Tag Archives: Hugh Bonneville

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey told the story of the Crawley family – Lord and Lady Grantham, their daughters, and the enormous estate on which they live. When we first met them, in our 2010 and their 1912, the Crawley family is despairing. The Crawley fortune has been diminishing for years; the Earl of Grantham has just barely held on by marrying a wealthy American, but the two have had only daughters, so there is no male heir to inherit his title or their home. Of course, that’s not their only obstacle, and they aren’t the show’s only characters. An enormous staff is necessary to keep the house running. And while the British aristocracy is declining, the lower classes are rising up, and the two are at an interesting and eventful crossroads. There is an important division between the upstairs and downstairs, one that made for an interesting watch throughout the show’s 6 seasons.

Cut to the movie, circa 1927. The estate is still limping along, although it has lost many of its original (and necessary) domestic servants (don’t worry: the ones you know and love from the show are all present and accounted for). The family are trying their best to economize where they can, but have just received news that’s sure to cost them a pretty penny: the estate is being honoured with a visit from the King and Queen. The enormous burden this presents for the staff is offset by the privilege of serving the royal family – but then the royal family sends ahead their own staff – cooks, butlers, footmen, maids, the whole kit and caboodle, and instead of being happy for some time off, Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and the whole beloved staff interpret it as the a slap in the face. Will they take it sitting down? Hardly. They’re polishing the silver with mutiny in their hearts. Meanwhile, upstairs, the Dowager (Maggie Smith) is still plotting to save the estate and her son’s hereditary title. And the family’s black sheep, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) is being surveilled because the monarchy takes no chances with Irish republicans, even if they’ve married into the British aristocracy.

The show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, is on hand to write the perfect screenplay to throw all of the characters back into their country home. It’s everything a fan of the show could want: the stunning, sun-drenched rooms are made spic-and-span, the servants are scheming, the ladies are asserting themselves, the lower classes are rebelling, times are a-changing, and there are plenty of reasons to motivate several costume changes.

And just for a moment, can we talk about those costumes? Costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robbins worked with John Bright of the costume company COSPROP, which has some of Queen Mary’s actual gowns that could be studied for authenticity. The dress made for the movie was made using actual material from one of the Queen’s original dresses. For the ball scene both Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) wear vintage dresses embellished by the film’s costumers. Dame Maggie Smith’s character, also in vintage, sports a real 19th century platinum tiara with 16.5 carats worth of actual diamonds on loan from Bentley & Skinner of Piccadilly, jewelers by Royal appointments. La-di-dah.

While the film pays respect to the past, it also has an eye to the future, with the Countess Dowager passing the baton, as it were. There’s a certain resolve within the family to keep the estate going for as long as possible, but you and I know the writing’s on the wall, so while the fixtures gleam under the staff’s careful attention, there’s a slight tarnish to it too.

Literally everyone is back, an ensemble impressive in both quantity and quality. And though I wouldn’t have had it any other way, their sheer number means we don’t get a whole lot of time with any one of them. It’s just a taste, really, an amuse-bouche, enough to leave your mouth watering for the main course, but alas, we skip straight to dessert. Still, it’s so nice to catch up with our old pals and considering the film’s success, it needn’t be for the last time either.

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Notting Hill

Don’t even try to tell me you’re not charmed by Notting Hill. Don’t. Even.

Directed by Roger Michell from Richard Curtis’s script, it’s really just about a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to play it cool, goddammit.

Mega superstar and talented actress Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into a cute neighbourhood (travel) book store and meets bumbling store owner Will (Hugh Grant) and though their worlds are both geographically and metaphorically miles apart, they somehow allow a mutual attraction to play out.

Endearingly, their first real date is a group thing, a dinner party thrown in honour of Will’s little sister’s birthday. The friends assembled are a notable bunch of kooks. The birthday girl, Honey (Emma Chambers), has no chill at all; having always fantasized a famous bestie, she immediately gloms on to Anna. Host and cook Max (Tim McInnerny) will be mortified he’s just served meat to a vegetarian. His wife Bella (Gina McKee) is just so happy that Will’s brought a girl that she can’t help but embarrass him over and over. And hopeless Bernie (Hugh Bonneville) is sweetly clueless, not even recognizing the fame monster in their midst, and benignly quizzing her as to whether she’s able to get by on a working actor’s wages (she is). They’re a bunch of nuts, but they’re quite delightful as a group, and Anna is made to feel welcome and not too conspicuous. Will is a door to a quieter, humbler way of life. Not always enamoured with the trappings of fame – though clearly tied to them financially – it’s a wonderful respite for Anna. But is that enough?

No one recites a Richard Cutis line quite as well as Hugh, and no one twinkles half as hard as Julia. They were perhaps not the best of mates on set but it’s a testament to their talent that they are nothing but fireworks on screen.

The cool thing about this movie is that it was actually filmed on the streets of Notting Hill. There really was a house with a blue door (Curtis lived there for a time himself). And there really was a travel book shop, though it was too narrow to film in, so they confiscated an antiques store around the corner and outfitted it with books. Notting Hill has since been overrun with tourists, and not just the kind who come to snap a few pictures and leave. Many have been enticed to buy property there; prices in the area went up by 66% in the 5 years since the movie was released, double the growth rate elsewhere in London. 

Anyway, this film isn’t deep, and perhaps not altogether realistic, either. But it’s so filled with good cheer you don’t mind. And of course you know exactly where it’s going practically before it even starts, but the fun is in the getting there because you get to ride along with such an oddball cast of characters, plus a couple of romantic leads at their peak, floppy haired cuteness.

Paddington 2

I’m not sure what happened, really. I saw Paddington 2 all by lonesome in a cozy dark theatre on a snowy afternoon and then promptly forgot to tell you all about it, apparently. I think it got swept up by the Black Panther press screening we attended later (is that right? I don’t even know anymore!).

Anyway, the bear. The bear is cute and cuddly and everything that is right with movies generally and family movies in particular. It does not particularly pander to adults (aside from that nostalgia factor) but its earnestness and whimsical panache will reel you in like a bear to marmalade.

Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are back and Mary and Henry Brown, the big-hearted couple who adopted sweet Paddington in the first movie. He’s well ensconced in the Brown family, but gets into a bit of a scrape when his plan to earn money doing odd jobs (VERY odd jobs) for his aunt Lucy’s birthday present goes Brody-Paddington-2awry. Basically he’s chosen too good a gift, and someone beats him to it – a thief! But it’s poor Paddy who gets the blame, and somehow he gets thrown into gen pop prison, even though a) he’s a bear and b) he’s really just a cub. It says terrible things about Britain’s criminal justice system, when you think about it. Anyway, while in prison he falls in with rather a rough crowd, as tends to happen, and soon he’s Knuckles’ bitch. I mean, it’s decidedly less vulgar than I’m implying. He and Brendan Gleeson basically make sandwiches together until until either they escape or the Brown family gets their shit together.

Hugh Grant joins the cast as a rather seedy actor, a part he seems quite qualified to play. In fact, a whole Boaty McBoatload of famous British actors line up to do these movies so you can basically play a rousing round of who’s who Bingo and never come up short.

Paddington 2 still enjoys a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I’m certainly not going to be the difference maker. It’d charm the pants right off you, if only Paddington was the sort of bear who wears pants (he’s not; he thinks a coat and hat suffice). It’s awfully sweet but not tooth-decayingly, and it’ll warm up your hibernating heart.

Breathe

Breathe is the directorial debut of motion-capture artist Andy Serkis, and if there was any justice in this world, it would be his last. [there isn’t: he’s already got a live-action Jungle Book slated next – but at least he seems uniquely qualified for that]

It’s the based-on-a-true-story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous, fun-loving couple who are brought low when Robin (Andrew Garfield) is suddenly and irrevocably paralyzed by polio. He wants to die, but she wants their unborn son to know him, so they compromise: she springs him from the hospital, and he does his best to stop being so gosh darn glum. He’s the first of his kind to live away from a hospital setting, and it’s thanks to the devotion of his wife (Claire Foy) and the ingenuity of a friend (Hugh Bonneville) that he’s able to do more than just survive.

So yes, there’s an inspiring story in there somewhere. This is Andrew Garfield’s most hero_Breathe-TIFF-2017Eddie Redmayne role yet, but he can’t quite live up to those man-in-chair heights. As his character is paralyzed from the neck down, all he has to use is his face, and of course he overuses it. I liked Foy’s performance a lot better than Garfield’s. He came off as grating; Sean called it nearly unbearable. But he’s far from the only problem with the movie. First, the script is cloying, predictable, and overly sentimental. It’s an emotional predator, designed to wring tears from your face. I refused to comply. It hits the all-too familiar beats of a biopic and doesn’t stray once from conventional story-telling. But Andy Serkis’s direction does stray from the norm, and from the tolerable. It’s shot in an ultrawide aspect ratio that I hated. I felt like I was watching a skinny rectangle at best, but often felt as though I was viewing the movie through a fishbowl. Serkis’ angles are often weird, and not quirky weird, but uncomfortable and off-putting. But I suppose the worst crimes against this little against-all-odds love story is that Serkis rushes through the prologue, the courtship, the thing that should make us understand why this guy deserves so much devotion, why their love is so strong that she’s willing to wipe his shitty bum and go without sex for the rest of her life in order to keep a suicidal man alive. It’s a crap life for her. I’m not saying it’s not worth it, just that it’s always going to be difficult. And I realized that though there are seemingly lots of movies about men being tended by loyal wives, the same is not true in reverse. Husbands cut and run. So really the movie’s most interesting character is Diana, and we know little about her. We don’t see any of her struggles or her inner life. In fact, for Breathe’s 117 minute runtime, I’m not sure we got to know anyone particularly well in this movie. And that’s really too bad.