JANE AUSTEN’s Rogue Gallery

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Below is a look at the fictional rogues – male and female – created by Jane Austen in the six published novels written by her. So, without further ado . . .

JANE AUSTEN’S ROGUE GALLERY

John Willoughby – “Sense and Sensibility” (1811)

John Willoughby is a handsome young single man with a small estate, but has expectations of inheriting his aunt’s large estate. Also, Willoughby driven by the his own pleasures, whether amusing himself with whatever woman crossed his path, or via marrying in order to obtain wealth to fuel his profligate ways. He does not value emotional connection and is willing to give up Marianne Dashwood, his true love, for more worldly objects. Although not my favorite rogue, I feel that Willoughby is Austen’s most successful rogue, because he was able to feel remorse and regret for his rejection of Marianne by the end of the story. This makes him one of Austen’s most complex rogues. Here are the actors that portrayed John Willoughby:

1. Clive Francis (1971) – I must admit that I did not find him particularly memorable as Willoughby. At first.  In fact, my memories of his performance is very vague.   But upon further viewings, I was impressed by his subtle portrayal of the roguish Willoughby.

2. Peter Woodward (1981) – I first became aware of Woodward during his brief stint on the sci-fi series, “CRUSADE”. He was also slightly memorable as Willoughby, although I did not find his take on the character as particularly roguish. His last scene may have been a bit hammy, but otherwise, I found him tolerable.

 

3. Greg Wise (1995) – He was the first actor I saw portray Willoughby . . . and he remains my favorite. His Willoughby was both dashing and a little bit cruel. And I loved that he managed to conveyed the character’s regret over rejecting Marianne without any dialogue whatsoever.

 

4. Dominic Cooper (2008) – Many television critics made a big deal about his portrayal of Willoughby, but I honestly did not see the magic. However, I must admit that he gave a pretty good performance, even if his Willoughby came off as a bit insidious at times.

 

George Wickham – “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)

George Wickham is an old childhood friend of hero Fitzwilliam Darcy and the son of the Darcy family’s steward, whose dissipate ways estranged the pair. He is introduced into the story as a handsome and superficially charming commissioned militia officer in Meryton, who quickly charms and befriends the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, after learning of her dislike of Darcy. Wickham manages to charm the entire Meryton neighborhood, before they realize that they have a snake in their midst. Elizabeth eventually learns of Wickham’s attempt to elope with the young Georgiana Darcy. Unfortunately, he manages to do the same with her younger sister, Lydia, endangering the Bennet family’s reputation. He could have been the best of Austen’s rogues, if it were not for his stupid decision to elope with Lydia, a young woman whose family would be unable to provide him with a well-endowed dowry. Because I certainly cannot see him choosing him as a traveling bed mate, while he evade creditors. Here are the actors that portrayed George Wickham:

1. Edward Ashley-Cooper (1940) – This Australian actor was surprisingly effective as the smooth talking Wickham. He was handsome, charming, witty and insidious. I am surprised that his portrayal is not that well known.

 

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2. Peter Settelen (1980) – He made a charming Wickham, but his performance came off as a bit too jovial for me to take him seriously as a rogue.

 

3. Adrian Lukis (1995) – His Wickham is, without a doubt, is my favorite take on the character. He is not as handsome as the other actors who have portrayed the role; but he conveyed all of the character’s attributes with sheer perfection.

 

4. Rupert Friend (2005) – I think that he was hampered by director Joe Wright’s script and failed to become an effective Wickham. In fact, I found his portrayal almost a waste of time.  And I especially believe that Wright had wasted his time.  For I believe he could have been a first-rate Wickham.

 

 

Henry Crawford – “Mansfield Park” (1814)

I think that one of the reasons I have such difficulties in enjoying “MANSFIELD PARK” is that I found Austen’s portrayal of the roguish Henry Crawford rather uneven. He is originally portrayed as a ladies’ man who takes pleasure in seducing women. But after courting heroine Fanny Price, he falls genuinely in love with her and successfully manages to mend his ways. But Fanny’s rejection of him (due to her love of cousin Edmund Bertram) lead him to begin an affair with Edmund’s sister, Maria Rushworth and is labeled permanently by Austen as a reprobate. This entire storyline failed to alienate me toward Henry. I just felt sorry for him, because Fanny was not honest enough to reveal why she had rejected him. Here are the actors that portrayed Henry Crawford:

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1. Robert Burbage (1983) – As I had stated in a review of the 1983 miniseries, I thought his take on Henry Crawford reminded me of an earnest schoolboy trying to act like a seducer. Sorry, but I was not impressed.

 

2. Alessandro Nivola (1999) – In my opinion, his portrayal of Henry was the best. He managed to convey the seductive qualities of the character, his gradual transformation into an earnest lover and the anger he felt at being rejected. Superb performance.

3. Joseph Beattie (2007) – His performance was pretty solid and convincing. However, there were a few moments when his Henry felt more like a stalker than a seducer. But in the end, he gave a pretty good performance.

 

Mary Crawford – “Mansfield Park” (1814)

Ah yes! Mary Crawford. I never could understand why Jane Austen eventually painted her as a villainess (or semi-villainess) in“MANSFIELD PARK”. As the sister of Henry Crawford, she shared his tastes for urbane airs, tastes, wit (both tasteful and ribald) and an interest in courtship. She also took an unexpected shine to the shy Fanny Price, while falling in love with the likes of Edmund Bertram. However, Edmund planned to become a clergyman, something she could not abide. Mary was not perfect. She could be superficial at times and a bit too manipulative for her own good. If I must be honest, she reminds me too much of Dolly Levi, instead of a woman of low morals. Here are the actresses who portrayed Mary Crawford:

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1. Jackie Smith-Wood (1983) – She gave a delightful and complex performance as Mary Crawford. I practically found myself wishing that “MANSFIELD PARK” had been a completely different story, with her as the heroine. Oh well. We cannot have everything.

2. Embeth Davidtz (1999) – Her portrayal of Mary was just as delightful and complex as Smith-Wood. Unfortunately for the actress, writer-director Patricia Rozema wrote a scene that featured a ridiculous and heavy-handed downfall for Mary. Despite that, she was still superb and held her own against Frances O’Connor’s more livelier Fanny.

 

3. Hayley Atwell (2007) – After seeing her performance as Mary, I began to suspect that any actress worth her salt can do wonders with the role. This actress was one of the bright spots in the 2007 lowly regarded version of Austen’s novel. Mind you, her portrayal was a little darker than the other two, but I still enjoyed her portrayal.

 

 

Frank Churchill – “Emma” (1815)

Frank Churchill was the son of one of Emma Woodhouse’s neighbors by a previous marriage. He was an amiable young man whom everyone, except Mr. George Knightley, who considered him quite immature. After his mother’s death he was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, whose last name he took. Frank may be viewed simply as careless, shallow, and little bit cruel in his mock disregard for his real fiancee, Jane Fairfax. But I find it difficult to view him as a villain. Here are the actors who portrayed Frank Churchill:

1. Robert East (1972) – It is hard to believe that this actor was 39-40 years old, when he portrayed Frank Churchill in this miniseries. He did a pretty good job, but there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit uneven.

2. Ewan McGregor (1996) – He did a pretty good job, but his performance was hampered by Douglas McGrath’s script, which only focused upon Frank’s efforts to hide his engagement to Jane Fairfax.

 

3. Raymond Coulthard (1996-97) – In my opinion, he gave the best performance as Frank. The actor captured all of the character’s charm, humor, and perversity on a very subtle level.

 

4. Rupert Evans (2009) – He was pretty good as Frank, but there were times when his performance became a little heavy-handed, especially in later scenes that featured Frank’s frustrations in hiding his engagement to Jane Fairfax.

 

John Thorpe – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

I would view John Thorpe as Jane Austen’s least successful rogue. I do not if I could even call him a rogue. He seemed so coarse, ill-mannered and not very bright. With his flashy wardrobe and penchant for mild profanity, I have doubts that he could attract any female, including one that was desperate for a husband. And his joke on Catherine Moreland seemed so . . . unnecessary. Here are the actors that portrayed John Thorpe:

1. Jonathan Coy (1986) – He basically did a good job with the character he was given. Although there were moments when his John Thorpe seemed more like an abusive stalker than the loser he truly was.

 

2. William Beck (2007) – I admit that physically, he looks a little creepy. But the actor did a first-rate job in portraying Thorpe as the crude loser he was portrayed in Austen’s novel.

 

Isabella Thorpe – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

The lovely Isabella Thorpe was a different kettle of fish than her brother. She had ten times the charms and probably the brains. Her problem was that her libido brought her down the moment she clapped eyes on Captain Frederick Tilney. And this is what ended her friendship with heroine Catherine Moreland, considering that she was engaged to the latter’s brother. Here are the actresses who portrayed Isabella Thorpe:

1. Cassie Stuart (1986) – She did a pretty good job as Isabella, even if there were moments when she came off as a bit . . . well, theatrical. I only wish that the one of the crew had taken it easy with her makeup.

2. Carey Mulligan (2007) – She gave a first-rate performance as Isabella, conveying all of the character’s charm, intelligence and weaknesses. It was a very good performance.

 

 

William Elliot – “Persuasion” (1818)

William Elliot is a cousin of heroine Anne Elliot and the heir presumptive of her father, Sir Walter. He became etranged from the family when he wed a woman of much lower social rank, for her fortune. Sir Walter and Elizabeth had hoped William would marry the latter. After becoming a widower, he mended his relationship with the Elliots and attempted to court Anne in the hopes of inheriting the Elliot baronetcy and ensuring that Sir Walter never marries Mrs. Penelope Clay, Elizabeth Elliot’s companion. He was an interesting character, but his agenda regarding Sir Walter’s title and estates struck me as irrelevant. Sir Walter could have easily found another woman to marry and conceive a male heir. “PERSUASION” could have been a better story without a rogue/villain. Here are the actors that portrayed William Elliot:

1. David Savile (1971) – He made a pretty good William Elliot. However, there were times when his character switched from a jovial personality to a seductive one in an uneven manner.

2. Samuel West (1995) – His portrayal of William Elliot is probably the best I have ever seen. He conveyed all aspects of William’s character – both the good and bad – with seamless skill. My only problem with his characterization is that the screenwriter made his William financial broke. And instead of finding another rich wife, this William tries to court Anne to keep a close eye on Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay. Ridiculous.

 

3. Tobias Menzies (2007) – I found his portrayal of William Elliot to be a mixed affair. There were moments that his performance seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, there were more wooden moments from the actor than decent ones.

 

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The 18th Century in Television

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Recently, I noticed there were a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 18th century. In fact, I managed to count at least six productions. Astounded by this recent interest in that particular century, I decided to list them below in alphabetical order:

 

THE 18TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

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1. “Banished” (BBC TWO) – I do not whether this was a miniseries or regular series, but it was basically about a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia; where British convicts and their Royal Navy marine guards and officers live. Russell Tovey, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and MyAnna Buring star in this recently cancelled series.

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2. “Black Sails” (STARZ) – Toby Stephens stars in this prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”, about the adventures of Captain Flint.

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3. “Book of Negroes” (CBC/BET) – This six-part miniseries is an adaptation of Lawrence Hill historical novel about a West African girl who is sold into slavery around the time of the American Revolution and her life experiences in the United States and Canada. Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent and Cuba Gooding, Jr. star.

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4. “Outlander” (STARZ) – This series is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” book series about a 1940s woman who ends up traveling back in time to 18th century Scotland. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies star.

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5. “Poldark” (BBC ONE) – Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson star in this new television adaptation of Winston Graham’s book series about a former British Army officer who returns home to Cornwall after three years fighting in the American Revolution.

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6. “Sons of Liberty” (HISTORY Channel) – Ben Barnes, Rafe Spall and Henry Thomas starred in this three-part miniseries about the Sons of Liberty political group and the beginning of the American Revolution.

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7. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC) – Jamie Bell stars in this series about a pro-American spy ring operating on behalf of General George Washington during the American Revolution.

 

“PERSUASION” (2007) Review

“PERSUASION” (2007) Review

When it comes to adaptations of Jane Austen novels, I tend to stick with a trio of titles – ”Pride and Prejudice”,”Emma” and ”Sense and Sensibility”.  Before the last seven years, I have never seen a screen adaptation of any remaining Austen novels. Until I saw the 2007 adaptation of her last completed novel published in 1818, ”Persuasion”

Directed by Adrian Shergold, ”PERSUASION” told the story of Anne Elliot, the sensible middle daughter of a vain and spendthrift baronet named Sir Walter Elliot. At the age of 19, Anne had fallen in love with a young naval officer named Frederick Wentworth. But due to his lack of fortune and family connections, Sir Walter and Anne’s friends expressed displeasure at the idea of her becoming Mrs. Wentworth. But it was a family friend named Lady Russell who persuaded Anne into breaking off her engagement to Frederick. Eight years later, the Elliot family found themselves in financial straits due to the careless spending of Sir Walter and his oldest daughter, Elizabeth. They ended up leasing their house and estate – Kellylynch Hall in Somersetshire – to an Admiral Croft and his wife. The latter turned out to be the older sister of the now Captain Wentworth.

While Elizabeth and Sir Walter set off for their new residence in Bath, Anne remained behind to take care of further business in Somersetshire; including taking care of her hypochondriac sister Mary Musgrove, who is married to Charles Musgrove and living in a nearby estate. During one of his visits to his sister, Frederick re-entered Anne’s life. He had risen to the rank of Captain and has become rich from prize money awarded for capturing enemy vessels during the Napoleonic Wars. Frederick also became viewed as a catch by every eligible young woman – including her brother-in-law’s two sisters, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove. But Anne suspected that Frederick had not forgiven her for rejecting his offer of marriage so many years ago. And both end up learning how to overcome their personal demons in order to let go of the past and find a new future together.

Hands down, ”PERSUASION” has to be the most emotional Jane Austen tale I have ever come across. In fact, I would go as far to say that this tale literally had me squirming on my living room sofa in sheer discomfort during many scenes that featured Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. Or . . . I found myself heaving with frustration – especially during the movie’s last ten to fifteen minutes, as Frederick made an effort to emotionally reconnect with Anne, while the latter’s family continued to put obstacles in her way. However, it eventually struck me that the main barrier between Anne and Frederick’s reconciliation came from the two lovers. I would probably go as far to say that the couple’s personal demons over the past broken engagement perpetrated the entire story. And I truly enjoyed this – in a slightly perverse way.

Thanks to screenwriter Simon Burke’s writing and Sally Hawkins’ performance, I came away with a feeling that Anne had existed in a fog of resignation ever since her rejection of Frederick’s proposal, eight years ago. Aside from struggling to keep her family out of financial straits – despite Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s spending – I wondered if she had spent all of those years flagellating herself for allowing Lady Russell to persuade her into giving up Frederick. Her self-flagellation seemed to have continued during moments when Frederick either snubbed her or when their past connections came up in conversation. Frederick’s attitude did not help matters, considering that he spent most of the movie coldly rebuffing Anne or wallowing in resentment. This especially seemed to be the case after he learned that Anne had rejected another suitor after Lady Russell (again) persuaded her that he would be an unsuitable match for her. Frederick’s anger and resentment assumed a righteous tone following that revelation. His attitude ended up blinding him from the fact that his friendliness toward the Musgrove sisters – especially Louisa – had led many to assume he was seriously interested in her. At that moment, Frederick realized two things – his inability to forgive Anne had nearly led him to a marriage he did not desire; and that he still loved her. In other words, ”PERSUASION” had the type of romance that really appealed to me. I found it complex, difficult and slightly perverse.

In the movie’s third act, Anne joined Sir Walter and Elizabeth in Bath. She became acquainted with an old friend named Mrs. Smith. She also acquired a new suitor – her cousin, the widowed and now wealthy Mr. William Elliot. Unfortunately, the William Elliot character proved to be the story’s weakest link. Many fans of Austen’s novel have complained that Simon Burke’s screenplay failed to adhere closely to the author’s portrayal of the character. I have read a few reviews of the 1995 adaptation and came across similar complaints. In the Austen novel, William Elliot happened to be heir to Sir Walter’s baronetcy and the Kellylynch estate upon the older man’s death due to a lack of sons. Fearing that Sir Walter might marry Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, and produce a son; William set out to ensure his inheritance by re-establishing ties with Sir Walter and marry one of the latter’s remaining single daughters . . . namely Anne.

I can see why many have criticized the movie’s portrayal of William Elliot. But I find it interesting that many have not considered the possibility that the fault originated with Austen’s novel. Think about it. Why did William went through so much trouble to court Anne? Could he not tell that she had little interest in him? Why not court the daughter who did express interest – namely Elizabeth? And why did William believe that a marriage to Anne or any of Sir Walter’s daughters would secure his inheritance of the Elliot baronetcy and Kellylynch? How would such a marriage prevent Sir Walter from marrying a younger woman capable of giving him a son? After all, the man remained a vital and attractive man at the age of 54. And even if William had prevented Mrs. Clay from marrying Sir Walter, there would be other eligible young women (preferably wealthy) that would not mind marrying Sir Walter in order to become Lady Elliot and mistress of Kellylynch. Personally, I feel that the William Elliot storyline in the novel was a contrived and flawed attempt to provide a romantic complication for Anne and Frederick. And instead of re-writing Austen’s portrayal of William or getting rid of him altogether, Burke and director Adrian Shergold decided to vaguely adhere to the literary version.

Another problem I had with ”PERSUASION” turned out to be the supporting cast. Well . . . some of the supporting cast. Poor Tobias Menzies could barely do anything but project a bit of smugness and false warmth with the poorly written William Elliot character. And if I must be frank, I could not remember the faces of characters like Mary Elliot Musgroves’ husband and sisters-in-law, the Crofts, and Mrs. Smith. Mind you, it was nice to see television and movie veteran Nicholas Farrell in the role of the older Mr. Musgrove. Fortunately, I cannot say the same about those who portrayed Anne’s immediate family and Lady Russell. The always competent Anthony Stewart Head gave a spot-on performance as the vain and arrogant Sir Walter Elliot. One can only assume that Anne had inherited her personality from her mother. Both Julia Davis and Amanda Hale were memorably amusing as Anne’s sisters – the equally vain and arrogant Elizabeth Elliot and the self-involved hypochondriac Mary Elliot Musgrove. Mary Stockley gave a subtle performance as Elizabeth’s obsequious companion, Mrs. Penelope Clay. And Alice Kriege’s portrayal of the well-meaning, yet snobbish Lady Russell struck me as very complex and very subtle. Her performance made Lady Russell seem like a kind woman with a surprising lack of tolerance that ended up wrecking havoc on Anne’s life for eight years.

For my money”PERSUASION” truly belonged to Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones as Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. I believe that both did beautiful jobs in breathing life into the two lead characters. Someone had once complained in another article that in ”PERSUASION”, the two leads exchanged very little dialogue with each other and other characters. This person also added that it almost felt like watching a silent movie. This only confirmed my belief that both Hawkins and Penry-Jones are more than competent screen actors. Through their expressions and very little dialogue, they managed to convey their characters’ emotions, demons and development.

Not only did Hawkins express Anne Elliot’s resignation to a life as Sir Walter’s unmarried and overlooked daughter; she also revealed Anne’s despair and discomfort over dealing with Frederick Wentworth’s silent anger and contempt. And in the movie’s last half hour, the actress made it a joy to watch Anne bloom again under the attentions of her morally questionable Cousin William Elliot and Frederick’s renewed interest. One would think that Penry-Jones’ had an easier job in his portrayal of Captain Wentworth. Well . . . he had less screen time. Though his character did strike me to be just as complex as Anne’s. Penry-Jones took Frederick’s character through an emotional journey during the entire film; via anger, contempt, indifference, mild cheerfulness, longing, jealousy, desperation and joy. Some of his best moments featured Frederick’s struggles to keep his emotions in check. More importantly, both Hawkins and Penry-Jones had such a strong screen chemistry that most of their scenes that featured them staring longingly at each other had me muttering ”get a room” under my breath.

I just realized that I have not mentioned a word about Anne Elliot’s infamous run through the streets of Bath. Many fans have complained that no decent young English lady of the early 19th century would ever do such a thing. Others have viewed it as simply a ludicrous scene that made Anne look ridiculous. I must admit that a part of me found the sequence rather ridiculous-looking. But I have managed to consider some positive aspects to this scene. One, it represented Anne’s desperate attempt to connect with Frederick before it was too late. And two, the scene provided colorful views of the very distinctive-looking Bath.

Many fans have complained about the movie’s 93-minute running time. They claimed that ”PERSUASION” should have been a lot longer. Perhaps they had a point. After all, the 1971 adaptation had a running time of 210 minutes. And the 1960-61 version aired as a series of four episodes. On the other hand, some fans of the movie claimed that Austen’s novel was not as long as some of her previous ones. Also, the much admired 1995 version had a running time of only 107 minutes.

The 93 minute running time for ”PERSUASION” did not bother me one bit. I really enjoyed this latest version of Austen’s novel very much. Granted, it had its flaws – namely the handling of the William Elliot character. But I believe that this flaw can be traced to Austen’s novel. Flaws or not, I enjoyed ”PERSUASION” so much that I immediately purchased a DVD copy of it after seeing the movie on television. In my opinion, director Adrian Shergold’s BAFTA nomination was very well-deserved.

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

Before watching my DVD copy of 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE” for the umpteenth time, I had assumed that my initial enthusiasm toward the 21st James Bond thriller would dim with time. After all, I had been viewing my copies of the previous 20 Bond films over the past five months. I felt certain that I would have enough of the fictional British Secret Service agent. Needless to say, my assumptions proved to be wrong. I managed to enjoy ”CASINO ROYALE” more than ever. It has become firmly entrenched as my second favorite Bond movie of all time, following 1969’s ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”

Performances

From the black-and-white opening shot of MI-6 Section Chief Dryden arriving at his office in Prague to a snappily dressed Bond standing menacingly over his wounded prey, ”CASINO ROYALE” rose the Bond franchise to a new level that I hope would remain for years to come. Barbara Broccoli had certainly known what she was doing when she suggested that EON Productions cast British independent actor, Daniel Craig, as the new James Bond. I believe that his gritty performance contributed greatly to the movie’s success and a change in the franchise’s style. From the beginning, Craig proved that he could portray James Bond just as ruthless as any other 00 agent, despite his new promotion. This sixth Bond also seemed to possess a more complex personality than his predecessors – an emotional and angry man who hides his feelings and ego behind a cold façade.

An egotistical James Bond is nothing new to the franchise. Each actor has managed to convey his own take on Bond’s fragile ego. In Craig’s case, his Bond is a man who lost his parents at a young age – eleven to be exact. Because of this tragedy, he was raised by his paternal aunt and became the protégé of a wealthy aristocrat who introduced him to a more exclusive lifestyle. This included four years at Oxford where he had to endure the slight snubs of fellow students from a higher class. Even Vesper Lynd, the Treasury agent with whom he would eventually fall in love, not only managed to guess this aspect of Bond’s background, she also detected that the manner in which he wore his suit hinted that deep down, he harbored contempt . . . and possibly resentment of his aristocratic classmates. This anger and resentment toward the more privileged seemed very apparent in a scene in which a German guest at the Bahamian resort he was staying had mistaken him for a valet. Although Bond took the opportunity to use this case of mistaken identity to create a distraction in order to break into the hotel’s security office, the manner in which he crashed the German’s Land Rover and tossed the keys aside told me that perhaps he felt some kind of resentment toward the man’s arrogant assumption about him. And yet . . . Craig managed to convey this mixture of professional opportunism and resentment in a very subtle manner.

Subtlety seemed to be the hallmark of Craig’s performance. For a man who returned a gritty and emotional element to the James Bond character, he did so in a manner that seemed to hint very little effort. An excellent example would be a scene in Venice in which Bond discovers for the first time that Vesper may have betrayed him. The scene began with Bond looking out at the Venetian scene from his hotel balcony, wearing a rather happy and satisfied expression. Within a space of a minute or two his happy expression transformed into confusion upon receiving a telephone call from M . . . and eventually, anger and a sense of betrayal after M had informed him that Vesper had failed to deposit the Casino Royale winnings into the Treasury’s account. All of this within a space of one minute or less. I felt so impressed by this brief performance that I had to rewind the scene just to watch it again.

Another aspect of Bond’s character that Craig had conveyed so well, was this belief that he could rise above his messy human emotions and any kind of romantic attachments to be the ”blunt instrument” that he believed M required of him. In the end, the enigmatic Vesper Lynd proved him wrong. Being the consummate actor, Craig had no problems capturing the wide range of emotions experienced by Bond during the entire story – whether those emotions dealt with his work, and his relationships and interactions with Vesper, M and other characters. To this day, I am still annoyed that the Academy Awards members were too snobbish to nominate Craig as Best Actor for his performance in this movie. So what if James Bond was nothing more than a pop culture character? If Al Pacino could receive a nomination for portraying a comic book character (Big Boy Caprice) in the 1990 film ”DICK TRACY”, I see no reason why Craig could have received a nomination for what I feel was the best performance by any actor who has ever portrayed James Bond.

From what I have read in old press releases, it took EON Productions quite a while to find the right leading actress to portray Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd. In fact, the French/Swedish actress, Eva Green, did not join the cast until after the film’s production had began. The wait seemed worth the effort. Green seemed to have perfectly embodied the sharp-tongued, reserved, and very enigmatic Vesper Lynd. Thanks to her performance, it was easy to see how someone like Vesper managed to have such an impact upon Bond’s life . . . and his heart. Like many other Bond fans, I had always viewed Diana Rigg of ”OHMSS” as the ultimate Bond leading lady. Not anymore. After viewing Green’s performance in”CASINO ROYALE”, I just might reconsider this opinion. Tracy Di Vicenzo struck me as a woman who had spent a privileged, yet lonely existence, capped by an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. Vesper, on the other hand, struck me as slightly more complex. Like Bond, she must have spent many years as an orphan with a chip on her shoulder.

Whereas Bond’s resentment seemed to have originated from his social origins, Vesper’s resentment came from her intelligence being disregarded, due to her gender. Although more reserved than the British agent, Bond may have guessed correctly that she had to struggle to overcome the negative opinions of others, while resenting them at the same time. And like Bond, she took great pains to project a nonchalant façade. When Vesper finally stopped fighting her feelings regarding Bond, Green had the double task of portraying a lovelorn woman harboring a dark secret from the man she loved. Not only did Green managed to achieve this goal, she captured the many nuances of what I believe has turned out to be the most complex Bond female character in the franchise’s history.

Portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikelsen, the villain Le Chiffre might not be as ”unique” as many Bond fans perceive him to be. Le Chiffre was not the first Bond villain to be portrayed as a subtle individual. He was not the first villain whose objective did not include either world domination or worldwide extortion of the super powers. He was not the first villain to answer to a higher authority. Nor was he the first villain to be killed by someone other than Bond. So what made Le Chiffre unique? The blood that came from his left eye’s tear duct? His penchant for poker and mathematics? Or the fact that he seemed to share Bond’s own ruthlessness, impatience and arrogance? Or was it simply Mikelsen’s superb performance that allowed Le Chiffre to be villainous and yet, very human?

In the end, I realized that what Mikelsen’s Le Chiffre unique to me was his very human persona. The Danish actor had portrayed Le Chiffre with an icy exterior that made him believable as a talented poker player. But he also expressed human traits such as boldness and arrogance – traits that eventually got the best of him. In fact, those very traits had led to a major terrorist scheme funded by his clients’ money. The scheme’s failure – thanks to Bond – eventually landed Le Chiffre in hot with his clients . . . and his employers.

Not only did ”CASINO ROYALE” seemed blessed by its three very talented leads, it had the good fortune to possess a first-class supporting cast. Leading the pack was Academy Award winner, Dame Judi Dench as “M”, Bond’s MI-6 superior. It seemed rather odd for the producers to allow Dame Judi to continue the role of “M”, considering that Craig’s tenure is supposed to be a trip back to Bond’s early years as a “00” agent. The producers felt the same, but they simply did not have the heart to find someone to replace the dynamic dame. Quite frankly, I am glad they kept her. During the Brosnan Era, Dench’s “M” had been the ”Evil Queen of Numbers”, a former government accountant/intelligence analyst bent upon proving to Whitehall and other colleagues that she possessed the “balls” to lead MI-6. In ”CASINO ROYALE”, Dench’s “M” proved to be a different kettle of fish. With Daniel Craig as Bond, Dench became an experienced spymaster forced to guide the newly promoted Bond into becoming the great “00” agent she obviously feel he has the potential to be. Instead of the cool and analytical boss she had been with Brosnan, Dench’s M seemed slightly warmer and more maternal toward the agent. And for the first time, I found myself actually liking Dench as the head of MI-6.

Jeffrey Wright became the seventh actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the series of Bond movies produced by EON Productions. Like Jack Lord in ”DR. NO” (1962) and David Hedison in ”LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) and ”LICENSE TO KILL” (1989), Wright’s Leiter is portrayed as a fellow intelligence colleague, instead of a slightly less intelligent lackey providing backup and information for Bond. Actually, Wright seemed just as cool as Lord . . . and as witty as Hedison. In”CASINO ROYALE”, Leiter is another player who takes part in Le Chiffre’s poker tournament in Montenegro. Although not as accomplished as Bond or Le Chiffre at poker, Leiter managed to remain in the tournament until the second night. And he also prevented Bond from committing a major error and provided much needed cash to defeat Le Chiffre. I especially enjoyed his little comment regarding Le Chiffre’s impatience toward those players ordering Bond’s favorite Vodka Martini. It seemed a shame that Wright was only featured in the film’s Montenegro sequences. But when I think about it, I could not see how Leiter’s presence would be needed in the rest of the story.

What can anyone say about Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini? I must be honest. I had not been much of a fan of his before”CASINO ROYALE”. In fact, I had only seen him in three productions – the 1985 miniseries ”SINS” (starring Joan Collins and Bond alumni Timothy Dalton) and the 1995 Keanu Reeves movie, ”A WALK IN THE CLOUDS” and the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, ”MAN ON FIRE”. I found his acting slightly over-the-top in the first two movies and barely noticed him in the third. But in ”CASINO ROYALE”, it was not hard to miss him. Not at all. And I am being very complimentary. Giannini portrayed MI-6 agent, Rene Mathis as a charming, witty, intelligent and very clever man. Most importantly, he seemed to have a sly sense of humor that I found absolutely delicious. I loved the sly way in which he had flirted with Vesper. And I loved his probing of Bond’s feelings for the accountant and the way he seemed to enjoy making trouble for Le Chiffre’s men. I may not have been a fan of Giannini in the past, but I am now.

The more I think about ”CASINO ROYALE”, the more I am amazed over the talented cast that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson managed to gather. For example, the movie has Simon Abkarian and Caterina Murino portrayed the unhappily married couple – terrorist middleman Alex Dimitrios and his wife Solange. Despite their brief screen time, both Abkarian and Murino managed to convincingly portray a wealthy couple whose marriage had seen better days, long ago. Abkarian portrayed Dimitrios as a slightly charming, yet intelligent man incapable of expressing love for his wife or reigning in his arrogance. The combination of this lack of affection and arrogance seemed prominent during his poker match with Bond at the One & Only Ocean Club gaming room. This arrogance seemed even more prominent in his confrontation with Le Chiffre, in which he refused to take the blame for Mollaka’s death in Madagascar. But it was Caterina Murino’s performance as Dimitrios’ wife, Solange, that really impressed me. Her pained reaction to Dimitrios’ cold indifference made it easy to understand why she had eventually turned to Bond for a little romance. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss Solange as another Bond sexpot or ignore her altogether. I, on the other hand, found Murino’s performance to be earthy, intelligent and yet poignant. And although Solange had turned to Bond for a little solace, she is intelligent to realize that her husband is a man who cannot be trusted. Even more interesting, she quickly pinpointed Bond as a man who becomes involved in married women in order to avoid emotional entanglements.

Despite being a minor villain that only appeared near the movie’s beginning and halfway into the film, the Ugandan warlord and high-ranking member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Steven Obanno, ended up providing a major impact upon Bond and Vesper’s relationship . . . and Le Chiffre’s desire to win the poker tournament. Ivory Coast actor Isaach De Bankolé portrayed Obanno – as a ruthless and intelligent man whom anyone with good sense would not cross. Something that Le Chiffre managed to do. During his brief screen time, De Bankolé managed to convey an intimidating presence. I also have to give kudos to him, Craig and director Martin Campbell for providing one of the most brutal and memorable fights in the franchise’s history.

Another villainous character appeared in the form of Danish actor Jesper Christensen. He portrayed Mr. White, the mysterious middleman of a terrorist organization that operates as a sort of asset management of terrorism. Like De Bankolé, Christensen only appeared in a few scenes. Yet, he also managed to convey both danger and intelligence. And when he walked away with the money won at Casino Royale, while Bond grieved over Vesper’s dead body in Venice, the audience is left with the sense that for the second time in the franchise’s history (the first time occurred in ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE’s final scene), the bad guy had won. Until the final scene.

Last but not least, there was Sebastien Foucan. Co-founder of the a new sport/art form called Parkour, Foucan portrayed a freelance bomb maker named Mollaka who had attracted the attention of MI-6. I will discuss the foot chase that dominated Foucan’s scenes later. But I do want to point out that ”CASINO ROYALE” marked Foucan’s debut as an actor. He barely had much to say. In fact, he did not speak a word. But not only did Foucan display his remarkable skills in Parkour, he also managed to effectively convey his character’s fear, anger and desperation while trying to elude the relentless Bond. It looks as if those brief acting lessons he had acquired from Daniel Craig actually worked.

Plot

There are only two James Bond films within the entire franchise that do not begin in the following manner – gun barrel opening followed by the pre-title sequence. Those two films happen to be 1962’s ”DR. NO” and ”CASINO ROYALE””DR. NO” had began with a gun barrel sequence, followed by the opening titles and the story. Although ”CASINO ROYALE”consisted of both the gun barrel and the pre-title sequences, the movie began with the pre-title sequence, shot in bleak black-and-white. In the pre-title sequence, reminiscent of a film noir movie, the audience learn how James Bond earned his ”Double-0” license. Even more unusual, Bond’s killing of his first target (shown in flashback) segued into the very unusual gun barrel segment in which the agent picked up a fallen gun, whirled around and fired a shot. Already, the filmmakers have informed the audience that ”CASINO ROYALE” will prove to be a unique experience.

The real story began during a rainy sequence in Uganda, where the main villain and the two supporting villains are introduced – the banker Le Chiffre, the mysterious Mr. White and the warlord Steven Obanno. The meeting between Le Chiffre and Obanno had been arranged by Mr. White for the warlord needs a banker to launder his money. As much as I had liked ”LICENSE TO KILL”, one of my complaints was that the main villain had too many henchmen. Although”CASINO ROYALE” possessed one main villain, it also consisted of numerous supporting ones. But unlike the 1989 film, not all of ”CASINO ROYALE”’s villains were henchmen – which happened to be the case for both Obanno and White. In reality, Mr. White seemed to be at the head of the totem pole for villains opposing Bond in this film. Yet, Le Chiffre’s actions – using the money of clients like Obanno to participate in a stock scheme – turned out to be the story’s driving force. The moment Le Chiffre contacted his broker, he became the story’s main villain.

The movie shifted to another part of Africa – namely Madagascar. There, the newly promoted Bond and another MI-6 operative named Carter are observing a suspected bombmaker named Mollaka. Following Carter’s blundering revelation of their cover, what followed turned out to be one of the most exciting chase sequences in the franchise’s history. I can only think of four other chase scenes that I also hold in high regard – the two ski chases in “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” and “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”(1981) respectively, the boat chase through the Louisiana swamps in “LIVE AND LET DIE”, and the Ho Chi Minh City motocycle/helicopter chase in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”(1997). Needless to say, the Madgascar foot chase ended with Bond’s invasion of a local embassy and Mollaka’s death. Unfortunately, the following scene turned out to be what I believe to be the movie’s weakest moment. The scene featured Le Chiffre watching a CNN news report about Mollaka’s death that identified the bombmaker’s killer as an “unidentified MI-6 agent”. Now I found this baffling. How on earth did CNN know that Bond was an MI-6 agent? Aside from Carter, he did not speak to a single soul during the entire Madagascar sequence.

The news report ended up getting M (head of MI-6) in trouble with the Ministry of Defense . . . and Bond in trouble with M. I have always found it odd that certain fans considered Bond’s break-in of M’s flat improbable, yet rarely complained about the CNN report. It was the latter that had struck me as improbable. M’s laptop obviously possessed a feature that enabled Bond to track Mollaka’s last cell text message. And considering M’s unwillingness to listen to him, it seemed unsurprising that Bond was willing to break into her flat. Bond and M’s eventual confrontation inside her flat revealed for the first time the dynamic chemistry between Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench. Quite frankly, I have not seen such a fascinating Bond-M relationship since the Timothy Dalton-Robert Brown collaboration in the late 1980s . . . or the George Lazenby-Bernard Lee duo.

After Bond ended up being ordered to take a vacation by an angry M to take a vacation, the scene shifted to the Bahamas. Bond’s arrival by seaplane gave the fans a chance to see how charasmatic a screen actor Craig can be. From the moment Bond had disembarked from that seaplane to the moment when he deliberately wrecked that German tourist’s Land Rover, Craig permanently put his own stamp on the Bond character. At least in my eyes. I can only assume that I do not have to mention Craig’s now famous emergence from the sea, wearing only powder-blue swim trunks. Allegedly, this is the scene that allowed Craig to win the hearts of many female. Yes, the man looked good enough to eat. But I had already been won over by him before I saw his “wet look”.

The Bahamas sequence also featured Bond’s interactions with Alex and Solange Dimitrios, and his sexy almost one-night stand with Solange. It also led to the Miami Airport, where the agent managed to foil Le Chiffre’s plot to bomb a new airline in order to boost his profits. As much as I found Bond’s encounter with another bombmaker named Carlos exciting, it is probably my least favorite action sequence in the film. What can I say? The dark setting, combined with screeching cars, incoming planes, gas spills and explosions . . . it all seemed too much. In fact, this scene came dangerously close to resembling one of those famous, over-the-top Michael Bay action sequences. But the sequence did provide one gem of a scene . . . the smug smile on Bond’s face as he watched Carlos explode from a bomb the latter had created.

Bond returned to the Bahamas, where he discovered that Solange Dimitrios had been tortured and killed by Le Chiffre’s people. M also met him there to give him his new assignment – participation in a poker tournament sponsored by Le Chiffre. Thanks to Bond’s actions in Miami, Le Chiffre needed to raise money in order pay back his clients and prevent his bosses from eliminating him – permanently. M ordered Bond to beat Le Chiffre and draw the latter into MI-6’s clutches for information. This minor scene gave moviegoers another opportunity to enjoy the Craig/Dench dynamics.

But the chemistry between Craig and Dench seemed minor in compare to the actor’s chemistry with the young actress who became his leading lady. I see no need to wax lyrical over Daniel Craig and Eva Green’s performances for the second time. However, I do believe that the scene featuring Bond’s first meeting with Vesper Lynd aboard a train bound for Montenegro just might be the best “Bond Meets the Leading Lady” scene in the franchise’s history. From the moment those two met, I sensed the chemistry that sizzled between them. The sparkling dialogue included in the scene certainly solidified their dynamics. The snarky banter that began on the train, continued right up to the moment when Vesper made it clear to Bond that she did not want to share a hotel elevator with him. I must admit that Paul Haggis (let’s be honest – I rather doubt that Purvis and Wade had made any real impact on the dialogue or it would be God awful) really did himself proud with the Bond-Vesper dialogue.

Aside from sharp wit, Bond and Vesper share another personality trait – both seemed to possess this desire to be in control. Bond’s need for control had already been expressed by his actions against Mollaka in Madagascar. I must be honest . . . I found Bond’s killing of the bombmaker to be a bit unecessary. He could have easily waited for the other man to leave the embassy in order to complete Le Chiffre’s assignment. No wonder M had been pissed. But discovering that Vesper may have also been controlling came as quite a surprise. I am, of course, referring to the humorous scene in which Bond and Vesper presented clothes for the other to wear. Bond wanted Vesper to wear an evening gown that would enhance Vesper’s sex appeal and distract his competition. Vesper wanted Bond to wear an evening jacket that she believed would make him look like a man who could afford to lose $15 million. Both attempted to assert their will upon the other. And both succeeded.

The story eventually focused upon the movie’s centerpiece – namely the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. There have been a few dark comments about this particular sequence. Some fans and critics criticized the poker scenes for being boring and too slow. Others have criticized the scenes for its “inaccurate” portrayal of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Honestly, I could not care less about the movie’s accurate portrayal of the game, especially since my knowledge of the game barely existed. And some complained that poker seemed pedestrian in compared to the baccarat used in the 1953 novel. Very few Bond fans know this, but Ian Fleming rarely played poker because he found it too intimidating for his taste. Personally, I believe that poker works better on film than baccarat. Thanks to the script and Campbell’s direction, this long sequence managed to flow smoothly. Purvis, Wade and Haggis also punctuated the poker scenes with minor incidents that included Steven Obanno’s appearance in Montenegro, Bond’s early loss of the 10 million given to him by HM Treasury, Felix Leiter’s financial rescue, Valenska’s attempt to poison Bond and the latter’s eventual victory. In fact, the entire Montenegro sequence is my favorite in the entire movie.

Due to Bond’s victory in the poker tournament, Le Chiffre found himself in a pickle. He no longer possessed the money to pay back his clients. Which meant that his life became expendable to his employers. Since Le Chiffre had no intention of running to the British or Americans as an informant, he decided upon the next best course of action. He interrupted Bond and Vesper’s celebration supper and kidnapped the latter. He did this to force Bond to hand over the password to the account holding the tournament’s winnings. Le Chiffe’s actions led to two famous scenes in the movie – Bond’s crash of the company’s Aston-Martin (which set a world’s record for seven turns of the car) and his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre.

One of the famous scenes in the 1953 Fleming novel featured Le Chiffre’s torture of Bond. In the novel, Le Chiffre stripped Bond naked and sat him on a chair with an open seat. Then he proceeded to beat Bond’s testicles with a carpet beater. Many of the novel’s fans had wondered if the film’s producers would do the torture scene justice, let alone include it. Needless to say, it was included in the film. Le Chiffre torture of Bond nearly followed the literary version . . . with one difference. Le Chiffre used a knotted rope, not a carpet beater. I must congratulate Craig and Mikelsen for their excellent performances; and Campbell for his marvelous direction of what turned out to be a taunt, humorous and painful scene of a Bond moment that I believe will be remembered for years to come.

The torture scene ended with on a rare note – not only in the literary version, but in the cinematic, as well. In the movie, the villain was killed at least a half hour before the movie’s end. After Le Chiffre failed to convince Bond to hand over the latter’s code to the account holding the poker winnings, he met his end at the hands of the enigmatic Mr. White. When I first saw “CASINO ROYALE”, I found it odd that the terrorist would allow Bond . . . and Vesper to survive. Before the movie ended, I would soon learn why.

Certain fans and critics have complained that Bond and Vesper’s romance seemed frustratingly short – especially for two characters that were obviously in love. I had countered numerous times that their romance had actually began on the train to Montenegro. The sequence that followed Le Chiffre’s death merely portrayed the culmination of their romance by allowing the couple to finally express their feelings. This sequence also featured two scenes in which Bond declared his love for Vesper. The first scene occured at the nursing home where Bond recuperated from his torture. When Vesper finally expressed how she felt about him, he responded with a joke that fell flat. He then finally expressed his own true feelings with the “I’m yours” speech. In a later scene set on a beach, Bond finally said the words – “I love you” to Vesper.

The movie shifted to Venice, the scene of two previous Bond movies – “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”(1963) and“MOONRAKER”(1979). In “FRWL”, Venice proved to be the climax of the entire film. In “MR”, the mystery surrounding villain Hugo Drax deepened in Venice. But the city proved to be a lot more for Bond in “CASINO ROYALE”. It was here that Bond learned that Vesper had betrayed him by stealing the funds for the organization behind Le Chiffre. This sequence provided great action that included Bond’s shoot-out with Gettler and the rest of Mr. White’s henchman, the sinking of a Venetian palazzo, and Vesper’s tragic yet slightly creepy death by drowning. The latter also emphasized Bond’s tragic relationship with Vesper. It also proved how the city turned out to provide a great emotional impact for the agent. I still cannot stop thinking about the scene that featured Mr. White observing Bond’s grief over Vesper’s dead body. The scene continues to send chills down my sign. It almost seemed like a metaphor of how the terrorist organization overshadowed Bond and Vesper’s relationship.

Looking slightly betrayed, Bond later learned the truth behind Vesper’s betrayal from M. Apparently, Vesper had a French-Algerian boyfriend who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the organization behind Le Chiffre and Mr White. Bond learned that she agreed to deliver the ransom money (his winnings) only if they would consent to leave Bond alive as well as her boyfriend. Vesper also left a message on his cell phone, giving him Mr. White’s name and telephone number. The look on the agent’s face upon learning this information seemed sad . . . and very confused.

But “CASINO ROYALE” had one last scene to unfold. Mr. White, secured in the knowledge that he finally managed to get his hands on the funds won by Bond in Montenegro, arrived at a palatial estate near Lake Como. He received a phone call from a voice asking for a moment to talk. And when Mr. White demanded to know the name of his caller, he received a shot in the leg. The movie finally ended with Mr. White crawling toward the villa and a very iconic-looking British agent, who coolly identified himself with the famous line – “The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

Miscellaneous

There are a lot more reasons why “CASINO ROYALE” immediately became one of my favorite Bond movies of all time. More than what I had already described. One reason happened to be the performances, of course. The movie was not only blessed with a first-rate supporting cast, it had a strong and charasmatic leading man and woman in both Daniel Craig and Eva Green. And although Martin Campbell is not known for being a memorable director, “CASINO ROYALE” joined the ranks of his best directorial efforts. I would go as far to say that the movie might so far, be the pinnacle of his career.

When I first saw the movie, I really did not think much of the movie’s theme song – “You Know My Name”, sung by Chris Cornell. I heard the first notes, judged it overbearing and continued to ignore the rest of the song. Upon my second and third viewings, I realized that “You Know My Name” was a lot better than I had imagined. Yet, it will probably never be considered a classic Bond song.

What made “CASINO ROYALE” such a great movie for me was the complex and emotional story adapted for the screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The trio did a first-rate job of adapting Fleming’s novella. They also managed to effectively fill out the story, making it palatable as a full-length Bond movie – something that could not have been done with the novella alone. But what I had truly loved about “CASINO ROYALE” were the moments . . . the little moments that made it more than just a typical Bond movie with action, girls and gadgets. Those moments – whether they were the different expressions on Bond’s face, minor words and conversations, gestures made by the movie’s many characters – made it magical for me. It made the movie human and far more interesting that any typical Bond action movie.

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

 

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

Based upon Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, ”ATONEMENT” told the story about how the lies and misunderstandings of 13-year-old girl from a nouveau-riche English family affected the romance between her older sister and the son of the family’s housekeeper. The movie starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightely and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Comprised in four parts (like the novel), ”ATONEMENT” began with the 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring novelist with a crush on Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Robbie, along with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) have both returned for the summer in 1935, following their education at Cambridge. Although both Robbie and Cecilia have been aware of each other at Cambridge, neither have not bothered to acknowledged their romantic interest in each other until recently. Also at the Tallis home for the weekend are Briony and Cecilia’s cousins – the 15 year-old Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her younger twin brothers – and their older brother Leon’s friend, the owner of a chocolate factory named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Briony had witnessed several disturbing scenes – at least in her eyes – between Robbie and Cecilia, she comes to the conclusion that Robbie might be a sexual threat to Cecilia. Matters worsened when Briony joined the rest of the household in the search for Lola’s twin brothers, who had ran off in protest against their parents’ upcoming divorce. During the search for the twins, Briony witnessed the rape of her cousin Lola on the family estate by a man in a dinner suit. In the end, Briony claimed that the man she saw raping Lola was Robbie. Aside from Cecilia, the rest of the family believed Briony and Robbie ends up being sent to prison. At the outset of World War II, the British government released Robbie from prison on condition that he enlist as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. The rest of the movie, set during the early years of World War II, featured Robbie’s brief reunion with Cecilia – who had become a nurse – before his journey to France and the now 18 year-old Briony’s (Romola Garai) experiences as a wartime nurse.

”ATONEMENT” turned out to be a first-rate film about the destructive consequences of lies and illusions. Both director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton structured the movie in an unusual way in which not only did they allow moviegoers different conflicting perspective on certain incidents in the story – a prime example would be both Briony and Robbie’s different points-of-view on an incident regarding Cecilia’s retrieval of a broken vase from the estate fountain, but also quite cleverly hinted that certain aspects of story – especially the World War II segments – may have been colored by Briony’s own emotions and imagination. Also, Wright, along with art directors Ian Bailie, Nick Gottschalk and Niall Moroney; and production designer Sarah Greenwood did an excellent job in re-creating the rich atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1930s and 1940 and especially the Dunkirk expedition. I also have to commend Paul Tothill for the film’s superb editing. Tothill managed to give ”ATONEMENT” a rhythmic style that matched the sound of a typewriter that added an illusionary sense to the unfolding story. In other words, by editing the story in a way that allowed certain scenes to be told from different points of view and added a sense of illusion, Tothill’s work gave the audience a false sense of illusion – at least for those who have never read McEwan’s novel.

I do have one quibble about the movie’s production . . . and I have to place the blame on Wright’s direction. I am referring the sequence that featured Robbie’s arrival at the beach at Dunkirk. At first glance, I was struck by the spectacle of Wright’s direction and Seamus McGarvey’s photography of the entire montage. Like I said . . . at first. Unfortunately, the montage ended up lasting several minutes too long. Not much time had passed when I found myself longing for it to end. I realized that Wright wanted to reveal the horror and chaos of war in all of its glory. But in the end, he simply went too far.

I must admit that I was not as impressed by most of the cast of ”ATONEMENT” as most critics and moviegoers. There was nothing earth-shattering about most of the performances . . . just good, solid work. Many moviegoers and critics had been surprised when both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley failed to earn Academy Award nominations. After watching the movie, I am not really surprised. Mind you, both gave very competent performances as the two lovers – Robbie and Cecilia But I had two problems with McAvoy and Knightley. One, their screen chemistry was not that explosive, considering the heated romance of their characters. It took a love scene inside the Tallis library to truly generate any heat between them. And two, I think their performances were hampered by Wright’s decision to allow the characters to speak in a staccato style that was prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 40s in both Hollywood and Britain. I hate to say this, but McAvoy and Knightley never really managed to utilize this speech pattern with any effectiveness. There were times when their attempts to use it threatened to make their performances seem stiff and rushed. Perhaps they were simply too young and inexperienced.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis at different stages in her life. Legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave portrayed a 70-80 year-old Briony, who had not only wrote a novel based upon the events surrounding Robbie’s arrest, but also confessed to the mistake she had committed decades earlier. And Romola Garai portrayed the character as an 18 year-old wartime nurse. Both actresses did an excellent job of portraying these older versions of Briony. But it was the young actress Saoirse Ronan who stole the movie as the 13 year-old Briony, whose naivety, jealousy toward Cecilia and Robbie’s budding romance and penchant for illusions led to devastating consequences for the romantic pair. Unlike McAvoy and Knighteley, Ronan gave a superb and natural performance as the confused and emotional Briony. It is not surprising that her work eventually earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that trouble me about ”ATONEMENT”. I might as well admit that I have never read McEwan’s novel . . . which is why the following storyline left me feeling confused. From what I have read about the film and the novel, Briony’s cousin, Lola Quincey, had been raped by the Tallis’ guest, Paul Marshall. And yet . . . she married the man, five years later. Why? Was it because she never knew that Marshall had been the one who had raped her? But judging from the hostile look she had given Briony at her wedding, Lola seemed well aware of that fact. Did Marshall actually raped her? Or had he seduced her that night the twins disappeared and Robbie was arrested? Perhaps the novel made the details of Lola’s storyline clearer. The movie left it murky. At least for me.

In the end, I must admit that ”ATONEMENT” proved to be one of the best movies released in 2007. Was it the best movie of that year? I have no idea. I have not seen ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. At least not yet. But despite some of the movie’s flaws, director Joe Wright managed to lift the usual Merchant Ivory façade of Britain’s past and create an emotionally dark film from Ian McEwan’s novel.