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24 September 2014

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    Birthday presence in Herts
    Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin.
    Nicole and Ben in Birthday Girl

    Katy Lewis prised herself away from Big Brother for a couple of hours to go to the cinema.

    She was generally entertained by Birthday Girl, despite being a little confused about some of the journeys in the locally shot film!


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    Cast: Nicole Kidman, Ben Chaplin, Mathieu Kassovitz, Vincent Cassel

    Director: Jez Butterworth

    Running time: 93 minutes

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    The fact that Hertfordshire is fast becoming the Hollywood of England is going to take a bit of getting used to - as location spotting can be very distracting.

    Birthday Girl, the latest film starring the sickeningly attractive Nicole Kidman and the lovely Ben Chaplin is a case in point.

    Birthday Girl.

    The film, a romantic thriller and black comedy, directed, written and produced by three St Albans brothers, seems to have been shot for the most part in Hertfordshire.

    While this adds to its entertainment value for local cinema-goers, it can also be off-putting as you become aware of how unfeasible some of their journeys are.

    There is one superb sequence of events where, after sitting in a service station supposedly on the M4, they resume their trip only to turn off the A41 towards Tring and find themselves on a country lane overlooking St Michael's church in St Albans.

    I then spent the next 10 minutes of the film, working out the angles from the church tower and trying to establish exactly where that road could be.

    The piece de resistence though is where Ben Chaplin runs out of the Marlowes Shopping Centre in Hemel, straight into the Drovers Way multi-storey car park in St Albans, bringing titters of recognition and comment from the local audience which made my toes curl - especially as this was a pretty crucial moment in the film!

    Coupled with this are some clear soci-economic discrepancies.

    Chaplin's character openly states that he lives in St Albans. He is stuck in a career rut, a bank clerk who has spent 10 years missing out on promotion. Yet he lives in a rather large house in a quiet cul-de-sac.

    Financially challenged - big house - St Albans - I think not!

    There could of course be a perfectly rational explanation for this - inheritence, tabloid dream house competition etc - but it wasn't explained and again, I spent quite a bit of the film trying to work out exactly how good his job perks must be and planning my own career change - to banking and that cheap mortgage. And how soon I could swap my two-bed flat for a nice house on that new estate by the hospital!

    This could be why I am now not able to tell you much else about the film - but here goes!

    The seemingly mild-mannered bank clerk John (Ben Chaplin) buys a mail order bride from Russia. Nadia (Nicole Kidman) arrives soon after and, despite the fact that she can't speak a word of English, she seems just perfect: beautiful, attentive, loving and eager to please and she and John find other ways of communicating.

    You've guessed it - of course all is not what it appears, and if I go on any further, I will completely ruin it for you.

    Superbly acted
    But what I can say is that despite the fact that John and Nadia's characters are wholly unsympathetic, they are superbly acted and for the most part the undeniable talent of Kidman and Chaplin covers up what is really quite basic plotline material.

    There could also be a moral in there somewhere I suppose, about the dangers of meeting people off the Internet. For while Nadia brings a whole load of trouble with her, we also learn about the quiet John's weird sexual desires.

    It is this slightly sinister side to the character that is played so brilliantly by Chaplin. In a stroke, he can go from making the audience laugh at him, to making them really uneasy about him.

    Kidman, with what seems like a perfect Russian accent, also displays some good comic timing which makes the film's deft turn from comedy to thriller even more stark.

    Despite some implausibilities in the plot, the film is lively, watchable and pretty funny too. And while us locals may be somewhat distracted, others will be entertained.

    Is Hertfordshire the new Hollywood? Which celebs have you seen sitting in St. Albans or walking in Watford? Have you ever been caught up in filming?

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