Monday, 15 September 2014

TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Listen



If the younger viewers of Doctor Who weren’t already having nightmares, they certainly are now. Welcome to Listen, surely one of the scariest episodes of the series since, I’m tempted to say The Empty Child or Blink, but perhaps, ever?

The episode begins as we join The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) delivering an altogether excellent speech ruminating on how, theoretically, evolutionarily speaking, if animals have developed to hunt, and to defend themselves, at least one or two species throughout all of time and space must have developed the ability to hide. Perhaps we’re sharing the room with one of these hiding creatures right now? Perhaps they’re who we find ourselves talking to when there’s nobody around? Perhaps we’re never really alone?

With that realisation, The Doctor sets off to find trusty companion Clara (Jenna Coleman), returning from version one of a disastrous date with ex-soldier colleague Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). “I need you. For a thing”. They head off to account for every living thing’s ‘silent companion’, that familiar nightmare of the monster under the bed. The Doctor asks Clara to hook herself up to the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits, so that they can go back to her childhood and identify the first instance of the dream. Still thinking about the date, however, she is distracted, and the pair end up at a distinctly creepy looking children’s home, with a familiar looking child who is at this very moment plagued by the very nightmare they’re investigating…

This is precisely the kind of monster Moffat really excels at writing. We’ve seen it a few times now –the monster in the corner of your eye, just out of sight; the things that scare all of us. Here, though, we’re delivered an interesting new idea, as there is question as to whether the monsters actually exist at all. The Doctor and Clara travel to the end of time seeking it, in between further attempts at her date with Danny, but every instance of the creature they found had a plausible alternative. ‘Did we just save a child from another child in a bedspread’?  Interesting, and hopefully one to be re-visited.

Not so much a new theme here but a continuing one, was the sense of The Doctor as somehow vulnerable. Here we meet a young version of him, comforted by Clara in the very barn we see the War Doctor visit in The Day of the Doctor. Genius-like link though this was for the overall story arc, it can’t help but conjure up another example of a day, literally, when The Doctor was distinctly un-Doctor like, reminding us that, at the moment at least, he still isn’t quite ‘himself’. Still warming up, there has been a distinct absence of mad brilliance from Capaldi’s Doctor as yet. It’s leaving a wonderful space for the feisty, clever Clara to grow into, flying the TARDIS, telling The Doctor do what he’s told and so on, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find Capaldi’s wittier dialogue laugh out loud hilarious, but we can’t help but miss the wild intelligence, the ‘always-rightness’ of The Doctor.

It was a cleverly constructed episode, with the burgeoning relationship between Clara and Danny providing a neat everyday contrast to the trip to the end of the universe and the scary are they/aren’t they monsters. There were perhaps, as is often the case, a few too many strands for the episode to keep hold of, but the ongoing themes of soldiers and war just about kept it all together.

I couldn’t help but feel some initial concerns with the more family-led aspects, particularly given the (in my view, ill-advised) Amy Pond baby direction of recent series, but hopefully this won’t take over too much and we can all get back to some good old fashioned time travelling and mystery solving.

Speaking of which, where was Missy?

Hopefully she’ll return in next week’s episode, Time Heist, which Becky will be reviewing for your delectation. 


Jen

You can check out Becky’s thoughts on Robot of Sherwood here.

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Helpless

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel and Buffy are back together as she approaches her 18th birthday. Giles has felt increasingly alienated from the Watcher's Council.



Buffy's about to turn 18 and everything seems to be going well, particularly now her relationship with Angel is largely back on track as is her relationship with Giles following the latter's distaste at finding out Angel was alive. However, on a routine patrol, Buffy is nearly staked on her own weapon by a vampire and becomes a distinctly lesser version of her Slayery self. Elsewhere, her father cancels on a rare date to the ice show for her birthday and her attempts to get Giles to take her fall flat. Then there's the small matter that her powers appear to be waning and what at first looks a little like the flu is actually a calculated test called the Cruciamentum, something all slayers must pass on their 18th birthday. Or, you know, die. Giles has been administering drugs on the sly and the Watcher's Council have brought with them a nice insane vampire with a mother fixation called Kralik, just waiting to attack her.

There's a real sense of dread and heartbreak building throughout the episode as we witness Giles, the staunchly principled father figure, betraying Buffy in such a fashion early on in the narrative. It also helps that the brief glimpses we get of Kralik show him to be a singularly terrifying vampire. There aren't many outright moments of action; instead writer David Fury opts for something quieter, building to the haunted house-like sequence in the confrontation with Kralik. Even the final moments in which Giles is fired and Buffy is told she has passed the test are softly done. Rather than exchanging words or apologising, Giles simply tends to Buffy's wounds in a display of the fatherly affection he has just been admonished for.

Helpless also happens to be another interesting fairytale nod here, albeit a little more subtle than last episode's overt offering. Kralik continually draws metaphorical parallels to Buffy's plight as that of Little Red Riding Hood, asking her why she enters the woods or warning her to not stray from the path. The original tale was a warning about the dangers of speaking to strangers, particularly as a young girl. It's something that, with her powers, Buffy has never really had to worry about, but this sudden loss finds her stripped of her defences. We see Buffy sexually harassed on the street, walking alone and suddenly terrified of the shadows, unable to kick the chauvinistic bastard's head in. Ahem. She also happens to be wearing a red coat in a nod to the aforementioned classic fairytale. As a visual symbol, that red coat carries a few other functions too. Red is traditionally used in many places like fairytales to signify a loss of innocence. For Buffy, it's the realisation that not only is her biological father abandoning her, but the other father figure in her life is capable of betraying her. 

The confrontation between Buffy and Giles is one of their best moments in the series, a visceral scene that causes the cracks in their relationship to start widening just a little. It's one of the earlier signs that they're not particularly rock solid as a pair and, like any human relationship, the situations in which they are placed take their toll. It's a sad part of any child's life when they realise their parents are only human and subject to forces outside of their control. It just so happens that Buffy's also comes with the triple whammy of losing her powers and being chased by an insane vampire.

Buffy's loss of power builds into a loss of identity and a loss of confidence; Buffy has spent so long coming to terms with the fact that she is the slayer that when it gets taken away from her, she fears losing herself in the process. It's a standard crisis for a teenage girl, but doubled with the whole power thing, makes it seem that much worse. Sarah Michelle Gellar gets a lot of emotional work to deal with in Helpless, much more than she's been given to do recently and she handles it well, reminding everyone of why Buffy is a hero to root for in the first place. She's just like us, lacking in confidence, ashamed of her younger self and sometimes, she gets betrayed by someone close to her.

This episode offered some much needed development for Buffy who had fallen by the wayside a little bit in the first half of the season. Now, we're over the halfway point, it'll soon be time to get into the overall arc of the season, but not before Xander gets his own moment in the spotlight. Yes, next week's episode is The Zeppo

Quote of the Week:

Buffy [watching as Kralik has a Holy Water-based death]: If I was at full Slayer power, I'd be punning right about now.

Let's Get Trivial: This episode marks the beginning of Buffy's breaking away from the Council, something that will be severed entirely in Graduation Day and not repaired until much later.

Inventive Kill: Buffy poisons Kralik by substituting his water for H2O of the Holy variety.

Demonology 101: This is the only time we see what happens to a vampire when it ingests Holy Water. Which is probably for the best really. He's melting... meeeelltttiiiing.

Sunnydale Who's Who: That's Dominic Keating who goes on to play Malcolm in maligned Star Trek series Enterprise and Kralik is played by Jeff Kober who also portrays magic dealer Rack in Buffy's fifth season.

- Becky

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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Gingerbread

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Joyce has found out about her daughter's identity as the Slayer and is keen to remain an active role in Buffy's life.

A surprise Bring Your Parent To Work Day doesn't go so well for Buffy when Joyce joins her on a patrol to better understand the ways of the Slayer only to discover two murdered children in the park. With a mysterious symbol painted on their hand (and one that would go on to adorn my high school planner for many years to come), witchcraft is soon assumed to be the cause of the murder. Joyce turns her grief into a crusade, uniting the Sunnydale mob into a feeding frenzy and embarking on a quite literal witch hunt. However, things are not all as they seem as the Scoobies continue to investigate and discover that there is something manipulating the situation from behind the scenes.

It may be one of the less well-loved episodes of the third season and on the surface, it does look like a bit of a filler episode. However, it does happen to do some quite clever things with the themes that so often appear in the fairytale source material as well as being packed with references to other similarly-themed works like The Crucible. It's not the first fairytale adaptation to explore the mob mentality, something which Disney's Beauty and the Beast did beautifully in the unexpectedly violent The Mob Song. Writers Thania St. John and Jane Espenson use every opportunity to tear Mothers Opposed to the Occult, or MOO for short, down, whether it's their ridiculous acronym or the frankly medieval way of going about their anti-witchcraft business.

The central exploration of this mob mentality and the dangers of censorship in Buffy's world are expertly done, but there are several other explorations of fairytale tropes going on within the episode. So, if you'll indulge me, it'll be a slightly different post this week. Rather than talking about everything I liked or didn't in the episode, it's going to be a slightly closer reading of the way in which the episode takes these fairytale tropes and themes and remoulds them into something more fitting for the show's feminist leanings.

The narrative specifically references Hansel and Gretel; the two children are a split form of one demon which exists to sow discord amongst communities like Sunnydale. As Buffy says, a twist on their story is that Hansel and Gretel run home to tell everyone about the mean old witch and then sit back and watch as women are persecuted in the name of that very witch. This is what happens over the course of this episode, but there are several other subversions of fairytales. Perhaps the funniest is Xander and Oz taking on the Prince Charming rescue role, fighting their way through the building to save Buffy and Willow only to fall through the roof after everything has all been sorted out.

Often in fairytales (particularly in nineteenth century ones), the women who don't conform (ugly/old/outspoken/too clever/too inquisitive - basically, any that aren't silent or asleep) are the ones who are threatened with punishment by their respective narratives, or killed as a result of their actions, like Karen of The Red Shoes, vain and spoiled, who dances to her death. Buffy's non-conformism has long been one of her defining characteristics, just as it is for both Willow and Amy. They actively reject the straight and narrow path that society expects of them and go their own way, whether that's to do with being a Slayer, having a brain or actually being a witch. That these are the three picked to burn at stake is a direct nod back to the moralistic aims of the original tales.

As part of this whole suppression of non-conformist women thread, older women didn't tend to get off so lightly. The episode weaves the two threads nicely together; the actions of the younger women are directly influencing the actions of the older women and vice versa. If you were the nice, maternal older woman sort who told cuddly stories and looked after your kids, you were probably all right. The only trouble is biological mothers don't tend to last too long either; most mothers are already dead by the time the stories begin, leaving it to the evil stepmother to sweep in and torture the kids with abandon. The evil stepmother is not only so-called because she dislikes children (but is perfectly happy to marry a man with them), but because she's a disturbance of the traditional family order, subverting the traditional maternal role. In the original tale, it's Hansel and Gretel's stepmother who forces their father to send them into their forests to their deaths.

Now, in Buffy, there aren't any visible stepmothers around, but the events of the episode put a huge amount of pressure on the existing maternal relationships, most notably for Buffy and for Willow, subverting that aspect of the original fairytales. The episode opens with that surprise bonding session between Buffy and Joyce as the former is out on patrol. Since discovering her daughter's identity, Joyce has been attempting to come to terms with Buffy being the Slayer and her decision to join Buffy is one of many ways to get closer to her daughter; she could almost be accused of over-parenting. In contrast, Willow's relationship with her mother is remarkably distant. Sheila Rosenberg is, unsurprisingly, an academic and that seems to take priority over having anything to do with what is going on Willow's life.

Cut to the discovery of the two children and these maternal relationships rapidly shift into active antagonism as the two mothers suddenly see their daughters as part of Sunnydale's occult problem. The demon clearly targets maternal figures, knowing that they are pre-disposed to feeling sorry for victimised and murdered children and it's Joyce, chief matriarch here, who creates Mothers Opposed to the Occult. The demon causes the pre-existing maternal relationships to break down to the point of these women casting out their daughters, much like the evil stepmothers of fairytales did to their unwanted offspring. However, the demon fails because its true nature and its manipulation are revealed to all involved, even if they don't choose to remember it. 

Like the fairytale evil stepmother, there's an external force at work here to try and break down these relationships. For Buffy, her relationship with her mother is a key foundation for her whole lifestyle (just look at The Body to see just how much Joyce's death impacts on her) and to see it break down puts Buffy in an extremely vulnerable position where she is relying on others to rescue her. However, once the demon is stopped, the relationships go back to the way they were or, in Willow's case, even improve as a result. 

There's an undercurrent here about the way female relationships are presented in society; everyone is always quick to comment on how women are just as eager to trip each other up. In this episode, it's the external forces acting on these women that cause that breakdown, just like the societal pressure to remain beautiful forces the Evil Queen's hand against Snow White. It's a familiar narrative; the older women are threatened by the young women coming up through society, but in Buffy, it's just a hairy old demon with a misogynist streak. This is coincidentally how I tend to look at a lot of the mainstream media peddling these stupid narratives of female antagonism.

The episode still may not live up to the heights of some of the rest of the third season, but it's an interesting twist on fairytales (even if I may have read a bit too much into it). Thanks for joining me on this particular rambling. The next post will be shorter, I promise.

Quote of the Week:

Cordelia [to Giles]: How many times have you been knocked out anyway? I swear, one of these days you're going to wake up in a coma.

Let's Get Trivial: As Cordelia willingly illustrates, this marks the umpteenth time that Giles gets knocked out in the series, something which he becomes increasingly famous for amongst the group.

Inventive Kill: Buffy uses the stake she's supposed to burned at to impale the demon through the throat. As you do.

Sunnydale Who's Who: Shawn Pyfrom, who plays the little boy, would go on to play Andrew Van de Kamp in hit series Desperate Housewives.

- Becky

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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

FILM REVIEW: The Guest


As you may have guessed from my extensive coverage of Downton Abbey (soon to resume), I'm a bit of a fan of Dan Stevens. He's been mainly confined to period dramas of the stiff upper lip variety like the lovely adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (he actually managed to make Edward Ferrars remotely interesting). Yet there was always a sense that he was capable of branching out beyond the cravat and doing something really interesting. When he left Downton Abbey amidst a hail of flying car parts, it gave him a chance to do exactly that and boy does his turn in The Guest deliver.

Stevens stars as David Collins who arrives on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming to be the friend of their recently deceased son, Caleb. David claims that the two men served in the army together and he was present when Caleb passed. Despite initial reservations, the Petersons take David in and he soon ingratiates himself with each member of the family with a mixture of charm and good manners. It's pretty clear from the start that there's something a little off about the Petersons' house guest and it's not long before that proves to be the case.

To talk about the plot anymore would spoil what is a constant surprise of a film, offering up twists and turns; some you'll see coming, others you may not. Simon Barrett's screenplay is a skilful genre mash-up, combining elements of small town horror and thriller with a vein of humour that could be none more black. Adam Wingard's direction deftly flits between them all, bringing a sense of domestic claustrophobia to seemingly the most innocent of proceedings whilst knowing when to scale back for some of the bigger sequences.

It creates a deep, foreboding atmosphere throughout the film as revelations are sometimes dropped casually into conversation and sometimes occur on screen. Wingard relishes the opportunity to shock and the film can turn on you remarkably quickly, producing a nice, unsettling effect that never quite lets you get comfortable. It's helped at all times by a fantastic soundtrack that adds to the John Carpenter-like aesthetic that influences all aspects of the film. It underpins the action beautifully, ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels in some of the film's more violent sequences.

It also helps that the cast are all excellent; Leland Orser as the put-upon father and Sheila Kelley as the grieving mother may not get a huge amount of screentime but provide a strong emotional core. Their children, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer), shoulder much of the important narrative work and do so well, particularly in their highly differing reactions to the presence of David in their lives.

However, this film belongs to Dan Stevens. From the moment he appears on screen to the closing moments, his brilliantly unpredictable performance dominates, creating a charismatic central character that is both fascinating and scary. It's in the smaller moments that it works to startling effect, a simple shift in his eyes or the sudden absence of a smile. He also plays for the broader comedic moments too; his line delivery of how to deal with people who pick on you is delightfully dark. About as far from Downton Abbey and Matthew Crawley as you could possibly get, it's a delight to see an actor relishing a role as much as Stevens clearly does here. 

A nice surprise in more ways than one, The Guest is a taut, well-made thriller with shades of just about everything else in between and it certainly helps that there is a wildly entertaining performance in the middle of it all.

- Becky

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Monday, 8 September 2014

TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Robot of Sherwood


Clara is given the choice of destination for the TARDIS in this week's episode, written by Mark Gatiss, and chooses to head back to 12th century Sherwood to catch a glimpse of the supposedly legendary Robin Hood. The Doctor is none too impressed, believing him to be a made-up figure but quickly learns he, and his laugh, are very real. However, this being Doctor Who, it would be nothing without a twist, which handily comes in the form of a dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller), his impressive facial hair and his robot guards.

Mark Gatiss has always been a bit hit and miss with his Who episodes recently, but when he pens a good one, it is really very good. Robot of Sherwood is nothing short of a triumph, riotously funny from start to finish, steeped in the history of Robin Hood (and others) on screen, but with a melancholy undercurrent as the Doctor continues to question his ability to be a good man. It may be more of a filler episode in that we don't get to see Missy, but it does still tie into an ongoing arc of the series as well as exploring more about this Doctor and his identity crisis.

Everything about this episode is a lovingly crafted Robin Hood greatest hits; the narrative is the traditional one (up to a point) where the Sheriff is gathering gold from the peasants of Nottingham and Robin is an outlaw trying to put a stop to him with his band of Merry Men. There's even an archery contest for crying out loud, which also gets wonderfully silly as well as a swashbuckling swordfight to finish it all off. Tom Riley apes Errol Flynn beautifully (with a dash of Cary Elwes) as the green-clad outlaw, from the much-mocked hearty laugh to the hand-on-hips pose. He has a wonderful chemistry with Capaldi and their constant bickering is one of the episode's highlights.

The episode itself is packed full of references, not only to Robin Hood on screen (the Doctor fighting Robin with a spoon may be my personal favourite), but also to plenty of other things besides. There's a historical Henry II reference, a nod to Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks Sr & Jr and their habit of using a dagger to descend a sail/banner. However, they're not just references for the sake of it, but build into the ongoing exploration of the Doctor as a hero.

Absolutely determined that Robin Hood can't be real because these old fashioned heroes simply don't exist, the Doctor spends much of the episode trying to prove that this is the case. He even confronts Robin with the tales and films that sprung out of his legend, but only manages to confirm that the outlaw was indeed real, but got lost amongst the stories that were told of his bravery. What the Doctor can't quite process is just how similar the two are and perhaps the only duff note in the episode is when Robin explains that the Doctor's humble beginnings are remarkably parallel to his own.

The Doctor has been consistently facing questions about his own heroics throughout the three episodes so far and Capaldi's gloriously bleak interpretation of the Gallifrey man has built into that constant questioning. In last week's episode, the Doctor is faced with his old nemesis telling him that he is a good Dalek, a better version of the genocidal killing machine. This week, he faces both Clara Robin Hood telling him that he is a hero. That final statement rescues the thudding comparison into something much more meaningful; they're not heroes really. They're just very good at pretending to be. With the less cuddly, more willing to send people to their deaths Doctor that Capaldi plays, that idea of pretence is an interesting one, particularly when considering everything that occurred with the idea of masks and faces in Deep Breath.

It's certainly the funniest episode so far this series with one liners and fast-paced bickering the order of the day. After the more serious explorations of Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, the sheer silliness of Robot of Sherwood offers a welcome breath of fresh air, but unlike some other silly episodes, it maintains the quality of the episodes so far. The Doctor's identity crisis is something that looks like it will continue to define this series, tying into Missy's efforts in 'Heaven' perhaps. Either way, it's been a long while since Doctor Who has been consistently this good and consistently this exciting. Let's hope it continues.

- Becky

You can check out Jen's thoughts on Into the Dalek here.

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Into The Dalek.


It was a distinctly unsubtle case of another week, another call back in last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who. Into The Dalek’, episode two of this brand new series, with its brand new Doctor, saw The Time Lord (Peter Capaldi) and companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) visit a Dalek prisoner stranded on an enemy warship.

Reminiscent of Christopher Eccleston’s trip to a Utah alien museum in series one, the Dalek in question is alone, ill - possibly dying- and trapped. This particular egg-whisker is a Dalek with a difference, however. Its illness has changed it. No longer perma-angry and murderous, Rusty, as The Doctor cheerfully dubs him, is even quite chatty.  He (I’m sticking with he- I have no idea if Daleks actually do have genders) is, it seems, essentially a good Dalek. With Rusty’s health failing and the un-named war between the future-humans and his kind raging on, the soldiers need information. Operating a dangerous new technology, they shrink the crew down small enough to, you guessed it, the clue was in the title, go into the Dalek.

The episode proved surprisingly imaginative. Despite choosing to focus on Daleks, them being the most infamous Doctor Who villain since The Time War, and despite having the most obvious title since ‘Snakes on a Plane’ was released into the world, its subject matter was actually rather bold new territory for the show. We’ve seen inside a Dalek before, sure, but only because it decided to throw its doors open and reveal the goop within of its own accord. This showed us the intricate workings of a killing machine, step by step as The Doctor et al walked its veins. It was also a thoughtful, thought provoking look into war, its casualties and how we deal with them. As one of the soldiers sombrely announced early on in the show ‘We don’t need hospitals any more. Daleks don’t leave any wounded. And we don’t take any prisoners’

All this context of conflict sat very well, both literally and symbolically, alongside new character soldier-turned-teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).  Writing fully-fleshed non-irritating side characters is not exactly Moffat’s strong suit (perhaps no surprise then that this episode was actually co-written by Bill Ford) but, so far at least, this character comes across as a companion who might actually have that quality, so elusive in the show of late: likeability. Shown struggling to pluck up the courage even to ask Clara out for a drink, conflicted by his feelings and berating himself for his ineptitude afterwards, whilst also showing very visible distress when questioned about his past by his new pupils, it’s clear the man has layers. 

In fact, it was character in general which shone in this episode. Jenna Coleman goes from strength to strength as Impossible Girl Clara, juggling her day to day life as an ordinary English teacher and her time-travelling ‘hobby’ with good judgement. Capaldi, meanwhile, has settled into the TARDIS as if was born in it. Whilst he doesn’t quite seem to have found his Doctor’s own personal energy just yet, he’s incredibly likeable in the role, bringing wit, intelligence and a sort of calm passion to what had become a distinctly giddy Doctor. You do begin to feel ever so slightly beaten over the head with their ‘I’m not attracted to you. Nobody is attracted to anyone anymore. This is platonic. Platonic!’ (delivered with the syntax of a Dalek) banter, amusing though it is, it just feels a little try-hard. And it just isn't needed.

Finally, I simply cannot let this review go by without a good hearty mention for another new character. There was a second appearance here for the mysterious Missy. Played by the ever-fantastic Michelle Gomez in a spark of utter genius casting, this enigmatic lady/alien/ghost-woman appears to pluck those who have died a death in some way caused by The Doctor right out of their scenes, seemingly re-materialising them in a place she calls Heaven.

Naturally, various theories abound on the internet, with ideas on her identity ranging from a female Master, to the TARDIS, to Clara, to River Song and back again. For now at least, this is a refreshingly new series arc, with the tiny cameo clips at the end of each episode filled with just enough intrigue and a sense of impending doom to keep us all once again clearing the diary and booking the remote for the following Saturday night.

Jen


Becky will be looking after you all next week.
In the meantime, here’s a link to her review of last week’s Deep Breath.

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Friday, 29 August 2014

FEATURE: 1984-A-Thon - The Company of Wolves

Our look at Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves is part of a huge event organised by Forgotten Films to celebrate the films of 1984, a year in which a whole bunch of great films were released, and some not so great ones too. We've been fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the good ones and you check out what other bloggers have been writing about on the Forgotten Films site. You can also check out the hashtag #84athon on Twitter to find out who else is taking part.

"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet."

Set within the dreams of an adolescent girl, Rosaleen (played by Sarah Patterson), The Company of Wolves is a dark and nightmarish trip through some of Angela Carter's fairytales, threaded through the main dream of Rosaleen and her Granny (Angela Lansbury). The various tales which appear throughout the film's puzzlebox structure are based on some of those which appeared in her short story collection entitled The Bloody Chamber (well worth a read). This includes the main narrative, based on The Company of Wolves short story which was adapted by Carter into a radio play and forms the basis of the film. All of the tales featured are centred around the image of the wolf, a beast which haunts the forest, sometimes hunting in packs, sometimes attacking on their own.

Fairytales have long held sway over the imaginations of their readers, remoulded and transformed depending upon the audience they are intended for. The tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen were originally cautionary morality tales, keeping children and women in line with their haunting messages of disfigurements, violence and loss. Since the Disney reworking of the fairytale into the 'Happily Ever Afters' we've come to be more familiar with, the genre has become something of a byword for light and fluffy tales of true love and rainbows and smiles.

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of tales that emulates the fairytale genre, though it has often been incorrectly described as subversive retellings of popular fairytales with a feminist twist. Whilst some of the stories are clearly based on existing fairytales, Carter's intention was 'not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairytales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories" (Carter, quoted in The Bloody Chamber Introduction). Carter's tales are filled with a macabre menace, focusing on the heroines and their sexuality and desires.

There are a few films in the 1980s that tap into this new, darker fantasy like Willow, Labyrinth or Legend. Particularly with Labyrinth and Legend, there is the latent sexual content throughout that threatens to derail their female protagonists. In The Company of Wolves, this undercurrent is carried across, much as it is in the original stories on which it is based. What connects the fairytales throughout the film is the idea of a loss of innocence, particularly at the point of burgeoning adolescence and sexuality. The various facets of this transitionary experience (the fear, the excitement, the danger) is encapsulated within the symbol of the wolf, a symbol which transforms itself within each story to represent something different for each of the stories' central female characters.

The nightmarish landscape is captured beautifully in the medieval forest in which much of the action is set. Branches loom over pathways, houses disappear into the trees themselves and a mist drifts across the sets. It makes for an imposing world, one in which threats can appear quickly and without warning. The production design captures that adroitly, as well as recreating the sort of villages, costumes and general rustic qualities that we expect from traditional fairytales. The colour palette builds into this; most hues are cold browns or dark greens with flashes of brilliant red, fitting in with the sexual symbolism of the stories.



Sex is everywhere in this film, overtly or otherwise, infiltrating every aspect of the unfolding narratives whether it's Rosaleen catching sight of her parents having sex in the dead of night just a few feet away from her or the sermon about the wolf lying with the lamb. The gift of the red shawl to Rosaleen is significant, situated just before she spies her parents and when she begins to pay attention to the village boy who desires her. Bringing forth the sexual undertones of the story's inspiration, Little Red Riding Hood, particularly in her relationship with the huntsman in this film, Jordan and Carter use it to symbolise Rosaleen's sexual awakening, culminating with her exceptionally creepy climactic encounter with the gentleman wolf.

As well as the constant foreboding atmosphere brought on by production design, the stories carry with them their own particular brand of horror. The story of the young bride and her travelling man groom is especially grotesque despite seeming fairly jolly at the start. Their marriage is a happy, pastoral affair that soon gives way to sadness when the groom disappears. However, after the bride's second marriage, her first husband returns and transforms himself into a wolf. The special effects here are fairly spectacular as well as horrific and whilst it may not be a lycanthropic transformation to rival An American Werewolf in London, it still cuts an impressively grotesque image.

The performances are routinely excellent across the board with key brief appearances from the likes of Stephen Rea and Terence Stamp (as the Devil no less). Particularly impressive is the young Sarah Patterson in the central role of Rosaleen. As the central thru-line for the stories, she is called upon to anchor the various stories as well as fill the role of the fairytale heroine. She does so well, offering a wide-eyed innocence to the proceedings. The character still falls into the trap that has befallen many a fairytale heroine in that she is quite a bland figure, despite Patterson's appeal.

The real star of the show though is Angela Lansbury's Granny, a mix of cuddly maternal figure and stern matriarch. She is given the most opportunity for comedy, booting a would-be admirer of Rosaleen up the backside and loudly voicing her disapproval. She also carries the right amount of menace when it comes to telling the nastier stories and offering warnings around sexual morality in amusing aphorisms. The film lifts whenever she is on screen, breaking the melancholy with a knowing nod and a cheeky wink.

Neil Jordan's direction allows all of this to shine throughout the film, no mean feat considering its fractured and layered structure and perfectly captures the dark atmosphere of Carter's tales. With the recent desire to revisit fairytales in films and make them more akin to their Grimm counterparts, it's refreshing to go back to one that succeeds in creating a deeply unsettling tale of female sexuality and those that threaten it.


- Becky

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