Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
The Crown Season 2 (Sony). The Royal family is as popular as ever. Claire Foy’s and Matt Smith’s understated performances as Queen and Prince Philip hold the second series together. There is plenty of drama in Peter Morgan’s imaginative script, which covers Eden (Jeremy Northam) and the Suez Canal, Macmillan (Anton Lesser) and Profumo, the traitorous Edward VII (Alex Jennings). Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and Antony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode); Lord Altrincham (John Heffernan) and Jackie Kennedy’s criticism of the Queen which galvanizes her into action, and Prince Philip’s affairs and childhood at Gordonstoun. The casting is excellent. The production values are high. The series is first-rate entertainment.
Vanity Fair (ITV). Everybody in Thackeray’s great Victorian novel is striving for what is not worth having. Olivia Cooke is excellent as the amoral, ambitious social-climbing and fortune-hunting Becky Sharpe who comes across in this television series, directed by James Strong, as much more sympathetic and likeable, more victim than villain. The production values are high. There is a lovely performance by Claudia Jessie as the unhappy Amelia Sedley. The cast, headed by Johnny Flynn as the thoroughly decent William Dobbin, Tom Bateman as weak-willed Rawdon Crawley and Charlie Rowe as caddish George Osborne, looks good in Regency costume. The Georgian buildings, exteriors and interiors, are extremely handsome.
The Bookshop (Universal). This little gem of a film is based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. The surprise is that this very English period piece is directed by the Spanish director Isabel Coixet. A young war widow (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookshop in a small English seaside town in the 1950s. She is treated very badly by the local Establishment. The positively evil grande dame (Patricia Clarkson) and her loathsome minion (James Lance) do everything to make certain her venture fails. This gentle, bookish and quietly tragic story of goodness and courage versus provincial small mindedness and cruelty is sensitively directed and sensitively acted. Mortimer is perfect casting. The scenes she shares with Bill Nighy, who plays an elderly recluse who sides with her, are particularly effective.
McQueen (Lionsgate) is a documentary by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui about the life, work, demons and death of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen whose extraordinary collections were a mixture of the insane and genius. Branded the bad Boy of Fashion, The Holligan of Fashion and the Edgar Allan Poe of Fashion, McQueen did not design clothes; he designed outrageous and fantastical costumes which nobody would ever wear outside of the models on a catwalk. His lavish theatrical and often distasteful collections (with titles like Highland Rape and Widows of Culloden) were an in-your-face rollercoaster, beautiful and cruel, reckless and violent, designed to excite and disturb. McQueen took his life on the eve of his mother’s funeral in 2010. He was 40.
Rescue Under Fire (Eureka). We have come a long way since Rudyard Kipling’s Boys Own adventure story, The Man Who Would Be King. 21st century war stories are now into the gritty documentary realism you find in such films as The Kite Runner, Eye in the Sky and The Hurt Locker. Rescue Under Fire is not in this league. Spanish director Adolfo Martínez Pérez pays patriotic tribute to the Spanish servicemen and medics who fought and gave their lives in Afghanistan. Based on a true story in 2012 it tells of a rescue of soldiers ambushed by the Taliban. They also rescued a crashed medical helicopter. The actors play a subordinate role to the action, the barren landscape, dust and darkness.
Hurricane (Kaleidoscope). David Blair directs this tribute to the Polish fighter pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain. Their expertise made a crucial contribution to GB winning the war. The pilots were initially underestimated by the snobbish RAF who thought them irresponsible and undisciplined. Iwan Rheon who plays the leading Polish pilot, speaks Polish most of the time and is subtitled. The most shocking thing is that at the end of the war, the majority of Brits wanted the Poles repatriated. The pilots returned to a Poland now run by the Soviets. They were persecuted, imprisoned and killed.