Blu-ray review: Mona Lisa

Starring: Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine, Cathy Tyson
Director: Neil Jordan

Looked at coldly and dispassionately, Mona Lisa arguably has more than its fair share of flaws. Even though one of the themes of the film is change, the milieu of East End thuggery that it evokes seems to belong more to the ’50s and ’60s than the ’80s, as do the characters’ Pinteresque speech patterns. And as for George, the small time crook who comes out of clink to find himself an innocent abroad in the fleshpots of Soho, he’s arguably just that bit too gormless and gullible to be believable.

But none of that matters, because this isn’t a film you look at dispassionately. The script might be a tad too whimsical and cute for its own good, but at its heart is a story that sweeps you up effortlessly, as rough diamond George becomes a chauffeur to Cathy Tyson’s super-slick West End escort (or “tall, thin, black tart” as George memorably calls her), only to find himself drawn into her own obsessive search for a lost girl.

Above all there’s Hoskins, who gives one of the great screen performances by a British actor in a lead role to turn George into a unlikely but totally sympathetic knight in shining armour. It’s a performance of such chirpy charm and melancholy tenderness that you brush aside any nagging questions you might have and root for him with all your heart. It all adds up to a movie that is a fine neo-noir and one of the handful of best British films ever made. 10/10

TRANSFER
The Blu-ray presents a 2K transfer from the camera negative, with sound from the original magnetic reels. Bar a smattering of grain in some of the more darkly lit scenes, it’s a really nice transfer, with very natural-looking colours and levels of detail. Early on, the slanting, powdery light in Mortwell’s club comes up vividly, there’s plenty of depth of field and crisp tones in the more expansive hotel foyer and church scenes, and the sequences of King’s Cross at night look suitably hellish. You probably own this on DVD already, but it’s certainly worth the upgrade. 8/10

EXTRAS
A trio of interviews, all very interesting in different ways. ~ 20-min interview with Neil mona-lisa 1Jordan – he talks about coming up with the story, then hiring David Leland (Wish You Were Here) to write a script, which he then reworked because it was too hard-hitting and tough. He also describes the theme of the movie as “the way men misunderstand women” (a theme also laid out in the lyrics of the title song) and reveals that at one point Sean Connery was in the mix for the lead role. ~ 13-min interview with producer Stephen Woolley, who discusses the film’s heightened, Dickensian take on London and his own memories of the city at the time. ~ A first-rate 19-min interview with David Leland which will be fascinating for anyone interested in screenwriting. Leland comes across as a remarkably generous and unselfish collaborator as he describes penning a script from Jordan’s brief treatment (at this point he was under the impression that Michael Caine would play the lead), and then reading through and commenting on Jordan’s later rewrites. Given how enthusiastically he speaks of the whole process, it’s a shame that neither Jordan nor Woolley make more than a grudging mention of his contribution. ~ Audio commentary with Jordan and Hoskins – this is two separate commentaries spliced together, but there’s some interesting stuff from Jordan as he explains how he wanted to get into filmmaking as an escape from the complexities of literary prose (he’d enjoyed early success as a novelist and short story writer). 9/10

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