In the the last few days I’ve been to two awesome films and a wonderful piece of theatre. A great cultural finish to 2015 – assuming there won’t be too much of that in the next few days!
First up, on Sunday, was “Star Wars: the Force Awakens”. Number seven in the series, and moving forward once again. Much hyped and like nothing else I remember with regards to all the fuss about spoilers. So I will stay well clear of the plot! Suffice to say it’s like all the best bits of previous Star Wars films rolled into one. All the familiar scenes: space fighter battles, ancient-looking spaceships, light sabre fights, a feisty heroine, grizzled old heroes, likeable droids, desert planets, weird creatures sitting around drinking and playing cards, at least one character fighting their inner demons, fearsome Dark Lords and hapless generals, Nazi-like rallies, gormless and dispensable storm troopers, someone discovering their Jedi powers and the good guys winning out in the end. Incredibly enjoyable, tense, gripping and in places, very moving. What more could you ask for in a cinematic experience?
The newcomers – Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn – are both excellent. Both young British actors. Fair to say they’ll be the central characters in a few more episodes.
Even if you’re not familiar with the the series, go see it over Christmas. Perfect for the season.
By way of contrast, on Monday, I went to the National Theatre to see “Jane Eyre” – the Bristol Old Vic’s translation of the Victorian Gothic novel to the stage. It’s three hours twenty minutes long and you are never less than gripped. And sometimes transfixed. There’s so much in the book that is dramatic that it’s no surprise that the Bristol Old Vic first performed the play in two parts. So the London show is a boiled down version!
I have a bit of a soft spot for the book. Three years ago I read it over a weekend, looking for themes and good quotes to help my son with his A Level revision. I rarely read a book so quickly and enjoyed the pace and intensity it brought, especially with a story with so many ups and downs – mostly downs, until a movingly happy ending. Unlikely some of the scenes may be, but they lend themselves to good theatre.
The play strips the plot down to its essence and then rebuilds it, setting the drama on a stark, simple set of wooden platforms, window frames and ladders. And then music and song is added. Some old, some drawn from modern pop. Melanie Marshall, who also emerges as Bertha, the mysterious inhabitant on the top floor of Thornfield, has a powerful and rather haunting voice. The music works really well. It doesn’t make it “Jane – the Musical”, but gives the plot, the sadness, the cruelty, but also the love, a great resonance.
Madeleine Worrall, as Jane, is compelling throughout. She grows as Jane grows, battling her impulses to protest, to love, fighting against convention, but trapped by it, learning eventually to forgive and winning out in the end. We go home happy that it worked out for Jane. She deserved it! And Madeleine deserves the accolades. She is on stage for every minute of the performance, more often than not portraying some aspect of high emotion. She must be exhausted by the end.
Again, you don’t need to know the story beforehand to enjoy this fantastic piece of (melo)drama. Just lap it up.
And then, last night, I finally got around to seeing the last of the “Hunger Games” films, “Mockingjay, Part 2”. I’m sure the main motivation for splitting the last book into two was to make more money from the franchise, but it also allowed space to explore Katniss’s feelings and dilemmas, as she becomes the symbol of the revolution, a pawn in the battle between the Capitol and the Rebels, and increasingly torn as associating with her leads to death, torture or both. The first “Mockingjay” film was a scene setter, darker in tone than its predecessors. Less action, more character development. It was my favourite so far and set things up nicely for the assault on the Capitol and President Snow in this last instalment. So we have plenty of gripping action in Part Two, and some gruesome ends for some of the heroes of the film. Nothing ever goes that well in the Hunger Games world. The final twist in the plot is brilliantly executed, and while some may find the final scene unnecessary and a little cloying, it is part of the book and brings some relief to a grim, if exciting tale.
Jennifer Lawrence is, of course, magnificent throughout – convincing in the range of emotions she has to display, with that mix of feistiness, recklessness and vulnerability. Possibly Peeta’s battle with his demons is a little under-developed in the film; but this is Katniss’s story above all.
So yes, I loved the film, loved the series, loved the books, which I wrote about in 2013. See The Hunger Games Trilogy. There is talk of prequels. That feels contrived, but I guess you could do Haymitch’s backstory, or even the story of how the Capitol won power in the first place. But there couldn’t be Katniss in that – or Jennifer Lawrence. That wouldn’t be good!
Three different experiences, but all, in their various ways, gripping, brilliantly executed, implausibly dramatic and in the end, pretty moving. Despite everything love wins through in one way or another. And so we stay optimistic. Keep trying and it might just work out.
Believe in good.
My thought for Christmas!