Storytelling: Much (and Little) can be made of simple stories

Hampstead is a romance that relies on a lovely setting and well-known actors to make the film attractive. The final credits of the film also reveal that Hampstead is based on the true story of how tramp, Henry (Harry) Hallowes, squatted on a piece of land in the posh area of Hampstead in the UK, and was finally awarded squatters’ rights to his home. The granting of his rights wasn’t easy and his snooty neighbours were certainly not in favour of the ruling.

So, more than a visually appealing setting and good actors (Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson), Hampstead poses the interesting dilemma of homelessness versus property rights, living off the land versus taking from the land, living by the rules versus flouting the rules. It’s a dilemma because on the one hand we admire Hallowes for his simple existence that centuries ago would have been the norm. On the other hand we live in a world where expensive rates and taxes must be paid for high standards of living. So how do we reconcile the two living systems, if at all?

Unfortunately for Hampstead, the setting, acting and story are spoilt by poor scriptwriting and uneven story development, at times going too fast, at others too slow.

A beautiful South African film (which may already be off circuit) is Meerkat Maantuig. Meerkat Maantuig is a children’s story about death, fear, bravery, friendship and love. The setting is lovely, the characters quirky and the fantastical elements such that the exact location and time in history are unidentifiable and immaterial. Unlike Hampstead the storytelling here is deep, and the main character (played by Anchen du Plessis) well-developed. It’s an example of the depth that can be created by a very simple tale.

Paddington 2 is a Delightful, Exciting Adventure

As many filmgoers know sequels can sometimes be disappointing. Others, however, are superb – as Finding Dory, the prequel/sequel to Finding Nemo – was. See A Feast of Tales’ review of that film here https://wp.me/p4c1s1-dF.

An upcoming sequel which opens at cinemas in South Africa on 1 December is Paddington 2. This sequel, likewise, is excellent. Perhaps even better than the first film Paddington. The action opens showing Paddington (the voice of Ben Whishaw) as a happy and accepted part of the Brown family. Still faithful to his ‘bear’ family, however, Paddington longs to honour his Great Aunt’s upcoming birthday by sending her a special gift from London. He finds an unusual pop-up book depicting famous London landmarks in Mr Gruber’s antique shop and settles on that. But the book is expensive and Paddington has to save up enough money by working. He sets about it with his usual penchant for creating unintended disasters and is finally close enough to buying the book. But someone else who wants the book – for obviously shadowy reasons – is the pompous, fake showman Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant). Before Paddington can buy the book it is stolen from Mr Gruber’s shop, Paddington is framed for the theft and he is sent to prison. Horrors!

No worries there. While the cooky Brown family embark on the difficult task of finding the real thief and proving Paddington’s innocence, Paddington, with his usual unfailing good manners, makes friends in prison. He even wins over the fearful chef Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson), teaches him to make marmalade and makes prison a jolly charming place to be. A series of adventures involving escape, capture, fearful train journeys and determination lead to a happy conclusion.

Paddington 2 is charming, lovely family entertainment. Paddington’s politeness and honesty, and his commitment to family, highlight values worth exposing young children to. It opens at Ster Kinekor on 1 December just in time for the long school holidays. Don’t miss it.

Suffragette comes highly recommended

Suffragette, as the title implies, is a film about the Suffragette Movement in Britain. It is set in 1912, almost a decade after Emmeline Pankhurst founded the organisation in 1903. Importantly, this story focuses on the working women’s struggles to obtain suffrage (the right to vote).

The working class aspect is crucial to the plot as it shows the layers of oppression suffered by women at this end of the social spectrum. The main character, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan sporting a cockney accent), is the person who best represents the effects of these injustices. Maud’s journey into and with the Suffragette Movement and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), forms the basic outline of the film. She is therefore the “representative” of others like her and her experiences give us a good idea of what it took for women to eventually be granted the vote in Britain in 1918 (for women over 30) and 1928 (for women over 21).

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Calvary, an exquisite film

Set in rural Ireland, Calvary is the penetrating story of a Catholic priest, Father James Lavelle (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), his ministry and his treatment at the hands of his parishioners. Sweeping views of a beautiful, but empty landscape focus in on a small Irish village and a select number of characters, echoing a story that is large in scope but detailed in its focus.

The context is framed by the faceless confession of one of James’s parishioners and the Father’s face-to-face meeting with the same man exactly a week later. In the initial conversation, the confessor tells James that as a child he was abused by a Catholic Priest. He vows to wreak his revenge by killing the, albeit innocent, Father James. What follows is a week of Father James continuing with his normal ministry, but in the face of mounting animosity.

This film could be about the Catholic Church’s sordid history of covered-up child abuse. It could be about its exoneration. It could be about man’s loss of faith in the centuries-old Catholic faith. Or man’s desperate clinging to a purpose higher than himself. On the face of it, the film could simply reflect the ironic Christian reversal of a priest “crucified” for the church’s sins against its own.

Calvary is about all of these and much more. It’s a story about real people and their real, individual struggles. From Father Leary, to the atheist doctor; from the homosexual policeman, to the oversexed housewife; from Father James’s daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), to others in between.

Every individual is a complex, well-developed character with a past, and with deep serious issues. Father James is just the counterpoint in this well-balanced, exquisitely acted film.

Calvary is a profound film that is a credit to director and writer John Michael McDonagh. It opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 12 September.

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons.