list.co.uk/ﬁlm REVIEWS | FILM
CRIME DRAMA CALM WITH HORSES (15) 101min ●●●●● COMEDY DRAMA MILITARY WIVES (12A) 113min ●●●●●
BIOPIC RADIOACTIVE (12A) 110min ●●●●●
Cosmo Jarvis (Lady Macbeth) is a stand-out in Calm With Horses, an impressive first feature from director Nick Rowland, based on a short story by Colin Barrett. Bulking up for the part, Jarvis plays retired boxer Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, bringing a glowering physical presence to the role. There is a simmering anger in Arm that threatens to boil over into actions he might regret. And yet he has a yearning to become a better man and a good father. His physique and the life he leads stack the odds against him.
There are echoes of Of Mice and Men in Arm’s relationship with Dymphna (American Animals’ Barry Keoghan), a manipulative, ambitious drug dealer who needs Arm to settle arguments. The sensitive side of Arm blossoms in the company of his five-year-old autistic son Jack (Kiljan Moroney); Arm melts with tenderness in Jack’s presence and wrestles with the sacrifices that might be required to give him a decent future.
It has taken more than two decades but director Peter Cattaneo has finally found a worthy companion piece to his beloved The Full Monty. Once again, a disparate group find that common humanity helps them bond and endure through the worst of times.
Inspired by the true story of the chart-topping charity choir, Military Wives is based around a clash of personalities. When troops go marching off to Afghanistan, Colonel’s wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) believes it is her mission to boost morale. The loss of a son has left her lonely.
Scott Thomas is cast to type as a bossy ice queen convinced that she knows best. Kate’s vulnerability makes her more than a one-dimensional foil to snarky, exasperated Lisa (Sharon Horgan), the laidback chair of the social committee. Forming a choir starts to build a sense of solidarity between the two women. An invitation to perform at the Festival of Remembrance becomes their greatest challenge.
Set in a bleak rural Ireland choked with mud and Never shy to tug at the heartstrings,
despair, Calm With Horses is a raw, atmospheric drama marbled with black comedy and bursts of shocking brutality. It marks Rowland as a talent to watch and confirms Jarvis as one of the most compelling actors of his generation. (Allan Hunter) ■ General release from Fri 13 Mar. Cattaneo doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a situation in which lives are lost, sacrifices are made and hearts are broken. The extra grit in the mix, and an excellent ensemble cast, ensures that Military Wives earns its tears. (Allan Hunter) ■ General release from Fri 6 Mar.
On paper, a Marie Curie biopic reads like an excellent idea. The two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist, whose discoveries were instrumental in the fight against cancer, certainly merits the big screen treatment. Unfortunately, this film from Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) seriously drops the ball. Casting Rosamund Pike as the Polish-born,
Paris-based heroine is not the issue, with the British star capturing Curie’s fiery nature from the opening moments. Sam Riley is also credible as Pierre Curie, the fellow scientist who entices her to team up and share findings long before he proposes marriage. Yet when Riley’s character leaves the picture halfway through, the film struggles to regain its spark. Adapted from Lauren Redniss’s graphic novel by the ubiquitous Jack Thorne (TV’s His Dark Materials, The Aeronauts), it falters as ill-advised attempts are made to contextualise the Curies’ work by showing the knock-on effects of their breakthroughs, including the Hiroshima bombing and Chernobyl disaster, misguided moments which take you out of the narrative. Throw in psychedelic visuals and Radioactive begins to feel overenthusiastic and even amateurish. Someone of Marie’s stature deserved so much better. (James Mottram) ■ General release from Fri 20 Mar.
PERIOD ROMANCE PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (15) 122min ●●●●●
Céline Sciamma follows 2014’s gorgeous Girlhood with a queer period drama set in 18th century Brittany that portrays a scintillating slow-burn romance between two women at a time when their lives were determined by social standing and marriage.
The film takes place in an environment populated almost entirely by women, and stars Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant as eventual lovers Héloïse and Marianne. They are joined by maid Sophie, played by Luàna Bajrami, with Valeria Golino as La Comtesse. Marianne has been employed to befriend Héloïse in order to secretly paint her portrait, and she studies her in meticulous detail.
When La Comtesse departs, the three remaining women strike up a nurturing bond, as Sophie is helped through the abortion of an unwanted child. It’s these scenes that bring to mind the themes and interactions of Marilyn French’s seminal feminist novel The Women’s Room. Though the time periods differ, the idea that these trapped women take great comfort from each other’s company is beautifully depicted. There’s pleasure, too, in the graceful handling of Marianne and Héloïse’s flirtation and in their relationship’s ultimate consummation, with tender, teasing sex scenes and windswept walks on the beach. In a film shot through with affection and a sharp intellectual
edge, Sciamma expresses what freedom means to each of her characters through the things they desire most. Candlelit interiors sizzle with suggestion, while outdoor excursions alternate between the oppressive and the incendiary. At one point, the lovers walk furtively round an open fire as a group of women erupt into song. It’s an explosively wild, transporting and sexy sequence that truly sets the film alight. (Katherine McLaughlin) ■ Selected release from Fri 28 Feb.
1 Feb–31 Mar 2020 THE LIST 69