Review: ‘Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,’ starring Lesley Manville, Isabelle Huppert, Lambert Wilson, Alba Baptista, Lucas Bravo, Ellen Thomas and Jason Isaacs

July 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front: Lambert Wilson, Lesley Manville, Guilaine Londez, Dorottya Ilosvai and Alba Baptista in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (Photo by Dávid Lukács/Focus Features)

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”

Directed by Anthony Fabian

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1957, in London and Paris, the comedy/drama film “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A widowed housekeeper in London goes to Paris, where she wants to fulfill her dream of buying a haute couture Dior gown, but she experiences obstacles and bigotry from snobs who think she isn’t worthy because of her working-class background.

Culture Audience: “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Lesley Manville and the book on which the movie is based, as well as to people who are interested in 1950s high fashion history and stories about working-class people navigating in upper-class society.

Isabelle Huppert and Roxane Duran in “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (Photo by Dávid Lukács/Focus Features)

Despite a tendency to be cloying and cliché, the comedy/drama “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” has exuberant charm that’s hard to resist. Lesley Manville shines in this fairytale-like story about a woman who believes it’s never too late to chase a dream. On the surface, her dream is to buy a haute couture Dior gown, but the gown represents something much bigger to her: an ability to go outside her comfort zone to get what she wants in the pursuit of happiness.

Directed by Anthony Fabian, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris.” The novel was also made into a 1992 TV-movie of the same name, starring Angela Lansbury in the title role. In the “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” movie directed by Fabian, the title character is played by Manville. Fabian co-wrote the movie’s adapted screenplay with Carroll Cartwright, Olivia Hetreed and Keith Thompson.

“In Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” it’s 1957, and Mrs. Harris is Ada Harris, a widowed housekeeper who’s in her 50s and who lives in London. (“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” was filmed in London and Paris—the two cities where the story takes place—but the movie was also filmed in Budapest to simulate Paris in the 1950s.) Ada dreams of having a more glamorous life. Ada’s often cheerful demeanor often hides her sadness over not knowing what happened to her husband Eddie, a military man who went missing in action during World War II in 1944.

Because Eddie hasn’t contacted her for all of these years, he’s presumed dead, but Ada can’t bring herself to face this probability. Ada, who lives alone and has no children, has not had a special man in her life since Eddie disappeared. She has long since given up on finding love because she thinks because of her age, occupation and physical appearance, she’s not very desirable.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” spends a little too much time in the first third of the movie showing Ada stuck in her drab routine life in London. There are repetitive scenes of her going to a bridge at night, where she talks out loud to her long-lost husband Eddie. Viewers of “Mrs. Harris Go to Paris” will have to have some patience before the movie gets to what the movie’s title is all about.

Ada’s best friend is Vi Butterfield (played by Ellen Thomas), a Caribbean immigrant who is around the same age as Ada. Vi (who also lives alone and has no children) is as confident as Ada is insecure. When Ada and Vi go out together at social clubs, Vi often has to give Ada pep talks to help boost Ada’s self-esteem. When they go out to these clubs, Ada is more likely to play cards at a table than to mingle and dance.

It’s at this nightclub, when Ada and Vi are sitting together at a table, where Ada gets the courage to open a package from the U.K. military that she has been dreading to open in front of Vi. Inside the package are a telegram and some of her husband Eddie’s personal possessions, including what appears to be a university ring.

Ada reads the telegram out loud to Vi. The telegram confirms that Eddie is dead. He was killed in action near Warsaw, Poland, on March 2, 1944. Ada is saddened but not too surprised. After getting this news, she goes to the bridge again and stares mournfully at Eddie’s ring, as if she’s trying get closure over the reality that Eddie won’t be coming back.

Someone whom Ada and Vi see often is their mutual friend Archie (played by Jason Isaacs), a middle-aged local bookie whose social manners are a little rough around the edges. Archie is a bachelor who thinks of himself as a seductive ladies’ man. Whenever, Ada and Vi see Archie at a nightclub, he always seems to have a different woman as his date.

During one scene in the movie, Archie has brought his two dogs Spring and Summer to the nightclub where Ada and Vi frequently go. Archie asks Ada and Vi to look after the two dogs while he goes on the dance floor with his date. Ada sighs and says to Vi about how the men at this club don’t see them as attractive enough: “We’re invisible women.” Vi’s sassy response is: “Speak for yourself! They see me coming!”

Two of the women who are Ada’s regular clients are very different from each other. Pamela Penrose (played by Rose Williams) is a 23-year-old aspiring actress who looks like a cross between Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe. Pamela is constantly worried about auditions and whether or not she will ever make it big as a movie actress, which is her life goal. Even though Pamela rents an apartment that she can barely afford, she pays Ada on time and appreciates Ada’s cheerful kindness.

The same can’t be said for Lady Dant (played by Anna Chancellor), a middle-aged socialite who spends lavishly but who has come up with many excuses not to pay Ada for the past several weeks. The latest excuse is that Lady Dant has to pay for her daughter’s wedding, which Lady Dant claims is financially draining. When Ada tactfully and politely asks Lady Dant when she can be paid the money that’s owed to Ada, Lady Dant is haughtily dismissive and scolds Ada to be more patient and understanding. Lady Dant also tells Ada that her work hours will be reduced, effective immediately.

Christian McKay is under-used in a small role as Giles Newcombe, one of Ada’s housecleaning clients. A running gag in the movie is that Ada often passes by Mr. Newcombe on a flight of stairs as Ada is arriving and he is leaving the building with a woman who looks young enough to be his daughter, whom he always introduces as his “niece.” The implication is that Mr. Newcombe is married, these young women are really his mistresses, and they have their trysts at the apartment he has in this building.

Ada and Mr. Newcome always greet each other in a friendly manner, with Ada seeming to know that Mr. Newcombe isn’t the “uncle” of these women. Ada is discreet and plays along with the charade though, because Mr. Newcombe is always kind to her. Ada doesn’t judge whatever Mr. Newcombe’s extramarital activities might be because she doesn’t know all the details of his marriage. It’s also this movie’s way of showing that Ada isn’t a nosy gossip.

One day, Ada is doing some housecleaning in Lady Dant’s home, when she sees a stunning floral print sequined dress displayed on a bed. Ada is enchanted by this dress and can’t resist picking up the dress and holding it up to herself while she looks in a mirror. Lady Dant catches Ada admiring the dress, but Lady Dant doesn’t seem to mind.

Lady Dant brags to Ada that the gown is haute couture Dior and that she paid £500 for the dress during a recent trip to Paris. Lady Dant orders Ada not to tell Lady Dant’s husband about this purchase because he will think that she overpaid. As soon as Ada hears about how and where Lady Dant got the dress, it sparks an a near-obsession for Ada to do the same thing.

Ada begins saving her money for a trip to Paris. She also starts a small business on the side called Invisible Mending, where she does seamstress work and other sewing jobs. However, Ada gets a temporary setback when she places a losing £100 bet at a dog-racing track where Archie works.

But then, in an “only in a movie” sequence of events, three things happen literally within minutes of each other that change her fortunes: (1) Ada gets a visit from a military official telling her that the military owes her back payments for being a war widow; (2) Ada gets reward money for returning a lost diamond pin; and (3) Archie shows up at her home to tell her that he actually placed her bet on the racing dog that won, not the losing dog she wanted to bet money on for the race.

And so, with enough money to travel and buy her dream Dior haute couture gown, Mrs. Harris goes to Paris. At the train station in Paris, she meets three homeless winos, and one of them is kind enough to show here where the House of Dior is. Ada notices that there’s a lot of garbage on the streets of Paris, so the homeless man tells her that it’s because garbage collectors are currently on strike. This worker strike is used as a few plot developments later in the movie.

Outside the House of Dior, a model who’s running late for a fashion show, stumbles out of car and trips in front of the entrance. Her name is Natasha (played by Alba Baptista), and she accidentally drops her purse without noticing. Ada picks up the purse and goes inside the building to return it to Natasha, who is grateful.

But those pleasantries are about to end when the pompous House of Dior director Claudine Colbert (played by Isabelle Huppert) notices that Ada is treating the House of Dior like a regular retail store, where people can just walk right in and buy what they want if they have the money for it. Madame Colbert snootily tells Ada that Dior’s haute couture customers have invitation-only access.

Ada most definitely does not have an invitation. Ada gets upset and hastily explains to Madame Colbert that she’s a housekeeper from London who saved up all of her money for this trip and she won’t leave without buying a Dior haute couture gown. When Ada takes out the wads of cash that she has with her, Madame Colbert is even more disgusted by what she sees as crassness from Ada.

However, a society gentleman named Marquis de Chassagne (played by Lambert Wilson), who has been invited to Dior’s upcoming haute couture collection show, notices Ada’s plight and generously tells Ada that she can be his guest at the show. Madame Colbert is miffed, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Unbeknownst to the general public, Dior has secretly been having financial problems, so Madame Colbert tells Dior accountant André Fauvel (played by Lucas Bravo), who has been observing Madame Colbert’s attempted shunning of Ada, that at least they might get a sale out of Ada being there.

Another person who’s annoyed that a “common” housekeeper is attending the show is a spiteful socialite named Madame Avallon (played by Guilaine Londez), who is attending the show with her pouty young adult daughter Mathilde Avallon (played by Dorottya Ilosvai). Madame Avallon gets even more irritated when she sees that Ada will be sitting next to her at the show. And guess who wants the same gown as Ada?

Ada is dazzled by the runway show, but two gowns in particular get her the most excited. Her first choice is a red stunner called Temptation. Ada also literally gasps when she sees an emerald green gown called Eden. Madame Colbert makes sure that Madame Avallon gets the Temptation gown. Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan did top-notch, award-worthy costume for “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.”

As a consolation for not getting the Temptation gown, Ada is told that she can be fitted for the Eden gown. However, these fittings would require Ada to be in Paris for several more days. Ada can’t afford to stay in Paris for longer than she had planned, As a show of generous support, André invites Ada to stay for free at the house of his sister, who is away on a trip. Ada eagerly accepts this offer.

A meticulous Dior atelier employee named Monsieur Carré (played by Bertrand Poncet) oversees the fittings for Ada. Predictably, he is sometimes irritated by Ada’s ignorance of haute couture traditions and customs. Fashion icon Christian Dior (played by Philippe Bertin) makes a few brief appearances, as this movie depicts the last year of Dior’s life. (On October 24, 1957, Dior died of a heart attack at the age of 52.) As expected, Ada is star-struck to be in the presence of Dior.

House of Dior’s seamstresses, including seamstress director Marguerite (played by Roxane Duran), are charmed by Ada’s working-class pluckiness in the face of upper-class elitism, so they are rooting for her behind the scenes. While Ada is starting to befriend Isabel and André, she notices that André has romantic feelings for Isabel. And you know what that means: Ada is going to try to play matchmaker for André and Isabel. Meanwhile, Marquis de Chassagne has taken a liking to Ada and asks her out on a date. Could this be the beginning of a romance for him and Ada?

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” often goes down a very formulaic route, but it’s always watchable, due in large part to the talented cast members, led by Manville. Huppert plays her “villain” role to the hilt, but Madame Colbert shows some vulnerability and warmth later in the movie. Not everything in the movie is predictable, but there’s enough familiarity in how this story is told that “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is like having comfort food with a longtime friend.

Focus Features will release “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Let Him Go,’ starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner

November 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner in “Let Him Go” (Photo by Kimberley French/Focus Features)

“Let Him Go”

Directed by Thomas Bezucha

Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana and North Dakota in the early 1960s, the dramatic thriller “Let Him Go” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A retired sheriff and his wife in Montana travel to North Dakota to rescue their grandson and their former daughter-in-law from an abusive and violent family.

Culture Audience: “Let Him Go” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted, well-written dramas where family issues intersect with crime.

Lesley Manville in “Let Him Go” (Photo by Kimberly French/Focus Features)

Movies about child-custody issues usually focus on the parents of the child, but “Let Him Go” is a well-made, taut thriller whose protagonists are grandparents who want to rescue their grandson from an abusive home and raise him in their own loving and safe home. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, “Let Him Go” is adapted from Larry Watson’s novel of the same name. It’s a very good cinematic interpretation of the book, because the movie adeptly shows the contrasts of the wide open landscapes with the almost-suffocating anxiety that the grandparents experience as their quest to rescue their grandson becomes increasingly dangerous.

The story takes place in the early 1960s, before mobile phones, email and the Internet would make it easier for the couple at the center of the story to track down the violent clan members who have control of the child. It was also in a time and place (the rural Midwest) when custody battles weren’t very likely to go to court by people who didn’t have the money for legal fees and who preferred to take the law into their own hands. The beginning of “Let Him Go” shows what life was like for the grandparents before this family feud turned their life upside down.

George Blackledge (played by Kevin Costner), who’s a retired sheriff, and his wife Margaret Blackledge (played by Diane Lane) are living a tranquil life on their rural Montana ranch. Also living in their home are George and Margaret’s 27-year-old son James (played by Ryan Bruce), who is their only child; James’ wife Lorna (played by Kayli Carter); and James and Lorna’s infant son James Jr., also known as Jimmy.

George and Margaret have been married about the same amount time (30 years) that George was in law enforcement. Even though George is retired and probably has a pension, the family has an additional household income because Margaret and James have a business where they break/train horses. Lorna is a homemaker, but there’s tension between her and Margaret, because Margaret tends to do things (such as take care of the baby) in the way that Margaret thinks is best.

One day, Margaret and George notice that James has not come back from a horse ride that wasn’t supposed to take very long. George goes out looking for James, and he tragically finds James lying dead on a creek embankment with the horse nearby. James has a broken neck, apparently because he was thrown off by the horse.

The movie then fast-forwards three years later. George, Margaret and Jimmy are the only witnesses to a small wedding ceremony between Lorna and a local man named Donnie Weboy (played by Will Brittain), whose last name is pronounced “wee-boy.” The Weboy surname can be interpreted as an interesting play on words, since Donnie and his three siblings are brothers who live in the shadow of their domineering mother.

It’s never explained in the movie how Donnie and Lorna got to know each other, nor is it mentioned what Donnie does for a living. At the wedding ceremony, Donnie’s personality is indiscernible, and his family is not mentioned until George and Margaret have an urgent reason to find Donnie’s relatives. Even though George and Margaret don’t seem to know much about Donnie’s side of the family, George and Margaret attending this wedding ceremony is a sign that they approve of Lorna and Donnie’s marriage on some level.

After Donnie and Lorna get married, Lorna and Jimmy move out of their comfortable home on the spacious ranch and into a small apartment with Donnie in the closest big city. It’s a move that hits Margaret especially hard emotionally, because she has raised Jimmy as if he were her own son, and she won’t be able to see Jimmy as often as she would like. Margaret and George don’t live close to the city, but they live close enough that they can take a trip by car to visit.

One day, Margaret has driven to Donnie and Lorna’s apartment for a surprise visit. Before she can get to the apartment, Margaret sees Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy walking down a nearby street. She’s shocked and dismayed to see Donnie angrily hit Jimmy in the face and then do the same thing to Lorna. Donnie also grabs Lorna and Jimmy in a forceful and abusive way.

Margaret is so upset that she drives away. When she gets home, she tells George what she saw, but they do nothing but worry about how Jimmy (played by twins Bram Hornung and Otto Hornung) is being raised. It’s a sign of the times, when domestic abuse was a lot less likely to be reported than it is now. Margaret and George also didn’t report the abuse because it’s possible that Lorna and Jimmy would deny the abuse happened, out of fear, and then it would be Margaret’s word against Donnie’s.

After witnessing the abuse, Margaret goes back to the apartment on another day. And she’s in for another shock. A neighbor tells Margaret that Donnie, Lorna and Jimmy abruptly moved away to stay with Donnie’s family in North Dakota. It’s at that point that Margaret makes up her mind to not only track them down but also to get Jimmy and possibly Lorna to move back in with Margaret and George.

At first, George is reluctant to interfere, and he expresses concern that he and Margaret are too old to raise Jimmy. But when George sees that nothing will stop Margaret from this mission, he goes along with her because he thinks that she will need protection. And so, George and Margaret go on a road trip to find Jimmy and rescue him from what they’re sure is an abusive household. “Let Him Go” has several impressive panoramic scenes of the open roads and land during this journey.

The first order of business is to find out where the Weboy family lives in North Dakota. George gets help from his connections in law enforcement. Through this investigation, George and Margaret discover that the Weboy clan is a family of troublemakers with a history of illegal violence. Early on in the trip, George got upset when he found out that Margaret brought a loaded gun. But later on, that gun might come in handy.

During their travels on the open road, George and Margaret meet a young Native American man named Peter Dragswolf (played by Booboo Stewart), who’s in his late teens or early 20s, and has been living on his own for the past three years due to some problems in his family. Peter has a stallion as his only companion. Margaret and Peter bond over their love of horses, and it brings back bittersweet memories of Margaret and George’s son James.

George and Margaret eventually continue on their journey and part ways with Peter. But is this the last time that Peter will be in the story? Of course not.

During many parts of this movie, George and Margaret, who both have very stoic and strong-willed personalities, share silent moments that are neither awkward nor out-of-place. George and Margaret are people who are used to living simple, uncomplicated lives. And their longtime marriage has given them a comfort level where they don’t need to be chattering nonstop to be in tune with each other.

It isn’t long before George and Margaret track down the Weboy relative who will introduce them to the rest of the clan: Billy Weboy (played by Jeffrey Donovan) is one of Donnie’s older brothers. When Billy first meets George and Margaret, Billy comes across as smarmy and deceptive and as someone who likes to play mind games. George and Margaret tell Billy who they are, but don’t tell him about their plans to take Jimmy away. The grandparents just pretend that they only want to visit Jimmy and Lorna.

George is immediately suspicious of Billy and doesn’t try to hide his wariness. Margaret has a different approach because she figures that if she’s nice to Billy, he is more likely to cooperate with them. Margaret’s tactic works. Billy takes them to the Weboy family home, where George and Margaret have a very brief and uncomfortable reunion with Jimmy and Lorna, who appear to be very afraid of living in the Weboy home.

Why was this meeting so awkward? Because the Weboy family’s widowed matriarch Blanche (played by Lesley Manville, in full villainous mode) insists that they stay for dinner, but she sternly orders Jimmy to go to bed because he didn’t finish eating something. Blanche makes it very clear to George and Margaret that she expects all of her sons (and any of her son’s children) to live in her home and abide by her overbearing rules.

Blanche also reveals that she holds a grudge because she and the rest of the Weboys weren’t invited to Donnie’s wedding. Even when George and Margaret explain that Donnie never mentioned his family, and they didn’t know about the Weboy family until recently, Blanche still acts resentful toward George and Margaret. This menacing grandmother also suspects the real reason why George and Margaret have come to town.

Blanche is one of these villains who tries to mask her wickedness with smiles, but her hateful personality can still be seen underneath the fake politeness. Her late husband Henry is briefly mentioned in the movie, but not much else is said about Henry except that he’s dead. In addition to Billy and Donnie, Blanche’s other children are Elton (played by Connor Mackay) and Marvin (played by Adam Stafford).

Donnie is the youngest brother, and he’s the only brother who seems to be married with a child. Donnie definitely acts like a control freak with Lorna and Jimmy, but the one person who has control over Donnie is Blanche. Considering the very restrictive lifestyle imposed on Lorna, it might be a little surprising to some viewers that Donnie has let Lorna take a job outside of the home (she works as a sales clerk/cashier in a clothing store), but that might be out of necessity since it’s never made clear what Donnie does for a living, if he works at all.

Movies about adults fighting over custody of a child tend to be argumentative and at times overly melodramatic. “Let Him Go” avoids the usual stereotypes of making this family feud play out in the court system or in public shaming. Instead, the grandparents want to keep this battle as private as possible. The issue of domestic violence is handled in a way that it’s expected to be handled in a story that takes place in an era when survivors of domestic violence didn’t have shelters and assistance programs to the extent that these resources exist now.

There are moments of rage and gripping suspense in “Let Him Go,” but that emotional turn in the movie doesn’t really come later until Margaret and George come to the conclusion that the Weboys are irredeemably abusive and evil. Writer/director Bezucha skillfully brings a “slow burn” quality to this film that leads up to a gripping showdown by the end of the movie.

A lot of the beauty of “Let Him Go” is in how Lane and Costner express the internal resolve of these very determined grandparents. Manville has a fairly predictable villainous character in Blanche, but Manville portrays Blanche as someone who truly believes that what she’s doing is what’s best for her family. What most people would see as abusive, Blanche would describe as “tough love.”

Carter’s portrayal of Lorna character isn’t always the domestic-abuse stereotype of being constantly fearful and meek. She has moments of wanting to assert her individual identity, but she’s usually shut down by an older person (usually Blanche or Margaret), who tells her what she should do instead of asking her what she thinks. Lorna’s background as an orphan is mentioned, and it gives viewers some context over why she doesn’t have any biological relatives who can help her. Later in the story, Lorna and Margaret have an emotionally touching scene where they come to terms with their tension-filled relationship. It’s one of the highlights of the film.

“Let Him Go” has moments that might be a little too quiet or slow-paced for people who expect thrillers to have a lot of non-stop action. But just like Margaret and George in the movie, “Let Him Go” has a steady and deliberate pace that people should not mistake for weakness. Underneath is the type of grit and courage that won’t back down from a fight.

Focus Features released “Let Him Go” in U.S. cinemas on November 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Misbehaviour,’ starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes

September 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Keira Knightley (second from left) and Jessie Buckley (center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

“Misbehaviour”

Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in London in 1970, the dramatic film “Misbehaviour” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of young British feminists stage protests against the Miss World pageant for exploiting the female contestants. 

Culture Audience: “Misbehaviour” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the feminist movement in the 1970s.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (front row center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

If misbehaving means disrupting and not always being polite, then activists will always be labeled as “misbehaving” by people who want to keep the status quo, even if the status quo is oppressing other people. The people who aren’t afraid to protest and “disrupt” are the heroes of “Misbehaviour,” which takes place in London in 1970, at the beginning of the decade’s women’s rights movement. “Misbehaviour” has many familiar hallmarks of movies that are based on true stories of people who fight against the system. However, the film rises above mediocrity, thanks in large part to well-paced direction and a very talented cast.

The main character of “Misbehaviour” is Sally Alexander (played by Keira Knightley), who evolves from being an introverted college student to a passionate leader of a protest movement. Although Sally’s perspective is the driving force of the movie, in many ways, “Misbehaviour” (directed by Philippa Lowthorpe) tells parallel stories of the lives of the feminists and the lives of women in the story who want more traditional lives for themselves.

In the beginning of “Misbehaviour” (written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe), Sally is nervously waiting at the University College London, where she is interviewed by an all-male panel of admissions administrators for a graduate program. Her interview is cleverly intercut with scenes of legendary comedian/actor Bob Hope (played with equal parts sleaze and style by Greg Kinnear) hosting an outdoor show for American and British military men in Vietnam.

As Sally lists her accomplishments to explain why she should be admitted into the university, the movie cuts back and forth to Hope introducing Miss World 1969, Eva Rueber-Staier of Austria (played by Kajsa Mohammar), to a leering and cheering audience of soldiers. While Sally hopes to be judged on her intelligence, Eva is paraded on stage as someone who is there just to be judged as a sex symbol to the audience. It’s a scene that has both contrasts and similarities.

Although Sally and Eva are both in their 20s, they both want different things in their lives. One woman has entered a competitive situation (college admissions) where her mind is valued, while the other has entered a competitive situation (a beauty pageant) where her body is valued. What these two scenarios have in common is that men are running the show, calling the shots and determining who gets to be rewarded.

Even during Sally’s interview, she is judged on her physical appearance, as two of the admissions officers scribble on their notepads and show each other what they think of Sally’s looks on a scale of one to 10. Who really knows if this happened in real life? The point is that even on a college admissions panel, a woman can be judged by how “appealing” she looks in ways that men are not judged.

In the college admissions interview, Sally is asked to give a summary of her life up until that point. She says that she left school at 15, but she ended up completing her undergraduate degree at Rustin College. She enrolled in drama school, only because her mother thought it sounded better than going to secretarial school. Sally says that she wasn’t very good at acting, partly because she dislikes it when people look at her.

Sally also tells the panel that she’s divorced with a 6-year-old daughter. Her marital and parenting status raises some eyebrows of the men on the panel. One of them comments to Sally, “You have a child, Ms. Alexander. Studying here is a big commitment.”

Sally then replies that she completed her undergraduate degree while her daughter was a baby. Sally adds, “The man I live with shares child care.” And that raises even more eyebrows with the men on the panel, since unmarried couples living together is considered taboo by many conservative people, especially in previous decades such as the 1970s.

Two months later, Sally is at home with her live-in boyfriend Gareth (played by John Heffernan); her daughter Abi (played by Maya Kelly); and Sally’s widowed mother Evelyn (played by Phyllis Logan). Sally thinks that she bombed in her University College London interview and expects to get bad news that the university has rejected her. Sally’s pessimism turns to enthusiasm when she gets a letter in the mail informing her that she has been admitted into the university, where she will be studying history.

Gareth is a very supportive boyfriend who does things like cook for the family. Evelyn, who has very traditional views of gender roles, thinks that it’s emasculating for Gareth to cook meals and shop for groceries. Many people might consider Gareth a “beta male” because he’s very happy to let other people, like Sally, be more dominant in his presence. Evelyn isn’t shy about telling her opinions to Sally, who often dismisses them as old-fashioned and sexist.

It’s hinted at but not stated outright that Sally was unhappy in her marriage because she felt oppressed by her ex-husband, who is not seen or heard in this movie. Whatever caused her feminist awakening, Sally is now appalled at beauty pageants that Evelyn and Abi like to watch on television. It bothers Sally so much that she will turn off the television if she’s in the same room while they’re watching a pageant. And she objects when Evelyn plays “pageant dress-up” with Abi.

Evelyn expresses dismay that Sally is against beauty pageants, which Sally feels are “degrading” and “sexist” events that exploit women and treat them as human cattle. Evelyn reminds Sally that Sally used to love watching pageants when Sally was a child. Sally responds by saying that she used to eat her own snot as a child too.

Meanwhile, a feminist from a working-class background is seen spray painting this slogan on a billboard: “Down With Penis Envy.” Her name is Jo Robinson (played by Jessie Buckley), and she’s seen doing this kind of graffiti mischief several times in the movie. In one scene, Sally catches her in the act and tells her to stop because some police officers are nearby.

Sure enough, the police see Sally and Jo and the graffiti and chase after them, but Sally and Jo are able to dodge them by hiding in an alley. (It’s a very stereotypical chase scene.) Sally and Jo get to talking and find out that they’re both feminists, but they have very different attitudes about achieving their feminist goals.

Sally is more about being organized and doing things by-the-book. Jo (who is a former art student) is more radical and prefers anarchist ways that would involve breaking the law. Jo tells Sally, “I don’t really do organized.” Sally tells Jo, “I don’t really do illegal.” When Jo invites Sally to her weekly feminist meeting that week, Jo politely declines because she says that she will be busy helping women who work as cleaning ladies to join a union.

But it should come as no surprise that Sally does eventually go to one of Jo’s meetings. They have ongoing disagreements, but they eventually find common ground and are able to work together for the same cause. Eventually, Sally, Jo and the other women in the group decide to stage protests against the 1970 Miss World Pageant.

“Misbehaviour” also takes a look at the major players behind this particular pageant. Married couple Eric Morley (played by Rhys Ifans) and Julia Morley (played by Keeley Hawes) are Brits who own the annual Miss World Pageant, which began in 1951, and by the early 1970s could attract a worldwide TV audience of more than 100 million people. (Eric died in 2000. Julia Morley is still head of the Miss World Pageant.)

The way the Morleys are portrayed in “Misbehaviour,” Eric is the forceful leader, while Julia is the opinionated follower. Eric is an egotistical TV host who isn’t shy about expressing his sexist views of women. He thinks that the contestants’ physical appearances are the only things that really matter in deciding who will win. And he openly makes crude comments about contestants’ body parts. Julia strongly believes that contestants’ personalities should have equal standing in how they are judged in the pageant.

There’s a subplot in the movie about Hollywood comedian/actor Bob Hope, who is portrayed as a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife Dolores Hope (played by Lesley Manville), who knows about his infidelity and openly talks about it to Bob, who tries his charm his way of it. Dolores also talks about the infidelity to Bob’s young lackey Laurence (played by Samuel Blenkin), who helps write Bob’s jokes. Laurence listens sympathetically, but it’s clear that he’s uncomfortable with this type of conversation and will always side with Bob.

Bob has recently hired an eager, young female personal assistant named Joan Billings (played by Eileen O’Higgins), who takes a call from the Morleys, who have asked Bob to host the Miss World Pageant. Bob says yes. It’s implied, but not shown, that Bob will eventually sexually harass Joan, based on how Bob ogles her and sizes her up on her first day on the job.

The Miss World Pageant is a sore spot for Dolores, since Bob had a torrid affair with one of the contestants the last time he hosted the show about 10 years prior. The mistress ended up moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, because Bob promised to help her become an actress, but her affair with Bob eventually fizzled. Dolores is understandably not thrilled that Bob will be hosting the Miss World Pageant again.

And within the behind-the-scenes drama of the Miss World Pageant is Eric Morley’s attempt to deal with the increasing criticism that the pageant is getting because no woman of color has been a winner at the pageant yet. In order to deflect the accusations of racism, he decides to let South Africa (then under apartheid rule) send a black contestant, who is hastily given the title Miss Africa South, because Miss South Africa (who is white) has already been chosen.

And the Miss World Pageant’s nine-person judging panel that year also attempted to diversify. Most of the judges were still white men, including American singer Glen Campbell. But there were some women and people of color who were judges that year, such as British actress Joan Collins, Danish singer/actress Nina, Roesmin Nurjadin (who was ambassador of Indonesia to Great Britain) and Eric Gairy, who was the first prime minister of Grenada.

The four Miss World contestants who get the most screen time and dialogue in the movie are Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who would become the first woman of color to win the Miss World title; Miss Africa South Pearl Jansen (played by Loreece Harrison), who has an immediate bond with Jennifer; Miss United States Sandra Wolsfeld (played by Suki Waterhouse), who likes being the center of attention; and Miss Sweden Maj Johansson (played by Clara Rosager), who was widely predicted as the top contender going into the pageant. Miss South Africa Jillian Jessup (played by Emma Corrin) is essentially a cameo in the movie.

In addition to the issues of gender discrimination and feminism that are at the forefront of the movie, “Misbehaviour” addresses racism and “white privilege” in beauty pageants. In one scene, Miss Sweden complains to Miss Grenada about how she’s not used to people ordering her around the way that the Miss World pageant officials order the contestants around. Miss Grenada replies, “You’re lucky if you think this is being treated badly.”

In another scene, Miss Africa South almost breaks down and cries when she tells Miss Grenada that she was told by her country’s government to be careful about what she says to other contestants and the media. She says that the government threatened to revoke her passport if she said the wrong things and she wouldn’t be allowed back into South Africa, where her entire family is. The implication is that because she is the first black contestant representing South Africa in the Miss World contestant, she better not speak out against apartheid.

However, the pageant contestants are really supporting characters to the feminists in the movie. There are a few scenes where the feminists tell people that they are not protesting against the contestants but are protesting against a very patriarchal system of pageantry that reduces women’s value to their scantily clad body parts. Their protests leading up to the pageant get a lot of media attention, and Sally finds herself reluctantly and then willingly becoming the spokesperson for the group.

Pageants realistically won’t be banned, but the protesters want less exploitation of women’s bodies and more emphasis on viewing the contestants as well-rounded people. Easier said than done. Because there has to be some suspense in a movie like this, the last third of the movie involves Sally and the rest of the feminists hatching a plot to infiltrate audience at the Miss World Pageant ceremony and disrupting the show on live television.

“Misbehaviour” is not an Oscar-worthy film because there’s not much originality in how this story is told. However, Knightley, Buckley, Mbatha-Raw, Kinnear and Manville all do very good performances in their roles. The vibrant costume design and production design for the movie are also admirably on point.

And even though “Misbehaviour” has multiple storylines going on—the feminist group, the beauty pageant, Bob Hope’s marriage problems, Sally’s clashes with her mother—it doesn’t feel overstuffed, because the screenplay ties them all together cohesively. If people are in the mood for a feel-good feminist drama and more insight into the 1970 Miss World Pageant controversies, then “Misbehaviour” strikes the right balance of being entertaining and informative.

Shout! Factory released “Misbehaviour” on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

Review: ‘Ordinary Love,’ starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in “Ordinary Love” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Bleecker Street)

“Ordinary Love”

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

Culture Representation: Taking place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, “Ordinary Love” has a predominantly white cast of middle-class characters, with the story focusing on a middle-aged couple who’ve been married for about 30 years.

Culture Clash: The couple’s marriage is put to the test when the wife finds out that she has breast cancer, and they have disagreements about her medical treatment.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who want to see a well-acted, tear-jerking drama with realistic portrayals of marriage and health issues that affect millions of people.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in “Ordinary Love” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

It’s no easy task to make a movie about someone getting cancer. The subject matter can be extremely depressing and there’s always the possibility that it will turn off an audience. However, the drama “Ordinary Love” is probably one of the most emotionally authentic scripted “cancer movies” that’s been made in quite some time. But be warned: Some of the scenes are so realistic, they’ll be very triggering for anyone who’s gone through something similar.

In the beginning of the story, life seems to be on a tranquil keel for middle-aged Belfast couple Tom (played by Liam Neeson) and Joan (played by Lesley Manville), who’ve been married for about 30 years and appear to be retired. Viewers see them going on pleasant walks together and going on errands. But one day, Joan feels a lump on her breast and makes a hospital appointment to get a medical exam about it.

Tom accompanies Joan to the appointment, where he tells her in the waiting area that he hates hospitals because they’re depressing and they remind him of death. After the exam, they’re told that the cyst in Joan’s breast could be cancerous. The doctor tells them that on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is not cancerous and 5 is definitely cancerous, the cyst is about a 3. Joan tries to look on the bright side, but Tom is already bracing himself for bad news.

And it is very bad news: Joan has cancer, and she has to have surgery to remove two lumps and about 13 lymph nodes. As the dreaded news sinks in, Joan tries to deal with it as bravely, even somewhat cheerfully, as possible, while Tom grows despondent and pessimistic.

The cancer diagnosis and the possibility of Joan dying also opens a wound from their past: Tom and Joan’s only child, a daughter named Debbie, died when she was an adult. It’s not mentioned in the movie how she died, but Debbie’s death has left a huge void in their lives. “I’m glad that Debbie isn’t here to see this,” Joan says of her cancer diagnosis. “It would break her heart.”

While in the car on the way to checking in for her hospital stay, Joan remembers that she hasn’t had time to visit Debbie’s grave since the cancer diagnosis. She asks Tom go to Debbie’s grave to tell her about Joan having cancer. Tom thinks it’s a ridiculous request, but Joan gets very upset and emotional when Tom expresses reluctance to do what she asked. He eventually does what Joan wishes. His scene at the grave is one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the movie.

There isn’t an unrealistic moment in “Ordinary Love,” mainly because of Neeson’s and Manville’s superb performances. The movie’s greatest authenticity is not from wailing melodrama (which a lot of cancer movies have) but from the quiet moments, such as the fear in Joan’s eyes as they’re preparing her for surgery, or the small talk that she makes with a fellow patient who’s also about to go into surgery.

The movie also shows the tensions that can arise from this traumatic medical diagnosis. Joan snaps at Tom because she thinks he asks the doctor too many questions. Tom thinks that Joan is not asking enough questions. She tells him to be quiet. Viewers can tell that this bickering isn’t really about how many questions the doctor is being asked but about how differently Tom and Joan are dealing with the diagnosis.

And in one of the best scenes in the film, the emotions run really raw when Tom and Joan get into an argument about how she takes her medication. He thinks she should be more mindful of her prescription pills—what to take and when to take them—and he starts to lecture her by saying that they’re both going through this together. Joan explodes and accuses him of being unsympathetic. She tells him that that as bad as he might be feeling, she feels even worse because she’s the one who has cancer and she’s the one who’s going through the type of pain that’s so severe, she can’t even think straight.

If people who see this movie wonder why it seems so realistic, it’s because “Ordinary Love” screenwriter Owen McCafferty’s wife Peggy was diagnosed with breast cancer. And “Ordinary Love” directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn are married in real life, which no doubt added a genuine layer to how Joan and Tom’s marital dynamic is portrayed on screen.

Tom and Joan also have several moments of loving support throughout this ordeal. When Joan starts to lose her hair because of chemotherapy, she asks Tom to help her shave it all off. He then tells her, “You’re a star, kid. You’re an absolute star.” And there are moments of shared humor, such as when Joan ends up choosing a wig and they have some laughs over her new look.

There’s also a subplot where, by chance, Joan sees a fellow patient she knows from her past. His name is Peter (played by David Wilmot), and he was one of Debbie’s teachers when Debbie was a child. Peter also has cancer, and he and Joan end up becoming confidants. Meanwhile, Peter’s life partner Steve (played by Amit Shah) and Tom find common ground in the feelings of grief and anxiety that come from having a partner go through cancer treatment.

“Ordinary Love” is the kind of movie where viewers will probably end up shedding some tears or getting very emotional in other ways. The title of the film is somewhat of a misnomer because the story shows that any love that can help someone through the trauma of cancer is far from ordinary.

Bleeker Street released “Ordinary Love” in select U.S. cinemas on February 14, 2020.

 

 

Daniel Day-Lewis plays a complicated fashion designer in ‘Phantom Thread’

December 25, 2017

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Phantom Thread" (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)
Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)

Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, “Phantom Thread” is the story of renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (played by Lesley Manville), who are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (played by Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. With his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson paints an illuminating portrait both of an artist on a creative journey, and the women who keep his world running. “Phantom Thread” is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis.

Here are videos and photos from “Phantom Thread”:

 

 

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