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Festivale online magazine, January, 1999
Little Voice movie review
Little Voice

At the end of this film it is stated that Jane Horrocks sings her own songs - such songs being note-perfect copies of hits by Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe etc. That much, despite Horrocks' wisp of a speaking voice (which gives the film its name) is apparently true. The rest of the movie is pure fairytale.

And it is a particularly pernicious fairytale, too. We have here, despite the setting of a cloth-capped North English town, the beautiful and terribly thin Princess, imprisoned in her tower room, from which, at the end of the film, she is romantically rescued by Prince Ewan Mcgregor, a telephone linesman with a partiality for pigeons (I kid you not).

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The evil vizier is played by Michael Caine, by his own account taking his revenge on some seedy theatrical managers in his distant past. The evil (step)mother is Brenda Blethyn, who can only be likened to Molly Bloom on speed...

So much for the characters, now for the (thin) plot. LV (Little Voice) a teenager on the point of catatonia, it seems, lolls in her room, listening to records by dead singers and moping over a photo of her dead Daddy. She is not speaking to Mum, a literal fishwife, who rampages downstairs playing disco music and shagging assorted local males, including Michael Caine, who plays an agent akin to Allen's Broadway Danny Rose, but with an even less talented roster.

In the mood, LV will even sing to Daddy's portrait, and that is where the trouble starts. In her room, alone, she does passable (though one suspects beefed up almightily in the studio) imitations of Daddy's favourite singers. Caine overhears her, and books her into the local club, complete with big band. Quel air guitar fantasy - without having performed outside her bedroom, or even auditioned, let alone reheased, LV proves a sensation.

A glittering theatre career looms. Pity that LV can't perform except to Daddy's picture, although on her one night of glory his ghost obligingly turns up at the gig (oh how cute! oh how vomitous!). Thereafter he is absent, and without him LV is left with her teensy voice and no discernible talent. When the house goes up in flames and LV is trapped in her tower - something telegraphed clumsily several times in the movie - Prince Charming appears with the cherrypicker and saves her from immolation. So she finally has the chance to find voice and tell Mum what she really thinks of her.

Sounds silly? You bet. Part of the trouble with this film is its wavering in time. Despite references to the Spice Girls, LV and her swain act like teenagers in 1950s film. More uneasiness is due to the lack of 'suspenders' for the disbelief, especially in Little Voice's mix of realism and fantasy. Another whole lot of trouble is the script, which seems more suited to a cabaret-style production. Yet another problem is the two female leads, both of whom reprise roles - troubled teen and promiscuous mum - that they handled with far more sensitivity and depth for Mike Leigh, in Life is Sweet (Horrocks) and Secrets and Lies (Blethyn). Blethyn in particular is left without a shred of dignity. One suspects (a) that she found the role so lacking in credibility she had no choice but to go over the top into misogynistic caricature or (b) lousy direction, just like the rest of the film. I suspect b. And as for Horrocks - well if she gets an Oscar(R) there really is no justice in the universe.

Watch this film for Michael Caine. The rest of it stinks.

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Due for Australian release January, 1999
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Just the facts:

Title: Little Voice (1998)
Written by: Based on the Play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice by Jim Cartwright; script: Mark Herman
Directed by: Mark Herman
Produced by: Laurie Borg (co-producer), Elizabeth Karlsen, Nik Powell (executive) Paul Webster (co-executive), Bob Weinstein (co-executive), Harvey Weinstein (co-executive), Stephen Woolley (executive)
Edited by: Michael Ellis
Director of Photography: Andy Collins
running time:

The Players: Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, Jane Horrocks
Official website
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 1999 All rights reserved
Filed: Mar-1999 : Last updated: 16-Mar-1999 : Last tested: 3-Jul-2014: Last Compiled: 3-Jul-2014
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