My Top 10 Movie picks for 2016

By Ray Bennett

In a year that has featured many fine films with splendid performances by women, the movie I enjoyed the most was Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” starring Amy Adams (pictured).

In my review from the Toronto International Film Festival, I said: “Science-fiction movies that threaten to depict creatures from outer-space generally leave me cold but Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” presents a plausible “what if?” grounded in a contemplative question for humankind with another standout performance by Amy Adams.

“Adams, who wears no makeup and looks the least glamorous she could possibly be, conveys the linguist’s thought processes so clearly that she renders fanciful notions credible and dubious hypotheses possible.”

As I reported, the big talking point at TIFF2016 was the sheer number of films that featured high-profile performances by women including Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (“Julieta”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Nicole Kidman (“Lion”), Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Rosamund Pike (“A United Kingdom”), Rachel Weisz (“Denial”) and Adams again in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals”.

There were many others throughout the year including Kate Beckinsale in the excellent Jane Austen adaptation “Love and Friendship”, Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train”, Helen Mirren in the suspenseful drone drama “Eye in the Sky”, Meryl Streep as the caterwauling “Florence Foster Jenskins”, Annette Bening as a wise mother in “Twentieth Century Women” and the cast of NASA tale “Hidden Figures”. Not to mention Felicity Jones catapulted to major stardom in “Rogue One”.

Not a golden year, perhaps, but (while several titles are still to be released) not a bad one either.

Performances I enjoyed the most this year included, as best actress, Amy Adams in both her films, Kate Beckinsale, Emily Blunt, Rosamund Pike and Meryl Streep; as best actor, Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Snowden”), David Oyelowo (“A United Kingdom”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”); as supporting actor, Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”), Ben Foster (“Hell or High Water”), Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), and George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (all for “Hail, Caesar”); Nicole Kidman (“Lion”), Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson (“The Girl on the Train”), Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe (all for “Hidden Figures”), Scarlett Johansson *”Hail, Caesar”).
Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta” had my favourite score of the year, by Alberto Iglesias and I also especially enjoyed the scores for “Arrival” (Jóhann Jóhannsson) and “Jackie” (Mica Levi).

Here are my Top 10 Film Picks for 2016:

Arrival

Julieta

Love and Friendship

Hell or High Water

Manchester By the Sea

Hail, Caesar

The Girl on the Train

Snowden

Florence Foster Jenkins

La La Land

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“Love and Friendship’, ‘Moonlight’ top London critics noms

kate-beckinsale-love-and-friendship-x650By Ray Bennett

Very pleased to see that Kate Beckinsale (pictured right) has won two nominations in the 37th London Critics’ Circle Awards for her sparkling performance in Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation “Love and Friendship”, which garnered seven nominations overall including film of the year and British film of the year. Continue reading

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How Alan Thicke turned failure into success

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By Ray Bennett

Canadian writer and performer Alan Thicke, who died on Tuesday aged 69, was one of the good guys. He found lasting fame on the Eighties sitcom “Growing Pains” but he was multi-faceted and he had to overcome one of the most public failures in TV history.

As he told me once, “nothing succeeds in Hollywood like failure, as long as you fail big.” Continue reading

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FILM REVIEW: Damien Chazelle’s ‘La La Land’

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By Ray Bennett

Damien Chazell’s musical fantasy “La La Land” starts badly but evolves into a sweet little film for romantics thanks largely to winning performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

A tale of two dreamers whose ambitions in Hollywood are at odds in many ways but dovetail when it comes to romance, it’s a shame that the director’s love for musical overkill threatens to swamp a charming story.

“La La Land” begins with such aggressively appalling musical numbers that when I went to see it at the Toronto International Film Festival, I fled after 20 minutes. Only when film lovers I trust  urged me to stick with it did I discover something genuinely pleasing. Continue reading

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When Dar Robinson leapt from Toronto’s CN Tower

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The perfect word to describe legendary movie stuntman Dar Robinson, who was killed 30 years ago today: unfuckwithable. It allowed him to create thrilling stunts in films such as “Sharkey’s Machine” (above), “Papillon” and “Magnum Force” and combined with an irresistible pickup line, it made him catnip to the ladies.

Cathy Lee Crosby, host of the Eighties TV series “That’s Incredible”, told me when they were in Toronto in 1980, that he asked attractive women “How would you like to be my last?” Then he pointed to the CN Tower, the world’s tallest free-standing structure, and explain that the following day he planned to jump from the top.

He had jumped from the tower before from a 700-foot deck, as stunt double for Christopher Plummer in the Richard Harris caper movie “Highpoint”. This time he did it from 900-feet for a TV documentary hosted by Crosby titled “The World’s Most Spectacular Stuntman.

I met him at the 1981 Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix. I was nursing a coffee in the VIP marquee for the Celebrity Race when he strolled over with a gorgeous young woman and said hello.

STICK, Dar Robinson, Burt Reynolds, Jose Perez, 1985. ©Universal

STICK, Dar Robinson, Burt Reynolds, Jose Perez, 1985. ©Universal

We chatted for a while, and when I said I had to go to the paddock, he asked if they could tag along. We spent the rest of the day together traipsing about the race enclosure, had lunch and watched the race together.

I’ve never met another man like him. Dar Robinson was Steve McQueen cool but without the actor’s insecurities. He was 34 when I met him, not tall, very fit but not muscle-bound. He emanated no menace; he did not swagger and his glance did not contain a challenge. His serene self-assurance and calm authority were what I imagine a gunfighter needed to survive in the Old West.

He died on Nov. 21, 1986 performing a straightforward motorcycle chase on a cliff edge for the film  “Million Dollar Mystery”.

*That day in Long Beach was already special for me as not only was in my first Formula 1 event but I met one of my favourite actors, Gene Hackman. Some actors – Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, George Clooney, for example – appear to be easily approachable, and they are. Others – Jack Palance, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall – suggest that you approach with caution. Gene Hackman is like that but I said hello anyway.

He was on his own in a corner of the VIP marquee, there to defend his title win the previous year in the annual 10-lap celebrity charity race. He was completely genial and we chatted until he had to go off to the starting grid although Robert Hays (“Airplane”) won that year.

Report on Dar Robertson’s death with amazing clips

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Angie Dickinson was TV’s first top female cop

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Angie Dickinson, who turns 85 today, claimed many a young man’s heart in 1959 when, as a woman named Feathers, she squared off in only corset and tights against John Wayne in the great Howard Hawks western, “Rio Bravo”.

16-angie-dickinson-x325We didn’t notice or care that the Duke was old enough to be her father, it was her blazing eyes and fighting spirit and, oh yes, those legs.

Some of us had spotted her already on Fifties TV westerns such as “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”, “Cheyenne” and “Have Gun – Will Travel”. Also in a couple of movies, a Randolph Scott oater titled “Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend” (1957) , with James Garner, her future co-star in Norman Jewison’s “The Art of Love” (1965), and an Andrew L. Stone thrilled called “Cry Terror!” (1958) opposite James Mason and Rod Steiger.

It was “Rio Bravo” that made Angie Dickinson a star and her allure and feisty self-confidence made her the inevitable feminine foil for the Rat Pack caper in the original “Ocean’s 11” (1960) with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (below), and soapy dramas such as “The Bramble Bush” (1960) with Richard Burton, “A Fever in the Blood” (1961) with Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and “The Sins of Rachel Cade” (1961) with Peter Finch and Roger Moore.20-angie-dickinson-dean-martin-x325

The North Dakota native makes a great impression opposite Gregory Peck and Tony Curtis in David Miller’s offbeat medical drama “Captain Newman M.D.” (1963) and Arthur Penn’s torrid Deep South tale “The Chase” (1966) with Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (and a terrific John Barry score).

She has fun in such western frolics as “Sam Whiskey” (1969) with Burt Reynolds and “Young Billy Young” (1969) with Robert Mitchum, Roger Vadim’s crime comedy “Pretty Maids All in a Row” (1971) with Rock Hudson, and in the title role of Steve Carver’s bootlegging romp “Big Bad Mama” (1974, below) with William Shatner and Tom Skerritt.

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Besides “Rio Bravo”, her most striking film roles are in three notable thrillers, two of them with Lee Marvin: Don Siegel’s taut remake of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers” (1964), angie-dickinson-ronald-reagan-x325co-starring John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan (his last film and only appearance as a villain, pictured left), and John Boorman’s masterpiece, “Point Blank” (1967, below right). The other is Brian De Palma’s mordant “Dressed to Kill” (1980) with Michael Caine and Nancy Allen.

Dickinson made lots of TV and she is best remembered for her groundbreaking hit “Police Woman”, which ran for 91 episodes on NBC from 1974-78. She played Sergeant Pepper Anderson in the first U.S. cop show to have a female lead. Barbara 26-angie-dickinson-lee-marvin-x325Eden (“I Dream of Jeannie”) had wanted to play a female police officer back then but she told me, “They said no policewoman would have blonde hair or fit her uniform, ‘absolutely not, it would not be believable’. Then Angie Dickinson came along on NBC (“Police Woman”) and proved them wrong. I guess NBC had more courage.”

“Police Woman” paved the way for all the female cops that followed and Dickinson tried again in 1982 with another NBC series, “Cassie & Co.” in which she essentially played a Pepper Anderson who has left the force and become a private eye.

angie-dickinson-nc-x325I was set to interview the actress in connection with that show but it aired first as a mid-season replacement and failed to gain traction. It lasted 13 episodes.

I did, however, get to meet her and see her at work. It was a location shoot on the pier at Paradise Cove in Malibu. She and co-star A Martinez did some scenes on a sailboat and I watched along with another co-star, the veteran Canadian John Ireland, and “Sands of the Kalahari” star Stuart Whitman, who was visiting the set. He and Dickinson later appeared in a Burt Kennedy TV western titled “Once Upon a Texas Train” (1988) along with Willie Nelson and Richard Widmark.

Dickinson had lunch with the crew in the open air, chatting and laughing and when she was done she took her own tray and cleaned it. Then 51, she looked not much different from the svelte beauty in “Rio Bravo” and she could still take a fellow’s breath away.

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TIFF2016: Women lead the way at Toronto fest

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By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – The big talking point at the 41st annual Toronto International Film Festival, which ended Sunday, was the sheer number of films that featured high-profile performances by women.

Around 400 titles were screened at the shindig, which kicks off the awards season and shines a light on what will be in cinemas and home screens over the coming months. British actresses among those acclaimed for their performances include Gemma Arterton, Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike, and Rachel Weisz, along with Amy Adams, Brie Larson, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Hailee Steinfeld, Kristen Stewart and Emma Stone.

Always a key indicator of Academy Award potential, the festival’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award this year went to an energetic modern musical titled “La La Land”, which Lionsgate will release in U.K. cinemas on Jan. 13. It will screen first at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 7.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), it stars Ryan Gosling as a jazz pianist and Emma Stone as an aspiring actress (pictured top) as they try to make it in Hollywood. Stone was named best actress for the film at this year’s Venice International Film Festival and already she is a favourite for an Oscar nomination.

Natalie Portman (pictured below) is tipped to provide awards competition for her observant performance in the title role of “Jackie”, from Chilean director Pablo Larrain (“No”), which follows Jacqueline Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film won the Platform Prize at TIFF and Fox Searchlight acquired it for U.S. distribution with U.K. release details still to be announced.

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Amy Adams was one of several actresses who appeared in more than one film at the festival but she garnered the most praise for Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” and both films should place her in awards contention.

“Nocturnal Animals” offers two films in one as Adams plays a lonely art gallery curator with a troubled marriage in Los Angeles who reads a noirish novel by her former husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she sees as a movie. Universal is set to release it in the U.K. on Nov. 4.

In the acclaimed science-fiction thriller “Arrival” (pictured below), she plays a gifted linguist who tries to communicate with extra-terrestrial beings who land on Earth. It will screen on Oct. 10 at the BFI London Film Festival with a release by Entertainment One set tentatively for Nov. 11.

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The London Film Festival kicks off on Oct. 5 with Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom”, which was received warmly at TIFF. Starring Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo, it’s the true story of the Forties romance between a black African Prince and a white English typist and the perils they face in both their countries, especially from the bigoted representatives of British imperialism. It reaches U.K. cinemas on Nov. 25 from 20th Century Fox.

Also seen at TIFF, Gemma Arterton stars in a zombie picture titled “The Girl With All the Gifts”, about a young girl who is immune to a strain that turns humans into the undead. It’s out in U.K. cinemas on Sept. 23 from Warner Bros.

The British actress garnered much for attention for Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest”, a crowd-pleasing British World War II comedy co-starring Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin (pictured with Arterton below) that tells of a hapless group of filmmakers at work on a morale-boosting movie after Dunkirk. It will screen at the London Film Festival on Oct. 13 with UK release by Lionsgate set for Feb. 19.

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Oscar-winner Brie Larson (“Room”) stars in British director Ben Wheatley’s Seventies gangland shoot-em-up “Free Fire” co-starring Cillian Murphy (“Peaky Blinders”) and Armie Hammer. The film won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award, a sidebar of the festival that shows extreme movies. It will screen at the London Film Festival on Oct. 16 with U.K. release by StudioCanal set for March 31 next year.

Rooney Mara co-stars with Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel in a true-life drama titled “Lion”, which earned great applause at TIFF.  Directed by Garth Brooks, it tells the incredible true story of a 5 year-old Indian boy named Saroo who gets lost and ends up 1000 miles away from his impoverished family, lands in an orphanage and is adopted by a couple in Australia. The Weinstein Company will handle U.S. release on Nov. 25 with U.K. distribution details yet to be announced.

Mara also stars in “The Secret Scripture”, directed by Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father”), as a woman who spends a long time in an Irish mental hospital and tells all in a diary she reveals as an older woman (played by Vanessa Redgrave). It will screen on Oct. 7 at the London Film Festival with distribution details still to come.

“The Twilight Saga” star Kristen Stewart has the lead in the ghost story “Personal Shopper”, which screened at TIFF following its triumph for Olivier Assayas as best director at the Festival de Cannes. It screens at the London Film Festival on Oct. 10 with U.K. distribution and release dates not yet available.

Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) stars in Kelly Freemont Craig’s warmly received festival closer “The Edge of Seventeen”. Sony Pictures has worldwide rights with U.K. details still to come.

Sally Hawkins plays a humble Nova Scotia woman who becomes an acclaimed artist despite crippling arthritis in Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie”, co-starring Ethan Hawke. It received generally good reviews at TIFF but there is no news on a U.K. release yet.

Elsewhere in Toronto, Western remake “The Magnificent Seven” starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, received a lot of attention. MGM and Sony release it in the U.K. on Sept. 23.

TIFF photo: Getty Images

This story appears in Cue Entertainment

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Rob Reiner’s ‘LBJ’

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By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Rob Reiner’s “LBJ” is an absorbing drama about President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s first days in office that is made memorable by a skillful and insightful performance by Woody Harrelson.

The film had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival today but distribution details have yet to be announced.

“LBJ” follows Johnson from when he takes the oath of office following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the day he tells Congress that he will pursue the fallen leader’s goals on civil rights.

There are flashbacks to the Democratic Party nomination race between LBJ and JFK and Reiner strings out the fateful parade through Dallas over several scenes before gunfire changes everything.

Reiner also employs television footage from the time and recreates some scenes in black-and-white to complement the fine colour work of cinematographer Barry Markowitz.

Screenwriter Joey Hartstone includes some familiar LBJ vulgarisms such as his penchant for doing his business on the toilet seat while doing the government’s business with his staff and his declaration that he would rather have an opponent “on the inside pissing out rather than outside pissing in”.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is not given much to do (although she does it well) as Lady Bird Johnson other than console and encourage her husband when he frets that people do not love him as they do JFK (Jeffrey Donovan) and Robert Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David). Kim Allen, as Jacqueline Kennedy, has no lines at all.

LBJ’s skills as Senate Majority Leader are clear as he begs, bullies, and wheedles his way to win key votes. The film suggests that he envied JFK and came to embrace the sophisticated northerner’s quest for equal rights even though previously he had voted against such bills along with most of his southern peers.

Key conflicts in the movie are between Johnson and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, who despised the Texan as crude and ignorant, and between Johnson and powerful Georgia Senator Dick Russell, who believed that to have a southerner in the White House would allow segregation to flourish.

Stahl-David, as Bobby, and Richard Jenkins, as Russell, get under the skin of their characters as much as Harrelson and their scenes together are tense and vivid. Brent Bailey conveys the tension and doubt of Kennedy’s staff in a brief scene as speechwriter Ted Sorenson.

Harrelson, whose facial resemblance to Johnson is not close even with substantial prosthetics, succeeds … as Anthony Hopkins did in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” … in capturing the essence of the man in his posture, his eyes and his voice.

Christopher R. DeMuri’s production design is handsome and composer Marc Shaiman provides an orchestral score that blends in cleverly whether the scene is tense, dramatic or comic, with subtle hints of the period.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Released: UK / US: TBA; Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Stahl-David, Richard Jenkins, C. Thomas Howell, Bill Pullman, Jeffrey Donovan, Joe Chrest, Kim Allen, Brent Bailey; Director: Rob Reiner; Writer: Joey Hartstone; Director of photography: Barry Markowitz; Production designer: Christopher R. DeMuri; Music: Marc Shaiman; Editor: Bob Joyce; Costumes: Dan Moore; Producers: Matthew George, Liz Glotzer, Rob Reiner, Tim White, Trevor White, Michael R. Williams; Production: Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Castle Rock Entertainment, Savvy Media Holdings, Star Thrower Entertainment; Not rated; running time 98 minutes.

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Gemma Arterton in ‘Their Finest’

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By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest” is a crowd-pleasing British World War II comedy that tells of a hapless group of filmmakers at work on a morale-boosting movie with outstanding performances by Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy (pictured).

The film will screen at the BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 13 with UK release by Lionsgate set for Feb. 19.

The Danish director (“Just Like Home”, “An Education”) delivers a warm and funny picture reminiscent of Ealing Studios at its best with a winning screenplay by Gaby Chiappe, whose many television credits include “Lark Rise to Candleford”, “Vera” and “Shetland”; a fine ensemble cast and an evocative score by Oscar-winner Rachel Portman. The story is based on a novel titled “Their Finest Hour and a Half” by Lissa Evans.

Arterton is captivating as a young woman named Catrin who, in the grim days of the Blitz in 1940, applies for a job as a copy-writer only to land a position writing dialogue for a feature film about the Dunkirk evacuation that the Secretary of War (Jeremy Irons in a very funny cameo) sees as vital to the war effort to boost morale and encourage the Americans to join the fight.

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Catrin, who has to deal with misogyny at home from struggling artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston), faces even more on the production crew, especially from hotshot lead writer Tom (Sam Claflin, pictured above with Arterton). He assigns her what he calls “the slop”, which is to say the dialogue of the females in a war picture in which the men clearly are the focus of attention.

Bill Nighy is in top form as fading leading man Ambrose Hilliard, who takes the role of a drunken uncle despite his vanity, and there are splendid contributions from Claflin and Huston, and Claudia Jessie and Stephanie Hyam, who play the twins whose heroic actions in the Dunkirk crisis spark the idea of the film.

There are polished moments, too, from Rachael Stirling, as a ministry watchdog, Paul Ritter as a veteran writer, Richard E. Grant as the head of the War Office film division, Henry Goodman as an Eastern European producer, Eddie Marsan as an agent, and Helen McCrory as the agent’s sister.

With great assurance, Scherfig follows the challenges and pitfalls of filmmaking on a string budget at a time when bombs take out not only buildings but also members of the crew. As the film-within-the-film takes shape, the studio and location work makes an instructive and entertaining comparison to the finished article.

Catrin finds herself in a love triangle with wandering husband Ellis and acid-tongued screenwriter Tom while Ambrose turns out to be great help in keeping the project afloat. The ministry insists on an American hero for the film and provides one in the form of noted American fighter pilot Carl Lundbeck (Jake Lacy) who, of course, cannot act.

There are mishaps on location, in the studio and at home as Catrin struggles both with the script, in which she seeks to elevate the role of the female characters, and her love life, which gets out of hand. Arterton captures the woman’s allure, intelligence and anxiety in a fully rounded performance while Nighy’s canny facial expressions, body language and droll delivery of the best lines help to make the film so pleasing.

Rachel Portman’s orchestral score with piano solos enhances the comedy and the heroism and adds poignancy to the inevitable abrupt losses that war brings. The film never loses sight of the reality of what’s going on around the band of filmmakers and that adds resonance to both the romance and the humour.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Released: Feb. 19 2017 (Lionsgate) US: TBA (EuropaCorp); Cast: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Rachael Sterling, Richard E. Grant, Henry Goodman, Jake Lacy, Jeremy Irons, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory; Director: Lone Scherfig: Writer: Gaby Chiappe, based on the novel “Their Finest Hour and a Half” by Lissa Evans; Director of photography: Sebastian Blenkov; Production designer: Alice Normington; Music: Rachel Portman; Editor: Lucia Zucchetti;; Producers: Amanda Posey, Stephen Woolley; Production: BBC Films, Film Vast, Number 9 Films, Wildgaze Films; Not rated; running time 105 minutes.

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Breaking even with Nicol Williamson

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By Ray Bennett

One afternoon in 2004 or so, I was in one of my local London pubs, The Cock and Bottle in Notting Hill. The saloon bar was empty except for me and the actor Nicol Williamson.

We sat with our pints at separate tables and I could not resist breaking the silence. “May I say hello?” I said. “Hello,” he said in his deep and distinctive midlands voice with echoes of his Scottish birth.

I said, “I saw you in ‘Rex’ at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater on Broadway in 1976.” rexHe had played Henry VIII (left) in a musical by Richard Rodgers. It opened in April and closed in June.

Williamson sighed and gave a wan smile. “Ah, yes,” he said. “Not the maestro’s best.”

The actor did not appear to be well and he clearly wished to be alone, but I said, “I enjoyed it.”

He raised his glass to me and I said, “How are you?”

Williamson thought for a moment and looked me in the eye. He said, “Breaking even.”

He died on Dec. 16, 2011, aged 75, after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer.

Many actors have been known as hell-raisers, some of them great ones, but few compared to Nicol Williamson. He blazed onto the stage in the Sixties in the West End and on Broadway and he made a few good films and lots of TV but his prickly temperament and capacity for alcohol got the best of him and his immense talent never took him to the heights he deserved.

He was a sensation in the title role of “Hamlet” and he was nominated for Tony Awards for “Inadmissible Evidence” and “Uncle Vanya” and Bafta Film Awards for  “The Bofors Gun” and the film of “Inadmissible Evidence”.

films-1968-the-bofors-gunIn the “The Bofors Gun” (1968) he plays a ferocious Irish gunner who makes life a misery for a young national serviceman played by David Warner (left). Directed by Jack Gold, it’s a gripping drama that co-stars Ian Holm and John Thaw.

Williamson is memorable as Sherlock Holmes in Herbert Ross’s “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” (1976), with Robert Duvall as Watson, Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud, Vanessa Redgrave as Lola Devereaux and Laurence Olivier as Professor Moriarty, and as Merlin in John Boorman’s Arthurian tale “Excalibur” (1981).

My favourite performance of his is as Little John (top, right, with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn) in Richard Lester’s magnificently romantic and elegiac “Robin and Marian” (1976). Connery plays the aging outlaw just back from the crusades and always up for a fight with the authorities, especially the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Robert Shaw.

There’s a moment that defines the friendship between Robin and John and a bond that can never be broken. Hepburn as Maid Marian yearns for Robin to settle down and she asks Little John why he must fight.

Williamson eyes her tenderly and with great fondness he growls, “If you’d been mine, I would never have left.”

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