Shadowlands: a retrospective review

September 14, 2018

Some years ago I wrote a review of one of my favourite films: ‘SHADOWLANDS’ Richard Attenborough (1993). 

 

For me, this film exemplifies the craft of film making, as it does the craft of acting: Anthony Hopkins was at the peak of his powers (except that he just keeps getting better), and Richard Attenborough's nuanced and patient direction made the most of William Nicholson's wonderful screenplay (adapted from his stage play).

 

So here is my (somewhat inadequate) review: 


The Golden Age of British cinema is over. It’s true.

 

If you can keep your eyes open for 126 minutes you’ll see that I’m right. Lord Attenborough, you see, must have known it when he cast Anthony Hopkins, (before he was consumed by cannibalism), alongside Debra Winger. She must have known it too. Like her character Joy Gresham - a sassy, bright, American divorcee – Winger seems more than at home in heady company.

 

Hopkins plays novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, philosopher, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, C.S. Lewis - a brilliant Oxford Don so entrenched in the dreaming spires it takes the wondrous Gresham’s love and death to give him life.

 

The economy and wisdom of William Nicholson’s script never lets the towering performances overshadow it; the performances are never self indulgent enough to let the words seem loud. Indeed, if we can hear anything, it’s the beating of our own hearts. The tiny brush strokes are as poignant (and significant) as the large. Can this be cinema? Clearly not: cinema is a shoot-em-up, take-em-down medium; it’s middlebrow, made for us dunces by Clever People: the Loveys stoop for Plonkers. 

 

If there is a complaint (and there isn’t), it’s that there doesn’t seem a need for Gresham to gatecrash Lewis’ ivory tower; he leads a simple life untrammelled by the slings and arrows that beset the likes of you and me.

 

But Lewis loves one thing more than anything: the truth. Attenborough and Nicholson knew that (and Hopkins, it seems, has always known that), and the majesty of this masterpiece is that truth is mortal, and truth is sweat; truth is, indeed, a woman. And should we dare to truly love, perhaps we’ll feel the heat of it - all that reality. 

 

At least we would, if the Golden Age of British cinema wasn’t over, and this film had been released in 1952 when it was set, not 1993, like it says on the box.

 

Phew. . .relief.

 

If this had been a modern film we’d be forced to think that we Brits did this kind of thing better than anyone.

 

And we can’t have that.            

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