Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr Viber
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe to Empire!
Save up to 63%
Want To Be An Empire Journalist?
We're looking for reporters for the BFI London Film Festival
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Toronto 2013: Starred Up, Belle, The Invisible Woman, Dom Hemingway, The Double

Posted on Friday September 13, 2013, 17:14 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Toronto 2013: Starred Up, Belle, The Invisible Woman, Dom Hemingway, The Double

It was an incredibly strong TIFF for British films this year, my personal favourite being David Mackenzie's Starred Up (pictured), a harsh prison drama in the vein of Scum. I've followed Mackenzie's career for a while now and considered him to be a director who maybe hasn't quite reached his full potential yet. But even with that in mind, I could never have imagined him making anything quite as full-on and potent as this, a very singular and sustained piece of work that may not hit big with a mainstream audience but will certainly raise both the director's profile and that of his charismatic young star, Jack O'Connell, formerly from the parish of Skins.

It begins with new inmate Eric (O'Connell) being transferred from a young offenders' institution to adult prison. As per the title, Eric is “starred up”, which means his file is marked on account of his violent behaviour, and he arrives as he means to go on: self-contained and unafraid, lashing out at men twice his size. Inside, Eric is the new boy, at the mercy of the sordid prison underworld, but he refuses to be cowed. Someone who takes an interest in Eric is hardened con Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), a key player in the upper echelons of criminal society. We soon find out why: Neville is Eric's father, a man every bit as violent and explosive as his son.

Starred Up gripped me from start to finish, and I had to wonder how much of the dialogue the Toronto audience was catching, since it features such charming mumbled bon mots as, “Don't fackin' mug me off, you cant.” But the film's power is that, much like 12 Years A Slave, it is an incredibly immersive experience – perhaps a little far-fetched by the end – that builds incrementally around its two very capable leading men. At this point it's worth singling out supporting player Rupert Friend for his role as an unpaid social worker who tries to reach out to Eric; it's a tough part to play, but Friend gives it some grounding, and there is never a sense of Good Samaritan cliché.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have Amma Asante's Belle, a lovely, female-centric romance that completely reinvents the period movie in a way that will resound for quite some time. It tells the story of Elizabeth Dido Belle, an illegitimate child fathered by English nobleman John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) with an African slave. Facing up to his parental duties, Lindsay adopts the girl and takes her home, where he places her in the care of his uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), who is the Lord Chief Justice of England – the highest judge in the land. There, Dido grows up in luxury, unaware of the outside world until a conversation with Lord Mansfield's new student alerts her to the existence of slavery, notably a court case involving the mass killing of slaves aboard a trading ship.

Though it has serious intent, Assante's film is nevertheless light where it needs to be, with a sparkling cast of women who get to run free with the film's best and wittiest dialogue. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the very versatile Dido, pretty and coquettish when she needs to be but slowly developing a will of steel. But Asante's masterstroke is not to make her colour the only issue; instead, like all the other characters in this world of status and dowries, Dido is trying not to go under, and in the social stakes she is surprisingly high in the pecking order. That we never feel sorry for her is the film's key achievement, and not only has Assante made a Jane Austen drama for all the audiences that ever felt excluded from this corseted world of white privilege, she has done so in a way that few will really notice. What matters is whether Dido will get what she wants – an identity that integrates her background and breeding – and we root for her every single step of the way.

Being another period movie, handled by the eminently capable Ralph Fiennes, The Invisible Woman seemed a certain hit, but I came away somewhat underwhelmed. Written by Abi Morgan, it tells the story of Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones), a teenage actress who catches the eye of celebrated novelist Charles Dickens when she agrees to take part in one of his plays. Nelly is not a good actress, but Dickens continues to fête her, finally revealing his true feelings for her after dispensing with his plain, frumpy wife. All this takes quite a while to emerge, and though the film really should be about Nelly, who is treated rather shabbily by Dickens, Fiennes can't help but be sidetracked by his own performance, giving the author a smile and a twinkle that ensures we never come down too heavily on him. But by the end I wan't too involved in either of them; as a piece of history, it is informative and beautifully recreated, but as drama it really doesn't tell us very much at all.

Dom Hemingway came away from TIFF with mixed reviews, but I liked it. No doubt it will sail into choppy waters when it is released here, mostly for raising the dread spectre of the gorblimey British gangster film, but there's plenty for the open-minded to enjoy. Jude Law stars as the title character, a corpulent con we see getting a blowjob in prison prior to being released after 12 years in chokey. Once outside, Dom hooks up with his seedy old partner in crime Dickie Green (Richard E Grant), and the pair make plans to visit the south of France, where they will pay a visit to Mr Big (Demian Bichir), who intends to reward Dom for his 12 years of silence. Needless to say, there is an upset, leaving Dom broke and angry, but though the film then becomes a mission-movie (in the sense that Dom wants to get what's his), Richard (The Matador) Shepard's latest feature is really a picaresque black comedy that rolls even as it punches.

Debit-wise, the film gets into Lock, Stock territory towards the end, with an iffy subplot involving a safecracking challenge, and it's a shame that Grant's hilarious supporting turn never really develops much beyond sidekick. But Law is surprisingly forceful as the bullish, sarcastic Dom, a kind of Borstal-born street artist, the ne'er-do-well underdog that howls at the moon. Even if you find his journey less than captivating, it's hard not to be impressed by the strength of Law's conviction.

By the same standards, The Double just about passed muster for me, pairing the surreal and the absurd (the two are NOT the same thing) in a twisted fable that, at its best, recalls the painterly nightmares of René Magritte and, at its weakest, the daft dystopias of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. At its core we find a pair of fine, nervy performances from Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a lowly, introverted bureaucrat whose life is changed with the sudden appearance of his lookalike, the outgoing but calculating James Simon. James enters Simon's life and immediately starts to steal it piece by piece, taking both his job and the woman he worships from afar (Mia Wasikowska).

It takes a while to build a head of steam, but when the two Eisenbergs are on screen together Richard Ayoade's second feature really does capture a gut-wrenching feeling of existential dread. That he has laced the film with most of the key players from his debut, Submarine, somewhat distracts from this, and it might sound strange to say so but the film works best when it is not gunning for laughs. It reminded me a little of Crispin Glover's Bartleby, and it has that film's equally eccentric, skewed sense of universe, a dream about madness in which, ironically, the only thing that isn't mad is the madman dreaming it. The technical elements are excellent in this respect, painting an otherly world that suits such nonsense, but I didn't feel grabbed by it. Still, it's a bold move for Ayoade, and suggests that he may yet find a bright future in serious drama.

Login or register to comment.


1 Garth_Marenghi
Posted on Sunday September 15, 2013, 14:59
If being on a par with Terry Gilliam's 'daft' Brazil is the only criticism avowed Gilliam-disliker Damo can muster, The Double must be amazing.

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (444)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


A chat with Jury chair Lee Daniels & the results of the 11th Dubai Film Festival
By Nev Pierce

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
By Nev Pierce

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams


Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
" Latest Music And Movies"  ajay94
Read comment

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
"It's not that long an article, Nev Pierce. It's just our attention spans have got shorter! Really re"  Cookiedough
Read comment

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment


Sundance Part Six: In The Loop

Basterds Blog

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

The Wrestler

Where to see Moon...

Damon Wise (299)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (87)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

Jessica Chastain On The Martian
On becoming an astronaut and rescuing Matt Damon AGAIN

My Movie Life: Justin Kurzel
The Macbeth director on how Rocky changed his life and the worst ever date movie

Life On Mars: Trips To The Red Planet
A dozen of cinema's Martian misadventures

Hallowed Ground: Folk Horror In British Film
Ten tales from our island's dark past

All Hail Macbeth! The Scottish Play On Film
By the pricking of our thumbs, ten adaptations this way come(s)

Licence Denied: The Bond Themes You Didn't Get To Hear
A dozen of 007's greatest misses

10 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Toys You’ll Want To Own
Falcon quad copter? BB-8 Sphero? We’re already asking for pay raises…

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Empire print magazine

Delivered to your door – with exclusive subscriber only covers each month! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Empire digital magazine

Exclusive and enhanced content – get instant access via your iPad or Android device! Save money today and

Subscribe now!

Subscribe now and save up to 63%
Print, Digital & Package options available Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire Digital Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  Digital Edition  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)