FilmSpace at London International Film Festival: Wild Rose; Suspiria; Outlaw King; Peterloo

Film Critic Calum Cooper is in London for the 62nd London Film Festival. Continuing his series of reviews are his thoughts on new Glaswegian film Wild Rose, as well as Luca Guadagino’s remake of Suspiria, the new Netflix film based on Robert the Bruce, and Mike Leigh’s latest on the Peterloo Massacre.

Wild Rose – ★★★★☆

Being away from Glasgow for the sake of this festival, it seems as though director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor decided to bring Glasgow to me. I say this as I was able to catch a showing of their Glasgow-based debut, Wild Rose. And what a wee delight it ended up being!

Perhaps the definition of a modern underdog story, our main character is Rose-Lynn Harlon (played by Jessie Buckley of Beast). She’s a 23-year-old woman who’s recently been freed from prison and immediately starts feeling the heat. She has two little kids to look after and a loving but stern mother who wants to set her on the right path (Julie Walters). All her life Rose-Lynn has wanted to go to Nashville and become a country singer, believing it to be the one thing she’s truly passionate about. Working as a cleaner for Susannah (Sophia Okonedo), an opportunity for her to fulfil her dreams comes about. But, her mother asks, what will that chance cost?

At the heart of its story is a powerful message: That sometimes we may have to give up our deepest aspirations for the people who depend on us. Rose-Lynn is a bubbly, wild personality that we enjoy watching. But she also starts off a very flawed person. Not only does she have a complicated past, but she often puts her own needs above that of others, becoming neglectful in the process. However, the character never becomes unlikeable, as we can relate to the concept of longing after such a burning dream. Plus, she has other well realised characters like that of her employer Susannah, who encourages her, and especially her mother, who keeps her in check and confronts her when she becomes more selfish. Their conflicts are interesting, and both characters are so well written that we find ourselves sympathising with both of them.

They’re working with a great script that loves utilising Scottish dialect and idioms to its fullest, but it’s really the actors that bring these layered characters to stunning life.

Complementing the excellent characters and their drama are terrific performances, particularly from our mother-daughter duo. They’re working with a great script that loves utilising Scottish dialect and idioms to its fullest, but it’s really the actors that bring these layered characters to stunning life. Julie Walters’ Scottish accent is spot on, and Jessie Buckley truly captures the intense emotions Rose-Lynn must combat, should it be regret, desire, or, most jovially, complete euphoria. Between this and Beast, Buckley has been on fire recently.

But what would a story about a singer be without cracking music to go with it? With a character this excited about country music, it’s difficult not to get into it yourself. The singing is amazing, the original lyrics emotionally resonant, and the beats and dancing intoxicating. It’s impossible not to tap your foot along.

Add it up with lustrous cinematography that gorgeously captures the cities of London, Nashville and, of course, Glasgow, and Wild Rose becomes a soulful, touching, funny, and heartfelt look into one woman’s dreams and the lessons she comes to learn by the end of the film. It’s a pleasant surprise, but it’s more importantly one of the festival’s most wholesome offerings.

Suspiria – ★★★☆☆

As I sit down to write my review, my notes beside me for reference, I still don’t fully know what to make of Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria. I’m no stranger to psychological films that utilise dark visuals, whether it be Eyes Wide Shut or Perfect Blue. But this one is so bizarre, while also being so hypnotically filmed, that I reckon it’s going to stick with me whether I want it to or not.

For the record, I haven’t seen the original 1977 version. I was planning to before this new film, but then I got my press pass for the festival and had several reviews to write. Time got the better of me. If you want a review that compares the two, I’d advise reading another critic.

Anyway, Suspiria tells the story of Susie (Dakota Johnson). She’s a young American woman from a religious background who has journeyed to West Berlin in 1977 to audition for a dance academy run by several women, including Tilda Swinton. However, we learn early on that there’s something off about this place and those who run it. This is from information that Dr. Jozef Kempler (Tilda Swinton again, buried under a mountain of makeup and prosthetics) acquires from Chloë Grace Moretz, who tells Kempler that the academy is run by a coven of witches with sinister intentions.

Something which drew me in with this film is its atmosphere and how it permeates the entire picture. We experience plenty of creative usage of shadows. They’re implemented to obscure or single out people’s faces in order to amplify the sense of dread and mystery. Combined with some visceral editing work which simultaneously emphasises the majesty of the dancing and the horror of the gore and ritualistic elements and we feel under the film’s spell.

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The actors all do a great job at adding to this atmosphere. But Luca Guadagnino is the true star here. His artistic vision is what grants the film its hypnotising look and feel. This includes the use of 35mm, to recreate the look of a 70s film set in the same time period, as well as his insistence on ignoring the use of primary colours. He omits brightness as frequently as he can in order to create the sense of evil lurking in every frame. The only time he breaks this rule is in the climax, in which the screen bathes itself in bloody red, as if Guadagnino is unleashing the forces of darkness that have remained hidden until that very moment. Visually speaking, the movie is spellbinding, if not necessarily easy to watch or stomach.

This may be a source of detraction for some viewers. The visuals are so immersive that the story occasionally feels secondary. I confess that I had to do reminders and double takes a few times during its 155 minute runtime. It could be regarded as an exercise of style over substance, particularly when it concerns the characters, who sometimes feel like they occupy the film purely for the artistic purposes rather than the narrative ones.

Nevertheless, I can’t say I was ever bored. Guadagnino’s unique vision and stylish filmmaking were more than enough to keep me engaged until the bloody climax. It may be narratively lacking at times, but it’ll more than appease moviegoers who desire visionary experiences.

Suspiria is weird, disturbing, and definitely not for everyone… but I kinda dug it.

Outlaw King – ★★★☆☆

One of my more controversial opinions is that I don’t like Braveheart. I can already hear you sharpening your pitchforks but, for me personally, it took one of Scotland’s great historical figures and reduced his patriotism to a generic revenge story. He seemed to be rebelling more for himself than his country. I respect that I’m in a minority with Braveheart, but I was apprehensive that the same treatment would befall our other Scottish Wars of Independence hero, Robert the Bruce. Thankfully David Mackenzie has yet to disappoint me, and this film, despite drawbacks, delivers overall.

Played by Chris Pine, the film details the beginnings of Robert Bruce’s rebellion. It opens with him swearing fealty to Edward I and II (Stephen Dillane and Billy Howle), thus renouncing his claim to the Scottish throne. Over time however, Robert begins to notice the fear and outrage from the Scottish people, who want freedom from English dominion. When William Wallace is executed, Robert turns, and begins gathering his forces to finally drive out the English.

Since the film’s premier in Toronto, 20 minutes have supposedly been cut due to negative responses toward the original 132 minute length. I don’t know what the original cut was like but I’m curious to see it as there are instances of the film that seem rushed, and I feel like the cuts contributed to this. For example, we see the English army mobilising, then a town they’re ransacking on fire, and then we cut back to Robert the Bruce, all in the space of about 15/20 seconds. It sometimes feels like I’m watching the film on fast forward.

I also feel that it could’ve gone further with Robert’s character. McKenzie’s script (co-written with four others) does a decent job at showing Robert’s uncertainties with his original decision, as well as some of his inner conflicts concerning his sovereign and the safety of his daughter and new, headstrong wife (portrayed excellently by Florence Pugh). It also gives Edward II a surprisingly compelling, almost melancholic story, which showcase the best of Billy Howle’s talents. However, Robert did feel inconsistent and, again, rushed at times. Early on he suffers a setback and seems to just get over it after meeting with a few communities. He alludes to the story of the spider’s web, and I feel like adding the scene in would’ve provided a pivotal moment of change for him. I know it’s only a myth, but it would’ve visually demonstrated his fighting spirit.

Nonetheless, the things Outlaw King has going for it truly work in its favour. Mackenzie’s direction is on top form. He captures the passion of Robert’s subordinates and people wonderfully, building on previous scenes that encompassed the Scottish strife brilliantly, creating a real sense of urgency. Say what you will about the character building but the dialogue is riveting at its best, able to deliver anxiety, thrills, and even comedy. The cinematography films Scotland and its landscapes beautifully, and the action scenes are immaculately filmed, should it be Bruce’s guerrilla tactics on castles or full scale battles. The actors are all very engaging in their roles, even if some can get over the top at instances, and Mackenzie presents white knuckled thrills with the climactic Battle of Loudoun Hill, despite the occasional slip in choreography.

Some historical liberties are taken, but as they assist the intended narrative none of them are deal-breakers. It’s one of those films where if you know what you’re getting into then you can expect a reasonable amount of fun and excitement from it.

Outlaw King is occasionally frustrating, as its shortcomings prevent it from being a potentially great film. Thankfully, the pros outweigh the cons just enough for me to recommend it. It arrives on Netflix November 9th, so check it out and see for yourself.

Peterloo – ★★★☆☆

Between this and Outlaw King, this festival is really putting my History Bachelors’ degree to good use isn’t it? But I digress. Peterloo is the latest from director Mike Leigh, who uses his film to detail the events leading up to and including the infamous Peterloo Massacre, named ironically as it occurred shortly after the Battle of Waterloo. It was the fallout of Waterloo that caused mass unemployment for the British public. This was particularly the case for Manchester locals, who organised a peaceful mass march of 60,000 in St. Peter’s Field to demand that parliament extend voting rights. The government responded by sending in the cavalry, causing horror and needless deaths.

Mike Leigh is a filmmaker that often uses his films as emotional letters. With Peterloo that emotion is outrage. The incidents leading up to Peterloo have set the precedent for protests ever since. They’ve set the standard for organised outcries from ordinary civilians who want their voices heard, voices that they believe higher ups are trying to silence or ignore. Leigh seems to have made this film as a cautionary tale, warning those in power not to repeat the mistakes of history. Whether this is the case or not, it was what I personally took away from the film, and I found the message very powerful.

What’s problematic however is how Leigh chooses to convey this message. He makes the decision to include a multitude of characters from various backgrounds, carrying various baggage. Their one shared trait is that they’re all working class and all come from the Manchester community.

This is a good idea in theory. Rory Kinnear as Henry Hunt does feature, and was the most predominant voice at the protest itself. However, telling the story from the perspectives of the ordinary people rather than the agreed orator is a smart choice as it emphasises the point Leigh is making and shows the real, working class perspectives.

Unfortunately, the film feels very overstuffed. While its creative choice on the story’s point of view is one I agree with, it juggles about three or four characters’ perspectives if I recall correctly. But as it’s them, and their families, it feels like a lot more. Because of this, it’s easy to lose track of who is who, and who is doing what. The acting is all perfectly fine, but I spent much of the runtime trying to remember who everyone was.

There’s also the decision to portray the events of Peterloo in the third act. This’ll either really work for you, or it really won’t. Some may question the point of sitting through nearly two hours of setup just to get to the titular event, or whether they should’ve started with it and shown the consequences.

Personally, I liked this choice, as I feel it served Leigh’s message. It details the organisation of these hopeful commoners, only to show how their desires were crushed by greedy elites who were terrified of losing their wealth to democracy, written and portrayed as such. As the event itself is captured graphically through tight camerawork and a permeating sense of claustrophobia, it adds to the shock, meaning you leave the cinema feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut. However, I can see why this might not work for some.

Peterloo is a mixed bag overall; a case of powerful themes being somewhat muddled by debateable execution. However, if I’m correct in what Mike Leigh was trying to do, then I believe he did the historical event, and those who perished, justice, just as he is using the film to make his own cry for justice.

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