Arts: The Week in Review

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The Independent Culture
THE FILM THE PRINCE OF EGYPT

The Book of Exodus provides the inspiration for Disney's rival, DreamWorks, in this animated "live-action" film that follows the story of Moses.

"While the fear of offending is understandable, the earnest tone seems to squeeze much of the life from the film," remarked Anthony Quinn, adding, "the film has all the gravitas it can handle; what is missing, ironically enough, is not weight but vitality". The Guardian observed "fewer gags than Disney, and fewer funny animals, scrappily portrayed at that - the Midianites' flocks would shame Hanna Barbera". The Financial Times disagreed: "It is good because it has no cute animals, no love story and no sloppy takeaway moral". "As epic, emotionally satisfying spectacle, it is way up there with the best in mainstream animation," stated Time Out.

DreamWorks' effort may seem incomplete to those of a sentimental bent - no fluffy animals or romantic subplot - though the subject matter offers scope for some suitably epic scenery.

The Prince of Egypt is on nationwide release, certificate U

THE PLAY PRESENT LAUGHTER

Noel Coward's centenary celebrations begin with a revival of the playwright's 1939 farce. Sir Ian McKellen takes the lead role as the actor and matinee idol Garry Essendine.

"McKellen delivers a performance of combustible energy and comic timing," cried Paul Taylor. "He captures Garry wonderfully well, whether assuming a martyr's mask or clutching his heart as though it were being cruelly pecked at." "There are occasions when Malcolm Sutherland's production reaches too blatantly for laughter. But you never forget that McKellen is bringing energy, guile and skill to one of Coward's major comedies," reflected The Times, while the Daily Mail gushed: "Sir Ian's pulsating seriousness makes the character's absurdity even funnier... he manages to convey grandeur and dependency with startling originality".

The uneven casting and exaggerated slapstick of Malcolm Sutherland's production are soon forgotten as Sir Ian McKellen brings a magnetic energy to the role of Coward's alter ego.

Present Laughter is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 23 January. For booking and enquiries, call 0113-213 7700

THE BOOK THE UNKNOWN MATISSE

In this eagerly awaited biography, Hilary Spurling uncovers the tumultuous family life and precarious artistic career of the pioneer of Fauvist painting, Henri Matisse.

"It is well known that Matisse suffered public mockery and financial insecurity, but neither the degree of misery he endured nor its varying causes have ever been uncovered in such revelatory detail," wrote Frances Spalding, continuing, "the depth and intensity of Spurling's research compel attention." The Spectator called it "a triumph of sympathy and tone", while The Sunday Telegraph was delighted: "Often, biographies of artists add little to one's understanding of their art. This is a splendid exception. By revealing the turmoil... behind that professorial mask, this book transforms our sense not only of Matisse but also of his work".

One of the best biographies of an artist of recent years, Hilary Spurling's study of Matisse is revealing about his troubled life and offers great insight into the changing nature of his art.

The Unknown Matisse by Hilary Spurling is available in bookshops now, published by Hamish Hamilton

THE TV PROGRAMME PERSONAL SERVICES

In the last of the series, Personal Services goes to South Shields to examine the strange goings-on in a launderette that is mostly frequented by elderly ladies and bachelors.

"The washing basket is the window of the soul. That was the moral of Personal Services," said Matthew Sweet. "Posh Wosh was a social and spiritual service - a cross between a drop-in centre and the waiting room from Sartre's Huis clos."

"A charming conclusion to a charming series," chimed The Daily Telegraph, while The Guardian praised this "unpretentious little series ... In Posh Wosh you can see all the stages of living and loving and losing." "John Pitman's engaging film got under the skin of the staff and their customers, revealing the dramas that peppered their lives without tipping over from warmth into sentimentality," wrote the Evening Standard. The docu-drama lives on. It seems that there is no satisfying our interest in other people's daily routine and being privy to the intimate details in the lives of strangers.

This edition marks the end of Channel 4's Personal Services series. Wait for them to repeat it.

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