romance

REVIEW: Rocky (1976)

When world heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a competitor for an exhibition match, he chooses to go for an underdog. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time Philadelphia boxer making his living working for a loan shark, but when he gets the opportunity of a lifetime, he strives to go the distance.

On run up to Creed III I thought I’d re/watch the series. I’ve seen (and loved) the Creed films before and I had watched Rocky a good 6+ years ago but hadn’t seen the many sequels so thought it’d be fun to get all the backstory and references and see what all the fuss is about with this franchise. As I said, I had seen Rocky before, but as it’d been so long ago I remembered next to nothing about it so this was like a first time watch.

I kind of find Rocky fascinating. This little film started a whole franchise and while we all love an underdog story, it’s kind of unbelievable that it grew from this film which feels so incredibly small and indie. Also, where is “Eye of the Tiger”?! I’m guessing it’s in one of the many sequels but it’s kind of wild that the song that’s so synonymous with the Rocky franchise and character isn’t even in the first film. The actual Rocky theme is pretty great though and does suit the characters underdog origins.

I prefer the latter half of Rocky, after he’s invited to compete against Apollo Creed and then starts training and his relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire) develops, as the first half is a lot slower and is more of his everyday life which isn’t really that great. However, I don’t think the latter would be half as impactful if we didn’t see where Rocky came from. Honestly the ending and how Rocky slowly opens up to Adrian before the fight makes me appreciate the first half more with hindsight. You need to see how Rocky is kind of coasting through life and not really believing in himself, so when he does start to really work for his dream it’s all the more impactful.

The start of Rocky and Adrian’s romance does make me a bit uncomfortable as her shyness/hesitancy and Rocky’s persistence does feel a bit like he’s stomping all over her boundaries. I know this sort of thing was pretty normal in the 70s (and even today in rom-coms the (often male) love interests persistence tends to be rewarded) but the way it’s shot and Shire’s performance does make Adrian and Rocky’s first kiss feel a bit off to me. As their relationship evolves and the balance they find in each other, it does become a sweet romance – Rocky saying “she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard in a film in a while. Was such a unique way of saying the usual “she completes me” line.

Rocky is a pretty great underdog story and, for a sports movie, features very little boxing. It’s more about Rocky as a character and the connections he has with his friends, trainer, and girlfriend. The slow and meandering first half is worth it as the final act is pretty great. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness. Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born. If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

I really enjoyed the setting and world-building of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. The fantastical land where “drudges” (basically zombies) roam and how the mythology and religion of these people does have some bearing on their lives today. How Mercy cared about the dead and how the burial rituals are different to what we tend to know about them was really interesting and how the dead are honoured and cared for isn’t something you see in books that often. Especially in a romance where the heroine is an undertaking – it’s not the most pretty or girly of jobs but Mercy’s love for it shined through.

It’s easy to compare The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to the film You’ve Got Mail as it’s the story of two people who don’t like each other but find they a connection when they don’t know it’s their worst enemy that they’re writing to. The letters were a great way for the reader to get to know more about Hart and Mercy and see beneath their hostile exteriors. While it’s easy to say Hart is the grumpy one, Mercy can be pretty harsh and cruel too as she tends to think she’s right a lot of the time. Seeing how they both soften overtime when it comes to each other as well as with family or co-workers was nice.

The problem I had with The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, and the reason I put it down for a while and took so long to finish it is because around the half way point something happened that just made me feel uncomfortable. To go back to the You’ve Got Mail analogy, what happened was like if Tom Hanks had walked into the coffee shop to meet Meg Ryan, knowing she was his anonymous pen pal but she didn’t and then started a relationship with her without telling her that he knew so much about her because they’d been writing to each other for months. It was a power imbalance to the relationship that just made me feel weird and as naturally the truth would come out eventually, that made me more stressed waiting for it to happen especially as it took a lot longer than I thought it would.

I know in romance stories there’s often miscommunication or that one final hurdle before the couple have their happily ever after, but the way this one played out made me more uncomfortable than interested. I don’t read a lot of romance so if you’re more used to that trope then maybe The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy would be absolutely fine for you. I think knowing it would happen and then reading this long drawn-out process was a different thing.

I wanted the “lies” to come out a lot quicker than they did and it took me longer to read this book than it should’ve as I’d be apprehensive waiting for the big reveal and I found it hard to root for Hart and Mercy’s relationship when one of them was keeping such a big secret from the other.

Overall I did like this mixture of cutesy romance and fantasy. It wasn’t something I’d read before and was surprised how well the elements came together and when there wasn’t big secrets I found The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to be very quick and easy to read. 3/5.

REVIEW: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Directed by Wes Craven, Caribbean vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in Brooklyn looking for a specific woman who is the key to his survival – a half-human, half-vampire. NYPD detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett) is that woman and she and her partner Detective Justice (Allen Payne) are investigating the many killings that have suddenly started in Brooklyn.

Tonally, Vampire in Brooklyn is all over the place. It’s billed as a horror comedy but it’s also pretty heavy on the gothic and the romance once Maximillian and Rita start circling one another. The jokes don’t always land though Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and his nephew Julius (Kadeem Hardison) were the ones who could consistently get a smile out of me. Personally, was a big fan of how Witherspoon said the word “wolf”. Considering Eddie Murphy is the star of Vampire in Brooklyn and played a couple of characters in this (the hair and makeup work for one in particular was excellent) it’s a shame I didn’t find his performance particularly amusing.

Angela Bassett though was brilliant as always – and stunningly beautiful too. Rita has nightmares she doesn’t understand, and sees things she can’t explain, but she’s also headstrong and capable. Her relationship with Justice is great as the chemistry is there and there’s a real will-they-won’t-they vibe to it all, especially when Maximillian arrives and starts messing with both of them.

The aesthetics of Vampire in Brooklyn was also pretty great. Some of the makeup work on Julius as he slowly starts to decompose is suitably disgusting, and the scenes where Maximillian is trying to enchant Rita with how the camera spins around them adds to the drama of it all.

Really Vampire in Brooklyn isn’t the worst Eddie Murphy film but it isn’t the best. It tries to bring his style of humour into a Wes Craven horror movie and they don’t really mesh that well. It’s never very funny or very scary but with its 90-minute runtime, it’s a film that’s never grating and it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Narrated by Santino Fontana.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmanoeuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him when he’s given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was apprehensive about a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy that was centred on a young President Snow. To be honest, that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to read it but after rereading the trilogy and revisiting the films I thought now was the time.

I found Coriolanus Snow to be equal parts fascinating and infuriating. He is not a nice young man. He is obsessed with his standing and appearance in the Capitol and the power his family name no longer has, he is constantly hiding his true self from pretty much everyone and he’s always second-guessing other people’s motivations as he believes that everyone is out to get him. It’s almost funny at times as he’s so self-centred that he thinks every comment or action someone might make is supposed to be an affront to him but in reality, they probably don’t even think about him like that at all. He’s always thinking about what other people can do for him, and how his actions at any moment can either further his aspirations or tear them down. He’s arrogant and even when he’s been knocked down a peg or two and is in a similar situation to people of the Districts, he still sees himself as better than them. He continues to blame them for their own circumstances when if he took his rose-tinted-Capitol-loving glasses off, he’d see that the people of the Districts and his own really have the same cause.

As The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is told solely from Snow’s point of view it makes his relationship with Lucy Gray super interesting. As he’s possibly falling in love with her, and starts to believe she cares for him, you have to wonder if that’s really the case. Lucy Gray is in the Hunger Games against 23 other tributes, many of whom are stronger than her, surely she’d use anything at her disposal, including a boy from the Capitol who is supposed to be her mentor, in order to survive? As the book progresses, I’m not sure what Lucy Gray’s feelings are towards Snow but how he often refers to her in ways that makes her his possession or gets jealous of any mention of her having loved someone before him just made my skin crawl. I think how Snow sees Lucy Gray is a fine line between love and obsession and even at the beginning he mainly thinks of her as what she can do for him and any sign of kindness like getting her food, is so that she’ll survive to get to the Hunger Games for him, not for herself.

Though you don’t live the terror and fear of the Hunger Games in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as you’re a spectator just like Snow is, it’s still a brutal book at times. It’s brutal in the cruelty the tributes face as the life of a tribute is vastly different to what we’ve seen before, and there’s moments that made my jaw drop because Suzanne Collins can do those sudden moments of violence like no one else.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is quite slow-paced but as I listened to the audiobook that didn’t really bother me. That being said, I feel like the ending took a sudden turn and was a lot more abrupt than anything previous so it was a bit jarring. Also, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was kind of an uncomfortable read. It’s not necessarily a book I enjoyed reading because you’re in Snow’s head and that’s not a fun place to be, never mind what’s going on around him, but it’s a book I found really interesting in the context of it being a prequel. It explored things I didn’t expect, how it tackled Snow as a protagonist especially, and had seemingly minor things that would go on to feature in the original trilogy.

Having been a couple of years late to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes I’ve been looking at reviews and reactions and can see why it might’ve got a mixed response. Having the book being from the point of view of (for all intents and purposes) the oppressor was certainly a choice and while there may have been moments at the beginning that made you almost sympathise with Snow because of the trauma he had of living through a war as a child, it doesn’t dwell on it and you soon see the beginnings of the tyrant he’s destined to become.

What can I say except that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes surprised me and I found it engaging even when Snow was wallowing in self-pity, being incredibly narrowminded and just generally an unlikeable character. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

It is the eve of World War I in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city on the edge of the Caspian Sea, poised precariously between east and west. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a teenage Muslim schoolboy from a proud, aristocratic family, has fallen in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Nino Kipiani, a Christian girl with distinctly European sensibilities. To be together they must overcome blood feud and scandal, attempt a daring horseback rescue, and travel from the bustling street of oil-boom Baku, through starkly beautiful deserts and remote mountain villages, to the opulent palace of Ali’s uncle in neighbouring Persia. Ultimately the lovers are drawn back to Baku, but when war threatens their future, Ali is forced to choose between his loyalty to the beliefs of his Asian ancestors and his profound devotion to Nino.

Ali and Nino is set in between 1914-1920, and as they live in Azerbaijan and have familial connections in Georgia and Iran it’s another story where you can see a different side of the First World War and its effects on people. There’s also an Armenian character that faces hatred from some characters who can’t even explain why they hate Armenians so much – that was an interesting historical note after reading Armenian Golgotha.

I have such mixed feelings about Ali and Nino and a lot of the mixed feelings are probably because the book is successfully doing what it set out to do. So much of it is about the culture clash between Ali and Nino. They may love each other, but they both have different ideas about how a home should be run or how marriages work that they often struggle to understand one another. It’s a love story that questions if love really does conquer all when you’ve got people who have religious and cultural ideals that often seem to be in conflict. It’s the first third or so that made me the most uncomfortable but as Ali and Nino both started to mature, I could understand both their view points and their conflicts a lot better.

The religious aspect of how other male characters consider Nino and how women and wives should be treated is something that made me feel uncomfortable when reading. Ali doesn’t necessarily share the same views, but he’s young and was raised with those ideals so there’s often times you can see them there at a subconscious level. One memorable quote is a friend of Ali’s saying that “We have a proverb in our country – A woman has no more sense than an egg has hairs.” It makes my skin crawl even though based on the time period/culture it’s set in there’s a good chance that that was a common thought. When they’re in Persia, Nino chafes against the rules of the society. She can’t leave her home without wearing a veil, she can’t talk to any male guests who visit their home even if they’re her friends too, she can’t go walking around town side by side with her husband – all these customs she’s unused to and it makes her miserable.

Nino is quite a modern young woman thanks to her upbringing – or rather instead of modern, the term should be probably Western. Because that’s where a lot of Ali and Nino’s conflicts lie. Azerbaijan is a country that straddles on the border of Asia and Europe, the East and the West, and Ali and Nino are representations of that divide. As Ali says, “For me it would be just as impossible to live in Europe as it was for you to live in Asia. Let’s stay in Baku, where Asia and Europe meet.” The city of Baku seems like the perfect mix of cultures, religion, and ideals, and the description of the city paints a vivid picture. The novel is solely from Ali’s point of view and his love of his home, the city and the surrounding desert, shines through.

Azerbaijan is one of the many countries I knew nothing about before my Read the World Project – to be honest, Azerbaijan was one of those countries I only really knew of because it competed in Eurovision – and I really enjoyed seeing it through Ali’s eyes. The fact that it is such a blend of cultures due to where its situated makes it so unique and I’d be interested to learn more about what the country is like today as Ali and Nino is set 100 years ago and ends just as Azerbaijan’s independence is threatened by Russia’s expansion.

Ali and Nino is a love story but it’s so much more than that. It can be dark at times with honour killings but there’s also a lot of light to it too. The conflict over cultural ideals and the sense of belonging each character has is thought-provoking and makes their relationship all the more interesting. They both hurt each other, intentionally or not, but there’s something about their relationship that makes you hope for the best and they’ll find a middle ground on the things that threaten to push them a part. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Panama: The Golden Horse: A Novel About Triumph and Tragedy Building the Panama Railroad by Juan David Morgan

Translated by John Cullen.

Many people know the story of the Panama Canal, but few know that of the Panama Railroad: the first transcontinental railroad of the Americas that was built during the California Gold Rush. From 1851-55, a handful of adventurers and inventive engineers drove the enterprise to tame the unexplored jungle wilderness that would soon become the first inter-oceanic railroad, link the US to Central America and change Panama forever. Thousands of people died during the construction of the railroad, succumbing to tropical diseases and natural disasters. Despite the danger, the lust of gold fever and the challenge of conquering the wilderness drove the protagonists through the perils of torturous journeys, cutthroat competition, ruthless outlaws, savage jungles, the most ferocious extremes of the tropical frontier, and violent cultural clashes, but not without the thrill of romantic adventures, the wonder of human inventiveness, and rugged determination to succeed.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Golden Horse. The subject matter wasn’t something I was that interested in (like many books for my Read the World Project, the priority is finding a book/writer from a country rather than choosing one I think I’d enjoy) and as it’s set in the 1800s, I thought the language used might make it a bit of slog to read. Happily, that wasn’t the case and The Golden Horse was very readable and the characters and the various hardships they faced were compelling too.

This is a fictionalised true story so there are real people as main characters as well as imagined ones that fill in the gaps and it was fun to google various characters to see if they fell in the real or made-up category. Either way, these people did something extraordinary in creating a working railway line across jungles, rivers and swamps. The fact that thousands of people – most of them poor and people of colour – died to make it happen and that The Golden Horse doesn’t shy away from that and the terrible conditions these people worked in makes the story better. It gives a voice to those who perished while still allowing you to marvel at a feat in engineering. Black people were shipped in from the Caribbean, the Chinese were lied to and thought they were being sent to work in America, then there was the Irish and the native Panamanians who came to work on the railway too. All these people allowed for the rich white American shipping magnets to finance and construct the railroad.

It’s somewhat unsurprising that not much has changed in 170 years as companies and shareholders would look for the cheapest option rather than the safest or more fruitful one in the long term. It was frustrating at time as more often than not the perspectives were that of those working on the railroads like the engineers who were on the ground and knew of the conditions and what would or wouldn’t work. Then the big bosses would send someone who promised to do part of the job cheaper who thought they knew best and didn’t listen to the wisdom of those who had been in Panama far longer. It’s always satisfying when those kind of people are proved wrong.

The Golden Horse is told in in a mixture of prose and diary entries. The diary entries are from John Llyod Stephens, a travel writer who became one of the representatives of the shipping company in Panama, and Elizabeth Benton Freeman, a woman who is first travelling to San Francisco to meet her military husband there but soon becomes connected to the railroad employees and captains of the ships she travels on. The proses is from a variety of different characters perspectives and you get to see pretty much every possible point of view on a subject or incident. I liked how characters mentioned in the beginning of the story came back throughout the novel. The Golden Horse spans over a decade as while the construction of the railroad is the focus, there’s investigations in the viability of such a venture year’s beforehand and it’s interesting to see how characters who you think were just mentioned in passing, or were just used as an example of some sort of event, ended up playing a bigger role than you could’ve imagined. It really is a cleverly plotted book.

The Golden Horse was another book of a snapshot of history that I knew nothing about. The characters and the various relationships are all compelling and I even liked the inclusion of a romance that I thought was doomed at the beginning but ended up being something quite sweet and lovely. Overall, The Golden Horse was an enjoyable and interesting read and one that I read far quicker than I thought I would. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

Translated by Allison M. Charette.

Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.

Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel published in Madagascar to be translated into English. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my Read the World Project but learning how so few works are translated into English (or any other language than the one it was written in) from various countries never ceases to surprise me.

You know the phrase “Never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”? I definitely felt like that as I read Beyond the Rice Fields. My assumptions came over the race of Fara and Tsito. As it was a story of a slave owners’ daughter and her relationship with a slave, before reading Beyond the Rice Fields I presumed that Fara was white while Tsito was Black and it’d present a lot of extra problematic elements and power imbalances in a relationship like that. This wasn’t the case though as while naturally there was a power imbalance as Tsito was a slave, Fara and her family were also Black. There’s also the fact that they were both children when Tsito was brought into Fara’s home. Fara was seven and Tsito was nine, meaning that while Tsito certainly had jobs around the home to do they grew up together and he was treated more like family by Fara and her mother and grandmother, than just a slave. It’s a different look at the dynamic between slave and master compared to what I’d seen before, and seeing Tsito’s affection grow not just for Fara but for the other women in the family was sweet.

Beyond the Rice Fields is told from the perspectives of both Fara and Tsito and each perspective has a distinctive voice. It’s interesting how the chapters from Tsito’s point of view feature a lot more discussions on politics than Fara’s early on, though perhaps that’s to be expected as he’s a slave and has to be aware and consider the rules of society a lot of more as he tries to learn different skills in order to earn his freedom. With Fara, her chapters and perspective are a lot more focussed on emotions, she makes mistakes that Tsito never would as he’s had to be a lot more aware of the world than she has.

I think Beyond the Rice Fields spans almost twenty years as Fara and Tsito grow up together, grow a part and start to come back together. Naturally a lot of characters are mentioned throughout this time, some drop in and out of the story and as some have similar sounding names it can be hard to remember who is who especially as the novel doesn’t offer any context clues. It’s also difficult at times to judge how much time has passed and how old the characters are supposed to be. Sometimes a chapter begins with something along the lines of “that continued for ten yeas” which can be jarring as you suddenly need to age up the characters in your mind.

One of the most interesting yet also sometimes frustrating thing in Beyond the Rice Fields was the clash between religion and tradition. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the 1800’s and as Christian missionaries attempt to convert the people; the backlash is extreme. The rituals that people have to go through to prove their innocence to any sins they’re accused of seem to be in such a way that they are doomed to fail. People are pretty much poisoned and if they can expel the poison that means they’re innocent? Those scenes are graphic and frustrating as it’s pure chance whether someone’s body can withstand the things it’s put through but the results are seen as concrete proof of someone’s innocence or guilt.

Beyond the Rice Fields is an interesting and compelling read. I enjoyed the dual perspectives as they both offered a lot of different ideas and experiences. The ever growing romance between Fara and Tsito was believable too and they were a relationship that I couldn’t help but root for even when a lot of things were working against them.

Z is for Zoe (2018)

Cole (Ewan McGregor) and Zoe (Léa Seydoux) are colleagues at a research lab that designs drugs and technology to improve and perfect romantic relationships. As they become close, their relationship is threatened when Zoe discovers the truth about their relationship, sending them into a spiral of confusion, betrayal and the most intense of human emotions, love.

Zoe is such a sweet, thoughtful take on relationships, romance and what it means to be human. It’s that kind of near-future sci-fi that I love where everything is as we’d expect bar one aspect. In this instance, that thing is how evolved AI is and that androids, or “synthetics” as they’re called here, can be so lifelike that they can fool humans. They can be programmed to feel and connect with people so humans never have to be lonely.

Ash (Theo James) is one such synthetic and seeing him learn and adapt and feel does make you question the differences between humans and machines. While his code is his foundation, he’s been given memories and personality and is able to decide things for himself. Theo James does a good job at adding little hesitations to Ash’s movements and showing that as he learns, he mostly appears “human” but there’s still the odd moment with him that’s a little unsettling.

The romance between Cole and Zoe is interesting as they both seem so isolated but for different reasons. There’s a hesitancy about both of them and as more of their pasts are revealed, you begin to understand why they act that way.

As a sidenote, I really liked the relationship between Cole and his ex-wife Emma (Rashida Jones). So often you see an antagonistic relationship between ex’s, even when they’re coparenting like these two are. While there still is the odd moment of awkwardness between the two of them, it’s clear that they both still care about each other and want the other to be happy, even if it’s not with themselves.

Zoe is an interesting sci-fi/romance film. The central performances are all great and the romance between Cole and Zoe is believable. Similarities can be made between Zoe and Her, and both films have a similar melancholy vibe to them. So if you like one of those films, there’s a good chance you’d like the other. 4/5.

V is for Vita & Virginia (2018)

The love affair between socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) and literary icon Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki).

Vita & Virginia is one of those films I chose to watch for two reasons and neither of them was because I thought I’d really enjoy the film. Those two reasons were one; it had an actor I liked a lot in it (in this case, Gemma Arterton) and two; it’s directed by a woman so can count towards my 52 Films by Women challenge. I didn’t go into Vita & Virginia thinking I’d hate it (and I didn’t) but equally, it wasn’t a story I was particularly interested in.

Based upon their real letters Vita & Virginia tells the story of how these two women met and became entangled in each other’s lives. There are many times where the letters are just read out by the actresses and the camera lingers on the face of the recipient as they register the words. This was an interesting way to show how they kept in touch and felt about one another to begin with, but the repetition soon got old.

It’s unfortunate that while the two leads do a decent job with what they’re given, it’s their relationships with their husbands that is far more touching and interesting than their forbidden love affair. Arterton and Debicki don’t have great chemistry whereas the support and care both Harold Nicolson (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando) show their respected wives feels more real. Both couple’s marriages are unconventional in different ways and it’s a shame that’s what interested me more than what was happening between the titular characters.

The cast is good, it’s just how the film is put together (and a sometimes-dry script) that lets them down. How Vita & Virginia is edited feels weird. Some scenes or moments are cut too short so any intended emotional impact is lost while others meander or build to something that never happens. It makes this one hour and 50 minutes film often feel a lot longer than that. The music is also a bit strange at times, with almost techno, dance music playing during a party. It kind of feels it was going for the Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette anachronistic vibe of clashing the historical and the modern but as it wasn’t consistent in Vita & Virginia, it’s just more jarring and feels out of place.

Overall, while the cast does what they can with what they’re given, the lack of chemistry between the leads and its slow-pace makes Vita & Virginia feel far longer and duller than what it probably was. 2/5.

J is for Jenny’s Wedding (2015)

Jenny’s (Katherine Heigl) parents and siblings are always trying to set her up but little do they know she’s already met the right person – her “roommate” Kitty (Alexis Bledel). When Jenny finally feels ready to come out to her family as she and Jenny want to get married, it shakes everything her traditional parents know.

Jenny’s Wedding is one of those films that’s technically about gay characters but is more about their family and how (straight) audiences would relate to the family’s confusion and hurt at being lied to and their general misunderstanding when it comes to their daughter and her relationship. That’s not to say Jenny’s Wedding is bad, just that going into it you’ve got to know it’s not a lesbian romcom and is more a family drama with a dash of gay on the side.

Heigl and Bledel don’t really have any chemistry and not enough time is spent on them to really believe in their relationship, or even believe that they’re more than the roommates they’ve been saying they were for the past five years. Katherine Heigl though did give a great performance whenever she was with her family. She really sells the hurt and fear she had about coming out and how once she feels in a place to be truthful, because of her mother’s (Linda Emond) fear of being judged by her friends and neighbours, is forced to continue lying to keep her happy. How she’s pushed to almost breaking point by her parents continuing to act like everything’s the same while also ignoring huge part of her life and identity is tough to watch.

There’s a side plot with Jenny’s sister Anne (Grace Gunner) who by seeing how happy Jenny is with Kitty, comes to reassess her own marriage and happiness. That was a sweet moment and how Anne and Jenny worked through some of their sibling issues once everything was in the open was good too.

While the overall plot is a bit cliché, the dialogue between various feels authentic and the cast all give good performances. As long as you know it won’t be a romcom and is in fact quite sad and painful at times, Jenny’s Wedding is a decent watch. 3/5.