Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Armando Iannucci’s rollicking adaptation of The Personal History of David Copperfield is huge amounts of fun to watch

“You can’t complain about a nice bit of kipper”

You might not have picked a Charles Dickens adaptation for an Armando Iannucci big screen feature but evidenced in The Personal History of David Copperfield, it’s a pretty darn fantastic match. It’s a rollicking romp through the story, absolutely refreshed by this treatment as its warm comedy is sprinkled with notes of ruminative reflection on class and identity and just a touch of satirical bite. And by employing a truly diverse and talented ensemble, there’s something special here. 

For all the magnificence of Tilda Swinton’s Betsey Trotwood (truly exceptional), Peter Capaldi’s Mr Micawber and Ben Whishaw’s malevolent Uriah Heep, the real joy in the casting comes from the opportunities now given. Nikki Amuka-Bird is fantastic as the starched Mrs Steerforth, the kind of role she just hasn’t gotten to play before; so too Benedict Wong as Wickfield, it’s great to see such talent stretch their acting muscle this way, and so well too. Continue reading “Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)”

TV news: Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen

Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen in a reprise for her Doctor Foster character

Created and written by Mike Bartlett and produced by Drama Republic, Life stars Alison Steadman, Peter Davison, Adrian Lester, Victoria Hamilton, Melissa Johns, Rachael Stirling, Saira Choudhry, Erin Kellyman, Calvin Demba and Joshua James.

Victoria Hamilton will reprise her role from Doctor Foster – now going by the name of ‘Belle’, rather than Anna – and seeking to rebuild her life anew.

Adam James will appear later on in the series, reprising his Doctor Foster role as Belle’s now ex-husband Neil. Life also features Elaine Paige and Susannah Fielding in key roles. Continue reading “TV news: Mike Bartlett’s Life brings Victoria Hamilton back to the screen”

TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
Continue reading “TV Review: Black Earth Rising”

TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 2)

Series 2 of Top Boy- Summerhouse is, quite frankly, exceptional

“I don’t wanna go to Ramsgate”

The first series of Top Boy surprised me at just how good it was, making a mockery of my earlier decision that it wasn’t my kind of thing. So I launched straight into the second series (now labelled Top Boy- Summerhouse on Netflix), unprepared for how harrowing it would get. It may have taken two years for it to be created but boy it was worth the wait.

Ronan Bennett’s series picks up one year later with Dushane’s (Ashley Walters_ status at the head of the Summerhouse estate as equally precarious and secure as ever, forever dependent on the next big drug delivery. But the Albanians have got their own plans, former besty Sully is setting up his own rival crew and the police have just dug up a body – eep! Continue reading “TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 2)”

TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 1)

Top Boy – Summerhouse easily makes a mockery of my previous decision that this wasn’t my type of thing. 

“We’re gonna need some more time, and we’re gonna need some guns”

With the renewed vigour behind the Black Lives Matter movement and people’s determination (myself included) to do better at recognising black talent, it’s interesting to look back at the challenges they have faced. You’d imagine that Top Boy, a crime drama set in the heart of a fictional estate in Hackney, East London, would have been written by a black writer but as it turns out, Ronan Bennett is white and hails from Northern Ireland.

The series dates back to 2011 and I can’t speak to the realities of Channel 4’s commissioning process but it merits a raised eyebrow. Fortunately, Bennett’s assiduous research means that Top Boy (renamed Top Boy – Summerhouse on Netflix) does better than most at evoking the brutality and bullishness of gang life in the East End, where conventional notions of good and bad are cast aside in the name of survival by whatever means. Continue reading “TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 1)”

Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story. Continue reading “Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)”

Film Review: Been So Long (2018)

A fatally muddled tone means Been So Long ends up less than the sum of its parts, despite glorious lead performances from Arinzé Kene and Michaela Coel

“People don’t want inclusivity mate, they want exclusivity. And something for the gluten-intolerant”

I really wanted to like Been So Long, and can imagine it having worked well on the stage (it played the Young Vic in 2009) but something has definitely been lost in translation with this screen adaptation here. It is mildly curious as the film is written by Ché Walker, scribe of the original play and the subsequent stage musical, but maybe this was a step too far?

One of the main problems for me is that crucial issue of tone. As a love story set in contemporary Camden, and in which Camden plays a central role, there’s a tendency towards gritty naturalism, particularly in showing the home lives of its protagonists, new ex-con Raymond (Arinzé Kene) and single mum of a disabled daughter Simone (Michaela Coel). Continue reading “Film Review: Been So Long (2018)”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)

Series 2 of Chewing Gum sees Michaela Coel nail the ‘two series and out’ trajectory of some of the best British sitcoms

“I’m not 17, I’m a grown-up woman. I just…regularly make childlike mistakes”

I belatedly came to Chewing Gum just now and watched both the first series and this second one in a single sitting each, their addictive nature and too-easily bingeable lengths giving me two fine nights in front of the TV.

Writer and creator Michaela Coel rarely let her imagination get in the way of the first six episodes but here, the expansion of Tracey’s world beyond her Tower Hamlets estate is quite simply fucking hilarious. Plus, the marvellous Sinéad Matthews appears in this series too. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 2)”

TV Review: I May Destroy You, Episodes 1 & 2

The superlative Michaela Coel looks to have absolutely nailed with new TV show I May Destroy You

“How did last night end?”

I mean we knew I May Destroy You would be good but damn, it’s really good. Even on the evidence of episodes 1 & 2 which have just been released by the BBC, Michaela Coel – whose credits here include executive producer, co-director, star, and writer – looks set to thoroughly invigorate our TV screens as she breathlessly tackles, well, pretty much the whole of contemporary society.

At the top of it, I May Destroy You is a drama about consent, though it is immediately clear that Coel’s canvas and the scope of her ambition is much larger than that. It blends just as much comedy as tragedy into its playfully inventive structure. And though the hook is Coel’s Arabella – a 30-something London-based writer – trying to piece together the memories of a night where her drink was spiked and she was sexually assaulted, there’s so much more about the lives of young Black British people filled out along the way. Continue reading “TV Review: I May Destroy You, Episodes 1 & 2”