“I love watching old movies…” Stephen Woolley Interview, ‘Their Finest’ (THN)

Their Finest is out to buy this week. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy, it tells the story of British propaganda during the Second World War and the strong bond developed between people from all walks of life in the face of conflict.

This warm-hearted and intelligent film is co-produced by the legendary Stephen Woolley (A Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game amongst others), who with Amanda Posey and Elizabeth Karlsen delved into the archives and uncovered the fascinating truth behind the celluloid war effort. We caught up with Stephen for an in-depth chat about the production…

THN: How did the project come to your attention?

Stephen Woolley: I was given the book (Their Finest Hour And A Half by Lissa Evans) and I loved it. The humour of it was exactly on my level. People were saying “You’d love it because it’s about old movies”, which is true. The BBC came on board, we’d produced Made In Dagenham and Great Expectations with them, and it really just blossomed from there.

We took a long time trying to get to the heart of the script because it was the story of a few characters, like a tapestry. It was a question of trying to find the right scenes for them. And the important thing as well was a lot of research went into it. I started to get quite fascinated myself! I realized that despite my enthusiasm I hadn’t seen these many of the films. So I set off…there were around 250-300 made during this period and I tried to watch every one of them, going into the archives. A lot of them were taped off the TV in the Eighties and Nineties, they were really hard to find. I was having collectors send them in… comedies and action pictures. Material about the Home Guard. It was a great process – I had a brilliant time to be honest, I love watching old movies.

So this was a combination of theatrical movies made at the time and propaganda pieces?

Well everything made at that time had to go across the desk of the Ministry of Information, which had to be approved. And they set up this company of filmmakers and producers… for example they made a film in 1943 called The Demi-Paradise with Laurence Olivier as a lovely Russian! Because Russia had just joined the war and they needed some propaganda to endorse them, everything before had been very anti-Russian. It’s very funny. Actually one of my favourites is Millions Like Us (also 1943), which was made to encourage women to go and work in factories, that’s a fantastic film.

They made all these short films which were pure propaganda, informational films. And they didn’t work. People thought they were boring. They didn’t want to be told what to do by people who were stars or who talked in very posh accents. The filmmakers had to realign what they were doing, and all these people like Michael Powell and Anthony Asquith, Sidney Gilliat jumped on board to create these films that would entertain and at the same time put out a message.

It was so different from propaganda in that sense, as we know it now. In those days it wasn’t really a dirty word. It became a dirty word during and after the war because of the way Germans used propaganda, it used to be an honest word. In fact, regarding the use of Dunkirk in the film, Churchill actually didn’t want anything made about that at the time. They were worried it was viewed as a retreat. Our film took the premise that they did decide to make a film about Dunkirk.

Was Millions Like Us, with its pro-female message, an inspiration for your film?

There is a short film that inspired The Nancy Starling (the fictional movie within Their Finest), which is a short film about a woman played by Peggy Ashcroft, who goes to help rescue her husband from Dunkirk (Channel Incident, 1940). It was interesting when Christopher Nolan’s movie opened because there are strong similarities, not that… our beach is less ambitious than his beach! But the idea of how Dunkirk became propagandized, to say it was a victory.

In the publicity the film looks bright and breezy but I found it quite subtle and intelligent. Is that down to the director Lone Scherfig?

Yeah. Lone did an amazing job, I think the fact she’s from Denmark and not the UK meant she was trying to make it from her perspective and pay tribute to those old movies she loved. Our great inspiration, apart from the script, was the cinema of that time, and that idea that no matter how bad things got you had to dig yourself out. The final act of the film – which I won’t talk too much about! – of what Gemma (Arterton)’s character had to go through, captures what was happening to people at the time.

We were trying to make a film that audiences today would like, but also one that might have been made at that time as well. There’s a parallel thing going on, the film within the film, and then our film. We got away with a lot of humour with the character of Ambrose (Bill Nighy) in that situation. A lot of those scenes look like they were made in 1943…

The footage from The Nancy Starling looks very authentic. Did you have fun recreating that era of moviemaking and those methods of production?

I enjoyed it very much. I read a lot of books about filmmaking during that period. We embraced the closeness of strangers, a group of people making something while there was a bloody war going on. They were away from the conflict but there was a spirit of camaraderie that was going through the country at the time. What people maybe don’t understand is that the war was terrible but it brought together all classes, all sexes. Everyone was saying things like “I don’t care if you’re a woman and you drive a truck”.

The film is an ensemble but it has three big names at the top – Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy. How did you come to cast the lead characters?

Well I’d worked with Gemma before on Made In Dagenham The Musical and also Byzantium. I’ve always been a fan of hers. Lone had wanted to cast Gemma in a few movies but it had never worked out. I knew Bill a bit socially and I love Bill, I was desperate to work with him so he was my number one choice for Ambrose. I was thrilled he loved the script. And Sam… I really liked The Riot Club, the film Lone had made and I suggested him to her. She thought he was maybe too young but even though he’s a young guy Sam has one of those faces. He’s got this weight in his eyes… he’s a bit of a bloke. He’s not like Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s a different type of actor, more in that Forties mould. We lucked out, we got all the people we wanted. And of course we had a great supporting cast: Jeremy Irons, Helen McCrory, Richard E. Grant, Paul Ritter…

How has your view of the industry, particularly the UK film industry, changed over the decades…?

We’re still making films, which is good news! People are still going to the cinema. But television is being watched more than ever, it’s come of age. Many movie directors are now working for Netflix, Amazon… there’s not the same delineation that there was. I think a lot of the films that I’ve made, like A Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game, would probably be made for TV now. In those days you had the ‘X’ certificate. Imagine A Company Of Wolves now… you could show it to a twelve year-old, without them even blinking! So there’s been a big sea change and we’ve got to fight really hard to really preserve cinematic drama, like with The Limehouse Golem, which I’ve got coming up with Bill Nighy again. You have to remember that you’re making cinema and not television. You need money for period film and to make it work in the cinema. I’m always conscious of that medium. You’ve got to make your mark. There’s still a big audience for it.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

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‘Their Finest’ Home Entertainment Review (THN)

Director: Lone Scherfig

Starring: Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy, Jack Huston, Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Jake Lacy, Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant

Special Features: Director’s commentary, Flickers of Hope: Making of Their Finest

Going by the publicity Their Finest (based on the novel Their Finest Hour And A Half by Lissa Evans) looks like another bright and breezy prestige project for British film. However, while it concerns the apparently light-hearted subject matter of making “morally clean, romantically satisfying” propaganda for the war effort, it also manages to evoke the fear and cruelty present in this dark period. The way it pulls off such a subtle balancing act is both surprising and very moving.

Gemma Arteron plays Catrin Cole, a Welsh writer summoned to the Ministry of Information’s Film Division in order to inject some oomph into their short film scripts. She then meets twin sisters who were supposedly involved in the rescue operation at Dunkirk. When it transpires their tale isn’t quite as heroic as expected, she decides to tailor events in a more dramatic fashion. From there she finds herself co-writing a screenplay for a morale-boosting movie alongside mercurial Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). Meanwhile Arterton struggles with a half-baked marriage to artist Ellis (Jack Huston) and fading actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) sees the film – The Nancy Starling, named after a boat – as an opportunity to resurrect his career.

There are interesting parallels between Catrin and Ambrose. Being female and old respectively, they find new opportunities whilst young men are away fighting the Nazis. And as their words become reality under the studio lights, Catrin and Tom are drawn closer together in an understated romance. Arterton is terrific and her and Claflin spark off each other nicely. Nighy seems to be having a whale of a time in a part which suits him to a tee, playing to his arch qualities whilst allowing him to subvert his genial image.

The film is populated by diverse and strong characters, from Rachael Stirling’s tough lesbian Ministry exec to Jeremy Irons’ toothsome civil servant. Despite the star power on display, the piece is ensemble-driven, presenting the cast and crew as a microcosm of society. In one sense they exist in a bubble. In another bombs fall several feet away and walls shake as Claflin and Arterton hammer away at their scripts. The movie is also a pleasure to watch and contains numerous warm, funny moments.

The closing scenes, while bleak, are also tinged with hope. Their Finest laughs at the absurdity of the propaganda machine, yet reminds us it was as much a part of the war as the rifles and bullets. Scherfig has brought audiences that rare thing – a story that tugs at the heart with intelligence and which possesses a genuine understanding of what was going on with people at the time.

 

This review first appeared on THN.

The Commitments At 25: Robert Arkins, Ken McCluskey & Dave Finnegan Interview (The Hollywood News)

tc1Extraordinary as it may seem The Commitments has reached its quarter century. This unlikely smash hit followed the fortunes of a group of young Dubliners scaling the cliff-face of soul to find fame and fortune. Their journey captured the imaginations of audiences around the world and made stars of its then-unknown cast.

The movie is a bittersweet story but one which had a happy ending for the actors, many of whom were given a unique opportunity by veteran director Alan Parker, bringing writer Roddy Doyle‘s novel to the screen.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Robert Arkins (band manager Jimmy Rabbitte), Dave Finnegan (mad drummer Mickah Wallace, who joined the interview part-way though) and Kenneth McCluskey (bass guitarist and butcher) for a trip down their respective musical memory lanes.

Robert Arkins

Robert Arkins

THN: Does it feel like twenty-five years?

Robert Arkins: We can’t forget! We’re reminded of it every day! (Laughs) You can’t avoid it, you can’t hide…well you can try! It would maybe seem like more to some people…

Ken McCluskey: It’s amazing isn’t it? Twenty-five years ago we were all young chaps and here we are now. The film is legendary, we’ve travelled the world. I don’t think there’s anywhere the movie hasn’t been.

THN: I presume you’re all good friends so it feels natural for you to get together…?

RA: Yeah exactly. It becomes a part of life, we have a bit of fun, but the film as films go is fantastic. It’s spread the word of the music to a lot of people and made a lot of people very happy so that’s the main thing.

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

Kenneth McCluskey, Félim Gormley & Dave Finnegan

THN: A big part of why the film succeeds is the way it combines a cast who were unknown back then with a seasoned director, Alan Parker. What was it like working with him?

RA: For me, the fact that he chose us individually and made up his mind gave me confidence to go in and do something I’d never done before. He was looking for a bit of this and a bit of that. A bit of light and shade. That was pretty much what he’d say most of the time for me! I don’t know, how do you feel about it Dave?

Dave Finnegan (having just entered the room): Feel about what?

THN: Is that Dave? Did you hear the question?

DF: No. (Laughs)

THN: I was just asking about the filming and how it all went…

DF: The movie was like an open thing. Usually with films actors have agents and it goes through that process. They advertised these auditions in shops and pubs so everybody went for it. I was spotted playing in a band, I didn’t even see the posters to be honest with you. The casting directors came and looked at us and said: ‘This section can go for this character, and that section can go for that character…’ Eventually when I met Alan Parker and auditioned he tried to get that aggressive character out of me, and he succeeded. He knew just by looking at people what he could get out of us, you know? And unfortunately I got the wild guy! (Laughs)

THN: Do you have an abiding memory of the shoot?

RA: There’s a scene where Joey “The Lips” (Johnny Murphy) is driving down the lane on his motorbike. I’m down the lane standing behind the camera with Alan and the crew and Johnny, who’s not very good at driving the motorbike, it was probably his first time… basically he comes down the lane, goes to try and park, smashes into the wall and falls over. We all cracked up and it ended up staying in the film!

tcTHN: A key element was creating a convincing band. How did that come together in terms of rehearsals and shooting the gigs?

RA: Well the film was shot in sequence. But we did two weeks of rehearsal where we ran through all the gig scenes and all the scenes where everybody was together as a unit, the backstage thing so we could get the synchronization working.

KM: Yeah, we got our characters to develop. Alan Parker actually started changing the book. Some of my lines were switched with Outspan (Glen Hansard) so he could develop it properly. When we were filming he’d say ‘I want you to say this instead of this.’ That’s the way he worked. He knew what he was doing, he had it all in his head. He was a genius, having all these characters in his head and knowing what he was going to do.

THN: Was Roddy Doyle involved much in the filming?

RA: No, I met him on set and had a chat. He just wanted to come down, he was curious. You know how it is, writers hand over the baby, depending on the deal. They don’t really have much of a look in after that.

KM: He wanted to come down to see what had happened to the characters. He seemed happy.

Ken McCluskey

Ken McCluskey

THN: The Commitments provides a nice antidote to the Simon Cowell method of nurturing talent. Do you think it’s a good film for aspiring musicians to watch?

RA: (Laughs) There is a good lesson to be learned for young people. If you’re going to get into it, get in for the joy and pleasure of playing the music and the craft. Then at the end of it the band breaks up, so the reality of it is not everyone becomes famous. It’s about luck. There’s a lot of people out there who are very untalented and become very successful. And then there’s the opposite, people who are extremely talented who don’t get lucky at all.

DF: That’s very true. The Commitments wasn’t a band as such, we all came from different kinds of bands. We were jamming in our bedrooms and playing in pubs. Nowadays it’s different.

This review appeared on THN.

Dad’s Army DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

DAThere were doubts over whether the original Dad’s Army would succeed. Its subject matter of World War II and the ageing Home Guard hardly filled BBC top brass with confidence, but it went on to become arguably its greatest sitcom hit. Fast forward forty-odd years to the new movie version – naysayers said it could never work, that director Oliver Parker couldn’t possibly recapture those nostalgic past glories. This time round they were right!

Opening with a standard spy movie chase that culminates in suitably daft fashion, we’re soon transported to the action-averse setting of Walmington-On-Sea, watched over with a rod of aluminium by the stubborn Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and his largely pensionable team. It isn’t long of course before they find themselves doing more than herding cattle, as the Germans infiltrate the community to retrieve information and the menfolk fall under the spell of a glamorous journalist (a well-cast Catherine Zeta Jones).

In fairness, Parker and writer Hamish McColl had an insurmountable task. As well as being a household favourite, the TV show was a period piece… the period being the 1970s, where its gentle humour felt fresher. It’s all a bit low wattage by today’s standards, and the show’s sweetness and pratfalls are replaced by lavatorial gags and laboured slapstick. Here Private Godfrey doesn’t just need to be excused, he ends up unburdening himself over Corporal Jones!

Probably sensing the national outcry over a cast facelift, Parker has gone above and beyond, hiring some unusually big names to fill the boots of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and co. This yields mixed results. Jones and Michael Gambon (Godfrey) are by far the best replacements but the other main performers struggle. Bill Nighy hams it up to the nines as Sergeant Wilson, in a turn that frequently puts him on a different planet. Crucially he lacks chemistry with Jones. The line up generally fails to gel, which is another great shame. Tom Courtenay takes on the fondly-remembered, dogmatic Jones, but lacks Clive Dunn‘s light touch, coming off as plain irritating.

McColl scores higher with the female contingent, promoting Mrs Mainwaring from an offscreen presence to a formidable front-of-camera battleaxe (Felicity Montagu). She’s a much better commander than her husband, shepherding the solid support of Sarah Lancashire, Alison Steadman, Emily Atack and in particular Derek‘s Holli Dempsey, who plays Frank (Blake Harrison)’s sweetheart, definitely one to watch. They display the British pluck that underpinned the series and while there’s an end battle that brings the men to the fore, writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft would have done it better and quieter. They also inserted intriguing nuggets of period detail into their scripts, something that’s glossed over somewhat in this incarnation.

It’s amusing enough, and the players provide guaranteed entertainment value (if only out of curiosity to see how they’ll measure up). As the sum of its parts however Dad’s Army is a misfire. We’re watching an elaborate recreation rather than a movie in its own right, and the producers should really have ditched the tributing and made something that marched more to its own beat.

This review first appeared on THN.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

SH HOB

One of the best things about having a modern day Sherlock is it introduces people to previous incarnations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s definitive detective. So with a new remastering of The Hound Of The Baskervilles arriving to own, why not give Benedict Cumberbatch the slip for eighty minutes and spend some time in the company of dapper deerstalker-wearer Basil Rathbone?

Accompanied by Nigel Bruce‘s Doctor Watson he set the template for the twentieth century take on Baker Street’s most famous resident, popularizing the character as a master of mystery, his faithful yet bumbling companion tagging along in his wake. Baskervilles remains arguably the best-known Holmes story – somewhat curiously as it’s an atypical adventure in many ways, having more in common with a ghost story than a tale of fiendish deduction. Nevertheless, 20th Century Fox chose this as Rathbone’s debut, a decision that nudged the actor’s career into movie legend. Three quarters of a century on however, does the opening instalment endure…?

It does, and for one very important reason, which like a pontificating Holmes I’ll save for later. First off, the yarn itself, which the Cumberbatch series made a rather convoluted stab at adapting a few years ago. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found face down at his Dartmoor pile, the death resurrects rumours of a monstrous canine who roamed the countryside, supposedly wiping out generations of the family. Holmes and Watson are paid a visit by medical man Mortimer (an entertainingly arch performance by Lionel Atwill, one of many), who fears for Sir Charles’ heir Sir Henry (the baby-faced and top-billed Richard Greene). Watson travels with Sir Henry to the Gothic gloom of Baskerville Hall to investigate, his pipe-puffing friend seemingly taking a back seat. Or does he? Cue an array of forebodingly-lit faces, varying accents and enough fog to choke the Albert Hall.

The production fills the soundstage with untamed moorland, which looks marvellous even by today’s standards. Hilariously the opening proclaims there is “no district more dismal than that vast expanse of primitive wasteland”, perhaps the biggest geographical insult in filmic history, only added to by the natives opting for Scottish accents. Some handsome street sets and model work complete the visual splendour. The supernatural elements of the story are accentuated here, with a scene involving a seance and references to the ancient presence of druidic stones.

By far the most successful part of the action is that which other adaptations have struggled with: the title creature itself. Saddling themselves with what is essentially a larger than average dog, previous movies have failed to create a memorable monster. Helmer Sidney Lanfield selects an animal that’s convincingly fearsome without being silly, the climactic skirmish between the hound and Sir Henry being particularly well-staged.

I’m maybe going to annoy some purists by saying I’m not the greatest fan of Rathone. To me he comes across like a gameshow host more than a Master Detective, though the famous disguise sequence is a treat. Bruce forms a pleasing contrast to later, hard-eged interpretations of Watson from actors such as Ian Hart and Martin Freeman.

Extras-wise, StudioCanal have laid on a lavish spread of talking head for aficionados. Author Michael B Druxman delivers a potted history of Rathbone’s colourful career and no less an authority than Sir Christopher Frayling gives us his thoughts on Holmes in a meaty forty-five minute dissection.

The conclusion is brisk and possesses a stiffer upper lip than a deceased Baskerville, though a pointed drugs reference at the end may well surprise. This rollicking re-release shows there’s life in the old dog yet.

This review first appeared on THN.

Dem Bones In Da Movies

JA 2We’ve all got them. We just don’t like to think about them. Nevertheless bones are everywhere in the movies. Most commonly they’re used in horror flicks to get a quick and easy shock reaction. Nothing reinforces the grim reality of death better than a skull, or spectral finger pointed in the audience’s direction.

Dig a little deeper however and you’ll find bones have been employed creatively throughout cinema history. Whether entertaining children or even hinting at the nature of the universe, there’s a lot more to the matter than meets the eye… well, ocular socket anyway.

So make sure you’ve drunk your milk because I’m taking you on a rattling good tour of the various ways in which moviemakers have made us aware of what lies just under the skin…

INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

IJ CS​​Harrison Ford may find his next foray with a fedora and bullwhip rather poignant, as the pensionable adventurer excavates yet more danger and derring do for Indiana Jones 5. Spooling back to 2008 though, his last outing featured the remains of an ancient civilization, but one of the like he’d never seen before.

Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull brought Indy face to face with a bonce of unimaginable power, in a belated tale of father-son bonding, flesh-eating ants, Cate Blanchett going the full smoked ham and the important advice that you can avoid a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge.

The big finale, set in an Amazon temple, saw the crystal artefact’s true purpose revealed – in a first for the series Dr Jones got introduced to aliens, and director Steven Spielberg wasn’t in the mood to make them cuddly. The producers put all their eggs in one basket for a climax that had something for everyone… and at its centre was that eerie, all-knowing skull.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE RED SKULL ​                                                            RS

The star-spangled shield slinger is really up against it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at present. Having battled Ultron, he’s locking horns with former friend Iron Man for his third movie, Civil War. But there’s only one true nemesis for Captain America – old war foe The Red Skull.

His terrifying appearance was due to an attempt to become a supersoldier like Chris Evans’ title hero, an experiment which went ever so slightly wrong. Cap then took on Skull over possession of the fearsome Tesseract, a relic capable of giving its user unlimited energy.

This bald bad ass has the full complement of evil credentials. He’s a Nazi. He has an insatiable thirst for power. And above all he’s only got half a face. Woe bedtide the underling who suggests he needs a nose job.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK: TOOTH FAIRIES

DBAOTD

Mad Mexican helmer Gullermo del Toro has a tendency to take established ideas and give them his own warped spin, to great critical and commercial effect. An obscure TV movie about goblins became a passion project for him forty-odd years after it first aired – 2010’s Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.

Handsome yet haunted couple Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes moved into a perilous pile of prime real estate that unbeknownst to them had a history of carnage, care of some child-seeking tiny creatures. The dark dynamo reworked these as tooth fairies, though left the directing honours to comic book guy Troy Nixey.

Why tooth fairies? Because they liked to feast on your pearly whites of course! The monsters enjoyed getting their teeth into your teeth, a concept del Toro had previously explored in Hellboy sequel The Golden Army.

ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING: APATOSAURUS SKELETON

OOODIM

​While you’re marvelling at the rampaging skinless T-Rex at the centre of the Night At The Museum franchise, spare a thought for the movie that came first in that predatory respect –  1975’s One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing.

The Disney classic featured the Natural History Museum as the venue for slapstick-fuelled mayhem. The multi-boned Apatosaurus exhibit was chosen as an unlikely place to hide a microfilm by crusading Brit Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo). From there ensued a battle of wits between the Chinese government and, erm, some nannies.

The film is well-remembered for the spectacle of the former flesh eater being driven around London on the back of a steam lorry. The presence of Peter Ustinov as ethnically questionable character Hnup Wan – alongside Carry On stars Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw – also raised eyebrows.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: JACK SKELLINGTON

JS

One of the most famous onscreen skeletons of all wasn’t made of calcium but modelling clay. Tim Burton proved the perfect candidate to create a heartwarming family tale based on his dark verse, which made Jack Skellington the all-singing, all-dancing focus. Henry Selick sat in the director’s chair, moulding the movie’s plasticine legs.

The story is as well-known as a Grimm’s fairy tale, but in case you’re out of the loop, here it is. Skellington was the toast of Halloween Town, until he stumbled upon Christmas Town, and his whole attitude to life changed as he attempted to bring the two sides of the coin together for a bizarre and brutal festive experience.

Jack had quite a pedigree behind the scenes – his elegant vocals came courtesy of regular Burton composer Danny Elfman, but his lines were delivered by Chris Sarandon, better known as vampire hunk Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night.

JURASSIC PARK: RAPTOR CLAW

JP

​Sometimes the smallest things can be the most powerful, an idea ably demonstrated by Steven Spielberg in 1993 game changer Jurassic Park. It wasn’t all giant scaly horrors running around the place gobbling up lawyers and giving Newman from Seinfeld a venom facial.

Before we even saw a “living” dinosaur we were introduced to rebel paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who gave a mouthy young scamp an education on velociraptor hunting habits at a dig site. His illustrative tool? A rather nasty-looking claw. As the accompanying picture shows it wasn’t long before the kid was seeing those so-called relics in a whole new light.

It was in many ways a quiet scene, but one underscored by a playful bite. Neill’s laid back tones, contrasting with the vivid subject matter being described, set the scene for the theme park-based action horror fest to come. The actor returned for Jurassic Park III. Sadly the claw didn’t.

THE SKULL

PC TS

Though Hammer Studios made a lasting mark on the British horror film it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Amicus Productions, who specialized in gore-filled compendiums. These typically depicted several grisly chapters under the umbrella of one movie. In the mid-Sixties they had a go at beating Hammer at their own game in our next bony slice of terror, The Skull.

Based around the idea of the late Marquis de Sade’s noggin being detached, enabling the decapitator to use its evil powers, the story (by Psycho’s Robert Bloch) starred Peter Cushing as a supernatural anorak who came into possession of the title object, complete with terrifying telepathic abilities. This inanimate neck topper left a trail of death and destruction in its cranial wake.

The Skull has unfortunately not survived well against the likes of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness and The Devil Rides Out, but it carried a welter of talent both in front of and behind the camera: Christopher Lee and Michael Gough shared the screen with Cushing and Freddie Francis lined the lurid lenses.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: BONE THROW

2001

​The most important bone on this list (stop sniggering) is also the most important in human history, according to Stanley Kubrick’s epic 1968 collaboration with Arthur C Clarke. Trying to get the story of 2001 down in one paragraph would be stupider than a neanderthal eating his own dung, but here are the basics.

Back at the dawn of intelligent life on Earth a monolith appeared, heralding a strange, ominous, mysterious and beautiful introduction into the world of an interplanetary power. Got that? Good. In a lengthy opening sequence we hung out with primitive humanity as they eked out their existence on the barren landscape.

One particular primate discovered the power of a bone as the way forward for his species – an emblem of Mankind’s capacity to create and destroy. He promptly chucked it into the air, where Kubrick cleverly cut from its spinning trajectory to that of a ship hanging in space. The scene straddled our primal past and hi tech future in one striking gesture.​

PREDATOR 2: XENOMORPH TROPHY

P2 AS

This nod to the Dark Horse comic looked like a throwaway thing, but turned out to be the biggest blink and you’ll miss it moment of recent times. ​It was just a fleeting appearance, but the in joke of a xenomorph skull on a spaceship in the latter’s Arnie-free sequel created a momentum that led to a whole other horror franchise.​

Danny Glover felt too old for the shit of Lethal Weapon, but was the right age it seemed for this crock of urban action, which relocated the title monster from the great outdoors to the City of Angels. The climactic scenes saw Glover access the Predator’s crib where he stumbled on its macabre trophy collection.

Over a decade later the potential was capitalized on with Alien vs Predator. It didn’t receive a red hot reception, but gave rise to a bizarre follow up, in addition to the dreadlocked death dealer taking centre stage again for Predators.

JASON & THE ARGONAUTS: UNDEAD ARMY

JA

Animator Ray Harryhausen was one of the driving forces behind stop motion production. If he hadn’t sat there patiently manipulating and snapping all those fantasy creations we wouldn’t have had the spectacles of the Sinbad movies or Clash Of The Titans. From Minotaur to Medusa, he gave generations of kids nightmares.

Jason & The Argonauts, my final entry, was one of his crowning achievements. The bronzed and bearded Todd Armstrong went on a quest across the exotic and creature-strewn Colchis, in search of the fabled Golden Fleece. He encountered various fully-poseable beasties, but Harryhausen saved the best and indeed boniest for last.

The final section of the film showcased a massive swordfight between Jason’s men and a team of skeletal warriors brought up from the earth by the evil Aeëtes​. He even used the teeth of the fearsome Hydra as seeds from which to grow the menace. This sequence is so perfectly executed, blending actors and effects, that it still looks as impressive now as it did back in 1963.

Capturing The Krays: A Legend Feature (The Hollywood News)

TK 2It’s been a quarter of a century since a film was made about the Kray twins, and now two have come along at once! The main event of course is Legend, showcasing Tom Hardy in a dual role that has earned rave reviews from critics. The gangster pair were admired and abhorred in equal measure. They represented a strand of culture that mixed community values with intimidation and violence.

Some are looking forward to further exposure for Ronnie and Reggie. Others object to the perceived glamourizing of men who were hunted by the police and responsible for bloody carnage across London. Whatever your view, you have to agree they had a permanent effect on the fabric of Britain and this has been reflected onscreen in some surprising ways.

Don your best suit, pack your shooter and prepare for a rain-soaked car journey into the neon heart of the capital for some peeper-peeling glimpses of a team who epitomized fear in the Sixties…

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS (1970)

MPFCThe first high profile take on the legacy was a sketch in the BBC’s surreal talent launchpad. Oxford men Terry Jones and Michael Palin played Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, vicious relations whose life story bore a passing but bizarre similarity to the Krays’ saga.

Of course their blowing up of Luton airport and Dinsdale hallucinating a massive hedgehog called Spiny Norman strayed a bit far from the source material. But certain characters were clearly inspired by reality, such as Harry “Snapper” Organs, derived from the dogged figure of copper Leonard “Nipper” Read.

The documentary-style presentation further enhanced a sense of sheer lunacy. Though as this list will go on to demonstrate, this wasn’t the last word in the way of far out tributes to the notorious brothers…

THE KRAYS (1990)

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Writer Philip Ridley and director Peter Medak created a memorable depiction of the two Rs at a time when they were in danger of dropping off the national radar. Made at the start of the Nineties and starring a pop star combo from the Eighties, it proved to be an unlikely but evocative production.

Gary and Martin Kemp played the Krays. They didn’t look alike and were best-known for belting out hits with Spandau Ballet. Yet Medak’s gamble paid off and the film launched their acting careers. They were backed by an eclectic cast that included Billie Whitelaw as their Mum Violet, Tom Bell as the unfortunate Jack “The Hat” McVitie and Steven Berkoff as rival George Cornell.

Ridley’s screenplay had an eerie dimension, opening via Violet’s description of a dream, and the stark violence left viewers under no illusion as to the nature of the twins’ hold on London.

WHITECHAPEL (2010)

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ITV’s historically-themed crime drama had an eye-opening trick up its sleeve when it returned for its second series. The first run was concerned with a resurrection of the murders of Jack The Ripper. Where for writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip to go next…?

How about a secret pair of Kray twins continuing where their father left off? Top marks for curveball-throwing! Five years before Tom Hardy‘s ambitious double-header, Craig Parkinson portrayed new characters Jimmy and Johnny.

It turned out to be a hoax, but this still managed to be a truly unusual attempt to mine the brothers’ story for the twenty-first century. As for this incarnation of the fearsome twosome, they wound up getting murdered in custody, so we’re unlikely to see a sequel!

THE RISE OF THE KRAYS (2015)

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Pipping Tom Hardy to the post is this straight-to-DVD thriller from director Zackary Adler. Kevin Leslie and Simon Cotton are Reggie and Ronnie. Former EastEnders star Nicola Stapleton plays Violet.

It’s the first time the pair have been front and centre in a movie since The Krays (though Neil Scholtz and Gareth Simons played them in Malcolm Needs‘ 2004 drama Charlie). A dubious honour, as it’s been criticized for a lack of budget and various period continuity errors.

Still, with the buzz around its megabucks successor, I’m sure releasing it to supermarket shelves everywhere was a canny move on the part of the producers, even if I expect to see it for £3 in the bargain bin within weeks!

LEGEND (2015)

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The genuine article is seen as this bad boy (or boys), that resurrects the brothers via Universal Pictures. Appropriate perhaps, seeing as how the real life twins mixed with movie stars. In addition to Tom Hardy undertaking the mammoth task of conjuring both men, there’s a raft of famous faces and up and comers backing him up.

Emily Browning is Frances Shea, the tragic figure who married Reggie, who forms the film’s focus. Christopher Eccleston is police bloodhound “Nipper” Read, forever on the Krays’ tail. Taron Egerton may be flying into cinemas soon as maniac skier Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, but here he’s Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith, with whom it’s said Ronnie was intimately involved. Chazz Palminteri hasn’t been seen on the silver screen for ages and I’m glad to say he appears as Philly mobster Angelo Bruno.

LA Confidential‘s Brian Helgeland writes and directs, based on the definitive tome The Profession Of Violence by John Pearson. Reaction to the release so far has been largely positive – we at THN loved it, whereas reviewers like Mark Kermode pointed out a lack of overall substance. The publicity team also made the headlines when, in a move their subject mights approve of, a two star rating from The Guardian got positioned between the two Hardy’s heads, cheekily suggesting a star either side!

Either way, Legend is seen as an important contribution to the cinematic world of the Krays. With a Brit lead who couldn’t be hotter if he wore nylon near a volcano, this may be the last word on a dark but compelling time in Britain’s capital city during one of its definitive decades.

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.