Posts Tagged ‘Tom Wilkinson’

Selma: Doesn’t Quite Measure Up to Excellent Performances—Movie

January 18, 2015

In spite of some very good performance, “Selma” still feels and falls a little flat. Directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb, “Selma” is about the 1965 March for voting rights from Selma, Alabama to the Montgomery state capitol and the events leading up to the March.


“Selma” opens with Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta Scott (Carmen Ejogo) getting ready for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony for which King is a recipient. This scene is important for showing us not only the esteem with which King is held, but in presenting, in a very subtle manner, the dynamic between Martin and Coretta. It’s loving relationship, but seems a little strained. From Oslo we go back to the United States where we meet Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey), a nurse in a rest home. It’s through her that we see how difficult it is for African-Americans to register to vote, regardless of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the courthouse, in an effort to register to vote, we watch Cooper going through hoops to answer ridiculous “qualifying” questions, the answers to which, no American would have the answers. It’s that scene and one other horrific scene which set the movie up perfectly for what is to come and demonstrates perfectly why the Selma marches are necessary and why King believes that it is so important that they happen on his time-frame, not President Johnson’s.

As King prepares for the initial march we are introduced to members of both the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Meeting at the home of old friends, the two groups discuss strategy and while SNCC favors a more aggressive approach, it acquiesces to the more non-violent pursuit of King’s SCLC. The resulting initial Selma march is shown in all its brutality. It and the aftermath are well-done, albeit very difficult to watch.

As Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo is outstanding. He never seems like he is doing an impersonation and his performance feels very genuine. Signing on to the film in its early 2010 origins, “Selma” became a passion project for him and he does King proud. A very unglamorous Oprah makes for a very compelling Annie Lee Cooper and in some ways, Cooper is the heart and soul of the film. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta gives an outstanding portrayal. Her performance is a very dignified one, much like the real Mrs. King many of us have seen or about whom we have read. Stephen James as a young John Lewis is also very good. In fact, the entire supporting cast is extremely good. Not so good, two important leads…surprisingly Tom Wilkinson as President Johnson and Tim Roth as George Wallace. Their accents and performances seem more like caricatures than the real people. To be the successful politicians they were, there had to be more to them than what we see on the screen. And perhaps it should be pointed out that these two actors are English and maybe this is what causes them to overdo the Southern drawl to cartoon levels. Oyelowo and Ejogo are also English, but neither lay the accent on so thick and are much more believable in their roles.

There has been some controversy about how President Johnson’s and Rev. King’s relationship is portrayed. That is something for historians to discuss. Regardless of what truly happened, no one can doubt that the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for true equality and the right for all Americans to vote, regardless of the color of their skin, was and is an important, hard-fought battle. There most definitely is a moving connection as we watch the final March take place and Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.This reviewer just wishes that the rest of “Selma” packed more of an emotional wallop. Some scenes do, but others do not and it’s hard to say just why that is the case. When the film is mixed with real footage of the day, more of that emotion resonates. There’s just not enough of that to bring “Selma” to that next level.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


Belle: Jumps Ahead in Class—Movie

May 28, 2014

Belle” is a fascinating look at race, privilege, sexism, customs and class during late 18th century England. A far more complicated film than its previews suggest, “Belle,” directed by Amma Asante and written by Misan Sagay, is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. To be sure, race is the film’s dominant issue, but what jumps out as a very close second is the topic of class. And as “Belle” very subtly illustrates, if you were not your family’s first-born male or came from a family of only women, your future could be very bleak indeed.


Dido Belle is the illegitimate daughter of a deceased black woman and white Royal Navy Officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). To keep her safe, he brings the young Dido (Lauren Julien-Box ) home to England to live with his aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) and demands that she be treated equally…as a member of the family. Lord Mansfield is the respected Lord Chief Justice, and he and his wife are already raising a niece, Elizabeth (Cara Jenkins). She is the same age as Dido and the two young girls quickly bond. Helping to raise both is their maiden aunt, Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton), who has a sharp tongue, but is the family truth-teller. For the most part, Dido is loved by all and treated equally except when guests are in the home for dinner. Too good to eat with the servants, but not good enough to dine with the family, she eats many meals alone.

The movie jumps ahead in time and both girls, Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), are of dating age. They are pursued by one family of brothers. But is it for money or love? Also hovering in the background is John Davinier (Sam Reid), who is the son of a vicar and a rebel-rousing lawyer seeking an apprenticeship of sorts with Lord Mansfield. And, finally, there is the all important case on which Lord Mansfield will be ruling… (Gregson v. Gilbert)… which could do much to end slavery in England.

Belle’s cast is top-notch. Whether playing an American or Englishman, Tom Wilkinson never makes a false step. In “Belle” he is terrific at showing many conflicting emotions. Emily Watson is also very good as the mother trying to be fair to both girls. Penelope Wilton is wonderful as the outspoken, meddlesome aunt, and steals every scene in which she is a part. Sarah Gadon is fantastic as Dido’s cousin—accepting, jealous, supportive and ultimately human. Matthew Goode’s role is brief, but for me he makes more of an impression in “Belle” than he did all season-long in “The Good Wife.”   As the outspoken lawyer and Dido’s potential suitor, Sam Reid is very good and appropriately dashing. Lastly, there is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle herself. A relative newcomer, she is absolutely fantastic. One can’t wait to see what she does next.

In many ways, “Belle” has much in common with the television series, “Downton Abbey,” in illustrating how restrictive the English class system could be. Because Dido’s father provided her with a substantial inheritance, she was actually in better shape financially than her cousin. The lack of such a class system and the chance for opportunity…to rise above one’s birth… is perhaps what made America so appealing to so many. Unless and this is the big unless…unless one was black. And in this case, America fell very behind England.

“Belle” is part history, but wholly entertaining, too. It’s a story and film in which everyone can relate. It’s well worth seeking out.

3 nuggets out of 4



44 Inch Chest—Movie

January 31, 2010

When a movie opens with the song Can’t Live Without You and then zooms in on a man sprawled out on the floor, dead…unconscious…we’re not sure… and  the room in which he lies is in complete disarray after what appears to have been a battle royal, you know something is up and that this isn’t just any old movie. Part drama, part comedy, 44 Inch Chest features the best male soliloquies since Shakespeare. Ok. I’m exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. Written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Sexy Beast) and directed by Malcolm Venville, the film centers around Colin, fabulously played by Ray Winstone (who seems to be in every other movie in the 2009-10 year) and his group of thuggish friends, angry Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), proudly gay Meredith (Ian McShane), mama’s boy Archie (Tom Wilkinson) and loser Mal (Stephen Dillane).  Dumped by his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), after 21 years of marriage, Colin reaches out to this ragtag bunch for assistance in taking revenge and saving face. 44 Inch Chest features very little action, but you don’t even realize it until the credits roll. That’s because the performance of every actor is sheer perfection. Each one is given his chance to shine and boy, do they ever.

3 nuggets out of 4

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