This slight but effective romantic drama packs an unexpected punch, thanks to Vanessa Redgrave’s nuanced performance. She plays Englishwoman Claire, who’s on the trail of a long-lost lover called Lorenzo in Verona, home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She has returned to the city with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) after a letter she wrote 50 years ago and posted into a crack in the wall beneath Verona’s famous balcony is found by aspiring novelist Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Sophie is visiting the city with her preoccupied fiancé (Gael García Bernal), and hopes the discovery of the letter will provide a breakthrough for her writing. When Sophie is united with Claire, the two women scour the Tuscan countryside in an attempt to find Lorenzo, encountering all manner of false leads along the way. Nicely weighted performances and the beautiful Italian setting combine to make this an unassuming treat.
In this marvellously moving tale, Colin Firth is impressive as King George VI, the British monarch who suffered from a terrible nervous stammer. From the outset, when he freezes on national radio, the tension of striving to uphold his image is palpable. And it’s George’s wife Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother, played by a sprightly Helena Bonham Carter) who drives him on, unlike his distant father (Michael Gambon), who continually puts him down. Elizabeth engages the services of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who is a breath of fresh air in a world of stifling formality, although his intimate approach initially maddens George. Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) deftly captures a man in limbo amid the scandal of his brother Edward’s abdication of the throne and the run-up to the Second World War, while Firth manages to express George’s crippling fear without losing any dignity. Inevitably, his friendship with Lionel becomes pivotal, but what comes across just as powerfully is how lonely life can be at the top. This is the type of thing the British film industry does so well – a bit of history, a bit of social comedy, a few liberties with the truth and a flag-waving finale.
After such lacklustre outings as Johnny Mnemonic and The Devil’s Advocate, Keanu Reeves reclaimed his action-hero crown in this super-smart science-fiction adventure set across two dimensions. Thematically complex, yet intelligently integrating eastern philosophy, Lewis Carroll and ancient mysticism, the film has Reeves as Neo, a reclusive computer hacker who may be able to save the world from the evils of cyberspace slavery. Taking a quantum leap beyond anything the fantasy sensation seeker had seen before in the special-effects department, Andy and Larry Wachowski mix ultra-cool visuals, vertigo-inducing kung fu and a deliciously paranoid scenario for an adrenaline-pumping rollercoaster ride of extraordinary vision and astounding power. The result is a genre milestone that spawned two sequels and pushed the boundaries of imagination and digital-effects technology further than ever before.