Tasmin Egerton

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

Chalet Girl

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Chalet Girl could be the title of a Disney Channel movie and just about has the originality of one, but agreeable performances by a confident cast make this better than your average movie of the month. Oscar-nominated Felicity Jones stars as regular girl Kim who “serves toffs little foods” at an Alpine ski resort and finds herself falling for the dashing son of a jet-setting family.

She is the main reason for the film’s appeal. Infinitely watchable, Jones is charming but with the snappy sarcasm of a nineteen year old who should be doing more with her life than she is. Despite being a good ten years older than her character, the actress pulls off a believable teenager, injecting Kim with a healthy dose of cynicism while maintaining abundant stores of goodwill.

And that’s what the character needs after the death of her mother in a car accident. In her grief, Kim decides to swap a promising skateboarding career for the tedium of a fast food joint. Her other raison d’être is managing her lovable but helpless father (Bill Bailey). Nevertheless, when she gets an offer to work in Switzerland, she jumps at the chance, even if it means leaving dad to his own devices.

At first, Kim seems to be an ill fit for the chalet girl life, which, for those of us who aren’t in the know, is something akin to a housekeeper, cook, and PA rolled into one leggy, buxom blonde. Kim effortlessly handles the hoovering and the foie gras, but she’s less sure about cozying up to the family she’s working for. Her colleague, Georgie (Tamsin Egerton), on the other hand, has no problem stepping across employer/employee boundaries and happily joins in their merrymaking.

Kim’s struggles to find her place play into the generic themes of overcoming class and one’s past. In accepting her mother’s death and thus conquering her fear of the slopes – with help from a scraggly German snowboarder (Ken Duken), she also bridges the working stiff/posh people chasm. Bill Nighy as the patriarch is gentle and forgiving while Brooke Shields is his fabulously condescending wife. She isn’t too pleased when her son, Johnny (Ed Westwick), takes a liking to the girl from steerage despite being engaged to fellow rich person Chloe (Sophia Bush).

If the inter-class romance lacks inspiration, the performances try to patch things up. Besides Jones’s welcome presence, Westwick also smolders effectively as Kim’s lover. He ticks off all the boxes as a reasonably romantic lead and, maybe for the better, doesn’t try to compete with Jones for the spotlight. His chiseled cheekbones and whispered purring are more than enough to make you cheer for the young couple, which in turn will make you want to cheer for the movie.

Released: 2011
Prod: Wolfgang Behr, Pippa Cross, Dietmar Guentsche, Harriet Rees
Dir: Phil Traill
Writer: Tom Williams
Cast: Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Tasmin Egerton, Bill Nighy, Brooke Shields, Bill Bailey, Sophia Bush, Ken Duken, Nicholas Braun, Gregor Bloéb, Tara Dakides, Georgia King, Tom Goodman-Hill, Jessica Hynes
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
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