A 1960s British kitchen sink drama that launched the career of director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Darling), A Kind of Loving is a brooding grit of everyday life in the north of England.
Shot in Manchester in atmospheric black and white, this is Lowry country of urban industrial landscapes as Vic (Alan Bates – The Fixer, Women in Love) looks to better himself, working as an office-based draughtsman. Catching the eye of secretary Ingrid (June Ritchie – The Mouse on the Moon, This Is My Street), courtship leads to pregnancy and a quick wedding, much to the disgust of Ingrid’s mother (Thora Hird – TV’s Talking Heads, Last of the Summer Wine). With the couple forced to live in the comfortable surrounds of Mrs Rothwell’s home, the marriage is strained and when Ingrid loses the baby, Vic wants out.
Miserable but compassionate, Vic looks to save his marriage in spite of the best efforts of his mother-in-law in a grim but engaging slice-of-life narrative as Vic finds himself having to choose between Saturday night sing-a-longs with friends and family at the pub or chocolates and television quiz shows.
The ordinariness of 1960s Australian suburban life searching for something extraordinary is Peter Goldsworthy’s deceptively simple tale.
Transferred to the distant tropical Darwin from Adelaide, the close knit Crabbe family look to establish a life worth living, removed as they are from their passion of music. Dad (a work promotion resulting in his transfer to the Darwin hospital) is the piano player, mom is the font of knowledge as they look to teenage son Paul to make the grade. So much so Paul finds himself the reluctant student of Eduard Keller, a hard-drinking Austrian with a boozers incandescent glow and of whom little in known.
Narrated from the perspective of an adult Paul, more than a tinge of remorse and regret underpins Maestro as the now underachieving recital pianist reflects on the opportunities once offered by Keller. Whilst his parents trade music-related witticisms and help establish the likes of the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Paul suffers for his art. A hard-task master, the exercising of fingers forming weeks of lessons before any piano key is touched, Keller demands focus and commitment. Blunt and devoid of any social skills, the man’s history is, in part, slowly revealed. But to a teenage boy in the early 1960s, much to the regret of an older Paul, recent European history is a distant fug. The respect deserved for a musician of the Vienna Opera House, widowed Holocaust survivor and renowned teacher was neither forthcoming nor understood.
Maestro is a gentle, compassionate coming-of-age where childhood and Paul’s teenage years are one of looking to be accepted with Keller and piano lessons a chore. It’s only as a less-than-successful adult can he reflect on missed opportunities and the reality of a lonely, ageing old man a long way from his former sophisticated world.
An Australian Society of Authors Top 40 Australian Books of All Time, Maestro was shortlisted for the 1990 Miles Franklin Award but lost out to Tom Flood and Oceana Fine.
A warm, modest homage to the late Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier, Sidney provides a context to the groundbreaking Hollywood career that, in a few short years, saw Poitier labelled as a sellout Uncle Tom by the burgeoning civil rights movements of the late 1960s.
From an illiterate, dirt poor Bahamaian childhood to a close call with the Florida KKK as a young teenager, Poitier’s trajectory into stardom did not follow the obvious path. But a chance performance with the American Negro Theatre in New York as the understudy to Harry Belafonte resulted in an invitation to Hollywood. And, with the backdrop of racism in the US in the 1950s and ’60s, Poitier’s career developed to include becoming the first African-American male to win an Oscar (Lilies of the Field in 1964) and biggest male box office attraction in 1967. But his successes backfired in the more politically active black communities.
Sidney is more a context to Poitier’s significance in the history not just of Hollywood but a wider United States – as born out by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey. In spite of interviews with his six daughters and two ex-wives, Sidney, as directed by Reginald Hudlin (The Black Godfather, Marshall), never sufficiently plumbs the depths of the more personal difficult life lived. The result is both enjoyable and informative yet a carefully curated immortalisation of the man himself.
A rose-tinted Belfast childhood from writer/director Kenneth Branagh (Death on the Nile, Hamlet) creates an intimate and deeply personal family drama but which misses the grit and sense of foreboding ever-present in the city wrenched apart by sectarian violence.
Young Buddy (Jude Hill) innocently observes the world around him as, with his father (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades of Grey, A Private War) mostly absent working in London, Ma (Catriona Balfe – Ford vs Ferrari, Money Monster) struggles to raise the kids. There’s plenty of advice from Granny (Judi Dench – Skyfall, Red Joan) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds – Red Sparrow, The Woman in Black) but debts and threats of violence slowly wear her down.
Engaging as it is with a wry sparkle of a script and solid cast adding depth to its narrative, a touch more darkness is needed to elevate Belfast into something more substantial.
Nominated for 7 Oscars including best film, director, supporting actor (Hinds), supporting actress (Dench), won 1 (original script).
As audacious as the superb Booker Prize shortlisted His Bloody Project, Burnet is once again in playful mood as he ebbs between fiction and documentary, history and imagination. Therapy is Burnet’s focus in Case Study as the controversial opinions of 1960s psychotherapist A. Collins Braithwaite come into question. But then, this being a Burnet novel, Collins Braithwaite himself should come into question. Did he even exist?
I am convinced, you see, that Dr Braithwaite killed my sister, Veronica. I do not mean that he murdered her in the normal sense of the word, but that he is, nonetheless, as responsible for her death as if he had strangled her with his bare hands.
So states our narrator, Veronica. She’s out to prove Braithwaite is a fraud – and, dour and frumpy that she is, adapts a different personality in her appointments with the analyst. Based on the character of her dead sister, ‘Rebecca’ is confident and outgoing. A believer in a norm of multiple personalities within the same individual, Braithwaite is controversial – and has courted controversy throughout his career – including the publication of his book Kill Your Self. Yet there’s little question as to ‘Rebecca’ and the resulting change in the character of Veronica. Interwoven is the back story of the arrogant northern English Braithwaite and his rise from a working class lad and the daily life of the narrator living at home with her father.
Burnet’s novel is wry and enjoyable if lightweight, a muddying of fact and fiction, of the psychoanalysis in the mould of the views of RD Laing taken a great deal further. Accessible, the psychological drama has been long listed for the 2022 Booker Prize.
Set in 1962, a novice nun, in questioning her vocation and the taking of vows, leaves the convent to test her faith. Discovery of a family secret that dates back to wartime and the German occupation shocks Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) to the very core.
Travelling to Warsaw to stay with her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza – Cold War, Róza), Anna is informed her birth name is Ida. A former state prosecutor, an aimless and sexually promiscuous Wanda has fallen from grace. The two undertake a road trip to explore their pasts, both known and unknown.
Stunningly shot in a wintery, monotone palette (cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski – My Summer of Love, Last Resort and Lukasz Zal – Cold War, I’m Thinking of Ending It All), a bleak tale of loss and uncertainty gently unfolds as the two women come to terms with a past known and unknown. Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, My Summer of Love), Ida is intimate in its austerity yet utterly compelling.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2015 including best cinematography – won 1 for best foreign language film.
Arriving in London from the quiet of a remote Cornwall home, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit) finds herself struggling in the fast, judgemental life of a fashion student. Frequent visions of her dead mother do not help.
Directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), nothing is straightforward as Eloise’s grasp on reality is threatened by the presence of the spirit of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma, Split), a feisty, wannabe singer from the 1960s. As emotions heighten and the story flips into a dark, eerie supernatural horror flitting between the 1960s and the present day, so the pace increases and the narrative slides into a hyperactive, delirious frenzy.
The presence of ’60s stars Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg (in her last film) and Rita Tushingham is a nice touch but sadly Last Night in Soho degenerates, after a promising start, into a messy let down of predictability.
Attitudes towards a mixed race marriage in 1960s California come under the microscope as Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton – The Last Airbender, Kinsey) introduces her husband-to-be to her parents following a whirlwind holiday romance. They are taken aback by the unannounced arrival of Joey and Dr John Prentice (Sidney Poitier – To Sir With Love, The Defiant Ones), a situation made even more uncertain with the invitation to his parents to dinner.
Important for its time (1967), highlighted by attracting Spencer Tracy (in his last role) and Katherine Hepburn as the Drayton parents, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner comes across as stilted and uncomfortable. Each of the six central characters (along with the ‘know-your-place’ cook/help, Tillie – Isabel Sanford, Lady Sings the Blues, TV’s The Jeffersons) have their sanctimonious say in a feature directed by Stanley Kramer (On the Beach, Judgement at Nuremberg). It undoubtedly meant well but this verbose, stagey narrative of a social commentary is ultimately something of an insipid dramedy.
Nominated for 10 Oscars in 1968 including best film, director, actor (Tracy), supporting actor (Cecil Kelloway), suporting actress (Beah Richards), won 2 for best actress (Hepburn) and original screenplay (William Rose).
A rare foray by Oscar winning Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, The Defiant Ones) across the Atlantic to star in a British social drama, To Sir, With Love is a warm-hearted exploration of hopes and aspiration in London’s East End.
Adapted from the novel by E.R. Braithwaite, Poitier is an engineer unable to find work in 1960s England. He takes a teaching job in a rough and ready school full of no-hopers prepared for a life of low-paid drudgery. Poitier challenges their assumptions and expectations, breaking down barriers as his 16 year-old charges (including newcomers Lulu and Judy Geeson) respond to the respect towards each other he promotes.
Director James Clavell (better known as best selling author of the likes of Shōgun and King Rat) produces a well-made if naïve and unbelievable narrative. Whilst engaging as a story, To Sir, With Love barely touches the rampant racism or depths of social deprivation of 1960s East End.
Loosely based on the life of country singer Loretta Lynn, a wife at 13, a mother of four by the time she was 20 – and a star in ascendancy in the early 1960s a decade later.
A dirt-poor Kentucky mining background sets the scene with Loretta (Sissy Spacek – Carrie, The Help) struggling to help her parents with six other siblings. Returning from World War II, its Doo (Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive, Lincoln) who sweeps Loretta off her feet and a new home in the State of Washington. Years of domestic drudgery and abuse follow. It’s only on a return to Kentucky and meeting Patsy Cline (Beverly d’Angelo – American History X, TV’s Entourage) that Loretta gets the break she needs.
Spacek owns the role in an uneven telling of Lynn’s life story. The earlier narrative of struggle and motherhood is raw, honest and engaging, but director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough, 7/14/21… Up documentaries) slips into the cardinal autobiographic sin of success begatting a series of episodic moments. As a result, the intensity and connection of the first half of the film is sadly undermined.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1981 including best film, adapted screenplay, cinematography, won 1 for best actress.