Monday, May 31, 2010

Glorious 39 *

Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Cast: Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie
Eddie Redmayne, Juno Temple, David Tennant, Charlie Cox
Jeremy Northam, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter
Christopher Lee, Corin Redgrave

If you liked Atonement but wished it had been a bit more like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, then Glorious 39 might just be the movie for you.
Set in England during the summer of 1939, it recounts the dramatic story of Anne Keyes (Garai) a wealthy film actress who discovers her family might be involved in a political plot to stop WWII.
That might not sound like a bad thing, but it is! Setting the bizarre mood for a movie that rarely knows where it's going and much less how to get there.
You see, the pro-appeasement movement in pre-Churchill England was not merely used to avoid combat but also would help maintain the status quo among the upper classes who promoted it.
Of course writer/director Poliakoff doesn't seem to care about this and instead of using these ambiguities to make a comment on the way money shapes history, simply chose to throw it all away in favor of a plot that has everyone, except Garai's character, act like Stepford wives.
This is especially sad for the older actors, especially Christie and Lee, who has to endure a scene so terrible in the end that you wonder how much they paid him to go through with it.
Surprisingly Garai survives the movie with the least harm. The camera is obviously in love with her and despite Poliakoff's intentions to turn her into someone else (look it's Keira Knightley! No wait it's Cate Blanchett!) Garai's uncommon beauty helps her deliver a performance that's magnetic and well intentioned. She tries to be Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and obviously fails, but her spirit overcomes the tragedy that is the rest of the movie.
Therefore, an amazing ensemble is utterly wasted, used to bring to life a plot that confuses with its erratic tonal shifts.
The thing with Glorious 39 is that it doesn't know if it wants to be an homage to classic films (sometimes it feels like a "count the Hitchcock references" game), a Gothic horror movie, a surrealistic psychological portrait or a parody.
It moves so aimlessly among genres and styles that you never know for sure which one to pay attention to.
But beyond genres it fails to make any sense of who the characters are, which seems impossible to understand given the actors playing them.
Even the fact that the heroine is an actress (point which is brought up by mockers and skeptics throughout) teases us with an actual intention on the director's part.
Can he be trying to mention something about history's need for drama or about the roles we play unexpectedly? Can he be drawing parallels between the work of a spy and the work of an actress?
To formulate those kinds of questions would be too kind an offering for a movie that shows us a burning pile of cats and dogs, confuses randomness with intrigue and would make G.K. Chesterton roll in his grave.


Kelsy said...

I guess I should stick to BBC miniseries to get my fix of Romola Garai (can she get cast in something good, please?)

Jose said...

Hahaha you're right about that!
And she's so good, it's a pity she does crap like this.

Luke said...

Is it strange how much more fun it is to read a scathing review than a ringing endorsement? All signs point to steering clear of this one, apparently. What a cast though! How did some idiot screw this one up?!

Jose said...

It's not strange Luke, they're also more fun to write LOL.
But they get sad after a while, especially when it's bad movie after bad movie.

Simon said...

Scathing reviews are more fun...I mean, who wants niceties but the director?

Jose said...

Right on Simon.
I'm guessing producers and actors also want niceties though.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Romola Garai indeed needs a proper role again. Take I Capture the Castle for example, it's a movie that bores me to end, and is really quite silly and yet she manages to be so good with a silly role. It makes me wonder what she could do when she truly gets a proper lead role (and I did love her so in Atonement).

Jose said...

She was better in Atonement than anyone gives her credit for. Poor thing had to settle for being the third best Briony, which technically would have her be the fifth best performance in the movie.
I don't even remember what that Castle movie was about, it was sooooo dull but yeah I do remember her in it.

Burning Reels said...

This film looked so maudlin when it came out over here that thankfully I stayed away.

I don't really understand why Poliakoff is rated highly by some.

Jose said...

Burning Reels: Is he?
This was my first Poliakoff experience and I thought it was quite terrible.

HD Cafe said...

An awesome article, thanks for sharing it.

HD Cafe