GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM REVIEWS - David Strat­ton

The In­vis­i­ble Woman (M) Limited na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Mup­pets Most Wanted (G) Na­tional re­lease Any Day Now (M) Limited na­tional re­lease

RALPH Fi­ennes is at the peak of an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, giv­ing a won­der­fully rich per­for­mance in Wes An­der­son’s de­li­cious The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel, soon to be seen as M (re­plac­ing Judi Dench) in the next James Bond film, and now, with which he di­rected, play­ing the Vic­to­rian era’s great­est writer, Charles Dick­ens.

The film is based on the 1990 bi­og­ra­phy of Ellen “Nelly” Ter­nan by Claire To­ma­lin and ex­plores the se­cret but po­ten­tially scan­dalous re­la­tion­ship be­tween the fa­mous au­thor and the young ac­tress. This re­la­tion­ship is, to some ex­tent, spec­u­la­tive, since the cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Dick­ens and Ter­nan was de­lib­er­ately de­stroyed, but To­ma­lin’s book pre­sents plenty of ev­i­dence.

Fi­ennes’s film, adapted by screen­writer Abi Mor­gan (who also scripted the Mar­garet Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady), un­folds in two time frames, be­gin­ning in 1883 (13 years af­ter Dick­ens’s death) when Nelly (Felic­ity Jones), now Mrs Robin­son, a head­mas­ter’s wife, is liv­ing in the sea­side town of Mar­gate and is re­hears­ing school­boys in an am­a­teur pro­duc­tion of No Thor­ough­fare, a play by Dick­ens and his friend Wilkie Collins (Tom Hol­lan­der). As mem­o­ries of life with her for­mer lover flood back, Nelly, who is given to tak­ing long walks along the beach, takes into her con­fi­dence the Rev Wil­liam Benham (John Ka­vanagh).

She re­veals how, in 1857, when she was 18 and liv­ing with her ac­tress mother, Mrs Frances Ter­nan (Kristin Scott Thomas), she and her sis­ters met Dick­ens, then aged 45, when they ap­peared in a play co-writ­ten by Collins, The Frozen Deep, in Manch­ester.

Dick­ens was mar­ried to Cather­ine (Joanna Scan­lan), who showed lit­tle in­ter­est in his work (not sur­pris­ing, re­ally, as she was the mother of 10 chil­dren), and there was an in­stant at­trac­tion be­tween the cel­e­brated au­thor and the starstruck teenager that led, even­tu­ally, to a se­cret sex­ual re­la­tion­ship.

In his role as di­rec­tor, Fi­ennes suc­ceeds in teas­ing out ev­ery nuance of this prob­lem­atic re­la­tion­ship. At first, when Nelly dis­plays a shy hero wor­ship of the fa­mous au­thor, watched over by her stern yet sym­pa­thetic mother, the man­ners and morals of the era seem de­signed to pre­vent the de­vel­op­ment of a more in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cially given that Dick­ens, the lit­er­ary su­per­star of his era, is in­stantly recog­nised by al­most ev­ery­one he en­coun­ters.

A key scene, in which Nelly helps Dick­ens count the money they’ve raised for a char­ity late one night while her mother sleeps (or pre­tends to sleep) on the sofa close by, is beau­ti­fully re­alised: here stilted con­ver­sa­tion grad­u­ally drifts into some­thing more per­sonal. Im­pres­sive, too, is the scene in which Dick­ens takes Nelly to the home of Collins, where she meets his mis­tress and their child; al­though Nelly is shocked by the un­ortho­doxy of the ar­range­ment, her re­la­tion­ship with Dick­ens continues.

The un­forced in­ti­macy with which Fi­ennes di­rects these scenes is tes­ti­mony to his skill be­hind the cam­era — this is cer­tainly an im­prove­ment on his only other film as di­rec­tor, the overblown ver­sion of Shake­speare’s Coriolanus (2011). Rob Hardy’s in­te­rior cam­er­a­work is con­sis­tently low-key, as be­fits the gaslight era, though it’s a pity he re­sorts to a wob­bly hand­held look in a key scene.

The In­vis­i­ble Woman, over­all, is a film of in­tel­li­gence and subtlety, and Jones’s per­for­mance as Nelly re­flects ex­actly those qual­i­ties — she brings Nelly, with all her com­plex­i­ties, doubts and con­flicted loy­al­ties, vividly to life. WHEN the world’s best-loved glove pup­pets made a come­back in The Mup­pets (2011) the re­sult was sheer de­light — but maybe the new team be­hind Ker­mit, Miss Piggy and the rest should have called it a day and rested on their lau­rels. has the same di­rec­tor (James Bobin) and co-writer (Ni­cholas Stoller), but the magic is largely miss­ing this time. It starts promis­ingly enough with a rather good song about the pit­falls in­volved in do­ing a se­quel but, af­ter that, in­ven­tion seems to flag and many op­por­tu­ni­ties are missed.

The plot in­volves a Ker­mit dop­pel­ganger, Con­stan­tine, the world’s most dan­ger­ous frog, who takes the place of the beloved am­phib­ian in a con­spir­acy in­volv­ing the Mup­pets’ new man­ager, Do­minic Badguy (Ricky Ger­vais), while the real Ker­mit is im­pris­oned in what ap­pears to be a Soviet-era Rus­sian gu­lag, run by the for­mi­da­ble Nadya (Tina Fey).

Badguy and Con­stan­tine plan to steal the crown jewels from the Tower of Lon­don and to that end they lead the Mup­pets on a weary­ing per­for­mance tour around var­i­ous Euro­pean cap­i­tals (Berlin, Madrid, Dublin), where gallery and mu­seum rob­beries take place next to the venues where the shows are be­ing staged.

De­spite the pres­ence of nu­mer­ous mostly un­der-used guest stars, in­clud­ing Ce­line Dion and Christoph Waltz, the film feels list­less and over-ex­tended, and Ty Bur­rell adds noth­ing as a snob­bish Interpol cop who, in the film’s most en­er­vat­ing run­ning joke, is more in­ter­ested in his meal breaks than his in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Much bet­ter is the short film that pre­cedes the fea­ture, Party Cen­tral, a brief but gen­uinely amus­ing en­try in the Mon­sters Univer­sity fran­chise.

is a small-scale in­de­pen­dently made film well worth seek­ing out. Though it doesn’t claim to be based on a true story, it has all the hall­marks of an au­then­tic, per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced rem­i­nis­cence. The year is 1979 and Rudy (Alan Cum­ming in an ex­cel­lent per­for­mance) is lead singer in a drag act in a gay bar. Rudy’s neigh­bour, in the run-down apart­ment house where he lives, is a drug-ad­dicted pros­ti­tute (Jamie Anne All­man) who ne­glects her son, Marco (Isaac Leyva), who has Down syn­drome. Rudy be­friends the boy and, when his mother is jailed, per­suades her to give him tem­po­rary cus­tody. Rudy, mean­while, has moved in with Paul (Gar­ret Dil­lahunt), a lawyer who works for the district at­tor­ney’s depart­ment.

The film, di­rected by Travis Fine, charts the The In­vis­i­ble Woman;

Mup­pets

Most Wanted, dif­fi­cul­ties faced by Rudy and Paul as they fight the au­thor­i­ties to gain per­mis­sion to look af­ter Marco and keep him out of a home for the dis­abled. It’s a film that throws up some in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges for an au­di­ence, and which is a re­minder of a fairly re­cent time when ho­mo­pho­bia was even more of a prob­lem than it is to­day.

Young Leyva has a smile that lights up the screen, but the film makes the mis­take of de­pict­ing sev­eral of the char­ac­ters — Paul’s boss, a pros­e­cu­tor, a judge — as though they were vil­lains from some lesser movie. That the film over­comes this ap­proach is tes­ta­ment to its es­sen­tial spirit.

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