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The Independent Culture
This Year's Love (18)

to rent

DIRECTOR DAVID Kane does his best to nearly ruin what turns out to be a promising feature debut. Be prepared for the faddish trappings of a Camden setting, a post-Britpop soundtrack and the Scottish accents of half the cast, none of which have the remotest bearing on the film itself. The round-like structure, too, also comes across at first as little more than expediency: over two years, three men (volatile tattoo-artist Douglas Henshall, comic nerd Ian Hart and lonely-hearts lothario Dougray Scott) each end up (or try to) with three women (capricious Catherine McCormack, frumpy Kathy Burke and trustafarian single-parent Jennifer Ehle).

The defiantly unsympathetic characterisation roughs up this neat premise, though. Despite their couplings, the personal histories of these North London ne'er-do-wells remain raggedly open-ended. Also, the drama as a whole, though often comic, seems driven as much by the despair of its protagonists as by the potential of any rosier future

for them. It is this emotional frankness, aided by a clutch of appealing performances that actually lifts the film out of the ordinary.

Shakespeare In Love (15)

to rent

Looking back on the buzz which accompanied John Madden's multi-Oscar winner, it's plain to see who has the real genius behind this enjoyable comedy drama: the Weinstein brothers. Still, the Miramax boys were taking up the creative baton from Madden and Tom Stoppard and, between them, the director and the screenwriter pull off a tricky juggling act.

The literary allusions with which Stoppard doctors the script could have been left high and dry indeed if Madden hadn't been able to absorb them into the middlebrow rump of the film. Even that - the tale of the Bard's block cured by a cross-dressing muse - the director turns into an agile farce interjected with moments of true emotion.

Joseph Fiennes in the central role and Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured) capitalise on this by avoiding any camp, so setting an example for the rest of a fine cast.