Devotion, a story of love and desire (Fideltà)

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: Netflix, Italian with subtitles 

Storyline: In this adaptation of Marco Missiroli’s 2019 novel, Fideltà, Italian directors Stefano Cipani and Luxrezia Guidone create an engrossing six-part relationship drama. It tells a relatively straightforward story of Margharita and Carlo, an Italian couple living in a small rented studio in Milan. She is a real estate agent, he is a professor at the local university. Their committed relationship is passionate and loving, and after five years of marriage their friends see them as a perfect couple. All good, until a seed of doubt becomes established when Carlo is seen comforting a student who is struggling in his creative writing class. As Margharita and Carlo then negotiate complex marital territory we see the ways in which love and desire impact inside and outside of the couple relationship.

Film-craft: Elisa Amoruso, Laura Colella and Alessandro Fabbri have written an absorbing script that moves the action along in suspenseful ways. They create an air of apprehension for the couple as Margharita and Carlo’s actions increasingly endanger their relationship. The soundtrack seems a little at odds with the drama, but the cinematography is classy with fabulous scenes of Milan. 

Cast: The acting is outstanding in this series. Michele Riondino brings the right mix of bewilderment and charm to the role of Carlo. You may remember him playing the young Salvo Montalbano. Lucrezia Guidone is equally impressive as the passionate Margharita, who becomes obsessed by the twenty-year old student, Sofia, whom she perceives as a threat to the marriage. Carolina Sala is also excellent as the infatuated student, and Leonardo Pazzagli does a good job as Andrea, Margharita’s love interest, despite his character being the least developed.

Personal Comments: Fideltà comprises a multi-layered story exposing the complicated emotional dynamics within and across relationships. While there are one or two loose ends, what makes this series particularly fascinating is its exploration of dangerous moments when people in committed relationships waver on the edge of infidelity. There are many of these moments of decision when a character either resists temptation or steps over the line. The directors lead us to the very brink, cleverly building the signs of interest between characters – the looks that are a little too intense, or the touches that communicate something a little more than care. Then we wait until the moment has passed, and we are left to contemplate the complex nature of fidelity and betrayal.

Compartment No 6

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama 

Availability: In theatres

Storyline: Inspired by Rosa Liksom’s 2011 novel of the same name, Compartment No 6, was co-winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year (with Asgard Farhadi’s A Hero). It tells the story of Laura, a Finnish student who is studying archaeology in Moscow. She  takes a train journey to Murmansk where the ancient Kanozero petroglyphs rock drawings can be found. It’s a trip of several days that she had planned with her Professor and lover, Irina. But Irina decides not to go and Laura faces the journey alone. Soon she finds that the 2nd class sleeping compartment that she and Irina had booked now has to be shared with a young Russian man, Ljoha, who is drunk, repugnant, foul-mouthed and sexually threatening. She tries to escape his menacing presence by asking if she can move to another carriage. But the female conductor is unsympathetic and so Laura has no option but to return to compartment 6 where she and Ljoha negotiate their living space, and relationship, on the long journey to Murmansk. 

Film-craft: Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen does an excellent job in creating a claustrophobic intimacy and a sinister atmosphere during the train ride. He rented an old train from the Russian authorities, which he then filmed on a circular route across the snow-covered landscape. This has the effect of further intensifying the contrast of confined space and the outside landscape. There is no real plot in Compartment No 6. It’s all about character and the exploration of a relationship that evolves within this intimate space. Set some time in the early 1990s, Kuosmanen graphically reveals the awfulness of the train in a way that won’t endear him to the Russian tourism industry. The journey is bleak, and so too are most of the stops along the way.

Cast: Seidi Haarla is terrific as Laura, giving full effect to a range of emotions from fear and disgust to joy. Yuriy Borisov is equally impressive as Ljoha, the reprobate who transitions from utterly horrible to something more appealing. Together they bring a palpable chemistry to the film, two lost souls who have absolutely nothing in common except for their compartment and shared destination. 

Personal Comments: Despite the bleakness of the journey, this film is surprisingly touching as the two characters find their way in this cold and inhospitable world. It is possible to relate the film to current political tensions in the Finnish/Russian borderlands. But for me it’s a far simpler story about two lonely people who are searching for something that is, in the end, tender and heartfelt.

Karen Pirie

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Police drama  

Availability: Acorn, Britbox

Storyline: In this new three-part series, Emer Kenny brings Val McDermid’s bestselling novel, The Distant Echo, to the screen for ITV. It tells the story of the unsolved murder of a nineteen-year old barmaid, Rosie Duff. It’s 1996, in the Scottish university town of St Andrews, and three students become murder suspects. But the police have insufficient evidence to bring charges. Fast forward twenty-five years, and a young woman seeking justice for Rosie, and fame for herself, starts producing a daily podcast berating the police and accusing them of incompetency and inaction. Under pressure to reopen the case, senior police appoint Karen Pirie, a young detective with attitude, to undertake a review. But she has a good deal more attitude than they expected, and as she delves into Rosie’s death Pirie exposes sexist and racist attitudes that undermined the original investigation, and continue to thwart her efforts to find Rosie’s killer. 

Film-craft: Kenny not only produces Karen Pirie, she wrote the screenplay and played the role of  Karen’s millennial friend and flatmate, River Wilde. It’s a very nice, and funny female friendship that grounds the drama and gives opportunities for much of the humour in the series. The cinematography is terrific, moving seamlessly across the two timeframes. Filmed on location in Scotland we get to see great scenes of St Andrews, such as its cathedral and university, and also further afield, as the investigation stretches to Loch Lomond and its environs. The casting also deserves a mention, and in particular the three young university students in 1996, played later by mature actors playing their older selves. The familial similarities are so strong and the actors are so well matched you would swear that they had grown up between timeframes.

Cast: Karen Pirie has a great cast. Lauren Lyle is terrific in the lead as DS Karen Pirie. Feisty and funny, she takes us through all the disappointments, frustrations, and excitement of policing. The working relationship between Pirie and her offsider, DC Jason Murray (played by Chris Jenks), is interesting and entertaining, and both actors bring both lightness and depth to the roles. Their partnership provides enduring potential for any future series.

Personal Comments: This is a gripping series, with a great screenplay, and a good tight plot. Pirie’s romantic interest isn’t a major strength of the series, but it is refreshing to enjoy a good crime show where the detective is free from the multifarious character flaws that so often beset contemporary police dramas.  

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ + ½  

Categorisation: Drama-Comedy 

Availability: In theatres

Storyline: American director, Anthony Fabian sets Mrs Harris Goes to Paris in the 1950s golden age of Parisian haute couture. Based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel of a similar name (Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris) it tells the story of a London charwoman, Ada, who becomes infatuated by an expensive fashion house dress that is owned by her employer, Lady Dant. Determined to own such a dress, she saves her pennies and is soon on her way to Paris to spend her hard earned £500 on a fabulous Christian Dior ‘frock’. That’s roughly £11,500 in today’s currency. As she steps into the world of high-end fashion, she finds that the realisation of dreams is not always that straightforward.

Film-craft: What can be said about this saccharine-laced fairy-tale? The gowns are fabulous, and despite the rubbish-strewn streets of Paris (the sanitation engineers are on strike), Fabian draws a good contrast between the drab world of the British working class and the glamorous world of French high fashion. Other than that, it’s a sentimental caricature of the two in which neither comes off particularly well. The story is predictable. The music is dreadful. 

Cast: We have seen the talented and versatile Lesley Manville in a number of terrific productions recently (for example, Magpie Murders, and the excellent Sherwood). Unfortunately this isn’t one of them. Manville does bring a fairy-godmother charm to the film, but the hackneyed script in this celebration of shopping makes things difficult, even for her. The supporting cast also does its best, in particular, Isabelle Hupert as the formidable Madame Colbert. 

Personal Comments: This film is pure escapism, which in itself is not a bad thing. Interestingly, Paul Gallico wrote several further books taking ‘Mrs ‘Arris’ across the globe, and by all accounts they seem to have been successful.  Such is the power of feel-good nostalgia that has us all cheering for the underdog. Sadly, this film just isn’t good enough…an hour and fifty minutes that you won’t get back.