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Failed Critics Podcast: Panning Pan, Suffering Suffragette & Walking The Walk

suffragette 2015In this episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by guests Andrew Brooker and Callum Petch to take a look over the latest film releases, review what else they’ve been watching in the past seven days, and to cast their beady eyes over recent news.

With the score tightly poised at 1-1, Steve’s ground breaking, Earth shattering, cataclysmic quiz kicks off this week’s episode, swiftly followed by some news close to home [INSERT ‘NEW WEBSITE’ KLAXON] and some a whole (cinematic) universe away. The team also discuss the trailers for the first ever Netflix original movie, Beasts of No Nation, as well as the upcoming Coen Brothers film, Hail, Caesar!.

We also feature a look back at The NeverEnding Story, a look ahead to Hotel Transylvania 2, and a look… now… at the Fright Night remake. Callum retains his dignity when Owen and Steve shrug in unison at Sicario, before delving into some returning TV shows, including The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and Z-Nation. Unfortunately, they haven’t been seen on a new SONY BRAVIA TV. Ahem.

Of course the podcast wouldn’t be complete without a review of the latest films to hit the cinema screens. Callum can’t quite fathom the ‘who’, ‘how’ or ‘why’ Pan was made, whilst Steve explains why we’re all bad people for not watching it. Brooker and Owen reveal why Suffragette might just be one of the films of the year, but may also be a difficult watch for some people. There’s even room for a final grab at the popcorn bucket as the new Robert Zemeckis movie, The Walk, proves to be a success.

Join Steve and Owen again next week with more new guests for a Halloween triple bill and a review of Crimson Peak.

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Suffragette

image“We don’t want to be law breakers. We want to be law makers.”

Back when I was in school and trying to figure out my “options” for my GCSE years, the one subject I wanted to do without a moments doubt, was history. We’d spent the few years previous learning about the world wars, ancient Egypt and all kind of interesting guff in between so I was instantly sold. Day one of year 10 (more or less 9th grade for those in the States) I regretted my decision instantly. No more wars and politics, no more Egyptians or Tudors. Women was where I would be spending the next two years. Women at work, women’s votes, the whole nine yards. I was livid. I’m not, and wasn’t, anti-woman or anti-feminism or any of that primitive, Neanderthal bollocks. What I was, and still am, is anti-bored off my ass reading about shit that I don’t find interesting.

Luckily, and happily, a few weeks in and it turns out that women in history, and women’s fight for equality and the vote in particular, may be some of the most interesting parts of history that I’ve ever spent time reading about. An impossible struggle that women would certainly never win, made possible by sheer force of will and determination.  It is maybe one of the most impressive feats in history and now, finally, we get a film that promises to tell the story of England’s “Suffragettes” with respect and dignity and what better name for it? Suffragette.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette takes place in 1912 London, just as the movement was hitting its peak and the working class women fighting for the vote are beginning to escalate from the peaceful protests that have failed miserably for so long, to the strong-arm tactics that made the movement famous and eventually got them the vote. It’s at this turning point that we meet Maud, a woman who has worked in an industrial laundry since she was a little girl and is sitting on the sidelines, watching the movement from outside of it and keeping her head down and out of trouble. When the government offer to hear arguments from the women who work in London, Maud is the only person to step up in support of her friend and fellow laundry worker Violet, a proud suffragette who will be speaking at the Houses of Parliament and hoping to garner support from David Lloyd George – the then Chancellor of the Exchequer who would go on to be Prime Minister a few years later – and maybe give the movement some well needed and well deserved traction in government.

On the day of the visit to London’s centre of government, Violet arrives quite badly beaten up and unable to stand in front of the men of the government. Taking her place at the Palace of Westminster, Maud tells her story to a room full of MPs who don’t necessarily agree with her stance or that of the suffragette movement and unwittingly finds herself hip deep in the movement she tried so hard to stay away from. Things get progressively worse for Maud when her usually supportive husband takes a dislike to the path she’s found herself on and begins to resent her for what she is becoming and the ideologies that she has begun to fight for.

As the campaign of not-so-peaceful protesting heats up, so does Maud’s struggle both with her conscience and her family. With odds, and the law, always against her and the suffragettes and the struggle seeming almost impossible at every turn, it’s only a matter of time before something has to give and this long-fought endeavour for women’s equality will come to a head.

I went into Suffragette with very high expectations. The story of these women that put everything on the line to get the most basic of rights that we take for granted nowadays is one that’s always needed telling and it ended telling well. With today’s climate being the way it is, and women’s rights being almost as fragile now as they were back then, there was a lot riding on this film being something of a beacon for women’s rights and equality. Thankfully, the film does a splendid job in almost everything it does and tells its story with a level of class and decency that most films would only dream of getting to, stumbling into clichés all the way through.

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Maud, the long-suffering laundry worker whose priority is her family over her wanting the vote, is stunning. This woman who fell into becoming the film’s unwitting poster child for the movement led by world famous names like Emmeline Pankhurst and whose biggest challenges come after she starts to fight for her rights. Anyone that doesn’t feel for this woman as her family falls apart and her life is torn to pieces after being pushed to become part of a movement she doesn’t necessarily believe in is completely heartless. Pushing her into the movement are the two most prominent people in Maud’s life outside of her family. Firstly, her friend Violet, a great turn by Anne-Marie Duff; a woman who, along with Maud, is the epitome of the working class woman who were woefully under-represented at the beginning of the last century. Second is local pharmacist Edith Ellin, a woman quite literally scorned by her lack of rights not only to a vote, but to an education as well and has become the de facto leader of the East End’s suffragettes who is willing to put everything on the line for what she believes in. Helena Bonham-Carter (an actress who continues to impress me after all these years, so long as she isn’t in Tim Burton films) takes the part of Edith and owns every scene she is in with a presence that most of the cast can only dream to have one day. You feel the pain and anger with her as she leads her charge into unwinnable battles time after time, unrelenting in her convictions and unrepentant in her actions. She’s simply outstanding.

Supporting these great, great actresses is a stellar cast bringing up the rear. Brendan Gleeson’s detective Steed, a copper clearly conflicted and struggling himself between his commitment to the law and his dislike of the way that these women are being treated is a great fit for this brilliant actor. It’s tough enough to keep the sympathies with the women who deserve it, but his flashes of conscience and compassion make you think twice about out-and-out hating him for what he’s doing. Turning the world famous Emmeline Pankhurst into a cameo role was an interesting decision, skipping past the risk of turning it into a full-blown biopic, Meryl Streep’s Pankhurst is spoken of more than she is seen in this film about a movement for which she was the champion; used as motivation for both the law and the suffragettes, Pankhurst’s walk-on part of Suffragette is as powerful a statement about the fight for women’s rights as any made during the film. Much more time is spent on Natalie Press’ Emily Davidson; the suffragette who – if you don’t know who she is, I won’t spoil anything, but safe to say that a history book or two never hurt anyone – brought worldwide attention to the suffragette movement and the time we spend with her in the film portrays her as a desperate woman who’s running short on patience and time and wants the voices of these women to be heard as loud and as far out as possible.

In certain dark and nasty parts of the internet, places that I sadly find myself passing near far too often, the idea of women’s equality is still a dirty thought and as these horrible notions find their way into more mainstream areas of life, Suffragette may be the most important film made this year. Nearly a hundred years since the first positive legal steps were taken towards equal rights for women, there is no better time than now for us all to step back and take the 105-minute journey with East London’s suffragettes and realise that while plenty has changed for the better, far too much has stayed the same.

Some historical inaccuracies aside, Suffragette is a masterpiece. Powerful, poignant and, from here on out, should be required viewing for everyone.

The Riot Club

In a word, “spiffing”. In two words, “ruddy good”. In three words, “totes ridic, yah”.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

the riot club 2The Riot Club is an adaptation of a play called Posh written by Laura Wade, who also adapted her production into the screenplay for this very British drama. In the director’s seat is Lone Scherfig, the woman responsible for the 2009 coming of age film, An Education, starring the splendid Carey Mulligan.

Hopefully, by now, those of you who have listened to the podcast should know that I’m not actually a 16-year-old girl. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. I’m actually a nearly 30-year-old bloke. Therefore, relating to the story of a school girl becoming a young woman should in theory be very difficult for me. However, there are some truths about Carey Mulligan’s character ‘Jenny’ that are universal, regardless of your gender, education or upbringing. At some point in your life you will have choices to make about what direction you want your future to go in; will you go to University or not? Who do you start a relationship or friendship with? What are your priorities in life? All things that are addressed in An Education and that you as a human being at some point will also have to deal with.

The reason I bring up An Education is three-fold. Firstly, Scherfig directed both it and The Riot Club. Secondly, the fact that it deals with a young person fitting into a new group of friends that ultimately reveals some truths about their own identity is also linked thematically. And finally, it makes a point of idolising the oldest higher education institute in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford. I may be biased given the fact I work in Oxford, but it is a very beautiful city and given the Uni’s reputation, it’s no surprise to see it glorified in this manner.

What neither film actually capture perfectly is the town and gown split. The relatively “ruffian” locals who come into the City Centre or Cowley Road on a Friday or Saturday evening from surrounding areas like Blackbird Leys and Rose Hill, the real locals (aka the ‘town’) and how they do sometimes clash with the students of the city’s two Universities, both of which have a large intake of public school leavers (aka the ‘gown’). But, I guess the point of the film is mainly to highlight one tiny section of Oxford residents, and that isn’t the ‘town’.

Whilst the Riot Club is fictional, it is actually an exaggerated satire of the very real Bullingdon Club; an exclusive unofficial society for upper class students at the University who are banned from gatherings within 15 miles of the city due to some rather lairy antics in the past. The film tells the story of two freshers, from their recruitment and initiation, to the eventual catastrophic debauched celebrations at an evening’s dinner party where the main bulk of the movie takes place.

The first recruit is Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin, who you may remember as that pretty good young-ish guy from The Quiet Ones earlier in the year (also set in Oxford), or as the blonde fellow from the recent Hunger Games entry) whose family have attended Oxford and stayed in the same residence for generations. At the same time, Miles (Max Irons) is offered membership and sees it as an honour; a bit of a laugh with some similarly minded individuals, but begins to alienate his less-well-off girlfriend Lauren (Holliday Grainger). Both Alistair and Miles are intelligent, well-educated chaps, yet they strive to adjust to their surroundings in very different ways. After being humiliated by his parents and then mugged at a cash point, Alistair seeks more than just friendship from within the group, but rather he demands respect. Miles, settling into life at University a bit better, soon finds himself the rival of Alistair and his left-of-centre political views do not sit well with a selection of his fellow chums.

What seems to be putting people off The Riot Club is the fact that the central characters are these posh toffs who, for whatever reasons, you are supposed to hate. They’re petty, crass, obnoxious, arrogant and Laura Wade’s script pulls no punches in showing how horrendous these people can be. However, that they are irritating toffs who hate the poor (who they deem to be anyone who can’t throw £3500 away on one evenings celebrations) and therefore you instinctively despise is sort of the point. Why do you hate them? Is it envy? Is it because they’re “better than you”? Just why should you feel that way towards them simply because they are rich? It acknowledges them as people who you perceive in one way before it tries to add some depth and hopefully make you understand something about yourself. It isn’t written in a way that you’re supposed to hate them just for being rich, but rather hate them for the choices they make. Understand who they are and where they come from and then make your decision about them.the riot club 3

Rest assured though, the decisions that the characters make by the way are quite despicable and will have no issues in influences you towards thinking of them as utter, utter bastards. Rampant shitgibbonry occurs in almost every scene, from looking down their nose at everyone (including each other) to “ladies man” Harry (played charismatically by Douglas Booth) and his botched attempts at hiring an escort (Natalie Dormer) for the group. Even the sometimes seemingly innocent members of the club, such as Sam Reid and Jack Farthing’s characters, all show their dark sides at points. Nobody is left with any shred of dignity for their behaviour, though some do have more culpability than others. Allowing Miles to show some degree of humility in his actions does detract ever so slightly from the point of the film, although it does at least allow the viewer a window into this world without feeling all grubby afterwards for liking any of them.

It’s quite a good and challenging movie in that sense. It may have some issues with cramming everything it wants to say into 110 minutes, rendering a couple of the characters little more than caricatures or cartoonish villains, but it makes its point well and is very affecting. Combine this with the acting, which is of a high standard all round too, and the moments where you’re supposed to feel strongly one way or the other about the characters, it all comes together nicely into one big incredibly frustrating but well made film.

Owen will be talking about The Riot Club with Steve and Carole on the next episode of the Failed Critics podcast. Or you can find him on Twitter or comment below if you want to tell him how wrong/right he is!