Regular readers of this blog know I am administratively incompetent. My Dickhead Tours posts give some credence to that proposition. However it isn’t just in the arena of travel that I let everyone down. Recently I bought the Textiliste and me tickets for a new, hard hitting play at the National. We travelled to the theatre, had a nice meal and took our seats with 10 minutes or so to go. As we chatted inconsequentially about what we were to see, what we had eaten and why we never agree what the colour green actually is a women stopped by my seat.
I knew what was coming. She’d confused herself and thought I was in her seat. I smiled, just the right balance between sympathy and condescension. I pulled out my ticket. Yes we might both have seat 19 but I was row C and she wasn’t.
‘That’s odd. They’re the same.’
Only they weren’t. She had identified we both had seat C19. I had also identified that she had a ticket for Friday while mine was Thursday. We were a day late.
As we squeezed along the row, keen to leave before the lights dropped, a woman smiled at my wife. ‘Wrong seat?’ She asked with sympathy.
‘Wrong day,’ came the less than amused response.
Imagine, therefore, that you have bought tickets not just for your wife but also mother in law, to see the latest hyped film with National Tresure Bill Nighy staring. It’s the late – 9.25pm showing, well past the MIL’s bedtime – but she’s keen to see it so make an exception. It’s in its first few days. It’s had good reviews. It’s the sort of film – WW2, rom com, gorgeous leading lady in Gemma Arteton, action, some twists they won’t tell you about but will surprise you – that should attract the punters yet we were a third of the audience in the biggest screen at our local picture house.
Imagine a black and white ministry of info film shot in 1942 starts running. It tells the story of a tank factory and the role of women. It feels like it might be part of the main picture, a sort of example of what the fictional film makers want to avoid, according to the blurb.
Imagine it is still going after 5 minutes and doesn’t feel like it is about to stop.
Feel the sweat begin to form as the Textiliste leans over to wonder ‘what we are watching’? After 10 minutes, smell the fear as she adds, ‘it is on tonight?’ The implication being we seem to have caught some sort of warm up for hard core movie buffs, hence the poor turnout.
At times like this, self imposed rules on not looking at ones phone while the movie is playing are dumped in the desperate search for reassurance. It is as I read the blurb carefully for the first time that I see that we are enjoying a 14 minute short called ‘The Tank Factory – the night shift’ which coincides with a voice to my right, loaded with both humour and a tinge of ‘you dodged a bullet there, sonny’ telling me the main picture is about to start.
When a film leaves you exhausted before the interminable list of financiers appears before the opening credits, you know it will have to be good to impress you. Why, btw, do companies that fund film always have stupid polysyllabic names like CatfartMovies or Bloodturgid Pictures and logos that appear to have been based on something, once sentient that has smashed into the company’s PR supremo’s windscreen on a trip to find funding from another company higher up the food chain?
Well, dear reader if you’ve come this far I’m delighted to respond that I really did enjoy this little piece. The script is well constructed, the period detail feels authentic without taking centre stage, the acting is largely excellent, though I’d offer the leading man the suggestion that he needs to find a range of expressions to convey emotions other than happiness. A sort of post haemorrhoidal grimace doesn’t cut it.
The story is simple without being trite: the Ministry want to make an uplifting film to inspire the nation. The film company have a different idea. A clash of male egos is avoided when Ms Arteton is picked to do some work on the script – lowbrow, dull stuff – and comes up with a storyline based on two (female) twins that helped out at Dunkirk with their drunken father’s boat. She fights the inherent sexism, a complex love life and the very threatening bombing raids plus tensions between everyone to win the day.
Ms Arteton carries the picture in the sense of being its engine room. Nighy plays Nighy which is to say he does what you expect and want. Richard E Grant oils the celluloid as a Ministry lackey. The scenes of London being bombed and the mix of terror and resignation amongst its people are convincing. As is the love story at the film’s centre. But unlike so many romcoms the film isn’t there to serve the love interest, but the other way round and all the better it is for it. And there are some hard edges, some tough scenes that work well to counterbalance the fluffier moments.
‘You’ll do the slop,’ this aimed at Arteton meaning she’ll write the female dialogue for the movie within the movie which is there as padding before the important male dialogue takes over. The sexism this film conveys and how it is challenged in the subtle ways expected at the time is the what gives this piece its real depth that takes it from the humdrum and raises it, if not onto a pedestal, then at least onto the first step up to the Dias.
If I’m settling down, next Christmas, wondering what to watch on the TV because it’s pouring down, I’ve eaten too much and the mother in law is still with us, and this is on, then, you know, I’ll be more than content. I can’t really give it higher praise.
As for ice cream, we missed out again. But the combination of relief at avoiding a ticketing faux pas and seeing a decent film meant I didn’t mind.
If you want more about my other incompetences, click here