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Very Annie Mary
On Release Now
Jim Johnson on Sara Sugarman's wonderful new and hilarious Welsh movie

Forget Pearl Harbour this weekend go see this and take friends, it is the
most genuinely funny and touching film you will see this year

Very Annie Mary (Wales) 2001
Certificate 15, 104 minutes
Sara Sugarman (Writer/Director)
Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce, Ioan Gruffudd,
Matthew Rhys, Ruth Maddoc, Rhys Miles Thomas, Wendy Phillips, Anna Mountford, Rhian Grundy, Kenneth Griffith, Llyr Evans release UK 25.May.01

Sara Sugarman is no stranger to the Celtic Film Festival. In 1997 her hilarious ‘Valley Girls’ was awarded the best short film prize. ‘Very Annie Mary’, which she wrote and directed, is her latest full-length film since ‘Mad Cows’ in 1999. Unfortunately Sara Sugarman was unable to attend this screening of her work due to the continuing chaos that is Britain’s railway network.

This is the story of Annie Mary who eventually finds herself becoming a full-time carer for her father, Jack Pugh, after he suffers a stroke. Jack is a pillar of the community and before his stroke is renowned for his stunning operatic voice. To the people of the Welsh village, Ogw, he is known as the ‘voice of the valley’. But he is a rather vain and self-centred man and treats his daughter with little respect, mocking her attempts at independence. Annie-Mary too once had a beautiful singing voice, which earned her a place at a Milan School of Opera, but she turned it down to stay with her father as her mother had just fallen tragically and then fatally ill.

Rachel Griffiths as Annie Mary outside her dreamhouse.

Since then Annie can no longer sing. The story follows her efforts to find her voice, and escape from under her father’s shadow. Her plight is particularly well illustrated in one scene where she visits her mother’s grave. She attempts to sing but can only muster the weakest of notes, while we hear her father’s voice booming around the valley from a loudspeaker. Annie Mary is trying to find her voice in more ways than one.

It is a very moving story that touches on serious and painful issues. We see how people struggle emotionally and financially when having to look after an infirm relative. We are reminded by Annie Mary’s best friend Bethan Bevan of how cancer can destroy even the youngest of lives. It's this touching relationship that is the centre of this film.

Very Annie Mary is above all a heart-warming comedy, reminiscent of ‘Muriel ’s Wedding’. In both films, the protagonists are downtrodden young women who come from unfulfilling backgrounds and set out to improve their lives. Both films present a host of bizarre and colourful characters. Such as the wonderful bitchy, gay couple who run Annie Mary’s local cornershop, excellently played by Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys. Rachel Griffiths, an Australian actress, also happens to star in these two films. In ‘Very Annie Mary’ she gives a brilliant performance as the title role, and convincingly copes with the Welsh accent.

Be prepared for a touching tale with plenty of hilarity on the way. There are some classic moments: a ‘Full Monty’ striptease performed by some rather under-aged strippers and the use of an apricot sponge cake by a sultry female siren (lustily played by Ruth Maddoc of Hi-de-Hi fame), to gain the affections of Annie Mary’s dad. Revel too in the Pavarotti moment at the talent contest.

My only criticism would be when Annie Mary risks losing a large sum of money in the bookmakers. We understand by this stage that she desperately needs some cash to help start her own life but she makes this gamble with money intended for her terminally ill best friend, Bethan Bevan. The friendship between the two seems too great for Annie to forsake in such a moment of extravagance. It didn’t seem within Annie Mary’s character to be so selfish. With that one, small complaint aside this is a thoroughly enjoyable film that is guaranteed to make you laugh and maybe cry a bit as well.

The film also stars Jonathan Pryce who as Jack Pugh is Pavarotti mad, his performance is sharply observed, playing mean, selfish and callous and just shows how much he is underused. The scene where Annie MAry becomes his feetwarmer is a wonderful, almost Buster Keaton moment in movie making.

Look out for Hinge, Minge,Fringe and Hob and Nob - yes it's all wonderful Ealing comedy character stuff, but that's exactly why we love those old movies, eccentric and utterly self-important. Other critics haven't been kind, but I promise you, take a friend, this film is a hoot.
(Meriel Andrew who provides the female vocal voice for the film.)

Johnathan Pryce 'Boom'

The development of the VERY ANNIE MARY script is an adventure on it's own.
Sara Sugarman in her own words...

' During the development process, I sent the script off to the Sundance Instistute and completely forgot about it,' says Sugarman. 'It was like entering a competition on a cereal packet - fill in the form and never dream you would win. When a fax arrived a few months later from Sundance to say the script was among the last twenty five, I was really surprised and pleased but didn't think it would go any further, then another fax arrived to say it was in the last ten, and by the time it got down to the last three, I really wanted to win.' Producer Graham Broadbent was initially alarmed, then delighted, that the script finally won the prize and then surprised again when it was one of three winners of the Orange Pathe Script Prize. Says Sugarman, 'He kept saying 'Is there anything else you haven't told me about?'

Very Annie Mary is released in the UK on May 25th and is on general release now.
This is one British film that is absolutely fabulous. Five Stars *****

© Jim Johnson 2001

Ioan Gruffudd,
Matthew Rhys camp it up in their 'Annie Get Your Gun' sequence

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