Cinemas usually experience the celluloid equivalent of haemophilia at this time of year, either due to ritualistic hibernation, post-festive lethargy and/or the sedentary hangover of a Yuletide addiction to television.
To draw patrons away from the sofas to which they seem to become almost surgically attached over the 12 days of Christmas – if not the whole 31 of December – something special is usually called for.
This year it was Little Women, the eighth adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved tale of four sisters coming of age in New England in the aftermath of America’s Civil War. Saoirse Ronan has been widely praised for her performance. The stellar cast also includes Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. The film re-unites Ronan with her Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig who’s all over the production. She directs, produces and also wrote the screenplay.
Another period drama, The Personal History of David Copperfield, has drawn more mixed reviews. Dev Patel plays Charles Dickens’ rags-to-riches hero. Armando Iannucci is as involved here as Gerwig is in the other film, managing to direct, produce and co-write it. Also in the cast are Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw and Peter Capaldi.
Bombshell is a film that’s timely for the post-Harvey Weinstein era, starring three of Hollywood’s most famous actresses – Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie – as employees of Fox News who take on network head Roger Ailes for sexual harassment.
Along similar lines from a previous era is Seberg, a biopic of the troubled actress Jean Seberg. She was basically hunted to her death by J. Edgar Hoover after rumours circulated that she’d had a child by a Black Panther.
Her career began auspiciously after she was chosen from hundreds of other hopefuls to play Joan of Arc in Otto Preminger’s movie Saint Joan but her elation was short lived. Preminger bullied her ferociously and the film was lionised by the media. “I was burned twice,” Seberg lamented, “first at the stake and then by the critics.”
Her career descended into a plethora of misfires as the witch-hunt against her continued. She took to drink and drugs and eventually committed suicide. By the time she died she was a tragic figure whose premature demise was almost inevitable. Kristen Stewart plays her here, the film concentrating on her problems with the FBI.
Waves investigates the life of an African-American family led by a kind but domineering father. On a more whimsical note, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy about a boy who discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. What to do? That’s easy: ask his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler for advice.
Finally, A Hidden Life concerns the Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jagerstetter (August Diehl) who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II. He was executed for treason but later declared a martyr and beatified. Terrence Malick directs this poignant tale of heroism and love.