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The Best of Men (2012 TV Movie)

Sure, it's a made-for-tv movie and it feels like it. Nevertheless, the performances are so good and everything is just handled so well that I just felt joy from beginning to end. There's not a lot in the way of impressive directorial flourishes, but there is a good story told well and emotionally engaging as all hell.

At the centre of it all is Eddie Marsan playing the true-life figure, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a German doctor who is finally allowed to treat spinal patients in Britain during the latter half of World War II. Marsan has a very wide range as an actor, but this is definitely my favourite performance from him so far.

Another stand-out performance comes from Rob Brydon playing a particularly vocal patient. But to be frank, the whole cast is absolutely wonderful.

A few figures come off as a little cartoonish, helping to ensure that this is more of a feel-good drama and avoids acting as a downer for the audience. Nevertheless, this film has a clear heartfelt important message. I won't give away what happens to make this story so important. (Believe me, if you don't know about Dr. Ludwig Hoffman, you WILL find yourself surprised.)

Funny, well-paced, with some great emotional-depth and a stellar central performance. "Best Of Men" is an absolutely wonderful drama which deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.


Labyrinth (2012 TV Series)

Oh dear me Christopher Smith, what happened?

Christopher Smith has become one of my favourite directors. While there's a decidedly annoying decision for one of the scenes in his first movie "Creep" it was nevertheless a pretty cool debut. He followed it up with "Severance" which I saw in the cinema upon its release. Not realising that it was the same director, nor how great it would be, I missed "Triangle" in cinemas (not least because I thought it was about the Bermuda Triangle - which it isn't). And his latest film "Black Death", with Sean Bean, was one of the better "medieval horror" films of late (others being "Centurion", "Valhalla Rising", "Season of the Witch", "Solomon Kane" and arguably also "13 Assassins").

It's been a rather long wait since "Black Death" and it seems that Christopher Smith has tried to transition to tv. (Something it seems that the very similar director Neil Marshall has already successfully managed by directing the excellent 'Blackwater' episode of "Game of Thrones" and starting the series "Black Sails", which I hope will be rather less disappointing than this was.) Unfortunately he seems to have chosen a 'Da Vinci Code' knockoff. I remembered seeing Kate Mosse's book "Labyrinth" in bookshops and I always thought it came before Dan Brown's cheesy bestseller. But it seems I was mistaken.

What's perhaps most annoying of all is that "Labyrinth" is about the massacre of the Cathars in the 13th Century. It's a really interesting historical event to base a drama around. Unfortunately Kate Mosse's book is instead about some kind of mystical books supposedly connected with the Holy Grail. To be frank, I'd rather be watching the bleeding Indiana Jones movie if we are going to go that goofy.

The film is set both in the distant past and in the present day. In both eras we are following a very naive and drippy protagonist. I haven't seen Vanessa Kirby in anything before, so I cannot say whether this is her normal performance, but Jessica Brown Findlay should be absolutely ashamed of her performance here. That being said, if an actor normally performs better my instinct is to blame the director and as horrendous as the script might be, I think Christopher Smith has to accept some responsibility for these two blank-faced and dim-witted protagonists.

Historical accuracy is pretty thin on the ground here. My gf noticed that in the sections set in the past Jessica Brown Findlay's character was not wearing a headress, meaning she was either a prostitute or unmarried. It turned out that she was supposed to be married character, but clearly the filmmakers were keen to show off her flowing long hair.

But this is a minor quibble, particularly by comparison to what is to come. Early on it's shown that her character's husband has a mistress. Bizarrely the consequence later on is that (i) the mistress reveals her affair with the husband, expecting to bring shame on him, (ii) he is so upset by this that he threatens his mistress with death and (iii) we are expected to take his side. Let me explain the problem here. (i) Married men cheating on their spouses would not have been a big scandal in this era. Sure, the wife wouldn't be so keen, but the husband would see this revelation as having little bearing on his moral or social standing. (ii) Since this revelation would be so easy to shrug off, it seems bizarre for him to threaten death. (iii) While I guess causing his wife to get upset could be used as an excuse for a death threat, that would indicate a very petty and bloodthirsty character.

The chaste and innocent (read boring and naive) married woman is contrasted by the wily temptress (read insecure, bitter and using sex to gain some sense of self-worth) who is her sister. (She's sleeping with her sister's husband because she sees the two of them as rivals.) The more interesting of the two sisters often seems to be written as just plain evil most of the time, but I still get the impression that Christopher Smith had made a conscious effort to try to add an extra dimension. Unfortunately I think only rewriting the script would have done the trick. And by the way, if you want to kill someone it's not terribly smart to send them some poisoned bread, telling the servant delivering the bread to explain that you made it yourself. (Thankfully it turns out that the victim was too stupid to realise that they were dying from eating poisoned bread. What in the hell?)

There are a variety of great cast members all giving pretty lame performances. Surprisingly good here (relatively speaking) is Tom Felton (of Harry Potter and ROTPOTA fame). He doesn't have a lot to do in the film, but he gets a very prominent role in the battle scene (which I think was one of the bits Christopher Smith had more fun filming).

Dare I say, the plot is a lot worse than "The Da Vinci Code". It's not far into the modern day section of the story before we have a creepy threatening man wearing a large crucifix, as if to say, "Hey! I'm the evil hardcore traditional Christian guy! Don't expect any subtlety or realistic motivations from me!"

"Labyrinth" is a boring derivative tiresome mess.

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