The return of ‘Poppins,’ a ‘Favourite’ and the ‘Queen’

Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

With the Oscars are nearly upon us (Feb. 24), we’re focusing on the nominees for these final few weeks.

With that in mind, the chosen films for this week are recaps that take a look at a subject that’s fascinated America since the time we were colonies, the British monarchy, including “The Favourite” and “Mary Queen of Scots,” and a British import, “Mary Poppins Returns.”

“Mary Poppins Returns”

(Released) (Golden Globe nominations for: Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy; Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, Emily Blunt; Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, Lin Manuel Miranda; Best Original Score, Motion Picture, Marc Shaiman)

The 1964 classic Disney film “Mary Poppins” is much-beloved, and has been shared across generations for more than 50 years. It won five Oscars on 13 nominations, and shifted Julie Andrews from a Broadway star to an international movie star, as she won the Oscar for Best Actress while becoming the ideal nanny for most every boy and girl.

Rarely do reboots, remakes or sequels to the classics make much of a dent with the movie-going public, but it’s likely Director Rob Marshall’s film will be an exception. Marshall balances nostalgia with contemporary, and benefits from a marvelous successor to the Mary Poppins role… Emily Blunt.

Marshall, who co-wrote the screenplay, has created a worthy sequel (a quite high standard) from P.L. Travers’ original books that is delightful and a joy to watch. The group of original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman serve the story fine, but the one downside to the film is that none of the new songs are as catchy or memorable as those of the Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert) from 54 years ago.

This is a film where those behind-the-scenes are crucial to its success. Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe and Editor Wyatt Smith both are at the top of their game, and Costume Designer Sandy Powell delivers stunners, not just for the singing nanny, but for all characters. The core of the story remains rediscovering the magic in life, and finding joy in each other — and this sequel also provides the adventures to match the original.

It’s simultaneously familiar and fresh, which is key to a successful follow up to a beloved classic. Marshall has delivered a film that is practically perfect in every way.

“The Favourite”

(Released) (Oscar nominations for: Best Picture; Best Lead Actress-, Olivia Colman; Best Supporting Actresses, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz; Best Director, Yorgos Lanthimos; Best Original Screenplay, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara; Best Cinematography, Robbie Ryan; Best Film Editing, Yorgos Mavropsaridis; Best Production Design, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton; Best Costume Design, Sandy Powell)

This Golden Globe-nominated period piece set in the early 1800s takes place in Britain. The film centers around the relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, and how such relationship is affected when the cousin of the latter arrives seeking employment. The film offers an eclectic mix of dark comedy and great cinematography, but doesn’t completely hold together, which was slightly disappointing.

Lanthimos’ unique cinematography is outstanding throughout, as are many of his commendable aesthetic choices that help enrich the film’s unique quality and tone. The acting is strong throughout, with the distinct nature of each performance among the three lead actresses enhancing the viewing experience.

Unfortunately, however, the film’s script has a number of concerns. The film’s writing attempts to be witty and funny much of the time, but such lines of wit and humor do not always land. Some of the more raunchy moments are well-placed, but others just feel childishly silly or ridiculous.

For a prestige film from an acclaimed director revered by many serious film buffs, the film can end up feeling quite unsophisticated at times, which can alienate the viewer from some of the more serious commentary of the time period Lanthimos is depicting, particularly with regards to the issue of gender roles and the patriarchal nature of the society and culture.

The total shifts can be quite jarring, even more so when one stops to consider that not all scenes played for comedic effect are particularly funny or even amusing at face or literal value. A majority of the film is well-paced, yet the third act can come off as anti-climactic. Ultimately, while I didn’t dislike the film, I did expect a bit more from what some critics have determined will likely be a top Oscar contender.

“Mary Queen of Scots”

(Limited Release) (Oscar Nominations for Best Makeup and Hair; Best Costume Design, Alexandra Byrne)

Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I (daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn).

The two were cousins (not sisters), and the film examines many aspects of this era: the struggle for the throne between the two, the unusual circumstances that found two women in power, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by men in an effort to wrestle power from the women, the importance of marriage and heirs, the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, and the bizarre arrangement that caused Mary to spend nearly half her life in custody.

The screenplay from Beau Willimon (creator, producer and head writer of “House of Cards”) is based on the John Guy book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart.” This matters because Guy theorizes that the two sovereigns actually met in real life, something very much doubted by historians.

Either way, it makes for an interesting (if not a bit hokey) segment in the film, as Elizabeth and Mary wander through billowing curtains in a clandestine spot. The costumes from Oscar-winner Alexandra Byrne are so beautiful, they are nearly a character themselves.