13 Nov 23
Rachel Zegler, Tom Blyth, Viola Davis, Hunter Schafer,
Released in 2012, The Hunger Games rewrote the fantasy film rule book, minted Jennifer Lawrence as a bona fide movie star, and kickstarted a series that went on to generate nearly $3bn at the box office.
Now, more than 10 years since the dystopian trilogy whipped audiences into a frenzy of fandom, "tributes" get to dive back into Suzanne Collins' dark but captivating world, courtesy of this much- anticipated prequel.
Set 64 years before Katniss took her sister's place in the games, The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes returns to Panem (a futuristic, fallen North America) just before the 10th Hunger Games, an event scheduled in the aftermath of a long war between the Capitol (home of the wealthy and centre of political power) and the surrounding poor districts.
Wounded from a drawn-out siege, the Capitol and many of its previously affluent inhabitants face ruin, including a recently orphaned Coriolanus "Coryo" Snow (Tom Blyth).
Here begins an origin story of sorts, following the man who, by the time of Katniss Everdeen, will be the ruthless president of Panem, but who at this point is just an 18-year-old trying to re-establish his family's prosperity.
When offered the chance to mentor – or more accurately "turn children into spectacles not survivors" – Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), he reluctantly accepts the position, soon seeing an opportunity to change both his and his tribute's fates for the better. But things don't often go according to plan in Panem, and Coryo ends up navigating a morally questionable path between what's good for him and what's good for his charge.
Baird is no Katniss stand-in. Rebellious and mercurial, the District 12 tribute belongs to a nomadic people called the Covey, the majority of whom – including her family – were killed by Peacekeepers (Capitol soldiers) shortly before the events of this film. She might not have Legolas-level archery skills, but she has her own weapons: a heart-stopping voice, a belief that humans are inherently good and serious sass – something that often gets her into trouble.
Ensuring a seamless transition between instalments are some familiar figures behind the camera. Francis Lawrence brings all his dystopian expertise to the director's chair; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire script-master Michael Arndt returned to co-write this chapter; and composer James Newton Howard promises to hit all the emotional notes with a spot-on score.
The stellar casting also helps. Yet again, West Side Story's Zegler proves her Golden Globe-winning acting abilities, as well as her prodigious vocal talents. Confidently tackling the tumultuous life of Coriolanus Snow is Birmingham-born Tom Blyth, fresh from leading HBO's Billy The Kid, while everyone's favourite Lannister, Peter Dinklage, devises an intimidating Casca Highbottom, the creator of the infamous games. Add in Jason Schwartzman, Viola Davis and Burn Gorman and you have a cast to die for.
It's an assembly of talent that produces compelling action, heart-wrenching drama and suspenseful entertainment, heightened by underlying questions about humanity's penchant for violence, the seductive nature of evil and the pitfalls of extreme capitalism. And sure, genetically modified snakes amp up the excitement. Welcome everyone, to the 10th annual Hunger Games. Ally Wybrew
When Lucy Gray bows to the assembled masses when she is reaped (as glimpsed in the trailer), it is a deliberate nod to a similar moment performed by Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. Rachel Zegler confirmed on social media the call back was an ad-lib.
For Francis Lawrence, Songbirds & Snakes goes way beyond the expected games scenario. "It's this kind of love story set in a different kind of a world in a different time," he told Vanity Fair. "A very intimate love story."
The role of Coriolanus Snow in The Hunger Games was played by Donald Sutherland.
Pick up a copy of Picturehouse Recommends at a Picturehouse Cinema near you, or become a Member.
Twists and turns abound in this sinister Hitchcockian two-hander, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway.
Bradley Cooper directs and stars in a grand ode to Leonard Bernstein.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of In This World, we sat down with the director to discuss how the film's radical approach brought an often-distant issue down to an audience’s eye level.
We've been wishing on a star, and our dream has come true. The next Disney classic is a century in the making.
The Souvenir's Joanna Hogg returns with an atmospheric ghost story, starring the formidable Tilda Swinton at the peak of her powers.