How My Light is Spent review (The Royal Exchange, Manchester)
At first glance, A Monster Calls appeared to me a sentimental fantasy film about the charming friendship between a boy and a fantastical monster. And honestly, if it weren’t for the incredible animation, I probably never would have watched it. But I’m glad that I did.
Because what A Monster Calls really is, is a heart-rending and compelling story about coping with grief and learning to let go. It stars Lewis MacDougall as 12-year-old Conor, a creative young boy caught between school bullies, an indifferent grandmother and his mother’s terminal illness. It is only when he begins to realise that he may be losing his mother – the only person he has to turn to – that he finds an unlikely friend in the Monster (Liam Neeson).
MacDougall shows a remarkable sensibility for his age and is a remarkable talent, a real credit to the film. He tackles some truly difficult subjects and handles them with incredible maturity, resulting in a thoroughly believable and raw performance. But I think what strikes viewers the most is the woeful honesty that he brings out of the character. And this is not only down to MacDougall’s impressive acting, but also the astonishing writing of Patrick Ness.
Having never read the novel, I can’t compare how it translates to the screen. However, as a movie the story is flawlessly carried through, with moments of unbelievable tension and some very poignant scenes. Although the writing has been said to be too dark by some, to take that away would remove the rare honesty that these scenes give. And overall, the message of the film is one that, although not altogether lighthearted, is powerful. But where it falls in terms of recommended audience is difficult to distinguish. Too dark for younger audiences and perhaps too rooted in fantasy for adults, it falls in a strange in-between.
What it is, however, is an extremely tough watch at times. Although there are some heartwarming and charming moments, the overall themes of the film are a lot more sensitive than they first appear. And while it is a highly recommendable film – despite its lack of huge success – it is still to be viewed with discretion.
Having said this, A Monster Calls is a stunningly beautiful film. It shows us familiar relationships, problems and hardships through a unique friendship and a world of fantastical stories. It is emotionally charged and in many ways inspiring.
Picture: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time© Brinkoff – Moegenburg
Picture: Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows
© Marc Brennan
Set 19 years after the plotline of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child follows the story of Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy – two unlikely friends who are drawn even closer together by their parent’s disapproval. And together they discover both an incredible secret and come to a horrifying realisation.
The friendship between Albus and Scorpius is in no doubt the vital part of the play. The relationship between them is what drives the play forwards and links it back to the message of the franchise itself, which is friendship and family. Their friendship is as charming as it is familiar, with the love that they have for each other the one constant through the story.
Some people have said that they found the plotline too predictable, though I felt that it was a unique story in its own right. The familiar humour and warmth of the Harry Potter series is definitely there, and I thought the plot was particularly ambitious, unlike anything that we have seen in the series. It takes us back to a beloved character from the earlier books, a fan-favourite that many people believe was not done justice in the series. And it also takes us back to the original story, of a vulnerable baby Harry on the night his parents were killed.
The only thing that is not so familiar, is Harry’s characterisation. The distance in the relationship between him and Albus although a typical father-son struggle and a relatable story for some, Harry’s actions felt slightly out of character for me. His relationship with Ginny also felt very stilted and forced, with a complete lack of communication and affection between the two.
However, Harry and Ginny were never really two of my favourite characters, and I was more interested to see the progression of other characters like Draco, Hermione and Ron. Draco, I felt, was probably the most interesting transformation of all the characters. Despite the childish hatred and prejudice that he once displayed, he throughout the play continues to be a reasonable voice. Though his resentment for Harry is still present and the feeling is mutual, Draco is more able to put his feelings to one side, especially when it comes to their sons. His love for his family is what defines his character in the play, as well as his sarcastic wit. Ron, on the other hand, the usual provider of humour and lightening of the mood, almost falls flat. He comes across as a mere knock off of his late brother, and although he does provide some laughs, he feels less like a character in his own right and more like a poor imitation. His relationship with Hermione however is heartening and encouragingly familiar. Although they both have changed and aged, the love that they have to each other is a constant and despite the few scenes that they appear in, their affection and affinity that they have is uplifting. Hermione in particular is almost inspiring in how well she has done for herself, and is probably the most believable transition from the book series. Her intelligence and compassion is ever present and like Draco she is another voice of reason in the play.
However, the main focus of the story is not the “big seven” as JK Rowling called them, but the new generation of characters. And despite the inclusion of the characters we all know and love, the new characters are equally as engaging and captivating, with Scorpius in particular being the standout character for me.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the perfect epilogue for any hardcore fan. It makes references to the series without being overly nostalgic and stands strongly as its own story. As a play, I’d imagine it to be a spellbinding performance, and Jack Thorne and John Tiffany have done an excellent job converting the story to a medium that works perfectly. Having said that, the script itself is a quick and delightful read, telling a moving and heartfelt story that is sure to give any fan a sense of satisfaction.