Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
A Quiet Passion (Soda). Terence Davies’ leisurely portrait of the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) captures the starchy, stifling times in which she lived. She did not win fame until after her death. The 19th century was not liberating for women like her. Dickinson, rigorous, stoic, opinionated, guarded her independence and kept life at a distance. She rejected a suitor. “My soul,” she said, “is mine own.” She was admired for her integrity. She rejected religion. She had a crush on a married priest. There is witty banter with her best friend (wisecracking Catherine Bailey) and there are dramatic quarrels with her father (Keith Carradine), her sister (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother (Duncan Duff). Plain and poor in health, she died an embittered, unrecognized recluse. “This (she said referring to her poetry) is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.” Cynthia Nixon is superb as Dickinson.
Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox). Astronaut John Glenn was the first man to orbit earth in 1962. He would never have done it without the mathematical geniuses of NSA scientists. Theodore Melfi’s film, nominated for best picture award, pays a belated tribute to three long-forgotten brainy African-American women. Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Jackson heads a cast which includes Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson and Kevin Costner as their boss. The women showed fortitude dealing with sexism and racism. (You were not allowed to use the same lavatory as whites. The nearest lavatory for Katherine Jackson was half a mile away from her desk.)
The Levelling (Peccadillo). Death is a great leveller. A veterinary student returns to her home, a devastated farm in bleak, muddy Somerset, when she learns of the death of her brother. Was it a terrible accident or suicide and if it was the latter why? The farm has been flooded. The cattle are diseased. The family is in financial straits. The script, written and directed by Hope Dickson Leach, concentrates on the estranged and fractious relationship between daughter and father (not the easiest dad in the world). She has to prove that she is a better farmer than any man. There are powerful performances from David Troughton and Ellie Kendrick – though her diction is not always clear.
Another Mother’s Son (Signature) feels like a film made for television and so this is the best place to watch it. Churchill in World War 2 saw no strategic importance in the Channel Islands and they were demilitarised. The Germans swiftly invaded. The islanders had no support from the mainland or any other nation. They were forced to co-exist. I am surprised there have not been more films about their wartime experience; but the truth might be unpalatable. The film is based on a true story and is a tribute to Louisa Gould (played by Jenny Seagrove), a Jersey Jewish shopkeeper, who hid a Russian POW (Julian Kostov) who had escaped from a brutal labour camp and treats him as a surrogate son; her own son having been killed in the war. She was betrayed by an unknown local and paid dearly for her courage. The film, very low key, is well-intentioned and sincere but what tension there is always seems artificially contrived.