Friday, 23 March 2012

Film reviews: 23 March

Robert Pattinson’s pulling power is wasted in Bel Ami – it looks pretty but delivers little…

Written by Barry Norman
barry-normanBWThe question this film immediately raises is: what exactly is the target audience? The star is Robert Pattinson, aka Edward Cullen, the dashingly handsome vampire in the Twilight series, and probably the most lusted after young actor in movies today.

Such is his perceived crowdpulling power that he is surrounded here by a notable cast that includes Kristen Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Philip Glenister and Colm Meaney, who would not, I think, willingly support just any young sex object.

So far so good but hang on, Pattinson's fan base consists of pubescent girls, who regard him as their property. Will they be happy watching him bonk a succession of older women? I rather doubt it, though the odd glimpse of his naked bottom might please them, and I also doubt whether older women, who may never have seen a Twilight film, will flock to watch him in this.

The story, written by Rachel Bennette and directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, is adapted from Guy de Maupassant's novel about a ruthless young cad, Georges Duroy, an ex-soldier, who in 1890s Paris rises from poverty to wealth by seducing the wives of influential men, then tossing them aside once they've served their purpose.

In a 1947 version called The Private Affairs Of Bel Ami, Duroy – the Bel Ami of the title – was played by George Sanders, who imbued the character with charm. And charm is precisely what such a self-centred rake would need. Beautiful, intelligent women might fancy a one-night stand with a handsome stud but to keep their interest he'd need more than a pretty face and between-the-sheets stamina.

But both as written and played charm is what this Bel Ami lacks. Indeed, aside from looks and sexual prowess, he has very little to offer. He doesn't say anything of particular interest and he seems to greet practically every situation with the same self-satisfied smirk.

This may be due to Pattinson's youth and lack of experience – he is not yet 26 and has appeared in comparatively few films – but the screenplay could have given him more help.

The story starts and develops slowly before reaching its conclusion with almost bewildering rapidity but its depiction of a late 19th century Paris looks marvellous. The snobbery and social divisions of the time come across clearly and the underlying theme of how journalism and politics are intertwined and influence each other has much contemporary interest.

The supporting cast is excellent with a terminally consumptive Glenister and an ambitious Meaney as the men whose wives Bel Ami exploits. Of the women, Scott Thomas is needy and clinging, Ricci sexually hungry and Thurman, with positively eyepopping cleavage, perhaps best as the one who instructs and guides him.

But if Pattinson was hoping the film would help him break the Twilight shackles and progress to more adult roles he may have to think again. The audience at the public screening I attended, admittedly in mid-afternoon, consisted of three middle-aged women and me.                                                                 Barry Norman

Bel Ami is on general release.



Titanic: A Commemoration In Music And Film Including Bryan Ferry, Alfie Boe and Joss Stone in this live BBC Two show. 14 April, Waterfront Hall, Belfast: 0370- 901 1227,


Portrait Sculpture From Ancient Greek to modern works, including Ron Mueck (Mask II, below) and Marc Quinn. 26 May to 2 September, The Holburne Museum, Bath: 01225-388569,


Glyndebourne Festival 2012 Booking from 24 March. Runs 20 May to 26 August: 01273-813813,


RHS Chelsea Flower Show (top) 2 to 26 May, Royal Hospital Chelsea: 0844-338 0338,


Big & Small (Gross und Klein), starring Cate Blanchett. 13 to 29 April, Barbican: 020-7638 8891,

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