Shropshire Star

Film Talk: Sir Anthony Hopkins leads the charge in One Life

To say this man is a national treasure is a monstrous understatement.

One Life: Anthony Hopkins as Nicholas Winton in the audience of That’s Life!

Port Talbot’s most famous son, Sir Anthony Hopkins stands as one of Britain’s most recognisable and acclaimed actors, having carved out a storied career over an incredible seven decades.

The recipient of two Oscars, four BAFTAs, two Primetime Emmys, and a Laurence Olivier Award, Sir Anthony has shone with utter class as a leading light of the film industry for as long as most people living can remember.

The man who masterfully brought Hannibal Lecter to life in The Silence of the Lambs holds a back catalogue that serves as a lesson to any would-be actor, with other first class performances having included his turns as Benedict XVI in The Two Popes and William Parrish in Meet Joe Black. Hopkins sparkled as the ageing swashbuckler himself in The Mask of Zorro, ruled Asgard with aplomb throughout the Thor franchise, and of course, stole the screen as one of its greatest ever aficionados in Hitchcock.

It is no exaggeration to say that cinema would not be cinema without Sir Anthony, and he stands alongside other elder statesmen such as Sir Michael Caine in proving beyond all doubt that there ain’t no actor like a British actor. We can do nothing, good sir, but salute you and say thanks.

To help us begin this bright new year, Anthony Hopkins is leading the charge in James Hawes’ One Life – an adaptation of the incredible true story of British humanitarian Nicholas Winton, and his efforts to help Jewish children in German-occupied Czechoslovakia just before the beginning of the Second World War.

Hopkins is sharing the role with fellow home-grown star Johnny Flynn, who fills the shoes of the younger Winton as the highly emotional tale unfolds.

But does this one give us the strong start to 2024 we so crave? It’s time to take a look...

ONE LIFE (UK 12A/ROI 12A, 109 mins)

Released: January 1 (UK & Ireland)

On February 28 1988, former London stockbroker Nicholas Winton sat attentively in the front row of the audience at a taping of the BBC consumer advice programme That’s Life! unaware he would be the shell-shocked star of that episode.

He watched silently as presenter Esther Rantzen held up the morning’s edition of The Sunday Mirror containing a three-page feature about his incredible efforts to help over 600 refugee Jewish children escape 1939 Czechoslovakia on Kindertransport before the borders closed.

Director James Hawes’s handsomely crafted period drama winds up to this emotional wallop with elan.

Based on Barbara Winton’s biography of her humanitarian father, One Life is a stirring tale of quiet heroism in the lengthening shadow of the Nazi war machine, which is elevated by a wonderfully understated yet emotionally devastating performance from Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The two-time Oscar-winning Welsh actor’s exemplary portrayal of Winton builds to a knockout final act. In most respects, Hawes’s picture feels comfortably familiar, oscillating between events 50 years apart at a contemplative and pedestrian pace to match the energy of an unassuming hero, who positively influenced hundreds of young lives.

In December 1938, shortly after the signing of the Munich Agreement which permits Hitler to annexe the Sudetenland, Winton (Johnny Flynn) prepares to visit Prague as part of the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia.

He witnesses the desperate plight of families who have fled the Nazis and realises they are in a race against time before Hitler closes Europe’s borders. Marshalling the support of colleagues Doreen Warinner (Romola Garai) and Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp) in Prague and his formidable mother Babette (Helena Bonham Carter) in London, Nicky seeks expedited paperwork for Kindertransport to secure safe passage for refugee Jewish children to Britain.

He eventually rescues 669 youngsters.

Fifty years later in leafy Maidenhead, Nicky (now played by Hopkins) is haunted by the faces of those he could not save.

Wife Babette (Lena Olin) urges him to lay ghosts to rest by discharging their home of box files stuffed with documents, photographs and paraphernalia from those turbulent years.

Painful memories bubble to the surface until a live taping of That’s Life! presented by Rantzen (Samantha Spiro) supplants guilt with genuine surprise and boundless gratitude.

One Life is a polite and respectful tribute to a man reverentially nicknamed “the British Schindler”.

Scriptwriters Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake adopt an unfussy, linear approach to storytelling within the two timeframes, crafting a powerhouse supporting role for Bonham Carter.

Distressing scenes are infrequent and atrocities seldom manifest in graphic detail on screen.

Despite Winton’s self-doubt, one man did make a difference in a world scarred by conflict.

PRISCILLA (UK 15/ROI 15A, 113 mins)

Released: January 1 (UK & Ireland)

Priscilla: Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Beaulieu

Glimpsed through 21st-century eyes, the relationship between singer Elvis Presley and teenager Priscilla Beaulieu depicted in writer-director Sofia Coppola’s provocative drama should arouse suspicious minds from the moment the pair first kiss and he pulls away, whispering: “It’s time for you to go home little one.”

Adapted from the memoir Elvis And Me by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon, Coppola’s stylish feature dramatises the turbulent inner workings of one of the most high-profile celebrity marriages of the 1960s as a narrative counterpoint to Baz Luhrmann’s boisterous Elvis.

In both pictures, the romance of a hip-swivelling rock’n’roll god and wide-eyed ingenue is a rollercoaster ride of tenderness and toxicity.

Priscilla glimpses events through its subject’s heavily mascaraed eyes and consequently omits concert performances while the young bride-to-be is trapped in her gilded cage at Graceland.

Coppola intensifies our discomfort with the pronounced 41cm height difference between lead stars Jacob Elordi and Cailee Spaeny, which minimises Priscilla in shared scenes so she looks childlike and easily manipulated.

“When I call you, I need you to be here for me, baby,” Elvis tells Priscilla at one point and she willingly submits.

Are You Lonesome Tonight? could be the soundtrack to their marriage if Coppola was predisposed to literal music cues.

Instead, she jives around sharp edges of a topsy-turvy courtship including violent outbursts and attempted sexual assault.

Fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu (Spaeny) is introduced to singer Elvis Presley (Elordi), 10 years her senior, at a party in 1959 Bad Nauheim in Germany, where her stepfather Captain Beaulieu (Ari Cohen) is stationed in the US military.

Elvis and Priscilla spend increasing amounts of time together and the starstruck teenager allays the concerns of her mother Ann (Dagmara Domimczyk) about the age difference.

“He just lost his mother and he’s still grieving,” pleads Priscilla. “He trusts me.”

The relationship blossoms and Elvis persuades Captain Beaulieu and Ann to let Priscilla stay with him under the care of his cherished grandmother Dodger (Lynne Griffin) while she completes her education at a Catholic high school.

Elvis is away for extended periods to make films or tour and Priscilla languishes alone at Graceland, tormented by magazine articles about Elvis’s supposed affairs.

Priscilla is a cautionary tale about the intoxicating allure of celebrity and the complicity of youth in its own corruption.

Spaeny is mesmerising from the first moment we glimpse her sitting alone at a diner counter sipping a milkshake, and she expertly shepherds her character along an obstacle-strewn path to empowerment via prescription medication abuse and psychological torment.

Elordi’s embodiment of Elvis is less eye-catching than Austin Butler but he teases out the darker side of a musical icon.

Coppola’s study of an imbalance of power doesn’t leave us all shook up but we are certainly dishevelled.

NIGHT SWIM (UK 15/ROI 15A, 98 mins)

Released: January 5 (UK & Ireland)

Night Swim: Kerry Condon as Eve Waller

A family’s swimming pool conceals a terrifying secret in a psychological thriller expanded from the 2014 short film by Rod Blackhurst and Bryce McGuire.

Major league baseball player Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell) is devastated when a degenerative illness forces him into early retirement. He secretly hopes to return to the sport he loves, which concerns his wife Eve (Kerry Condon).

The couple move into a new home with their children Izzy (Amelie Hoeferle) and Elliot (Gavin Warren) and Ray persuades Eve that the property’s neglected pool will aid his physical therapy.

A malevolent force lurks out of sight and when one member of the family takes a cooling dip after dark, the entire Waller clan risks being pulled under.

THE GOLDFINGER (UK 15/ROI 15A, 126 mins)

Released: January 5 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

The Goldfinger: Tony Leung as Ching Yat-yin and Andy Lau as Lau Kai-yuen

The last time Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau appeared together on screen was a trilogy of Infernal Affairs crime thrillers, which Martin Scorsese polished to an Oscar-winning sheen as The Departed co-starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

The Hong Kong actors are reunited as adversaries in a gritty thriller directed by Felix Chong, which draws inspiration from true events in the 1980s.

Lau Kai Yuen (Lau) is a senior investigator with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which was established to combat corruption in Hong Kong under British colonial rule.

When a giant conglomerate, the Carmen Group, collapses unexpectedly, Lau Kai Yuen begins an exhausting search for the truth.

He pinpoints chairman and overseas Chinese businessman Ching Yat Yin (Leung) as the epicentre of the bribery and mismanagement.

A lengthy cross-continental investigation costing billions in public funds exposes skulduggery behind the financial collapse and a shameful history of interconnected fraud traps.

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