Something of a sensation back in 1945, The Seventh Veil is a fairly straightforward drama, with new fangled psychiatry centre-stage. Ann Todd plays Francesca, a concert pianist seen attempting suicide in the opening scenes. Compton Bennett’s film then slips back in time to see her education at the hands of guardian Nicolas (James Mason), a hard taskmaster who blocks her relationships with various suitors. Francesca’s story is uncovered by psychiatrist Herbert Lom, intent on lifting the seven metaphorical veils which conceal her secret. What The Seventh Veil says about male-female relationships is probably a moot point; Nicholas pretty much dominates Francesca, and as her second cousin, he’s a strange romantic choice for her. As one of the ten most popular films ever released in the UK, The Seventh Seal owes its reputation largely to the music, and to Todd and Mason, both of whom still shine even when the mechanics creak.
Also known as A Man in Uniform, presumably to hide any gay subtext, writer/director David Wellington’s low-budget drama has a strong central idea; bank worker and aspiring actor Henry Adler (Tom McCamus) is bored of his life, but gets a part in a TV show as a cop. Taking his uniform home, he enjoys dressing up as a cop, and starts wearing his uniform on the streets to help him get into the part. But taking on the mantle of a policeman lands Henry in trouble; his encounters with real-life copy Frank (Kevin Tighe) can only lead to disaster. I Love A Man In Uniform is a slow-burning but tense affair, looking at the media’s obsession with police-work and how it impacts on one man’s frazzled psyche; well acted and constructed, it’s a perfect little sleeper.
Michael Shannon may have been a dull General Zod in Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, but he’s an excellent actor who makes the most of a leading role in Take Shelter, and ambitious but gripping account of one man’s mental disintegration. Writer/director Jeff Nichols keeps the focus tight as Curtis (Shannon) struggles to keep his family unit together, but he’s plagued with apocalyptic visions, and even the love of his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) isn’t enough to stop him from sinking into self-absorption. As Curtis starts building a shelter to protect himself and his family, he becomes further unhinged, leading to a searing collapse over lunch at his local club. One of the few films dealing with mental illness to get the details right, Nichols’ film is a towering drama of great power and compassion, right up to and including the memorably ambiguous ending.
Charlotte Rampling has been a grand dame of British cinema for so long, but often in minor roles, that it’s a relief to see her centre stage and commanding in this low-key 2012 thriller directed by her son, Barnaby Southcombe. In a classic noir set-up, Rampling attends a dating evening and takes a potential lover home, only to awaken to find him dead. Anna’s guilt or innocence is kept uncertain for much of the running time, with Gabriel Byrne as the sympathetic cop closing in and Haley Atwell as her daughter. I Anna is a deliberately old-fashioned thriller which manages to provide the requisite twists and turns without selling out the idea of the central character’s emotional vulnerability; it’s a rare thriller that deal with mental health issues is an intelligent and un-exploitative way.
Adapting his own Broadway hit, playwright John Guare fashioned a playful and unusual drama based on a real incident, in which a well-dressed young man Paul (Will Smith) insinuated himself into a series of well heeled households pretending to be the son of actor Sydney Poitier, and bleeding from a recent mugging. Initially Central Park socialites Flan and Ouisa (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) take him in, but when the boy leaves in insalubrious circumstances, they discover that they’re only the latest victims of a repeated con-trick. Chatty and erudite as Paul himself, Fred Schlepsi’s frothy drama uncovers a heart of darkness when Paul’s true motive are unveiled. Great support from Heather Graham and Ian McKellern, and yes, that’s the JJ Abrams in a minor role.
Another Oscar nomination for Peter O’Toole didn’t go far in cementing the reputation of Peter Medak’s 1972 version of Peter Barnes’ play, adapted by the author. O’Toole plays Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, who in the first half of The Ruling Class believes he’s Jesus Christ, complete with a crucifix that he rests on, and then afterwards he’s Jack the Ripper. There’s musical scenes in the style of a student musical, comic support from Alastair Sim and Arthur Lowe, and a general feeling of anything goes that makes for an unheralded classic of anti-establishment comedy as only the British can make. The sight of O’Toole arriving in the bedroom for his wedding night on a tricycle is worth savouring for connoisseurs of cinematic wildness.