Film Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Release Date: 1 January 2017 (UK) 

Genre: Fantasy, Drama

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

Synopsis: 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikly ally when the Monster (portrayed by Liam Neeson) in performance-capture and voiceover) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Coner on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality. (Official Website)

Review: I was invited to a preview of A Monster Calls earlier this week and was blown away by so many things in this movie! The film is based on the novel by Patrick Ness, author of bestselling Chaos Walking Trilogy. Interestingly, the idea for the novel actually belongs to Siobhan Dowd, author of classic YA books Bog Child and A Swift Pure Cry. After Dowd’s untimely death, Patrick stepped in and finished the book with credits to her idea.

I have to start with the acting. I was so so impressed by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. He portrayed the anguish of a teen trying to survive school and family woes whilst dealing with his mother’s terminal illness.I was totally struck by MacDougall’s raw talent and cannot wait to see him in more things – I predict a solid rise to fame for him. 🙂 This movie has a stellar cast of big names joining MacDougall including Felicity Jones who plays her character with such grace and poise, Sigourney Weaver as the stern but beleaguered grandmother, and Liam Neeson as the Monster. They were all phenomenal in their roles, their performances, especially Jones’s, was understated and just worked. Because of the way the film was directed by J.A. Bayona, (The Orphanage) at times I completely forgot they were acting because they fully became their characters.

And if you need to break things, then, by God, you break them.

The novel is known for its exploration of some pretty heavy themes like illness, grief, divorce and bullying. But my absolute favorite is how it explores the grey areas of morality – how sometimes people can be both good and bad and the book does this without ever coming across as patronising. This is what I think made the novel such a winner amongst people of all ages in the first place – it truly is an important idea for all of us to understand and I think it is so bravely tackled by Ness in A Monster Calls. Although the book deals with these difficult issues the movie handles it deftly and beautifully – it was neither heavy-handed nor did it shy away from reality, exactly like in the book.  

I love how imagination is such a big part of this movie and it really takes you back to a time when you were younger and thought was pretty unrestricted. I felt *all* of the emotions during this movie – it was heartbreaking, charming, moving and magical and so many more things all at the same time. I loved how although it is a fantasy, the thing that I took from it was an exploration of what it means to be human and inherently complex.

Of course you are afraid, but you will make it through, for this is why you called me…

The original novel has a brilliant illustrated version with illustrations by Jim Kay. Bayona does justice to the messages in the novel and made them resonate on a grander scheme by bringing the beautiful illustrations to life in such a visual way through stunning watercolour. I was totally mesmerised during these scenes, and I found it reminiscent of the Tales of Beedle the Bard scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film – easily one of my favourite bits in the entire film series. The cinematography in this movie is done so well that at times I forgot I was in a cinema watching with lots of other people because I’d become totally immersed in the drama on screen! 

This is one of those movies that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it! I’ve given it 5 stars – it’s a faithful adaptation and doesn’t try to overdo the drama just because it’s on the big screen. All of the actors give solid performances and I would recommend it just for the visual smorgasboard it offers alone! 

Are you planning to watch A Monster Calls? Have you read the original novel by Patrick Ness? What bits are you most looking forward to seeing on screen? Drop me a comment below!

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Theatre Review: Nell Gwynn

nellgwynne

Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

Starring: Gemma Arterton

Theatre: Apollo West End, London

Dates: 4 February – 30 April

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

I’m a massive theatre fan and try to catch many of the West End shows when possible. I’ve managed to watch most of the classics including Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, Wicked (in NYC no less!) and many more. Similar to YA fiction, it is one of my indulgences and something I’m quite passionate about so I’m going to try and feature more of my visits on this blog as a nice way to intersperse the book reviews.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to previews of Nell Gwynn earlier this month. The play, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Jessica Swale, has transferred from Shakespeare’s Globe to the West End for a limited season of 12 weeks with Gemma Arterton taking over the helm from Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Nell Gwynn is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, and is about the true-life story of orange-seller and prostitute turned actress and King’s mistress. In the play, Nell is discovered by actor Charles Hart who introduces her to the King’s Company, a theatre group, and with whom she undergoes training to become a leading female actress. Charles II is in attendance during one of her performances and upon seeing Nell he becomes besotted. As she begins a relationship with the King, she is forced by his chief minister to choose between Charles and her successful career on stage and her decision has far reaching consequences for both the King’s Company and her family.

I was quite excited about the play as it stars Gemma Arterton in the titular role and after seeing Arterton excel in feisty roles in movies including Quantum of Solace, Tamara Drewe and St. Trinian’s, I was interested to see how she would play the ultimate historical anti-heroine Nell Gwynn. Needless to say, Arterton delivers this character really well and does justice to Gwynn’s playful, impetuous attitude as well as showing the caring and ambitious girl underneath the persona. Gemma Arterton’s natural cheeky demeanour meant that you almost forgot she was playing a character. The play had a few upbeat and catchy song and dance numbers (some of which I still find myself humming three weeks on!) and Arterton seemed like a natural performing on stage.

The supporting cast were also fantastic but my favourite had to be Nancy, the theatre tailor and Nell’s dresser – she easily had some of the best lines and quips along with the overenthusiastic and over-dramatic Kynaston who believed he could play a female part better than a woman. Watching the romance develop between Nell and the usually confident and unflappable Charles II, who became flustered in her presence, was charming – it remained true to the fact that whilst Nell was Charles II’s mistress, there was a genuine and life-long affection between the two figures.

The play is set during Restoration England when Charles II was on the throne and the country enjoyed a resurgent cultural scene following the demise of Thomas Cromwell and his staid regime. As such, the play features colourful characters, vivacious outfits and bawdy humour. As Gwynn started out life as a prostitute and then went on to be the King’s mistress, the humour was incredibly funny with risquĂ© jokes and double entrendres abounding that had the audience in hysterics. The costumes and set design weren’t elaborate – since approximately half of the play is set in a theatre, there wasn’t much needed to physically alter the stage. The production instead kept the cast centre stage and didn’t let detailed sets detract from the drama. Gemma Arterton’s costumes were fabulous, her transformation from a poor prostitute to the King’s mistress is beautifully reflected in her outfits.

Despite the progressive art and cultural scene, the play is set against the backdrop of the introduction of the first stage actresses – a really radical notion at the time. The play has an overt and powerful feminist theme which is handled deftly by Jessica Swale. Arterton’s playful interpretation of the character meant it didn’t feel heavy handed but the audience still left with the message clear, that despite her humble beginnings, in a male-dominated world, Gwynn made herself a force to be reckoned with and was  able to make difficult but independent decisions for herself and her own happiness.

If you’re up for a laugh along and some catchy song and dance numbers all wrapped up in a powerful feminist message, I would urge you to go and watch Nell Gwynn during its limited season run – there’s a reason why it transferred to the West End… 🙂