Sir Dickie takes the Big Sleep


With the summer gone, it is time to take stock of some of the summer movies, for whose sake I have sadly neglected the arthouse fare: it is my one chance of the year to catch up with popular cinema, as Ipswich Film Theatre tends to revert to one-show-a-night at 7.30, too early for a family man like myself!

First off was Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise’s latest shoot’em-up, this time with Bourne director Doug Liman. I liked this because, like last year’s Oblivion, it had half a brain and its central concept – how to take advantage of your alien enemy’s ability to bend time when you find yourself affected by the same life-repeating gift – was satisfyingly played out to the end, although they did rather have their cake and eat it there. The snag with the whole replay thing was that it is the kind of conceit you can just about use to pad out an episode of The Twilight Zone or Dr Who, but in a feature-length film one craves some sort of development of relationships between characters. This is all but impossible if everyone except the hero is starting over each time. Never mind, it’s a useful emblem for Cruise’s career, anyway. Apparently he is at work on MI-5 now.

Maleficent was a revisionist retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with our wicked fairy actually now a wronged fairy queen out to get revenge on the king who (literally) clipped her wings – a quite upsetting scene for a kids’ film, even though it is all done with a discreet cut transition. Angelina Jolie has enormous fun with the role – did I not mention Emily Blunt enjoying kicking Tom’s butt with equal relish? – cultivating a suitably English accent to assure villainy, while leaving us in no doubt as to the pain and ‘redeemability’ beneath the sarcasm. But aren’t we getting fed up with these CGI fantasy realms, from Avatar to Epic to TinkerBell and the Secret of the Wings with their endless scenes of flying? It takes one back to all those space adventures of the 1980s, where technology drove the film-making, instead of vice versa.

Lastly, I saw the disappointing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sort of remake of Battle for the Planet of the Apes if your memory goes back that far. Apart from the superb ape makeup, again thanks to advances in motion capture and so on, there was little to be said for the plot, which was the usual friendship-between-apes-and-humans-jeopardised-by-fear-and-resentment-within-the-ranks tale of what makes us human threatening what makes us human. At least there was the twist that it was an ape who put the spanner in the works, because he has been experimented upon by humans, but I found myself missing Roddy McDowall; for all Andy Serkis’s impressive performance, I felt unable to judge which part of it was he and which the technology.

I cannot sign off without noting the passing of three great names over the summer: Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Richard Attenborough. Williams was so often an actor in search of a role that did justice to his peculiar talents without being swamped by them, but one remembers Dead Poet’s Society with affection and Insomnia and One Hour Photo with some admiration. Bacall was just as much a problematic screen presence in some ways. Such a goddess in her youth opposite Bogie, in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Key Largo and Dark Passage, in maturity she grew gaunter and harder to cast, though she had a long and varied career on stage and film. She was also married to Jason Robards in the sixties but, I suspect, never got over Bogie. It was a long widowhood, if so.

Surely, though, the personage of Dickie Attenborough is altogether another kettle of fish, a colossus astride the British Film Industry for at least fifty years, from In Which We Serve to Shadowlands and beyond. Actor, director, producer, BAFTA, the BFI… there can be few British film institutions untouched by him. In the 1960s he formed Beaver Films with Bryan Forbes and as such enriched the new wave of British ‘working class’ cinema with The Angry Silence and Whistle Down the Wind. All the while he turned in impressive acting gigs, with Guns at Batasi, Séance on a Wet Afternoon and 10 Rillington Place. And then there were his directorial triumphs, from Oh! What a Lovely War to Gandhi, often using the British acting establishment to attack just that: the establishment! He was a true liberal, and his political film-making was sometimes naïve, but a more devoted worker in film it is hard to find.