Players: James Marsh (DIR), Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Domhnall Gleeson
Belfast 1973. Car-bombs, killings and riots are rife as the conflict between the British government and IRA intensifies. Witness to this conflating violence is young Colette McVeigh, who 20 years later finds herself in London, embroiled further in the hostility than her child-self could ever have imagined.
Directed by Man on Wire helmer James Marsh this character-driven spy drama oozes a bleak docudrama feel; all peeling wallpaper, greying skies and austere interiors. This tone extends to the actors themselves with Andrea Riseborough as reluctant MI5 informant Colette McVeigh and her case officer Mac (Clive Owen) exuding very little emotion and subsequently receiving very little empathy.
However the impossibility of Colette’s situation, caught between 25 years in prison for an attempted bombing or spying on her fervently Loyalist family, is one which renders the audience sympathetic nonetheless. As suspicions arise and fingers start pointing, the mystery wrapped in misery, will grip you tighter than the government do Colette.
Supporting performances from Gillian Anderson as Mac’s ruthless, secretive boss and Domhnall Gleeson as Collette’s protective IRA terrorist brother add to the restrained classiness of the film. Nobody gives anything away.
This is a gloomy slow-burner by any definition; Tinker Tailor-esque in its attention to detail and superb plotting. However, the tension, subtle as it is, builds to a crescendo worth waiting for. You’ll leave the cinema with shivers.
A clinical, expertly-executed and intelligent political thriller with brilliantly understated performances from the entire cast.
Players: Joe Wright (DIR), Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew McFayden, Kelly McDonald
Having proven skilled at adapting Austen and McEwan it appears Joe Wright wanted to tackle more tragic, epic and quite frankly longer material. Cue Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
A beast of the literary world and a popular choice for cinematic adaptation, questions undoubtedly appeared as to the necessity of another. Clearly unperturbed, Wright not only delivers a mature and visually stunning interpretation of the classic, but one with a truly novel twist – its all set in a theatre.
Whilst this may divide viewers it operates on two levels; as a metaphor for how society is constructed and all its inhabitants performing roles, as well as a visually impressive narrative segway during set changes. Thus the ideologies behind Tolstoy’s 500+ page lament for Russian society resonate well within the theatrical setting.
The cast too are as exquisite as the setting. Keira Knightley as the seduced and thus condemned heroine is at her period drama best in her third pairing with Wright. A coquettish socialite beguiled by the attention lavished upon her by the handsome Count Vronsky (Johnson), she breaks free from the glacial restrictions of Russian aristocracy in rip-roaring, piston-pumping, passionate style with believability and ease. Something Wright forcefully emphasises with consistent train references.
Not short of talented male support, Jude Law as bald, po-faced and tediously duty bound Karenin is almost unrecognisable. Whilst the charming Aaron Johnson as Vronsky displays all the swagger, charisma and boldness first seen in Nowhere Boy. Matthew MacFayden is also worth a mention on scene-stealing form as Anna’s pompous and avaricious brother Oblonsky.
And yet for all its attention to detail, intensity and beautifully elegiac tone, one can’t help but sigh at the sheer length of it. Wright’s motivic repetitions; close-ups of character’s faces and coat-changing vignettes become somewhat tiresome. And ultimately the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic leaving you under-whelmed and perhaps as cold as the Russian landscape itself.
Verdict: Sprawling, slow-paced and slightly indulgent. Sumptuous settings, clever editing and terrific performances can’t quite match the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s novel.