Archive for April, 2014

USA 2013

Director: Josh Feldman

Writers: Josh Feldman & Britton Watkins

Runtime: 84 mins

Another low-budget entry at Sci-Fi-London 2014, Senn is an ambitious visually impressive movie with echoes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Senn is the name of the main character (played by Zach Eulberg), a lowly production line worker on some godforsaken planet owned by an oppressive corporation. Senn regularly finds himself drifting away into bizarre waking dreams, to the point where his girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor)  is concerned that he will be “delisted” and assigned the lowliest possible job – sifting waste.

One day, as Senn’s waking dreams are threatening to get out of control, a vast alien spaceship arrives. Realising that this is an opportunity they must take, Senn and Kana are whisked away to the Polychronom, an ancient object that has somehow chosen Senn for a purpose unknown. Senn and Kana’s alien host is a called We (Wylie Herman), a being that appears in human form, like an eager-to-please butler, but who is actually the manifestation of some kind of dimensional energy. We and his fellow beings wish to understand the Polychronom, but in order to do so need to study Senn. However, Senn turns out not to be the first organism to be chosen by the Polychronom, and it seems that others have met unfortunate fates. What will the future hold for Senn?

Director Josh Feldman, whose background is in graphic design, brings a great visual sensibility to Senn, providing the kind of images you wouldn’t normally expect to see in a low budget production. There is also a good soundtrack by Cubosity Music.  The film has some nice flashes of wit, too, especially in the person of We, who is depicted brilliantly by Wylie Herman. Lauren Taylor gives a solid performance as Kana, as does Taylor Lambert playing Senn’s friend Resh. Unfortunately, I was less convinced by the performance of Zach Eulberg himself, whose acting seemed a bit awkward at times.

Despite the film’s various good points, it is rather let down by the writing. There is the nugget of a good idea in the basic story, but there is barely any dramatic tension, no conflict to keep the viewer’s attention. Everything just kind of rolls along until the end. No matter how good the visuals and music are, it is good writing that is at the heart of any movie. Partway through the film I realised that just as Senn’s thoughts were drifting away again, so were mine.

Rating: 5/10

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Soulmate (1)

UK: 2013

Written and directed by Axelle Carolyn

Runtime: 104 mins

Axelle Carolyn’s Soulmate is an atmospheric gothic chiller that entertains but ultimately fails to deliver on its initial promise. The story begins with a very graphic suicide attempt by Audrey (Anna Walton), a beautiful young musician who – we later learn – has survived a car crash in which her husband died. Audrey likewise survives the attempted suicide but, finding that friends and family cannot understand her feelings, she retreats to a remote country cottage in order to reassess her life.

Upon arrival Audrey is greeted by the rather over-friendly owner, Theresa (Tanya Miles), who lives just down the road with her husband Dr Zellaby (Nick Brimble). When Audrey later reports strange noises coming from a locked upstairs room at night, Theresa and Dr Zellaby appear strangely reluctant to investigate. Eventually, the ghost of the cottage’s previous owner, Douglas (Tom Wisdom), manifests himself to Audrey. Over successive days, Douglas and Audrey get to know each other. As they become closer Douglas begins to take an increasingly physical form. So far, so The Ghost and Mrs Muir, but where is this relationship actually going to go? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is: into soap opera territory.

There are no real scares in Soulmate, although writer-director Carolyn does a good job of creating a gothic atmosphere in the first half. But for one thing, this seems like the kind of film that you would watch over the Christmas season, with a glass of whisky or mulled wine to hand. However, it is hard to imagine the TV programmers showing the ghastly suicide attempt that opens the film. In fact, I felt that this opening sat somewhat uneasily with the rather traditional fare that followed.

The actors all turn in solid performances and Anna Walton is very watchable as the pale, introspective Audrey. However, someone should have pointed out to her that when you play the violin your fingers should actually move over the strings.

Shown at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Rating: 6/10

The Perfect 46 (1)

USA 2014

Run time: 97 mins.

Written and directed by Brett Ryan Bonowicz, The Perfect 46 charts the rise and fall of Jesse Darden, the creator of a website that assesses the genetic compatibility of would-be parents, and later develops into a glorified dating website. Whit Hertford’s performance as Darden is one of the few things I can recommend about The Perfect 46. When Derden is on the up Hertford brings to the role a passionate intensity that is reminiscent of Steve Jobs and other wunderkind from the modern tech industry. Likewise, Hertford does a great job of conveying dark despair, with an element of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, once things start to go wrong for Darden. A turning point for Darden comes when his own product shows him to be sterile and his wife leaves him. Later, there are also company problems to be faced.

Unfortunately, The Perfect 46 violates a couple of key principles of moviemaking. Firstly, rather than letting action drive the plot and letting characters’ behaviours reveal their thoughts and attitudes, large swathes of the film are given to interminable explanations and ethical discussions. If I wanted to have issues relating to genetic matchmaking explained to me, I would read a book or watch a documentary; in film fiction, however, extended explanation is frankly a bore. The Perfect 46 presents us with company executives giving explanations to news programmes, with executives expounding in the boardroom, and at one point there is even a dinner party at which characters bat the issues back and forth at great length. Part of the plot involves two hooded men breaking into Darden’s country retreat, where one of them then engages in even more philosophical discussion with Darden.

The second problem is the lack of any sympathetic character. Darden himself is the central figure in the film. Unfortunately, we are never given any reason to care about him. You might think that being diagnosed as sterile would give the viewer some reason to feel for Darden, but ironically he mostly behaves like a prick.

In the final scene of the film, the reason for the intruders’ break-in is made clear. Frustratingly, the dialogue at this point becomes quite intense and convincing. In one sense you could say the film ended on a high point, but on the other hand this last segment also hinted at how much better the rest of the film could have been.

Shown at Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.

Rating: 3/10

Bunker 6 (1)

Bunker 6 is a brilliant Canadian low-budget (about £70,000) movie set in an alternate future. Shot in an actual nuclear fallout shelter in Nova Scotia, it tells the story of a small group of people living below ground after a nuclear strike in 1962 (the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the cold war threatened to go hot). Although billed as science fiction, in many ways it is closer to a gothic horror where the nuclear bunker substitutes for the country house.

The central character is Grace (Andrea Lee Norwood), who – in 1962 – is still a young girl living with her parents. Her father is a senior military figure, so when the bomb goes off they are all piling into the shelter. However, Grace’s parents get caught in the blast before they can get through the entrance door. Several years later, Grace survives below ground with two men and two women, led by ruthless young Alice (Molly Dunsworth). Communications with the outside world and other bunkers have been lost. However, noone can leave until the red light above the strong metal door turns green. Grace regularly monitors the colour of this light. She also has engineering responsibilities, ensuring the the power keeps running in their subterranean prison.

But the problems of engineering are nothing compared to the challenge of simply staying sane, and we learn that an earlier inhabitant went crazy, killing his wife and then himself. Then, when one of their number is found dead the struggle for survival becomes even more intense. Should they remain in the bunker or should they risk going back into the outside world? However, if the external environment is still deadly then opening the blast doors will kill all of them, and so Alice will not allow anybody to leave.

There are assured performances from all concerned, especially Andrea Lee Norwood. I thought the initial set-up – Grace as a child and the beginning of war – was a little rushed, but beyond this Greg Jackson’s script and direction builds the tension effectively. The use of a real nuclear bunker gives the whole thing a genuinely claustrophobic atmosphere.

Shown at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival

Rating: 8/10

Desolate is a 77 minute film made on a shoestring budget by director Rob Grant, using a single DSLR camera and some borrowed sound equipment. It is also surprisingly good, though needless to say you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for it to appear at your nearest multiplex. I saw this film at the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, and I daresay the festival circuit may well be your best chance to catch up with it if you are a sci-fi fan.

The story concerns Chad (Jez Bonham), who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Annie (Teagan Vincze). Consequently, he has hit the bottle, believing that Annie is having an affair with his best friend, Devon (Justin Sproule). Whilst Chad and Devon are arguing about this up in the hills, there is a huge explosion in the town below. Chad returns to his apartment where the rolling news coverage reveals that the devastation may have been a UFO crashing, and that witnesses have reported seeing “creatures”. Creatures there turn out to be, and they don’t want to make friends.

Given the lack of budget, director Grant cleverly relies on the viewer’s own imagination to create an atmosphere of fear.  It’s a horror movie technique as old as the hills to use the sight of a door to make us afraid of what might be on the other side, but it works with great effect here. I was genuinely gripped throughout. Of course, given the limitations that Grant is working within, there are lots of shaky camera shots deployed, with people and objects going in and out of focus. Although these techniques are fairly obvious to the viewer, Grant at least does not attempt to pad the film out, and I thought the film was just about the right length. It kept my attention until the rather Shakespearean ending.

Perhaps the weakest aspect was that the central character of Chad was not especially likeable. He starts out as rather self-pitying and selfish, and I can’t say that he seemed much different at the end. On the other hand, he isn’t a bad character, so I was still able to root for him against the monsters – I don’t know if all viewers would be as tolerant as me in this regard!

Rating: 6/10

The_Quiet_Ones_2014

If you could cure all mankind by killing just one person, would it be justifiable to do so? This is the moral conundrum that Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) likes to present to his Class of 1975 at Oxford University. Coupland himself has enlisted help from a group of students to run an ethically dubious experiment on Jane (Olivia Cooke), a girl who has apparently caused strange phenomena to occur at the various foster homes she has been placed in. She appears to be possessed by Evey, a malevolent spirit. The Professor rejects supernatural explanations, but thinks she has some negative energy within her that can be drawn out and trapped. In order to do this the Professor subjects her to a series of increasingly intense provocations, resulting in alarming responses from “Evey” that cause harm to Jane, and then begin to put the Professor and his students at risk.

With its storyline of a rationalist professor battling supernatural forces, The Quiet Ones harkens back to earlier gothic classics Night of the Demon and Night of the Eagle. However, whereas those films involved a gradual build up of tension before the final climax, The Quiet Ones quickly reaches into the horror movie grab-bag of false alarm scares, loud bangs and thumps, and shaky camera work (one of the characters is filming events, so we get a lot of through-the-viewfinder footage, too). Jared Harris is excellent as the rather ambiguous Professor Coupland, but you’d have to be of a particularly nervous disposition to be frightened by the events shown here, and anyone who’s reasonably familiar with the horror genre will see the ending coming a mile away.

Rating: 6/10

Running time: 98 minutes.

Lost Time (1)

Kicking off this year’s Sci-Fi-London Film Festival, Lost Time is described in the programme notes thus: “A psychological sci-fi thriller with horror overtones, it doesn’t always go where you expect it to”. This is a very accurate description, but unfortunately the places the story goes are sometimes places it probably shouldn’t have.

The story concerns a cancer patient, Valerie (Rochelle Vallese), who has just been told that her condition is terminal. On the way home with her sister Melissa (Jenni Blong) a bizarre and traumatic event occurs in which the latter mysteriously disappears. Has she been abducted by aliens? Four months later Valerie’s cancer has vanished, but she is still risking her health trudging the mean streets of the city trying to find Melissa. Lurking in the background is cop boyfriend Carter (Luke Goss), who is somewhat frustrated that Valerie feels unable to resume normal relations until her quest has achieved its goal. Valerie seeks out author Dr Xavier Reed (Robert Davi), who insists that the answers lie within her and that he can help her find them. However, his treatment turns out to be distinctly unconventional.

The basic story is rather good and there are one or two nice twists, but there are also some slightly risible ones and the dialogue at times is distinctly creaky. There were a few places where laughter was unintentionally elicited from the audience around me. There is also some rather obvious padding, with an overuse of dialogue-free scenes where the images are set to music, but which do not move the story along.

I assume that Lost Time is a low-budget labour of love, as actors Vallese, Goss, and Davi appear variously among the credits for writing, production, and music supervision. Director Christian Sesma also has credits for writing and production. However, it is in the writing and direction that weaknesses are most apparent. On the positive side, Rochelle Vallese really rises above the material to give an excellent performance as Valerie. She is definitely the star of the show, even more so than Robert Davi, who has appeared in major movies such as Die Hard and License to Kill. Davi is adequate enough here, but much of his oddness relies on the theatricality of wearing a coat, hat, and scarf indoors. Former Bros singer Luke Goss certainly looks the part of a tough cop, being all stubbly and shaven-headed, and kicking bad guys’ asses in his first scene. However, he fails to shine in his role, which is unsurprising as most of his lines seem to consist of uninspiring phrases such as “Come on, baby” and “Stick with me, baby”.

Despite a few good moments, by the end of the film I felt that the title pretty much summed up my experience.

Rating: 5/10

Tracks_2013

Australia / UK 2013

Director: John Curran

110 minutes

 

Most of us occasionally wish we could get away from other people for a while. Anyone who has deliberately gone seeking solitude, however, will have discovered just how elusive that is. Other people seem to turn up in the remotest places. So it was when, in 1975, Robyn Davidson set out to trek across the Australian desert with just three camels and her black labrador, Diggity, to keep her company. Tracks, written by Marion Nelson and directed by John Curran, is based on Davidson’s 1980 book recounting her epic journey.

We never truly learn what motivated this extraordinary trek, but a number of possible factors are provided. The opening scene hints at a traumatic childhood event, intercutting images of Robyn walking across a shimmering desert landscape with flashback images of the young Robyn making some kind of painful departure from home (later, we learn that her mother’s suicide and the failure of her father’s business meant she had to go and live with an aunt, leaving her father behind with the pet dog that was to be put down). In one monologue Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) refers to her dissatisfaction with the “indulgent” lifestyles of those around her, to her own inability to stick to anything she tries, and to a desire to be alone. In Alice Springs, the starting point for her journey, Davidson experiences misogyny and witnesses anti-Aborigine racism, all of which suggests further reasons for wishing to escape into the desert. Indeed, it is telling that the first person who behaves with kindness and generosity is a camel farmer of Afghan descent.

Having spent many months learning how to work with camels, Davidson still needs to raise funds to buy enough camels and to cover the cost of supplies. When her solitude is interrupted by a rather unwelcome visit from some friends and their companions, a National Geographic photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver), leaves her the magazine’s contact details. He tells her they would jump at the chance to sponsor her trip in return for some journalistic coverage. Initially reluctant, she eventually gets in touch and the deal is made. Consequently, she balks when her journey is interrupted at intervals by the appearance of Smolan in his Land Rover, asking her to pose for photographs. At one point her relationship with a group of Aborigines is compromised when Smolan is spotted taking photographs of a secret ceremony. But is not just Smolan who disrupts Davidson’s journey. She is a curiosity for passing tourists, especially once the news of her adventure starts to spread, and eventually other journalists want in on the action.

Even in the outback Davidson is unable to full escape society’s absurdities. She is refused entrance to the area around Ayers Rock / Uluru on the basis that camels are not allowed in. When asked what the issue with camels is, the (white) warden tells her “This is a sacred site”. Meanwhile, camper vans full of gawping tourists with cameras are allowed through. Aboriginal society also turns out to be a man’s world. Davidson is told she cannot cross a sacred site unless accompanied by a (male) aboriginal elder. Fortunately, an elder by the name of Eddie (memorably played by Roly Mintuma) offers to help and the two strike up a good relationship, to the extent that she asks him to escort her a little further once they have left the site. When a dead kangaroo needs slicing for food, Eddie takes the knife from her, telling her that this is the man’s job. This is the one aspect of the film where I would have liked to have had some inkling of Davidson’s thoughts. It is hard to imagine that she would have approved of such male domination, yet she always appears respectful to the aborigines she meets. Later, when Davidson is about to cut up a kangaroo herself she hallucinates Eddie’s presence and stops what she is doing.

At one level, the film is a metaphor for life. It is about the necessity for compromise, cooperation, and the need for other people. Davidson has to compromise the purity of her ideal (a journey alone) in order to obtain the means to pursue it (the sponsorship deal, with its attendant consequences). She wants to be self-sufficient on her journey, but ultimately is only able to survive with the assistance of others. She wants to make her journey without other people, but strikes up important relationships with Eddie and Rick. At another level, Tracks is an odd-couple road trip movie, where Robyn Davidson and Rick Smolan are the mismatched couple. To begin with her proud, uncommunicative misanthropy is in stark contrast to his eager, puppy-dog chattiness. Eventually, however, she comes to value his presence and accept his help, and he feeds misinformation to his fellow journalists so that she is not being hounded by unwanted attention.

The Australian outback is, of course, a cinematographer’s dream, and Mandy Walker doesn’t disappoint in this regard, providing us with some stunningly beautiful images of this incredible part of the world. Garth Stevenson’s music soundtrack is rhythmic and hypnotic, but never intrusive. There is some mystery about the authorship of the screenplay. According to ABC News Marion Nelson is a pseudonym, and they speculate that the author might be the “fiercely private” Davidson herself. At the heart of everything is a splendid performance by Mia Wasikowska. Even though the film doesn’t attempt to pin down Davidson’s inner motivations, Wasikowska herself depicts a variety of emotions, by turn being tough, defiant, vulnerable, frightened, and confused. Even though we know Davidson survived her journey, the sense of danger that is portrayed is very real. One suspects that the location filming would have posed a real challenge, and this is the second strong performance this year by a female actor in a strange – to them – environment (the other being Scarlett Johansson wandering around Glasgow in Under The Skin).

As a survival story, Tracks makes for an interesting comparison with All is Lost, which was released just a few months ago. They are of course polar opposites, being, respectively, tales of desert and ocean survival, one featuring a woman as its central figure and the other a man (incidentally, Tracks passes the Bechdel Test – just). The central protagonist in each case is a tough loner with a minimal backstory (none in the case of All is Lost) whose survival ultimately depends on help from others. Both are very fine films, but for those who found the lack of other characters and lack of emotional variation a little hard to take in All Is Lost (I don’t count myself among such viewers) then Tracks should be rather more appealing in this regard. Certainly, I think it joins Walkabout and Wake In Fright as one of the great outback movies.

Rating: 9/10

 

Berberian_Sound_Studio

Berberian Sound Studio is the second directorial outing for Peter Strickland, who also wrote the screenplay. It is interesting and entertaining, what I guess could be considered a postmodern horror movie. Toby Jones plays Gilderoy, a British sound engineer, who arrives at an Italian film studio believing they are making a film about equestrianism, though in fact they are making a giallo – a pulpish horror movie. Gilderoy, who is short, drably dressed, rather meek, and lives with his mother, finds himself being pushed around by two tall sharply-dressed Italians, Francesco the producer (Cosimo Fusco) and Giancarlo Santini the director (Antonio Mancino).

The film they are making is supposedly an historical drama about the mistreatment of women who were believed to be witches, but Gilderoy is uncomfortable with the scenes that he is creating the sound effects for. Nonetheless he gets on with it, and we get to see the mechanics of sound production for this kind of film. There are intricate sound maps, indicating the sounds that are required at particular times, and for which scenes. Microphones are positioned and swapped, dials are turned and buttons pressed. All manner of fruits and vegetables are recruited for the purpose of creating the sound accompaniment to torture and gore. We see blades slicing through melons and being twisted in marrows, roots being pulled from radishes, and some sort of red-coloured item being pulped in a blender (the sound of a chainsaw). At no time, however, do we see any of the actual visuals for the film.

Santini tries to convince Gilderoy of the serious intent of the movie, emphasising that the horrific scenes are necessary for historical accuracy. However, the concern about the historical mistreatment of women seems to be at odds with the way that Francesco and – especially – Santini treat the female voiceover artists. There are perhaps two events that represent a significant turning point in the narrative. Firstly, Gilderoy balks when asked to create the sound effect of a red hot poker being inserted into a woman’s vagina. Secondly, after being given the runaround over his expenses one of the voiceover artists, Claudia (Eugenia Caruso), tells him that being rude and aggressive is the only way to get what you want at the studio.

From this point on the narrative becomes increasingly disorienting and the barriers between fiction and reality start to dissolve. There is a definite influence of David Lynch in the way things develop, and I was also reminded a little bit of the Ealing classic Dead of Night. As is appropriate for a story about a sound engineer, sound is used effectively throughout. At various places, whilst Gilderoy is trying to sort out his expenses, or whilst we are contemplating the sound maps on the wall, the audio accompaniment makes these mundanities seem like the background to something mysterious and terrible.

For all its accomplishments, Berberian Sound Studio does not pack the punch of a David Lynch movie, but it is enjoyable enough and a fun deconstruction of the unseen elements of a horror movie. Toby Jones is excellent as Gilderoy and has been justly rewarded at several film festivals.

Rating: 8/10

Colonel Blimp (2)

UK 1943

Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Screenplay: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Running time: 163 minutes

 

**SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED**

Arguably, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is the greatest of the great films made by the fabulous duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was restored in 1983 and again in 2011. Among the additional features with the most recent version is an interesting and informative piece by  Martin Scorcese describing the process of restoration.

The film is an original story based on David Low’s cartoon character from the 1930s, depicting a pompous and jingoistic red-faced old buffer, who issues ridiculous and often self-contradictory pronouncements from the Turkish bath at his club. For many years, the term “Blimpish” was often used in Britain to refer to somebody holding such attitudes, though it is less often heard now. Powell and Pressburger’s character, played brilliantly in three different ages by Roger Livesy, is not actually named “Blimp”, nor does he die, and nor is he a colonel (he eventually attains the rank of Major-General). The character of Clive Wynne-Candy is, in fact, a far more human and sympathetic individual than his cartoon counterpart.

The story begins in World War 2. A group of Home Guard soldiers are preparing for a training exercise. Lieutenant “Spud” Wilson (James McKechnie) has learned from a woman nicknamed “Mata Hari”, close to the top brass, that the exercise is to begin at midnight. Reckoning that initiative counts for more than rules in modern warfare, he leads his men in a pre-emptive strike on Wynne-Candy’s club, capturing the Major-General himself and all the other officers. Wynne-Candy is elderly, bald, plump, and sports a large walrus moustache. He is apoplectic at the intrusion, uttering the immortal words: “Yer damn young fool, war begins at midnight!” He knocks Spud into the pool, then jumps in after him and the two disappear beneath the water.

We then see a much younger Wynne-Candy emerge from the pool: it is now 1902, and our young officer is on leave from the Boer War. He and his fellow young officers are brash and loud, to the annoyance of the older patrons of the baths. However, despite his youth Wynne-Candy has distinguished himself in battle, earning the highest award for bravery, the Victoria Cross. He receives a letter from a British woman in Berlin called Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr). She is concerned about a German by the name of Kaunitz (David Ward) who is spreading “lies” about British behaviour in the Boer war, such as the story that they are operating concentration camps. She wants Candy to go to Berlin to counter the propaganda. Candy’s superiors tell him not to go, but he ignores them.

In Berlin, Candy tries to tease Kauntiz, who he knows from an earlier encounter, but it escalates into an argument in which Candy manages to insult the honour of the entire German army. He gets drawn into a duel with the Germans’ champion, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). The depiction of this is one of the great cinematic moments. There is a long lead up to the duel itself, building the tension but also emphasising the absurdity of the whole enterprise. Then, as sabres start to clash, the camera zooms out and upwards, away from the action, and through the roof of the building itself, so that we are looking down on the compound as snow falls beautifully from the sky.

The story picks up in a hospital where both duellists are recovering from their wounds. Wynne-Candy’s face is bandaged: his upper lip has been almost severed and he subsequently grows an ample moustache in order to cover the scar. It is a neat element of the story, building an empathetic bridge with the older Wynne-Candy who we saw at the start of the film. During their stay at the hospital, and over countless games of cards, the two officers become friends. Moreover, Theo and Edith Hunter fall in love, and she stays in Berlin to marry him. Candy is delighted for them both, but only when he returns to London does he realise that he too has fallen for her. He deals with his feelings by going on a hunting tour and we see the walls of his room in London filling up with the animal-head trophies. In one of the DVD/Blu-Ray extras, Stephen Fry notes that this scene is so politically incorrect as to be almost inconceivable in a modern movie. However, this scene is not just about Candy’s loneliness or his enjoyment of hunting; it also reminds us that Britain at this point in history had the largest empire the world has ever seen (the trophies all come from empire countries).  The reminder is a salutary one, as the First World War is just around the corner.

When the Great War breaks out, Candy again serves his country. However, his old-fashioned notions of honour are beginning to look dated. He treats the interrogation of a German prisoner like a chat between gentlemen. The German remains silent and Candy is called on business. Once he has gone, a South African member of the British Army takes over and makes it clear that his methods of questioning will be less refined (these methods are left to the viewers’ imaginations). Candy views Britain’s victory in World War 1 as a demonstration that “right is might” – honourable methods will always defeat dirty tricks such as poisoned gas. He meets a nurse – Barbara – who bears a striking resemblance to Edith (also played by Deborah Kerr), and the two get married. Theo is held as a prisoner of war in Derbyshire, but when hostilities cease Candy takes him to a dinner where various British dignitaries are present. They all represent different parts of the British Empire, and try to assure Theo that Britain holds no grudges and just wants to help rebuild Germany as a trading partner.

When the Second World War breaks out Theo seeks refuge in Britain, as he despises the Nazis. Sadly, his two sons have joined the National Socialist Party. When he recounts how they did not attend Edith’s funeral, he appends this with a quiet “Heil Hitler” that manages to be both pitiful and vitriolic. He is reunited with Candy, whose own wife has also died in the intervening years. Following the fall of Dunkirk Candy is due to give a speech via the BBC, but this is cancelled by the powers-that-be, who have read it in advance. Theo tells Candy some home truths from the perspective of a man who has lived under the Nazis: if Britain clings to old-fashioned notions of honourable warfare, they cannot expect the enemy to do the same. In fact, the enemy will laugh at them and despise them. Only by being prepared to fight dirty will the allies be able defeat the tyranny of Nazism. Candy is dropped by the regular Army but obtains a senior position in the homeguard, at which point the film comes full circle.

The Mata Hari referred to in the opening turns out to be his driver, Angela, who resembles both Edith and Barbara (and is also played by Deborah Kerr). Spud Wilson is her boyfriend, and when she realises the trick he is going to pull she tries to stop him. In the final scene, Candy remembers how he ignored orders as a young officer, as well as the trouble it caused, and his anger dissipates. He vows to follow the actions of his own Commanding Officer by inviting Spud to dinner. As Spud and his men march past in the street, Candy raises his arm in salute.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp works on several levels. The escalating argument between Candy and Kaunitz in 1902 can be seen as a microcosm of the absurdities that can cause conflict between nations. By contrast, the friendship of Candy and Theo shows how the people of different nations are not really all that different, and asks us to consider why, if individuals can get along like this, why can’t their countries? The film also gives a salutary reminder that before and after the First World War Britain held a large portion of the world under its dominion. And, of course, the core message that honourable methods could not defeat the Nazis would not have been lost on the audience in 1943.

But this is not just a film about war and political attitudes. It is a film about ageing and understanding. When we first encounter Clive Wynne-Candy it would be easy to dismiss him as a blinkered old duffer, which is no doubt what Spud Wilson thinks he is. By the end of the film we realise that Major-General Candy is a man who deserves our respect, just as he was respected by his German counterpart Theo.  The increasingly vicious nature of warfare may have rendered his ideas of honour redundant, but perhaps we should simply be appalled by modern warfare rather than by notions of honour. Moreover, for all his faults – which include the hardly unique matter of believing the one-sided propaganda of his own nation – Wynne-Candy was a man who stood up to be counted when it really mattered. He lived, he loved, and was a good friend to Theo, who would undoubtedly have been deported but for his intervention.

On the technical side, the way that Theo and Clive Wynn-Candy age through the three phases of the film is truly masterly. Especially in the case of the latter, despite all the advances in make-up and prosthetics since 1943 I struggle to think of any film that has so convincingly depicted youth, middle age and old age with the same actor. Roger Livesy himself gives the performance of a lifetime as Candy. It was also a stroke of genius to use a young Deborah Kerr to represent a different woman in each time period, thus emphasising the love that Candy had for Edith, Edith who married his friend Theo.

One of the accompanying features to the 2011 DVD/Blu-Ray mentions that Winston Churchill was aghast at some of the film’s content and wanted to block its release. To his great credit, J. Arthur Rank, head of the Rank Organisation, stood up to Churchill and the film was released. Perhaps Churchill’s objection was not so surprising: As Stephen Fry points out, to some degree Churchill himself was Colonel Blimp.

Rating: 10/10