This irreverent medieval caper sets out its stall right at the start, when Queen’s anthem-like We Will Rock You thuds on to the soundtrack at a joust. So far, so anachronistic. But the real twist is that the 14th-century spectators join in and clap in time. It’s that kind of film, full of such cheeky flourishes – jousting fans sing rock songs, emcees talk up contestants like it’s WWF wrestling, and dancers at a royal banquet groove to David Bowie’s Golden Years. Writer/director Brian Helgeland – whose directorial debut, Payback with Mel Gibson, was reportedly taken from him and re-shot – certainly enjoys himself here, and so does his cast. Heath Ledger plays the commoner who dreams of being a knight, and so impersonates one with the help of sidekicks Mark Addy (his best role since The Full Monty), Alan Tudyk and Paul Bettany (who casually steals the film with his portrayal of writer Geoffrey Chaucer). It’s tremendous, infectious fun, with a rocking soundtrack, and everyone concerned enters into the spirit of it (including Rufus Sewell as the evil Count Adhemar). If there’s a downside, it’s Helgeland’s occasionally inexperienced handling of the action scenes, and the fact that, frankly, if you’ve seen one jousting match, you’ve seen ’em all.
Rowan Atkinson returns as the spy oblivious to his own incompetence in this lively sequel, which sees him lured out of retirement by his former bosses at MI7 to hunt down an international group of assassins plotting to kill the Chinese premier. Armed with the most hi-tech gadgets the world of espionage has to offer, English sets off across the globe to bring the bad guys to book, unaware that the real threat may be closer to home. Atkinson is great value as the idiot sleuth, although some of director Oliver Parker’s stunts and set pieces would be more suited to the slapstick antics of Mr Bean. Straight-faced support from Gillian Anderson and Dominic West as fellow MI7 operatives adds to the fun, but it’s clearly Atkinson’s show from start to finish.
This is the film that launched the career of Kate Winslet, who within three years of appearing in this fact-based New Zealand drama was starring in Titanic. It also transformed the fortunes of director Peter Jackson, who went from making ingenious schlock horrors such as Bad Taste andBraindead to directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The real star of this masterly mix of nostalgia, innocence and menace, however, is Melanie Lynskey, who is mesmerising as the matricidal half of the teenage duo who scandalised a nation in the early 1950s. Although Winslet and Lynskey dominate the film, they are splendidly supported by Diana Kent and Clive Merrison as Winslet’s parents, and by Sarah Peirse as Lynskey’s ill-fated mother.
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