He looked so lonely.
He looked so lonely.
By Liz Williamson…
Simon (by Mike Davidson) Small, smily and ineffectual.
Sauzee (by Mark Gorman). Stern and rock hard.
This one’s for my children in London and Australia.
Alongside some of its more highbrow Oscar contenders I expected I, Tonya to be a little lightweight and, whisper it, maybe one that’s really more for the ladies than the gents.
Not so. This movie has balls.
It tells the true life story. (Wait a minute, who says it’s true? Ed. Ah, good point Ed. the opening is heavily disclaimered regarding the truth and whose story is correct.)
It tells a multi-faceted rendering of the happenings that surrounded Tonya Harding’s rise from poor American trailer trash to, well, just managing American trailer trash, with a tilt at winning the Olympic figure skating Gold medal, as favourite, along the way.
It’s a rags to rags story in which poor Tonya has to suffer more than probably any global superstar ever before to make her claim for fame; ending instead in infamy.
Margot Robbie not only stars as the eponymous lead but produced the film and, in similar fashion to Charlize Theron in Monster, ditches her stunning good looks for hair, make up and wardrobe (train tracks and all) that makes her, frankly, a mess.
Her back story, brilliantly and hilariously told in pretty short order, deals with a life (allegedly) mired in terrible abuse; firstly from her disgusting ‘Skating Mom’ played brilliantly (and a cert for an Oscar) by Alison Janney (West Wing) and her equally disgusting young husband (Sebastian Stan). The opening scene, as a three year old skating prodigy being brought to her first skate class, is hysterical and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Somehow, despite this tram-smash of a life, Harding rises above it all and bulldozes her way through the middle-class American skating hierarchy into prime position thanks not only to her generally brilliant ability but, in particular, to her nailing the Triple Axel.
That’s when it all goes wrong.
You’ll know why, so I won’t bore you with the details. But suffice it to say the hapless events that follow are particularly well enacted by her ‘security’ Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser); reminding me of Four Lions.
Suffice it to say this movie is great. The acting is universally superb. The skating scenes are entirely convincing, the humour (black as the ace of spades) is laugh out loud time and again, and the way that Harding is dealt her cards, and the beatings she takes both physical and mental, are abhorrent and repulsive.
Robbie is a revelation in the role and has joined the Hollywood A list as a consequence. I can’t wait to see her in Mary Queen of Scots (alongside, count them, no fewer than eight other announced roles) and whilst she won’t beat Frances McDormand to the coveted Best Female Lead in March this performance has set a new bar for which she can only progress beyond.
Bravo. If I had a red rose I’d throw it on the ice right now.
(The soundtrack, all the best worst American MOR ever, is great too.)
Although this movie explores much trodden territory – a Catholic schoolgirl’s coming of age movie – it’s one for parents of around my age (50’s) rather than the teen lead it features. In that role Saiorse Ronan deservedly nets another Oscar nomination (sadly for her she is up against the imperious Frances McDormand and therefore cannot win) in a performance that is as real and as raw as any you’ll see this year.
But it’s not just Ronan’s performance that makes this the movie it is. It’s the triangular relationship between her (a disillusioned small town girl from Sacramento who dreams of the creativity and urban rawness of East Coast New York) her driven, ambitious (for her daughter) and seemingly hard-hearted, unemotional mother (Laurie Metcalfe) and her long-suffering, delightful father (Tracy Letts).
How the three deal with one another and how those relationships play out are at the heart of a movie that touches the heart-strings many times.
Take a hankie.
It’s not damning Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut with faint praise by describing it as nice because it really is, in the finest tradition of the word, a truly nice cinematic experience. It has grit, humour and emotion, but the overwhelming take out is just how ‘nice’ it is.
The first act is hilarious in which ‘Lady Bird’, the given name (given to herself) of Christine, her best friend Julie and her first boyfriends enact small time life, love and prom-going.
The setting, in an all girls’ Catholic High School, lends itself to much hilarity, with some excellently original rebellion. My favourite scene is where ‘Lady Bird’ and Julie scoff a tub of communion wafers whilst talking about sex. (“It’s OK. They’re not consecrated.”)
Although the gradual sexual fulfilment that Lady Bird experiences is nothing new Ronan’s performance keeps you interested, and when the consequences lead to confrontations and discussions between her and her parents – rarely acted out as a three hander because Mum and Dad lead separate (although still loving) lives – the movie reveals its depth.
It’s the relationship between mother and daughter that is the real dramatic grit in thi particular oyster. Here Gerwig teases out brilliance by both actors and it’s the result of this difficult ‘ambitious-mom’ tension that drives the movie.
As the film reaches its climax how that plays out is what results in the handkerchief moments and leaves you emotionally satisfied in a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Amazingly it’s nearly four years since this play premiered at The Lyceum before transferring to Chichester Festival Theatre. Written by and starring David Haig it’s a modern day classic.
It tells the story of Dalkeith meteorologist James Stagg and his role as the allies’ choice as chief meteorologist advising on the D-Day operations (overlord) to General Dwight Eisenhower.
What most people do not know is that the weather in the lead up to the operation was flat calm and glorious English summer conditions, convincing his American oppo (Colonel Irving Krick – a bit of a weather celebrity of the day; certainly compared to dour Scotsman, Stagg) that historical precedent suggested almost certain ideal conditions on the day of the attack.
Stagg begs to differ and cites the vagaries of the British summer (four seasons in a day) as reason not to be confident of anything.
What follows is a tussle of intellect, nerve and belief (or otherwise) in the emerging science connected to the then relatively unknown ‘Jet Stream’.
Underscoring the drama is the imminent arrival of Stagg’s second child to his wife, some three hours drive away from the military base in which he has set up his temporary weather station. His wife is suffering from high blood pressure (see what he did there?) and the experience of their first child’s birth weighs heavily on Stagg’s seemingly inscrutable (some would say curmudgeonly) personality. Frankly, it’s the last thing he needs in these high stakes times.
And the stakes are indeed high. Bad weather could kill 50,000 allied troops and calling it wrong would be their death sentence.
The play features 12 actors who represent the allied forces in various shapes and forms, but rotates around what is effectively a three-hander between Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower’s English female driver and assistant (not to mention lover) Colonel Sommersby (the excellent Laura Rodgers).
It runs through the emotions and becomes an incredibly tense thriller with its share of laughs.
But at its heart is a superb performance by David Hare that makes you will the unlikely hero on with all of your heart.
The story contains a few twists that I’ll not share here. It’s on in Edinburgh till Saturday and then on tour before opening in London in late March.
February 1-10, Cambridge Arts Theatre
February 13-17, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
February 20-24, Theatre Royal,Newcastle
February 27-March 3, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
March 6-10, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
March 12-17, Theatre Royal, Bath
March 20-24, Richmond Theatre
March 28-April 28, Park Theatre, London.
Here’s the original Lyceum trailer.