Tricia Youlden

The Lobster ★★★★ M

Set in a dystopian, alternative world, The Lobster is an allegory about the human condition, especially our perception of love and relationships. Newly single after 11 years of marriage, a short-sighted man (Colin Farrell) arrives at The Hotel, where single people are committed to find a romantic partner in 45 days. If, like the short-sighted man’s brother, they fail to do so, they are transformed into an animal of their own choosing, which, in the case of the short-sighted man is a lobster. His reasoning is that lobsters live to be 100, they are blue-blooded and remain fertile all their life.

However, some singles escape to The Woods bordering The City to join the outlawed band of Loners. There, it is an offence to fall in love and want to live as a couple. Ironically, it is in The Woods that our short-sighted anti-hero finds true love. In the institutionalised luxury of The Hotel, the sanctioned coupling is based on sharing a defining physical impairment, which inevitably involves compromise if not outright deception.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou, temper violent scenes of brutal enforcement with wry humour. Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw and John C Reilly head a large cast, all of whom totally commit to the basically absurdist concept of the screenplay.

Clearly, we the audience also have to suspend our disbelief but it is well worth the exercise.

Shot entirely in Ireland by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and impeccably designed by Jacqueline Abrahams, The Lobster is visually rich in detail and symbol, from the dark shadows in the depths of The Wood to the opulent decor of The Hotel to the concrete sterility of The City.

This is a film that stays with you long afterwards.

The Dressmaker ★★★ M

Judy Davis, Sarah Snook and Kate Winslet star in The Dressmaker, set in an outback town

Having been sent away from the little country town of Dungatar at the age of 10, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage returns as an adult, armed with a sewing machine and fine leather suitcases full of haute couture clothes and fine materials. As she transforms dowdy Gertrude and sundry others into women of style, the town bullies get their comeuppance and Tilly clears her name.

Despite a stellar cast, great location and Don McAlpine’s cinematography, The Dressmaker is a perplexing mish-mash of form and style. Apart from Genevieve Lemon’s gem of a performance as the matriarch of the impoverished McSwiney brood, the characters are strictly two-dimensional. Judy Davis as Mad Molly Dunnage veers in and out of caricature, while Kate Winslet as her daughter is more like Jessica Rabbit than Tilly Dunnage, through no fault of her own. Hugo Weaving is entertaining as a cross-dressing copper. However, director Jocelyn Moorhouse, production designer Roger Ford and the costume and makeup departments seem not to have agreed upon the overall concept of the film. The resultant pastiche see-saws from pantomime to Strictly Ballroom to resembling a rural Harp in the South.

It would be interesting to know what Rosalie Ham thinks of this curious adaptation of her novel by Moorhouse and PJ Hogan.

Miss you already ★★★★ M

Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have been best friends since childhood. They have grown up together, sharing the highs and lows of life. Milly has married a musician turned businessman, Kit (Dominic Cooper); environmentalist Jess lives on a houseboat with her boyfriend Jago (Paddy Considine). While Milly and Kit have two children, Jess and Jago are having trouble conceiving. Although the women remain very close it is apparent that Milly makes more emotional demands upon Jess than vice versa.

When Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, Jess’s initial response is to postpone the proposed IVF program that Jago proposes to fund by working on an oil rig, but he convinces her to keep trying for “an heir to [their] extensive power tool collection”. Even so, Jess still gives precedence to the emotional roller-coaster that Milly is experiencing as she faces first chemotherapy, then a double mastectomy.

Writer Morwenna Banks explores how Milly’s husband, children and mother deal with the situation. Milly is angry, she is sad, she lashes out at those she loves. Toni Collette’s gutsy performance succinctly captures the complex reaction of a vain, sexy woman confronted by her own immortality. Kit cannot seem to please her, no matter how hard he tries. Milly’s actress mother, Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset), feels guilty for having put her career before her relationship with her daughter. The children are acting out. His young daughter tells Kit, “You really don’t know us women, Dad.” The ongoing drama so adversely affects long-suffering, pregnant Jess that she walks away from Milly, accusing her of having become “a cancer bully”.

This film should not be dismissively labelled a “chick flick”. The characters and the subject matter are handled with integrity and credibility. Writer Morwenna Banks sprinkles the main narrative about larger-than-life Milly with understated, private scenes of her at the hospital, or being fitted with a wig by Miranda’s Pinewood friend (a lovely cameo by Frances de la Tour). Under Catherine Hardwicke’s assured direction, the performances by the supporting cast are as finely nuanced as those of the lead actors.

Between them, production designer Amanda McArthur and cinematographer Elliot Davis capitalise on the sights in and around London and Yorkshire. The titles draw upon a colourful wall on a street in London, where people can write their bucket lists in chalk. Milly writes: “Before I die, I want to fear nothing.” Not a bad philosophy, actually.

Miss You Already sounds as great as it looks, thanks to composer Harry Gregson-Williams.

London Road★★★★ M

This opened during the school holidays but hopefully will still be showing. London Road is a musical created from verbatim accounts from both the residents and the prostitutes who plied their trade on London Road in Ipswich, Suffolk, where five of the latter were found murdered in 2006. It recounts how the community used the horrific event to come together and heal. Writer Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork concentrated on the rhythms of the human voice to put together the original musical for the National Theatre. After two successful seasons, this spawned the film.

Simply, but ever so effectively, director Rufus Norris brings us this suburban tale about real people and their resilience in the aftermath of a shocking event. The catalyst to their healing is the London Road in Bloom garden competition and street party, which transforms London Road from a crime scene to a blaze of colourful flowers in pots and hanging baskets and a spirit of hope for a better future has been kindled.

The residents of London Road are played by a fine ensemble cast including Olivia Colman, Paul Thornley, Nick Holder, Clare Burt, Michael Schaeffer and Tom Hardy. Vicky (Kate Fleetwood) represents the working girls who are helped by the residents to turn their lives around. The media become a Greek chorus.

Touching and effective, this film is a fine example of the strength of the verbatim form.

Macbeth★★★ MA

The opening scenes of this film augur well. With mist swirling around them, the Macbeths (Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard) are bidding farewell to their dead infant, thus providing Lady Macbeth with a tragic back story for one of her famous lines. An atmosphere of foreboding is created by the weird sisters hovering in the background as the funeral pyre burns.

Unfortunately, although Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography, Fiona Crombie’s production design and Nick Dent’s art direction ensure that the film looks stunning throughout, it soon becomes apparent that this Macbeth is all sound and fury, signifying very little, indeed.

Three screenwriters (Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso) are credited with this strange re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s powerful tale of vaulting ambition and murder most foul. Although Shakespeare tells us that Macbeth had “unseam’d [the rebel thane Macdonwald] from the nave to the chaps”, director Justin Kurzel shows us the battle from go to whoa in gory, bloody detail, thus establishing the focus of this blokes’-own Macbeth.

The way in which Lady M’s speeches are truncated, cut and pasted defies logic. Sadly, Cotillard’s monotonous recitation of the “sleepwalking soliloquy” makes minimal sense. Seylan Baxter, Lynn Kennedy and their sister witches have clearly been instructed to leave the histrionics to the men, all of whom have a rollicking good time, wielding swords and sporting hideous prosthetic wounds.

The fiery death inflicted upon Lady Macduff and her wee bairns is grisly but serves to inform the most powerful scene in the film, in which Macduff (Sean Harris) is apprised of the unspeakable act.

Like Kurzel’s overall direction, Fassbender’s laboured rendition of Macbeth’s final soliloquy fails to realise the sense of the piece.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby GHS. She is currently on LSL, touring the United States by train and thoroughly enjoying reading The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham en route.