Away From Her 2006 ***

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Adapted with great sensitivity from Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over The Mountain, Sarah Polley’s directorial debut rises far above the disease-of-the-week TV movie genre. Set in a snowy Ontario, Polley’s script depicts the internal angst of Grant Anderson (Gordon Pinsnet), who notices that his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Reluctantly accepting the need for Fiona to be in a residential home, Gordon has to face a stark reality when it becomes apparent that his beautiful wife has forgotten his caring touch, and started a relationship with another man. Mental illness is often stigmatized in cinema, but Polley takes a less judgmental tack, sticking closely to the emotional journey of her characters and maintaining sympathy for all parties in an unusual take on sexual jealousy. Pinsent and Christie are magnificent, capturing all the nuances of a sophisticated relationship foundering on the rocks of a difficult reality.

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Memoirs of a Survivor 1981 ***

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Doris Lessing’s brilliant books have rarely been the subject of major films; this 1981 drama featuring Julie Christie is one of the few examples of her work translated for cinema. D (Christie) lives in a bleak futuristic urban metropolis, where teenage gangs roam the streets; an opening credit reads ‘When Things Stopped’. D takes refuge in a council flat in the UK, where she forms a relationship with a young girl Emily (Leonie Mellinger). D also finds a membranous wall in her flat which allows her to explore and interact with people in Victorian times. Writer/director David Gladwell seems content to relay rather than challenge the semi-autobiographical obscurity in Lessing’s text, but the deep social concerns and Christie’s strong performance make it regrettable that more of Lessing’s work has not been filmed.

Heaven Can Wait 1978 ****

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One of the few 1970’s evocations of screwball comedy to hit the mark, Warren Beatty stars as sax-loving athlete Joe Pendleton, whose US football career is cut short by a fatal accident. Rejected in heaven has having arrived before his time, Pendleton is sent back to earth to inhabit the body of a millionaire, under the watchful eye of the angelic Mr Jordan (James Mason). A likable romance with Betty (Julie Christie) ensues, leading to a bittersweet but remarkably romantic ending. Collaborating with Buck Henry on direction and Elaine May on the script, Beatty fashions a winning role for himself in this light, bright comedy from 1978.

Hamlet 1996 ***

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William Shakespere’s classic text is usually cut for theatrical or cinema performances, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 production goes the opposite way, restoring every possible word over a mighty 242 minute running time. Branagh himself essays the student who returns home to find his father dead and his mother Gertrude (Julie Christie) in thrall to his uncle Claudius. Elsinore is depicted in majestic fashion, and the cast, combing Charlton Heston, Ken Dodd, Robin Williams, Richard Briers and Jack Lemmon, is as highly eclectic as it sounds. Casting Brian Blessed as Hamlet’s father typifies the larger-than-life feel of this epic production, one more jewel in a film laden with glittering elements, woven together to create a great record of the definitive revenge story.