Britain’s film industry organises itself in an odd manner when it comes to considering the needs and desires of its audiences.
In any given year it has two major seasons. From May until the end of summer, our cinemas are overwhelmed with Hollywood blockbusters, many of them featuring superheroes or Marvel Comics characters; all of these are aimed squarely at young people.
Then from September to early February, there’s a glut of ‘quality’ movies – the sort of films that win awards, and are typically embraced by the older audience. The problem with films in this last category is that there are too many of them to receive a wide distribution in the UK, so they remain unseen in large portions of the country.
Right now, we’re between major seasons, with the summer blockbusters waiting in the wings. April is the cruellest month in UK film distribution, marked by a surfeit of half-hearted releases, many of them on only a handful of screens, that distributors have concluded no-one very much wants to see. This is the industry’s equivalent of putting out the household rubbish.
And so the ludicrous situation arises that in some weeks 16 films can be released. It happened only last week, with the vast majority whipped out of cinemas after seven days to the complete indifference of potential paying customers. There are 12 more titles opening this week: Avengers: The Age of Ultron for the kids (here comes summer!) and 11 others, none of which will find broad favour beyond small specialist sectors of the national audience.
So is there anything still out there worth watching? Here are three of the best, though as you’ll see, all of them cater to niche tastes.
Child 44, adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s best-seller, is set in mid-1950s Russia, where a former war hero (Tom Hardy) is a security officer in exile, along with his wife (Noomi Rapace, from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films) who he has refused to denounce for crimes against the state. He finds himself obsessed with tracking down a serial killer who targets small boys, but his persistence wins him no friends in high places, who insist such crimes cannot be possible in a Soviet paradise.
Hardy, as so often, is deeply impressive in his role, but it’s a grim story that becomes increasingly gloomy and brutal.
You’ve heard of feelgood movies? Child 44 is the polar opposite.
A Little Chaos is at first glance a good fit for Saga-generation audiences; a handsome period costume drama in a royal setting with a horticultural theme. Kate Winslet plays Sabine, a garden designer at the court of Louis XIV in Versailles; she wants to liberate its grounds from what she sees as stultifying symmetry and order.
There’s a love story on the side, between Sabine and her ideologically opposed employer, landscape architect Andre Le Notre (played by this year’s ubiquitous movie hunk, Belgian actor Matthias Schoenarts). And Louis XIV gets a look-in too, in the shape of Alan Rickman, who also directed. Rickman’s distinctive languid bass-toned delivery enlivens proceedings somewhat.
While not as bad as some notably hostile reviews have suggested, A Little Chaos is still nothing to write home about. It’s easy on the eye, and serviceable as a story, but unlikely to linger in the memories of audiences once the lights go up.
Finally, The Last Five Years, an unconventional sung-through musical, seems to have received a very narrow release – which means it won’t have been seen outside major cities. A pity, because in its distinctive way it has real virtues.
Having said that, it’s not a musical for those like cosy, happy endings. The film traces a doomed relationship in retrospect – between a small-town girl with dreams of making it as a stage actress and a talented young novelist. Anna Kendrick (she was Cinderella in the recent Into the Woods) and Broadway musical star Jeremy Jordan excel as the leads.
Based on a stage show by Jason Robert Brown, both its music and regretful tone are reminiscent of the great Stephen Sondheim.
The Last Five Years is not in his league, but it’s a bracing, if harsh emotional roller-coaster none the less. If you can’t catch it now, at least look out for the DVD in a couple of weeks.