The Duellists

Feraud and d'Hubert duel

The Duellists is Ridley Scott’s feature debut and premiered in 1977, four years after his famous advert for Hovis bread (voted the UK’s favourite TV advert in a 2006 poll). Both are picturesque evocations of a world long gone – pre-War England, in the 45-second advert’s case, the world of post-Revolutionary France in the case of the solid 100 minutes of The Duellists. The story is a true one – about two men in Napoleon’s army who fought a series of around 30 grudge duels over 19 years. Joseph Conrad had used the facts as the basis for a novella, and Scott’s screenwriter, Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, adapts them further with his screenplay, reducing the … Read more

The Painted Bird

Joska asleep on a cart while a woman hoes

A screen adaptation of Polish-born Jerzy Kosiński’s novel The Painted Bird probably should have been made before 2019. “Of all the remarkable fiction that emerged from World War II, nothing stands higher than Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird,” wrote Jonathan Yardley in The Miami Herald in a typical rave when the book first appeared in 1965. When it turned out that the book wasn’t based on Kosiński’s own personal experiences, as he had claimed, and that he’d pulled off a remarkable literary hoax, sentiment reversed sharply. Decades later there were claims that other books by Kosiński – like Being There (which was turned into a 1979 film starring Peter Sellers) – were largely … Read more

Fatima

The children see the Virgin

  In many ways a bog-standard bible flick given a cursory wipeover with a humanist rag in the figure of Harvey Keitel – doing penance for Bad Lieutenant all those years ago – Fatima is just dramatic enough, lavish enough and well directed enough to escape the “it is what it is” label. But first a bit of background for those not schooled in Catholic lore. During the First World War the Virgin Mary appears to three peasant Portuguese children who live in the village of Fatima, not once but several times. A cult grows up around the children, who report back on the Virgin’s latest utterances to the growing crowds, and eventually … Read more

Mean Streets

Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets

  A movie for every day of the year – a good one     12 May   Exile on Main Street released, 1972 On this day in 1972, one of the cornerstone rock albums of all time was released. Exile on Main St was the Rolling Stones follow-up to Sticky Fingers and the first album they had produced since extricating themselves from their contract with manager Allen Klein. The Stones had recently become tax exiles from the UK – and recorded much of the album in the south of France, at a villa Keith Richards was renting. Richards was a heavy user of heroin at the time, and his villa became a … Read more

U-571

Erik Palladino, Matthew McConaughey, U-571

  The standard submarine drama – depth charges, beep-beep sonar, bursting bulkheads, “secure that hatch” dialogue – gets an efficient workthrough by director Jonathan Mostow, who did a lot with very little in 1997’s “who stole my wife” thriller Breakdown. He’s got a good cast here too – Matthew McConaughey putting in one of his brattish turns as the “I’m ready for command” lieutenant, Bill Paxton as his “No, you’re not” commander, an underused Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, continuing his hopeful advance into movies – but it’s the presence of the Enigma coding machine that is the film’s USP. By which I mean it’s the presence of the Enigma machine that is … Read more

Holy Smoke

Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel in Holy Smoke

    A maker of thoughtful films, some hugely successful (The Piano), some not (In the Cut), Jane Campion here takes a small film – about a cultbuster (Harvey Keitel) and his intensely focused efforts to deprogram a naive Oz girl (Winslet) who’s been got at in India – and produces a sly, dry comedy of trans-Pacific manners. Being set in Australia really helps it, those highly personal, dialogue-heavy interchanges between the two main players being balanced against huge backdrops (does it come any bigger than the Outback?). Keitel is a presence it’s hard to miss too, of course, but he’s offset by deliberately ripe caricatures by some of Oz’s finest, the meat … Read more