THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER
In the third of the Chronicles of Narnia series CS Lewis divested himself of half the Pevensie siblings, concentrating instead on the younger two, Edmund and Lucy. That’s good news for the film adaptation, since Skandar Key9nes (Edmund) and Georgie Henley (Lucy) are the better actors of the four.
For this seafaring adventure they’re reunited with dashing Prince (now King) Caspian (Ben Barnes) and joined by their horribly annoying younger cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) for a dangerous voyage. Caspian has built a ship, the Dawn Treader, on which they set sail to find the seven lost lords of Narnia. That means facing up to sea monsters, ghost warriors, nasty slave traders and their own spiritual weaknesses (but of course) along the way, as well as some sinister green mist.
Directed by Brit veteran Michael Apted, this is efficient entertainment, if nothing more. It’s less tedious than the disappointing previous film Prince Caspian, but it’s still pretty bland stuff, even in unnecessary – but predictable – 3D. As so often, the CGI special effects overwhelm everything else in the film, with a resulting movie that just seems bland. It’ll keep young minds occupied rather than mesmerised.
How on earth did this happen? How could a romantic crime caper starring two of the hottest A-listers on Earth end up such an insipid, borderline incompetent also-ran of a movie? Well, the concept, for a start. She’s a stylish Englishwoman up to her neck in some kind of international conspiracy, he’s a dorky American maths teacher abroad, and together they take on various sets of baddies in beautiful, tantalising Venice and Paris. Sounds fun, but the action-adventure-in-pretty-Euro-city schtick has been seriously overdone by Hollywood of late, and tacking a half-baked mistaken identity story on doesn’t improve it.
Especially not with this script, which contains barely a hint of character, interest or fun. All the life has been steamrollered out of it, which is also the case with the direction. That’s care of one Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the German who won an Oscar for his stately depiction of surveillance in East Berlin, the Lives of Others, but who seems to have fallen asleep on the job here.
As do Depp and Jolie. Depp, with a terrible scraggy haircut, seems utterly at a loss playing a normal bloke, while Jolie’s cut-glass English vowels do not a character make. Their romance is about as hot as the Christmas weather forecast. This is a witless embarrassment for all concerned. TB
THEATRE’S great chronicler of the middle classes, Alan Ayckbourn, wrote Season’s Greetings 30 years ago, but its send up of an English domestic Christmas is just as poignant, painful and painfully funny – I thought the woman next to me was going to expire from laughter – now as then.
It’s worth catching just for the appalling array of festive cardigans on display in the house of Belinda and Neville Bunker, hosting friends and family for the holiday while tensions, suspicions and resentments simmer below the surface, soon boiling over.
Catherine Tate is hilarious as Belinda Bunker, frustrated in her marriage and excited by the novelist boyfriend of her depressed, virginal sister (a brilliant Nicola Walker). Mark Gatiss pretty much steals the show as a hopeless doctor whose annual insistence on performing his mind-numbing puppet show puts everyone’s backs up.
The physical slapstick is as perfectly pitched as Ayckbourn’s writing, and there’s not a weak point in the cast. Hilarity, heartbreaking melancholy and excruciating embarrassment collide beautifully, like all the best – and worst – Christmases. TB
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – set in London during World War II – debuted in 1997 but has been revived and brushed up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz. And what a commemoration this is: a beautifully-staged dreamscape of hope, loss and – thanks to the exquisite mannerisms of Cinders’ evil household – amusement, set to Prokofiev’s score.
Here, Cinderella’s prince is a dashing RAF pilot who takes refuge from a raid in the house she shares with her obnoxious stepmother. Cinderella goes to find him and – struck unconscious when a bomb drops – she enters the dream-world of a ball they fall into each other’s arms.
In place of a fairy godmother, a camp Guardian Angel ensures Cinders lives and gets her man. Kerry Biggin is a graceful and expressive Cinderella but my favourite was Michaela Meazza, the evil-faced stepmother whose grace and steps are unparalleled. The set is wonderfully evocative with Tube stations, bombed cityscapes and even Paddington Station, from where Cinderella’s pilot eventually departs back to war. ..Zoe Strimpel