strange_complex: (Claudia Cardinale car)
The other cool Dracula-related thing I did recently was to go on a little road-trip with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan to see two exhibitions dedicated to our favourite kind of horror films: British productions from the 1950s to '70s, and especially those made by Hammer. As luck would have it, the exhibitions we were interested in overlapped by about a week (over Halloween, natch) and were both located in the east Midlands area. So although each was quite small and it would have seemed a bit of an endeavour to go to either one from Leeds on its own, between the two they made for a very agreeable day out.

Our first port of call was Northampton, where the city's Museum and Art Gallery was hosting an exhibition of film posters entitled 'Scream And Scream Again: The Golden Age Of British Horror'. It's actually a touring exhibition, put together by an organisation called Abertoir who run a horror festival in Aberystwyth, so although the Northampton showing has finished now, it's worth looking out for it at a museum near you in the future if you like the sound of it. It wasn't huge, consisting of probably about 25-30 posters plus some collected front-of-house publicity stills in a gallery about the size of a typical village hall, but it provided a very well-selected cross-section of some of the best films of the era.

2016-11-02 12.31.24.jpg

More pictures under here )

We also both really liked Northampton as a whole. Neither of us could remember having been there before, and we did see it at its best in lovely sunshine and still-mild weather, but it certainly struck us as worth visiting. In fact, a lot of people I know would enjoy the regular collections of museum itself, because Northampton has a proud history as a major cobbling centre, so basically the whole ground floor of the museum (apart from the temporary exhibitions gallery where the horror posters were) is entirely devoted to SHOES! Victorian lace-up boots, clompy glittery platforms, fancy stilettos, you name it. You can get a taste of the sort of thing they have from their Shoe of the Month blog feature.

We found lots of interesting architecture in the town centre, of which I made a particular point of capturing some of the Art Deco highlights )

Our next destination was De Montfort University, Leicester for The Monsters of Hammer: A Screen Bestiary. This is the work of the University's Cinema and Television History research centre (CATH), who now hold Hammer's scripts archive (as well as a growing collection of other Hammer-related material), and were also responsible for the unique staged reading of a never-produced Dracula script, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula which I enjoyed SO MUCH last year. Needless to say, I've been following their activities very closely ever since (and indeed before), so I was very excited for this.

The exhibition had been set up in the University's Heritage Centre, and was physically even smaller than the Northampton one, but they had packed a lot in! We spent a good hour-and-a-half there, compared to about 30-45 minutes in Northampton, and although that's probably more than most normal human beings because we are so geeky about Hammer films and needed to examine each item in detail, discuss it at length and take loads of photos, it is still probably good for almost an hour's interest even if you just look at each item and read through the text once. First, some general pictures to show the overall layout, size and feel of it all:

2016-11-02 16.28.13.jpg

Again more under here )

What I'd really like is for them to start publishing some of this material. I see in my mind's eye The Ultimate Hammer Dracula Script Collection, including a) the shooting scripts from the movies that were actually made, b) any earlier variant versions of those and most importantly c) all the ones which weren't produced at all. I don't even know if that is possible - presumably even the unmade scripts are still in copyright, so I can certainly see that it would be complicated. But I think publication has to be the ultimate end-goal of the whole project. Otherwise, for the vast majority of the public the difference between the scripts just not existing at all and lots of time and money being spent looking after, researching and cataloguing them will remain barely detectable.

Anyway, for now I would definitely encourage everyone who loves Hammer films to get along to DMU's Heritage Centre, enjoy their amazing exhibition, and fill in enthusiastic feedback forms to help support CATH's work and enable them to secure more research funding. It's open until next May, so you have plenty of time. :-)

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strange_complex: (Wicker Man sunset)
This was my third viewing of The Wicker Man this year (previous iterations reviewed here), my fourth on the big screen (one previous experience here; the other two were in Oxford before I had a livejournal), and my goodness-only-knows-how-manyth all told. But given that this is its anniversary year, that it's supposedly been restored to its 'original' form, that a bunch of lovely friends were going along to see it too, that the showing was followed by a Q&A session with none other than the director Robin Hardy, and that it all took place in this building...

The Stockport Plaza

...I was hardly going to miss out on the chance.

The showing was part of this year's Grimmfest, and constituted the northern premiere of the newly-restored, re-released version of the film. Despite the best advance efforts of a Facebook page to imply that this would include the lost cutting-room footage allegedly buried beneath the M4, what it actually is is a cleaned-up print of the so-called 'middle version' - that is, the version put together from an early preview copy sent to Roger Corman, and released in America in 1977 (there's a full explanation of all the different available versions here). So we got to see footage which I have never seen on the big screen before, or indeed at all in such a good-quality print, like the 'Gently Johnny' sequence, and that was good. Call me a curmudgeonly old grump, though, but as far as I'm concerned this is not the 'final cut' of the film )

Afterwards, Robin Hardy was ushered onto the stage as promised for the Q&A session )

I haven't yet bought the DVD of the restored version, and indeed am not sure I ever will given that the box set of the long and short versions which I already have includes every single second of footage it contains, albeit not always in such high quality. What I would buy is what I'll call the 'ultimate mash-up' version of the film - that is, all of the high-quality footage from this middle version, but supplemented with everything it doesn't include from the long version, and with the watering graves footage restored to its rightful context in the scene when Howie digs up Rowan's grave, rather than amongst the night-time orgy scenes which he sees during his first night on the island. That version could presumably be thrown together quite easily now by anyone with a bit of decent processing-power and some editing software (perhaps even including me if I could be bothered), so I am hoping it is only a matter of time before it becomes available. Then, then will I finally be satisfied... well, at least until any of that genuinely-missing cutting-room floor footage actually does turn up (I can dream!).

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
I wrote up my overall experiences curating the [twitter.com profile] PeopleofLeeds Twitter account a couple of weeks ago, and followed that up with a post containing some of the pictures I had shared of local Headingley landmarks. But the real theme of my week on the account was Art Deco Leeds, so this post rounds off the story by recording some of the pictures I shared on that topic. I'm not including absolutely every picture I took or tweeted here, as that would get a bit much, but these are the highlights of my Art Deco week.

Art Deco Headingley )

The University and city centre )

But the grand climax of my week was the Sunday, when I armed myself with my SatNav and a list of every other Art Deco building I knew of in Leeds, and drove around the city visiting and photographing each one )

Meanwhile, outside the sun set on my day of Art Deco, and my week as the Twitter face of Leeds. As I said in my previous post, it had its pros and cons, but the prompt to finally get myself organised and visit all these buildings systematically was very definitely one of the pros.

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strange_complex: (Metropolis False Maria)
Seen this afternoon at the Hyde Park Picture House with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy. I'll keep my notes on it short, as I've got a looming deadline, so can't spare much time or brain-juice for non-work writing at the moment. But I enjoyed it hugely and can highly recommend it.

Obviously we all know the crack for this film - that it's a careful pastiche of a 1920s silent movie. And so it is, and it does that beautifully, capturing all the motifs and devices of the era, all the while tipping the audience a knowing wink about what it is doing. We see a great deal of the business of film-viewing and film-making, both literally through the developments of the plot, but also more allusively through the use of paintings, photographs, screens, mirrors, windows etc. Similarly, the mannered use of the silent movie genre very obviously renders every reference to sound and / or silence heavily significant, and an enormous amount is done with this throughout the film - though I won't spoil it by saying exactly what

I wasn't 100% sure about the gender politics of the main romance plot. The older male character starts out as a hero of silent films, but then wrecks his own career by refusing to make the move into talkies, enters a downward spiral of debt and booze, and ends up in half-dead in hospital - and yet the young bright rising female star is still supposed to think he is worth rescuing from his own idiocy. Then again, though, she does get to build up a dazzlingly successful career entirely in her own right, be independently-motivated and self-assured throughout the movie and - yeah - rescue the poor little gentleman in distress at the end. So maybe it's not so bad.

I'm not surprised everyone has been raving about the little dog, but actually I liked everyone in this movie, including John Goodman, whom I normally avoid like the plague. As for the dresses, sets, finger-waves, cinema palaces etc - oh yeah, baby! Everything I was hoping for. :-)

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strange_complex: (Miss Pettigrew)
I saw this on Monday night with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, in a packed-out Cottage Road cinema where we were very lucky to be able to nab our favourite pullman seats with extra leg-room in a special segregated row.

It's definitely good stuff - packed full of cracking performances by our best British talents; nicely scripted with lots of great lines, and very beautifully shot. I particularly liked the rather muted colour-palette which was used throughout, and which I realised towards the end was probably deliberately designed to recall the tones of tinted colour pictures from the period.

At the heart of the drama is the contrast, tension and eventual resolution between a royal personage and a commoner: actually a very old story, which may be found in The Prince and the Pauper or Roman Holiday, for example, and is also the essence of Mrs. Brown. It's a fantastic trope, of course, with all sorts of scope for asking questions about whether royal status is a blessing or curse, and suggesting that most of what makes a king or queen different from anyone else is really just so much illusion and artifice. It's no surprise that it goes down so well, especially in a mature constitutional monarchy like ours.

In this particular film, we see a George VI who is incredibly privileged on the face of it, but gets frustrated at the absence of any real control over his own life, and the conventions and expectations which he has to abide by. We learn about his rather loveless relationship with his father and his unworldly perspective, while of course his stammer is the entirely human failing which brings him down to the level of an awkward school-boy, and makes him need the help of an Ozzie immigrant to do something which most of us find easy.

Unlike the king, the speech-therapist, Lionel Logue, has a loving relationship with his family, and is refreshingly unfazed by authority. It's especially fun to see him challenging and poking fun at the king in the course of their sessions, as he gradually breaks down the icy royal façade to get at the man with the stammer behind it. But the story would feel unbalanced if Logue was entirely perfect. We also learn that he's a failed actor and a rogue practitioner with no real qualifications, and it is mainly him who precipitates the inevitable temporary falling-out in their relationship by trying to steer 'Bertie' (as he still is at that stage) too heavy-handedly towards wanting to take over from his older brother as king.

So that's all very neat, and as I say it's very well done. But it did sometimes feel as though it were doling out the moral lessons about how We Are All The Same Really a bit too heavy-handedly for me. It's not a new idea, and no matter how well it is executed, it can't really qualify as challenging or exciting in this day and age.

Other random notes - I'd hoped for some good-quality Art Deco porn, given the 1930s setting, and was quite excited by the opening scenes in the BBC, which delivered just that. But of course it is in the nature of our royal family to hang around in ageing ancestral homes, so there wasn't actually terribly much in the way of fashionable contemporary architecture for the rest of the film. Also, after being pleasantly surprised to find that I could really believe in Helena Bonham-Carter as the character of Bellatrix LeStrange when I saw her recently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was right back to being completely unable to think of her as anyone other than herself in this film. So I guess she needs roles which are really quite caricaturish and mad to escape from that effect.

Finally, if you've seen the film, you'll probably enjoy this archive recording of the climactic speech. I'd heard it before, as most of us probably have, but it does acquire an extra layer of interest and emotional resonance after an insight into the story behind it.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Watching this film was the one thing I did manage to do while lying wiped out on the sofa yesterday evening. It's my latest Lovefilm rental, which I'm pretty sure someone here recommended to me because of the 1920s setting. I can't remember who now - but thanks, whoever it was.

The basic plot is one of culture clashes. The action takes place almost entirely in and around an English country house during the autumn and winter of 1928. We have a tired, run-down mother trying to keep the family together, a feckless husband, two rather future-less daughters and a bon-vivant son in the Bright Young Things / Bertie Wooster tradition. At the beginning of the film, he turns up with a modern and devastatingly-beautiful American widow named Larita, whom he has married on a whim during a trip around Europe. Cue multiple tensions between the English family - impoverished and beholden to a traditional bond with the rural estate their ancestors have tended for generations - and the American wife - urbane, dynamic and independent.

It's based on a Noël Coward play, though with some tweaks, and a little extra fleshing-out of certain characters. Some of his trademark witty dialogue is present, but it doesn't feel like a riotous comedy. The tensions between the English family and the American wife become really quite nasty sometimes, and although she comes out of it all right at the end, it's clear that other characters won't. Handled very carefully, this could have worked, creating a poignant balance between comedy and tragedy, but I didn't feel it really came off in this particular case. The feelings and motivations of the characters seemed neither realistic and convincing enough for powerful drama, nor light-heartedly exaggerated enough for high comedy.

Despite the country house setting, the film deliberately challenges the conventions of British period drama. The dialogue includes some quite modern turns of phrase; there is an anachronistically chummy relationship between Larita and the butler; she herself is really more of a 21st-century woman than even the most modern woman in 1928 could have been; the characters occasionally burst into song as though they know that they are in a period pastiche; and indeed some of the soundtrack consists of modern songs like Tom Jones' 'Sex Bomb' or Billy Ocean's 'When The Going Gets Tough...', re-rendered in a jazz-age style. I thought this was a nice idea, but as with the balance of comedy and tragedy it didn't entirely work. It needed to be rather more comprehensive to really constitute something challenging, and as it was felt like a bit of a half-hearted effort.

The cinematography was pretty good, though, with lots of interesting shots - like a direct view down into the open sports-car as Larita and her husband drove up to the house for the first time, for instance, or a shot of a perfectly still record with the entire room spinning around it which gradually shifts so that the record is spinning and we are dancing around a now-stationary room with the characters. There were lots of looming stuffed animals, which I presume were there to represent the slightly creepy, fusty traditionalism of the family. There were lots of direct references to paintings and shots of characters framed through things which I read as representing the way so many of the characters were trying to live as idealised portraits rather than three-dimensional people. And there were also many shots of people reflected in shiny surfaces, which I saw as related to the way that the two opposing factions were holding not-entirely-flattering mirrors up to each other's beliefs and ideals.

The costume department had also done a very nice job of representing the cultural gulf between Larita and the family by having them all in quite tired-looking 1920s clothes, but Larita in the fashions of the next decade - bright, clean colours, short jackets with wide-legged trousers or close-fitting long evening gowns, depending on the occasion. I liked the trousers especially because I recently bought some very much like them myself, and have been enjoying wearing them as the occasion has allowed.

Overall, then, a good effort which I'm glad I saw, but maybe falling too much between different competing stools to be a real stand-out. Still, probably worth it for Larita's clothes alone.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
A couple of weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and I spent a day in Saltaire, with the particular aim of checking out an antiques dealer with a bit of a line in Art Deco furniture on the top floor of Salt's Mill. I was looking in particular for a largish sideboard / cabinet to go in an alcove next to my fireplace, and I'd hardly got inside the shop when I saw an absolutely wonderful example, in a golden maple-wood finish with a bowed front and lots of lovely storage capacity. The price was high enough that I had to spend quite a bit of time thinking it over and psyching myself up before I took the plunge - but eventually I did, and it was delivered today.

This is what was previously in the alcove which it now occupies )

Perfectly all right, but not really making the best use of the space. What I needed was something that would look good and allow me to stash lots of crap inside it!

So this is what I have now )

Meanwhile, the old low-level beechwood sideboard which used to stand in its place is now surplus to my requirements, and therefore for sale to anyone who might be interested. It's good solid wood furniture, with a lovely spicy smell when you open the drawers, and there are a couple of pictures here if you want a closer look )

In other news, I spent this last weekend in Birmingham visiting the parents. Mum is still doing pretty well - enough to go to a jazz concert on Friday, have my sister and fiancé (!) round on Saturday, and then go and visit some local gardens which were having an open afternoon on Sunday. While there, I also stocked up on floaty purple skirts at The Oasis, because (despite the rain today) there is clearly no way I am going to make it through the summer without a good selection of light-weight medieval princess skirts that ripple around my ankles when I walk. I also spent Saturday afternoon reading in dappled shade on a deck-chair in my parents' gloriously beautiful garden while my sister and fiancé (!) planned wedding stuff, my Dad made random observations about the state of the world and my Mum sat in the summer-house. It was a perfect slice of English summer, and I hope there will be more in the same vein over the next couple of months.

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strange_complex: (Miss Pettigrew)
Watched this afternoon, all curled up on the sofa as part of my weekend of indulgence. I've seen it before, and indeed reviewed it before, but that doesn't mean I don't have new stuff to say about it, especially because I've also read the book since.

It seemed shorter than I remembered, but I suppose that's natural enough when you've seen a film before, and therefore know where you are in the story and how much remains at any given point. Now that I've read the book, I'm also less keen than I was before on the way the character of Edythe Dubarry is depicted in the film. In the book, she is a strong and self-possessed business-woman, who is nothing but supportive of both Miss LaFosse and Miss Pettigrew. But in the film she has been made into Miss Pettigrew's rival - the one who knows her secret, uses this as a hold over her, and has cynically entrapped lovely, honest, Ciarán Hinds-Joe purely for the sake of his professional status. It all makes her both more bitchy and more weedy than she is in the book - and definitely a lot less feminist.

Apart from that, though, I still absolutely love the film - both in its own right and as an adaptation of the book. I especially liked the way it is made so much clearer in the film how similar Delysia LaFosse's situation really is to Miss Pettigrew's, beneath all the glitz and glamour. This is touched on in the book, when we hear that her real name is Sarah Grubb, but the film makes it much more explicit by extending the name-confession scene to reveal that she also barely has any possessions that are really her own, and could be out on the streets herself in the blink of an eye. There's also a lot of good mileage got out of the impending outbreak of the Second World War, which adds a dark undertone to the otherwise-glamorous proceedings; and a running theme about Miss Pettigrew getting nothing to eat and no sleep for almost 48 hours over the course of the film, which has humour value and also helps to underline the severity of her position.

And of course, the film has all the benefits of sumptuous sets, costumes and cinematography, all of which are used extremely intelligently. Since I now own the DVD, I was able to cap a couple of my favourite scenes for your delectation )

ETA: further thoughts on the deleted scenes included on the DVD release now posted here.

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strange_complex: (Poirot truth)
It's no secret that I've been watching a lot of Poirot lately. It's part of my growing obsession with the 1930s - in fact, in a sort of circularity, it's probably also part of the reason why I was so attracted to my house and its neighbours in the first place. For a girl drawn to the style moderne in any case, the luxuriant treatment which it gets via ITV's Poirot cemented that attraction, iconising it into something truly to be aspired to. And, once I moved in, how much more exciting the TV series became in its turn, as I could imagine myself inhabiting the same universe as the strange little Belgian detective.

A tangential eulogy on the TV series )

Thus have I gone from half-watching Poirot whenever it happened to be on without really paying full attention, to being utterly caught up in it, and indeed last weekend finally deciding to invest in the DVD boxed set. And it seemed to me also that it was about time I extended my interest to actually reading some of the books. In fact I did read a Poirot novel some years ago, when I had just turned 17 and we were staying for a family holiday at a gîte in France. There on the bookshelf I found a copy of Le Crime de l'Orient Express, which I devoured during the long afternoons when it was too hot to go out. But while it taught me a great deal about how to use the past historic tense (the one tense we hadn't 'done' as part of our French GCSE, and which I felt disempowered without), it obviously wasn't an authentic encounter with Christie's original English prose.

This time instead, I've gone right to the root of the matter. I spent my Christmas book-token on a volume containing the first four of the Poirot novels to feature the character of Hastings, including the very first one of all, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Technically, I've seen the story on TV, but since it belonged firmly to my 'not-really-paying-attention' phase, I could remember very little about the plot. I knew there was something important about the spills on the mantelpiece, but I had no idea whatsoever who had committed the murder, so it didn't really spoil the 'whodunnit' aspect of the novel for me. Not that I think that will ever be the important thing for me anyway - as with my watching of Doctor Who, it is the (semi-)fantastical settings and the characterisation that attracts me to the Poirot stories.

Now, having read the novel, I am half-satisfied by what it offers on those fronts. The characterisation which I so love on the television is definitely nascent here. It isn't perhaps yet quite so rounded or so profound as what David Suchet does - but then, this is only the first novel, whereas he had the benefit of Christie's total Poirot corpus on which to base his characterisation from the beginning. There's definitely enough here, anyway, to make me want to return and read the other three volumes in my collection at some point.

The setting, though, is pretty deficient. Of course, Christie doesn't have the visual resources at her disposal which the ITV production team do. And fine clothes and elegant stream-line moderne houses don't really belong in a novel set at the end of the First World War. But, as I said above, the settings for these stories are not merely window-dressing in the television series. They are all about creating an appropriate world in which the characters can come to life, and an atmosphere to suit the developments of the plot. The same effect can be achieved on the printed page, as Thomas Hardy demonstrates so brilliantly. But Christie largely eschews it in favour of dialogue and action. The result is that although I do see that what she achieved in her novels was tremendously innovative and exciting and important, I'm left feeling that it was the ITV series which really added the richesse that now makes them masterpieces of the small screen.

I don't know whether that continued to be the case as she developed as a novelist - it's one of the things I hope to find out as I explore her other stories. But for the moment, I think their value to me will be largely as the foundation stones on which a beloved TV series has been so carefully constructed. And there's much to be said for standing on the shoulders of giants.

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strange_complex: (Me Art Deco)
Firstly, thanks to everyone for their comments on my last post. 'Cathartic' would be an understatement.

But secondly, because not everything is about doom and gloom, I have some lovely pictures to share. They are from two publications of the 1930s, and both were found in the family archive last weekend, where they'd obviously been preserved by my step-grandmother.

The first ones come from a page of the Daily Mirror, published on Monday September 17th 1934. It's the women's page (page 23), which she had torn out and kept, though we're not quite sure why. Anyway, it's an absolutely brilliant snapshot of feminine life in the 1930s. You've got recipes, fashion reports, household tips and (best of all) an article about Meg Lemonier, a 'charming little French actress' who is also a male impersonator. I've scanned it in four over-lapping parts, so that every article can be read in its entirety on at least one of the scans.

Daily Mirror, 1934 )

The other side of the page is sporting news, but apart from a few pictures of very 1930s-looking rugby-players, it's nothing like so exciting. Teams win and teams lose in every era, and unless you're invested in their fortunes, it's pretty dull to read about.

Meanwhile, my second find was a souvenir programme printed to commemorate the centenary of the City of Birmingham being awarded a royal charter in 1938. The official content is again kind of dull - there's a great deal of stuff about centenary committees and awards, and a bit of stuff about decorations, floodlights and pageants put on to mark the occasion. Best of all by far, though, are the period adverts, which take up about 50% of the booklet. Click on each one to go to the gallery, and then again for the full-size version.

Vintage ads ahoy! )

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strange_complex: (Fred shall we dance)
I'd never even heard of this film when [livejournal.com profile] glitzfrau texted me late yesteday afternoon to say that she and [livejournal.com profile] biascut were going to see it that evening at the Cottage Road cinema, and did I want to come along? But I'm glad I went, because it was great fun.

Set on the eve of the Second World War, it's a bit like a female version of Jeeves and Wooster, right down to the slashy sub-text. The only difference is that the Jeeves-figure (Miss Pettigrew) is merely pretending to be an accomplished social secretary - but still does a great job of getting the Bertie-figure (Delysia Lafosse) out of all sorts of terrible scrapes all the same. Oh, and they both end up forging meaningful heterosexual relationships at the end - which very carefully never happens in Jeeves and Wooster!

There's all the humour and costume rompery of J&W, too, including some extremely beautiful bias-cut gowns, and an apartment which reminded me so strongly of some of the designer boudoirs featured in this book that it felt like stepping inside its lavishly-illustrated pages. Also, Shirley Henderson (Ursula in Who's 'Love and Monsters' and Moaning Myrtle in the HP films) and Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar, yo!). And the Bechdel test is an easy pass, since most of the film revolves around a female-female relationship - and although they certainly talk about men plenty, they do talk about frocks and parties and their own career paths, too. All in all, much to be recommended.

Afterwards, we headed back to my place and invented our own cocktail - vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate and blueberry juice and a dash of lime - which we named the Miss Pettigrew in honour of the film, and then stayed up late chatting and giggling. Then, under the influence of said cocktail, it seemed like a good idea to clamber up dangerous steps and across rotting wooden platforms in the pitch dark, to get huge wardrobe boxes out of the shed and send them home with Glitzy and La Bias in a taxi.

How'm I supposed to manage when they both move over to Manchester, eh?

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