The King – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written by David Michôd and Joel Edgerton

Directed by David Michôd

David Michôd‘s Henriad drama, The King, comprises three works of the bard, taking Shakespeare’s Henry IV (parts 1 and 2and Henry V and forming them into a composite piece of historical drama. The drunkard, layabout son of King Henry IV, Hal finds himself under the pressure of ascending the throne, progressing from being his father’s last resort to the only available choice. Young, unproven and on the downward path towards a bloody venture, Hal surrounds himself with advisors who, in typical Shakespearean fashion, are of Machiavellian intention.

Political drama is at the forefront of Joel Edgerton‘s and Michôd’s interpretation of the trio of texts, in keeping with Shakespeare’s writings, but they seek to reinforce an authenticity in their characters. Complimentary to the audience, perhaps to a fault, the script is subtle. With the gift of a ball to the juvenile king and other matters which go unspoken, it’s refreshing to see exposition or symbolism left for audiences to unearth; at the same time, this does fail to encourage a heightened response in key moments.

It would seem the people’s newest champion of cinema, Timothée Chalamet, continues his rise in a breakthrough career in his interpretation of Hal. A round-shouldered, inverting individual who grows to stand tall, he becomes a beacon for the people of England following countless wars and battles. More so than other performers, Chalamet treats The King as a reflection of the three plays, showcasing a richer characterisation and physical evolution than his co-stars.

A buffoonish pursuer of vice, Falstaff is perhaps Shakespeare’s most significant creation outside of a titular role, a character who transcends a variety of mediums. Edgerton’s judgement of the performance rivals Chalamet’s dedication to the film, which is understandable given his primary writing role. An enabler, the character dips into the mystical advisor of cinematic tropes, but it allows Edgerton to captivate, holding our attention with ease. That’s especially true since his balance of humour never exceeds mild sarcasm nor jolly defiance to Hal, or in scenes where a playful rivalry blooms with Robert Pattinson’s Dauphin.

Taking a Shakespearean interpretation, the Dauphin would be well at home in the Globe Theatre. Pattinson’s exaggerated mannerisms are menacing, but in doing so he stretches into an over-reaching antagonist. A peculiar choice in direction, Michôd here creates a divide in the film’s tone, pushing more nuanced performances against that of excess. It makes for an entertaining opponent, but one suspects there are always a few seconds cut before a cackle or curling of the fingers would infect Pattinson’s performance.

While the comfort of the living room appeals to streaming releases, a cinematic scale of the action demonstrates Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography. Going beyond the battles or open-air scenes, there’s a profound intimacy in the dimensions of The King. Arkapaw captures the claustrophobic pressure of the courts, the bedrooms and inner sanctums. It’s not only a visual but an aural sensation which captivates the atmosphere of the film. Nicholas Britell’s score accentuates the sublime imagery, never pervading a scene or interrupting tension, seeking solely to act alongside the visual design of a scene, whether this grows in grandeur or slithers back into silence to allow impact.

The King is an engrossing update which lifts Shakespeare’s characters into a piece of classical cinematic filmmaking. It does sometimes falter, though, in failing to fit together the sum of its parts into a tight, comprehensive package. The pieces lie there, each a component of something which would generate buzz, but there are gaps where parts fail to align. Its blade has little sharpness, and although it’s a well-crafted piece of film, there’s no edge to Michôd’s The King outside of its visuals and solid performances. Those are selling features in their own right, but not enough to quite carry it to the lofty expectations it seeks.

Review originally published for WeeReview:

The King is available for streaming and in cinema’s from November

The Last Witch – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Rona Munro

Director: Richard Baron

Janet Horne, the last woman to be legally executed in the British Isles, arrested in Dornoch Scotland is the subject of Rona Munro’s The Last Witch. Alone with her claw-handed daughter, Janet fends for the pair in the Highlands. Her charms, herbal remedies and manipulation tricks those into offering scraps of food or fuel for the fires. Though more so out of pity than fear. Soon though, the Church and State become involved in suspicions of sorcery. Janet’s silver tongue, physical liberties and a young sheriff determined to prove his merit, lead to an unholy accusation.

Sliced, stripped bare of all but it’s roots, Rona Munro’s revival at the Traverse as part of its Autumn season, differs from its 2009 debut. Maintaining aspects of those visual effects, projected to the moon above – it has lost all of the overly elaborate mechanics it once had. Kept to an aesthetically bare design, the bark of the trees stretching into the cold stone below.

Sexually assertive, charming and independently, if stubbornly willed, Janet spends the first act as the master of a chess board. Every piece set in motion. Her wiles keep the repressed Sheriff at arm’s length (closer if desired), though also her daughter pinned down to her mother’s land. Deirdre Davis’ Janet is sharp-tongued, almost with a venomous bite. Yet more so, her desperation in her ability to convince others is what makes her appealing to watch.

Contrasting her snake oil beguile, Janet’s daughter Helen has a differing fate to her real counterpart. In Munro’s telling Helen (Fiona Wood) creeps the line of aether closer than her mother without realising. Scenes with Alan Mirren as a Mephistophelean traveller Nick, a tinkerer who seems to travel only by moonlight, his appearances drawing out the occult feel we crave from the production.

In particular, the scenes these two share highlights the set design of Ken Harrison. The cracked, vein-like structure of a roundtable serves as wildlands, church tower and pyre. These cracks stem across the stage emitting light – cold or fiery dependant on the situation. A raked stage, the two circles echo the skies and the earth. One a harvest moon, filled with enchantment, deviousness and an ethereal glow. The other cold, broken and venting the fresh steam from the heartless stone.

Chastised, tortured mentally and physically by meek minded men into a confession – a sturdy charismatic woman keeps her dignity amidst the stench of masculinity. Yielding not to the insecurities of man but the depth of her motherhood. All too tragic is that in the final moments, as the men cower, avert their gaze or turn their backs altogether to an innocent. It is a lone woman, Janet’s neighbour who has the stomach to meet her eye. Unafraid of the inspiration her words may cause, or the liberation proposed.

Munro’s The Last Witch works with the heart of a Scottish story. The language used in describing the air itself is captivating. More so, her writing has a clear comment regarding aspects of the church’s sentiments of female liberation. Graham Mackay-Bruce as the local reverend, blaming himself for failing Janet for over a decade serves as our primary fool.

One may be forgiven for not noting that the 18th-century setting could easily be substituted for today. Given the texts focus on the anxious clawing of misogyny as it grapples to tie down fierce, independent women. The pyre staked, crows cry out for vengeance, Munro reminds us that evil is not found in dancing with the devil but with those concealed behind silver buttons and smiles.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Amadeus & The Bard – National Museum of Scotland

Director & Creator – Mary McCluskey

Musical Director – Karen MacIver

Based on the works of Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Two champions of their time, etching a significant mark on history few can claim, Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived hundreds of miles apart, but an intense connection in their works ripple throughout culture. Paying homage to the pair, Scottish Opera shares a love of storytelling with these masters, bonding the pair’s verse, composition and passion with their creators and performers.

Where finer to set such a re-telling of these men’s lives than somewhere they both had a great deal of adoration for? The pub. Drinking aside, the infamous Poosie Nansie, this den of revelry, a place of familiarity to fans of Tam O’ Shanter is an excellent setting to present the works of both Wolfie and Rabbie. Taking in a few swallies, this band of merry misfits comprise a selection of Scottish Opera’s youth company, inviting you to jig, sing and join them on this journey. 

Full of vim and vigour, this zestful cast bring the likes of Don Giovanni, Jean Armour and of course, a spirit of two, to fruition with a notable Scots flair. Cementing the production with a stamp of Scottish Opera’s standards, baritone Arthur Bruce and Stephanie Stanway’s soprano role lend immense vocal prowess. Full of character, in control of their tone and range – the projection, even for a small venue, is admirable.

It isn’t as easy as one would imagine, aligning the works of these two artists. Both have notable works, singularly they spark cultural revolutions – so how can blending them maintain their original force? Luckily, thematically the pair share a great deal: in particular matters of the heart, of women and the supernatural. Never would one suspect that Rabbie’s ‘A Man’s a Man For a’ That’ work so sublimely with Mozart’s Queen of the Night? An aria which would define a genre works as a stellar foundation– it’s a pleasant thought what Karen MacIver’s musical direction could turn towards next.

The storytelling elements lacing around a freshly packed Tam O’ Shanter, its recitation to the tones of Mozart, lift the tone of the piece tremendously. Andy Clark’s storyteller may not carry the vocals of some performers, but he is paramount in the production’s success as the purveyor of tales. With an invitation to extend our imagination, Clark fuels a passionate fire for both the Bard and the composer, urging us to go into the word with a ballad, with a tune and a thirst for more.

Sitting there, accordion on her lap, fingers on the ivories and mind racing with direction – MacIver is the heart, beating beneath the chest of Amadeus and The Bard. Alongside exceptional violinist Shannon Stevenson, they are the lifeblood of the show. Together with Mary McCluskey’s vision, the pair breathe life into the memories of Robert Burns and Amadeus Mozart. McCluskey’s conception is profoundly evocative of Scottish humour, showcasing of the future of Scottish Opera in a manner which delights the people – just what Rabbie and Wolfie would have wanted.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Tickets available for Paisley Friday 4th October & Scottish Opera Production Studios 11th – 12th October: