Andy’s Look Back At 2021

Our newest committee member, Andy Smith, takes a look back at another unusual year in cinema.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty let me put some context around where my film preferences lie: Here are some of my favourite films, by which I mean films that I would happily watch over and over again, but not on a loop! (in no particular order): Casablanca (1942), Ex Machina (2014), Leon (1994), Dirty Harry (1971), Farmegeddon (2019), Wall-E (2008). I don’t mind a suspense film but I am not a fan of horror or ‘action’ movies. Although Tenet (2020) was simply brilliant… My wife and I always mark a film out of 10 as we leave the cinema – it has to be our instant impression, given without conferring which we then average and record. More that 8 is very good, less than 2 means we probably walked out if we could without disturbing people. 10s are like hen’s teeth.

The first half of 2021 was spent watching films on-line via a 12 inch laptop or DVDs via a projector on to the sitting room wall trying to replicate “The Experience” of the big screen – we even got ice creams in. It was a poor substitute.

From May we were back in cinemas and managed to rack up 20 films between then and the end of the year. Most of them were excellent – only one was poor. So a good strike rate.

The first film was Nomadland – pretty much a 10/10. What an interesting ‘storyline’ fantastic direction (Chloe Zhao), great characters (Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and members of the nomad community), cinematography (Joshua James Reynolds) and social comment.

Frances Mcdormand in Nomadland

Looking down my list the other high scorers are:

  • Sound of Metal – Riz Ahmed was outstanding as a person coming to terms with his enforced change of life.
  • Respect – the biopic of Aretha Franklin
  • The Harder They Fall
  • West Side Story

One film that I was surprised I hadn’t given higher marks was Judas and the Black Messiah – it really was a good film and one which I would happily see again.

I also managed to catch the first half of the digitally remastered Metropolis (1927) complete with string quartet accompaniment at the Harrogate Odeon. What an epic film with so many iconic images. Sadly I wasn’t able to stay for the second half as I had to be up in the small hours of the next morning to go to work.

Several films made me realise how much society had moved on from the 1960s but then I’d read the news and realise that in so many ways we had really not come very far at all. Social divisions, institutional prejudices, corruption and abuse of power are still very much part of our time. Bizarrely, the last film I saw in 2021 was Don’t Look Up which shines a satirical light on the last three of those. It had some laugh out loud moments but might not have been the cheeriest film to end the year on…

 In addition to the films mentioned above here are a few other favourites (and one that didn’t work for me):

  • Most emotional film: Supernova
  • Special mentions:
    • The French Dispatch
    • The Power of the Dog
    • Passing
  • Biggest disappointment: His Name is Greenflake – this was a really interesting story but for some reason just failed to gel with me.

I’m looking forward to 2022 especially the second half of the year when we should be back at the Picture House


Andy Smith

Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Tara (Charles Dickens’ servant, played by Anna Murphy): Is Tiny Tim dead?
Scrooge: Well, of course he is, imbecile.
Charles Dickens: He was very ill.
Scrooge: You can’t save every child in London.
Charles Dickens: And the family has no money for a doctor.
Tara: Then Scrooge must save him!
Scrooge: ME?
Charles Dickens: He wouldn’t…
Tara: WHY?
Charles Dickens: Well, he’s too selfish.
Tara: He can change, there’s good in him, somewhere. I know it.
Scrooge: People don’t change.
Charles Dickens: He’s been this way, for a long time. I’m not sure he can change.
Tara: Of course he can, he’s not a monster.
Scrooge: I thought this was a ghost story, not a fairy tale.

Forty people joined us for the Friends’ screening of the 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas. It tells the story of how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) wrote and published “A Christmas Carol” during a frantic six weeks in the run up to Christmas 1843. Many thanks to Wendy the Picture House manager and her team for making the arrangements.

It is easy to underestimate the challenge of writing and publishing a book (or making a film for that matter) to a very tight deadline with a very limited budget. Dickens had written Oliver Twist in 1838 but that had been followed by three unsuccessful books. He often had writer’s block, was heavily in debt, and had a large family to support. He could easily have ended up in a debtors’ prison as his father did. Despite this A Christmas Carol became one of the best selling books of all time and went on to influence the way Christmas is celebrated across the world.

This film is not a documentary but does draw upon Dickens’ life experiences, including the ridicule he faced as a child while forced to work in a blacking (metal polish) factory. It’s worth watching for the locations, costumes and the photography, and especially for its portrayal of Dickens’ interactions with the characters which highlights the creative struggle at the moral core of the book, And I enjoyed spotting Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Miriam Margolyes, Miles Jupp and Simon Callow among the cast.

However. the film treats lightly the deep flaws in Dickens’ personality, including his recklessness and instability and his ill treatment of his wife. In my view the film is a very interesting “one-watch” but too sentimental to become a regular feature of Christmas screenings,

Agree/disagree? We welcome your comments or reviews below.


Bill Walton

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017): A Friends Festive Screening

Sunday 12th December 3.30 pm at Leeds University.
Members can claim up to 2 free tickets for this special festival screening

Film poster featuring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce in The Man Who Invented Christmas. How Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and created a tradition

The man in question is, of course, Charles Dickens; and his invention is his novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). This must be the most famous contribution to the festive season in modern times. There are likely two dozen adaptations of the book on film plus others on television, radio and in the theatre. And its influence can be seen in many other tales rolled out every year; it has always seemed to me that It’s a Wonderful Life works by inverting the earlier story. The smart variation offered in this movie is the portrait of Dickens writing his masterwork in the last weeks of 1843.

It is a dramatisation and whilst much of it is accurate it also includes invention and embroidering; check out ‘History vs Hollywood’ which examines some of these issues. The six week time period of the film is accurate; in that year Dickens was seeking an elusive popular novel and also worrying over financial problems. Meanwhile the Victorian Christmas was emerging; the 25th became a Bank Holiday in 1834; whilst Boxing Day and Bob Cratchit had to wait until 1871. The source for the movie was US writer Les Standiford who produces historical non-fiction and had the bright idea of presenting both how Dickens produced his famous work but also its influence on the increasing importance of this festival.

The film depicts Dickens drawing on his own life experiences to dramatise a tale of ‘light’ and shadow’; incorporating already existing practices such as the large fowl for dinner and the succulent pudding. He also added family get togethers and carol singing. The film tends to emphasise the sentimentality that was part of Dickens’ writing. There is less emphasis on the darker aspects of Victorian Britain; aspects written about vividly in the same period by Frederick Engels (‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, 1845).

In the course of the film we see Dickens (Dan Stevens) tussling with the  characters he develops, including Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer); receiving inspiration from those about him including an invented Irish maid Tara (Anna Murphy): and revisiting his past and family, including his father John (Jonathan Pryce). He also has to tussle with publishers, printers and illustrators as the novel takes shape and prepares for publication.

A widescreen scene from the film featuring a busy Victorian street of shops.

The amount of sentiment gave mental indigestion to certain critics; but a larger number appreciated the topicality for the season and the interest in seeing the gestation of one of the most remarkable contributions to English literature. There is some fine playing form a cast of familiar British actors and characters. The production values, produced on digital formats, are good. The title is in widescreen, 2.35:1, and colour and runs for 104 minutes. This is an entertaining way to develop that Christmas mood extolled by Dickens. And there is time left before the Festival to revisit the original. In 1843, if you waited until Christmas Eve, you would have been disappointed as the first edition had fully sold by then and you would then have to wait till the days before the New Year.


For this special Christmas screening, Friends of Hyde Park Picture House are entitled to up to 2 free tickets, all other tickets are £5.

If you had an active Friends membership in February 2020 (irrespective of whether this may have lapsed since then), your registered email address will already be on the box office system. This means you can purchase online, and the system will automatically discount your tickets.

To please your order –

  • Simply click on this link to the website
  • To book, first select your seat(s)
  • Continue through the booking process to the basket
  • When you go to checkout, you will be asked for your email address
  • Enter this and follow the instructions, and your tickets will automatically appear as free in your basket

If you have any difficulty with this process, or are unable to order through the website, please email info@hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk, or call 0113 275 2045.

Review: Censor (2021)

 Niamh Algar in CENSOR, a Magnet release. © CPL/SSF. Photo credit: Maria Lax. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Censor is Prano Bailey-Bond’s spine chilling debut feature. Set in the mid 80s against the backdrop of social unrest, Thatcherism and the rise of the video nasties. We follow Enid Baines (Niamh Algar) who is a film censor. She lives a nocturnal existence watching a plethora of gore and sin in the films she is charged with watching. One day she views a film that reminds her of a tragedy from her childhood. Triggered by this, she sets out on a journey in which her fiction and reality gets blurred.

The dark and depressive world that Bailey-Bond creates is heightened by Cinematographer Annika Summerson whose hellish visuals adds an expressionistic touch. It is notable that she uses 35mm which echoes the ambience of this bygone era.

The script which Bailey-Bond co-wrote with Anthony Fletcher, is razor sharp, with one scene in particular of suitably over the top gore mirroring the video nasties themselves. However amongst the blood shed there’s occasional moments of truly dark humour. The acting is chilling with Michael Smiley delivering a cool and calculated performance as sleazy film producer Doug Smart. However, the stand out is Niamh Algar who is magnetic on screen. Enid’s character’s arch is one of the film’s takeaways and Niamh plays her unravelling superbly.

The main criticism I have of the film is it’s running time. Although admittedly most horror films tend to be under two hours, you can’t help but feel a little cheated with a running time of one hour and twenty four minutes. You are left with a sense of events being rushed over and plot points not fully explained to get to the deliciously cynical Lynchian style ending.

Sam Judd

Censor is available as a premium rental (£10) from most online platforms including BFIPlayer and Curzon Home Cinema

Summer Of Soul

Showing at City Varieties on Tuesday 10th & Wednesday 11th August at 7:30pm

Summer of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

This Sundance award-winner is an absolute joy, uncovering a treasure trove of pulse-racing, heart-stopping live music footage that has remained largely unseen for half a century.

Mark Kermode, Observer (18 July 2021)

Mark Kermode isn’t the only person to suggest this is one of the best concert films ever made and it’s hard to disagree with such claims. The music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more really is fantastic, not to mention incredibly moving at several points.

The film is more than just footage from 1969’s The Harlem Cultural Festival. The full title of the film is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” because, although everybody involved knew how important it was to film these concerts, the footage was never seen and largely forgotten about. Unfortunately we can guess at some of the reasons why it never made it to TV but it’s great that we now get to see it. It was surprising to me how much more contemporary it seems compared to the more widely seen coverage of Woodstock that also took place that summer. The film captures the time and place to great effect, highlighting how much had happened leading up to the end of the decade and how much there was a need, and drive, for change.

It’s another music documentary (see also The Sparks Brothers) that will really benefit from the cinema experience. Not only will it look and sound great but this is a film to be enjoyed and experienced with other people. If you can’t make it to City Varieties it is also available to watch at home on Disney+.

Review: Another Round (2020)

Mads Mikkelsen drinking from a bottle in front of a crowd of people.

First a little quiz:

  • At a party have you ever deliberately tried to knock back enough glasses of wine to bring you to the exact point of being neither drunk nor sober?
  • Have you taken part in the  “Otley Run”,  lurching from one Headingley pub to another? (Another Round features the “Lake Run”, a Danish counterpart)
  • Are you living through a mid-life crisis? Do you long to recover your zest for life?
  • Have you ever drunk so much that you pissed the bed?
  • Or do you despair of people who use alcohol to try and fill their inner emptiness?
  • Are you a Danish student of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who asked “What is youth? A dream. What is love? The content of the dream”.

However you answered any of these questions, this film is sure to give you additional insights.

Another Round is an entertaining buddy movie about four teachers undertaking some pseudoscientific research. But it is a lot more than that. We learn some key things about their families and their emotional lives and maybe why they behave as they do. We see them drunk and sober (admittedly often quite drunk). We share their joys, grief and reckless abandon. The film does not glorify alcohol, but it does recognise its place in European culture.

Another Round won an Oscar for best international feature. Director Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) has brought together a great cast in this anarchic and life affirming film. Brilliant storytelling, excellent acting (a special shout out to Mads Mikkelsen) and engaging camerawork. The film is dedicated to Thomas Vinterberg’s daughter Ida whose 19 year old daughter died in a road accident just as production began.

I watched Another Round at the City Varieties as part of Hyde Park Picture House On the Road. The staff there were very helpful and have taken great care with social distancing arrangements. I’m sure that they will give us a warm welcome at our Yorkshire Day screening. Hope to see you there!


Bill Walton

The Father

Showing daily at City Varieties from Friday 18th June

UK poster for The Father featuring Olivia Coleman and Anthony Hopkins

Film has power, film can put you in the shoes of someone else and will make you see the world through their eyes. Florian Zeller’s The Father is an excellent example of this. The film centres on Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins, who is dealing with his ever deteriorating mind and his descent into dementia. We see the strain it puts on his relationships, particularly the relationship with his daughter Anne, played by Olivia Colman.

Florian Zeller who adapted it from his own play Le Père, beautifully walks the line between both the tragedy and heartbreak that comes with dementia, and the rare comedy that also can be found in those sad situations. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can?

The story is told almost entirely from Anthony’s perspective, meaning that the audience is confused nearly as much as him for the majority of the film. Although it is intentional and gives a glimpse into his world, at points the non-linear approach can feel overly abstract and detracts from the overall message.

The acting is superb with Anthony Hopkins deservingly walking away with the Oscar, making him the oldest winner for best leading actor. However, it is worth mentioning Olivia Colman who delivers a measured and understated performance as the loyal and grief-stricken Anne who we see trying to balance her own needs and her father’s. The supporting cast members such as Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots and Rufus Sewell also give equally rich performances.

The artificial style does betray its conception in the theatre which sometimes makes it feel quite unapproachable, and unreal. However, it does at other points add an operatic nature and poignancy which you won’t necessarily get if it was more true to life.

Quite rarely do you see a film that deals with subject matter such as this, that takes such an experimental approach. However, what’s noteworthy is the incredible insight into what dementia patients must be going through. It is something quite unique and will make you think twice.

Sam Judd

Films at Heart

Bill Walton has been checking out some of the films at the Headingley Enterprise and Arts centre.

During Lockdown I’ve watched a lot of films on the small screen (though I draw the line at watching on a phone!), mostly on DVD or streamed from MUBI. But recently I’ve ventured out to events screened at the Heart centre in Headingley … a big screen, indoors, socially distanced, friendly, with flexible seating, refreshments and a friendly welcome.

First was Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). This was a tasty Food and Film evening. I hadn’t seen Rashomon before but it lived up to its reputation. The term “Rashomon Effect” has become a byword for situations which demonstrate relative truth and subjectivity of memory. In the film we have conflicting accounts by a woodcutter, a thief, a woman and the spirit of her husband about a violent incident in the forest. Flashbacks highlight the disagreements. What particularly surprised me was the vitality of the cast. Definitely worth more than one watch.

My second visit to Heart was to see Purple Rain (1984) which was arranged by a Prince enthusiast. The soundtrack produced 4 top 40 hits. The rock musical drama draws to some extent on Prince’s early difficult childhood and backstage life at the legendary First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. Certainly a charismatic performance.

I’ve already booked for the next Heart Food and Film event on June 18th: a celebration of Mexico with fabulous food and Ariel Award winning film – THE GOLDEN DREAM.

Heart Food & Film Present: Mexican Food and Language Film - The Golden Dream 18 June 2021

Three teenagers, Juan, Sara and Samuel from the slums of Guatemala, travelling together on freight trains and walking railroad tracks through Mexico, meet Chauk from Chiapas who doesn’t speak Spanish. Together they face a journey that will change their lives forever.

For more information and tickets visit the HEART website

The Picture House’s own family friendly Hyde & Seek screenings will be starting again at Heart later this month. These screenings are ‘Pay What You Can’, which means you’re free to pay as much or as little as you can afford but must be booked in advanced via the Picture House website.

The first film is the Disney animated Robin Hood (1973) on Saturday 26th June at 10:30am.

You know, there’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood. All different too. Well, we folks of the animal kingdom have our own version. It’s the story of what really happened in Sherwood Forest

Alan-A-Dale


Bring your family along on the 26th to find out for yourselves.

Two films by Satyajit Ray

May 2nd was the centenary of this outstanding film-maker and a seminal figure in Indian cinema. The British Film Institute is planning a complete retrospective of his films later this year. Whilst we wait and wonder how many actual films will make it to Yorkshire Film 4 offers transfers of two of his fine titles in the coming week.

The family in ‘Mahanagar’

Monday / Tuesday night  at 01.15 a.m. [now available on All4].

Mahanagar (The Big City) – the film was shot in 1963 in black and white academy ratio: the language is Bengali with some English and with English sub-titles: and is set in Ray’s home city of Kolkata (Calcutta). The film follows the experiences of a family home which contains parents, two children and the grandparents on the husband’s side. The husband, Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee), works as a senior clerk in a private bank; part of Bengali ‘bhadralok culture’ which Europeans would think of as lower middle class. The large family place a strain on his income and his wife, Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) offers to help by taking a job. Despite the disapproval of the grandfather Arati obtains a post selling knitting machines door-to-door in middle class areas. Arati is the centre of this fascinating film; Madhabi is splendid as the young wife and the whole cast are excellent. Ray’s direction is beautifully and effectively restrained and his production team are excellent, especially the regular cinematographer Subrata Mitra.

Ray won the prestigious Silver Bear Award at the 1964 Berlin International Film Festival whilst the film won the Golden Bear.. However, the film itself failed to achieve a nomination by the Hollywood academy in the Best Foreign Language Film category; this was typical of the Academy. Mother India made a nomination in 1957; the next success was not until 1988 with Salaam Bombay. Three of Ray’s fine films failed to get nominations.

Wife and husband in ‘Charulata’

Tuesday / Wednesday night at 1255 a.m. [now available on All4].

Charulata (The Lonely Wife) – the film was shot in 1964 in black and white academy ratio: the language is Bengali with some English and with English sub-titles:it is set in Kolkata (Calcutta) in the 1880s. Thus this is a period film which is set in a Bengal and India under the rule of the Raj. This period also follows the 1857 ‘first war of independence’ [termed a mutiny by the British rulers). At one point in the film the Bengali men discuss a British general election contested by the the political parties led by Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

As the title suggests the film focuses on the young wife, Charu and her relationship with her husband and a visiting relative. Bhupati Dutta plays the husband whilst two actors from Mahanagar, Madhabi Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee, play Charulata and Bhupati’s younger cousin Amal respectively. The cast are excellent. Ray’s direction provides a slowly paced portrait of the marriage interspersed with some fine lyrical moments. The opening and closing sequences are especially highly praised, [so stay awake].

The scenario was adapted by Ray from a story by Rabindranath Tagore, the leader of the Bengal Renaissance and an important influence of Ray himself. Ray is an auteur in the fullest sense of the term; in this film providing the scenario, costume design, direction and music. However, he relies on a really skilled production team. In particular this film contains some of the finest cinematography by Subrata Mitra.For the second year running Ray won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlinale. Whilst the film did not follow Mahanagar in winning the Golden Bear it is to my mind the finer film and one of Ray’s great achievements.

With adverts both titles will run over two hours. Especially with the Charulata there are few cinematic double hours which offer the same quality and pleasure. If you are new to Ray, or indeed if you are familiar with his films, then the Saudha International Satyajit Ray Congress [available on You Tube] offers a range of interesting comments on Ray’s art.

Movie Nights At City Varieties

“Please watch our movie on the largest screen possible and one day very, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space and watch every film that’s represented here tonight.

Frances McDormand accepting the Best Picture Academy Award for Nomadland

With cinemas reopening the On The Road screenings are starting again with Movie Nights At City Varieties Music Hall. This week it’s Nomadland and Ammonite with Sound Of Metal, Minari and Wolfwalkers all coming up. These are all films that will really benefit from seeing (and hearing) on a big screen.

On Wednesday 19th there is also a “one night only” chance to see Pedro Almodóvar’s new 30 minute film The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton and made last year under lockdown conditions. The screening will be followed by a recorded Q&A with Mark Kermode talking to Almodóvar and Swinton.

For ticket and safety information please see the Hyde Park Picture House website