petition to get Ireland to legalise abortion, whatever it is, do something – never surrender. Never give up the fight.

Phew – better end on a song – play us out Mrs Banks:


Mild spoilers Mr Bond – shaken not stirred

You’re having a lovely time at the Day of the Dead festival, totally met a hottie in a skeleton suit and are looking forward to a game of hide the sausage in your hotel room – starts well, when he turns to take off his costume you settle comfortably on the bed to enjoy the show – but on turning he’s wearing another suit underneath, (how are you not really sweaty dude – it’s Mexico City) and then he climbs out the window with a ‘be right back’. Pretty weird. And more annoyingly he NEVER comes back.  I wonder how long Estrella (thanks IMDB) waited? I mean do you have a nap or…?

These are questions you shouldn’t ask yourself, because it’s BOND baby and you are better off just sitting back and enjoying the ride. And what a ride Spectre was. Having totally nailed reboot Bond with Skyfall it must have been hard to come up with a follow up. I read an interview with Mendes that said he needed to out-bond Bond. Having seen it I think they just sat round a table shouting out all their favourite bits of Bond:

“A massive proper LAIR for the villain!” “A really personal vendetta!”  “A army of faceless henchman in matching outfits!” “A bit on a train!” “Bond halfway inside someone before introducing himself!” “A VODKA MARTINI GAG!” “A really good car! Ooh ooh and a car chase!” “An assassin with a weird gimmicky way of murdering who is inhumanely strong and doesn’t say anything except one line for laughs!” “A woman who refuses Bond but then shags him anyway”.

‘Yes, yes loving this – but we’ve worked very hard to get rid of the memory of comedy gadget Bond so how can we get ALL that in, but still make it classy?’

“Let’s get Christopher Nolan” ‘Wait no Sam Mendes will do it again – yay!’.

Mendes has the skill to make you forget all the awkward questions that pop into your head as soon as they pop in – e.g. how big is Bond’s suitcase that he has an outfit for every occasion, from North Face catalogue-pose woolly hat for snow romps to white tux for train fine dining… and what train is that fresh out of Agatha Christie… and is the man who is asked to press the aforementioned white tux running the whole train… cos there was no one in the kitchen when they went fighting through it. Wait isn’t fingernails man going to use his awesome manicure to kill anyone else? Really just that one guy? And was that car chase a bit Grease when they went sideways up the riverbed?  And where are all the other cars, weren’t they in Rome… etc etc. But then Mendes goes look, look at this beautiful tracking shot of Monica Belluci walking through her house, look at the light, look at the focus, enjoy the tension I have created out of nothing, look at me letting my actors actually act. Mendes just has this wonderful ability to let a Bond film breathe before boshing you in the face again with another ridiculous action sequence.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an action sequence – especially a ridiculous one – but this film just felt very Austin Powers. Christoph Waltz was having a wonderful time and just effortless at playing the bad guy, but his deeply unnerving introduction at the round table meeting when he looks up to exactly where JB is and says ‘Cuckoo’ was the best bit. The more we learnt about him the more Austin it got… check out my desert LAIR and my wheely chair and my quirky classic car (which would never run in all that sand) – look at my excitingly inventive ways of setting traps to kill you but oh gosh darnit you got away again.

But you know, despite the Austin Powers-ness of it, I did enjoy the REVEAL of who Waltz really was (SPOILER: anyone else go yay at the fluffy pussycat?) and Mendes’ style did, once again, keep me entirely gripped. I was shocked to find almost 3 hours had passed since I sat down in the cinema. Waltz was excellent, Craig has really settled in to Bond now (but equally I hope he stops now – mixed reports on that), the supporting cast were a dream (except WHO put Moriarty in charge of CNS and then were surprised they were baddies) and it was pure unadulterated Bond. Accept no substitutes.

But what of the henchman – no-one thinks of the family of a henchman…


So I started blogging. Just because if I didn’t it felt like I might die or something. No.. wait that’s a quote from My So-Called Life. Man, that was a good TV show. Anyway. My blog is currently about movies, films, the talkies, moving pictures.

It might change. But for now…enjoy. If you want me to blog any classic movies – I will always take requests.

Beware of Crimson Peak! And spoilers…

‘It was all a bit Bluebeard’ I said after seeing Crimson Peak. ‘Who?’ said my boyfriend. Apparently Bluebeard hasn’t passed into everyone’s consciousness, maybe cos it’s not a fairytale Disney could do. At least I hope not… they’d mess it right up (see Into the Woods)…  anyway you know Bluebeard right? If not – click here – I like the German version best don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Good right? Well, Crimson Peak wasn’t really like that because of course it had been Guillermo del Toro’d so Bluebeard has a sister who is MUCH scarier than Bluebeard,  the new wife can see ghosts and there’s no brothers coming to rescue you, only Charlie Hunnam doing another appalling American accent and being the human equivalent of paint drying. Whatever the character I just find my eyes sliding to the right, like he’s wearing a Tardis key (low level perception filter) and I’m not really supposed to look directly at him. Charlie doesn’t seem to annoy most people though, but apparently Mia Wasikowska does. A lot of people when I said ‘oooh CRIMSON PEAK’ went ‘meh, not sure about Mia W’ and ‘Mia Whatsherface – with her annoying face’. I think she’s lovely, not super exciting or anything but just quietly becomes the character and you believe her – she was the best thing in Burton’s Alice for sure. As Edith she is given a similar role, her job is to navigate the audience through the creepy world she tumbles into. Only this time it’s Tom Hiddleston (with full on pale-dark-wig Loki colouring) as Mr Sharpe to lure you down the rabbit hole. I liked that Edith just went full scale obsessive crush on the mysterious Mr Sharpe when he arrives, her opening introduction of independent aspiring writer, with opinions of her own (shock horror!) is shoved to one side as she googles sexy Sharpe, victorian style, by looking up his family seat in a big history book.

The set for Allerdale Hall is just exquisite. Built in it’s entirety on the lot, it’s a Gothic nightmare that you REALLY want to go and play in. The big, bold colours and lines of Edith’s American period dresses are dwarfed by the huge Gothic wood balcony, the creepy wrought iron lift (Don’t ever go below this level) and the gigantic fireplaces that breathe. And Del Toro wrings out every last ounce of pleasing terror he can; a dream-like waltz sequence, blood red clay oozing and penetrating, a grand piano, enormous bathtub, handle to fire up electric light and Edith roaming the night halls with her full length white gown, candle-stick and flowing golden hair. I adored the use of weather and natural colour – there was a scene before Mr Sharpe proposes where Edith is dressed in sumptuous autumnal colours bathed in the late summer sun while Mr Sharpe and his sister (oh I am getting to her) linger in shadow dressed all in black. This is swiftly followed by the staple of all gothic and film noir,  a funeral in the pouring rain with black umbrellas filling every corner of the screen. When we arrive at Allerdale Hall, Del Toro employs beautiful shots of leaves and later snow tumbling softly through the holes in the roof of the house and frames his violent and tense finale with a raging snow storm – so no help can get through until morning – classic!

And so we come to Jessica Chastain. She plays Lucille beautifully – totally unnerving from the off, but only drip feeding the audience a little more of the crazy each time she appears, so we wait a long time before we realise just how horrific she is. The scene where she throws the breakfast across the table was the scariest for me – the outburst and then the clawing back of control. In the hands of another actor this part could easily have been over the top but Chastain is so accomplished she pitches it right every time. Her power over her brother was softly played but totally convincing. I read that Benedict Cumberbatch was originally to play Thomas Sharpe – whether by design or accident, I thought Hiddleston the better choice. Both actors can play evil and scheming, with a dark handsomeness that makes them utterly desirable, but Sharpe’s desire to escape the house and the treadmill of death his sister has him on, his struggle as his feelings for Edith grow and his ultimate attempt at redemption, this was where Hiddleston really excelled. We knew he was bad news and plotting nefarious deeds from the outset, but we still felt sorry for him when Edith’s dear Papa told him off for having soft hands, didn’t we?

Of course this is Del Toro, so we have some horrifically realistic gooey ghosts, a jerky and terrifying black smokey monster and some satisfyingly graphic violence (cheek stab and slow removal of blade – yay!). The beauty of Del Toro is his twists on convention, the heroine isn’t naive or oblivious, she can see ghosts, one of the scariest ghosts in the place is her own mother and despite her initial terror of the house, she quickly realises she must fear the living not the dead. Crimson Peak is a sumptuous, slow-building proper Gothic horror but it is the fully realised characters (well except Charlie Hunnam) and the attention to detail that really elevates it. I look forward to seeing it again on my own with all the lights out. Eeek!

Final thought: The only bit I didn’t get was why Mr Sharpe appears as some kind of weird Harry Potter resurrection stone / Star Wars force ghost when all the other ghosts were, well, oozy or at least deformed? Thoughts? Was it Edith’s projection that made the others appear as they did?

Macbeth: Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself.

I don’t remember if I read Macbeth before studying it for GCSEs. I read a lot of other Shakeys but it was definitely age 14 or 15 I fell hard for the Scottish play – and it’s still my favourite. School destroys the Bard for so many people, which is a massive shame. Luckily I had an amazing GSCE teacher, Mrs Dowse, one of those teachers you remember for the right reasons.

This was mid-90’s. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet landed like a gift for English teachers trying to get their class to engage – boys the girls wanted and the boys wanted to be, toting guns, boasting an immense soundtrack, fast cars and those angel wings that inspired a thousand fancy dress costumes – suddenly everyone loved Shakespeare. Whether Mrs Dowse had seen R+J I am not sure but she did find a production called Macbeth on the Estate. Filmed on a Birmingham housing estate combining real people and actors  – the war was for dealer territory, Ray Winstone was Duncan the drug king and everyone had a (more passable than Peaky Blinders) Brummy accent. I loved it, we all did. It opens with a load of young men kicking in a door and smashing people’s heads in with baseball bats – YEAH! Mrs Dowse pausing the video after James Frain’s delivery of one of Macbeth’s final speeches and turning slowly with a tear in her eye to say ‘That was one of the best renditions of the Tomorrow speech I have ever heard’ stayed with me. My friend used to mimic that line at me and I pretended it was a ‘laugh at Teach’ moment, but really I got it.

Macbeth on the Estate popped up on YouTube* at some point recently and as I revisited it I realised a lot of it doesn’t work. But still the Tomorrow speech is immense, blunt and brummy – Frain spitting the words over Lady M’s corpse and eyeballing the camera to deliver the final (and one of my favourite) lines: ‘Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.’ The other scene that was still excellent was mad Lady M and the damned spot. Susan Vidler’s estate savvy, scrunchie and cycling short wearing Lady M hunched over her kitchen sink in the bleak little flat – wonderful stuff. All these years, I’ve banged on about Macbeth on the Estate at people but I’ve also waited for another Macbeth to get all the other bits right for me and when I heard about the Fassbender and Cotillard Cannes-ten-minute-standing-ovation Macbeth – I was VERY excited. Spoilers coming.

Last night I went to see it – I’d heard that the pace was lacking, but I went in open minded. And you know what? I loved it. By putting Macbeth back into a medieval setting, filming in bleak, cold and brutally beautiful Scotland, all the bits that didn’t work on the Estate – because with a modern setting we need motive and backstory and modern emotional responses – clicked.

Kurzel’s Macbeth was like being in a dream, familiar yet unnerving all at once. Combining period accurate misty heather, battle scenes, oodles of blood and bruises (poor continuity person) with some very modern editing, slow motion and horror film-like flickering cuts and zooms, the result was eerie and gripping as hell. Fassbender was perfect as Macbeth, playing it close and guarded, a damaged soldier driven by pure, evil ambition with just a dash of madness. I loved him and Cotillard together -they were totally believable as the Macbeths – scheming, seductive and terrifying. They beefed up Lady M’s screentime and the decision to have Macbeth burn the Macduff family entirely openly was inspired (What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?). There’s no grey with Macbeth – he EVIL. It worked perfectly in the setting (we’d already seen Duncan carry out his own execution of the original Cawdor) and gave Lady M the reason for her descent into madness. Sean Harris as Macduff, the physical hardness with ‘did someone nearly slice your head off’ scar and stoically Scots glare only served to emphasise his emotional moments, from throwing up after finding Duncan’s mutilated corpse to his hill top delivery of grief, ‘first I must feel it like a man‘ – he was devastatingly brilliant.

The only two bits it didn’t nail for me were (unsurprisingly cos Estate Macbeth got me young) were the Tomorrow speech – just say it, don’t dance around with Lady M’s corpse dude not cool – and Lady M’s ‘out damned spot’ speech. Though Cotillard’s return to the ‘scene of the crime’ was visually stunning, snow drifting in and those eyes filling with tears, for me you can’t talk about handwashing and hands that smell of blood, without using your hands. Vidler’s Kappa Slapper Lady M wins it for me.

There was a lack of pace at times and you could argue it was all bleak with no lighter moments (surely some chuckles post witches for Banquo and M were missing), but it was fully committed and if you just relax and embrace the slow intensity, it’s wonderful, stirring cinema at it’s best. And it’s the first time they’ve managed to pull of the Birnam wood to Dunsinane – I wanted to cheer – bloody brilliant – set it on FIRE. YES.  And that final red, orange ash filled fight scene I would watch on a loop.

All hail, Macbeth!

*If you fancy watching Macbeth on the Estate: 


Legend film review – spoilers sweetie…

Tom Hardy has a walk for every character. His shoulders usually feature heavily and directors always do at least one tracking shot from behind Mr H as he ambles / struts / powers along. Legend was no exception – but this time he had a charming east end strut for Reg and a bull like power stance for Ron. Hardy is uniformly excellent as the two Kray twins, channelling Waterfront Brando as Reg and Godfather Brando as Ron  – the jaw pushed forward, the way his face was altered by the false teeth. There are moments where you laugh, where his performance of the unhinged Ron walks the line of comedy  – shades of Lock Stock in the early pub scene – ‘A shoot out is a fucking shoot out. Like a western’ – but always, always he pulls it back from the brink of caricature. The film stays close up, there is nowhere for Hardy to hide but he makes it remarkably easy for the viewer to forget they are watching one actor.

But I knew Hardy would nail it, so for me it was Emily Browning as Frances (Frankie) that was the surprise. Browning absolutely soars. She has a longer more complicated journey to travel in the film’s running time than the Krays. We meet her as a lemon sherbet sucking, jumper wearing, rebellious young beauty and leave her bruised, addicted to pills and eventually dead in a London high-rise.  Frankie’s outfits were a beautiful device to guide us through her demise. Though Reg is appalled that Frankie’s Mum (a heartbreaking performance from Tara Fitzgerald, in early scenes her eyes giving us all of her terror and primal maternal protection in just a few frames) wears black to his wedding, he doesn’t seem to notice when Frankie ditches her bright patterns for black too. When Frankie leaves Reg (a scene which demonstrates the excellence of this film, Ron, who we have become increasingly appalled by wins us back with one line ‘that is not how we were raised‘) she dresses in white and it is that same white dress she dons to escape forever.

Legend has a huge male cast, women are background beauties in 60’s micro minis, smiling vacuously or screaming and running when the world of the Krays get too real, but the few lead performances by women, like Fitzgerald as Frankie’s Mum, are the backbone of this film, building a real world for Hardy to play in. Even with less than 5 minutes of screen time,  the Blind Beggar barmaid was a fully rounded character, her shaking terror at the identity parade a triumph. Mrs Kray senior, is first shown at Frankie and Reg’s wedding, then she’s there as the cash is poured into the kitchen sink, overseeing her sons success with a strong matriarchal eye and criticising her new daughter-in-law’s tea skills. The scene after the Blind Beggar shooting was reminiscent of the famous scene in Goodfellas – late night, Mother in her dressing gown, feeding her boys and chatting – but where Scorsese deliberately left his (own) Mother in ignorance of what her son and his friends had done, Mrs Kray is starkly aware. Shot close on Ron’s face, Mrs Kray is all blurred bosom, cosy flannel and tea and cake but again with just a few lines the cliches are shattered as she tells Reg ‘whatever he’s done he’s your brother’. The delivery is clear and simple, this is no oblivious Italian Mamma this is a woman who knows precisely what her psychopathic baby is capable of and knows what she is asking his twin to do.

Like Goodfellas, Legend draws you in to a world which is initially appealing. The opening scenes with Reg offering tea to the coppers who are tailing him, greeting the locals and his light voiced chivalrous charm with Frankie are a joy – Hardy positively twinkles. The colour palate of the film utilises the sharp lines of the tailored suits, against the bricks and gasworks of old London and the old school glamour of the East End. Even the washing on the line seems idyllic, chocolate boxy. It doesn’t take long for the violence and muck to creep in, the mock court of the rival gang drags us right down into the murk, but the film keeps the Kray brothers both terrifying and appealing all the way through, always grey, never black or white. Frankie and Reg’s courtship was a delight, the beautiful slow zoom in the club on their first date, where the music and sound of the club fade and we see and feel what Frankie does, that they are the only two in the room, the world. When Reg proposes, he scales the drainpipe like Romeo but it is Ophelia Frankie evokes for me. Her brother tells us early on ‘she’s been away, she’s fragile’ – Ophelia is a foil for Hamlet, Frankie a fully formed, real person – but that fragility and her breakdown – the parallels are clear. I didn’t know Frankie’s story when I went in, so I got to experience the ‘twist’ (that our narrator would leave us two thirds through the film) others probably won’t experience. It also meant I was rooting for her, we are swept along with her and cannot but help share her triumph as she smiles at her wedding, realising she has won Ron over. This made the fall even harder to take, as the bright colours are switched for black, the charm for loneliness, the sherbet lemons for pills – the subtlety of this switch brought into sharp focus as Frankie takes out her final sherbet lemon and then overdoses. Browning’s eyes are mesmerising, just a touch of 60’s black kohl to frame as we see Frankie’s dawning realisation that she is stuck in the East End forever, her insomnia, the subtle as brick late night game of solitaire and her shrinking joy when Reg cannot teach her to drive her new Triumph.

Though the ‘Does Hamlet rape Ophelia’ theory will always be just a theory, though forever debated, Legend does not leave us in any doubt of why Frankie finally finds enough strength to pack her suitcase. The film’s violent scenes are chosen and edited carefully, we see the smile of disbelief of George Cornell as he realises he’s been shot, every swing of the memorable Kray brothers fight in sharp detail, but for Frankie’s attack the camera just leaves, slowly panning back from the door frame. The image of tiny Browning in her bra and tights utterly rag doll like under Reg’s lift is enough, we don’t need to see more, the fact the camera leaves making this domestic violence somehow more powerful. If, as the film says, everyone in 60’s East End London had a story of the Krays, the film perhaps does a service to all domestic violence victims by leaving the specifics of Frankie’s attack to our imagination, but still keeping it real and relevant. I adored the close up of her eyes as Frankie gets in the taxi, next day, make-up that actually looked slept in, smudged and bruised and starkly real. Some viewers may see Reg’s return of Frankie’s engagement and wedding rings to her dead body as remorseful, regretful – ‘he loved her really’. For me it was his last act of ownership – Frankie escaped but he still brands her even after death, like Hamlet leaping into Ophelia’s grave, these men cannot let their women rest without one last statement ‘she was mine’.

A mesmerising watch, what could have been just a vehicle for Hardy to flex his character acting muscles and a triumph of split screen / layered filming was lifted by all of the supporting cast and the time and space given to let the story unfold. I look forward to seeing Legend again.

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