Ferry To The Mersey

As well as being a film blogger and ardent movie-goer, I am also a huge music fan and sometime musician. So when I was offered a car-cation to Liverpool – the home of The Beatles –  courtesy of Stena Line, I couldn’t say no! The timing couldn’t have been better as not only is Stena Line celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but it’s also 50 years since the formation of The Beatles as we know them today.

The ferry at Belfast Port

We set out for Belfast to catch the 10.30am ferry to Liverpool. As it’s an 8 hour crossing, I was delighted that we had a nice little cabin to relax in. We also had access to the Stena Plus Lounge, where we could avail of free snacks, wine and soft drinks as we kicked back to enjoy the journey.  Being a movie buff, I was excited to check out the onboard cinema, which was showing a couple of recent releases, and which was a great way to pass some sailing time!

The onboard Cinema

Pretty soon the Liverpool skyline appeared in the distance and it was time to bid the boat goodbye. We were staying at the Beatle-themed Hard Day’s Night Hotel, which is only a 10 minute drive from the port, and is a must for any Beatles fan. The hotel is housed in a Grade II listed building in the heart of the “Beatles Quarter”, right around the corner from Matthew Street, home of the famous Cavern Club. As well as the photo’s and murals which adorn the hotel walls, each room features a unique Beatles artwork, while non-stop Beatles music plays in the bar and restaurant. It’s fair to say I was smiling like a Cheshire cat the whole time!

“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night”…The Beatle-themed Hotel in Liverpool

Give Sleep a Chance! John Lennon artwork in hotel room

“Roll up for the Mystery Tour” – The Magical Mystery Tour Bus

The hotel package we availed of for our stay was The Magical Mystery Package, which includes tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles Story – two fantastic tours not to be missed. The Magical Mystery Tour takes you down to all the places associated with the Fab Four and their songs; it was an amazing experience to stand in Penny Lane, to look through the gates of Strawberry Field and to see Woolton Village where Lennon made his first public appearance with the Quarrymen! We also took in the childhood homes of John, Paul and Ringo (George’s being unavailable that day) and finished up at The Cavern where we were treated to live renditions of Beatles hits over a Beatle drink or two. The Beatles Story is an interactive journey through the bands’ history, which features great sets and memorabilia throughout.

Blue Plaque on the front of Mendips, where John Lennon lived with his Aunt Mimi

20 Forthlin Road – Paul McCartney’s childhood home

To give ourselves a little break from our Beatles activities, we took a stroll down to the Albert Dock. Situated in the heart of the city, Albert Dock is a wonderful area to browse around, as it houses lots of great shops, bars and restaurants. Grouped around the Marina, this is a lovely location to stop for a drink and it even has its own Yellow Submarine! A short walk from the Dock we took a well-earned break with a rooftop dinner and drinks, overlooking Liverpool’s iconic Liver Building.

Rooftop view of the Liver Building

Sadly, our time in Liverpool was drawing to a close. After saying our goodbyes at the hotel, we headed back to port to catch the evening ferry home. On the way, we decided to take a short drive out to see Anthony Gormley’s installation, Another Place, which is situated on Crosby Beach, about a 15 minute drive from Liverpool city centre. It was a beautiful evening and as the sun was beginning to set, we took in the mysterious figures staring out to sea. This was a perfect way to end our trip; the figures invite contemplation as they stand looking at the horizon, and the view of these cast-iron men dotted along the coastline left me with a sense of peace and calm, as my thoughts turned to our journey home.

Nowhere Man – “Another Place”

Well, it had been a hard day’s night and we would be sleeping like logs courtesy of our cabin onboard, but how can I sum up my first car-cation? Easily –

I was a guest of Stena Line, who provided ferry travel and hotel accommodation on this trip. All opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Photographs courtesy of Ronan Loughman. Many thanks to Stena Line employees Bernadette and Jimmy, who made our outward and return journeys so enjoyable.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)

So here we are in 2012 – and a new year brings a new post on the first film I’ve seen in the cinema this year.  Thank you to everyone who stopped by the blog in 2011, I hope you’ll continue to check in as we boldly go into 2012, and I welcome your comments and thoughts too, of course.

I wanted to ease myself back in with something easy-going and uplifting, terms which Michel Hazanavicius’ new film seems to have been made especially for. It stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo as the likeable George Valentin and plucky Peppy Millar respectively. George is a famous silent movie star at the height of his fame, and Peppy is a young unknown looking for a way to break into motion pictures. Oh and as I’m sure you’re probably aware by now, not only is The Artist set in the era of silent film (starting in 1927) it is itself a silent film. Clever huh?

The story pits Peppy’s rise against George’s charmed life as a famous actor, known and adored by everyone. He has a hand in getting her noticed by the press, which gives her the confidence to audition for Kinograph Pictures. After a succession of bottom of the cast-list roles, Peppy gradually works her way up to near top-billing, acting alongside George on the way. The pair have a mutual attraction, but as George is married, their relationship remains purely platonic.

Things take a turn for the worse for George, however, with the advent of sound. The latest technology hits Hollywoodland (as it was then) and all the major studio’s get in line to use it in their pictures. George rejects it though, and pretty soon he is on a downward trajectory, while rising young star Peppy is perfectly placed to take full advantage of this new development.

The Artist is made with such love and affection for its subject matter, that it’s impossible not to like it. Hazanavicius’ film isn’t just a nostalgia-fest for the silent movie era, he actively uses tropes and filmmaking methods from the period in his own recreation of it. What dialogue there is (and it is pretty spare) is conveyed via intertitles; every movement and gesture is expressed for those in the back stalls as everyone acts “big”, and there is a full musical score throughout.  Though shot in colour, the film was processed in gorgeous black and white ( its images are ravishing) and the period detail is faultless.  Both Dujardin and Bejo bring great charm and gusto to their roles and look like they’re having a ball. Oh and George’s dog (played by Ugge) is an absolute scene stealer.

There are some faults, of course. The film slows and sags around about the midway point, and the storyline is quite banal, though perhaps this is unavoidable given the constraints of a silent film. For all that however, it remains a charming, funny and inventive film; just what the doctor ordered to help chase those January blues away.

The Artist is out now. Watch the trailer here: