Hugh Bonneville

The actor known for Notting Hill, Downton Abbey and Paddington picks Don’t Look Now, The Maggie and Odette.

Don’t Look Now is packed with absorbing, disturbing sequences as it charts a journey of grief, culminating in a shattering denouement. But there’s one shot in this film that so set me on edge when I first saw the movie over thirty years ago that it has stayed with me. It’s a tiny, apparently inconsequential moment when the priest opens his coat, reaches into his inside pocket and pulls out…. a handkerchief. It’s a perfectly innocent gesture but in a story that’s already got you on edge this unexpected, unusual beat only unsettled me still more, ratcheting up the tension in what was an already uncomfortable watch. Whenever I think of this movie I get a knot in my stomach as the image of the priest’s hand pops into my mind. It’s just one example of Nic Roeg’s brilliance at subverting expectations, as he weaves a unique narrative of agonising emotion and suspense.

The Maggie is a nugget, recently burnished to pristine black & white condition thanks to the BFI’s digital restoration programme and StudioCanal’s re-release of a library of British classics. It’s the story of a rust-bucket boat and its wily crew wobbling up the west coast of Scotland with a grumpy American businessman and his cargo of whitegoods. It’s neither a sparkling script, nor packed with great screen performances but it does capture forever on film a taste and tone of life on the coal-heavy docks, along the meadow-lined canals, in the pubs and fishing villages – populated by weather-beaten sea dogs and the lassies destined to marry them. It’s also a last hurrah for the plucky individual standing up to modern ways and the creeping corporatisation of seafaring life.

Patriotic films inevitably pepper any library of British films of the 1940s and 50s. None more so than this tale of courage and derring do. Odette Samson was a French woman who married a Brit and was bringing up her three children in England when she was seconded as an agent of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), parachuting into France in 1942. That she endured horrific torture at the hands of the Gestapo is the undercurrent of this story of duty, fortitude and love. Watching it when I was kid it was part of my education about the war, learning who were the goodies and who the baddies. Revisiting it in this superbly restored digital print, there is more nuance and irony to the story with the passing of time and as more is learned about the war years. Buckmaster, who was in charge of SOE’s F (French) section, may have been the archetypal stiff upper lip ‘leader behind a desk’ but recent historians have shown him to have made some catastrophic errors of judgement that led to spy networks being exposed, with agents being rounded up and many killed. That he was chief military advisor on the film, alongside Odette herself, means there is a particular narrative at work. Buckmaster actually plays himself in the film which I find riveting. The extras that come with this re-release-a 1980s interview with Odette and a wry appraisal by Charlotte Gray author Sebastian Faulks add real texture and context to the film.

Don't Look Now
Hugh Bonneville discusses Don't Look Now
The Maggie
Hugh Bonneville discusses The Maggie
Odette
Hugh Bonneville discusses Odette

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