Why Deborah Davis’s The Favourite should give courage to all aspiring writers

The plot of The Favourite doesn’t sound like a laugh-a-minute comedy. Just look at it:

In 18th century England, the close relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is threatened by the arrival of Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). The resulting bitter rivalry between the two cousins impacts their lives and their relationship to the Queen, who is manipulated by both in the midst of a turbulent time in England’s political landscape.

It may not sound promising, but it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t your standard period drama. It’s a sharp script and a twisting plot, delivered to perfection by the three lead women. That this is Deborah Davis’s first ever script makes it even more remarkable.

Davis gave some insight into the writing process when she spoke to Awards Daily in November 2018. “I wrote the first draft in 1998 and I had no experience in scriptwriting. I took myself to night school to learn. I was accepted into the University of East Anglia to do a scriptwriting course and I was helped and influenced by my tutor who was really interested in The Balance of Power as it was then called. [Ceci Dempsey (of Scarlett Films) has] never ever wavered in her support and passion for this project.”

The phenomenal journey should be an inspiration to all aspiring writers around the world. Sure, it’s a twenty year process in this case, but Davis believed in her own capabilities and surrounded herself with others who were equally supportive of her work.

The success of the film is unquestionable. It continues to bring in audiences across the globe, building momentum through word of mouth and positive press responses. Now a Golden Globe winner (Olivia Colman for Best Actress), it has also been nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the BAFTAs. The team will undoubtedly be hoping for yet more success at the Academy Awards when the nominations are announced next week.

Of course, it isn’t all Davis’s work. Yorgos Lanthimos is well known for quirky comedy dramas that find hard to stay away from the surreal, which certainly shines through in a bizarre dance sequence that couldn’t possibly have been scripted. Equally, Colman’s hysterics when a young doorman may or may not have looked at her is played to perfection by both actors. That it’s all set in a traditional English country house (Hatfield House in Hertfordshire) with the expected pompous outfits just adds to the unnerving effect.

But it’s all hung on this brilliant script that mixes the most bizarre of comedies with a power struggle akin to a game of chess. Indeed, the women’s costumes, created especially for the film by Sandy Powell, were designed exclusively in blacks and whites to emanate the pieces of a chess board.

One of the most effective results of the writing is the subtle way the audience is drawn in to care for Abigail (Stone). We go on an emotional journey with her, seeing her at rock bottom as she rises through the ranks within the palace. The moment she gains power by marrying Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), her character completely changes and we realise that she’s as horrible as we feared. It’s a tough pill to swallow for an audience who think they’ve found a character to root for, but the best film-makers know just when to pull the rug from under the feet of its viewers. Emma Stone said of the script: “It feels amazing when the script is right and the director is right and you are like, ‘Now I can go and have fun and trust the process.'” And it shows. All the actors on screen look like they’re completely at ease with what they’re doing and saying.

It’s just a great piece of cinema.

For anyone out there sat on the next homemade cinematic masterpiece script, The Favourite is the perfect catalyst for you to get it finished and get it out there.

Film review – Battle of the Sexes (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2017)

On Thursday 20th September 1973, 55-year-old former male tennis pro Bobby Riggs took on then-current Women’s Wimbledon champion Bille Jean King in a $100,000 winner-takes-all exhibition match. Whilst the prize was significant – King won only £3000 for her Wimbledon title – the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was more significant in terms of what it meant for the game itself. As King herself put it, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”

Now, the match and the surrounding attention has been turned into a motion picture, courtesy of the directorial team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, their third feature film after debut Little Miss Sunshine’ (2006) and follow-up Ruby Sparks‘ (2012).

And it’s really rather good.

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King (Stone) and Riggs (Carrell) pose for the cameras.

The biopic stars Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. It is clear from the start that both actors are relishing the chance to portray such iconic characters. Both have stories worth telling, which makes the final result feel fast-paced.

Riggs is larger than life, spouting ridiculous phrase after ridiculous phrase in the hope of any kind of attention. Carell is perfect for the role and, as usual, delivers something remarkably entertaining, far beyond the abilities of someone many mistake for a simple comedic actor. It’s amazing that Carell avoids becoming irritating, clearly enjoying with aplomb the misogynistic phrases Riggs became famous for.

King’s agenda is to exact revenge on those who underestimate the abilities of women tennis players, epitomised by Lawn Tennis Association head Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), and ensure that women tennis players were given a level of respect and pay equal to their male counterparts. It is a more complex role than Carell’s, especially when factoring in her failing marriage to Larry King (Austin Stowell) and her blossoming romance with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough).

Stone again proves her acting mettle with an absolutely brilliant performance. She truly is an actor at the top of her game. It is her first portrayal of a real person, but she has clearly benefited from time spent with Billie Jean King in getting her mannerisms perfectly nailed down.

Equally, be ready to gasp at the end when you’re reminded exactly how much Steve Carell looks like Bobby Riggs.

This is a story that is as important to the LGBT community as it is to discussions about women’s rights and equality in sport and, more widely, in every profession. Billie Jean King was the first prominent female athlete to publicly acknowledge that she is a lesbian. Whilst this tale isn’t fully explored – it is limited to the reactions of Billie Jean King, Larry King, Marilyn Barnett and rival tennis player Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) – there is certainly a sense of the impact this would have had at a critical moment in the blossoming of the women’s tennis game.

It is rare that a biopic comes together with such a perfect cast and crew and tells a story so effectively and authentically. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ a fine achievement in filmmaking and one I will undoubtedly enjoy for a second time when it receives its full UK release later this year.

Academy Award for Best Song 2017

Here’s a quick look at the songs nominated for Best Song at the 89th Academy Awards.

My money’s on either of the La La Land songs, but could there be an upset on the cards? Surely Sting is out of the running before he discussions have even started.

What do you think?

La La Land – “City of Stars”

La La Land – “Audition”

Moana – “How Far I’ll Go”

Jim – “The Empty Chair”

Trolls – “Can’t Stop The Feeling”

Why La La Land probably won’t clean up at this year’s Academy Awards

The critical enthusiasm for La La Land has been matched, for good reason, by the audience’s outpouring of affection. The music is now firmly stuck in the heads of everyone who has seen it, with many of its devotees wondering what the odds are for it to clean up at the Oscars.

Here I’ll explain why this probably won’t be the case.

What’s the current record?

Three films have won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur, (1959), Titanic (1997) and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Titanic managed these with 14 nominations, whilst the final Lord of the Rings film achieved a clean sweep, winning 11 out of 11 awards. Elsewhere, All About Eve (1950) received 14 nominations, though it only won 6 of these.

For La La Land to get close to this, it’s therefore going to need 11 or more nominations, and win almost all of them.

Which awards does it have a good chance of winning?

La La Land has a great chance at winning in many or all of the categories available to it: Best Picture; Best Director; Leading Actor and Actress; Original Song; Original Score; Best Writing (Original Screenplay) will certainly be places it will be nominated, so assuming the swell of enthusiasm continues it will probably do well in what are considered to be the major categories.

So where will it fall down?

There are 24 categories that the Academy awards prizes in, but that doesn’t mean that a film can win in 24 categories. There are two awards for animated films, two for documentary films, one for a film in a foreign language and one for a live action short film. So that’s six prizes that can’t be won.

There are two prizes for Best Writing: one is for an original screenplay and one is for an adapted screenplay. Since La La Land is an original script, it is excluded from the adapted screenplay category. That’s another one down.

Perhaps the most glaringly-obvious problem it faces is that there are only two characters in the film: Mia and Sebastian. So whilst they will probably get the nominations for leading actress and actor, there isn’t anyone of note in the film that could be classed as a supporting actor or actress. The closest would be John Legend’s portrayal of Keith, the frontman for the jazz band Seb joins halfway through the story, followed by Rosemarie DeWitt as Laura (Sebastian’s sister). It seems unlikely to pick up nods in these categories. Two more down.

Finally, a few categories have already been announced and La La Land doesn’t feature in any of them. The long-lists Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Visual Effects excluded La La Land from their lists. Two more down.

So where does that leave it?

It only has access to 13 awards and will need a nomination in each of the categories if it is going to break records. It’s not unrealistic for it to achieve this, but it will require nods in the likes of Best Production Design (awarded for interior design for the sets) and Best Costume Design to get there.

However, with a weak field to compete against, it is quite possible that it will do. this anyway! Here’s hoping!!

Golden Globes 2017 – Full list of winners

Here’s a complete list of all the winners and nominees at the Golden Globes last night.

FILM

Best motion picture – drama
Winner: Moonlight
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Lion
Manchester by the Sea

Best motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: La La Land
20th Century Women
Deadpool
Florence Foster Jenkins
Sing Street

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – drama
Winner: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – drama
Winner: Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Amy Adams – Arrival
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie

Best performance by an actor in a motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Jonah Hill – War Dogs
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool

Best performance by an actress in a motion picture – comedy or musical
Winner: Emma Stone – La La Land
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Lily Collins – Rules Don’t Apply
Hailee Steinfeld – The Edge of Seventeen
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture
Winner: Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
Dev Patel – Lion

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture
Winner: Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best director – motion picture
Winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Best screenplay – motion picture
Winner: Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water

Best animated feature film
Winner: Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
Sing

Best foreign language film
Winner: Elle
Divines
Neruda
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann

Best original score – motion picture
Winner: Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Johann Johannsson – Arrival
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight

Best original song – motion picture
Winner: City of Stars – La La Land
Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls
Faith – Sing
Gold – Gold
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

TELEVISION

Best television series – drama
Winner: The Crown
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things
This is Us
Westworld

Best television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Atlanta
Black-ish
Mozart in the Jungle
Transparent
Veep

Best mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
American Crime
The Dresser
The Night Manager
The Night Of

Best performance by an actor in a television series – drama
Winner: Billy Bob Thornton – Goliath
Rami Malek – Mr Robot
Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys – The Americans
Liev Schreiber – Ray Donovan

Best performance by an actress in a television series – drama
Winner: Claire Foy – The Crown
Caitriona Balfe – Outlander
Keri Russell – The Americans
Winona Ryder – Stranger Things
Evan Rachel Wood – Westworld

Best performance by an actor in a television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Donald Glover – Atlanta
Anthony Anderson – Black-ish
Gael Garcia Bernal – Mozart in the Jungle
Nick Nolte – Graves
Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best performance by an actress in a television series – comedy or musical
Winner: Tracee Ellis Ross – Black-ish
Rachel Bloom – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Sarah Jessica Parker – Divorce
Issa Rae – Insecure
Gina Rodriguez – Jane the Virgin

Best performance by an actor in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Tom Hiddleston – The Night Manager
Riz Ahmed – The Night Of
Bryan Cranston – All the Way
John Turturro – The Night Of
Courtney B Vance – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Best performance by an actress in a mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Sarah Paulson – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
Felicity Huffman – American Crime
Riley Keough – The Girlfriend Experience
Charlotte Rampling – London Spy
Kerry Washington – Confirmation

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Hugh Laurie – The Night Manager
Sterling K Brown – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
John Lithgow – The Crown
Christian Slater – Mr Robot
John Travolta – The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

Best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a series, mini-series or motion picture made for television
Winner: Olivia Colman – The Night Manager
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Chrissy Metz – This is Us
Mandy Moore – This is Us
Thandie Newton – Westworld

New La La Land trailer released – Watch below!

I was buzzing for days after seeing La La Land at the London Film Festival last month. It’s a truly spectacular film and one I can’t wait to watch again.

Whilst I’m gutted the UK release date has been pushed back to January, I’m thrilled to see a new trailer has been released.

Watch it here:

It’s going to make you very happy.

Film review – La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

WARNING: This review is effusively positive. If you’re a misery-guts then please look away now.

Every once in a while you will go into a film knowing almost nothing about what you’re going to see and get absolutely blown away by a surprisingly perfect masterpiece. As you get further into your film-watching life, enjoying these moments becomes increasingly rare, so when a film like ‘La La Land’ comes along, you can’t help but be overcome by giddy excitement.

Damien Chazelle shot to fame in 2014 with his critically acclaimed and rather special jazz-bully drama ‘Whiplash’. ‘La La Land’ shares very few similarities with it, bar an affinity to jazz that also featured prominently in his debut feature ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’. It does expand on a topic explored in ‘Whiplash’: the ongoing internal conflict of artists pursuing their dream at the expense of every other aspect of their life.

If you enjoyed his first two feature films but thought he couldn’t “do” mainstream, then prepare to be proven absolutely wrong seconds into the start. It opens with an over-the-top musical song and dance number set amidst a traffic jam. It’s an explosive one-shot (though there may have been some clever linking between extended shots) that received a round of applause at the end from an appreciative audience. Rightly so – it was jaw-dropping.

‘La La Land’ is, at heart, a homage to traditional musicals, with a joyful soundtrack matched by a couple of mesmerising performances from the lead performers Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Gosling stars as Sebastian, a struggling jazz pianist going from poor gig to poor gig in LA, with dreams of owning his own jazz club to fend off the death of jazz. Stone is Mia, a young actress moonlighting as a barista at the Warner Brothers Studio sets who can’t get a break she deserves in the film industry. After a number of serendipitous meets, Seb and Mia start to fall for each other and, with both a figurative and a literal song and a dance, their romance explodes.

With Seb being a jazz expert/enthusiast/nerd and them both being performers, Chazelle has given himself the platform on which to produce a naturalistic musical that will doubtless make it more acceptable to those who don’t normally class themselves as musical fans. There is also evidence of a significant amount of effort put in by Gosling to perfect the piano shots, which were impressively all performed by him.


It’s a film so visually stunning it’s hard to take your eyes away from it. There is, however, never a risk that it was simply a platform to reference more familiar films of old. In a breathtaking final segment, we take a walk through memory lane with nods to a number of classic musicals, but they are simply nods in what amounts to one of the most perfectly-balanced final sequences I’ve seen in cinema. Gasps were audible around the auditorium.

The soundtrack is destined to stick around for years to come. Gosling/Stone duets “City of Stars” and “A Lovely Night” are both standouts, but it will be “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” that will be vying for an Oscar early next year. A beautiful number written by Justin Harwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it is left to Emma Stone to deliver an emotionally raw live performance.

The only downside for me is that I have to wait for another two months to see it again. A must see.

Irrational Man (Woody Allen, 2015)

Another year, another Woody Allen film. It must be getting tiring, all this. Coming up with excellent idea after excellent idea, living with the pressure of high expectations. Sickening then that despite this film being another example of style over substance, the substance is unquestionably absorbing and the style is abundant. Much like all of his other recent films, then.

This is the tale of university philosophy professor Abe Lucas, who arrives at a Braylin College, New England with a reputation for being both an alcoholic and a womaniser. He immediately attracts the attention of married chemistry professor Rita (Parker Posey) and philosophy student Jill (Emma Stone), the former of which is married and the latter of which is in a long term relationship to which she is seemingly dedicated. He strikes up  an intellectual friendship with the Jill that eventually leads to the suggestion of more. However, lacking enthusiasm for life, Abe seems lost until an unexpected twist of fate turns his life around and with it his attitude towards it.

A fantastic screen couple.

A fantastic screen couple.

There are six listed cast members here, but there really are only two stars here. Phoenix and Stone make a formidable pairing. He may have put on some weight for this role, but Phoenix’s allure is still very much there and his convincing lost soul act is enough to make his appeal to the much younger Stone quite believable. The conversations she has with her family, friends and an increasingly frustrated boyfriend (Jamie Blackley) are so natural they could be eavesdropping. The ability Woody Allen has to enter the mind of a young and impressionable individual is uncanny. It’s subtle but enchanting.

When the twist arrives there is inevitably a risk that it will derail the film, drawing away from the realism of the first act as it blossoms into a full-blown thriller. Thankfully it doesn’t stray too far from the mark, walking a fine line but concentrating on Abe’s irrational justifications of his actions rather than spiralling out of control, which probably would have been the easier option.

It doesn’t quite reach the joyful heights seen in Midnight In Paris, though is streets ahead of the unfathomably popular Blue Jasmine. Well worth checking out if you can find it.

Irrational Man is at UK cinemas now.

Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014)

Interesting fact – Woody Allen has directed and written a new feature film every year since 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. And that break – that one year break – was well deserved. Between 1972 and 1980 he managed eight feature films in a purple patch of creativity that included Manhatten, Bananas, Annie Hall, Sleeper and Love and Death. This industrious approach to churning out films from the Woody Allen cinema factory of course means that some releases are better received than others. Going to see his latest film doesn’t seem to guarantee you’ll see a great film.

In recent years, though, he has had a critical and commercial renaissance, which started with 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, and he has been introduced to a whole generation of cinema-goers. Indeed, watching his recent films they all seem to be of the same universe. The fonts and designs used for the title sequences are always identical (though admittedly he has used the same Windsor font for around forty years now). The music is of a similar style, albeit usually stylised to the area in which the film is set. The locations have tended towards beautiful, luxurious areas of famous European cities with histories rich in romance, barring 2009’s Whatever Works and last year’s hugely successful Blue Jasmine. It’s almost like Woody Allen is using his films to enjoy these beauty hotspots.

So, whilst seeing Woody Allen’s latest might not guarantee you’ll see a great film, it will guarantee you’ll see a quintessentially Allenesque film, one you will immediately recognise as belonging to this most unique of directors.

And so it is with his latest.

Magic In The Moonlight stars British heavyweight Colin Firth and relative newcomer Emma Stone, both of whom are highly gifted and currently very sought-after actors. The story centres around Firth’s Stanley Crawford, a world-renowned magician whom we join as he journeys to the French Riviera to witness and debunk Stone’s Sophie Baker, a self-professed spiritual medium who Stanley is sure is as fake as the rest of her peers.

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Firth plays the stubborn Stanley perfectly. The character is a dislikeable person, one we see slowly fall for a girl many years his minor but refusing to admit it, doubly bad as he has a fiancé-in-waiting back home. Even when Sophie starts to show feelings for him, he rebukes her in the most insulting of manners. Firth is an inherently likeable person so that he pulls this is off so well is to be admired. Emma Stone, too, is brilliant in playing a seemingly innocent girl with an extraordinary gift. The play between these two highly talented actors is something to behold. Throw into the mix a fantastic support cast including Eileen Atkins and Simon McBurney, some beautiful scenery and a well-crafted script and you have another excellent entry into the Allen catalogue.

In many ways, I do wonder what the enduring fascination with Allen is. Especially in the UK where, in light of Operation Yewtree and a seemingly never ending chain of accusations and court cases against the stars of yesteryear, any kind of indecent relationship will be dragged through the press. It seems decidedly odd that Woody Allen’s popularity remains completely intact. There doesn’t seem to be any resolution on the horizon for his ongoing feud with Dylan Farrow, his adoptive daughter, who claims she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child. It seems bizarre that so many renowned actors would flock to be involved with his work with this hanging over his legacy. Yes, I understand that we should treat people as innocent until proven guilty, but that is frankly not the society we live in, where often trial by media is the preferred route. I don’t truly believe that these films are so good they overpower his potential loss of reputation if these allegations were true. Perhaps it’s just that his reputation as an excellent director precedes him and people are desperate to work with him as he sits in the twilight of his career. Who could turn down the opportunity to work with a bonafide legend of cinema?

So, is Magic in the Moonlight as good as Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine? Probably not. But it is a uniquely Allenesque picture and one that certainly won’t go down in the future as a flop; yet another water tight story told brilliant by one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.

Magic in the Moonlight is on release at selected cinemas in the UK now.

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