Right in the midst of awards season, and sandwiched in between two incredibly strong weekends for cinematic releases, we’re dealt a somewhat more quiet Friday, without any real show-stopping productions. But of the four releases this week there is a clear and obvious favourite, in the form of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. The creative fusion between Iannucci and author Charles Dickens was not one we had considered before, but now it’s arrived their sensibilities combine wonderfully, as the latter’s droll wit allows the Scottish comedic genius the chance to truly flex his own muscles and show off his ability. Unlike The Death of Stalin, however, this is neither as satirical nor as dark, as one of the film’s shortcomings comes by way of its tonality, a film that struggles to quite understand its very own identity. Caught in between genres, never quite excelling in one particular area. A Jack of all trades, if you like – a bit like the film’s protagonist.
The cast is brilliant though, Dev Patel shines in the lead role, while there are excellent supporting roles for the likes of Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Peter Capaldi. In true spirit of Dickens work, it was so often the quirky, idiosyncratic supporting characters that entertained us most greatly, and in some ways the titular protagonist works as something of a cipher. The film should be commended too for a colour-blind casting approach, as so often in period dramas we see roles limited to just white actors, but here they’ve done away with that notion, and allowed a multicultural cast to truly shine, and we can only hope that this encourages more filmmakers to do the same. But the story isn’t too strong, Dickens has some exceptional novels and pieces of writing with great cinematic potential, and maybe it’s just a personal preference, but David Copperfield was never really one of our favourites. But I suppose there really are so many A Christmas Carol adaptations you can do.
Also out this week is an interesting new film by Ashvin Kumar, his third in the region of Kashmir. This feature, entitled No Fathers in Kashmir, tells the story of a young British Kashmiri called Noor, played by newcomer Zara La Peta Webb. She’s curious about the world and decides to trace her very own roots and learn more about her own heritage, but in doing so unravels a world of mystery and tragedy, involving her father, who disappeared. It’s a fascinating stomping ground, full of cinematic potential and Kumar must be commended for the courage to tell a tale of this nature and shine a light on this region, which is a politically tumultuous place. The film does get somewhat melodramatic in parts and a little convoluted, narratively speaking, but it remains a compelling tale and one deep in themes of nostalgia, and emotion – with a cryptic-like tale which keeps us guessing throughout.
And now we have our final two releases of the week, two horror movies, almost interchangeable in tone, and interchangeable in quality. In other words, neither film is particularly good. Let’s start with The Turning, by Floria Sigismondi. Set in the early 90s, with a great grunge soundtrack, and of course eliminating the use of technology, which is always handy in this genre, we meet Kate (Mackenzie Davis), who takes on a new job as a governess at a huge mansion, to care for a young orphaned girl, and her troublesome older brother (played by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard). But when things go bump in the night, perhaps poor Kate has more on her plate than just the living. The unreliable narrator trope is used effectively, for we’re never sure if what Kate is seeing/hearing is real, or a figment of her imagination, but ultimately this film abides too stringently by convention and brings very little new to the genre it sits within.
We could say much of the same about The Grudge, a needless remake to say the least. By Nicolas Pesce, again we’re dealing with a haunted house (yay!) that just feels all too familiar. The whole demonic spirits antagonising innocent people has been done to death, The Conjuring has made a huge franchise out of it, and to have a story that is so unoriginal just makes it so questionnable that anyone would deem it fit for a remake, like there was a gap in the market (there isn’t). On the plus side, there are a couple of genuinely scary moments, one in a basement with a flashlight springs to mind, and also Andrea Riseborough in the lead, and she’s always brilliant. But that’s about it, really.