Judi Dench reunites with Iris director Richard Eyre to give one of the most intense performances of her career in this gritty, observational drama based on Zoë Heller’s bestselling novel. The Oscar-nominated Dench injects malignant spite into the role of Barbara Covett, a lonely London teacher who develops a dark obsession with her spirited new colleague Sheba (fellow nominee Cate Blanchett). After catching Sheba in a compromising position with an underage student, Barbara’s fixation reaches skin-crawling levels. Dench and Blanchett really sink their teeth into their meaty characters, clearly relishing Closer writer Patrick Marber’s deliciously acerbic script. Yet what makes Dench’s performance the stronger of the pair is her skilful manipulation of the audience’s emotions – eliciting initial sympathy, despite Barbara’s sharp tongue, so that her subsequent behaviour hits even harder. The film’s melodramatic climax packs less of a punch, but this is still deeply satisfying adult viewing, complemented by a mood-enhancing Philip Glass score.
Films about Asian integration in Britain have tended to be both serious (My Son the Fanatic) and marginalised (My Beautiful Laundrette), but this 1970s-set culture-clash comedy breaks the mould. It’s thoroughly accessible and doesn’t take itself too seriously as it follows the travails of a Pakistani dad (Om Puri), now married to an Englishwoman, who is desperate that his sons (among them, Jimi Mistry) buckle under and accept arranged marriages. The boys, heady with teenage freedom and feeling “British” as opposed to “Asian”, are resistant, and family wrangling ensues. Funny, charming and refreshing, this is a great little film.
After a string of routine action thrillers, Steven Seagal hit the jackpot with this slick nautical spin on the Die Hard concept. Portraying possibly the unlikeliest cook in the history of cinema, Seagal is the US Navy’s only hope when a crack squad of terrorists, led by Tommy Lee Jones, hijacks his ship. Seagal may lack natural charisma, but a flamboyant performance from Jones, plus some sterling work from fellow baddies Gary Busey and Colm Meaney, more than compensate for his deficiencies. Former Baywatch babe Erika Eleniak has little to do but pop out of a cake and scream a lot, but provides the requisite slice of glamour. Like Seagal, director Andrew Davis earned his spurs with mainly straight-to-video fodder, but here he never misses a beat and stages some awesome set pieces.