Tag: Eleanor Tomlinson

Colette (2018)

Keira Knightley tries her best in this light but safe biography Colette

Director: Wash Westmoreland

Cast: Keira Knightley (Gabrielle Colette), Dominic West (Henry Gauthier-Villars/Willy), Eleanor Tomlinson (Georgie Raoul-Duval), Aiysha Hart (Polaire), Fiona Shaw (Sido), Denise Gough (Missy), Robert Pugh (Jules), Rebecca Root (Rachilde), Julian Wadham (Ollendorff)

In the era of #metoo what could make for a more relevant storyline today than this biography of Gabrielle Colette (Kiera Knightley), a young woman who marries literary playboy Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) aka Willy. Henry brings her back to Paris, and reveals the secrets of his success – he is the front man for a host of ghostwriters, producing articles and even novels for the public. Colette writes a novel for the “factory”, based on her own childhood – Claudine àl’école – which Willy initially rejects but later publishes under his own name (after he has suggested revisions to improve its plot and general raunchiness). The book is a smash – and Willy is a sensation – as are the sequels, but the growing frustration Colette feels at her lack of recognition, combined with the growing sense of freedom she finds in their open marriage, starts to lead her to question what she wants from her own life.

Colette is a decent, rather middle-of-the-road and middlebrow literary biography, that dabbles with controversy and racy content, but essentially follows a fairly traditional structure of our hero finding her own voice. The most interesting thing about it, despite the obvious surface message of the woman exploited by a man, is to suggest that while Willy certainly profited from Colette’s work, he was also the primary driver in her development as a writer and that the two of them maintained a stable working partnership for years until events led to their collapse. 

Much has been made in particular of a scene where Willy locks Colette into a room to write – and there isn’t a single review that hasn’t mentioned it – but, in the context, it’s Colette who has failed to focus on the writing (which the pair have already been paid for), or wdo the work she has committed to do, much to Willy’s disappointment when he returns to the country home that the advance for the book has paid for. While her objections are at first furious she swiftly settles into writing in the room (and there is no suggestion that this event is any more than a single one-off, a shock tactic from Willy to get Colette creating again). This isn’t to say the film is suggesting that Colette shouldn’t have received all the credit and freedom from the start, but it does raise more interesting questions: yes Willy was taking advantage of her, but yes he also pushed her to achieve things she would never have done herself.

It’s all part of Dominic West’s superb performance as Willy, skilfully balancing a man who (until the final act of the film) is neither flat-out villain or misunderstood hero, but a man of shades of grey: flawed, selfish, lazy, thoughtless but also encouraging of his wife’s exploration of her own sexuality and creativity, supportive and capable of acts of charming sweetness and kindness. Westmoreland makes clear that for much of the marriage their relationship was functional and a good match, for all it was founded on the false sands of Colette being denied the public credit for her own work. Sure he spunks their money up the wall continuously, but he also helps her become an artist. 

For all the film’s workmanlike structure and obvious telling, this does make for a far more interesting version of the story than the straight “ogre-victim” story you might expect, even if it does start to get a bit bogged down in sexual shenanigans. The mostly focus around bisexual American socialite Georgie (Eleanor Tomlinson with a soapy Southern accent), who becomes the lover of both Colette and Willy. It’s part of the sense of Colette questing for an identity, but the idea of what this is and what the journey is never quite solidifies into something really incoherent. Though I suppose you could argue the journey is Colette realising she doesn’t need Willy, and that shorn of him she can survive far better on her own than he can without her.

Part of this is connected to Keira Knightley’s solid, but not quite deep enough, performance as Colette. As is often the way with her best work, Knightley works her socks off here and is clearly completely committed to the role and the film – but she just isn’t quite capable of elevating the depths of her skill to meet the full demands of the film. She doesn’t disgrace herself at all, but it’s a performance that never had enough fire and life to really become compelling.

It means you don’t quite get the powerful feminist message the film is aiming for. Knightley’s performance isn’t quite strong enough to counter-balance West, and the film’s failure to put together a compelling story line around what Colette actually wants – the film eventually settles for a rather ill-thought out phrase about wanting to lead her own life – means it peters out without much impact. There is a powerful story in here around women being denied recognition for their own talents and skills, but it never quite coalesces as it should.

The Illusionist (2006)

Ed Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel are wrapped up in the tricks of The Illusionist

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Edward Norton (Eisenheim), Jessica Biel (Sophie), Paul Giamatti (Inspector Uhl), Rufus Sewell (Crown Prince Leopold), Eddie Marsan (Josef Fischer), Jake Wood (Jurka), Tom Fisher (Willigut), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Young Eisenheim), Eleanor Tomlinson (Young Sophie), Karl Johnson (Doctor)

In 2006, The Illusionist was the other film about nineteenth-century magicians that wasn’t Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. As such it got rather overlooked, which is unfair as this is a handsomely made, intriguing little puzzle which doesn’t reinvent the wheel but does what it does with a fair amount of invention and beauty.

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, the illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is a revelation – a mystery character whose past is investigated by Police Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) under the orders of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). The Crown Prince feels Eisenheim’s illusions – which suggest at times dark truths in the Prince’s own personal life – are a serious risk to his position. On top of which, there is a secret past romance between Eisenheim and the Prince’s intended wife Countess Sophie (Jessica Biel), and the Prince is not a man to be crossed. So begins a cat-and-mouse game of trick and illusions between Uhl and Eisenheim.

The greatest thing about Neil Burger’s period piece is the grace and beauty with which it has been filmed. Dick Pope’s mixture of sepia tones and candlelit blacks makes for a series of gorgeous images, contrasted perfectly with Philip Glass’ beautiful score. Both contribute hugely to creating an atmosphere of mystical unknowingness around the Vienna locations, and give the film something in every scene to delight the senses.

What works less well is the slightly routine scripting and filmmaking that pulls the film together. For all the beauty with which it is presented, there isn’t quite enough of the original or – for want of a better word – the magical about what we see on the screen. The story is just ever so slightly too familiar, the points it intends to made – be it about the nature of power, or magic, or love, or hope – never quite coalesce into a coherent and clear message that really feels like you are being told something or shown something you haven’t seen in several movies before. 

Instead we see that behind the eyes of even the most obscure and unreadable conjurer there is deep and abiding love – love that will push them to do wild, even morally questionable, things. For others like the Crown Prince, that love is tied in altogether with possession and power and that there is no place for truth. Illusion is in all things: from Eisenheim’s entire life to the Prince’s front as a man of the modern world and his desire to become a dictator. Maybe that might be as close as the film gets to a deeper meaning – that illusion hides and protects our truths. 

As Eisenheim’s tricks get closer and closer to mesmerism and séance, the film suggests that it is a human need to want to see the truth behind tricks. The crowds who see Eisenheim raise the dead in flickering images want to believe it, that they could talk to their own deceased loved ones. Even in his early magic tricks, the less poetic characters of the film see value in the tricks only when they feel they have worked out the illusion behind it. Both are looking for a form of truth in the illusion, but the truth behind the trick is often deeper and more complex than the mechanical process by which it is done.

It’s a shame the film doesn’t tackle these ideas more, and settles for a more traditional “love across the divide” romance, but perhaps it doesn’t quite engage because Eisenheim and Sophie aren’t really interesting enough characters. Edward Norton plays Eisenheim with grace and intelligence, and draws a lot of depth and emotion from scenes that often require him to wordlessly stare. But juggling a character who deliberately conceals the truth and his intentions at every single turn seems slightly to have straitjacketed Norton, an elliptical actor at the best of times. There is something unknowable about him in this film which, while perfect for the character, makes him one you can’t really invest in. Similarly, Jessica Biel (a last minute replacement for Liv Tyler after filming had started) certainly looks the part, and gives Sophie a warmth, but she never really makes an impression as a character. Rooting for these two star-crossed lovers is difficult because we never get a sense of who they are.

Instead the film is dominated by hard-nosed rationalist Inspector Uhl, a man with a curiosity for conjuring, an appetite for power, a determination to get things done, but finally more than a bit of humanity. Paul Giamatti is excellent in the part, playing a role that emerges as the audience surrogate, trying as hard as we are to work out what is real and what is illusion. He doesn’t put a foot wrong with Uhl’s affable professionalism nor his ability to switch to business-like harshness. He’s also adept at playing a man who is the third smartest character in the film, but believes himself to be the smartest. You could also the same for Rufus Sewell’s (also great and clearly having a ball) Crown Prince, a bully who thinks he is an enlightened man.

It’s Uhl whom the film finally bonds with the most, and it’s his attempts to piece together what’s going on that becomes the most engaging thing in the second half of the film. For all the beauty of its making, and the skill that has gone into creating the optical illusions (some of Norton’s sleight of hand tricks in this movie are extraordinary), it’s a film that doesn’t quite satisfy. When the final reveal occurs in the film’s closing moments, you won’t quite be as satisfied as you would expect, perhaps because you won’t really care about Eisenheim or Sophie. Burger has made a handsomely mounted but strangely cold film.

Loving Vincent (2017)

Douglas Booth becomes a painting in the unique Loving Vincent

Director: Doreta Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Cast: Douglas Booth (Armand Roulin), Jerome Flynn (Paul Gachet), Saoirse Ronan (Marguerite Gachet), Helen McCrory (Louise Chevalier), Chris O’Dowd (Joseph Roulin), John Sessions (Père Tanguy), Eleanor Tomlinson (Adeline Ravoux), Aidan Turner (Boatman), Robert Gulaczyk (Vincent van Gogh)

Now this is something very different. It’s a common turn of phrase to praise a well-photographed film by saying every frame looks like a painting. Well Loving Vincent is a film where every single frame is literally a painting. A beautifully painted pastiche collection of van Goghs, painted over a combination of motion capture and photographs of real locations. And, as you would expect, it is beautiful. 

The film covers events year after the suicide of Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk). Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) tries to deliver van Gogh’s last letter to his brother Theo. Roulin’s father Joseph (Chris O’Dowd) is also concerned that there is more to the death than meets the eye, as van Gogh had written to him that all was well in his life. Roulin travels first to Paris and then to Auvers-sur-Oise, where van Gogh spent his final days, talking to those who knew him, including his landlady Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), his art supplier Père Tanguy (John Sessions), the daughter of his doctor Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) and finally Dr Gachet (Jerome Flynn) himself. 

Loving Vincent looks simply beautiful. Its quality is astonishing. The film was shot on green screen with actors. Van Gogh’s paintings were then overlaid as backgrounds for the action. The film was carefully edited, then every frame in the final film was turned into a single hand painting – with real paint. 65,000 hand-painted frames. It’s astonishing – you’ve never seen anything like this before. The style, the homages to van Gogh, the respect and craft behind reproducing his distinctive look – it’s marvellous. Every single image in the film demands you linger upon it and soak it in.

I simply haven’t ever seen a film like this before. I can’t imagine any film like this being made again (for starters it took years to make). It demands to be seen if you have any interest in art or any interest in cinema as a visual artform. It’s so impressively done, you start falling in love with its artistry. It’s also got a poetic visual beauty to it. The flashbacks showing van Gogh’s last few days are put together with a black-and-white pencil-drawn style, which contrasts beautifully with the primary colours of the present day. The film walks a brilliant tightrope line between “real” and dreamlike wonder – final shots of van Gogh or sequences of Roulin dreaming feel like real visual expressions of inner thoughts in their greater expressionist vibrancy.

If there is a weakness to the film, it is that (whisper it) there isn’t much actually to it once you look past the visuals. It’s truly unique in look and feel but the story it delivers is fairly traditional and even (at times) a little flat. Despite being soaked in van Gogh I’m not sure you learn too much about him or his art from the film, and the film shies away from its more interesting topics. The dialogue or plotting rarely ventures above the average.

Perhaps one of the most interesting themes of the film is the struggle of the characters to understand and appreciate the difficulties of depression: that suffers can be optimistic one minute, and consumed with world-ending self-loathing the next. It would have been more interesting if the film had engaged more with this theme, rather than trying to build a rather flat murder mystery around van Gogh’s death. It also would have felt more true to the actual struggles of the artist – crikey, this material was spun out into an excellent Doctor Who episode, which feels like it managed to get more understanding of van Gogh than this film manages.

The acting however is pretty good – Douglas Booth anchors the film every well as the nominal detective figure, struggling with his own guilt over abandoning van Gogh. Saoirse Ronan is very good as a sad love opportunity lost for van Gogh, Eleanor Tomlinson radiant as his friendly hostess, Jerome Flynn tragically guilt-ridden and envious as Dr Gachet. It may not be a film that really gives actors the opportunity to let rip, but it’s still good.

The main question over Loving Vincent is whether there is enough to it to make it more than an art experiment, or a curiosity. Plot and storyline wise it’s a very traditional, rather straightforward film, but it carries a germ of depth in there. And then the film looks so uniquely marvellous that you can’t deny it a certain place in film history. Because you won’t see anything like this again, and if you have any love for the artist or art in general, you have to check it out. Every frame is literally a painting.