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Save the Cinema: Samantha Morton’s feel good flop

The joke’s on Spielberg

Save the Cinema: What’s cinema got to do with it? The play’s the thing!
Save the Cinema: What’s cinema got to do with it? The play’s the thing!

The poster art proudly presents the lead actors standing on a red carpet beneath a gleaming marquee, but don’t let that fool you. The cinematic savior in the piece devotes more time to hanging onto the fringes of legitimate theatre than she does munching popcorn in the dark.

Save the Cinema (2022)

An opening flashback set the tone for this British fluffball, based on the real life exploits of Liz Evans (Samantha Morton). The hairdresser and mother of three boys donates much of her time to presiding over a youth theatre group, one that, several times a year, takes over the stage of the local faded picture palace. Evans is on intimate terms with the stage: she met her husband David (Owain Yeoman) during a high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The play clearly held sentimental value, but when she was asked years later what she thought of the Brando version, she admitted to having never seen it. Even if movies aren’t her art form of choice, you would figure the filmed version of a story that played such a significant role in her life would be worth a look. If nothing else, if the intent was trying to win over rank-and-file cinephiles — and considering all of the poetic licensing on display — it might have been worth it to add another fib to the pile.

It’s been 10 years since the theatre screened its last movie. Mayor Tom (Adeel Akhtar), the villain in the piece, is straight out of a Jay Ward cartoon: a dandified mustache groomer who turns a simple hike up a flight of stairs into a theatrical production. Once we’re past the needless kiddie restagings of numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar and Oliver!, his honor agrees to send a wrecking ball to level the landmark building and so make way for a downtown shopping mall. Rounding out the formulaic horde of background players are letter carrier Richard Goodridge (Tom Felton), the newest addition to the town council, and who has a crush on Susan (Erin Richards) the mayor’s assistant, whose days are spent fetching coffee and playing receptionist. (Based on her refusal to accept his advances, the Mayor is convinced she’s a lesbian.) Suddenly, the theater has become the mayor’s passion project, and Richard is the deciding vote to call in the demolition crew. Looking to save the place, Liz says goodbye to her family by barricading herself inside the place. The emotions that follow are as authentic as the xeroxed lobby cards from The Searchers that adorn the entryway.

Why not call the cops to remove Liz from the building? Because the town fatcats, led by Colm Meany, are afraid she’ll draw attention to their efforts to level a listed building. So, with the help of her assistant Dolly (Susan Wokoma), Liz sets up shop above the footlights. When the cops come to raid the place, they’re told she’s staging a production of Hairspray. Mr. Morgan (Jonathan Pryce), a projectionist turned teacher, is the first to come up with the absurd notion of actually using a movie theatre to show a movie. He tracks down a 35mm print of John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, another film that managed to dodge celluloid warrior Liz’s gaze. It’s amazing how little dust a projection booth can accumulate during a decade’s dormancy. In no time, the machinery is humming like a mother trying to quiet her newborn.

Liz’s desire to save the theatre has precious little to do with this Sky original. What she wants is to preserve the space so she can keep staging children’s interpretations of the classics. And when Richard hops on the wrecking ball, it has more to do with impressing Susan than it does advancing the cause of cinema. Together, they spearhead a campaign to convince Steven Spielberg to premier Jurassic Park there as a fundraiser to help save the space. When the ingenuous Amblin rep rings to express interest, she has no idea where in the world Wales is. Then, with Spielberg set to call Richard in an hour, director Sara Sugarman (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) deals another dumb card. It’s the phone call to end all phone calls, yet one of Liz’s regulars refuses to delay her treatment. The two have no choice but to wheel with the hair dryer across town to Richard’s office. With a cast driven by types, not characters it’s the kind of British comedy that will leave one reeling for Ealing, a feel good flop that has as much to do with love of cinema as it does dinosaurs. On a note of vindictiveness, part of the deal to get the director’s personal print entailed starting the show three minutes after the London premier. The joke’s on Spielberg: Liz set the clock back 5 minutes. Some feel-good picture! The guy did her the favor of a lifetime, and she rewards him with bad faith. It’s a betrayal that’s mean-spirited even by my standards.

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Save the Cinema: What’s cinema got to do with it? The play’s the thing!
Save the Cinema: What’s cinema got to do with it? The play’s the thing!

The poster art proudly presents the lead actors standing on a red carpet beneath a gleaming marquee, but don’t let that fool you. The cinematic savior in the piece devotes more time to hanging onto the fringes of legitimate theatre than she does munching popcorn in the dark.

Save the Cinema (2022)

An opening flashback set the tone for this British fluffball, based on the real life exploits of Liz Evans (Samantha Morton). The hairdresser and mother of three boys donates much of her time to presiding over a youth theatre group, one that, several times a year, takes over the stage of the local faded picture palace. Evans is on intimate terms with the stage: she met her husband David (Owain Yeoman) during a high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The play clearly held sentimental value, but when she was asked years later what she thought of the Brando version, she admitted to having never seen it. Even if movies aren’t her art form of choice, you would figure the filmed version of a story that played such a significant role in her life would be worth a look. If nothing else, if the intent was trying to win over rank-and-file cinephiles — and considering all of the poetic licensing on display — it might have been worth it to add another fib to the pile.

It’s been 10 years since the theatre screened its last movie. Mayor Tom (Adeel Akhtar), the villain in the piece, is straight out of a Jay Ward cartoon: a dandified mustache groomer who turns a simple hike up a flight of stairs into a theatrical production. Once we’re past the needless kiddie restagings of numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar and Oliver!, his honor agrees to send a wrecking ball to level the landmark building and so make way for a downtown shopping mall. Rounding out the formulaic horde of background players are letter carrier Richard Goodridge (Tom Felton), the newest addition to the town council, and who has a crush on Susan (Erin Richards) the mayor’s assistant, whose days are spent fetching coffee and playing receptionist. (Based on her refusal to accept his advances, the Mayor is convinced she’s a lesbian.) Suddenly, the theater has become the mayor’s passion project, and Richard is the deciding vote to call in the demolition crew. Looking to save the place, Liz says goodbye to her family by barricading herself inside the place. The emotions that follow are as authentic as the xeroxed lobby cards from The Searchers that adorn the entryway.

Why not call the cops to remove Liz from the building? Because the town fatcats, led by Colm Meany, are afraid she’ll draw attention to their efforts to level a listed building. So, with the help of her assistant Dolly (Susan Wokoma), Liz sets up shop above the footlights. When the cops come to raid the place, they’re told she’s staging a production of Hairspray. Mr. Morgan (Jonathan Pryce), a projectionist turned teacher, is the first to come up with the absurd notion of actually using a movie theatre to show a movie. He tracks down a 35mm print of John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, another film that managed to dodge celluloid warrior Liz’s gaze. It’s amazing how little dust a projection booth can accumulate during a decade’s dormancy. In no time, the machinery is humming like a mother trying to quiet her newborn.

Liz’s desire to save the theatre has precious little to do with this Sky original. What she wants is to preserve the space so she can keep staging children’s interpretations of the classics. And when Richard hops on the wrecking ball, it has more to do with impressing Susan than it does advancing the cause of cinema. Together, they spearhead a campaign to convince Steven Spielberg to premier Jurassic Park there as a fundraiser to help save the space. When the ingenuous Amblin rep rings to express interest, she has no idea where in the world Wales is. Then, with Spielberg set to call Richard in an hour, director Sara Sugarman (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) deals another dumb card. It’s the phone call to end all phone calls, yet one of Liz’s regulars refuses to delay her treatment. The two have no choice but to wheel with the hair dryer across town to Richard’s office. With a cast driven by types, not characters it’s the kind of British comedy that will leave one reeling for Ealing, a feel good flop that has as much to do with love of cinema as it does dinosaurs. On a note of vindictiveness, part of the deal to get the director’s personal print entailed starting the show three minutes after the London premier. The joke’s on Spielberg: Liz set the clock back 5 minutes. Some feel-good picture! The guy did her the favor of a lifetime, and she rewards him with bad faith. It’s a betrayal that’s mean-spirited even by my standards.

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