History Challenge 44-45 | Looming Darkness

We’re not far off the end now. I can see it coming just around the bend. Some of the most dramatic and exciting parts of British History are still to come, but also some of the saddest. And we start with a murder, supposedly.

# 44: Gosford Park

General Opinion: The mutant offspring of Agatha Christie and Oscar Wilde… And that’s not a good thing.


I like Agatha Christie (though too much of her books at once and she gets a bit samey,) and I liked detective stories (when they’re done well) so I was very much looking forwards to this one as it seemed to be a modern take. But alas, our love was never meant to be as this is one really crap film. I’m not using the term crap loosely here. It has few to nill redeeming features. Every way you look at it, from an entertainment or a historical perspective it comes out as stoolwater. Even though previous ‘really bad’ films have had their redeeming qualities, this doesn’t. Even fucking Braveheart was at least watchable, if only to see how bad it actually got. And A Man for All Seasons had the history there, but was just really dull. This film has neither the history nor the entertainment value to outdo either of them. Seriously… IT MAKES BRAVEHEART LOOK GOOD!

For a start it’s set in November 1932. This is made quite clear. Now, at this point society was reeling. The horrors of the First World War were still fresh, the Wall street crash had devastated the economies of the world, Nazism was on the rise, communism and socialism were sweeping the world and the old, prim and proper relationships of Upstairs and Downstairs society were winding down and developing into something new. There is no hint WHATSOEVER of any of this. None. In fact, you would hardly know it was 1932 at all if it didn’t explicitly say so at the beginning. If I hadn’t been given this information I would have said it was set at some point in the very early 1920’s, post First World War, at a push anyway as stylistically it’s all over the shop. Some bits look genuinely thirties. The clothes look slightly odd and late Edwardian whilst everything else is a mixture of Victorian and 1920’s. And servants were much better treated in 1932 than they are here It’s maddening. This films gets all the critical details wrong. Styles, fashions and attitudes are all out-of-place and the entire film comes off as what it is: An American take on 1930’s British society.

And what is worse than the style of the film is the writing. I’ve already mentioned how the script makes little to no mention of events political or social. What they do talk about is so banal and trivial that it comes off like something that Oscar Wilde wrote one night whilst extremely drunk and off his tits on opium, and that’s bad. The main point of the film, the murder, is sidelined in favour of banal trivialities and what time is devoted to it makes it so damn predictable as to who did it you might as well look up the answer on Google. To try and throw you off the scent the script does something even worse. They have people exclaiming rather loudly in obvious earshot of other people ‘YES… I HATED THE BASTARD AND I’M GLAD HE’S DEAD!’ Doing this doesn’t work, especially as the characters are so two dimensional and flat that they appear to have no motive whatsoever.

As for the characters. There are far too many of them. Far too many to sustain a good murder mystery, especially if you combine both servants and masters. Go back to Agatha Christie… Her detective stories are tight, clever and usually have no more than about five or six suspects. In some of the more well known ones she has more but she tones the less likely ones down and concentrates on the major players. As most of the characters here are played by fifth and sixth rate nobodies you never know who is who or doing what or what they’re purpose is. And the bigger stars? All wasted… Gambon, Fry, Mirren… If you’re watching this film for them, don’t bother. The cast is so big that nobody, not even Stephen Fry who plays the police inspector (whose character is really badly written BTW) gets enough screen time to shine. Nobody develops, which makes the film so dull and tepid that you lose almost all sense of reality and hope. But to be fair, they did try to include someone to stop that happening: Ivor Novello. Really. IVOR NOVELLO. He serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s fairly obvious that he didn’t do it or isn’t going to get bumped off. He just serves no purpose other than to make the film seem more real. And they got him completely wrong. They seem to have confused him with Noel Coward. Yes, they did similar things but they didn’t have the same personality. Ivor Novello was from Cardiff ffs and he was an absolute fanny magnet (despite being openly gay!). Here you get no sense of that. They just get it absolutely wrong.

Now if you look on the internet you’ll see critics fawning over how wonderful it is, how superb, how elegant… Most of the ones I could find were American. I found a few which quite rightly said this was rubbish, and it is! It seems to me like one of those films that people just like to wank over for the sake of wanking over a film.  It’s not good as it tries to emulate both Oscar Wilde and an Agatha Christie style 1920’s murder mystery as a serious piece, but it just gets shat out as some mutant offspring of the two.

Rating:0/10- Worse than Braveheart? definitely.

#45: The Kings Speech

General Opinion: A stunning effort but rough in certain areas.

Review: The future George VI has a stammer and goes to a man called Lionel Logue to correct it… Thus ensues a life long friendship between the two. This film is as simple as that and it sticks to the point whilst also dancing around most of the political turmoil of the late 1930’s to add a bit of gravitas.

Ok… It’s fairly obvious what they’ve done. They’ve done a bit of chronology swapping here. Most of the main plot events (The speech therapy etc…) happened in the mid 1920’s over a month, not several years in the late thirties as is depicted here. But I can see why they’ve done it. The politics of the 1930’s is far more interesting than the politics of the 1920’s and more people are likely to know about the abdication crisis and the rise of Nazi Germany than would know about the general strike of 1926. And there isn’t as much you can get out of the general strike that’s personal to the main characters. If you set it in the 1920’s it would be a flat film about a man visiting a speech therapist. As it stands, however, the politics and events of the 1930’s are used to push the characters along and add weight and interest to the film. I’ve said before that it’s rare I commend a film for a bit of inaccuracy but sometimes it works better that way, like here.

Not that all the inaccuracy in this film is done in the right. There are some other minor, factual faults that don’t fit. For instance, Edward VIII wasn’t present at his father’s death. He was actually in Africa at the time. He also spoke with a cockney accent in private, which curiously is never even hinted at here (Just like Queen Victoria’s German accent is never used in film!) He also didn’t cry onto his mother’s shoulder, that was his brother after the abdication. And as for the abdication itself, no mention is made of Churchill rewriting it. In fact, Churchill was a supporter of Edward and not of the abdication…

But saying that, the characters are presented well, despite the minor factual inaccuracies. Colin Firth does an excellent job of playing Bertie/George. It’s a very accurate portrayal, down to the mannerisms and voice, Although he might be a bit fatter than the real one. And as for Helena Bonham Carter… Well, for once she actually does rather well… Although the accent isn’t right:

And Gambon’s back again- This time playing George V. And do you know what? He looks a bit like him. They’ve got the beard right this time and it’s not just glued to his face. And Derek Jacobi well serves his turn as Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury. As we see in the footage used of the actual coronation, they do look alike, although that footage is carefully edited to show only the backs of people’s heads. And Geoffrey Rush also makes for a convincing speech therapist. I’d certainly trust him if i had speech problem. He plays of Colin Firth well and the unlikely friendship between the two works well and is portrayed excellently.

It’s a film that’s well worth a watch. Its entertaining and despite a few minor inaccuracies it sticks to the facts. It does miss out a little chunk about appeasement and Edward VIII’s Nazi sympathies (mostly) but then I think the political stuff might overwhelm the main plot point. I can’t really find much bad to say about it but one thing that did disappoint me was the obvious use of CGI for certain buildings. I mean really- was it so damn hard for one scene to clear a bit of Westminster Abbey for a day? Or to get a large crowd to stand outside Buckingham Palace waving flags and film it from the balcony?… They didn’t need the actors there, just stick them in later by green screen. It would have looked better than that crap CGI Queen Victoria Memorial at the end. I wonder how much money they wasted on that when it would have been just as cheap to use the real places?

Rating: 8/10

And if you want to see the real George VI singing, Along with the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, complete with dodgy hand movements…


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