IN a week where Mothers are celebrated we take a look at two films with strong women at their centre.

THERE was a very sweet real-life moment at the end of Finding Your Feet as a small group of women gathered at the bottom of the cinema auditorium and squinted closer at the credits.

Playing over them was a track that we hazarded a guess was called ‘Running to the Future’, which had started at the uplifting denouement of the movie, but who on earth was singing it?

A big discussion was underway…Cher, Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Dolly Parton. Heads were thrown back and in unison ‘Elkie Brooks’ was squealed as through varifocals eyes clapped on the name when it eventually scrolled up: ‘Ooh she has a lovely voice’.

And this is a lovely little film, unashamedly appealing to the grey pound who will pile into multiplexes for the afternoon screenings (this one a Mother’s Day outing) much like they did for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Victoria & Abdul before it.

We are treated to some fine performances from leading ladies who leaky bladder all over the Hollywood stereotype.

Versatile Imelda Staunton is Lady Sandra Abbott, who we learn gave up a promising turn as a dancer decades ago to be a mother and a supportive shadow to her husband Mike. He is retiring after an illustrious career reaching the very upper echelons of Surrey Police and his wife is looking forward to an Adriatic cruise and Ocado delivery-filled golden years.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), Mike is caught smearing tennis club friend Pamela’s red lipstick all over her face in the larder and Sandra runs away to find her estranged older sister Bif (impish Celia Imrie) in her North London flat to take stock of what happens now when you are 59 and your world is in tatters.

But peace protestor Bif does not see it that way. The free spirit lets Sandra weep into cushions and exercise her OCD on scrubbing the oven clean, but also slowly begins helping her shed her airs and graces and demonstrate that being rich in life does not have to have a monetary value – and all the things that matter rarely do.

That includes rediscovering her love of dance, which takes some twists and turns – from weekly community centre classes to a Piccadilly Circus flash mob and then on to a stage in Rome.

A silver-bobbed Joanna Lumley has fun and some of the best lines as five-time divorcee Jackie, now back on the dating scene. Excellent Timothy Spall is warm and charming as handyman Charlie, who faces some heart-breaking decisions as he realises he cannot fix the situation with his wife as she slips from his grasp with the onslaught of dementia.

If nostalgia is good for you, as is the latest scientific advice, it is dished up in big spoonfuls here. Yes, this film is profoundly predictable and the challenges that come with aging – death and major illness – are portrayed as peaceful and painless with the odd twinge, but nothing a few extra pills cannot ease. Isn’t that what we all hope for though? And there were tears by the end anyway, so anything more realistic might have ruined Mother’s Day.

One film I am glad I did not pick for that event was fellow dance-based drama Red Sparrow – and I was also grateful I had not read anything about it beforehand as on the whole the critics have not been overly kind.

I cannot write too much about it as it will spoil your experience completely, but I hope you trust me enough now to take a chance.

I am a JLaw fan and the fact her script choices are becoming all the more unpredictable so add that to a drop of espionage, pertinent given the current news headlines, and I left the cinema satisfied if a little virtually battered and bruised.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Bolshoi prima ballerina Dominika Egorova, who is dramatically forced to look at other career choices in order to take care of her ailing mother (Joely Richardson).

Witnessing a murder, her sleazy uncle Ivan offers her two choices and she ends up under the uncompromising rule of Matron (Charlotte Rampling) at seduction school where one learns how the sins of the flesh can be wielded as a weapon.

Emerging as head girl, she is then charged by the Russian government with keeping tabs on CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) and discovering his Moscow mole.

There is a tense hotel floppy disk exchange, there is a bag of money in a bin, there are black and white photographs in a Manilla envelope tucked in an architrave and there is claret splattered up a shower curtain so that is all the usual boxes ticked.

However, there are also unflinching depictions of torture and sexual violence that do not just make your toes curl, your knees will end up around your ears and these will shock the audience (behold a new use for a skin graft machine). Yet none of it feels gratuitous for gratuitous sake.

It is directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation), off of the Hunger Games franchise, which we might forget was a tough watch at points.

The red thread successfully runs throughout with nails and heels and taffeta and interiors and carpet and an awful lot of blood. The Budapest locales may genuinely lead me to take a weekend break there, they are that glorious.

Yes, Jeremy Irons’ Russian accent falters at points, but I found that a little charming more than irritating. I am scrabbling about for a negative here and that is all I can offer up.

Lawrence looks stunning with her brunette then box blonde fringe and glossy curls and I should think the lifeguard would have fallen off his high chair when he saw her stride into the pool in her barely-there costume, the first place she ‘bumps into’ Nash. The movie might not showcase all of her many talents as an actress, but then the hardness and restraint may be more about the hint at her character’s past; traumas, abuse and possibility even incest.

It is a bleak and brutal but badass spy thriller and it doesn’t spoil anything to say in the smart conclusion that Dominika regains some semblance of power that men around her are constantly trying to strip.


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