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Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ON STAGE -

12A Jen­nifer Lawrence, Josh Hutch­er­son, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Har­rel­son, Philip Seymour Hoff­man, Ju­lianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, El­iz­a­beth Banks, Don­ald Suther­land, Wil­low Shields, Stan­ley Tucci, Jena Malone HE spec­tre of war casts a long shadow over the penul­ti­mate chap­ter of the block­bust­ing dystopian thrillers based on Suzanne Collins’ best­selling tril­ogy.

The Hunger Games: Mock­ing­jay – Part 1 fol­lows the lead of the Harry Pot­ter and Twi­light sagas by cleav­ing the fi­nal book in two.

This decision, driven as much by greed as artis­tic ne­ces­sity, re­sults in a dark, brood­ing two hours of self-sacrifice almost com­pletely de­void of the propul­sive ac­tion se­quences that dis­tin­guished the ear­lier films.

Jen­nifer Lawrence’s por­trayal of re­luc­tant hero­ine Kat­niss Everdeen, a pawn in the bat­tle of wits be­tween the money-rich Capi­tol and the im­pov­er­ished Dis­tricts, re­mains a mes­meris­ing con­stant.

She de­liv­ers another emotionally bruis­ing per­for­mance, es­pe­cially in early scenes when her bat­tle-scarred teenager stares over the smoul­der­ing ru­ins of her beloved Dis­trict 12, lit­tered with charred skele­tons of friends and neigh­bours who were in­cin­er­ated as they fled.

This hellish vi­sion brings Lawrence to her knees, un­able to hold back racked sobs of pain.

The flood­gates open and screen­writ­ers Peter Craig and Danny Strong take their time chan­nelling her aching sense of loss into an all-con­sum­ing rage that will set the Capi­tol ablaze this time next year.

“If we burn, you burn with us!” she bel­lows down a cam­era lens at Pres­i­dent Snow (Don­ald Suther­land). We don’t doubt it. Kat­niss barely sur­vived the Third Quar­ter Quell.

Sep­a­rated from fel­low trib­utes Peeta (Josh Hutch­er­son) and Jo­hanna (Jena Malone), who are be­ing held in the Capi­tol, Kat­niss gath­ers her strength in a se­cret un­der­ground com­plex.

Her al­lies in­clude child­hood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), men­tor Haymitch Aber­nathy (Woody Har­rel­son), chap­er­one Effie Trin­ket (El­iz­a­beth Banks), ar­chi­tect of the re­bel­lion Plutarch Heav­ens­bee (Philip Seymour Hoff­man) and Dis­trict 13 Pres­i­dent Alma Coin (Ju­lianne Moore). The peo­ple of the Dis­tricts look to Kat­niss to lead them against Pres­i­dent Snow and the armed forces of Panem.

“We’re go­ing to stoke the fire of this revo­lu­tion that this Mock­ing­jay started,” growls Plutarch, com­mis­sion­ing a se­ries of pro­pa­ganda videos di­rected by Cres­sida (Natalie Dormer), with Kat­niss as the re­luc­tant star.

Mean­while, Snow ini­ti­ates his own force­ful me­dia cam­paign fronted by Cae­sar Flick­er­man (Stan­ley Tucci) and a clearly dis­ori­ented Peeta.

The Hunger Games: Mock­ing­jay – Part 1 is the calm be­fore the storm of full-blown con­flict.

It’s a slower burn than pre­vi­ous films and lacks some of the on­screen elec­tric­ity since Kat­niss and Peeta are sep­a­rated, but Lawrence burns bright as the epony­mous ‘girl on fire’.

Effie’s role is ex­panded from the book to bring some comic re­lief to the sub­ter­ranean gloom.

“Ev­ery­thing old can be made new again – like democ­racy!” she chirrups. Maybe so, but as Part 1 makes abun­dantly and ag­o­nis­ingly clear, you have to sacrifice in­no­cent lives to sweep away the past.

Emma Bar­ton and Gavin Spokes in the hit com­edy Cer­tifi­cate Stars

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