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Into the Woods, Selma, Testament of Youth, The Theory of Everything

This month Simon watched four very different films, including a grim, Grimm tale and a moving biopic of Professor Hawking.

Into the Woods

Rating 7½/10   12A   125 mins

Stephen Sondheim’s musical has been consistently popular since it was first performed nearly 30 years ago. Someone, somewhere, whether professional or amateur, will be treading the boards in Into the Woods. It was always likely that Sondheim’s book and music would find their way on to the big screen and perhaps it is a surprise that it has taken this long. The cast list is impressive – Meryl Streep, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp alongside British actors James Corden and Emily Blunt – and it has a wonderfully lush look and sound. However there is something lacking. Where the original musical was a witty, tongue-in-cheek take on fairy stories, Disney’s film has lost something of that anarchic verve. Parents should note that this is not a children’s film and although it has a 12A rating, the story is very dark in places.  

Selma

Rating 8½/10   12A   128 mins

In 1965 African Americans living in the Southern States were actively ‘discouraged’ from voting – and therefore from serving on juries – despite the law enshrining racial equality. To protest against this discrimination Dr Martin Luther King organised three protest marches from Selma, Alabama, to walk the 54 miles to the state capitol in Montgomery. The story of these marches is told in Selma, a film directed by Ava DuVernay with production credits for Oprah Winfrey, who has a supporting acting role, and Brad Pitt. Selma is a story that we need to hear in 2015. We need to be reminded that within the lifetime of many of us, people have been systematically discriminated against. Yet this is not just about remembering, it is about recognising that the situation still pertains, albeit in different forms. 

Testament of Youth

Rating 8½/10   12A   130 mins

Based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain, Testament Of Youth is the story of how she gave up her Oxford scholarship to become a nurse during the First World War. However, that is like saying that King Kong is a story about a big monkey or Titanic is about a ship that has an eventful first voyage. Testament of Youth give us an insight into World War I through the lens of a young woman and her family and friends. Alicia Vikander plays Vera and Kit Game of Thrones Harington, her boyfriend. Testament of Youth is a powerful story made all the more moving as it  comes out of one woman’s own experience.

The Theory of Everything

Rating 8½/10   12A   123 mins

By half way through The Theory of Everything one tends to forget that this isn’t a documentary about Professor Stephen Hawking’s life and that Eddie Redmayne is playing the part of the great scientist. The Theory of Everything is based on Professor Hawking’s first wife’s account of their life together. This may raise some questions about the objectivity of this version of events, but ex-wife and ex-husband are now on good terms so there appear to be no axes being ground here. Some viewers will be relieved that this is not a science film, but an affectionate view of two people in relationship dealing with one partner’s declining physical powers. However, it does offer an interesting take on how science and faith can co-exist.