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Here is a roundup of music and movie news of interest to followers of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group.

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Chanya Button’s new film Vita And Virginia will be shown at 8:15 p.m July 30 at the Barn Cinema, Dartington Hall, Devon, followed by a post-screening discussion of the film with Dr. Kirsty Martin, senior lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter.

The discussion will consider how Chanya Button’s film portrays the two main characters and their relationship, in connection with Kirsty’s own research into Virginia Woolf, as seen in her first book, Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy.

Dartington and the Bloomsbury group

The event will also provide an opportunity for attendees to learn more about Dartington’s connections with the Bloomsbury group, and the founders of the Dartington experiment, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, and the Arts department there.

The Q&A will be hosted by The Dartington Hall Trust’s Arts Correspondent, William Kemp, who before joining Dartington worked at Charleston in Sussex, the home of Bloomsbury Group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

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“Vita and Virginia,” the much-anticipated Chanya Button film about the love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West is playing in London, and I saw it yesterday.

It has opened to mixed reviews. But if you are a fan of Virginia Woolf — as I obviously am — it is a must-see.

Scenery, sets, and superb fashion

As Sarah Hall put it in a message to VWoolf ListServ, “In films or plays about real people you get used to the departures from reality, so I made a determined effort to ignore these and enjoyed the scenery and the costumes and, frankly, the well-recreated sets (all except Knole, which is gloriously real).”

I agree. The sets look wonderfully authentic. The scenes that take place at Charleston look like Charleston, down to the painted doorways and decorated mantelpieces. The room where the Hogarth Press was housed looks just as I imagined it — although Stuart Clarke of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain said a press such as the Woolfs owned would not have sounded like the one in the film. But film needs sound, so the producers added the clanking of machinery as the pages of Jacob’s Room (1922) are shown coming off the press.

The costumes are fabulous — although I did wonder if Vita’s actual wardrobe was as glamorous as the film portrayed. But movies are expected to be a treat for the eyes, and this one succeeded at that, with the sets, the scenery, and the costumes.

The words don’t fail but the pacing plods

Since it was based on the eponymous play by Eileen Atkins, which was based on the letters that Vita and Virginia wrote each other, I also appreciated hearing the words of those two writers as much of the film’s dialogue.

But where the words succeed, the pacing plods. Even for a Woolf lover, the film is slow.

And there are a number of scenes — from the party scene where one first encounters Virginia to the love scenes in Vita’s bed — where I shook my head in disbelief. No, Virginia would not have danced around like a Grateful Dead groupie at any party, I thought. And no, I thought, Virginia never experienced sexual fulfillment via Vita. Did she?

Sarah Hall also had this criticism, “What didn’t make dramatic sense is to have Vita’s mother in residence at Knole instead of her father (who doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned). If Lionel is meant to be prematurely deceased, why hasn’t Knole been bestowed on a male heir?”

The casting is questionable

However, the casting may be my main complaint. After two casting changes for the role of Virginia, the film stars Gemma Arterton as Vita and Elizabeth Debicki as Virginia. Neither really works. In my opinion, Arterton is too cute and feminine to play the outdoorsy Vita. Debicki is absolutely too tall; she towers over the petite Arterton in too many scenes, which put me off.

Peter Ferdinando works well as Leonard and portrays him as a sympathetic character, which suits me. But Adam Gilles is wrong on every count as Duncan Grant. I had to wonder why they didn’t cast the beautiful James Norton, who made the perfect Duncan in Life in Squares.

Despite complaints, I recommend the film to anyone who cares about Virginia Woolf, Vita, and the Bloomsbury group. Apparently, many agree. On its opening weekend, July 4-7, the film made £49,223 showing in 63 cinemas.

The film opens in the U.S. in October.

 

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From the release of details about the film in 2015 to cast selection in the winter of 2017 to additional preparations made later that year, Blogging Woolf has kept readers informed about Vita and Virginia, the new film telling the love story of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Now that Chanya Button’s UK-Ireland feature film is about to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow, we have an update that includes the brief official trailer and a review link.

I imagine that most readers of Woolf are eager to see the film, which stars Elizabeth Debicki as Woolf and Gemma Arterton as Sackville-West. Arterton also served as the movie’s executive producer. And although I don’t know when it will be available in theaters, I am already enjoying this quote from the trailer:

Independence has no sex.

The Toronto Review wrote a negative review, stating that the film “attempts to manufacture chemistry by regurgitating chunks of the letters that Vita and Virginia wrote to each other.”

I guess we’ll have to wait until we see it ourselves before we can decide whether the film does more than that. I, for one, am hopeful that it does justice to both women.

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A new short video about Virginia Woolf was recently published on YouTube by TED-Ed. Titled “Why should you read Virginia Woolf?”  it is narrated by Iseult Gillesipe from the University of Wisconson-Madison.

The video details Woolf’s early life and highlights several of her novels. Check it out on YouTube or view it below.

 

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Where I live, we are lucky to have Nightlight Cinema, a small locally-owned theatre that shows independent films ignored by the big theater complexes that feature blockbusters.

Drawn in by a preview of A Ghost Story, I attended Nightlight’s last showing of the film on Thursday. I was glad I did. Why? Two reasons. It was intriguing. And it pays tribute to Virginia Woolf.

The film, which has received rave reviews, includes the first line of Woolf’s short story “A Haunted House” in the opening credits. It is shown for a few moments on a dark background.

Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting.

Filmmaker David Lowery’s use of the quote was a clue to what I didn’t know but soon learned — that Woolf is one of his favorite authors and her 1921 story helped inspire his film.

My investigation also uncovered the fact that when the ghost knocks several books off a shelf, the open book upon which the camera focuses includes important lines from “A Haunted House,” lines about treasure, buried treasure, “the light in the heart.”

Woolf as guiding light

Orlando is one of my favourite novels,” Lowery told the Irish Times. “I love her letters too. She’s my guiding light. The way she uses time fascinates me. Especially in To the Lighthouse and Orlando. They play with time in this dynamic and fun way. I love the idea of a character existing outside of time in the way that Orlando does.

“So that was certainly on my mind when I was writing the screenplay. And I wanted to pay homage to her in some small regard. And I wondered if she had ever written about ghosts. So I did a Google search. And found A Haunted House. I couldn’t believe that I had never read it before.

“The first sentence begins: ‘Whatever hour you woke there was a door shunting’. [sic] I couldn’t resist extending that to the film. I hope that it encourages somebody somewhere to pick up her work. Because I owe a lot to her.”

Playing with time as Woolf does

The film is a story of a house and its haunting, much like Woolf’s story. And it kept me thinking about its meaning and the message of the film long after I exited the theater, just as Woolf’s writing does long after I finish one of her novels or stories.

What’s more, Lowery plays with time in the film, much as Woolf does. As he noted in an interview with Huffington Post: “Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us. Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. DallowayTo the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit.”

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Gemma at Flower Show

Gemma Arterton at the Chelsea Flower Show (image via IrishNews.com).

Preparations for the upcoming film Vita and Virginia are well underway. British actress Gemma Arterton, will play Vita Sackville-West in the film about the friendship between Vita and Virginia Woolf. Sackville-West was a celebrated gardener whose work continues to inspire gardeners today, so Arterton has been has been preparing for her role by gardening and spending time around flowers.

Arterton visited the RHS Chelsea Flower Show last month where she talked about her experience gardening and her work preparing to play such a respected gardener. The Irish News writes that Arterton became a “devoted gardener” while researching for the role in the film:

 

“I would like to be a big gardener and I am constantly trying to find new ways to bring it to life. I am moving house soon just so that I can have a garden.

“The role came before the passion. Vita was one of the world’s most famous gardeners, so I have been trying to get into the zone for that.”

andrea as woolf

Andrea Riseborough will play Virginia Woolf.

 

We learn from the article that filming will take place this summer at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. The article also states that the role of Virginia Woolf will be played by Andrea Riseborough, which is different from the original cast that was announced, which had Eva Green lined up to play Woolf.

Riseborough has been featured in such films as Brighton Rock, Oblivion, and the Oscar winning film Birdman.

The director of the film, Chanya Button, has been preparing in other ways. In May she tweeted about attending lectures on the Hogarth Press at the Charleston Literary Festival:

 

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