Review: ‘The Northman,’ starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk and Willem Dafoe

April 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy as Olga in “The Northman” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)

“The Northman”

Directed by Robert Eggers

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern and Eastern Europe, from the years 894 to approximately 919, the fantasy action film “The Northman” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: In this Viking version of “Hamlet,” an exiled prince seeks to avenge the murder of his father, who was killed by the father’s brother.

Culture Audience: “The Northman” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s all-star cast, filmmaker Robert Eggers and Viking stories that are gory but realistically violent.

Oscar Novak, Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman in “The Northman” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features)

Brutally violent but artistically stunning, “The Northman” brings harsh realism and dreamy mythology to this Viking story that inspired William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” It cannot be said enough times as a warning: “The Northman” is not for viewers who are easily offended by on-screen depictions of bloody gore and sadistic violence. There are scenes in this movie that can best be described as downright filthy—and not just because these scenes have people covered in dirt, blood and other grime. There’s a filth of the mind that plagues many of the characters in “The Northman,” where murder, rape, torture and other assaults are a way of life to conquer and subjugate others.

American filmmaker Robert Eggers has made a career out of exploring the dark side of humanity in the movies that he writes and directs. His feature films—beginning with 2015’s “The Witch” and 2019’s “The Lighthouse”—have a rare combination of taking place in an otherworldly atmosphere while depicting people and events as if they are historically accurate. “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse” are defined by elements of horror, while “The Northman” (Eggers’ third feature film, which he co-wrote with Sjón) can be defined by elements of tragedy. “The Northman” is also a movie about Vikings, vengeance and violence.

Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” play was itself based on the medieval Scandinavian legend of Amleth, the story of a prince who vows to get deadly revenge for the murder of his father, who was betrayed and killed by the father’s brother. “The Northman” weaves into the story aspects of Scandinavian folklore, the occult and the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. The end result is an immersive cinematic experience that is both menacing and magical.

“The Northman” begins in the year 894, on the fictitious Scottish island kingdom of Hrafnsey, which is close to Orkney Island and Shetland Island. Hrafnsey is ruled by King Aurvandil War-Raven (played by Ethan Hawke), a confident leader who has just returned to the land after about three months away from home. King Aurvandil has a happy family life with his wife Queen Gudrún (played by Nicole Kidman) and their son Amleth (played by Oscar Novak), who’s about 10 or 11 years old when the story begins.

“The Lighthouse” co-star Willem Dafoe has a small role in “The Northman” as a court jester named Heimir the Fool. King Aurvandil is amused by Heimir’s talents, while the king’s jealous younger brother Fjölnir (played by Claes Bang) is dismissive and condescending to Heimir. The scene with the brothers’ two very different reactions to Heimir are meant to show their contrasting personalities and how they interact with people.

King Aurvandil is fixated on the idea that Amleth should be ready to lead Hrafnsey, because the king has a premonition that he will die soon. Aurvandil does not know when he will die, but he is certain of how he will die: “I must die by the sword. I will die in honor,” he says. Gudrún doesn’t like to hear Aurvandil talk this way, and she insists that Amleth is too young to learn about royal adult responsibilities. Nevertheless, Aurvandil and Amleth do a male-bonding ritual around a campfire together, where a shaman leads the father and son to enact various wolf mannerisms while proving that they’re still human.

Although the king is beloved by many of his subjects, there is a cabal of people waiting to betray him. Leading this traitorous group is Fjölnir, who is cruel, power-mad and ruthless. One day, when King Aurvandil and Amleth are spending some father-son time in a forest, Fjölnir and about a dozen of his cronies ambush the king and viciously murder him, while Amleth witnesses everything.

Amleth manages to hide and escape, but not before using a knife to cut off the nose of a brute named Finnr (played by Eldar Skar), who later lies to everyone by saying that he killed Amleth. For the rest of the movie, Finnr is known as Finnr the Nose-Stub. Amleth runs back home, only to find out that Fjölnir and his gang are plundering the land, invading homes, and letting everyone know that the king is dead and Fjölnir is now in charge. One of the last things that a terrified Amleth sees before he runs away from Hrafnsey is his mother being kidnapped by Fjölnir’s cronies.

The movie then fast-forwards about 20 years later. Amleth (played by Alexander Skarsgård) is now a strapping, angry man, who has joined a group of marauding killers hired to help conquer villages in Eastern Europe. Those who are not killed in these villages are held captive as slaves. “The Northman” has several of these invasion scenes that are not for the faint of heart. Amleth has become extremely jaded and callous in all the violence and murders he commits as a berserker warrior.

However, Amleth soon has a vision of a mystic named Seeress (played by Björk), who reminds Amleth that his immediate purpose in life is to avenge his father’s death. This sets Amleth on a path to disguise himself as a slave and go on a slave ship heading to Iceland. It’s on this ship that he meets Olga of the Birch Forest (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, the breakout star of “The Witch”), an enslaved Slavic devotee of the mystic arts. In other words, Olga is a witch. Amleth and Olga have a mutual attraction to each other that goes exactly where you think it’s going to go.

Amleth is going to Iceland, because it’s where Fjölnir has now settled with Amleth’s mother Gudrún, who is now Fjölnir’s wife. Fjölnir and Gudrún have two sons together: brash young adult Thórir the Proud (played by Gustav Lindh) and obedient pre-teen Gunnar (played by Elliot Rose), who have been brought up in a life of royal privilege. For all of his flaws and evil deeds, Fjölnir loves his sons immensely and will do anything to protect them. Considering how Gudrún ended up with Fjölnir, she is treated just like a trophy wife.

“The Northman” often has simplistic and cliché dialogue, but the cast members’ performances are mostly convincing. Skarsgård and Bang have a great deal of physicality in their roles as Amleth and Fjölnir, which play out in the expected “protagonist versus antagonist” ways. What they both bring to these characters is an added level of emotional depth that becomes more compelling when this nephew and uncle, who are sworn enemies, actually have something in common: their love of family as their biggest emotional vulnerability.

Kidman struggles with sticking to the same accent (sometimes she sounds Scottish, Nordic, Icelandic or various combinations of all three), but her overall performance as Gudrún is riveting, because Gudrún is the most complicated character in the story. Taylor-Joy is perfectly cast as the cunning and (literally) bewitching Olga. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles.

Aside from the disturbing violence, “The Northman” will leave an impact on viewers because of how it creates a world caught in between medieval truths and timeless mythology. There are haunting and compelling scenes involving pagan rituals, ascending into heavenly spaces, and transforming someone’s interior body into some kind of mystical realm, with entrails snaking around like winding tree branches. “The Northman” also has more than a few nods to psychedelia, including Olga’s psychedelic mushrooms that are used as a weapon in this family feud.

“The Northman” greatly benefits from the almost-hypnotic cinematography of Jarin Blaschke, a longtime collaborator of Eggers. Whether or not people enjoy Eggers’ movies (which sometimes drag with slow pacing), there’s no denying that these films have top-notch cinematography. Viewers who can withstand the relentless onslaught of violence in “The Northman” can also appreciate that even amid the murder and mayhem, there are still glimmers of hope for humanity.

Focus Features will release “The Northman” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Last Night in Soho,’ starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy

October 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie in “Last Night in Soho” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)

Last Night in Soho”

Directed by Edgar Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place in England (mostly in London), the horror film “Last Night in Soho” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A fashion student in London has nightmarish visions of a nightclub singer from the 1960s. 

Culture Audience: “Last Night in Soho” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Edgar Wright and horror stories that have intriguing murder mysteries.

Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Last Night in Soho” (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)

Stylish and unnerving, “Last Night in Soho” is a mind-bending, time-jumping psychological horror movie that is riveting from beginning to end. The movie wears its retro influences (such as Italian giallo horror movies) on its vibrantly hued cinematic sleeves. It’s an homage to Swinging London in the 1960s as much as it’s a nod to how feminist issues have changed (or remained the same) since then. “Last Night in Soho” gets a little too conventional in its last 15 minutes, but the movie overall is an above-average thriller that’s elevated by compelling performances. Get ready for a spooky and fabulous ride.

Edgar Wright directed “Last Night in Soho” and co-wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Wright is also one of the movie’s producers. Although “Last Night in Soho” is not the first horror movie from Wright (his filmography includes the zombie flick “Shaun of the Dead,” his 2004 feature-film debut), “Last Night in Soho” is a departure for Wright in many ways. And it was a risk that paid off to be one of his most accomplished films in years.

For starters, “Last Night in Soho” is Wright’s first movie where women are the main protagonists. As such, it made sense that he collaborated with a female screenwriter for the movie; it’s the first time there’s a female co-writer on a feature film that he’s directed. “Last Night in Soho” also marks a big change in Wright’s typical comedic tone for his movies, because “Last Night in Soho” is most definitely not a horror comedy. The movie does not let up in its intent to terrify and keep viewers on edge to see what happens next. And, for a lot of people, that’s the best kind of horror movie.

“Last Night in Soho” begins with a whimsical opening sequence of British protagonist Eloise Turner (played by Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman in her late teens, who is at her home in a small town in England’s Cornwall county. She’s whirling around and dancing joyfully in a mid-length flare gown made of newspaper, as Peter and Gordon’s 1964 hit “A World Without Love” plays on her turntable in her bedroom. It’s a gown that Eloise designed herself because she’s an aspiring fashion designer, but she doesn’t have the money for luxurious fabric.

Eloise has a pixie-ish, otherworldy air about her, almost like she stepped out from a time machine from the 1960s. However, Eloise isn’t from the 1960s, the era of her grandmother’s youth. Eloise is currently living in the early 2020s, but she has a fascination with pop culture and fashion from the 1960s. Her collection of vinyl records consists almost entirely of 1960s music. She also prefers literature and movies from the 1960s.

Eloise is a shy loner who lives with her widowed grandmother Peggy (played by Rita Tushingham) in a cozy house. A love of fashion runs in the family. Peggy is a seamstress. Eloise’s unnamed mother (Peggy’s daughter) was also an aspiring fashion designer. Tragically, Eloise’s mother committed suicide when Eloise was 7. Eloise’s father has not been in her life. Viewers will get the impression that Eloise’s father was never in her life because she never talks about him.

Peggy is a loving and somewhat over-protective grandmother, whose nickname for Eloise is Ellie. Eloise and Peggy have mutual respect for one another, but it become immediately apparent that Eloise (who recently graduated from high school) is restless and ready to move out and into her own place. Eloise applied to London College of Fashion, a prestigious institute. And when Eloise gets the acceptance letter in the mail, she’s elated.

Eloise breaks the news to Peggy, whose response is more cautious. London is where Peggy’s daughter moved to pursue her fashion career too. It’s implied that Peggy somewhat blames London for aggravating whatever led to the suicide of her daughter. Peggy warns Eloise: “London can be a lot … Your mother didn’t have your gift.” And Peggy isn’t talking about the gift of fashion designing.

It doesn’t take long for the movie to reveal that Eloise has psychic abilities. The first big clue is in the opening scene, when Eloise looks in her bedroom mirror while wearing her homemade dress, and she sees her mother smiling and standing next to her. Aimee Cassettari portrays Eloise’s mother, who appears in Eloise’s visions more than once in the movie.

Eloise is legally an adult, so she’s free to live on her own. Peggy doesn’t discourage Eloise from pursuing her dreams, but she tells her granddaughter that she’s welcome to move back with Peggy in this small town if things don’t work out for Eloise in London. And so, with a bittersweet farewell where they try not to break down and cry, Eloise has her bags packed and drives off in a taxi to her new life in the big city.

Eloise has been assigned to live in a hotel-like dormitory with other students from London College of Fashion. Her roommate is the talkative and worldly Jocasta (played by Synnøve Karlsen), who is also a first-year student at the fashion institute. Jocasta is originally from Manchester and thinks of herself as the hippest queen bee at the school.

The first sign of Jocasta’s pretentiousness is when she insists that no one use her last name. She explains that she wants to be a one-name celebrity. “Just like Kylie,” Jocasta tells Eloise. “Kylie Minogue?” asks Eloise. “No,” Jocasta says with exasperation, as if Eloise is stuck in the 20th century. “Kylie Jenner!”

In their first conversation together, Eloise and Jocasta tell each other a little bit about their backgrounds. When Eloise says where she’s from, Jocasta says in a pitying voice, “I’m sorry,” as if she really meant to say, “I’m sorry you’re a country bumpkin from a small town.” Jocasta also seems amused by Eloise’s homemade clothes, which Jocasta obviously thinks are unfashionable, unflattering and unsophisticated.

Jocasta softens up a little when she mentions that her mother is also dead: She passed away from leukemia when Jocasta was 15. But that empathetic side to Jocasta is short-lived. She has a “mean girl” streak that Eloise sees for the first time when she hangs out at a pub with Jocasta and three other female students from the dorm: Lara (played by Jessie Mei Li), Cami (played by Kassius Nelson) and Ashley (played by Rebecca Harrod), who do not have distinguishable personalities and are essentially echo chambers for Jocasta’s bullying nature.

On this night out, Eloise quickly notices that Jocasta, who seemed friendly to her in their first meeting, is actually mocking Eloise when she thinks Eloise isn’t looking. Jocasta also influences her cronies to laugh at Eloise too. At Eloise’s first time going to a dorm party in London, she’s timid, socially awkward, and isn’t interested in getting drunk or stoned like many of the other partiers.

When a drunk guy (played by Josh Zaré) aggressively flirts with Eloise at the party, a nice guy classmate from the fashion institute gets the rude partier to back off of Eloise. The gentleman student introduces himself to Louise. His name is John (played by Michael Ajao), and it’s obvious that he feels an immediate attraction to Eloise, who is inexperienced in dating. Eloise gets uncomfortable when she senses that men want to act on their sexual attraction to her. John is respectful to her and tries to initiate a friendship with Eloise. The movie shows how their relationship develops over time.

At London College of Fashion, Eloise gets encouragement in the classroom from a teacher named Ms. Tobin (played by Elizabeth Berrington), who thinks Eloise has a lot of talent and potential. Jocasta and her gaggle of mean girls continue with their catty whispering and thinly veiled insults directed at Eloise, who tries to ignore them. But the last straw for Eloise is when she overhears Jocasta telling the other girls in the clique that Eloise’s mother committed suicide, and Jocasta predicts that Eloise will go crazy and drop out of the school.

It’s enough for Eloise to look for a new place to live. She answers an ad to rent a room in a house owned by an elderly woman named Ms. Collins (played by the Diana Rigg), who is a no-nonsense landlord. Ms. Collins bluntly tells Eloise some of the rules of the house, including no male visitors after 8 p.m. and no loud partying. Rigg (who died in 2020, at he age of 82) was quite a casting coup for “One Night in Soho,” since she was a 1960s icon for her role as Emma Peel in “The Avengers” TV series.

It’s why there’s an air of authenticity to the story when Ms. Collins reminisces about her heyday in the 1960s. It’s a topic that Eloise is fascinated by, and Ms. Collins is pleasantly surprised by how much knowledge and reverence that Eloise has for 1960s culture. Eloise thinks she’s found an ideal place to live. But maybe Eloise should’ve paid more attention when Ms. Collins demanded two months’ rent as a deposit (instead of the usual one month’s rent), because Ms. Collins said that previous tenants had a tendency to quickly move out and break their lease.

Eloise’s bedroom is directly across from a business that flashes neon red and blue lights all night, so her room is often bathed in red and blue at night. It’s a striking visual motif that’s used throughout the movie and becomes increasingly sinister as the story goes on, and red becomes the dominant shade. At first, Eloise doesn’t mind the distraction of these blinking lights.

But then, Eloise’s seemingly peaceful existence in her new home is shattered when she starts having vivid nightmares. In these nightmares, Eloise has stepped back into the mid-1960s and is an invisible observer of the turbulent life of an ambitious, aspiring pop singer in her early 20s named Sandie (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who’s looking for her big break at any nightclub that will book her. (Sandie spends a lot of time in London’s Soho district.) In these dreams/visions, Eloise can see herself in mirrors, but the people in the dreams can’t see her.

At times, it looks like Eloise has morphed into Sandie in these dreams. But it soon becomes apparent that it’s just wishful thinking from Eloise, who has a growing admiration of Sandie. At first, Eloise seems enchanted by what she thinks is Sandie’s glamorous and sexy life. Sandie is everything that Eloise is not: confident, extroverted, and someone who is unafraid to go after what she wants. Sandie also ends up influencing how Eloise designs clothes and how Eloise undergoes a makeover.

Sandie begins dating a slick, smooth-talking manager named Jack (played by Matt Smith), who has several female pop stars as his clients, including Cilla Black (played by Beth Singh), who has a brief singing performance in the movie. But (you knew this was coming), Jack is a playboy. And even though he helps Sandie with her career, at what cost will it come to Sandie’s heart or her life? As time goes on, Eloise’s dreams about Sandie become increasingly ominous until she’s certain that Sandie’s life is in danger.

Eloise is haunted by the feeling that Sandie was a real person, not a figment of Eloise’s imagination. Much of “Last Night in Soho” involves the untangling of this mystery. Eloise’s dreams-turned-nightmares about Sandie start to negatively affect Eloise at school, because she starts having alarming visions of Sandie during the day. Expect to see Eloise have more than one public freakout in this movie. Eloise and some of the people around her start to wonder if she’s going crazy.

Adding to the mystery, there’s an elderly man (played by Terence Stamp) who seems to be following Eloise, ever since she arrived in London. The identity of this man is eventually revealed. Meanwhile, when Eloise talks to her grandmother on the phone, Eloise pretends that everything is just fine.

“Last Night in Soho” has such great attention to detail in the movie’s production design and costume design, it’s an absolute visual treat to watch this movie. This is a movie that namechecks Biba, the now-defunct but still legendary department store that was a mecca for Swinging London fashionistas. In addition, “Last Night in Soho” has a well-chosen soundtrack (not just 1960s music) that perfectly conveys the mood that the filmmakers want for each scene. Petula Clark’s 1964 hit “Downtown” is used in a standout sequence.

But all of these assets would be wasted if the actors’ performances in the movie were substandard. All of the principal cast members bring emotional authenticity to their roles. Fortunately, McKenzie and Taylor-Joy, who are the heart and soul of the movie, give fascinating performances, filled with angst, happiness, vulnerability, strength and hope. Taylor-Joy does her own singing in some dazzling scenes where Sandie is showcased on stage. Taylor-Joy is American-born with an upbringing in Buenos Aires and London, so her British accent is authentic. In real life, McKenzie is from New Zealand, and her British accent in the movie is entirely believable.

Eloise and Sandie are two young women living in London and who seem to have very different lives and contrasting personalities. However, Eloise and Sandie share some things in common: They have to make decisions about how they want to pursue their dreams and how much they want their careers to be a part of their identities. And they both have no family in London and no real friends to turn to for support, so they have to make it on their own while navigating the emotional treachery of people who want to demean them.

“Last Night in Soho” also demonstrates larger issues that are relatable to women, such as thoughts and safety precautions that women have to experience when they are traveling alone that aren’t as major issues for men who travel alone. There’s a very realistic scene of Eloise trying to get herself out of a creepy situation when a middle-aged taxi driver (played by Colin Mace) tries to take advantage of her being new to London when Eloise is his passenger. At first, the driver appears to be friendly and chatty, but it soon becomes obvious he’s just trying to fish for private information about Eloise. He then tells Eloise in no uncertain terms that he’d like to get to know her better.

Eloise knows exactly what he means and what he wants. She astutely decides to be dropped off at a grocery store instead of her intended destination. Eloise peeks apprehensively from the store window as the taxi driver, like a stalker, waits in his car and watches for her to come out of the store. And she breathes a sigh of relief when he eventually drives off. Most women and teenage girls have experienced this type of stalker-ish unwanted attention.

Aside from Eloise’s nightmares, the movie lays bare the constant threat and damage of sexual harassment and sexual degradation that could always be a possibility when men with power decide to abuse their power with women. Even though Eloise is invisible to the people in Sandie’s world, Eloise becomes very protective of Sandie, who’s vulnerable to this type of disrepectful treatment. And this protectiveness taps into a rage that represents what a lot of women feel when they go through the same type of misogyny.

Eloise’s invisibility is symbolic of how many women feel invisible and powerless to stop this societal problem. “Last Night in Soho” does not get bogged down in any feminist preaching, and it does not lose sight of its intention to be a horror movie. But it’s a horror movie that will make viewers think beyond the gory scenes and think about what can happen when a feminine psyche is pushed to the limits.

Focus Features will release “Last Night in Soho” in U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021.

Review: ‘Here Are the Young Men,’ starring Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Travis Fimmel

June 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dean-Charles Chapman, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Finn Cole in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Here Are the Young Men”

Directed by Eoin Macken

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dublin from June to August 2003, the dramatic film “Here Are the Young Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three teenage hoodlum friends spend their first summer out of high school by making mischief and partying, but they are haunted by witnessing a car accident that killed a young girl, and their friendship will be tested by other issues.

Culture Audience: “Here Are the Young Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a coming-of-age film about rebellious youth, but the movie is ultimately a shallow exercise in glorifying criminal activities.

Finn Cole, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Dean-Charles Chapman and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

Rebellious teens have been the subjects of countless movies, so audiences need to have a reason to care when yet another one of these stories is made into a movie. Unfortunately, “Here Are the Young Men” should have been titled “Here Are the Young Men Being Glorified for Getting Away With Serious Crimes.” The movie tries to be artsy with some psychedelic-like hallucinations throughout the film, and the cast members do the best that they can with the weak material that they’ve been given. But it’s not enough to save this very hollow film that tries to justify atrocious and violent crimes with the excuse that angry young men just need to let off some steam.

“Here Are the Young Men” was written and directed by Eoin Macken, who adapted the movie from Rob Doyle’s 2014 novel of the same name. And this movie, which attempts to be a gritty portrayal of working-class life in Dublin in 2003, actually comes across as a fantasy of what it would be like to be a teenage male hoodlum who gets away with everything. The movie gives very little thought to the victims who have been hurt by the increasingly despicable actions of one of the main characters. Instead, the movie puts all the sympathy on the trio of hooligans who are the cause of all the mayhem in the story.

The movie takes place from June to August 2003, the first summer after pals Matthew Connolly (played by Dean-Charles Chapman), Joseph Kearney (played by Finn Cole) and Rez (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) have left high school. Matthew and Rez have graduated, while Joseph (the most problematic one in the trio) was expelled. Viewers can assume these alcohol-guzzling pub-hoppers are all 18 years old, the minimum legal age to drink alcohol in Ireland. It’s one of the few legal things that these hoodlums do when they party.

The movie’s opening scene takes place at a funeral attended by Matthew. He says in a voiceover: “They say that the summer you finish school is the best time of your life because it’s your final summer of freedom and you become men. It’s important. I just didn’t realize how important it would be. This is a real story … I’m sorry for some of the choices we made.”

The funeral is shown again at the end of the film. But in between, the majority of the story is a flashback, told from Matthew’s perspective, of what happened during that fateful summer. Opening with the funeral scene was artistically a big mistake, because viewers will immediately know that a major character is going to die in this story. And it’s not going to be Matthew.

And so, there’s no real suspense or surprise when that death happens, because the tension builds to such a predictable point that it’s fairly easy to guess who’s going to die. The only real question is how will that person die? The cause of death is also easily predicted during a pivotal moment in the last third of the film.

The flashback begins with Matthew in a meeting with his school headmaster Mr. Landerton (played by Ralph Ineson), who is conducting an exit interview, as is the school’s custom with all graduating students. Matthew seems bored and reluctant to tell Mr. Landerton what Matthew’s plans are after high school, probably because Matthew doesn’t have any plans.

Matthew says, “If it makes you happy for your report, just write that I’ve improved as an individual, grown into a respectable young scholar—and it’s all because of you.” Mr. Landerton shakes Matthew hand and says that he knows that things have been difficult for Matthew. Mr. Landerton adds, “Be careful with your choices.”

What has been difficult for Matthew? It’s not fully explained in the movie, but Matthew’s father is no longer in the home. Based on the way that this absentee father is not discussed in Matthew’s household, it’s implied that his father isn’t dead but has abandoned the family. Matthew is an only child and he lives with mother Lynn Connolly (played by Susan Lynch), who seems to have a drinking problem because in the few times she’s seen, she’s holding an alcoholic drink and/or appears to be drunk.

Joseph also lives in a single-parent household, but with his father Mark Kearney (played by Conleth Hill), who pays more attention to what’s on television than he pays attention to Joseph. The movie doesn’t explain what happened to Joseph’s mother. Joseph has an older brother named Dwayne Kearney (played by Chris Newman), who lives in another household and appears in one of Joseph’s many hallucinations. Joseph is the angriest and most mentally disturbed of the three pals, as it becomes very clear later on in the story.

Rez is the friend who is the most mysterious. In other words, he’s the most underwritten of the three friends. He doesn’t even have a last name in the movie. Nothing is shown of Rez’s home life. All viewers know about Rez is that he likes to dress all in black, he does a lot of drugs, and he makes money by selling drugs. Rez is also a lot more sensitive than he’s willing to show most people. One of the few people he opens up to is another teenager named Julie (played by Lola Petticrew), who has a sexual relationship with Rez that can best be described as “friends with benefits.”

The graduation ceremony at the school is never shown. However, it isn’t long after Matthew and Rez get their “freedom” that Matthew, Rez and Joseph decide to go back to their school to vandalize it during the daytime when the school is on a summer break. They start by going to a local church, popping some pills and mocking the communion ritual, with Rez saying “Body of Christ,” before he swallows a pill.

Then, they head to the school and spraypaint graffiti on an instruction board. The graffiti they put on the board shows a penis and a stick figure with the words, “Luke, I am your father, but you are my god.” And because Joseph is the group’s biggest troublemaker, he throws a desk through a closed window, thereby shattering the window with no regard that someone could be hit by the desk or the broken glass on the street below. (Fortunately, no one gets injured.)

The mayhem continues when they go to the school’s parking garage. Joseph sees Mr. Landerton’s car and starts destroying it with a crowbar. During this vandalism, he has a rage-filled rant, as if he’s taking out all of his anger on Mr. Landerton, who expelled him from the school. After a while, Rez joins in on the destruction too.

Matthew shows some restraint and seems reluctant to participate in this senseless act of violence. Just then, Mr. Landerton shows up with some police officers. And this is where the movie starts to go downhill with a very unrealistic scene. Instead of the cops immediately arresting these young punks, Mr. Landerton just stands there and tries to reason with these vandals.

First, the headmaster asks Matthew if he really wants to be a part of this criminal activity. In defiance, Matthew chooses to side with his pals, so he bashes one of the car’s outside mirrors. Matthew, Joseph and Rez then climb out a nearby window and run away, with two or three cops in pursuit.

The chase continues through some streets and an alley, but the cops are out of shape and can’t keep with these teenagers. The last cop to keep the chase going eventually gives up in frustration. But here’s the thing that’s so ridiculous about this movie: Matthew, Joseph and Rez don’t face any consequences.

They are never arrested for the vandalism, even though Mr. Landerton knows where they live and could easily send the cops to the teens’ homes to arrest them. But that never happens. Viewers have to assume that Mr. Landerton might have decided not to press charges, but what kind of school headmaster would let anyone get away with all that damage on the school property when the perpetrators were caught in the act?

It’s just one of many plot holes of stupidity that plague this movie, which is really just a showcase to make it look like just because someone is a working-class teen, it’s enough to feel angst and justify committing crimes. We won’t even get into the racial inequalities of what kinds of punishments these teens would experience if they weren’t white. It’s a privileged blind spot that this movie has because its only concern is making it look like these lazy cretins are just going through a rebellious rite of passage.

The reality is that these teens are not “oppressed” in any way and have no good reason for committing any crimes. They might not come from rich families, but they’re not homeless and not scrounging for food. They don’t experience racism, sexism or other forms of discrimination. They have other people (their parents) paying their bills and providing them with a place to live. Rez’s home life isn’t shown, but it’s implied that he doesn’t have to worry about paying rent.

And apparently, even their school headmaster is willing to look the other way and not hold them accountable for their crimes. There’s no logical reason for why this headmaster would be an enabler, when his job would be at stake for letting these destructive teens get away with the vandalism they committed on school property. These are not wealthy kids who can buy their way out of trouble, but there’s an air of bratty entitlement that this movie has that’s just so annoying.

Later in the movie, Matthew gets a job at an auto tire shop. It’s one of the few mature and responsible things that he does in the story. But then, there’s a scene where Matthew deliberately sets the shop on fire. And yet, the movie never shows him facing any consequences and never mentions what happened as a result of the fire. In fact, the rest of the movie acts like the fire never even happened. It’s all just sloppy screenwriting.

One thing that the movie constantly brings up is how a certain car accident affected these three troublemaking friends. Shortly after they get away with the vandalism at their school, Matthew, Joseph and Rez are on a busy commercial street when they witness a fatal car accident. The driver hit and killed a girl who was about 7 or 8 years because she suddenly ran out on the street. The girl’s mother rushed to her side and wailed for help.

On the surface, the three buddies all try to get on with their lives and continue their partying and mischief making. But seeing someone die right before their eyes is something that has a psychological effect on them. Matthew tries to “clean up” his life a little bit by getting a job at the tire shop. (It’s all for nothing though, because Matthew ends up setting the shop on fire.) Rez falls into a deep depression. Joseph develops a macabre obsession to see someone else die in front of him.

Joseph drops many hints that after seeing someone die, he now has a desire to become a murderer. When he tries to talk about it with his friends, they give him strange looks and he says he’s just joking. Joseph’s increasingly twisted mindset is manifested in a series of hallucinations centered on a TV talk show that Joseph’s father Mark likes to watch.

The program is called “Big Show,” and it’s hosted by a black-haired unnamed man (played by Travis Fimmel) who is styled to look like a menacing satanic figure, but without devil horns. His has a pointy beard and long sideburns and a constant sinister smirk. In the hallucinations about “Big Show,” this TV host brings on certain guests to taunt them, humiliate them and test their endurance.

At various points in the movie, Joseph and Matthew imagine themselves as guests on “Big Show.” Much of the program revolves around the TV presenter talking about masculinity and what it means to be a real man. In one “episode,” the presenter has a woman called Angel Dust (played by Noomi Rapace, in a cameo) on stage and ends up sexually groping her without consent, as the all-male audience cheers.

Sometimes, in Joseph’s “Big Show” hallucinations, his brother Dwayne is in the audience too. It’s supposed to represent Joseph’s conscious or subconscious desire to get his brother Dwayne’s approval. The more violent crimes that Joseph commits, the more he seems to get approval from the “Big Show” host, until it reaches the point where Joseph struts around as if he’s the star of the show.

Matthew’s “Big Show” hallucinations show him as a more hesitant guest, since in real life, he’s the only one out of the three friends who seems to be a little uncomfortable with violent crimes, and he tries to make an honest living. Joseph is never seen doing any work (legal or illegal) in this story, but early on in the movie he mentions that he wants to be a video game developer. Joseph says he has an idea for an Irish Republican Army video game that he wants to call “The Provos.”

Someone who occasionally hangs out with these troublemakers is a fellow teen named Jen (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who was in the same graduating class as Matthew and Rez. Jen is smart and level-headed. Matthew has a big crush on her, and the feeling might be mutual. They have typical flirty banter where they try to pretend that they aren’t as attracted to each other as they really are.

Jen wants to leave Dublin as soon as she can. Her dream is to live in the United States and become an entertainer or a fashion designer. In the meantime, she sings at a local nightclub. (In one of these nightclub scenes, she performs a cover version of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.”) Taylor-Joy is a good singer, but the scenes of her on stage don’t add much to the story, except to show Matthew ogling Jen. The movie’s soundtrack, which has several songs by Magnets & Ghosts, is mostly alternative rock and some electronica.

Joseph also wants to go to America, and he gets a chance to take a trip to visit the U.S. at one point in the movie. (“Here Are the Young Men” director Macken has a quick cameo as an unnamed homeless man who has an unfortunate encounter with Joseph.) Joseph is never actually seen in America, but he’s made videos of his trip. Some of those videos are shown in the movie.

When Joseph comes back to Dublin, he reveals certain things about himself that show he’s gone beyond vandalism to committing crimes that are even more violent and disturbing. Matthew, Rez and Jen are all affected by Joseph’s increasingly unhinged, out-of-control behavior. And in a predictable teen movie like this one, that means it’s all going to culiminate with some heavy melodrama.

“Here Are the Young Men” takes a very disappointing approach of having mayhem for mayhem’s sake. The hallucinatory “Big Show” scenes aren’t very clever. And the movie’s best and most authentic-looking scene isn’t even about the boys’ friendship but it’s a scene where Matthew and Jen have a big argument over something that happened at a party.

It’s a scene that affects Matthew and Jen’s relationship and brings up very realistic issues about how perceptions are affected by intoxication from alcohol and drugs, which can impair the ability to give consent in sexual situations. The scene also candidly addresses gender roles and expectations in dating relationships. And it’s where Matthew gets some awareness of how the toxic masculinity that he participates in and enables can hit closer to home than he expected.

Unfortunately, this awareness comes so late in the story that it’s questionable how much Matthew might have really learned to become a better person when he makes a certain decision in reaction to something that upset him. Ironically, for a movie called “Here Are the Young Men,” the character of Jen is the most fascinating and has the most interesting things to say. However, she is written as a secondary character.

The scenes with Jen and Matthew have a familiar “will they or won’t they get together” arc that’s often seen in teen dramas. However, Taylor-Joy (who’s an award-winning actress on the rise) and Chapman (who was quite memorable in his role as a young British soldier in the World War I movie “1917”) are good-enough in their roles to bring believable emotions to characters that wouldn’t be as watchable if portrayed by less-talented actors. Jen is about the same age as Matthew, Rez and Joseph, but she’s much more emotionally mature than they are.

The characters of Joseph and Rez both struggle with personal demons more than Matthew does. Joseph’s anger is explosive and mostly directed at other people, while Rez tends to be more introverted and self-destructive. Cole and Ferdia-Peelo give convincing but not particularly outstanding performances of how Joseph and Rez mentally unravel in their own ways. All the parental/authority figures are essentially just background characters who don’t have much influence in what these teens say or do.

The main problem with “Here Are the Young Men” isn’t the cast members’ performances but in the way that writer/director Macken seems more concerned with showing how much worse the criminal chaos can get for these teen delinquents, rather than any true character development. There’s a tone throughout the movie that’s seems to say, “You thought what so-and-so did was bad, just wait until you see what this person does next.” After a while, it feels very hollow and lacking in suspense, since apparently the movie is intent on making it look like Dublin law enforcement is incompetent and that these three law-breaking jerks are untouchable.

This movie starts to look very unrealistic when these known hoodlums, who commit their crimes out in the open, never seem to be at any real risk of beng arrested. The movie becomes a repetitive series of crimes and drug-induced hallucinations that ultimately serve no purpose except to show these characters getting away with these crimes. The movie didn’t need to have any moralistic preaching to be improved. By the end of the film, viewers just won’t care about these self-absorbed troublemakers who are so bored with their lives that they create damaging problems for themselves and other people.

Well Go USA released “Here Are the Young Men” on digital and VOD on April 27, 2021.

Review: ‘Radioactive,’ starring Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley and Anya Taylor-Joy

July 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rosamund Pike in “Radioactive” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Radioactive” 

Directed by Marjane Satrapi

Culture Representation: Taking place in France (and briefly in Poland) from 1878 to 1934, the biographical drama “Radioactive” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and black people) representing the middle-class in telling the story of scientist Marie Curie.

Culture Clash: Curie battled against sexism and xenophobia, and she was at the center of a scandal when her affair with a married man went public.

Culture Audience: “Radioactive” will appeal primarily to people who like biopics about scientists or women who break through in male-dominated professions, with an emphasis on melodrama over substance.

Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley in “Radioactive” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Watching a biographical movie about a scientist, even if the scientist is a world-famous pioneer, might not appeal to a lot of people. And it’s a greater challenge when the story is set more than a century ago. But perhaps to ward off any potential viewer boredom, the filmmakers of the Marie Curie biopic “Radioactive” made the movie as if it’s a both a music video (with lots of flashy, quick-cutting editing) and a melodrama (with plenty of soap opera-type dialogue and over-acting). It’s an overcompensation that ultimately sinks this movie, which had the potential to be a fascinating, award-worthy film, but instead ended up as an unevenly toned misfire.

It’s clear that “Radioactive” was intended to be an “Oscar bait” movie, considering that it was partially financed by Working Title, a British production company that has won several Academy Awards for its films, including 2017’s “Darkest Hour,” 2014’s “The Theory of Everything” and 2012’s “Les Misérables.” “Radioactive” cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle won an Oscar for 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” And several Oscar nominees were involved in making the film, including star Rosamund Pike (who plays Marie Curie); director Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis”); and producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner.

However, all that talent still doesn’t make “Radioactive” an Oscar-worthy film. Jack Thorne (who has done work mostly in British television) wrote the screenplay as an adaptation from Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel “Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout.” And that’s exactly what the movie looks like on screen: a movie version of a graphic novel.

Scenes that would have benefited from richly witty conversations and glorious, lingering camera shots are instead served with basic, simplistic dialogue and whiplash-like editing that cuts a scene like boxy panels in a graphic novel. Pike certainly gives it her all in this performance, but she’s hemmed in by the hokey screenplay that portrays Marie Curie as less like a brilliant scientist and more like a whiny and egotistical shrew.

The movie begins in Paris in 1934, the year that Marie died of Aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation, at the age of 66. Marie is being rushed to a hospital, and while she’s lying on a gurney, she starts having flashbacks of her life. Those flashbacks are the majority of this story.

The flashbacks begin in Paris in 1893, when an unmarried Marie (whose maiden name was Skłodowska) was the only female scientist working in the University of Paris industrial laboratory of Professor Gabriel Lippmann (played by Simon Russell Beale). Marie, a native of Poland who moved to Paris for her university studies, had changed her first name from Maria to Marie, in order to better fit in with French citizens. In 1893, she had earned a degree in physics and was enrolled in a graduate program while working at Lippmann’s lab. (She would eventually earn a doctorate, supervised by Lippmann, in 1903.)

The movie doesn’t waste time in trumpeting its intent to show Marie as a feisty feminist who constantly has to battle sexism and misogyny. The first flashback scene is of Marie storming into a room where Lippmann and his all-male team of colleagues are seated. She angrily demands to know why her lab equipment has been moved again.

Lippmann tells Marie that it’s because her lab equipment takes up too much space. When she mentions that some of her male colleagues have lab equipment that takes up even more space than her equipment does, Lippmann tells her that she’s been fired. When she protests her dismissal, Lippmann tells her that if she doesn’t like it, she can start her own lab. Marie replies dejectedly that she doesn’t have the funds.

Meanwhile, Marie and a handsome stranger see each other on a street and make small talk. She sees this stranger again while they happen to be attending the same dance performance. They find themselves standing right next to each other, as they watch a female dancer twirling around in a white flowing costume, like she’s auditioning for a Cirque du Soleil show in a future century. This is the “meet cute” moment, because he is a scientist/professor whose name is Pierre Curie (played by Sam Riley), and he confesses to Marie that he’s been admiring her from afar.

Pierre tells Marie that he already knows her name and who she is because (1) “You’re one of only 23 female scientists with the department; (2) I’ve heard about your run-ins with Professor Lippmann; and (3) I read your paper on the magnetic properties of steel. It contains some exceptional science.” Of course, Marie is flattered by his compliment and gives Pierre a compliment too: “I have read your paper on crystallization, which I enjoyed very much.”

In real life, Pierre and Marie were introduced by a mutual friend, but that might have been too boring for the filmmakers, so they invented this scene to make Marie and Pierre’s “meet cute” scene seem more romantic, since the dance performance is filmed to make everything look more fantastically beautiful. At the time that Marie and Pierre met, he was an instructor at the City of Paris Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution. But Pierre had his own up-and-down relationship with the University of Paris (which was his alma mater too), so Pierre and Marie bond over being “misunderstood” by the university, and they connect over their mutual love of science.

Pierre offers Marie a room to work in his lab. She politely declines, and then she changes her mind after he invites her to look at the work space. Marie firmly tells Pierre that she will not be his mistress, in case he thinks that she’s supposed to repay him by letting him have sex with her. Pierre says that it isn’t his intention, but he does tell her with that certain look in his eye: “I have an instinct about you.”

Of course, since most people watching this movie already know that Marie and Pierre ended up falling in love and getting married, this part of the relationship is shown very quickly. The next thing you know, after a few scenes of Marie and Pierre working together, he proposes (in the most soap opera-ish way possible), they’re married and then expecting their first child.

“Radioactive” does not show much of Marie’s life before she moved to Paris, except for flashbacks of her as a child (played by Harriet Turnbull) having grief-filled moments visiting her terminally ill mother (played by Georgina Rich) in a hospital. (Marie’s mother Bronisława died of tuberculosis when Marie was 10 years old.) According to the movie, this trauma led to Marie’s lifelong fear of being in a hospital. This fear is portrayed in the movie as full-blown panic attacks whenever Marie is asked to go to a hospital and ends up refusing to go.

The only other link to Marie’s Polish past that’s portrayed in the movie is Marie’s sister Bronisława, also known as Bronia (played by Sian Brooke), who was older than Marie by two years and was Marie’s closest female confidant. Bronia doesn’t do much in this movie except give calm and supportive advice when Marie inevitably has to rant or complain about something. (And she gets angry a lot in this movie.)

It’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t want “Radioactive” to be a movie that’s “too smart” for the general public, so Marie and Pierre’s scientific work is explained and depicted in the simplest of terms. When the couple gets a lab in Versailles, France, they discover and present two new elements: polonium and radium. Marie also coins the term “radioactivity.”

Marie and Pierre get widespread acclaim, while viewers of this movie have to sit through a lot of cringeworthy dialogue, with Marie and Pierre saying things like, “We have changed science forever” and “I can feel our work glowing out. I can feel it changing the world.” And if these “change the world” proclamations weren’t enough, “Radioactive” has several moments that cut into the story to actually show examples how the Curies’ discoveries were used in the future.

There’s the scene of a Japanese father and son experiencing the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. There’s the scene of an atomic bomb being tested in Nevada in 1961, complete with a model house being bombed and life-sized dolls melting inside. There’s the scene of Russian workers rushing in a panic during the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

Of course, when two spouses work together, there are bound to be conflicts and ego clashes. In 1903, Marie, Pierre and Henri Becquerel were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Marie’s name was added only after Pierre insisted on it because of her crucial contributions to their discoveries. And so, Marie made history by becoming the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in science.

However, because she was a woman, Marie was not allowed to give a speech at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Pierre says in the movie that Marie could have attended the ceremony, but she declined because she had recently given birth. This is a factual error in the movie, because Pierre and Marie were awarded the Nobel Prize in December 1903. They had two daughters: Irène (born in 1897) and Ève (born in 1904). Ève was born in December 1904, a full year after that Nobel Prize ceremony.

And in the movie, it’s shown that Marie gets very angry with Pierre for deciding to go to the ceremony without her. Did she really expect him to stay at home with her and not go to the ceremony to accept this prestigious award on behalf of both of them? Yes, according to this movie.

Even though Pierre effusively gave praise and credit to Marie in his Nobel Prize speech, that’s still not enough for Marie. When Pierre gets home, she rips into him, as if he committed a major betrayal. As far as Marie is concerned, she did more work than Pierre did, and therefore she deserves more recognition and praise than he gets.

And she cruelly tells Pierre that she will always be smarter than he is. “You stole my brilliance!” she shrieks at him during one of their quarrels over him attending the Nobel Prize ceremony without her. We’ll never know if Marie ever uttered those words to Pierre, but the movie definitely portrays Pierre as a long-suffering husband who has to put up with a mean-spirited wife who has a massive ego.

No one is expecting Marie Curie to be put on a pedestal and look like a saint. But one of the problems with “Radioactive” is that it doesn’t really show Marie being a lot more brilliant than her husband, to justify all the arrogance she has in the movie. The movie shows them working side-by-side as, more or less, equal partners.

And all the temper tantrums that Marie has in “Radioactive” make her look unprofessional to the point where the movie undermines any respect that the filmmakers might have intended for this pioneering scientist. To make matters worse, “Radioactive” continues down the soap opera route when it shows Marie’s life after Pierre tragically died in a carriage accident in 1906.

Marie is understandably devastated by this loss. The movie portrays Marie as someone who was so overcome with grief over Pierre’s death that she began to have hallucinations/visions of seeing him. You get the feeling that the filmmakers would’ve gone as far as Marie consulting a psychic to talk to Pierre from the dead, but that wouldn’t be very scientific, would it?

Instead, there’s a scene where Marie has a breakdown with a photographer, because in Marie’s distraught state of mind, she thinks that there can be a photo conjured up of the spirit of her husband. “Please let me see my husband again!” she shouts numerous times in this over-the-top scene. It looks like a series of retakes from a soap opera.

Two close friends of Marie and Pierre Curie are a married couple named Paul Langevin (played by Anuerin Barnard) and Jeanne Langevin (played by Katherine Parkinson), who are seen earlier in the movie having a pleasant couples dinner with Marie and Pierre. But after Pierre dies, Marie and Paul end up having an affair, and he moves in with her.

The way that the affair is portrayed in the movie, Marie tells Paul that she isn’t in love with him, but he’s clearly in love with her. Marie is obviously using Paul as a way to cope with her grief. And the film makes this abundantly clear when it shows Marie waking up next to Paul and initially hallucinating that Pierre is in his place.

Marie also doesn’t seem too concerned about how this infidelity relationship is affecting her two young children. When Irène and Ève see that their mother has a new man in her bed, and they go in her bedroom to try to talk to her, she asks them if they are hungry. When they say no, she then coldly dismisses them and tells them that if they’re not hungry, then they need to leave her alone.

Of course, the affair causes a major scandal when it’s made public. In the movie, Paul’s wife Jeanne tells Marie that she hired a private investigator and leaked information about the affair to the press. Marie is then the target of intense bullying by strangers, who yell ethnic insults at her about her Polish heritage and tell to go back to Poland.

And so, by the time Marie won her second Nobel Prize (this time for chemistry) in 1911, there was a lot of controversy over her getting the prize because of the scandal in her personal life. People not only protested that she was attending the ceremony but also that she received the prize in the first place. (The movie doesn’t really address the hypocrisy of people never protesting over the untold number of male Nobel Prize winners who openly committed adultery.) Marie was allowed to give a speech at that Nobel Prize ceremony, but the scandal and controversy really tainted what could have been a completely triumphant moment.

Irène is shown as a young woman (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who would also become a scientist, but the young-adult Irène doesn’t have enough screen time in the movie to get a good sense of what kind of mentorship she got from her mother. It’s yet another missed opportunity in a movie that is more concerned about showing Marie being self-absorbed in her own achievements and the recognition that she thinks she deserved.

Marie Curie remains the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. But all of her accomplishments and intellectual prowess are devalued by the way “Radioactive” reduces her story to a melodrama. The movie frames her major life events as results of a relationship with whichever man she was sleeping with at the time.

If you were to believe what’s in this movie, Marie saw her first Nobel Prize not as an achievement that she could proudly share with her husband but as a weapon to use against him out of spite, just because other people didn’t want her to give an acceptance speech at the ceremony. That is one of the lasting impressions of Marie Curie that “Radioactive” wants to give, but surely her legacy deserves better.

Prime Video premiered “Radioactive” on July 24, 2020.

Review: ‘Emma’ (2020), starring Anya Taylor-Joy

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Emma"
Anya Taylor-Joy in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Emma” (2020)

Directed by Autumn de Wilde

Culture Representation: This comedic adapation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” is set in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England, and revolves around the white upper-class main characters and some representation of their working-class servants.

Culture Clash: The story’s title character is a young woman who likes to meddle in people’s love lives as a matchmaker, and her snobbish ways about social status sometimes cause problems.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jane Austen novels and period movies about British culture.

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in “Emma” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This delightful and gorgeously filmed adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” stays mostly faithful to the original story but spices it up a bit to appeal to modern audiences. In her feature-film debut, director Autumn de Wilde takes the comedy of “Emma” and infuses it with more impish energy that’s lustier and more vibrant than previous film and TV adaptations.

The title character of the story is Emma Woodhouse (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman of privilege in her early 20s, who lives with her widowed father in the fictional countryside town of Highbury, England. Emma is a somewhat spoiled bachelorette who thinks she has such high intelligence and excellent judgment that she takes it upon herself to play matchmaker to people she deems worthy of her romance advice.

The movie takes place over the course of a year, beginning one summer and ending the following summer. Viewers know this because different seasons are introduced in bold letters, like a different chapter in a book.

One of the changes from the book that the movie makes is that it begins with Emma attending the wedding of her friend and former governess Miss Taylor, (played by Gemma Whelan) to Mr. Weston (played by Rupert Graves). (The book begins after Emma has attended the wedding.) Because Emma had introduced the Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston to each other, Emma feels that she has what it takes to play matchmaker to the unmarried people in her social circle. It’s at the wedding that viewers are introduced to most of the story’s main characters.

Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse (played by Bill Nighy), is a loving dad but often exasperated by Emma’s antics. He’s a hypochondriac who tries to shield himself from imaginary drafts of cold that he’s sure will cause him to get sick.

George Knightley (played by Johnny Flynn) is the handsome and cynical brother-in-law of Emma’s older sister Isabella (played by Chloe Pirrie). He thinks Emma can be an annoying meddler, but he nevertheless seems fascinated by what she does.

Mr. Elton (played by Josh O’Connor) is a social-climbing local vicar who has his eye on courting Emma, mostly because of her wealth and privilege. He’s unaware that Emma doesn’t see him has husband material.

Miss Bates (played by Miranda Hart) is a friendly, middle-aged spinster who is slightly ashamed about being unmarried at her age. She lives with her mother, Mrs. Bates (played by Myra McFadyen), who is a friend of Mr. Woodhouse.

Missing from the wedding is Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill (played by Callum Turner), who has a different last name because he was adopted by his aunt, who is frequently ill. Frank chose to stay home with his aunt instead of attending his father’s wedding.

Emma, who says multiple times in the story that she has no interest in getting married, nevertheless takes it upon herself to tell other people who would be suitable spouses for them. She starts with her gullible best friend Harriet (played by Mia Goth), a slightly younger woman of unknown parentage who idolizes Emma for being more glamorous and seemingly more worldly than Harriet is. Knightley can see that Harriet will be easily manipulated by Emma, and he expresses disapproval over Emma befriending Harriet.

A local farmer named Mr. Martin (played by Connor Swindells) has asked Harriet to marry him, but Emma convinces Harriet to decline the proposal. Why? Even though Mr. Martin is kind and clearly adores Harriet, Emma thinks that Harriet deserves to marry someone who’s higher up on the social ladder. As far as Emma is concerned, Mr. Elton would be an ideal husband for Harriet, so Emma sets out to pair up Harriet and Mr. Elton, whom Emma describes as “such a good-humored man.” It’s too bad that Emma doesn’t see that his humor is really buffoonery.

Mr. Knightley occasionally stops by to visit the Woodhouses, and he warns Emma not to interfere in other people’s love lives. He thinks Mr. Elton would be a terrible match for Harriet. Mr. Knightley is right, of course, but Emma ignores his warnings. Emma begins to manipulate communications between Harriet and Mr. Elton, with the goal that they will end up together and happily married. At one point in the story, Emma and Mr. Knightley have a big argument and they stop talking to each other.

Meanwhile, a new ingenue comes on the scene named Jane Fairfax (played by  Amber Anderson), who is the orphaned niece of Miss Bates. Jane (who is close to Emma’s age) is attractive, intelligent, talented. And everyone seems to be gushing about how wonderful she is, so Emma gets jealous. As Emma complains in a catty moment, “One is very sick of the name Jane Fairfax!”

Frank Churchill, a very eligible bachelor, begins spending more time in the area. And it isn’t long before Emma has thoughts about who would make a suitable wife for him.

However, things don’t go as planned in Emma’s matchmaking schemes. A series of events (and a love triangle or two) make Emma frustrated that things aren’t going her way. Unlike most heroines of romantic stories, Emma can be very difficult, since she can be bossy, selfish and occasionally rude. However, there are moments when she redeems herself, such as when she tries to make amends for her mistakes. If you know anything about romantic comedies and don’t know anything about how “Emma” ends, you can still figure out what will happen and if she’ll fall in love.

One of the changes made in this “Emma” screenplay (written by Eleanor Catton) that’s different from the book is that it puts more heat in the characters’ sexuality, with a makeout scene that’s definitely not described in the book. Another change is Emma shows more acknowledgement of people in the working-class, such as her servants and Mr. Martin, by interacting with them more than she does in the novel.

As Emma, actress Taylor-Joy brings a little bit more of a “hot mess” attitude to the role than Gwyneth Paltrow did when she starred in 1996’s “Emma.” Whereas Paltrow’s version of Emma was the epitome of prim and proper, Taylor-Joy’s version gives the impression that she would be ready to show her legs or knickers under the right circumstances. And as Mr. Knightley, Flynn’s pouty-lipped delivery gives him a smoldering quality that Jeremy Northam’s Mr. Knightley didn’t quite have in 1996’s “Emma.”

“Emma” director de Wilde comes from a music-video background (she’s helmed several videos for rock singer Beck), and perhaps this background explains why this version of “Emma” has a snappy rhythm to the pacing, which is sort of a tribute to 1940s screwball comedies. This pacing is subtle if this is the first version of “Emma” that someone might see, but it’s more noticeable when compared to other movie and TV versions of “Emma,” which tend to be more leisurely paced.

This version of “Emma” is also pitch-perfect when it comes to its costume design (by Alexandra Byrne), production design (by Kave Quinn), art direction (by Alice Sutton) and set decoration (by Stella Fox), because everything will feel like you’ve been transported to the luxrious English estates of the era. The costume design in particular is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

“Emma” certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea for people who don’t like watching period pieces about stuffy British people. However, fans of Austen’s “Emma” novel will find a lot to enjoy about this memorable movie adaptation.

Focus Features released “Emma” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the VOD release of “Emma” to March 20, 2020.

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