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BEAUTIFUL DEVILS Film Review
Directed By James Marquand
The latest from the accomplished British director James Marquand (One Night in Istanbul, i against i, Dead Man’s Cards) brings you a very clever modern interpretation of Othello. BEAUTIFUL DEVILS takes Shakespeare’s 16th century Venetian (and Cypriot) tale of love, jealously and paranoia into present day London where the incentive for the hopelessly ambitious young players - substituting for a higher rung on the ladder of Venetian society - is a chance at fame and fortune in contemporary London’s music scene.
The first thing to say about this film is Marquand has elicited excellent performances from his actors and in particular the two leads, with Elliot James Langridge & Osy Ikhile playing respectively the quietly sociopathic and scheming Ivan (Shakespeare’s Iago) and the pathologically wounded Oz (Othello). Perhaps it is because these two actors have worked together on previous film projects (In the Heart of the Sea, The Legend of Tarzan) that they gel so well on screen. The interplay between the twisted motivations of Ivan against Oz’s vulnerabilities, not least his trust in Ivan, is exquisitely portrayed.
There have been numerous film adaptions of Shakespeare’s works over the years. Without going into an extensive list it is worth considering why some succeed and others fail; why Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet and Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus are so mesmerising whilst Michael Almereyda's Hamlet and Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth were so uninteresting. The key element possibly being that Shakespeare wasn’t about plot as much as he was about depth of character. Those who have tried to merely update a plot have missed the point. Marquand and the writers, Jennifer Majka & Sacha Bennett, have succeeded here because rather than skipping across the plot and doffing their caps to the reference points of the original they have delved inward into what brings these characters alive, and what tears them apart, both individually and collectively. This of course requires great acting from the leads and solid performances all round.
Thankfully then, the supporting cast here hit all the right notes in giving credibility to this story of a young up and coming band seeking fame and fortune via the slinky music executive Archie ‘Tash’ Hoffman, played with aplomb and subtle humour by Rufus Hound. The flux between the band and the industry exec falls to their manager Louis - solidly played by Steven Waddington (The Imitation Game, The Sweeney) as the man in the middle of it all attempting to be both an inspiring and pacifying influence over the increasingly disturbed Oz - and other band members - as their world implodes.
Shakespeare’s Desdemona manifests in this story as Darcy, played by Rachel Hurd-Wood. Hurd-Wood has been acting since she played Wendy Darling in Peter Pan at 12 years of age. In other roles she has played opposite the late great Alan Rickman (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), Donald Sutherland & Sissy Spacek (An American Haunting) and her experience is brought to the fore here in revealing Darcy’s inner turmoil as her deep love for Oz is gradually overtaken by feelings of confusion and dread; and as she tries to remain a loving daughter to her father, a loyal lover to Oz, and an independent woman.
Iain Glen (Resident Evil, Game of Thrones) as Darcy’s doting father caught between protecting his daughter and fear of driving her away is sublimely written and performed. Glen’s sensitivity in expressing the helplessness the father feels mingled with the longing to be close to his daughter is faultless. Glen does not take up much screen time but the impression he makes in the emotional stakes of this tale shouldn’t be underestimated. It is he we feel most deeply for as the curtain closes.
The writers seem to have enjoyed meeting the challenge of marrying their plot to its Shakespearean reference points – Othello’s handkerchief becoming Oz’s T-Shirt, for example – they inject some delightful contemporary dialogue along the way. And although the story is necessarily a tragedy they manage to include some humorous set pieces and many lovely quips and in-jokes which are always subtly delivered and add to the reality of the context.
If there are small questions to ask it would be regarding the character motivations of Rigo, played by newcomer Matt Bentley and - in the final scene – Emmy, played by Dominique Provost-Chalkey (The Avengers, The Seasoning House). Although Rigo is clearly besotted by Darcy and this is strong enough motivation to begin with for him to become Ivan’s partner in crime, by the end I was wondering why he was still so willing to collude in Ivan’s scheming. I would like to have seen more interaction (was there any?) between he and Darcy; a misunderstanding between them perhaps which might explain why he felt he had any chance of a place in here heart. Provost-Chalkey as Ivan’s girlfriend is convincing but in the highly dramatic final scenes her choices seem a tad puzzling. However none of this is enough to spoil the show and the finale is gripping and powerful.
Other noteworthy credits go to the cinematography of Stuart Nicholas White, which adds a stylistic stratum. The editors Barry Moen & Steve Shone do a fine job in assembling this intelligently pieced together drama. And with great performances from such an amazing young British cast the casting director Manuel Puro and Puro Casting deserve a mention.
Structurally, the choice of using a bookend storytelling device ran the risk of a giving the film a slightly preachy moral message, yet this too is handled carefully and although the film would have worked without it, it adds yet another layer and works well.
You don’t need to be familiar with Othello or even Shakespeare to be drawn into this fresh and exciting take on one of his masterpieces.
BEAUTIFUL DEVILS is in selected Cinemas from 21st March 2017.
Britflicks Podcast host Stuart Wright talks to BEAUTIFUL DEVILS director James Marquand
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