A sweeping and soaring romantic epic

Whenever my Grandma watches something she really likes or is moved by she’ll simply say, with her Welsh twang ‘Oooh that’s lovely!’ As soon as the credits starting rolling on Brooklyn I found myself uttering her almost-catchphrase, as the film that had gone on before was one of pure and unadulterated loveliness. With the three charismatic central leads, the countless scene-stealing supporting roles and spectacular scenery, told with such carefully constructed and emotive style, Brooklyn is a shoe-in for the awards season.

In 1952 Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) hands in the notice for her Sunday job at the local shop. She is leaving her small village in Ireland, her home and the only place she has ever known, to move to Brooklyn. On Ellis’ behalf her older, and much- adored older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), wrote to Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) an Irish Catholic Priest living in Brooklyn asking to give Ellis a chance. Flood agrees to sponsor Ellis – paying for her travel, the start of her accommodation and finding her a job – as there are no opportunities for a bright girl like her his offer is a life-line to a new life. The ferry journey to America is hard, the first few weeks in Brooklyn even harder. She feels so homesick she is scared that she is going to die. It does fade however with time and love – in the form of Italian-American plumber Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). But when tragedy strikes she must return to Ireland.  Ellis soon becomes torn between her new life in American and a new life being offered by a possible new love, eligible bachelor Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). She must choose between both countries, and they both promise.

This film is good. So good in fact that ‘good’ is an inadequate adjective. It’s marvellous. It’s wonderful. It’s exquisite. Few films are this charming: so full of pathos that stimulates both heart and mind. It even appears impossible to think of one negative trait that this film possesses – no fatal Achilles heel is present here. The performances by the entire cast are outstanding, allowing for the creation of an astonishingly well-crafted very real-seeming world.

Each character is three dimensional and rounded, yet this is Ronan’s movie. Her Ellis’ is able to articulate so much with the smallest of expressions – her internal turmoil revealed with looks rather than prosaic audible contemplations. Cohen and Gleeson both hold their own, creating characters that are shown to be equal in terms of romantic possibilities. Often films with a romantic triangle will be unfairly weighted in favour of one of the choices, pushing the audiences favour in one way. This is not true of Brooklyn as the polar opposite men, confident alpha-male Tony and charmingly unassuming Jim both offering lives which could suit Ellis, if only she could work out what it is that she wants.

Set in the 1950s, it is the perfect time capsule movie. The costumes are jaw-droppingly and envy-inducingly gorgeous. The characters are believable for the era, Julie Walters is truly hilarious as the owner of the single women’s boarding house. The music makes the heart-strings pull that much tighter.

The fear of choice, of choosing the road not yet taken, is portrayed tenderly and with nuance. Not a hint of melodrama here. A timeless must-see movie.


Crimson Peak

A film review/love letter for Guillermo Del Toro’s macabre masterpiece.

Finally. Six months in and 40 reviews written this film comes along. A Neo-Gothic epic. This is my kind of movie. The Gothic is arguably one of cinemas most underappreciated genres. This is a huge error as the tropes of the Gothic allow itself to become the truest articulation of the psychological state. Guillermo Del Toro knows this. He’s made a career of it. And this film could be his mainstream opus. The intent and scope of Crimson Peak is worthy of the highest praise: the end product astonishingly beautiful.

As an aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) revels in Romantic turmoil.  Her father Carter (Jim Beaver) is devoted to her and her literary exploits; having lost his wife when Edith was ten he is all too aware of the loss and pain that love can bring. His protective paternal instincts kick in when a mysterious stranger arrives into town. Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) intent is to persuade self-industrialist Carter to invest in his machinery – it’s the last hope for he and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to restore their family estate. Carter takes an instant dislike to the Sharpe siblings; upon observing Thomas’s intent towards his daughter he becomes determined to drive them apart. However, when tragedy strikes, Edith and Thomas are pushed further together – they marry and brings her to England. Upon arrival at Allerdale Hall, observing the decrepit building and the red clay-tainted oil that desecrates the landscape, Edith realises that she must try and escape the ghosts of the past and the threats in her future.

It is impossible to over-appreciate what Del Toro has achieved here. He has utilised the motifs of the genre – the double, the spiral staircase, the brooding stranger and the desperate maiden clasping at a candle which represents her life – to create a gloriously grotesque tribute to the original 1940s Gothics whilst utilising contemporaneous cinematic creativity. The Gothic triumphed in literature during the early 1800s, and peaked in cinema during the 1940s. Though set in the same era the filmic versions of the Gothic reflected the fears of the then-present. Women were leaving the household and entering the workplace; then forced back into the home when they returned from war. Unsurprisingly there was a flux of marriages; women agreeing to marry men they had just meet believing they would not return from war. Yet so of them did, and these women realised the once-romantic gesture had in fact resulted in their being married to strangers. Films like Rebecca, The Spiral Staircase, Secret Beyond The Door and Sleep, My Love utilised this intrinsic, yet utterly understandable fear to great effect. What united them thematically was a narrative that echoed Charles Perrault’s folktale Bluebeard – what is essentially a fable warning women against marrying alluring strangers. Why this is all relevant is because few new films, one that are not reliant on being literary adaptions, even attempt to make a film in this style – let alone join the canon.

An unholy union is made between set, music, cinematography and mise-en-scene. The sets in particular are astonishing and breath-taking – with so much to see it becomes almost overwhelming, echoing the confusion of our maiden in distress.  Crimson Peak is a product of passion. Every aspect has clearly been carefully chosen and with love, which pays off ten-fold in the film’s visceral emotive impact. Combined Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain make a character triangle which entraps the viewer – ensnaring them in this house of fear. This is a world where ghosts breathe and houses bleed. Melodramatic? Yes. Unashamedly and unabashedly so. Whether the film ultimately gets lost at this point, with a third act that becomes overwhelmed by pastiche, is up for personal debate. Ultimately this film is delightfully creepy – with sumptuous sets, creepy casts and unforgettable visuals – it’s an archaic yet inviting film that demands watching.

A true auteur can provide the audience a return journey to another realm. It may not be a realm we would chose to escape to – as is this case it could be a world of terror and fear – yet it was one we are fully immersed in and find the greatest beauty within. Then we are returned – shaken, frightened, bleary-eyed yet grinning. Go watch Crimson Peak and experience it for yourself.