British Cinema – Streets Ahead

Last night I caught two films at the Cineworld, both British yet both on opposite ends of the financial scale. Both, however, were excellent and proved beyond a doubt that you don’t need a bazillion dollars and household name megastars to produce entertaining, thoughtful cinema.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two men kidnap a girl for ransom… and then things start to get interesting.

One thing that didn’t strike me until the film reached the end credits was that the cast of this film is exactly three. This includes background characters and extras – there are none. Precisely three human beings appear on the screen throughout the entire feature.

We have Vic (Eddie Marsan), Danny (Martin Compston) and Alice (the beautiful Gemma Arterton). Vic is the mastermind, Danny the cohort and Alice the victim. The actual kidnapping is right at the start of the film and is simply the setup for the twists and turns that are to follow. It also takes almost ten minutes before we get the first spoken dialogue (barring some screaming).

Disappearance has more twists than a twisty turny thing that’s been tangled up in knots. The character relationships are exemplary, well handled and superbly acted. Full credit has to be given to the three thesps involved. They each play a very different personality and they do it well.

I think that’s what I enjoyed most about the film. It doesn’t hinge on the kidnap, it all revolves around the people caught up in it. Their relationship to each other, their reactions, how they handle the situation and little things that go wrong. The first film that springs to mind when I think of a plot like this is Danny Boyle‘s superb Shallow Grave. Disappearance is up there with that in terms of great storytelling.

The budget for this film must be minimal, and it proves beyond a doubt that no matter how much cash you throw at a film it’s lost without a great story. Yes, Clash of the Titans (2010) I am looking at you. And Avatar, frankly. The likes of James Cameron‘s opus succeed only because of the money involved. Disappearance succeeds despite the lack of it. It’s lowly budget is in no way reflected in what you see on screen.

A definite must-see.

Centurion

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Rome decided to go all out against the Picts, doesn’t come off too well and leaves seven soldiers stuck deep behind enemy lines.

Second time lucky, I managed to catch this one before it vanished from the multiplex. I’m very glad I did as well. Similarly to Disappearance above, this is a low-budget (compared to Hollywood) effort, filmed in the UK and using British talent. It’s the opposite end of the pay scale, though, with a very large cast, some wonderful scenery and gory effects.

Neil Marshall’s first major release was Dog Soldiers which I loved. The horror story background was played off against the great incidental dialogue. Centurion follows this pattern as we see the Roman soldiers bantering with each other.

Centurion isn’t a straightforward epic, however. The huge cast is quickly whittled down to a smaller core with an actual plot. Imagine BAT*21 meets Gladiator meets Braveheart. Ish.

The way the story is told is very clever – the first line of dialogue marrying up perfectly with the last. Essentially we follow one character – Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) – as he finds himself attached to a legion sent north to defeat the Picts who have so far withstood the Roman invasion. As history will tell you, they continued to do so and the legion’s fate is not a pretty one.

Seven men survive out of three thousand. They set off to rescue their general, and then to find their way back to safety. All the way they are hounded by a near-mystically gifted tracker (Etain, played by the disturbingly sexy Olga Kurylenko) and a small group of Picts intent on ensuring they don’t make it.

The film seems to have been shot almost entirely outdoors which must have been uncomfortable for all involved as it looks flipping freezing. I’m no historian, but the settings and so forth seem pretty authentic although the language has been brought up to modern standard (including the swearing). A nice touch to have the Picts speak what I assume is some early version of Gaelic which is subtitled. Again, apologies if my lack of historical knowledge proves that statement to be utter crap.

It’s certainly not a heart-warming film. As we’d expect from Marshall, it’s brutal and unforgiving. Beatings, bashings, decapitations, stab wounds, hacks, slashes… all present and accounted for.

I await the forthcoming Robin Hood film which is probably the most similar release so far this year. I’d like to compare the budgets and see which one I enjoy the most. Judging by the trailers, I think it’s going to be Centurion. And, hey, wasn’t the best thing about Costner’s version Alan Rickman – who just happens to be British?

Yes, this week I am mostly very proud of our home-grown films.

Oh, and for reading this far… a quick quiz. What is the connection between both of these films and James Bond? No prizes other than kudos!

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Liam Proven

The Bond connection is…

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Spoiler space

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Olga Kurylenko is the “bond girl” in /A Quantum of Solace/.

Liam Proven

D’oh. As was Miss Arterton, I believe.