“There is no story about wishing that is not a cautionary tale”
Dr. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) embraces solitude. When she’s not teaching at the university, she spends her time reading and studying and feels the independence of not being attached to a spouse, child or family network. As a scholar of mythology and storytelling, she often travels to faraway lands to be in the world of the fantastical stories that she teaches. On one trip to Turkey, she finds a unique looking bottle in a shop. Upon opening it in her hotel room, suddenly a Djinn (Idris Elba) appears, offering her three wishes for whatever her heart desires (with a few rules of course). But Dr. Binnie knows better. Wishes never turn out how the asker intended them and Djinns like the one she conjured are often tricksters. Djinn taps into Dr. Binnie’s hunger for engaging storytelling and recounts the times he’s been released and trapped in a bottle. As the Djinn tells his stories, Dr. Binnie must come to terms with whether she should or should not ask for the three wishes offered.
Directed by George Miller, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a fanciful meditation on the power of human connection and stories. It’s light on the world building, focusing on small stories to tell a bigger tale of humanity and desire. Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are fantastic in their individual roles but ultimately lacked chemistry with each other. The movie is based on A.S. Byatt’s short story The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and adapted to the screen by Miller and Augusta Gore.
The screening I attended began with a message from the director thanking the audience for watching the film on the big screen. It’s definitely a film best viewed on the big screen. It’s a visual spectacle with some amazing cinematography by John Seale, who also worked with Miller on Mad Max: Fury Road. I do think it’s a film that could also be enjoyed at home. There are some subtle details, especially with Dr. Binnie’s mannerisms that can be seen with the female characters in Djinn’s stories. Repeat viewing will enrich the experience, finding those subtleties that were missed the first time around.
Three Thousand Years of Longing premiered at the 2022 Cannes FIlm Festival and is currently in theaters in the U.S., distributed by MGM.
At the world premiere of director Armando Iannucci’s new film The Personal History of David Copperfield, he was asked by an audience member the reasoning behind his diverse casting choices. His response: ‘Why shouldn’t I draw from 100% of the acting community?’
As I sat to watch the film I kept thinking to myself, I’m glad I lived long enough to see such a diverse cast in an adaptation of a classic novel. Naysayers step aside. This take is refreshing and modern while staying true to the spirit of the original novel.
With a diverse cast we see an array of possibilities. And what a cast! Dev Patel is incredibly charming as David Copperfield. He brings an energy to the film that makes it electric. Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie are hilarious as Copperfield’s aunt and uncle Betsey Trotwood and Mr. Dick. Morfydd Clark plays both Copperfield’s mother and his love interest Dora. Ben Whishaw is creepy as all get out as the scheming Uriah Heep. Peter Capaldi is the lovable and perpetually broke scamp Mr. Micawber. Then there is Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes, Copperfield’s tough as nails best friend. Other notable cast members include Nikki Amuka-Bird as the proud and severe Mrs. Steerforth and Benedict Wong as the wine happy Mr. Wickfield. I was delighted to see Darren Boyd as the evil Edward Murdstone. He was in one of my favorite Britcoms Kiss Me Kate.
Just like in the novel David Copperfield is telling us his own story. At the start of the film, the older Copperfield inserts himself into the story of his younger self. We see set pieces drop away to reveal the next scene. This reminded me of similar techniques used in director Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012) starring Keira Knightley. These aren’t used throughout the film mostly at the start and at the end. I would have liked to see more of them but they would have distracted from the more dramatic sequences.
The Personal History of David Copperfield is a diverse retelling of Dickens’ novel that is clever, quirky, and hilarious and boasts a spectacular cast. Some critics have noted that it would have worked better as a miniseries or TV show. It did feel a bit too long but perhaps that was festival exhaustion kicking in. I for one am glad it’s a film. A miniseries might not have boasted such a wonderful cast of players.
The Personal History of David Copperfield had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.