The Entertainer (1960)

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John Osborne’s dramatic work was like a rocket under the theatrical establishment of mid-Fifties Britain and this excoriation of the disintegrating Empire was lit up by Laurence Olivier’s extraordinary performance as the leering seedy fifth-rate comic Archie Rice at the Royal Court. Osborne wrote this for Olivier and he reportedly delivered a shockingly good performance, bringing him right up to date with the seismic changes in contemporary theatre. Tony Richardson directs this screen adaptation by Osborne and Nigel Kneale, shot on location in Morecambe with Oswald Morris’s glistening cinematography shining a torch on the social decay that Rice embodies in his adulterous and failing private and professional life. Joan Plowright, soon to be Olivier’s wife following the breakdown of his marriage to Vivien Leigh, plays his daughter, who is enduring her own troubles; Brenda de Banzie is the long-suffering second wife; Roger Livesey (Colonel Blimp) is his retired (and revered) vaudevillian father; and Albert Finney makes his film debut as the unfortunate son sent to Suez. Alan Bates also makes his screen debut as the other son (he had starred in Osborne’s Look Back in Anger on the stage) with Daniel Massey rounding out an impressive ensemble that includes the wonderful Shirley Anne Field and Miriam Karlin. John Addison contributes a brilliant score (as ever) to a film of awfully convincing despair as a music hall career comes to a brutal end. “Why should I care?” warbles Archie as everything falls to pieces. Unforgettable.

Half of a Yellow Sun (2013)

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel about the chaos prior to, during and after the Biafran war in Nigeria in the late 1960s makes for a compelling screen adaptation, particularly for anyone with an interest in the region. Filmmaker Biyi Bandele adapted and directs a fine cast, principally British, in this story of two sisters freshly returned from an English education to pursue  different lifestyles. Thandie Newton as Olanna is a sociologist who shacks up with randy revolutionary professor Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor); while Anika Noni Rose as Kainene becomes a businesswoman engaged to British journalist turned novelist Richard (Joseph Mawle). Their conflicting politics become enmeshed with their sex lives and the violent war looms with some shocking scenes that supersede personal differences.  Beautifully shot on location by John de Borman and the attacks, murders and raids are striking and memorable. The film doesn’t always find the right balance between family drama/soap opera melodramatics and the wider burgeoning conflict but ultimately it works.