Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
A United Kingdom (Pathe). A prince marrying a commoner used to be the stuff of fairy tales. In 1948 it caused a major diplomatic crisis. Prince Seretse Kharma marries a white woman, Ruth Williams, a typist. His uncle is furious. So is the British government because it is not good for their relationship with apartheid South Africa. The obnoxious Brits are represented by Jack Davenport. Amma Asante’s film, shot in Botswana, is very worthy, very respectful. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are very sincere and wholesome. Oyelowo, a classically trained actor, knows how to deliver a big speech.
Ludwig (Arrow). Ludwig, King of Bavaria (1864-1884), came to the throne when he was 17. A proud, eccentric and extravagant recluse, he had three passions: Richard Wagner’s music, grandiose castles and beautiful young men. The fairy-tale castles he built cost the Bavarian taxpayers a fortune. Today the castles are a major tourist attraction and money-earner. Luchino Visconti’s 1973 lavish, expensive costumed epic, set in the actual locations, is very long but it has Visconti’s flair and Helmut Berger as Ludwig, not as mad as his government thought, is always very watchable. This 257 minutes version is the director’s cut.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner Bros). You can find them in J K Rowling’s bestiary book and some of them are now on the screen, the first of five prequels to Harry Potter, directed by David Yates. Rowling’s numerous fans will, no doubt, be delighted. The story is set in New York in the 1920’s and a magizoologist (Eddie Redmayne) has a suitcase full of beasts, including a kleptomaniac duck billed platypus and a huge rhinoceros, quite harmless we are told. The best things are the special effects and Dan Fogler’s scene-stealing performance as a non-magician baker. Redmayne is so diffident and self-effacing here that the magizoologist comes across almost as autistic.
Allied (Paramount) Intelligence officer (Brad Pitt) drops into French Morocco by parachute and joins up with a French resistance fighter (Marion Cotillard). They have sex in a car in the middle of a sand storm and murder the German ambassador. Back in England they get married and have a baby. It is then that his bosses tell him his wife is a German spy and he must kill her. The film, directed by Robert Demeckis, is never believable. There is too much talk, too little chemistry between the actors and too little action. Brad Pitt in a dull role is incredibly dull and has none of his usual charisma.