Saturday, December 5, 2020

Aaron Sorkin's THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 and Steve McQueen's MANGROVE vs Peter Morgan's safely elitist/escapist THE CROWN

Right off the bat I must admit that my attitude toward Britain's Royal Family pretty much mirrors that of moviemaker Terence Davies as described in his rich and moving documentary, Of Time and the City: the sooner our world (and especially Britain) is rid of this nutrient-sapping plague, the better off we'll all be. Goodness knows, we will have much less gossip fodder for the tabloids and soap opera for the TV -- but, hey, them's the breaks. If you're a huge fan of the Netfix series THE CROWN, as so many folk currently are, our Sunday Corner correspondent Lee Liberman has covered the series in depth already, so TrustMovies himself will simply say that when his spouse and he began watching it several years back, we stopped after a few episodes, finding it, as spousie surmised, just more "Royal Family Bullshit" (RFB). 

Coming back to The Crown in the current Season Four (due to all that media hoopla), and again lasting only a few episodes, we were quicky enmired in more RFB, the leading purveyor of which is certainly Peter Morgan, writer/creator of The Crown, as well as of The Queen, who, though he writes wittily and entertainingly, still gives us mostly RFB -- granted with a goodly amount of the Royal Family's pecadilloes in plain view (an alternate titled for the series might have Pecadilloes on Parade!). 

This offers up the chance for audiences to escape into a white, elitist fantasy, while simultaneously feeling superior to the mostly silly twats on view -- really quite an unbeatable combo for mainstream entertainment. The new season is also an opportunity to see some of Britain's and America's finest actors strutting their stuff (quietly and oh, so seriously, of course!), from Olivia Colman (the Queen) to Gillian Anderson (a very fine Margaret Thatcher) and Josh O'Connor (above, as a glum, dumb Prince Charles). 

A very different look at the Britain of the second half of the 20th Century (circa 1970) can be found in MANGROVE, one of the five new films from writer/director Steve McQueen that are part of Amazon Prime Video's new Small Axe series. Mangrove is a hard film to watch because it deals openly and honestly with British racism, especially by the police, during this time. It mirrors our own racism here in the USA, and though it is not overly violent, the entitled, racist -- both casually and nastily --  attitude of  the white, upper-class establishment will be difficult to watch for those of us who grew up in that time either in Britain or here in the USA and tacitly allowed all this to go on. And on. Particularly at this current time, as the Black Lives Matter movement grows and more and more about the racism of then and now comes to light.

Mr. McQueen is a tad heavy on repetition and on some of his messaging about the need to organize and join together to defeat the white elite, but mostly he draws such wonderful performances from his fine cast (that includes Letitia Wright, above, and Shaun Parkes, below) and, along with his co-writer Alastair Siddons, gives us a splendid court trial (of The Mangrove Nine), during which he effectively puts us in a position that comes close to being a member of the jury on this case that his film finally works on every level.

Folk who, when they hear the words Notting Hill, immediately think of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, may instead now find themselves remembering instead this little-but-major movie that reminds us of what has been accomplished and how much yet remains to be done.

The tale told in Aaron Sorkin's newest, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (streaming on Netflix), is much more complex than that of Mangrove, and though both films use a lot of exposition, Mr. Sorkin, not simply clever but also smart, manages to entertain us royally, as well as educate us about a genuinely fascinating trial that captured the world's attention back in 1969. Sorkin's star-studded cast includes everyone from British actors such as Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance to Frank Langella (who makes a terrific Judge Hoffman) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (below), who aces the role of this film's most complex character, a highly traditional and conservative prosecutor who also possesses scruples and morals.

Sorkin's movie is one of this year's best, and while everything about it resonates, for TrustMovies, the most surprising moments came as I watched the film's black defendant Bobby Seale, along with Fred Hampton, and realized how differently I view these men now than I had at the time of the trial -- when Black Panthers seemed to me a frightening bunch and what they were telling us was too overstated to be believed. Watching this really terrific movie in the context of what's going on today made me realize even more strongly how naive I was at that time. 

So go to The Crown for escape if you must, but see Mangrove and The Trial of the Chicago 7 to get reacquainted with British and American history and "justice for all." 

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