Bring Me Plunder, Or Bring Me Death | British History Challenge #29-31

So here we are… 1820. Hard to believe that we’re only half way through the challenge and yet there are only 192 years to cover… Mind you, that does cover the Victorian age (in which a lot happened,) the first and second world wars and the second half of the twentieth century.  Well come on then… We haven’t got all day! We’ve got a trip down to Cornwall and then we’ve got to go all the way to Scotland… There are pirates and thieves to contend with as well…

#29: Jamaica Inn

General Opinion: Much worse than it should be and there is a reason for this.

Review: I like Hitchcock… I really do. But this… This isn’t Hitchcock. It’s lame, it’s boring and it lacks suspense. Suspense was what made Hitchcock great. If you’d never seen or knew anything about Psycho and somebody sat you down in front of it you’d be pretty freaked out at the end when Norman Bates runs in dressed as his mother. And god help you if you saw the skull at the end the first time around (It’s a very freaky piece of shit when you notice it!) And don’t say this is bad because it was an early Hitchcock film because Hitch had already established himself as the master by this stage. Just look at the Thirty Nine Steps… or Sabotage… or Rebecca (another Daphne Du Maurier one!)  Remember… This is a man with a wicked sense of humour, a man who referred to Anthony Perkins as ‘Master Bates’ (No… Seriously!) and thought of Psycho as a comedy (Ok… It is quite funny in a warped sort of way) But  anyway… This isn’t about Psycho. This is about Jamaica Inn. And it isn’t Hitchcock’s fault that it’s so bad.

Apparently the fault lies with Charles Laughton who interfered with everything… And made it rubbish. And Charles Laughton plays the squire, a pompous, fat, unlikeable old bastard. He’s just out of place and hamming it up to the max, chewing the cardboard scenery like a hamster with speed up its bum. For 1930’s acting (which isn’t brilliant at the best of times) this is laughably bad. And almost all of the changes from the novel are because of Laughton, so I’m led to believe.

But what of the actual film, the plot? It’s all based on a lie and something that never happened, but it’s a believable lie and, after all, Jamaica Inn really exists and was indeed a den for smugglers. Du Maurier’s plot is decent enough but the film is nowhere near what it could be. It’s not suave, it’s not sophisticated. It’s not the book! It’s quite unflinchingly awful. Even looking at other films of the time, it’s bad. It’s really bad. I’m just going to forget this one as it really disappointed me.

Then there is the detailing. There isn’t a lot to be honest as it’s rather minimalist. The inn doesn’t feel like an inn and Bodmin doesn’t feel bleak or isolated enough.

Rating: 2/10- Blame Charles Laughton… That’s my philosophy.


#30: Burke and Hare

General Opinion: Much better than I expected.

Review: There appear to have been loads of film adaptations of the Burke and Hare murders. Loads of them… So I decided to go for the most recent one just because I had heard it was supposed to be quite awful and it had Simon Pegg in it. (Remember Hot Fuzz? Hot Fuzz was ace wasn’t it?) I was actually surprised, as it was nowhere near as bad as it’s been made out to be.

I expected it to be something like Plunkett and Macleane, which was over the top and rubbish. But it’s more stylised than that. It isn’t camp or thrown together from a book of stereotypes. It actually looks quite good. And for once you actually have a realistic portrayal of life in a historical period, though most of it is just played for laughs. It’s remarkable how close to the truth it actually is. It’s sort of like Horrible Histories in that regard (And one of the cast from that turns up, briefly, as William Wordsworth). There’s shit on the streets, mangy looking beggars, uncaring nobles, Greyfriars bobby (Yeah… Really!). It’s details like that that really separate the good from the bad. The worst films of the challenge have all been ones lacking in detail. Ones that didn’t have that extra spark you might say to make it into the top grade.

Whilst the comedy may be a bit childish and oldschool, it is still worth a slight giggle and it’s funnier than a lot of modern schmaltzy American comedies, which usually have Will Ferrel and Adam Sandler looking after bratty kids they don’t want to look after until they start to like them and then the kid gets taken away before they’re reunited at the end whilst in the middle they fall over and get beaten up a lot. It’s not that. It’s humorous, at least to an extent. There’s no laugh out loud moments but there are a lot that made me smile. I think it’s what they call black humour, and it takes a slightly twisted mind to get it. Fortunately for myself I have one of those…

Theres also the healthy slew of well known faces to keep things rolling along. Besides Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as Burke and Hare you have guest appearances by the likes of Tim Curry, An odd fully shaven Bill Bailey, Christopher Lee, Michael Winner (?) and a host of others. It’s a bit weird seeing Ronnie Corbett in a film but you get used to it (unlike Jimmy Carr in Stormbreaker!) There’s also a cameo at the end from the real William Burke… No mean feat considering that HE’S DEAD.

But what about accuracy? Yeah… They’ve compromised a bit on accuracy to make it funny and added a few extra plot strands here and there and changed a few characters around, but at least they admit it. Right at the beginning of the film we get the words: THIS IS A TRUE STORY… APART FROM THE BITS THAT ARE NOT. And that’s a good thing. It takes guts for a history film to accept that it might not be fully true… Look at Braveheart which even now after nearly seventeen years still hasn’t apologised for the mockery it made of Scottish history. You’ve got to admire a film that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and says ‘Yes… I may not be accurate, but please enjoy me anyway.”

In all it’s entertaining. It’s not laugh out loud funny, but hey, it has it’s moments. It’s watchable and it’s better than some other films. I liked this one… I did. It was a nice interpretation of the story of Burke and Hare.

Rating: 7.5/10 A good effort.

#31: Young Victoria

General Opinion: Oh dear God, this is terrible…

Review: Oh dear oh dear… Whilst this film might pretend to be all nice and none Bravehearty, it’s all a lie. And the devil is in the detail. Like I said with Burke and Hare, it’s often detail that draws the line between a good and a bad history film… And this film gets a lot of the major details wrong.

Whoever they’ve got to play Victoria just isn’t right for a start. She’s too…  Well… Not right. She’s too dour. She isn’t the fun loving girl that the Young Victoria was. She’s stiff and her Victoria has very little substance. She’s either drooling over Albert or whinging. There’s not much in between. Why does she spend half the film dressed in black? The real Victoria was a stunning, bright beauty who didn’t start wearing black until Albert died, long after this film ends. Ok, so I’ll concede she might have worn some black but nowhere near as much as she wears here. Wherever they’ve plucked this actress from they can put her right back. I don’t feel Queen Victoria from her, I feel some woman in a fancy dress.

And don’t get me started on Prince Albert… Jesus Christ could you be any more obvious with what you were trying to do with the casting? They were clearly just trying to find some pretty boy (with or without acting skills) so the female audience would sympathise with Victoria. Well they got one, who couldn’t act for shit. My god he’s awful. He’s not even dignified. And he and Victoria have no chemistry… like they should do. Victoria and Albert were so deeply in love that this doesn’t even scratch the surface. There’s no passion, no romance. It’s flat… If you’re going to do Victoria and Albert properly you make it a bodice ripper… It doesn’t have to be dirty… Just passionate. Let us not forget, and this is a genuine fact: QUEEN VICTORIA LOVED BEING TAKEN UP THE SNATCH BY PRINCE ALBERT… Apologies for the crude language but I had to get the point across somehow… And Queen Victoria wasn’t ashamed of it and she might have found that phrasing amusing! She also liked erotic literature. (And Victorian erotic literature is weird by the way, and full of incredibly hairy women!)Plus Victoria and Albert liked looking at dirty images together. We don’t get any of this on screen. It’s far too prudish. Stick to the facts!

The rest of the cast are lame and forgettable as well. The script is so bland and dull that even the best of actors can be forgiven for not making a good jib of things.

I made a point earlier about detail and this film forgoes detail in the highest degree. The wide brush strokes and the characters are there but the film has no depth. Nothing is explored and everything is glossed over in favour of this lacklustre and mostly untrue portrayal of a bad romance novel. Why is Albert at the coronation, for instance? Why? Why? Why is he in England for what seems like an extraordinarily long amount of time? Why does he get shot at the end? This film is so frustrating, shallow and irrelevant at times I wanted to scream. You know what… I don’t want to talk about it.

Rating: 3/10- Not really a good film.


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