strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this last night at the Cottage Road cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and Rachel WINOLJ (AFAIK). It was another of the Cottage's Classic film nights, like when we went to see Meet Me in St. Louis before Christmas, so once again we were treated to adverts from the 1950s to the 1980s before the film - though not, alas, a Pathé news reel this time. We got instructions on how to behave at a drive-in movie, two Hamlet cigar adverts, a very surreal cereal advert featuring a couple dressed as the people in the American Gothic painting singing about how great their cornflakes were, and a seductive soft-focus advert all about the pleasures of eating Wall's ice-cream in the sun, with a heavy emphasis on the posterior of a female bicyclist wearing tight blue satin hot-pants.

The film itself is an Ealing comedy. I didn't think I knew it, but recognised the plot point about trying to smuggle gold bullion out of the country disguised as souvenir Eiffel towers, so maybe I have seen snippets of it on TV at some point. Anyway, it was great, especially on the big screen, with lots of comic misdemeanours, farcical chase scenes and cracking characters. I especially liked the game old lady in the boarding house who had picked up loads of criminals' slang from reading detective novels; and the scene with Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway desperately attempting to leap on a cross-channel ferry, but having to work their way through a series of bureaucratic ticket officials, passport controllers, customs officers and foreign exchange dealers first. It reminded me painfully of some of my experiences in Schiphol airport, which it seems to be impossible to negotiate via anything other than a painful combination of mad dashes and frustratingly-slow queues.

The end credits threw up a surprising link with the last film I watched, too. I'd thought one of the characters in the opening scene looked rather like Audrey Hepburn, but assumed that it couldn't be, since her role was so minimal - all of about 10 seconds and two lines. But, sure enough, the credit list confirmed that it was indeed her, two years before she shot to fame in Roman Holiday. Her very brief scene is in this Youtube clip if any of you would like to see it for yourselves.

Finally, we were once again invited to stand and salute for the national anthem - but this time it was George VI who was projected on the screen in front of us, rather than a youthful QEII like last time. The film stock was clearly very old, as you could hardly make him out through the dust and scratches, but there he was in glorious technicolor with a Union Jack flying proudly behind him.

Another brilliant evening out, and once again I can't wait for the next time.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this on Wednesday evening at the Cottage Road Cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan, [ profile] planet_andy and [ profile] big_daz. Classic film nights are a regular feature at the Cottage Road Cinema, and it's not just the film itself you get to see, but a Pathé news reel and some period adverts as well. It was ace! We saw news items about a new cable-car being opened in Wales, and another about Russian plans to import British cattle for breeding, the not-terribly-subtle subtext of both being effectively "Three cheers for good old Blighty, and down with everyone else!" Then we saw adverts for local fabric shops, record emporia and restaurants, all conveniently located in Caernarfon in the early 1960s. Finally - and best of all - we were wished a very Happy Christmas and a Gay 1964 - in tinsel. Whereupon I had no option but to punch the air in post-ironic joy.

Also, there was a film! I've seen isolated chunks of it before, as you do when channel-hopping, so knew I was in for a lavish technicolor Saint Judy-fest (as [ profile] ms_siobhan quite rightly calls her) - and in that I was not disappointed! I was kind of assuming the film would turn out to have some kind of a plot when seen all in one go, but honestly the efforts in that direction were a bit half-hearted, really. It's more like a series of set-pieces, and quite a few turns of events never really get explained or followed up properly. Not that that matters, because the set-pieces are ace. I think I possibly liked Saint Judy beating up the insipid, generic boy next door best of all... though it was a bit more disappointing when she later agreed to marry him. :-( Also, there were some great lines - especially from the little kid, Tootie. Like, "I have to have two kinds of ice cream. I'm recuperating." So, really, who cares about the plot.

Finally, as the credits rolled, the Cottage Road Cinema put the last touch to the period-appropriate atmosphere by playing 'God Save the Queen', and projecting a youthful picture of Her Madge onto the screen. And because it was the kind of place where everyone was really getting into the Classic spirit of the thing and doing the same, [ profile] big_daz and I stood up. It made for a perfect end to the evening - and I can't wait for the next one.

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strange_complex: (Claudius god)
Seen this evening with [ profile] big_daz at the Light.

This is definitely a very patriotic and royalist film, which is no surprise given that one of its producers was Sarah Ferguson. That's not necessarily a criticism, and it's certainly entirely in keeping with the position Queen Victoria already occupies in the nation psyche. But I'm just saying that anyone who wants to see a measured critique of either Victoria specifically or the institution of the monarchy more generally should probably give this film a miss.

Personally, I didn't mind it in the least. Partly, this is because I am a royalist anyway,1 and partly it's because, since Queen Victoria was a woman, the patriotic fervour also had a distinctly feminist slant. There was a lot of emphasis on her casting off the influences of the various power-hungry men who were seeking to control her, and establishing a style of rulership of her own which was ultimately better for the nation. But while at one level this could be read as "See, you greedy and corrupt politicians try to sully the golden purity of our wondrous monarchy, but its true nobility prevails!", a secondary reading more along the lines of "Take that, you patriarchal fools!" put in a very healthy appearance.

Furthermore, the score centred throughout around perhaps the most patriotic and royalist piece of music ever written: Handel's Zadok the Priest. Which I love, and which we sang in the Sacred Wing in December 2007, and which really made the passion rise and kept making me want to yell out "GOD SAVE THE KING! LONG LIVE THE KING!" (or queen, even) at the appropriate moments. Add to that the beautiful camerawork, with lots of very good use of imbalanced shots in particular (i.e. the main focus of the shot is off to the left or right of the screen, not in the centre - I don't know if there's a better technical term for that), and a script which was sparing and naturalistic, conveying a great sense of the volumes left unspoken (as you would expect from Julian Fellowes, who was also responsible for Gosford Park), and you're in business, really.

So it's not one for those seeking an intellectual challenge or rigorous debate, but if you're up for a bit of QWEEN VICTORRIA IS TEH ACES, it makes for a good night out. And if at least one member of the cast doesn't feature in the next Honours List, I will eat my hat.

1. Essentially because I think that the monarchy offers a valuable cultural focus which helps to bind us together as a community, and that an important part of the nature of that focus is a vivid and tangible link with our past - which, as a historian, I obviously consider to be a particularly important component of our cultural identity.

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strange_complex: (Penny Lilac)
Today would appear to be the Queen's birthday. That's as in her actual birthday, not her official birthday, which is celebrated in June.

I know this because the very first thing I heard, groggily, this morning when Radio 4 came on was an announcement to this effect, followed by the National Anthem. It's lucky I don't belong to that ever-diminishing group of people who believe you must stand up when the anthem is played, no matter what the circumstances, or it would have been a very rude awakening indeed. Instead, I was able to continue my usual morning habit of lying prone, groaning mildly, and trying to summon up the energy to lean over and switch on the light.

But I love that I live in a nation where we still mark such occasions with national radio broadcasts. The day would probably have passed me by if we didn't. Yet, since we do, I can now count my experience of this event as something I have in common with all the other citizens of the UK (and indeed commonwealth) today: or at least, those that know about it.

I believe I'll always be a royalist, despite my otherwise left-wing liberal tendencies, precisely because I see the creation of a sense of communal identity through rituals such as this as a positive thing. It's what always makes me fascinated by 'big' funerals, such as Princess Diana's, the Queen Mother's, and, even, the Pope (although I'm certainly not a Catholic). Clearly there have to be caveats, since the same sorts of rituals can also be used to promote abusive power-structures and feelings of extreme nationalism. But at the right level I am all for them: after all, we are social beings, and I like to be given a sense that I have something in common with others.

Meanwhile, I also find through a bit of Googling about the event that the broadcast of the National Anthem on such occasions has caused Radio 4 some heartache in the past (1998). I love that I live in a nation where we consider such things worth agonising over, too.


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