Who will win and should win at this Sunday’s Golden Globes…
Great too to see ‘Normal People’ (2020) and ‘Small Axe’ (2020) nominated in the TV categories and to see Daisy Edgar-Jones nominated for Best Actress. But no Paul Mescal - he was the standout of ‘Normal People’.
Why is John Boyega nominated for TV Supporting Actor when he was clearly the lead in ‘Red, White and Blue’ (2020)?
I was disappointed by the lack of foreign language films and actors in the major categories - apart from German child star Helena Zengal for ‘News of the World’ (2021). ‘Parasite’ (2020) made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. This year’s foreign language film list looks a bit bland - especially ‘The Life Ahead’ (2020) which I actually watched dubbed in English.
The worst thing was seeing a nomination for ‘Emily in Paris’ (2020). WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! That show is a cultural travesty and, as much as I like Lily Collins, she does not deserve to be nominated for Best Actress.
Overall, though, a really good selection of films and performers. There’s a lot of diversity and a lot of gender equality. It’s clear the awards panels are listening to our concerns about levelling the playing field. They’ve responded by giving us the blackest, brownest, most feminist awards bunch in years. All eyes will be on the February 28th ceremony to see if awards still have a place in the Covid world…
I couldn’t be happier for Florence. She seems like a lovely girl, a terrific actress and is entitled to date whoever she chooses. There’s just one thing that people seem to have contention with. Pugh turned 25 last month and Zach is 46 this year - that leaves a 21 year age gap between the two lovers.
Now, age gaps between celebrity couples are no new thing. Harper’s Bazaar published an article in May last year (which I looked at before writing this piece) listing 40 couples with big age differences. George Clooney (59) is married to Amal Clooney (who turned 43 this month), who he is 17 years senior to. Bollywood hottie Priyanka Chopra (38) tied the knot with Nick Jonas (28) - the joint lead singer of the Jonas Brothers - despite being 10 years older than him. Even moving beyond heterosexual relationships, Stephen Fry is 63 and his husband, Elliott Spencer, is 33 (old enough to be his son!).
Now, the concept of older men dating younger women is not a newcomer to controversy. As much as I hate Donald Trump, I do think the reaction to the 74 year old former President’s marriage to the glamorous 50 year old Melania Trump was out of proportion. People should be free to love and marry whoever they like regardless of age and I think the stigma about Trump being with a younger woman largely stemmed from the press’ dislike of Trump and his politics.
I was more surprised therefore to see the amount of flack Florence Pugh received for her relationship with Zach Braff. Pugh is a media darling at the moment - a Kate Winslet-style icon for acting talent and queenly elegance. I’ve been swooned by her acting many times as many men and women have too. There’s not many actresses who can go from playing Amy March in ‘Little Women’ (2019) to throwing punches in hotpants in a wrestling comedy (‘Fighting With My Family’ (2019)) with The Rock.
Forget her acting, in all her interviews, Pugh always strikes me as a very well-spoken, intelligent young woman (I’m saying young, she’s 25 and I’m 24 this year so she’s a little older than me and therefore I can hardly talk). So why are people so determined to bully and belittle her over the fact that she’s dating a man old enough to be her dad?
The Oscar-nominated actress stated in an Instagram video defending her relationship with Mr.Braff - “within about eight minutes” of sharing a photo of her boyfriend to mark his 45th birthday, she started to receive abuse and hateful messages. “Comments hurling abuse and being horrid” as she calls it...
These messages accounted for about 70% of the photo’s comments and “for the first time in my instagram life, I have had to turn off the comments on my page” she very sadly says.
Florence continued in impassioned style with the very powerful line “I will underline this fact, I am 24 years old, I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love and I would never in my life ever, ever tell anyone who they can and cannot love”. She went on “it is not your place and really it has nothing to do with you. So if those rules are something that you do not like then please unfollow me, because the abuse you throw at him is abuse you are throwing at me and I don’t want those followers and I don’t want to be protecting my comments every time I post a picture of him”. Powerful words.
I watched Florence Pugh’s instagram video and was close to tears. Not just because I like her, but no one, especially not someone as talented as her, should have to justify their choice of relationship. People should be thinking of her as “the next Kate Winslet” and crediting her as an Oscar-nominated actress who has played Amy March and Black Widow’s sister in the space of a year and done more in 6 years of acting in the film industry than 40 year old actresses do in a 20 year career.
Instead they’re belittling her for going out with a man old enough to be her dad. Well, the abuse is directed at him, but I’m sure it hurts her too that people have so much contention with her choice of boyfriend as she said in the video. It just makes me feel sick that people can be so cruel!
It’s not just the women who get the flack for a huge age gap between them and their partners. Like I said, Donald Trump has been heckled and jeered at for marrying Melania. But I suspect that has more to do with the fact that Trump is a horrible person. Florence, on the other hand, is not. So why is she getting so much hate?
I suspect there is an element of sexism involved. Female politicians know a lot about this. Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were constantly photographed and commented upon for flashing their legs rather than talking about their policies. Just ask Jacinda Ardern about that sexist interview on the AM Show when she was asked about her baby plans instead of her campaign promises as Labour leader.
I think we unfortunately still live in a society with two expectations placed upon women - to get married and have children. No one bothered about Boris Johnson not being engaged to Carrie Symonds, for example. Boris’ situation highlights further sexism as no one appeared to bat an eyelid that he is 56 and Carrie is 32 - that’s 24 years between them.
We have to assume that Johnson is the more famous one out of the Downing Street couple, being Prime Minister and all. Naturally, you would assume this would leave him the first to be at risk of scrutiny for dating a woman half his age. But I’ve not seen a single news article criticizing him for dating a younger woman and rightfully so. People should be able to date whoever they damn well feel like!
Out of Florence and Zach, Pugh is the more famous one. Braff is best known for ‘Scrubs’ (2001-2010), but he’s not one of the biggest and hottest movie stars at the moment, due next to star opposite Scarlett Johansson in ‘Black Widow’ (2021). Florence is at the centre of all the media coverage of Florence + Zach and she’s been professionally slaughtered for it. They don’t care about him, they care about her. Had a big actor around Pugh’s age like, say, Timothee Chalamet or Asa Butterfield started dating an older woman, they definitely wouldn’t get so much flack.
There definitely is a further sexism at work in what I refer to as “cougar culture”. You know, when an older, relatively attractive woman is caught in a relationship with a younger man. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher definitely knew a lot about this when they were married. Demi was 40 and Ashton was 25. They were constantly ridiculed by the press with Demi called a “cougar” and Ashton her “toyboy”.
Compare the media reaction to Ashton and Demi with the press coverage of “Brangelina” - when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were married. Brad is 57 now and Angelina is 45 and there’s an 11 year age gap between them. But Brad was seen as a hot player for pulling a woman as beautiful as Angelina while Demi was branded “desperate” for marrying boy toy Ashton Kutcher.
And think about grey-haired, nearly 60 George Clooney who is widely now seen as a sexy “silver fox” for pulling a woman as young and beautiful as Amal Clooney. Demi Moore and so many other older women dating young men (think Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson) were slandered as “past it”.
Basically, the double standards need to change. It should be as acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman as it is for an older woman to date a younger man. Maybe we should just forget about age, stop shaming big age gap relationships and concentrate on the fact that, as long as the relationship is consensual and legal, people should be able to date and marry whoever they bloody like. Florence and Zach included...
We have a remarkable shortage of Valentine’s movies this year. Perhaps that’s expected as we are under a lockdown Valentine’s Day. That’s why it got me thinking about the movies that I fell in love with and have made me fall in love. More specifically, I was thinking of individual moments from the movies that are the most romantic.
Necessarily, there are some great titles and moments that I’ve left out. I couldn’t find space for Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson’s first “brief encounter” at the train station in David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945), for example. There was no room for Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (1989). Or, even more recently, the planetarium scene in ‘La La Land’ (2017) with that adorably lovely coupling of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. And I couldn’t find room for the iconic phone kiss scene from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ (1946).
These are all great titles and great omissions. But this is a top 5 list rather than a top 10 and so I had to really squeeze things down to the bare minimum with all the fat trimmed from the bones.
So here it is. My top 5 romantic movie moments…
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5. Montage - ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)/Expectations vs. Reality - ‘(500) Days of Summer’ (2009)
‘(500) Days of Summer’ takes a more ingenious touch to the subject by having two very similar scenarios play out split screen. Both are at a party and one ends with Gordon-Levitt’s Tom kissing Deschannel’s Summer and having sex and the other with him seeing her engagement ring and walking out in near tears. These scenes could be seen as very unromantic as they deal with when love could not be found, but they are guaranteed tear-jerkers and I love the choice of songs on the soundtrack - ‘Seems Like Old Times’ for ‘Annie Hall’ and Regina Spektor’s ‘Hero’ for ‘(500) Days of Summer’. I always love a bit of Regina…
4. “Ashley, I love you” - ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939)
3. Trevi Fountain scene - ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960)
2. La Marseillaise - ‘Casablanca’ (1942)
1. Kissing in the Rain - ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)
15, 125 Mins
They’re also both rags-to-riches stories about young men brought up in poverty making fortunes for themselves against the backdrop of a very hostile modern India. But ‘The White Tiger’ is an altogether more universal story than ‘Slumdog’ as it does not only tackle child poverty and abuse, but also the casteism, classism and communalism that continue to affect Narendra Modi’s increasingly retrogressive India.
That’s not to say ‘The White Tiger’ is at all political or polemical. It should be championed first as a Dickens-worthy satire and a ‘Goodfellas’-style crime story about a man’s rise within the criminal underworld with a ‘Fight Club’-style voiceover chipping and chirruping commentary on the state of Indian masculinity, materialism and mainstream establishment.
Adarsh Gourav is the Oliver Twist or David Copperfield of this story. He’s Balram Halwai and we first meet him penning an email to then Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, requesting a meeting and recounting his life story. He believes the Indian underclass (referred to under the caste system as “the untouchables”) are trapped in a perpetual state of servitude which he describes as “like chickens in a chicken coop”.
Growing up in the poverty-stricken Laxmangarh, Balram is offered a scholarship to Delhi thanks to his academic advancements. He is branded a “white tiger” who is only born once in a generation. Yet, when his father fails to pay off the village landlord (Mahesh Manjrekar), Balram’s grandmother makes Balram scrape by selling tea (a “chaiwala”) in the village tea stall and thus Balram never returns to school.
Years later, an adult Balram aspires to be a chauffeur for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), son of village landlord, The Stork, who brings home his gorgeous, Jackson Heights-raised wife Pinky from the USA. She’s played in a very sweet performance by the very beautiful Priyanka Chopra who is the token Bollywood star of this American-Indian production as has become tradition in these sort of movies (remember Anil Kapoor in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’?).
Balram becomes the family’s second driver while the primary driver hides his Muslim heritage because The Stork is prejudiced against Muslims. Balram goes on to blackmail him by threatening to reveal his true faith so that Balram can become Ashok and Pinky’s driver in Delhi. Unlike other members of their family, Ashok and Pinky treat Balram with respect and grow close to him. However, they still regard him as a servant…
One of ‘The White Tiger’s key themes is classism which is still a major issue in modern India. Balram beautifully sums up the class divides between rich and poor with the line “there are only two men in India - men with big bellies and men with small bellies”. He’s referring to the stereotype that the rich are corpulent and fat while the poor are malnourished. This lends a very Dickensian edge to the drama.
More significant, however, and still a very divisive modern Indian issue is casteism which ‘The White Tiger’ tackles head-on. Balram describes the differences between the two people of “the light” and “the darkness”. There are more than two castes still prevalent in the Hindu caste system, but what Balram is referring to is the stereotype and borderline racism that higher castes are often associated with fair skin and the lower castes with dark skin. His commentary really taps into a seemingly global prejudice and fear of darkness.
There’s also an element of communalism evident in Ashok’s primary driver having to hide his Muslim identity due to The Stork hating Muslims. This is a very real concern for many non-Hindus who find their ways of life under threat from BJP-governed Hindu Nationalism.
At times, ‘The White Tiger’ resembles a Shakespearean morality play. As Lord Acton said, “power corrupts” and it certainly corrupts Balram. He murders Ashok and absconds with a huge amount of bribe money. The richer he becomes, the more monstrous he becomes.
In the central role, Adarsh Gourav is a real talent find. He has some of the shortness and weediness of Dai Bradley from ‘Kes’ (1969) and Luis Otavio in ‘City of God’ (2002). I could certainly imagine him as the protagonist of an ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘David Copperfield’ adaptation and I loved his skin-crawling transformation from meek narrator to Tyler Durden-esque sexpot.
Priyanka Chopra is the Nancy figure of the film. She is kind and humble toward the servants. She could be seen as the film’s “white saviour”. She’s not white, but she is rich, beautiful, fair and American and so some people might have contention with her character being the only one who is kind to Balram and other servants. I did find a scene where she sticks up for Balram when some rich men put their feet on him quite moving, though.
I’m sure the film could also cause contention in some of India’s more conservative states where Hindu Nationalism, casteism and communalism is a big issue. After all, politicians and Hindu nationalists don’t like to be reminded of the decades, generations even, installed prejudices that run rampant in the Bimaru states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept back to re-election in 2019 on the promise that “together we will build a strong and inclusive India”. Two years on, the castes, classes and communities of this huge subcontinent have never been more divided.
I remember the controversy generated by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in India when it came out in 2009. Many people rejected its depiction of child poverty and abuse in India and suggested Danny Boyle’s vision of the country was a tourist eye view of India from a wealthy outsider. I think there’s always a danger faced by any outsider - especially from a first world country - portraying a foreign, even third world country that they won’t see the full picture and are at risk of misrepresenting this country.
But, then again, Bollywood filmmakers are notorious for washing over the social and economic challenges facing modern Indians. I suggest they all watch ‘The White Tiger’. It’s a real eye-opener to just one side to this big and beautiful country.
‘The White Tiger’ is on Netflix now.
Ever since seeing her opposite ‘Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams in Carol Morley’s ‘The Falling’ (2015), I’ve always thought the 25 year old actress was a worthy successor to Kate Winslet for the title of Britain’s best twentysomething actress. The similarities are rife not just in her similar looks or queenly elegance, but even in her choice of roles.
19 year old Florence’s breakthrough was in ‘The Falling’ - a low-budget swooner about a fainting epidemic in a girl’s boarding school and a disturbingly close relationship between two girls (Williams and Pugh). Let’s remember that Winslet started out in her first role at the same age in Peter Jackson’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994) which was basically a surreal and disturbing story of a teenage infatuation between Winslet and Melanie Lynskey that led to a horrifc real-life murder in New Zealand.
Pugh has also done literary adaptations. Firstly with ‘Lady MacBeth’ which is not based on Shakespeare’s Scottish morality play, but is a British relocated adaptation of Russian author Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella ‘Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk’. This was the darker of Pugh’s shift into playing literary characters in the same way as the 1996 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude’ was one of the darkest roles of Winslet’s career.
Winslet’s other foray into literary drama was in Ang Lee’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1995) - a Jane Austen classic - which earned her her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Similarly, Pugh earned her first Oscar nomination for the same award for her delightful performance as spoiled Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ (2019) which is based on Louisa May Alcott’s bestselling 1868 novel.
Of course, Winslet would go on to become one of the world’s most bankable movie stars by starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the then highest-grossing movie of all time - ‘Titanic’ (1997). Provided cinemas open in time, Pugh looks set to flex her mainstream muscles in search of big Box Office bucks in Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ (2021) which looks set to shoot her to international stardom.
She definitely deserves this. She’s a fantastic actress, maybe the best currently working and certainly the best under 30. With ‘Lady MacBeth’ showing on TV tonight, I thought what better time to give you my top 5 Florence Pugh performances and tell you why I think she is the “next Kate Winslet”...
5. Fighting With My Family (2019)
4. Midsommar (2019)
3. Little Women (2019)
2. The Falling (2015)
1. Lady MacBeth (2017)
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance Film Critic and Writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in Science Fiction cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
2. Soul (on Disney Plus)
3. Mank (on Netflix)
4. Wonder Woman 1984 (on multiple platforms)
5. One Night in Miami (on Amazon Prime)
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