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Non-Review Review: Spencer

Spencer introduces itself as “a fable based on a true tragedy.” The official synopsis describes the movie as “an imagining of what might have happened.”

The obvious point of comparison is Jackie. Both are movies directed by Pablo Larraín, offering a tightly-focused profile of their young, famous, female subjects. However, while Jackie is very much about a character who is cannily and carefully cultivating a mythology out of tragedy, Spencer is perhaps about a character failing to do just that. Jackie Kennedy was able to build the myth of “Camelot” in the wake of her husband’s death, a monument that would last generations. Spencer imagines its female protagonist crushed beneath the weight of a national myth, learning that “no one is above tradition.”

A sorry estate of affairs…

Diana Spencer remains a fascinating figure. She has a strong hold on popular culture. Her narrative is a driving force in the second half of The Crown. There was a spectacularly ill-judged attempt at a more conventional biopic with Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana. Her ghost haunted The Queen. Diana is often described as “the people’s princess”, but there’s something unsettling even in that affectionate appelation. It is, after all, possessive. It opens up the question of whether Diana was every truly allowed to be herself, or was instead beholden to everybody else – the royals, the public, the ghosts of royal consorts past.

Spencer is very much a companion piece to Jackie, but it feels more like a ghost story. It is haunting and ethereal, its subject flinching even from Larraín’s gaze. The result is enchanting, but also deliberately and effectively frustrating. Spencer is a fable, complete with all the echoing space that such stories usually contain.

Christmas Mourning.

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My 12 for ’14: Locke and mad roads driving men ahead…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

On paper, Locke seems like an incredibly indulgent high-concept. Tom Hardy drives a car for an hour-and-a-half? He is the only actor who actually appears in the film? He spends most of the runtime on his mobile phone, rather than listening to his own preselected mix tape? Writer and director Steven Knight could at least throw in a sense of imminent danger. After all, Phone Booth had police cars and a sniper; Cellular had Chris Evans running around a lot; Grand Piano had… well, a grand piano.

However, Locke works beautifully. There are a lot of different reasons for the film’s success, but Steven Knight deserves a great deal of the credit as writer and director. The highest stakes in Locke are those furthest from the protagonist; the birth he is racing towards, the family he is racing away from, the construction job he has abandoned. We never leave the car. We experience those moments of tension and dread and anxiety and uncertainty right along with Ivan Locke. There is nothing to see beyond the lights of the car on the road, nothing beyond the disconnected voices on the other end of the line.


It takes a very singular vision to get a story like that to screen. Knight has enjoyed a long career as a writer for the screen. Most recently, Knight wrote Peaky Blinders for the BBC, a stylish crime drama set in twenties Birmingham starring Cillian Murphy. His theatrical scripts are of a similarly high caliber, including Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. However, Locke marks only the director’s second time behind the camera for a theatrical release. The result is staggeringly confident.

Locke is a movie that could easily have collapsed in on itself. Avoiding that sort of stumble would have been enough to mark it as a success. However, Locke not only avoids the many potential problems with the premise, but also surpasses all expectations. It is hard to decide whether the result is a delightfully thrilling drama or a terrifically dramatic thriller, but – regardless of classification – it is a damn fine piece of cinema.

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Non-Review Review: Locke

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

Lock a character in a tight space for an extended period of time, crank up the pressure, watch the results. It’s a tried and true method of generating compelling drama – albeit one that depends on a wide range of variables. Films like Phone Booth and Buried demonstrate – to varying degrees of success – the appeal of such a format. If you can get a good actor in a tight space for an extended period of time and crush them, the results are inevitably fascinating.

At the same time, it’s a very delicate cocktail. The set-up has to be convincing, the script has to be tight without being contrived, the direction needs to be spot on, the performance needs to be perfectly modulated. Steven Knight’s sophomoric feature-length film manages to maintain this fine balance for Locke‘s eighty-five minute runtime. Essentially an hour-and-a-half locked in a car with Tom Hardy, Locke is a powerhouse of a feature, an utterly compelling and heartrending watch.


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