Rupert Everett

Hysteria (2011)

hysteria 2011

It was thought in the late 1800s, and probably long before then, that a woman suffering from hysteria required stimulation in her nether regions in order to “coax the uterus back into position.” This would right the body and mind, temporarily curing a woman of nervousness, stress, loss of appetite, and any number of symptoms owing to the her weak constitution. Of course, hysteria wasn’t a single disease so often as it was a manifestation of a basic human need. And the thing to satisfy that need – the humble vibrator.

The story of the first such electric massager is brought to humorous life in this film, which weaves a tale of invention with social and cultural change in Victorian England. Mortimer Granville (a wonderfully bemused Hugh Dancy) is a forward thinking doctor who insists on cleansing wounds in order to minimize the chance of infection by germs. The preposterous idea that microscopic bugs could cause so much disease and death gets him bounced from one hospital to another until he lands a position at Dr. Robert Darymple’s (Jonathan Pryce) clinic. Well respected for his ability to relieve women of their suffering, if one can call it that, he enlists the young Mortimer to assist in his hands-on practice, and possibly to form an alliance with his younger daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones).

It’s an amusing film that has great fun with its subject. That Dr. Granville could be so progressive on some areas of medicine yet still subscribe to the belief that women are “unable to experience pleasure without male penetration” garners knowing chuckles. The men are oblivious to the true nature of their work as they briskly oil their hands and finger their way past layers of skirt. Meanwhile, their patients are propped up on an elevated lounge chair, their lower halves covered with a gold and burgundy canopy that lends a certain elegance to the whole affair. Let’s say we’ve come, er, a long way.

And you see how easy it is to give into the temptation to make double entendres and other such coy winks at the audience. There’s sometimes a little too much tongue, and whatever else, in cheek, and the creation of the vibrator and the tremendous social changes that spurred its popularity can seem trite, as if the real significance of the story was brushed aside for some big masturbation joke. One of the first tests of the “feather duster,” as it was initially conceived by Granville’s inventor friend (Rupert Everett), is on an opera singer who’s lost her voice without her weekly sessions. Its success causes her to literally sing in ecstasy, to which I say, to each her own.

The film attempts to add context and seriousness, however, with Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Dr. Darymple’s fiery activist daughter and Granville’s intellectual match. She blazes across the screen, full of righteous indignation, demanding her dowry in order to support a poor house for the indigents who are also her friends. The woman is formidable, and so is Gyllenhaal; there’s never a doubt that Charlotte can determine her course in both work and pleasure, seeking gratification in her high ideals and, should chance allow, a partner who shares those commitments. So while Granville is a hero of sorts, the climactic scene shows Charlotte to be the true model of a liberated woman.

Released: 2011
Prod: Tracey Becker, Judy Cairo, Sarah Curtis
Dir: Tanya Wexler
Writer: Jonah Lisa Dyer, Stephen Dyer, Howard Gensler
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Evertt, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones, Georgie Glen, Anna Chancellor, Tobias Menzies
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2016

Justin and the Knights of Valour

justin and the knights of valour

There are many things to like about Justin and the Knights of Valour. The animation, while not groundbreaking, paints an imaginative world filled with vivid detail. Justin (Freddie Highmore), its star, is also a genial, idealistic youth. He’s kind and principled, which may explain why his father (Alfred Molina) thinks he should follow in his footsteps and study law. And though it’s not always a respected profession, it’s a secure one in the land of Gabylonia, where legalism rules the day. The kingdom is a place where statutes have worked their way into every detail of daily life. Anyone can be ticketed for shouting too loudly in the streets and strongmen will snatch cats from little girls who haven’t updated their kitty’s vaccination cards.

It’s easy to see why Justin would want to trade a bureaucratic future for a life of adventure, and he dreams of being a knight like his grandfather, the brave and of course valorous Sir Roland. But two things stand in his way – his father and the law. And his scrawny physique. Since the king’s death years ago, the grieving queen (Olivia Williams) has banished knights, whom she blames for her husband’s death. Justin remains undaunted, however, and sets off on a quest, with some nudging from his grandmother (Julie Walters), to reclaim his grandfather’s missing sword and to find courage within himself.

I should stop here before trying to further untangle the various plot and character threads because, despite a strong opening, the movie overreaches and Justin’s coming of age gets lost in a confusion of sub-plots and minor characters, all seemingly to make room for the film’s expansive, all-star voice cast. There are a few key figures who aid in Justin’s self-discovery. He meets Blucher (James Cosmo), a monk and former knight who was also Sir Roland’s best friend. A colorful and scrappy old guy, Blucher puts Justin through the ringer and dispenses sage advice. Talia (Saoirse Ronan), a fiery barmaid, eventually turns sidekick while Lara (Tamsin Egerton), a selfish rich girl, is the lady to whom Justin dedicates his quest. Looming in the background is Heraclio (Mark Strong), a fallen knight who wants to reclaim his place in Gabylonia.

This film is hardly this straightforward though. A full slate of sideshow distractions leaves you wondering about the movie’s focus, which seems to be concentrated more on star power than on story. Antonio Banderas voices Sir Clorex, a vain handyman who passes himself off as a knight, David Walliams portrays a soothsayer/wizard/nut who hangs out at Talia’s bar and dispenses fortunes and gobbledygook in equal measure, Rupert Everett plays a fashionable jester and/or knight in Heraclio’s service, and Charles Dance is the head monk whose purpose I don’t remember.

The characters certainly add some laughs, and kids might enjoy their distinctiveness, but none are particularly important to the story. Justin’s journey is not just about following his heart but also about his relationship with his father, who in turn remains very affected by the actions of his father. There is potential for some Pixar-level pulling of the heartstrings, but the film never capitalizes on these moments, making Justin and the Knights of Valour a not altogether successful quest.

“Heroes” by Rebecca Ferguson:

Released: 2013
Prod: Antonio Banderas, Marcelino Almansa, Kerry Fulton, Ralph Kamp
Dir: Manuel Sicilia
Writer: Matthew Jacobs, Manuel Sicilia
Cast: Freddie Highmore, James Cosmo, Mark Strong, Alfred Molina, Julie Walters, Saoirse Ronan, Tamsin Egerton, Antonio Banderas, David Walliams, Barry Humphries, Charles Dance, Rupert Everett, Olivia Williams
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: Spain
Reviewed: 2015

St Trinian’s

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If it takes three attempts to plough through a movie, it’s probably not worth recommending. So it’s a rare thing that St Trinian’s manages to scoot by, though it does so more on account of depressingly low expectations. It at least follows a logical, if far-fetched, plot and satisfies its target audience of teenage girls, which is better achievement than many films with loftier expectations. Surely that merits a passing grade.

Not that any of the ladies of St. Trinian’s has ever seen one of those. Declared the worst school in Britain by Education Minister Geoffrey Thwaites (Colin Firth), it’s slated to be shut down, but only after he’s humiliated and made an example out of it on national television. And that’s not the only thing that’s keeping Headmistress Camilla Fritton (Rupert Everett) up at night. Its finances are a mess, and the school owes half a million pounds.

The young women are not about to take any of this lying down, or standing up or slumped in their chairs. That’s because St Trinian’s isn’t just any school but a hotbed of anarchy. There is learning to be sure but none of it academic. Instead, the students are skilled in the arts of booby trapping, bootlegging, and vodka brewing, among others. This comes as a shock to new girl Annabelle Fritton (Talulah Riley), the headmistress’s niece. Her cleancut ways put her at odds with everyone, and they make their dislike known with a hazing on her first night.

The responsible teacher in me is appalled by the cruelty and intellectual disinterest of both students and teachers there. I’m also uncomfortable with the ease at which the older form girls parade their vampy sexuality around the first years. It’s like watching a perverse anime come to life, or a comic book – the movie is based on drawings and stories published in the 1950s. But I suspect much of the appeal is the fact that St Trinian’s is an outsider’s haven. The girls segregate into familiar cliques, but faced with the prospect of going to “normal” schools, they quickly scheme together.

The plan is to enter and then cheat their way through the TV quiz show, School Challenge, in order to land a spot in the finals filmed at the National Art Gallery. That way, they can steal a valuable painting, flog off a forgery to a wealthy and clueless buyer, and then return the real one for reward money. It’s an outlandish idea, criminal and devoid of any moral good, but it’s also a classic heist that’s tightly plotted and makes sense in the scheme of things. A certain portion of the audience will think the whole affair highly clever, and these same people will thrill at the way the ladies outwit and rebel against the system. But the movie is really no more than a teenage caper, albeit one with high(er) production values and a dizzying carousel of slumming thespians. It offers relentless and daring secondary school hijinks but never any real subversion.

“St Trinian’s Theme” by Girls Aloud:

Released: 2007
Prod: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson
Dir: Oliver Parker, Barnaby Thompson
Writer: Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft
Cast: Rupert Everett, Gemma Arterton, Colin Firth, Talulah Riley, Russell Brand, Lena Headey, Tasmin Egerton, Antonia Bernath, Amara Karan, Paloma Faith, Juno Temple, Kathryn Drysdale, Lily Cole, Holly Mackie, Cloe Mackie, Jodie Whittaker, Fenella Woolgar, Toby Jones, Celia Imrie, Stephen Fry, Anna Chancellor, Lucy Punch, Mischa Barton
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015