TimeOut’s ‘Movies on the River’ – The Shape of Water (Event Review)

Sun, sea, and fish sex – it can only mean one thing… a boat screening of The Shape of Water to celebrate TimeOut London’s “Movies on the River” series! A cruise down the Thames watching the incumbent Best Picture winner (and a nautically-inclined one at that) sounds almost too idyllic to be true. Having attended its opening night, however, we can confirm that it’s as dazzling as you’d expect.

The evening began with a rendezvous at Tower Pier, with media guests being gifted a generous handful of tokens which could be redeemed at the bar – a bottle of Peroni or a glass of red, each coupled with a bag of popcorn to snack on during the film. Cinéastes we may be, but it spoke volumes that the free bar aroused more excitement than del Toro’s Oscar winner.

After assembling our alcoholic resources, we were each gifted a pair of wireless headphones and a blanket. As sunset neared, the boat span around so as to give us a picturesque view of both the main screen and Tower Bridge in the background.

As for the film (that’s why we’re here, remember?), it was my third time seeing it – and it’s lost none of its charm. Not unlike La La Land, another darling of yesteryear, The Shape of Water was deemed an ‘instant classic’ by many upon release. It’s perhaps a title that seems increasingly more a metonym for a homage to the classics, but it’s certainly deserved in this case.

The silent crux of Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is matched only by a (still!) criminally overlooked turn from Doug Jones as the aptly-named ‘Amphibian Man’, while this third screening made me finally realise why it is I adore the film so much: Richard Jenkins. His Giles is a character who could easily have been reduced to the usual auteurist character – a means of the director expressing his own personal opinions through an in-world vessel. That still occurs – Giles’ rhapsodising over ‘Cagney’ and Fred & Ginger is little too on-the-nose from the self-professed cinephile del Toro – but Jenkins manages to imbue Giles with a humour and emotional depth that easily override such gripes.

Alexandre Desplat’s accordion-filled score is a triumph of magical romanticism (even if Jonny Greenwood was robbed at the Oscars…), the impact of which is only heightened by the set design team’s superb work in creating a grim, polluted Cold War aesthetic.

Del Toro maintains a superb hold over all of these individual contributions of brilliance, managing to still end up staying true to his own wonderfully distinct vision. You really feel that this film is his story, one that he’s wanted to tell since he was a fairytale-reading, Hollywood-obsessed young child.

TimeOut’s ‘Movies on the River’ series is now running until early September. Tickets cost between £29-38, depending on which day you go. The programme itself consists of aquatic classics like The Little Mermaid and Jaws (for the boating brave), mixed in amongst the usual pop-up cinema fare (Grease, Top Gun, Love Actually). They even offer hits as recent as The Greatest Showman and last year’s Dunkirk – just don’t tell Christopher Nolan that it’s an inflatable screen…