Tag Archives: Tom Courtenay

The Golden Compass

I watched this back in 2007 because I adored the book(s) (by Philip Pullman) and was optimistic. Oh 2007, the days of wild optimism.

The movie is…not good. It’s not rotten, there are some attempts at goodness, especially from Nicole Kidman and the visual effects department. But it’s like someone put The Golden Compass through a strainer to sift out all the best bits and made a movie with the wrong bowl.

Yes, movie studios were desperate to recreate that Harry Potter magic, but Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was always a little more cumbersome than its wizarding counterpart; Pullman’s work was not specifically meant for young audiences. But some intrepid readers found him anyway, and loved the way he combined physics, philosophy, and theology but made them accessible via a young protagonist. Those are not exactly movie-friendly themes, and the trilogy’s criticism of religion was of course controversial. When the film got released, christians boycotted it for its anti-religion reputation but secularists balked at this theme’s dilution (and some would say absence).

The film shows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan living in a parallel universe where a dogmatic ruling power called the Magisterium opposes free inquiry and every person has their inner spirit manifested as an animal, which they call a daemon. Before settling into a single shape in adulthood, the deamons of young children tend to shape shift quite a lot. Which is not much use when children are being kidnapped by an unknown group called the Gobblers who are supported by the Magisterium. Lyra joins a tribe of seafarers on a trip to the far North, the land of the armoured polar bears, in search of the missing children.


There’s more to it than that, a lot more to it. It’s not so bad when you’ve got the book in your hands. You can take a break when you need to think on things, or digest others. You can flip back a few pages, read with new insight and understanding. But movie audiences have to take what you’re given, and if a director foolishly tries to stuff too much detail into too thin a story, it’s not just overwhelming but it turns what should be a fun entertainment or a version of escapism into an exercise in fact sorting and memory retention.

There are some dazzling effects and I’m not going to lie: armoured polar bears are kinda the best. Which is why so many of us rooted so hard for the movie. But the movie was too self-important, too busy setting up the next in the series that it forgot to give us a satisfying experience in the present. Which, as you know, not only resulted in its poor performance at the box office, but it ground production on the next two to a complete and final halt. No one will reattempt this for another quarter century. Which is really too bad, because if you’ve read the book(s), you know there’s a compelling story in there, and it shouldn’t be this hard to tease it out.

45 Years

When I first got married, I used to fantasize about a 40th wedding anniversary. As one character in 45 Years puts it, a good marriage is “so full of history”. I couldn’t wait to start living forty or more years of history with the woman I was marrying and to one day hopefully celebrate how we beat the odds and stood the test of time. We lasted a little more than four years.

I knew that marriage would be hard. Literally everyone I knew who had ever walked down an aisle warned me of this and I really did think I understood what they meant. But nothing could prepare me for the seemingly impossible choices and challenges that awaited me. If I, as keen and committed as I was, couldn’t last 5 years, what does it take to make it to 45? I’ve often thought about the kinds of compromises the couples that last would have to make, the things they’d need to talk about, and the things they’d need to avoid talking about.

45 Years looks at what happens when a happily married couple are faced with one of those subjects that they got along just fine without talking about just one week before their 45th anniversary party. Five years before he married Kate, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) lost his girlfriend in a tragic hiking accident. Fifty years later, he gets a letter telling him that her body has been found.

Initially, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) can’t understand why¬†Geoff is so preoccupied with this development. Once she realizes how much he wants to talk about his memories of her, she tries her best to be supportive and starts to ask questions about her husband’s former lover. Although she seems genuinely curious at first, she starts to regret her questions when his answers make it more and more clear that her husband’s previous relationship may have been more serious than she’d been led to believe.

Kate’s jealousy of a woman that died fifty years ago is fascinating. She always knew that Geoff’s last relationship didn’t so much end as was cut tragically short but she seemed to always avoid asking herself the hard questions. Would he have married her had she lived? How often does he think of the life he could have had with her?

What makes a good marriage? 45 years seems to suggest it’s as full of little white lies as it is of history and explores whether a seemingly strong partnership can withstand being shaken up by a little truth. Of course, these are polite old British people in a British movie so the distance that begins to develop between husband and wife may not express itself explosively enough for some audiences. This is a restrained film with restrained performances where the drama comes as much from what is NOT said as from the dialogue itself. Luckily, Courtenay and Rampling are masters of subtlety. Oscar-nominee Rampling in particular is captivating both with the brave face she puts on and the unshakeable doubt that she occasionally shows us. She gives a performance that is way too honest and low-key to ever win her an Oscar. But she gets my vote.