Mary Queen Of Scots (15)

Verdict: Convoluted Biopic  

Rating:

The life of Scotland’s most tragic monarch has always attracted acting heavyweights. Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave both played Mary Stuart on the silver screen, which hands quite a baton to 24-year-old Saoirse Ronan. She is never in danger of dropping it.

In the past 18 months alone, Ronan has received oodles of acclaim for her performances as a lippy schoolgirl in early 2000s Sacramento (in Lady Bird) and an unworldly newlywed in early Sixties England (in On Chesil Beach).

The film starts with Mary (pictured played by Saoirse Ronan) with her head on the block in 1587, but then whisks us back 26 years to her arrival on a Scottish beach

The film starts with Mary (pictured played by Saoirse Ronan) with her head on the block in 1587, but then whisks us back 26 years to her arrival on a Scottish beach

Such is her remarkable versatility that she seems an equally natural fit for 16th-century Scotland. Even her face looks like one Holbein might have painted.

Redgrave’s Mary, back in 1971, had Glenda Jackson to contend with as her cousin Elizabeth I, playing the Virgin Queen as what one critic at the time called ‘a suburban harridan’.

This film is similarly harsh on Elizabeth, not least physically, with Margot Robbie sporting the angriest boils and leakiest pustules a make-up department can offer to show Elizabeth in the grip of smallpox. She is also bitter and paranoid, a striking contrast with Mary, the epitome of poised, proud, regal beauty, who only ever loses her head in the literal sense and refuses to be intimidated even by the fire-and-brimstone preacher John Knox (David Tennant, just about recognisable underneath a W. G. Grace beard).

Such is Mary’s pluck in the face of abuse, betrayal, rape and finally execution that she relegates Andy Murray to second-most heroic Scot of the week.

The film starts with Mary with her head on the block in 1587, but then whisks us back 26 years to her arrival on a Scottish beach. She is the well-connected young widow of the King of France, back to assert her sovereignty over a country she left at the age of five and barely remembers.

This film is similarly harsh on Elizabeth, not least physically, with Margot Robbie (pictured) sporting the angriest boils and leakiest pustules a make-up department can offer to show Elizabeth in the grip of smallpox

This film is similarly harsh on Elizabeth, not least physically, with Margot Robbie (pictured) sporting the angriest boils and leakiest pustules a make-up department can offer to show Elizabeth in the grip of smallpox

She also has a powerful claim to the English throne. But Mary, of course, is Catholic. The English court will not countenance her as either a rival or successor to Elizabeth.

And there is redoubtable opposition to her in Scotland, too, led by the Calvinist firebrand Knox, though even Mary’s own half-brother, the Earl of Moray (James McArdle), is scheming against her.

There is, it seems, hardly a flagstoned hall in the realm that does not echo with the sound of devious plotting and counter-plotting. If you think the Brexit brouhaha has become an exercise in back-stabbing duplicity, you should see Mary Queen Of Scots. Maybe that’s a good reason to catch it: the fact that it makes Brexit seem like light relief.

It is also, for anyone without a PhD in early-modern politics and sectarianism, an exceptionally complex tale. Beau Willimon’s screenplay strives nobly to straighten out the convolutions, but all I can say is that I watched this film with my wife, and there were very few stretches when both of us knew exactly what was going on at exactly the same time.

As the mastermind behind the excellent U.S. version of the TV drama House Of Cards, Willimon knows a thing or two about political chicanery, but the Tudors and Stuarts rather get the better of him.

Bitter rivals: The Oscar-nominated actress, who plays the Scottish queen in the film, said the actresses were kept apart so they could experience the shock of each other's royal transformations (above Margot as Elizabeth I)

The Oscar-nominated actress (right), who plays the Scottish queen in the film, said the actresses were kept apart so they could experience the shock of each other’s royal transformations (above Margot as Elizabeth I)

Still, it’s clear enough that much of the headache south of the border is caused by Elizabeth’s ‘barren womb’. Once Mary acquires a husband, and in due course an heir, the English throne is there for the taking. Elizabeth’s advisers, led by William Cecil (Guy Pearce), are aghast.

To make matters even worse, the husband she chooses is Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden), following a lubricious sexual act that I don’t recall being performed on Miss Redgrave by the young Timothy Dalton, who played Darnley in the 1971 film. As it happens, that was the set where their long-term real‑life romance was kindled, but on-screen, at least, those were more innocent times.

Here, it is the last bit of pleasure Mary derives from the bisexual Darnley, a feckless coward who later conspires in the murder of his lover and her favourite, the Italian courtier David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova).

Indeed, men generally emerge from this film with very little credit, which might have been what director Josie Rourke had in mind.

It is her cinematic debut after an illustrious theatrical career, which shows somewhat, especially in the unashamedly stagey scene when Mary and Elizabeth finally meet (one of several liberties that the film takes with historic fact, since they never actually did) in a laundry.

As Mary pushes towards Elizabeth through a seemingly endless series of sheets hung out to dry, there is an irreverent temptation to think of a third woman, Chinese laundry proprietress Widow Twankey. But actually, this device works surprisingly well; and in any case, Rourke makes up for the intense theatricality of her film’s most suspenseful moment by otherwise using the camera to great effect.

And if the Scottish Tourist Board doesn’t endorse this film, for doing for rugged mountains and heathery glens what the TV series Poldark does for Cornish clifftops, then it’s missing a trick.

Glass (15)

Verdict: You’ll see through it 

Rating:

The city of Philadelphia fares rather less well in Glass, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s disappointingly pretentious, overwhelmingly tedious follow-up to his much more compelling 2016 film Split, with James McAvoy reprising the role of Kevin Wendell Crumb, the creepy sociopath and former Philly zoo employee with multiple personality disorder.

There are echoes of Silence Of The Lambs as Shyamalan (who indulges himself with a brief cameo) places Crumb in a high-security psychiatric hospital, under the supervision of a shrink (Sarah Paulson) specialising in people with superhero delusions.

A trailer was released for M Night Shyamalan's Glass featuring startling new footage of James McAvoy's Beast running amok

A trailer was released for M Night Shyamalan’s Glass featuring startling new footage of James McAvoy’s Beast running amok

Samuel L. Jackson in Glass, which serves as a direct sequel to two of M. Night's earlier thrillers, Unbreakable and Split

Samuel L. Jackson in Glass, which serves as a direct sequel to two of M. Night’s earlier thrillers, Unbreakable and Split

Her other patients are Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) and David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who both featured in Unbreakable (2000) and, therefore, make this film the last of a trilogy.

It is also, alas, the worst of the trilogy. As in Split, McAvoy works furiously to give us all the different manifestations of Crumb’s inner demons, but there is still the slight whiff of a drama-school workshop; you can practically hear the crew applauding after each take.

Moreover, far from cranking up the tension — when will these nutters escape, and how? — Shyamalan’s over-complicated script succeeds only in undermining it.

Aptly enough, the deficiencies of Glass are entirely transparent: a terrific cast, let down by a director whose primary motivation seems to be to entertain himself, not his audience.

Beautiful Boy (15) 

Verdict: Sensitive and touching 

Rating:

Mercifully, I have no direct experience of parenting a child addicted to drugs such as cocaine, heroin and crystal meth.

But I have a friend who does, and I don’t know whether to recommend this film to her in the hope that it will show her there might yet be light at the end of a desperately long, dark tunnel — or not to, because watching it will cause her unbearable pain.

Beautiful Boy is based on two memoirs, one by David Sheff (played here by Steve Carell), and another by his son, Nic (Timothee Chalamet).

It marks Belgian director Felix van Groeningen’s English-language debut and one of the producers is Brad Pitt, who has made no secret of his own past reliance on drugs. Even more significantly, the writer is Luke Davies, the Australian whose screenplay for the 2016 film Lion bagged him a deserved Oscar nomination.

Beautiful Boy is based on two memoirs, one by David Sheff (played here by Steve Carell), and another by his son, Nic (Timothee Chalamet - pictured)

Beautiful Boy is based on two memoirs, one by David Sheff (played here by Steve Carell), and another by his son, Nic (Timothee Chalamet – pictured)

Lion was an industrial-scale tear-jerker, also about a much-loved child dislocated from his family — albeit in very different circumstances.

Beautiful Boy does not pack the same thunderous emotional punch, but you might still need a pack of tissues on hand, for dabbing purposes. The film yo-yos back and forth in time, gradually building up a picture of how Nic, despite all his ostensible advantages, simply can’t keep his finger off the self-destruct button, torpedoing family life at the same time.

The rather vague implication is that his parents’ divorce, when he was still a little boy, has somehow contributed to his dependency, yet in most other ways he seems to enjoy a gilded existence.

He has looks, charm, intelligence, his family is well off, and he gets on with his stepmother (Maura Tierney) and two much younger half-siblings.

Timothee Chalamet (left) and Steve Carell (right) appear during a portrait session to promote their film Beautiful Boy

Timothee Chalamet (left) and Steve Carell (right) appear during a portrait session to promote their film Beautiful Boy

So what is it that really feeds his demons? Beautiful Boy slightly fudges the answer and perhaps we don’t even need to pose the question. Besides, his devoted but bewildered father asks quite enough questions himself, applying his forensic curiosity as an acclaimed magazine writer to his son’s illness. It was David Sheff who conducted the last‑ever interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for Playboy, and it’s Lennon’s plaintive song that gave his book, and this film, their titles.

Beautiful Boy has been criticised in some quarters for casting such a white, affluent, middle-class perspective on drug dependency. I don’t really understand why; that Nic wasn’t an obvious victim of his upbringing and environment seems to me more of a reason to tell his story.

A perhaps more valid criticism might be that van Groeningen rather sanitises the genuine horrors of addiction, but the performances are so strong (Chalamet was nominated for a Golden Globe and is in the running for a Bafta) that this doesn’t matter, either. It’s a very well-made, sad, sensitive and touching film.

Monsters And Men (15)

Verdict: Unsubtle, but watchable  

Rating:

In Brooklyn , an unarmed black man is shot dead in an altercation with police. Monsters And Men examines the aftermath of the shooting in three distinct chapters, from the perspectives of three men who are tangentially involved.

One (Anthony Ramos) was a witness to the shooting, a Hispanic whose decision to post his mobile-phone footage on social media might harm his employment chances.

Monsters And Men examines the aftermath of a shooting in three distinct chapters (pictured John David Washington in the film)

Monsters And Men examines the aftermath of a shooting in three distinct chapters (pictured John David Washington in the film)

Another is a deeply conflicted African-American cop (nicely played by John David Washington, Denzel’s boy), who knows full well that there is racism in the force. And the third (Kelvin Harrison Jr) is a major-league baseball hopeful, a talented black teenager who wants to join the protest march on the eve of his baseball trials, much to his father’s dismay.

It’s obviously a timely story, and first-time writer-director Reinaldo Marcus Green shoots a lot of it in documentary style, to emphasise its newsiness.

Unfortunately, his drama is undermined by a lack of subtlety; Green hammers the audience with his message, instead of letting us find it ourselves. Nevertheless, this is a watchable and relevant film.

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