Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Harriet (2019)

Image is property of Focus Features and Perfect World Pictures

Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hidden Figures (2016)

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Image is property of Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, TSG Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Hidden Figures – Film Review

Cast:  Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons

Director: Theodore Melfi

Synopsis: Telling the true story of three African American women who during the 1960s Space Race made ground-breaking strides to provide NASA with vital data critical to the US Space Program.

Review: In the 1960s, while the Space Race between the United States of America and the USSR was becoming fiercely competitive, it was almost unheard of for a woman to take a front and centre role in the pioneering and creative work that was going on at NASA, never mind an African American woman. Division and segregation was still very strong in these times, there was very little mixing. Which makes the achievements of three women in particular, who worked on NASA’s program in the sixties, so incredibly remarkable and ground-breaking, in every sense of the word.

These three women in question, Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe) start out working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, and in a divided country, there was never any expectation for them to be in real positions of power, where they could make a real difference. Before long however, due to their extraordinary talents, they begin to make waves. Soon enough, all three make their contributions to the US Space program and thanks to their pioneering work, the missions that followed in the sixties were made that much more attainable thanks to these extraordinary women, and for a long time, they certainly were hidden figures of history.

However, the incredible story of these women is now getting the recognition it absolutely merits thanks to director Theodore Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Allison Schroeder. The script manages to strike a perfect balance of really serious and dramatic moments, mixed in with plenty of rather brilliant humour. These women do have just about every obstacle thrown in their path that they could, from a society that really frowned upon black people sharing just about anything with white people. There’s no violence and brutality to be found (though that certainly existed) the story merely focuses on the obstacles these women faced, and how they defied the expectations society placed on them.

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The acting from all three leading women is simply tremendous, and all three could very well land Oscar nominations. Their chemistry is excellent and you really feel for each of them whenever their work is restricted or impeded by their mostly white and mostly male colleagues. But by far and away, the leading light is Taraji P Henson’s Katherine who is called up to work as part of an integral mission for NASA, due to her extraordinary mathematical ability. Her story is certainly more of the main focus, but it does not detract from other two ladies, as their story lines weave together, as they strive to not only help NASA, but break the stereotypes that were placed upon women in their position.

Where the story errs a bit is in the telling of the private lives of the women, which although important as it gives them character depth and ensures that the audience is able to understand their characters and bond with them more, does detract from the story a bit. It’s not overbearing, but you might perhaps wish to see more of their work at NASA. Also the movie does try to explain a lot of the mathematics but unless you’re a mathematics genius, it is more than likely to fly straight over your head like a rocket.

The Space Race of the 1960s is an era known to many. Yet the story of these remarkable women is one you probably didn’t know, but you really should, as it sheds light on a very important story that needs to be seen by everyone. Hopefully with this film, these women will no longer be the hidden figures of history that they have arguably been for a great many decades now.

A story with real heart, substance and emotion at its core, anchored by beautiful acting, Hidden Figures tells a vital story that everyone, everywhere should know about.

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