Tag Archives: Mark Strong

The Young Victoria

It’s very easy to forget that the monarchy is made up with real, living, breathing people. Extremely privileged people of course, who are often very out of touch with the real world and therefore the people they are meant to represent as well. But people nonetheless. Victoria (Emily Blunt) reminds us that even palaces can be prisons.

By the age of 11 she is made aware of her precarious and burdensome lot in love; the only living heir to King William IV’s throne. Victoria’s teenage years are dominated by her possessive mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the Duchess’ consort, John Conroy (Mark Strong), who imposes all kinds of rules on Victoria. Despite the pressure, Victoria refuses to allow them the power to act as her regent, and she finally takes the crown at the age of 18.

In fact, this only means that even more people seek to control and influence her, including her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), with whom it is hoped she will fall in love for political reasons. Having only just left the clutches of her mother, she isn’t quick to attach herself to someone else, but instead falls under the influnce of Prime Minister Melbourne (Paul Bettany), whom she trusts implicitly, even to the point of constitutional crisis.

Emily Blunt does a masterful job of portraying the young queen – her confidence, her missteps, her optimism, her suspicion, her inexperience and her willingness. Most 18 year olds aren’t ready for such weighty responsibilities but when your birth decrees it, there is nothing to do but step up. She is the sun around which so many orbit, on whom so many depend. A power struggle is inevitable.

The Young Victoria is romantic but lumbering, never quite hitting the right balance of tension and story. There’s a lot of wistfully reading letters aloud while sitting on various tufted couches. But if you’re looking for a Victorian drama, there are plenty of petticoats around, the scenery is terribly opulent. Blunt and Friend have a sizzling chemistry and you almost wish the movie had started rather than ended there.

1917

Time is the enemy, the tag line reads. But also mud. And also Germans, but time first, and mud second. Oh the mud. They trudge through it, slipping and sliding, it squishes between their toes and claims the corpses of men. I worry one of the men will lose his footing in the slippery, unforgiving mud and accidentally bayonet himself, or someone else. The sludge is real. You feel the dirt viscerally just as you feel the time urgently.

Oh the time. Time is the enemy you see. Two young soldiers on the Western front are given an impossible task. Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) has a brother in another unit, an isolated regiment about to walk right into a trap. He and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) need to get to them before dawn to save the lives of 1600 men, but the journey to prevent their massacre is likely a suicide mission.

Director Sam Mendes executes this film with such mastery and technical prowess that it induces a state of anxiety, dread and hyper-vigilance in the viewer, immersing us quite brilliantly in the ethos of the battlefield. Most of the film feels like it’s done in a single take, and because we’re experiencing this nightmare in near real-time alongside the soldiers, the urgency and gravity of their mission infects us with constant tension and foreboding. Inevitably this sounds like a harrowing cinematic experience and it is, but one that’s deeply moving and conscientious and frankly impossible not to admire.

Cinematography by legendary Roger Deakins highlights the horror of war, the monotony of the mud, the pitted landscapes, and is particularly effective at night, when a village burns and is intermittently lit by flares. But his work with Mendes to seamlessly knit together shots to create a visual single take is surely worthy of the Oscar. And Thomas Newman’s score is similarly haunting, some of those trumpet swells literally responsible for a tightening in my chest.

My adrenaline was so successfully engaged that it wasn’t until the very end of the film that I finally indulged in a tear. My nerves were so keyed up that I probably didn’t take a full lung’s worth of breath until I was in the parking lot. 1917 is not easy to watch but boy is it easy to praise.

Stockholm

An American cowboy criminal flies to Sweden to host their first hostage situation. I mean, I don’t think he’s particularly interested in setting precedents, which is funny, because as you might have gleaned from the title, he’s about to create a situation that’ll become famous enough to named after it.

Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke) holds up a bank in Stockholm, but he doesn’t rob it. Instead, he uses it as leverage to have old buddy Gunnar Sorenson (Mark Strong) released from prison. On a roll, he throws in some extras, like a million dollars cash, bullet-proof vests, and a getaway car – standard bank robber demands. The dude doesn’t have an original bone in his body. He’s also not a planner: he asks specifically for a Mustang, and as someone who has not one but two of them in the driveway, I can tell you, you aren’t fitting hostages in that backseat. It’s a two-door car. When you’re running from the law, you don’t have precious minutes to waste trying to fold up grown-ups into a non-existent backseat.

But anyway. Lars has taken a couple of lovely ladies hostage, which is the kind he prefers. And also a dude, who hid rather than evacuated.

Stockholm syndrome is a condition which causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity. Sure it’s strictly irrational, but fear and stress and tension do create a rather specific kind of intimacy. Hostages and hostage-takers may feel like they’ve been through something together. It’s a form of bonding, in a weird way. It doesn’t make sense, but trauma does fucked up things sometimes. Stockholm syndrome is a fucked up thing.

Why would bank teller, wife, and mother Bianca (Noomi Rapace) bond with her captor? Perhaps partly because the cops seem inept. They’re not doing enough to save her and the others. The Prime Minister is not allowing the robbers to leave with hostages, and so they stay, festering in the bank.

Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace give terrific performances, but they’re stunted by a script that fails to do justice to the real events it portrays. Egregiously, it fails to sell the syndrome that gives it its title. I never felt a strong bond between captor and captives, certainly not one that would justify the three hostages not only refusing to testify, but fundraising for the dude’s defense. I rarely felt connected to anyone, or moved by anyone and I never felt any definitive chemistry between the characters either. This is not merely a missed opportunity, but supposedly the whole point of the movie, and it’s delivered so weakly it may as well not exist. I will not and cannot recommend what was ultimately a disappointment.