Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

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Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

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Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

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To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

Lockdown TV review: Belgravia (ITV)

The first couple of episodes of Julian Fellowes’ latest TV series Belgravia are quite frankly an embarrassment

“How strange that we should be having a ball when we are on the brink of war”

Who knows what hold Julian Fellowes has over the British cultural industries as once again, another major commission comes through for this painfully lazy of writers. I should have resisted Belgravia but with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald and Saskia Reeves, not to mention Penny Layden and Adam James, curiosity got the better of me and by the crin, I wish it hadn’t. Lucy Mangan puts it scathingly well in her review for the Guardian and I couldn’t have put it any better. Avoid like the, well, plague.

Photo: ITV

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5

The short and sweet fifth series of Sally Wainwright’s excellent Last Tango in Halifax is a much-needed shot of the warm and fuzzies 

“I’m not deluded. Nice things do make me happy”

With an almost unerring sense of timing, Sally Wainwright gave the nation a shot of the warm and fuzzies with the perfectly short and sweet fifth series of Last Tango in Halifax. Having to wait for three years for it certainly built anticipation but it also had a powerful effect on the storytelling. In a series that has long been rooted in everyday life, allowing so much of that life to happen before revisiting them (as opposed to the laziness of a time jump) really deepens the context. Also, the official confirmation of the Wainwright shared universe was a real delight, how I would watch these avengers assemble!

So the ‘opposites attract’ element of Alan and Celia’s late-blooming relationship is now manifested in deeper ideological differences on subjects such as Brexit. And Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play this sense of shifting priorities beautifully as his attention turns to his new job at the supermarket and hers is swallowed up the potential of a new kitchen. And as their families look on slightly aghast, there’s a real sense over the four episodes that this core marriage might actually be in peril. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

TV Review: Flesh and Blood

Imelda Staunton plays a blinder in ITV’s Flesh and Blood but for a thriller, there’s not much that is actually that thrilling apart from Russell Tovey’s chest hair

“I never ever dreamt it would end like this”

The myriad ways in which we can now consume television content means that programmers can find themselves in a bit of a bind, searching for the best way to ensure their show breaks through in such a crowded marketplace. Just look at The Split, releasing the entirety of its second series online whilst also going for a weekly broadcast. Stripping a show over a week for four consecutive nights, as ITV did with Flesh and Blood, may seem like a happy medium between those two modes but in this day and age, I don’t it matches either. 

Written by Sarah Williams (Becoming Jane; Small Island), Flesh and Blood is a lush family drama, edging towards thriller territory, as a body is discovered in this sleepy Sussex beach town. And in true winding narrative style, we don’t know who has carked it. Francesca Annis’ Vivien is quietly surprised to find new love with Stephen Rea’s Mark but her adult children don’t think she’s been playing the grieving widow for long enough and once he moves into their former childhood home, hackles are truly raised, conveniently allowing them to turn from the drama in their own lives.  Continue reading “TV Review: Flesh and Blood”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1

Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax returns in fine form for its fifth series, making Sunday nights great again

“Some people like getting on a bus”

The churlish among us might have grumbled that they felt a little short-changed by the fourth series of Last Tango in Halifax only consisting of two episodes. Having had to wait over three years for the arrival of a fifth, I’m now just ecstatic it is back (with four episodes this time around).

And in the best way, it feels like it has never been away. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid’s bickering married couple, Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire searching for self-sufficiency as their daughters, and associated friends and family members dipping in and out with their varied capers. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1”

TV Review: Mum Series 3

Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum goes out on an absolute high with a glorious third and final series with Lesley Manville and Dorothy Atkinson never better

“I think this will be an interesting week”

Any TV series starring both Lesley Manville and Sam Swainsbury has clearly been specifically designed for me and me alone, and so I choose to take Stefan Golaszewski’s decision to end Mum after this third series extremely personally. Problem is, the guy knows exactly what he is doing, as this glorious series really did go out on a high.

It’s taken me a little while to get around to watching it. I adored the first series, and the second, and I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye. But given her return to the stage at the National, it felt like as good a time as any to indulge in a Manville marathon. And you can watch this entire series in less than the running time of The Visit, without even having to get dressed, so everyone’s a winner. Continue reading “TV Review: Mum Series 3”