Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wilde and West with a Worthy Twist; 33 @Thestandardarts in Association With

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wilde and West with a Worthy Twist; 33 @Thestandardarts in Association With

Article excerpt

BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL DAMSEL THE HAPPY PRINCE nick roddick VICTORIAN values were under the scanner in Berlin at the weekend, with two very different films examining sexual identity and choice in the late 19th century. On the face of it, neo-western Damsel and Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Prince have little in common: the former is a rugged outdoorsy tale, the latter most at home in the smoky absinthe bars of Paris. What both share is a forthright rejection of traditional gender roles.

Damsel changes horses in mid-stream. Following a bizarre prologue in which veteran indie icon Robert Forster delivers his considered opinion on the newly opening-up West (just as bad as everywhere else), the film proper starts with brash young businessman Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) coming ashore in a small boat complete with a miniature horse called Buttercup. With a guitar and a rifle slung across either shoulder and a wedding ring in his pocket for his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), who has been abducted by the vile Cornell brothers, Samuel hires the dubiously ordained Parson Henry (played by David Zellner, half, with brother Nathan, of the film's writer/director duo). The jolly journey, complete with campfire sing-along, comes to an abrupt end when Penelope turns out to have an entirely different take on the situation. Samuel's quest comes to a sudden and ignominious end and Penelope takes over the story.

Damsel is not exactly an anti-western: bullets and dynamite are the film's problem-solvers of choice. But the men Samuel, Parson Henry, the Cornell brothers and an Indian called Zacharia with a British accent all end up subject to Penelope as she calls the shots. Exciting, funny and beautifully shot by Adam Stone (Midnight Special) in the more verdant corners of Utah, Damsel manages to import any number of modern notions into a surprisingly traditional western structure, recognising the appeal of the genre while not being afraid to steer it into some distinctly modern channels. …

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