Movie Review – The Bookshop


EXPECTATIONS: An understated, emotionally stirring piece of work.

REVIEW: Isabel Coixet has always been a talented filmmaker, making understated drama films dealing with issues like existentialism and inner turmoil to great aplomb. Although there have been some highs in her filmography like My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words (both starring the talented actress/director Sarah Polley), her last few films have signaled a steady decline in quality.

Since 2009’s beautiful yet empty Maps of the Sounds of Tokyo, her films have ranged from emotionally resonant to thematically lightweight. Now, we have her latest film, The Bookshop, which is adapted from an acclaimed novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald. With its talented cast and strong source material, will it get Coixet out of her slump?


Emily Mortimer stars as Florence Green, a widow who has just decided to put her turmoils behind her and risk everything to open up a bookshop; the first shop of its type in the sleepy seaside town of Hardborough, England.

But this seemingly innocent decision causes quite a stir in the town, which brings her fierce enemies: she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers and also crosses Mrs. Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), Harborough’s alpha who is a wannabe prominent of the local arts scene.


Is The Bookshop a stellar film that gets Coixet out of her slump? Well…as with all of Coixet’s films, the cinematography, courtesy of regular cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, is striking to look at. The musical score by Alfonso de Vilallonga is quite effective when utilized at the right moments.

And the last but not least, the standout performance is from Honor Kneafsey. She struggles a little bit in the first act but manages to find the perfect balance in conveying maturity and naivety, as Christine. With her performance here and her work in the murder mystery film Crooked House, her career looks like it could go on to greener pastures.


Which makes it all the more disappointing that The Bookshop lands with a loud thud. Despite the fact that the film is adapted from acclaimed source material, the characters are as thin as the pages they’re written on. Florence wants to start a bookshop because she likes books and the film never develops the character nor the motivation beyond that. And the same goes for Mrs. Gamart, who wants to use the foundation of the bookshop to build an art center. Mustache-twirling ensues.

The acting would’ve given the characters and the film much-needed vitality but they’re all quite lifeless. Mortimer is okay as Florence, but her performance confuses inner emoting with inactivity. Nighy gets in a few chortles but he looks like he’s reprising his role as a zombie in Shaun of the Dead. His performance doesn’t come off as subtle, it comes off as sedated. Clarkson, who’s shown acerbity like a professional in many films, most recently in Sally Potter’s The Party, is unfortunately quite de-fanged here.


It certainly doesn’t help the actors that the storytelling is all over the place, led by (or led off?) by Coixet’s loose direction, which just goes off into montages of misery without any character investment. To make up for the lack of convincing conflict and thin characterization, narration (read by Julie Christie) is added and it is patronizing, illogical and snore-inducingly terrible.

In one scene, Bill Nighy’s character, Brundish, tears the portrait pages from book covers and tosses them on a fire, while the narration says “There was nothing that bothered him more than the portraits that appeared in certain editions.” In another scene, we see Florence being angry at the bank teller, the narration actually states that “She is angry”. It’s bad enough that the audience are not only disengaged, but they’re being treated like brain-damaged morons.


And when the film isn’t being boring, it becomes increasingly creepy, with the inclusion of a slight romance between Florence and Brundish, as the two bond over the love of books. The age difference is just terrifying and speaking of morbidity, the ending of the film is so predictable, that a certain plot device shown early in the film, completely ruins it. The foreshadowing is just insultingly solid-black.

Overall, The Bookshop is a predictable bore that wastes many of its talents on terrible storytelling and emotionally stunted direction from Coixet. Give a hoot, read a book. But don’t watch this movie. See The Guernsey Literary and the Potato Peel Pie Society instead. Now that’s a film that at least conveys the love of books in a more entertaining and compelling fashion.

Quickie Review


Honor Kneafsey’s performance

Well-shot and in some parts, well-scored


Inconsistent performances

Patronizing narration

Underdeveloped script

Boring storytelling

Creepy attempt at romance

SCORE: 3/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Nigel O’Neill, Jorge Suquet, Harvey Bennett, Charlotte Vega, Julie Christie (narrator)
Director: Isabel Coixet
Screenwriters: Isabel Coixet, based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald


Movie Review – The Party


EXPECTATIONS: A black comedy so barbed and sharp that I should see acid leaking off the cinema screen.

REVIEW: Black comedies can be a very hard genre to pull off. Since it dwells within serious issues that could potentially be seen as taboos in comedies, it requires a certain balance between empathy, humour and darkness. But like all films, they have to have a certain amount of humanity for the audience to cling on to.

Some comedies would have either have characters that can we can believe in and latch on to or the characters are so reprehensible that we can laugh at them as well as their predicaments. And this is where Sally Potter‘s latest film, The Party fits in.

With an embarrassment of riches ranging from the cast (including Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy and others) to the crew (including editor Anders Refn) and an acclaimed director in Sally Potter, The Party looks like to be a great change of pace for Potter’s filmography. Will it be fun like a party should be or will it stink like a party pooper?


Shot in monochrome widescreen, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) hosts an intimate gathering of friends in her London home to celebrate her ascension up the political ladder. After her passive-aggressive best friend (Patricia Clarkson) and other stand-out characters arrive (Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer), some of them have dramatic news to share, which could end up showing them to be party poopers.

And of course, the cherry on top could be an announcement by Janet’s husband (Timothy Spall), which could provoke a series of revelations. As the sophisticated shindig starts to peel away the layers, a night that began with champagne soon ends up with arguments, shouting and a pointed gun. Now it’s a party!


The funniest part of the film, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the visual cue of a fox in the film, which was reminiscent of Lars Von Trier‘s horror film, Antichrist. Since The Party was edited by Anders Refn, who had worked on Antichrist as well as having both films being shot in monochrome, it seemed to be a sly poke on Antichrist, hinting that chaos would reign once the party starts.

The Party is only 71 minutes long, so this review is going to be short and concise like the film. Sally Potter and her cinematographer, Alexey Rodionov try really hard to make a small setting look well-drawn and distinct and The Party is really well shot, as the lustrous black and white accentuates the feelings and points of view of the characters: there is always a grey area.

The characters are all forward-thinkers and their cynical views could have been a drag to watch on-screen, even at 71 minutes, but thanks to director Sally Potter and the ensemble cast, it is great to see that them show empathy for the characters and that is what makes the audience stick through the film. Even if the titular party is meant to be a victory celebration.

Since the main trajectory of the film is politics, the humour itself could easily had aimed for easy targets like bigotry, Brexit, capitalism etc, but thankfully the humour is always grounded in character, and the seven characters assembled here are all wonderfully realized by the cast.


On the female side, Kristen Scott Thomas is great as the repressed Janet, who is basically trying to remain composed with her many responsibilities as being a dutiful wife to her husband as well as her duties for her newly appointed position, and her many secrets. And we have Patricia Clarkson, who is entertainingly acerbic as April, delivering barbed lines of dialogue as if they were grenades; and of course the couple, Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones, who are both endearingly grounded as the moody Jinny and the intellectual Martha.

On the male side, we have Timothy Spall, who’s facial expressions and seemingly monosyllabic deliveries are spot-on, being the so-called “patriarch” of the entire film. And we have Cillian Murphy, who is fantastic as the unstable member of the party and clearly doesn’t have the skills to stay composed as Janet. And last but definitely not least, we have Bruno Ganz, who is endearing as Gottfried, to the point of almost seeming delusional as he quotes lines upon lines of hippy New Age platitudes.

What weakens the impact of the film however is the ending. Although it does tie up most of the loose strands in the narrative, the impact of it all doesn’t really amount to much, in comparison to what had proceeded it.

Overall, The Party is a pitch-black, hilarious and satirical comedy with a fantastic cast and Potter’s assured filmmaking. Although the film may not have the impact that it could have, The Party was great while it lasted.

Quickie Review


Great performances from the ensemble cast

Humour is always grounded in character

Potter’s direction, Refn’s editing and Rodionov’s cinematography complement the story


Ending lacks impact

SCORE: 8/10


This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall
Director: Sally Potter
Screenwriters: Sally Potter