Monthly Archives: May 2014

Angela Lansbury double: Driving Miss Daisy and Blithe Spirit

Last week I was at the BFI Southbank to see a recording of ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, filmed live in Australia and featuring Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines.  I’d previously seen the same production on a London run with Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy, but it is curious and instructive to see what a change of just one cast member can do for the dynamics of a play, and so it was here.  Redgrave may be a theatre grand dame and one of an illustrious dynasty, but Lansbury is A Star.   Her scenes with Jones are an absolute joy.

The play was hugely enjoyable and Lansbury, making a rare personal appearance afterwards on the cinema stage, talked frankly about her time at MGM (which she clearly hated, finding the studio cold and impersonal in contrast with Paramount’s friendly vibe when she was loaned out for ‘The Court Jester’), how she felt when she triumphed on the Broadway stage in ‘Mame’ but lost the role in the film to Lucille Ball, and the twelve-year run on television of the popular crime series ‘Murder, She Wrote’ which gave employment to so many of her old colleagues.  At 88 years old, Lansbury is still bright and glamorous, and even if she didn’t quite appreciate the level of film knowledge of her audience (‘you won’t have heard of Boston Blackie/Greta Garbo/Robert Taylor’), she appeared fairly warm even if she was dismissive of the talents of most of her contemporaries.

Today I was in the same ‘room’ as Ms Lansbury again, but this time at the Gielgud Theatre for the matinee performance of Noel Coward’s sparkling comedy, ‘Blithe Spirit’.  With Charles Edwards, Janie Dee, and Jemima Rooper acting alongside Lansbury, this is a vibrant production with a wicked second half (the first takes a while to warm up), although I hesitate to agree that front stall and dress circle tickets are worth in excess of £100.  Madame Arcati to many will always be Margaret Rutherford, but Angela Lansbury with her expressive glances, dotty dancing, and sense of timing, does entertain with a level of professionalism which comes from a seven decade career.


Tom Thumb, 1958 – ★★★

This slightly disappointing film from George Pal takes the famous fairytale as a starting point when a tiny chap (played with some flair by Russ Tamblyn) arrives at the house of childless couple Jessie Matthews and Bernard Miles, following a meeting between the man of the house and a woodland fairy.

It all starts well enough and one particular scene, where Tom’s toys come alive and put on a display for him, is fabulous, but the introduction of some token bad guys (Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers) slows up the action and doesn’t really work.

I imagine this film is entertaining for kids in fits and starts but as a feature it is far too long and sags badly in places. Tamblyn is good value but there are slim pickings to be found in this stodgy saga.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews

Archive DVD labels #2: BFI

The DVD publishing arm of the British Film Institute (BFI) has been very active in recent years, not just releasing quality editions of films from a variety of countries and timespans (including the Free Cinema and Lotte Reiniger sets), but also a series of documentary releases which includes focus on the mining, shipbuilding, and steel industries; public information films; the output of the British Transport Films and General Post Office Film Unit; a three volume set of the works of Humphrey Jennings; a collection of films around the British pub; and two explorations of social documentary in Land of Promise and Shadows of Progress.  There have also been discs focusing on London – the Wonderful London and A London Trilogy sets.

The Flipside label has focused on forgotten gems from the past such as The Bed Sitting Room, Privilege, Lunch Hour, and The Party’s Over; while the recent Gothic season on the big screen led to a number of archive television releases including the long sought-after series Dead of Night (sadly incomplete), Supernatural, the Play for Today Robin Redbreast, and Schalcken the Painter.  The upcoming Sci-fi series will include a release of the legendary series from the 1960s, Out of the Unknown, across six discs.

Finally, children’s and silent cinema has not been neglected.  The Childrens’ Film Foundation sets have been very popular, including two serials from the Famous Five books of Enid Blyton.   In terms of silent cinema, The Epic of Everest and The Miners’ Hymns joined the roster recently complementing releases such as South and The Great White Silence.

The BFI DVD label is a wonderful enterprise releasing affordable gems other labels probably wouldn’t touch.  My favourite recent release of theirs is probably the Ghost Stories for Christmas compilation, bringing together in particular the 1970s classics such as The Treasure of Abbot Thomas and The Ash Tree, plus a few more recent entries into the genre.

The Silver Tassie (National Theatre) review

When I was at school, we spent some time assessing the works of Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey, specifically his trilogy of classic works (Juno and the Paycock, Shadow of a Gunman, The Plough and the Stars).  This play, The Silver Tassie, did not get an Abbey Theatre premiere and was dismissed at the time of writing as a confused mess of stories and scenes, comparing unfavourably with Journey’s End, also set in the Great War.

This National Theatre revival still has a feeling of confusion and doesn’t quite hit the right note of O’Casey’s voice and poetry, but it has moments of greatness, particularly in act two, where a soldier sings of the desolation of war, and in the final moments, where a dance becomes a grotesque and moving comment on the devastation conflict has brought on a small community, not just the town bully who, blinded, becomes the piece’s philosopher, or the football hero who, bitter and paralysed from the waist down, has to reassess his life.

With ear-splitting explosions and an amazing transition of scenes between act one (set in a typical alehouse with comedy schtick characters) and act two, the field of battle, this play remains relevant and connects with its audience, although it can feel a little slow in places and the framing characters of Sylvester and Simon feel a little like pale cousins of the Paycock and his friend from ‘Juno’.


Reverse Hitchcock #5: Marnie, 1964 – ★★★

#5 in the Reverse Hitchcock project.

I have mixed feelings about ‘Marnie’. It isn’t a film I particularly like, and I find it exploitative and misogynistic when it comes to its female lead, Tippi Hedren, one of Hitch’s ice blondes.

From the opening scenes, which centre on a woman’s bottom wiggle from behind, through to scenes where the psychological block Marnie has about sex edge into areas where she is too hysterical, and male lead Connery is not convincing enough, and it leaves a bitter taste.

It’s almost as if Hitch is fetishizing Hedren and taking pleasure in humiliating her through the situations in which her character is placed at the same time. As Mark, her boss and then husband (not entirely by choice), Sean Connery shows a certain amount of style and charm, but he is unsympathetic, and some of the lines he is given, referring to physical violence in particular, don’t sit well in what should be a taut psychological thriller.

Diane Baker (who I remember seeing before as one of the three office girls in ‘The Best of Everything’) is good as the ice-cold scheming sister-in-law of Connery who seems to have her own ‘pathological fix’ on him.

Marnie has this fear of being ‘handled’ and has ‘no lovers, no steadies, no gentleman callers’ , but is Mark the right one for her, or can he actually push her over the edge?

What else? There’s a secret in Marnie’s past which makes her flip at the colour red, there are horses which matter to past and present, and the feeling of flight and fright, there are some interesting script lines (the flower made of tiny insects, the well-known friendless orphan child, the degradation and animal sense of marriage).

There’s that last five or so minutes, of course, with the flashback, but it doesn’t stop the unease at what has gone before.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

London Life With Liz

Lover of good food, good wine and all things London-related - theatre, music, history and Arsenal FC being some of my particular passions. Join me on my travels around this amazing city and beyond...

Forgotten Television Drama

Uncovering the lost history of British TV Drama


Book reviews, author interviews, music reviews. A revue of reviews!

Being Curious

reflections on living with life

%d bloggers like this: