Tag Archives: Gemma Arterton

Odd Couple


by Rachel Willis

Irascible Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton, The Girl with All the Gifts) doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. Called a witch by local children, pranked by schoolboys, and barely tolerated by the adults in her community, she’s resigned to her routine and to living her life alone.

Writer/director Jessica Swale, with her first feature film, Summerland, examines what it means to be a woman in a world where women had very few choices in life.   

In the early-1940’s, the British countryside of Kent is seemingly removed from the harsher realities of World War II. The residents are asked to do their part for the “war effort,” but none of this affects Alice. At least, not until a trainload of children arrive from London. Fleeing the frequent bombing raids on the city, the children have been separated from their parents and sent to live with strangers.

Conscripted to care for Frank (Lucas Bond), Alice is perturbed by this development in her life. She wants nothing to do with the boy, but with no other options, she’s forced to take him.

Though the film has a warm, light-hearted tone, there are moments that remind the audience about the harsh realities of the time. Frank is on his own with a stranger who treats him with undisguised annoyance. Through flashbacks, we learn that Alice’s past still haunts her. As Frank becomes a part of her life, we come to understand why she is angry with the world.

But it’s past trauma that allows the characters to bond, and Swale conveys this with tenderness. Though Alice doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to care for a child, she finds a companion who accepts her and treats her with kindness even when she doesn’t deserve it.

Swale explores a few themes, but she’s primarily concerned with Alice’s experiences, leaving little room for anything else. Alice is the only character with depth. The ancillary characters round out the main story, but none of them truly live and breathe. We barely scratch the surface of this complex world.

While the theme of Swale’s choosing is worthwhile, the lack of attention to the other details is distracting. Rather than serving as a thematic bookend to Alice, Frank ends up as a crutch for her growth.

The result is a middling film about love and friendship that still has enough appeal to thaw the coldest hearts.

Gifted & Talented

The Girl with All the Gifts

by Hope Madden

It is the top of the food chain that has the most reason to fear evolution.

Isn’t that the abiding tension in monster and superhero movie alike? The Girl with All the Gifts explores it thoughtfully and elegantly – for a zombie movie.

In 2010, director Colm McCarthy took an unusually restrained and intimate look at lycanthropy in his underseen Outcast – kind of a werewolf Romeo and Juliet among Irish travelers. This time he mines Mike Carey’s screen adaptation of his own novel with the same quietly insightful bent.

Melanie (startlingly strong newcomer Sennia Nanua) lives out her young life in a cell, then restrained head, hands and feet in a wheelchair as part of ongoing research conducted by Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).

Let’s pause. When 6-time Oscar nominee and all around acting badass Glenn Close deems a zombie film worthy of her talent, we should all pay attention.

So, what’s the deal? A horde of “hungries,” each infected with a plant-based virus, has long since overrun the human population. Dr. Caldwell, her researchers and the military are holed up while trying to derive a cure from the next generation, like Melanie – the offspring of those infected during pregnancy.

It is an unsettling premise handled with restraint and realism, bolstered by uniformly admirable performances.

Melanie aside, the characters could be standard fare zombipocalypse cogs: gung ho military guys, driven researcher, tender-hearted woman here to remind us all of the civilization we’re fighting to save.

But expect something surprising and wonderful out of every actor involved – from Paddy Considine as the Sarge with something to learn to Gemma Arterton as Melanie’s beloved teacher to Close, steely and cagey in a underwritten role.

But much of the weight sits on Nanua’s narrow shoulders, and she owns this film. The role requires a level of emotional nimbleness, naiveté edged with survival instinct, and command. She has that and more.

McCarthy showcases his bounty of talent in a film that knows its roots but embraces the natural evolution of the genre. It’s not easy to make a zombie film that says something different.

Girl brims with ideas and nods to films of the past – in many ways, it is the natural extension of the ideas Romero first brought to the screen when he invented the genre in ’68. It definitely picks up where his Day of the Dead left off in ’85, working in nods to 28 Days Later as well as other seminal flicks in the genre.

But what Girl has to say is both surprising and inevitable.

And she says it really, really well.