Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in director Amma Asante's period drama, which is based on the true story of Georgian Britain's first mixed-race aristocrat, Dido Belle.
On Film4: 23 Jan 9:00PM
A 16-year-old girl unwillingly competes in a televised death match in the highly-anticipated screen adaptation of book one in Suzanne Collins' best-selling dystopian trilogy for teens
The film that confirmed Jennifer Lawrence's A-list status, The Hunger Games followed hot on the heels of Lawrence's extraordinary Oscar-nominated turn in Debra Granik's hardscrabble rural indie drama Winter's Bone. Based on Suzanne Collins' trilogy of dystopian young adult thrillers, the narrative combines reality TV satire with a trenchant critique of social inequality, as the wealthy elite in the Capitol control the workers living in the outlying Districts, periodically forcing them to send children selected by lottery to fight to the death in a televised royal rumble. Comparisons can and have been made with the 18-rated Japanese horror Battle Royale, but we think there's room at the table for both, particularly when the 15 certificate version is as engaging and entertaining as The Hunger Games.
Ladies and gentlemen, cinema has a new action heroine! And not just one who looks great in a selection of skimpy outfits (yes, Milla Jovovich I'm talking to you), but a strong, complex, hot-blooded survivor who women, girls - everyone, in fact - can really respect and identify with. Her name is Katniss Everdeen and she's so awesome that she could probably take on Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor at the same time and emerge victorious - though she'd be much more likely to join forces with them and systematically eliminate every baddie in the universe. Because, in the world of The Hunger Games, stereotypically female qualities like compassion, caring and sharing are anything but weaknesses.
This is just as well, because it's an otherwise brutal place to exist. The ruthless and decadent 'Capitol' governs 12 surrounding districts with an iron fist. To keep citizens in line, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district every year to take place in the titular event - a televised death match in which only one contender is left standing. Katniss becomes the female candidate for District 12 when she volunteers in place of her younger sister, Prim - a moment fittingly captured, like much of the film, with nausea-inducing hand-held camera.
What follows is a gripping satire on social inequality, totalitarian rule and the depths to which the media will plunge for the sake of entertainment. True, this is oft-covered sci-fi territory - see Battle Royale, The Running Man, Blade Runner, even Star Wars. But presenting a society this barbaric from a teenager's point of view for a teenage audience gives it a fresh twist. It's also arrestingly realised in Philip Messina's inspired production design - the first shots of the fascinatingly futuristic but disconcertingly familiar Capitol are nothing short of stunning. In many ways the film actually manages to outstrip the novel in evoking the fantasy world of Panem.
In fact, it's a remarkably smart page-to-screen adaptation from start to finish. The ever-tricky first-person narrative problem is solved by introducing intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the game makers at work. But a huge chunk of the film's success rests on the archery-toned shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, who somehow manages to convey paragraphs of inner monologue with the widening of an eye or the subtle furrowing of her brow. Though undeniably gorgeous, her primary role is not to look pretty for the camera. She spends the vast majority of the film either hunting or being hunted - stopping only to help out weaker opponents or take out seemingly stronger ones - wearing sensible, body-covering outdoor attire and no obvious make-up besides the odd generous smear of mud or blood. It's symptomatic of how rarely we get to see such an inspirational female lead that this is so refreshing.
Lawrence's intense, controlled performance is balanced by a host of colourful turns from the supporting cast, notably Stanley Tucci as an affectedly-chummy TV presenter, Woody Harrelson as District 12's perennially-sozzled mentor, and Elizabeth Banks as the Dickensian and criminally-misguided PR rep, Effie Trinket.
Don't listen to the nay-sayers moaning that the film's been overly-sanitised - we still see some pretty gruesome stuff and, when we don't, it's heavily implied with blink-quick editing. Losing a few seconds' worth of non-essential gore is a small price to pay if it means young teens can finally watch something with a bit more to say for itself than the insipid Twilight Saga.
In a nutshell: An intelligent, thrill-quenching blend of sci-fi and satire introducing a welcome addition to the woefully small canon of admirable action heroines. Bring on round two!
By Rebecca Davies
Andrea Arnold¿s American Honey continued its run of awards success today, with five nominations at the London Critics¿ Circle Film Awards: Film of the Year, British/Irish Film of the Year, Supportin
Andrea Arnold's American Honey, starring Sasha Lane, triumphed at the British Independent Film Awards 2016 [caption id="attachment_5357" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sasha Lane in American Honey[/
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