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2011: The British Are Climbing | reviews, news & interviews

2011: The British Are Climbing

2011: The British Are Climbing

Scaling heights of realism, Romanticism and misery

John Martin's 1812 painting 'Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion'Saint Louis Art Museum

My Top 10 movies of 2011, in order, are: Mysteries of LisbonMelancholiaMeek’s CutoffA Dangerous MethodAuroraHugoThe Princess of MontpensierCity of Life and DeathThe DescendantsMidnight in Paris.

While I couldn't sneak a British title onto that list, it seems to me that UK film is flourishing for the first time since the false dawn of the 1980s. It would be folly to suggest a renaissance is afoot, but it's clearly an exciting time. Lynne Ramsey, who should be making a movie annually, returned after a nine-year hiatus with the impressionistic We Need to Talk About Kevin, about a well-meaning middle-American mom (Tilda Swinton) of a high-school mass murderer. Joanne Hogg once again proved her mastery of middle-class miserabilism with Archipelago. 

Peter Hook proved during his performance of Joy Division’s Closer that he can’t sing

Tyrannosaur, written and directed by actor Paddy Considine, is a note-perfect “only connect” drama about the dawning friendship of a working-class hard man (Peter Mullan) and a middle-class charity shop worker (Olivia Colman) savagely abused by her husband (Eddie Marsan). Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine calmly and chillingly depicts the efforts of the social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) to expose the forced migrations of thousands of British children to the colonies. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has a Swedish director, Tomas Alfredson, a hyperreal style, and a frostily brilliant Gary Oldman. (Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights and Terence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea haven't opened here in New York yet; alas, Steve McQueen's Shame, which has, is an earnest disappointment.) 

TV in 2011 offered a beguiling lattice of ace turns. Watson excelled as the traumatized social worker appointed to watch over Fred West in ITV’s Appropriate Adult. Dominic West brought a neanderthal touch to the Gloucestershire serial killer (pictured left), but was typically plausible as the philandering anchor opposite Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw in BBC Two’s Suez-era The Hour - which obviously remarked on dwindling contemporary news standards. Garai was exquisite as the Victorian prostitute in BBC Two’s The Crimson Petal and the White, lushly Gothic yet Dickensian in its critique of sexual slavery. BBC Two’s The Night Watch atmospherically evoked the Blitz and postwar despond.

The best play I saw was the harrowing off-Broadway production of Through a Glass Darkly. Adapted by Jenny Worton from the Ingmar Bergman film, it showcased Carey Mulligan at her best as a young wife lurching into madness.

Peter Hook proved during his performance of Joy Division’s Closer at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theater that he can’t sing, but his band’s replication of those haunted songs was sublime. They ended the main set on “Decades,” then returned for “Atmosphere”, “Transmission", and “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again", so several hundred of us were in heaven.

The biggest visual thrill I experienced came from standing in front of Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion (see main image) at Tate Britain’s John Martin: Apocalypse. My previous attempt to see Martin's 1812 Romantic masterpiece - with its precipitous red cliffs, crags and caves, the mysterious cataract, and the tiny, tireless loinclothed climber - had ended in failure on 20 April, 1974, when it turned out not to be on display at Southampton City Art Gallery. Seeing the Saint Louis Art Museum’s version of the painting at the Tate made a dream come true.

2011 Highlight: Mysteries of Lisbon

2011 Letdown: The Tree of Life

2012 Recommendation: Abel Gance’s Napoléon at Paramount Theater, Oakland, California

UK film is flourishing for the first time since the false dawn of the 1980s

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