I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan and didn’t rate ‘Cats’ when I saw it in the West End. I remember thinking it was okay, that’s all. But when I saw the trailer for the new film version I was amazed. Amazed by its exquisite beauty and amazed by the critical storm that followed. Reviews were overwhelmingly bad and just got worse when the alley cats finally hit the streets of post-war Soho. It must be the most slagged-off release in living memory. It made us determined to judge it for ourselves. Was is that terrible?
Not even close. With a top drawer cast – including Judi Dench doing her regal number and a clowder of superb dancers from the Royal Ballet – ‘Cats’ is a sight for sore eyes on a lousy winter’s day – energetic, inventive, atmospheric and visually stunning. I’m not sure what the catty critics saw but it wasn’t the same film I watched.
We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.
And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…
I’m a sucker for an old dame, particularly those two old Dames Judi and Maggie. They light up my screen. My all-time fave is Tea with Mussolini, a regular winter warmer on a chilly night. But any film with them in will do. I’m not fussy.
A less well-known screen outing for the pair was Ladies in Lavender, a tender tale of two elderly sisters living quietly in a Cornish fishing village during the thirties who scoop up a handsome young Pole from the beach after he was swept overboard during a storm. They nurse him to health, causing a stir among the locals – and the stirring of long repressed feelings for sister Ursula, played by Judi. The whole thing is a joy to watch, a moral tale of a rescue without hesitation or fear of an economic migrant washed up on a foreign shore. Rather relevant today, don’t you think? And there’s a real Billy Elliot moment at the end that gets me every time. So, when the stage version of the film came to Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre, we just had to see it (even though neither Dame was in it, obviously).
It was a sterling effort from the cast with the best lines reserved for the housekeeper and delivered with great comic timing. The performance got an enthusiastic hand at the end but I couldn’t help wondering if the message was lost on the mostly elderly audience with their curls, pearls and comfy lives. I hope I’m wrong.
The nice people at Virgin Media offered us two preview tickets to see Philomena, Judi Dench’s latest flick. The advanced screening was at our local Odeon Multiplex which isn’t my venue of choice – too Las Vegas lounge for my liking. I prefer Cinema City, a nice bar-restaurant with a picture house attached. But, it would have been rude to refuse a freebie. Based on true events, the film is about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the son she was forced to give up to the nasty nuns following a quickie with handsome young buck at a village fair. Well, it was the buttoned-up no-thrills Fifties and unmarried mothers were the whores of Babylon. The film co-stars Steve Coogan (who also produced it and co-wrote the screenplay) as the real-like Martin Sixthsmith, former BBC journalist and Blairite spin doctor who wrote the book upon which the film is based. The movie went on general release today so I won’t add a spoiler. Suffice it to say it ain’t The Sound of Music but it isn’t Angela’s Ashes either. The subtle, gentle and often funny script allows the harrowing story to unfold and take centre stage without the outrage slapping the audience about the face. Dame Judi is, as always, superb and Steve Googan (who is more famous as Norwich’s very own fictitious DJ, Alan Partridge) is surprisingly good. It’s well worth shelling out a few shillings for.
I wanted to see ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ when it was released in 2012. It’s my kind of film but not the kind that got a screening at the plush cinema in Bodrum which tended to focus on Hollywood blockbusters, more’s the pity. We could have lifted a dodgy download from the enterprising Low Countries couple who did a roaring trade in counterfeit DVDs for the emigreys but I’m rather anti the whole it’s-not-really-stealing thing. Actually, it is. So, I was resigned to stalking the bargain bucket to acquire a proper copy at a knock-down rather than a knock-off price. My patience was rewarded and we picked up the film for a song at our local Norwich HMV store.
We uncorked the wine, turned off the lights and put our feet up. It was well worth the long wait. The tall tale is about a disparate group of cash-strapped Brits who up sticks, drop off their excess baggage at check-in and travel to the sun to eke out a low-cost dotage in an emigrey enclave (in this case, a run-down retirement hotel in India). Sounds strangely familiar and not so tall after all. The funny and tender script, heaving with sharp one-liners and set against the glorious chaos of the sub-continent, is delivered with expert thespian timing by the outstanding cast (including that pair of incomparable old Dames – Judi and Maggie). I didn’t want it to end
Let Dame Judi tell it as it is:
“There’s no past that we can bring back by longing for it, only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.”
Did the old wrinklies heed the advice and find redemption and contentment? Do any of us? Now, that would be telling.
Anything Maggie Smith does is alright with me. She could break wind on screen and I’d give her a standing ovation. She’s just my kind of actress, like Judi Dench and Joan Plowright. No wonder I have multiple orgasms when I watch ‘Tea with Mussolini’ – Maggie, Judi, Joan AND Cher. It’s a gay boy’s wet dream. Liam didn’t have to ask me twice when he suggested we see ‘Quartet,’ Maggie’s latest flick. Adapted from the original play, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut is set in a retirement home for classical musicians and singers. Maggie stars alongside Tom Courtney, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon with a supporting chorus of real-life former divas, fiddlers, and ivory ticklers. We took our seats at Cinema City, our local picture house. The auditorium was crammed with half-cut old folk of Norfolk spending their winter fuel allowance on buckets of booze, illustrating that not every pensioner in the land is living on the edge of malnutrition and hypothermia. The film is a sweet tale of long-lost love reignited in old age. It brought back fine memories of an old friend’s mother who moved into sheltered housing and married the boy next door. At the time, they were both in their eighties and found a little companionship and happiness towards the end of their lives. I was honoured to be invited to their wedding. It gave me hope for the future, something I’ve clung onto ever since.
Naturally, Maggie as a crabby old opera singer was magnificent but, for me, Pauline Collins stole the show. Her touching performance of someone suffering from the onset of dementia, slipping in and out of cognisance, was delicately and beautifully played. Dementia is a subject Liam and I know only too well.
It takes a lot to make this cynical old queen cry. Okay, I confess. It doesn’t. I cry at sentimental films cleverly contrived to elicit an instant emotional response. I cry when Karen (Emma Thompson) realises that her husband Harry (Alan Rickman) is having an affair in Love Actually. I weep when Mary (Joan Plowright) and Arabella (Judi Dench) wave farewell to Luca (Baird Wallace) in Tea with Mussolini. I am inconsolable when Ste (Scott Neal) and Jamie (Glen Berry) run through the forest to the soundtrack of Make Your Own Kindof Music by the Mamas and Papas in Beautiful Thing. It’s an acting thing and it gets me every time.
Alice Pyne is not acting. Alice has cancer and she has a blog. She writes:
‘Hi, I’m 15 years old and live with my parents and sister in Ulverston. I’ve been fighting cancer for almost 4 years and now I know that the cancer is gaining on me and it doesn’t look like I’m going to win this one 😦 I’m hoping to write in here as much as I can and I’m also going to show my bucket list which I’m trying to get done before I have to go. Hopefully, I’ll update as I tick each one off the list :)’ Alice’s Bucket List
I began to read Alice’s wish list out loud to Liam. I had to stop half way through. It was all too much. Her courage astounds and humbles me. It should humble us all. Alice has restored my faith in humanity. Thank you Alice.