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Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

“The Bookshop” directed by Catalan feminist auteur Isabel Coixet, is a faithful adaptation of British writer Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker Prize nominated novel.

Set in a small Suffolk coastal town in 1959, as with all Fitzgerald’s novels, it is drawn from her own experience, as she worked in a bookshop in that country for a time in the 1950’s.

The plot is about awfully nice Florence Green, (Emily Mortimer) as a widowed middle-aged woman who decides to open up a secondhand bookshop in fictionalised Hardborough and concerns her battle with the local bigwigs General and Mrs  Gamart who want to convert the property into an Arts Centre. Also encountering opposition due to small-town small mindedness and ignorant philistinism she garners support from recluse Edmund Brundish, (Bill Nighy) and 13-year old Christine, whom she employs as her assistant. Into the mix comes loquacious rakish BBC man Milo North who Christine perceptively recognises is not a nice man.

The tension arises out of the burgeoning friendship that develops between our heroine and Brundish in opposition to the Machiavellian ruthfulness of the appalling Gamarts.

Isabel Coixet is a multi-award winning Catalan director, who first came to my notice with the superb, “My Life without me”. (2003). She continues to make highly acclaimed film, “Elergy” (2008) and “Endless Night” (2015) and a dominant theme throughout her dozen or so other feature movies is that the central character is a woman who takes control of her life.

Emily Mortimer is ideally cast as Florence Green, the brave and pioneering but vulnerable woman who doesn’t look for confrontation, but will take it on if she has to.

 

Bill Nighy who plays her ally Edmund Brundish is in usual scene-stealing form. Has there been a British actor since Denholm Elliott ho constantly manages to achieve this? All the best scenes in the film feature him.

 

 

American Patricia Clarkson is a regular feature in Coixet’s films and this is their third collaboration. This underrated actress manages the clipped British accent nicely and subtly provides us with a nasty determined character who is determined to get her way within the small community she resides in, as she always does.

 

Thirteen-year old actress, (at the time of filming), Honor Kneafsey as bookshop assistant Christine provides a mature performance of the precocious but charming adolescent. A couple of years on, she is already a veteran of nineteen films and looks a rare talent, even though her middle class speaking voice seems a little out of sorts with Christine’s working class antecedents.

 

Coixet’s Suffolk doesn’t look authentic. In fact, exterior shots were filmed on location in Northern Ireland, whilst interior sets were in Spain.

However, this isn’t really a problem, as Suffolk isn’t key to the story. As I mentioned earlier, it is where author Penelope Fitzgerald resided for a time in the 1950’s whilst she worked in a secondhand bookshop. But the location could be anywhere, and not only in the UK, where closed communities exist.

“The Bookshop” is a story about courage and determination. We  learn late into the film that during WW1, Edmund was an aviator, so he is the ideal person to recognise Florence’s qualities. By contrast, General Gamart, (Reg Wilson) a veteran of the same conflict but who served in The Suffolk Regiment, comes across as the worst kind of army officer of this period, who stoops to levels of deceit to cowardly succumb to his wife’s demands.

This film is also about small town bigotry, in terms of it’s consolidated opposition to a person who doesn’t conform to their small minded way of thinking. If you are brought up in a small town or village, you may appreciate what I am writing.

The time setting of the book and film is significant. The last year of the 1950’s, a period when Britain was coming to grips with the austerity of and aftermath of  WW2, marks a time with the 1960’s, just around the corner,  a decade that transformed society. Also, Arts Centres, that sprung up after 1945, were becoming the trendy venues of the 1960’s and 1970’s, thereby marking a total contrast to the traditional British secondhand bookshop – an institution that in our era of online bookselling and e-books is slowly succumbing to its eventual inevitable demise.

It didn’t pass me by, that I was watching this film at Chapter, an arts centre in Cardiff. I pondered whether I had to give one thing up – secondhand bookshops or arts centres, which choice would I make, coming down in favour of the former. A difficult decision because i love both, but books have always featured strongly in my life. I have always lived in places where books take over the place. Even in the modest flat I live in now, I have upwards of two and a half thousand books. I will never be able to read all of them before I, (hopefully), gain admittance to that great library in the sky, but that doesn’t stop my sense of anticipation when I enter a secondhand bookshop to explore its contents. “You are never alone in a bookshop” is the closing line of this film, and if you feel as I do, then you will identify closely with this.

The satisfying climax works perfectly, but I don’t wish to give the game away by saying more here.

This film will divide the majority of viewers, into those who love it, and those who loathe it. The start is a little sluggish, but if you accept what it is trying to achieve on its own terms, then you will find this an utterly absorbing and memorable film.

Country: U.K., Spain, Germany

Language: English

Running time: 113 minutes

Certificate: PG

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Review Awful Auntie at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Birmingham Stage Company’s brilliant adaptation of David Walliam’s 2014 bestselling book Awful Auntie, captivates  both children and adults.

Following on from their sellout tour of another Walliam’s book. Gangsta Granny, the BSC is embarking on an eighteen-month tour of the UK which featured a run during the summer at The Garrick theatre in London’s West End.

Cast with David Walliams

The show, endorsed by Walliams, is faithful to the book, and is fast-paced and funny, with an ingenious set design.

The story has twelve-year old Stella Saxby awakening in a bed, and being unable to move any part of her body. Casting away the bedding, she reveals that she is covered head to toe in bandages. Her screams arouse her Aunt Alberta, who tells her that she has been in a coma for three months and that she and her parents were involved in a road accident, resulting in the death of both mother and father, thereby leaving Stella an orphan.

Awful auntie 1

However, Stella soon realises her awful auntie has a nefarious plan to wrestle the stately home Saxby Hall, that now belongs to Stella, into her hands, but doesn’t know where the deeds are hidden.

Auntie has a Great Bavarian Owl named Wagner, (Get it?), who acts as her henchman – or should that be henchowl? Stella encounters a ghost called Soot, a  sweep who succumbed to his burns when someone lit a fire when he was up the chimney. There is a crazed ancient butler named Gibbon and an Inspector Strauss who is called to investigate Stella’s suspicions about her auntie.

AWFUL AUNTIE CREDITS

Story adapted and directed by Neal Foster

Set and Costume Designer: Jacqueline Trousdale

Lighting Designer: Jason Taylor

Composer: Jak Poore

Stella Saxby – Georgina Leonidas

Aunt Alberta – Timothy Speyer

Gibbon – Richard James

Wagner – Roberta Bellekom (puppeteer)

Soot – Ashley Cousins

Detective Strauss – Peter Mistyyoph

The star attraction of this show is the set design.  Four revolving doors and staircases create an impression of travel through the mansion, and a reference should be made to the stagehands, who work hard to render seamless scene changing within the fast-paced story.

Composer Jak Poore’s jaunty musical rhythm is exactly right to complement the actions unfolding on stage.

The cast possess rich cvs of their previous stage and film work, and it is easy to see this by their acting expertise on Stage.

Georgina Leonidas, you may recognise from her film portrayal of Harry Potter’s fellow Gryffindor Quidditch player, Katie Bell, in both parts of the Deathly Hallows stories. She plays a believable twelve-year old, innocent initially but becoming more savvy as the story develops.

Stella and Auntie

Awful Auntie Alberta is played in grand pantomime dame fashion by Timothy Speyer who maintains staying in character without going over the top, with commendable skill and constraint.

Richard James’s Gibbon has some of the funniest scenes and on occasion reminded me of Groucho Marx in his movements.

Ashley Cousins plays Soot in a Cockney accent that is consistent throughout, together with a youthful vitality  to enable him to portray Stella’s aide, confidant and friend in a credible way.

Roberta Bellekom’s consummate puppetry skills enable Wagner to be at times a villain and at others a cute pet.

Peter Mistyyoph plays Inspector Strauss in a mysterious way. See this show and you will know what I mean.

Anxious Stella

All is put together by Neal Foster’s faithful adaptation and brilliant direction. David Walliams commends Foster for having a similar sense of humour, which results in his capturing the essence of the author’s work. He had previously directed the Gangsta Granny adaptation to universal acclaim.

This is a visual treat for children. A school formed a large percentage of the audience for the performance that I viewed, and there was not a restless child among them. They left excited and contended with what they had just watched.

At times, the humour is a little risque and there are a couple of scenes that young children of a nervous disposition might feel uncomfortable with.

A scene where auntie is trying to break down a door with an axe to get at Stella, is accompanied by “Here comes Auntie”, reminding us of the famous passage in Stanley Kubric’s The Shining.

Awful Auntie is a first-rate children’s show with an engaging story-line, excellently performed and a visual delight on stage.

Brecon is my hometown but I had moved away, many years before Theatr Brycheiniog emerged in 1997. This was the first full-scale production that I had ever seen there and  If this is the  calibre of work that they present , then I am looking forward to many happy returns in the future.

http://www.brycheiniog.co.uk/

The show concludes its Brecon run on the 10th of December and  resumes it’s nationwide tour in the New Year. Venues and dates can be found here:-

http://birminghamstage.com/shows/awful-auntie/tour-info

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Barrington