Churchill/Hampstead/Gifted Triple Film Review

Churchill (Director: Joseph Teblitzky) 98 minutes, PG

Having been rather enamoured with Brian Cox’s (the Scottish Shakespearean not everyone’s friendly neighbourhood astrophysicist) turn in the trailer, I had high hopes for this latest study of our wartime leader.

One thing about Churchill is evident; Cox does a great facsimile of Winston Churchill. His performance is undoubtedly stellar. He’s ably supported by Miranda Richardson but there’s no doubt the titular Prime Minister is the star of the show. Alas, that is where the positivity ends.

We’re three days from D-Day and Churchill is irate because he remembers the horrors of Gallipoli and thinks D-Day will be a disaster. He’s irate at Clemmie, he’s irate at Monty (Julian Wadham), he’s irate at Smuts (Richard Burden, whose Afrikaner accent is risible), he’s irate at Eisenhower (John Slattery) and he’s irate at his secretary (Ella Purnell). Crikey, at least he keeps his cool with the King.

It’s not bad per se, but neither is it exciting. I’m usually a fan of these political biopics: claustrophobic rooms, lots of dialogue, (preferably from a screenplay smattered with Sorkin’s fingerprints) but this one didn’t hit the mark. I all too easily saw through Jospeh Teplitzky’s attempt to have his narrative cake and eat it too; as he unsuccessfully attempted to show both Churchill’s concern for loss of life and his bombast as a war hero.

While I praise Teplitzky for not sanitising things, he shines not so much a spotlight as a dimly lit pencil torch on Churchill’s bouts of depression. Ultimately, I found this frightfully unsatisfying.

TL, DR: There’s only so many shots of cigar smoke trailing over shoulder or Homburg fluttering along coastline that one man can take.

Verdict:

STARSTAR

Hampstead (Director: Joel Hopkins), 103 minutes, 12A

Hampstead_poster

This week’s contestant on Britain’s got Rom-Com Talent is 46-year-old Joel Hopkins from London. No, me neither. This keen, if uninspired, student of Richard Curtis’s finest vintages, selected NW3 to be his upper middle class, trendy post code of choice. Hampstead is a bastardisation of the real-life story of Harry “the Hermit” Hallowes, the recently deceased Irishman who, following eviction from his council flat in the Eighties, set up camp on Hampstead Heath and wangled his way into squatter’s rights over the land.

Brendan Gleeson’s broad shoulders do a decent job of bearing the twin burdens of being both an irascible loner and a soft-centred love object for Diane Keaton’s quirky American widow, Emily. Despite some half decent performances, it managed to convey neither compelling romance nor captivating comedy, rendering it rather unfit for purpose.

While I managed to avoid triggering my buzzer halfway through, In the end, it was a big fat “no” from me.

TL, DR: This vapid, saccharine puffery wasn’t worth my time, and it’s not worth yours

Verdict:

 STAR

Gifted (Director: Marc Webb), 101 minutes, 12A

gifted

Mary is a gap-toothed 7-year-old female wunderkind maths genius and the youngest in a line of female wunderkind math geniuses, although the older generations appear to have a full set of incisors. Her mother committed suicide just after she was born and she now lives with her uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Frank just wants a normal life for Mary and we join the family just as Mary is starting school.

Cue skeptical first grade teacher posing improbably difficult problems. Cue child inexplicably answering. So far, so pint-sized Good Will Hunting. Well, not quite. Sure, there’s the obligatory equations on chalk board montage, but what ensues is a family melodrama. This plays out over a custody battle between Uncle Frank and Mary’s grandmother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who is from the beginning marked, annoyingly, as being, “so British”, and clearly therefore the villain of the piece.

The picture poses interesting, if platitudinous, questions about the merits of hot-housing and non-traditional families and does so in pleasant, if predictable, fashion. The setting, on the Florida coast, conjures up memories of Manchester by the Sea. While not a patch on Kenneth Lonergan’s magnum opus, it shamelessly tugs at the audience’s heartstrings. It’s all part of the charm.

Despite being guilty of criminally underusing Octavia Spencer, who provides excellent support as Fred’s neighbour, Roberta, Director Marc Webb (of 500 Days of Summer Fame and Amazing Spiderman disgrace) has produced a perfectly serviceable piece of family fare.

TL, DR: It’s sincere, heartfelt and very watchable.

Verdict:

STARSTARSTAR

 

 

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