Onwards with the history Challenge, and we pick up the story somewhere in the sleeply backwaters of East Anglia… Which is apparently full of witches!
#19: Witchfinder General
General Opinion: Nowhere near as bad as ‘A Man for All Seasons’ or ‘Becket’ but it’s still very dire in places.
Review: For starters let’s get this out of the way. This is supposed to be one of the best ‘cult’ horror films of British cinema. Don’t believe the hype. This pair are waaaayyyy scarier:
I mean seriously… This is supposed to be on par with the Wicker Man… Oh… Come to think of it… That wasn’t much of a horror film either. It was more like musical pornography. This is supposed to be ‘graphic’ in its scenes of torture. Really? It was tame. especially by modern standards.Tell you what… Let’s just forget about the films ‘cult’ status and look at it from a fresh perspective.
It starts off with a lot of promise as some suspected witches get dragged to the gallows under the watchful gaze of Vincent Price as the eponymous witch-finder, Matthew Hopkins. Unfortunately, it all goes rapidly downhill from there. The film quickly stagnates and becomes boring. Its not that nothing happens, a couple of cavaliers get shot and there’s plenty of torture and fighting to be going along with… But for a film that is only eighty minutes long it feels like a full three hours. It’s really, really slow and plodding in places. The dialogue doesn’t help as it is stilted and lifeless and as for the acting, you’ll find better in a school nativity play. The only good actor in it is Vincent Price and I can imagine he’s what the real Hopkins sounded like.
Then you have the look of the whole thing. It’s all far too clean for the period. The clothes are too bright, and there’s a distinct absence of skanky looking peasants, which for a film about witches is criminal. It’s a film where you should be entitled to play ‘spot the actual witch’ throughout. You can’t because everybody is perfectly clean and wart free, except for Cromwell- But more on him in the next film. Even the villages look a bit too middle class and modern. All the buildings are well maintained in a sort of ‘rural idyll’ type setting, which wouldn’t have been the case. Yes, the film is mostly accurate in its portrayal of the witch hunts (despite the burning, the burning never happened!) but the actual period detail is shockingly bad.
Added to this you have the seemingly endless shots of people riding horses across the countryside… And there are a lot of them. If you like endless scenes of horses running across the countryside then fine, but there’s a time and a place. Horses take up most of the time here and it just gets boring.
And then there’s the ending itself. Not only is it rushed, but it’s also very weak, very sudden and very bad. It also makes no sense at all. What just happened? What? What? I can’t even begin to explain it.
The film is mildly entertaining but, alas, there is just far too much letting it down to really make it work.
Rating: 4/10- Not overly brilliant, but not nearly as good as so called ‘critics’ claim it is. Still… Could be worse.
General Opinion: Fantastic, superb and brilliant at the same time… But it does play too loosely with some points.
Review: In all reality, this is the closest anybody is ever going to get to the title of this post happening… Unless Michael Gambon and Ewan McGregor decide to have it out in a car park somewhere. (If you’re reading this… Please???) But Alec Guiness and Richard Harris are the originals, and some would say the definitives. This film shows why the two of them are held in such high esteem. They are good. They are very good. Charles I and Oliver Cromwell are about as far removed from Obi Wan and Dumbledore as you can possibly ever get: One prances around with a beard that makes him look like Satan and the other has a serious facial growth problem. The two are, in all truth, believable as King Charles and Cromwell. The same is true of everybody else in this film. Timothy Dalton as Prince Rupert of the Rhine stands out the most (Yep… James Bond is in this as well!) although he and his Yorkshire terrier don’t appear enough, which is a shame. They’ve obviously really tried with the casting. The only exception to this rule is the Earl of Manchester who just doesn’t quite fit the part. It looks like he’s trying too hard and hence he sticks out like a sore thumb.
The film does reconfigure things to put Cromwell at the centre of the action, but to be honest I expected nothing less from a film that was actually entitled CROMWELL. Besides which, they haven’t done it in a totally unbelievable way like a lot of other films do. The real historical events do play out, it’s just that Cromwell is there and a few other people aren’t. They’ve also compressed events, but again, in a two hour film that is also to be expected. Really, that doesn’t matter too much as it in no way detracts from the film. The only thing I’m disappointed about is that they left out the bit with the monkey… Would have been a great start to the film you must admit. Either that or Cromwell punching young Charles in the face, which they also missed out.
The other bad thing about this film is that the battle sequences are a bit lackluster. People just randomly fall over every so often whilst other people ride about on horses. It does look more than a bit staged. But fortunately there aren’t many pitched battle scenes… Not that that means it’s ok mind you.
As a single entity, however, all the bad stuff can just be dismissed as it doesn’t detract from how the good the film is. It is simply enjoyable and entertaining. It is well and truly a great film. It deserves far more recognition and really makes you wonder how something like Braveheart can be so lauded whilst this is virtually forgotten…
Rating: 8/10: Entertaining, but its few bad points knock it’s rating down.
#21: Charles II: The Power and The Passion
General Opinion: A nice looking drama that has it’s moments but is let down enourmously by its slow pace, poor acting and somewhat dubious accuracy.
Review: Split into four seperate parts, this is one long and equally dull retelling of the reign of Charles II. It’s not that it doesn’t look nice, it’s the fact that they’ve picked out probably the most boring events they could find and dragged them out. My question is this: Where’s the partying? Where are the whores and the lavish banquets? Where’s the Charles II we all KNOW existed? The playboy? The party animal?
He isn’t that here for sure. Yes, we do see a bit of whoremongering. Barbara Villiers gets most of this before being ousted by Nell Gwynne, who might I add is only on screen for all of ten minutes in total which is a shame. Moaning Myrtle turns up early on in a very stupid wig but other than that we barely see her. And she’s supposed to be the queen!!! At one point she walks in and starts shouting in Spanish like a maniac. That’s the best thing she does in the whole thing. Let me say this. If you’re going to write something about Charles II you make the mistresses and the partying central, especially if they’re included in the title.
As for the events of the time… The popish plot is covered in some depth, as is the whole ongoing saga of Catholicism vs Protestantism. However, everything else is more or less glossed over. The plague, the great fire, The restoration… Nell Gwynne… Charles’s death… All the major events of his reign, out of a total of four hours, cover no more than fifteen minutes. Basically, you’re sold short. This is more interested in the dull, political stuff. Also, like with A Man For All Seasons a lot of events are talked about but not shown. We see a bit more and it isn’t on the same scale, but it is still widespread I’m afraid.
If it were only ninety minutes then that might be fine. However, this is such a chore to watch at times because it is just so boring. The script, which isn’t too bad on the whole, only serves to make matters far worse. The acting meanwhile is sub standard. Rufus Sewell feels less like Charles II and more like a spaniel chewing a caterpillar. He just doesn’t feel like Charles II at all. He’s far too rigid and he doesn’t fit the character well at all. The rest of the cast aren’t much better, and that includes the guy who plays Emperor Palpatine who spends the first half whispering in Charles’s ear as though he’s Darth Vader.
There is also a rather dubious accuracy to the whole piece. Charles II was never at the great fire for one thing. He wasn’t hiding under the scaffold during his father’s execution, nobody who signed the death warrant was pardoned and I certainly don’t think Charles went mad and believed portraits could talk. It gets worse as the American version is apparently entitled THE LAST KING (Don’t ask where they got that one from. I have no idea.)
The facts are there though, which is good, and there are some nice bits in all the mess. Nell Gwynne is one bit that’s done particularly well, as is the whole Titus Oates business. It all looks, for the most part, very nice. It’s not enough to save it though.
Rating: 3/10- Let down by a great number of things. Could have been so much better.