We’ve been watching a lot of films recently. It so happens that they included two French films – The Page Turner and A Prophet, and two British ones – The King’s Speech and An Education. Now… this is hardly the kind of robust sample that you’d need in order to draw proper generalizations, but, whatever. The King’s Speech was an excellent film. Colin Firth was superb, as was Helena Bonham Carter. It was nicely directed and told an interesting-ish story. You probably know this already.
The Page Turner is another beautifully shot and acted film, but has just about nothing else in common with The King’s Speech. It’s a chilly revenge story about a young woman working her way into the life of a pianist who had ruined her audition for a conservatory when she was a young girl. It’s continually surprising (if implausible) and surprisingly nasty, in an impressively cool and detached way.
The second French film, A Prophet, is a crime epic set mainly in a prison. It stays pretty much within genre and is therefore perhaps a little more predictable than The Page Turner, but is nonetheless completely absorbing. What seems to set these two films apart from the British ones we saw is their level of ambition and originality. A Prophet might be a decidedly genre film, but it goes at it hard, commits to its story and has great performances (without being pretentious, you know? There’s not a lot of ostentatious acting here). I just couldn’t imagine a British film trying to do something this big and serious – especially in the way it navigates France’s racial politics. At least the era of “cockney” gangster pictures is over though, that started to get embarrassing.
Oh yeah, An Education. It was another well-acted film (although it looked a bit for-TV), it was entertaining and quite fresh (it helped that I didn’t know the story already, despite it being a memoir). I just wish that all our resources didn’t go into making period dramas. It gives the impression that modern Britain isn’t all that interesting.
Note: I am aware that there are other British movies. I should probably see them (Another Year looked good, in trailer form). Oh but that reminds me: we saw an Italian film, I Am Love, last year. Fantastic. Tilda Swinton. Brilliant.