TV Review: King Lear, BBC Two

A contemporary adaptation of King Lear does little to prove its worth on BBC Two

“Some villain hath done me wrong”

A belated visit to this Bank Holiday TV offering and one I should probably have left alone. I’m not the biggest fan of King Lear, nor of Anthony Hopkins if I’m honest. But the notion of a contemporary adaptation and a deluxe level of supporting casting was enough of a draw for me to give it a try.

A co-production between the BBC and Amazon, this Lear has been adapted and directed by Richard Eyre. Trimmed down to a scant couple of hours and located in a contemporary England, it clearly has its eye on new audiences as much as your Shakespearean buff, and I’d be intrigued to know how the former reacted. Continue reading “TV Review: King Lear, BBC Two”

TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1

All hail the return of nuanced, intelligent sci-fi – series 3 of Humans starts on Channel 4

“Lemonade not included”

I’m not entirely sure why Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington haven’t become hugely famous due to the world-class performances that both have been delivering for two series of Humans, the third of which has just started on Channel 4. As Synths possessed of consciousness, they manage the not-inconsiderable task of translating the world of sci-fi improbability into something deeply, deeply affecting, and this latest series shows no sign of that changing.

Following on from the events of Series 1 and Series 2, this third season takes us a year further into the future. With the consciousness code uploaded to all synths worldwide, the ensuing chaos led to ferocious reprisals from the human population which has left the synths decimated, ghettoised, shut off from the society they longed to join. And its the chill of recognition here that makes Humans works. You can call this near-future or dystopian but the anger and prejudice against the ‘other’ is as current-day as they come. Continue reading “TV Review: Humans Series 3, Episode 1”

TV Review: Ordeal by Innocence, BBC1

“You have to face the consequences now”

It’s taken me an age to get round to finishing Ordeal by Innocence, the latest in the BBC’s series of hugely successful Agatha Christie adaptation from Sarah Phelps. I watched the first part when it aired at Easter and quite liked it but for some reason, the remaining two got stuck on my ‘to-do’ list.

And having finally watched them, I have to say I found myself a little disappointed. Not being familiar with the story, the major plot alterations had no impact on me and if we’re honest, the replacement of actor Ed Westwick by Christian Cooke had little discernible effect (aside from the obvious delay). Continue reading “TV Review: Ordeal by Innocence, BBC1”

TV Review: The Split, BBC1 (Episode 1)

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to our TV screens in new Abi Morgan drama The Split

“Divorce shouldn’t be easy”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new legal drama which looks extremely promising, not least because of a swooningly wonderful cast. The aforementioned Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Fiona Button as sisters, the ever-marvellous Deborah Findlay as their fearsome mother, people like Stephen Tompkinson and Meera Syal as clients, hunky Dutchmen like Barry Atsma looming on the sidelines, and the likes Rudi Dharmalingam and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith also on the fringes. 

Photograph: Mark Johnson/BBC/Sister Pictures

TV Review: Mum Series 2

A hugely successful return for Stefan Golaszewski’s BBC sitcom Mum, with world-beater Lesley Manville in brilliant form once again

“Three types of potato – are you out of your fucking mind?”

I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve Stefan Golaszewski’s Mum but I’m sure as hell glad that we have it. The second series of this BBC sitcom has now drawn to a close and it is hard not to think that it isn’t one of the most magnificently perfect bits of television out there, surpassing even the heights of the superlative first season

Starring Lesley Manville and Sam Swainsbury as it does, it could well have been machine-tooled to appeal to my Venn diagram of all Venn diagrams. But Mum is so much more than my varying crushes, it is a supremely well-calibrated piece of heart-breaking and heart-warming writing that finds its humour in that most British of ways, through adversity. Cathy’s husband and Michael’s best friend may have died a year ago but their attempts to move on, to maybe explore their mutual, unspoken attraction are constantly frustrated by the clod-hopping presence of her extended family at every beat.   Continue reading “TV Review: Mum Series 2”

Film Review: Crooked House (2017)

“The murderer is never the one you initially suspect”

 

A real treat here for fans of Agatha Christie as Crooked House is one of the few novels of hers that has yet to be adapted for the screen. With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes, Tim Rose Price and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the latter of whom also directs, a curious release strategy sees it materialise on Channel 5 in the UK despite it being blessed with the kind of castings and high production values that you’d’ve thought would be destined for the cinema.

The story begins as so many of them do, with a murder. This time it is wealthy 80-some tycoon Aristide Leonides who kicks the bucket and the finger of suspicion doesn’t know where to point as it could any one of the disillusioned family members who also lived in the sumptuous family pile. His grand-daughter secures the services of a private investigator to look into the case discreetly and thus the mystery begins.

Is it Glenn Close’s mole-murdering Lady Edith, the sister of Leonides first wife? Christina Hendricks’ much younger second wife Brenda who stands to inherit everything? His hapless elder son or his hapless younger son or maybe one of their wives, a pair of crackingly vibrant performances from Gillian Anderson and Amanda Abbington respectively. And what secrets do Jenny Galloway’s nanny or Honor Kneafley’s 12 year old Josephine have up their sleeve?

Pleasingly, Max Irons’ investigator isn’t a Poirot or Marple-like savant and so the focus is allowed to rest on the unfurling of characters with murky motivations and a real sense of unease that percolates through the whole story. Sebastian Winterø’s cinematography plays into this with constantly interesting angles and Simon Bowles’ luscious production design is extraordinarily detailed in the way different rooms reflect their inhabitants.

Last but by no means least, there’s no denying the thrill that comes from a genuine shock of an ending that is brilliantly brutal, both in its reveal and its finality. Its darkness is possibly one of the reasons Crooked House hasn’t been filmed before but I love the fact that it is also one of Christie’s two favourites of her novels (the other being Ordeal By Innocence which was scheduled to be this year’s BBC/Sarah Phelps adaptation but which remains in limbo due to allegations made against one of its cast members).

 

 

 

TV Review: Doctor Foster Series 2

“How does this end Simon?”

In some ways, you can’t blame ’em for trying to replicate the extraordinary success of the first series of Doctor Foster, quality drama that fast became a rare appointment-to-view fixture  with a rare return to weekly instalments.  And given that writer Mike Bartlett is known for his prolific nature, that a second series quickly came into the offing was no great surprise.

But it can be hard to recapture the magic and though all of the key players have returned – most notably warring ex-couple Suranne Jones’ Gemma and Bertie Carvel’s Simon – this set of five episodes has really suffered from a lack of raison d’être. Waves of vicious revenge percolate throughout but with no discernible driving narrative beyond that, it proved far less engaging.

Not even the presence of a veritable treasure trove of theatrical luminaries – Victoria Hamilton, Adam James, Thusitha Jayasundera, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Siân Brooke to name but a few – could rescue the show from the dullness of retreading old ground and a wearying sense of not giving a shit about anyone here, particularly in the interminable longueurs of the final episode.

 

Cast of Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Press announced

An ensemble cast of some of Britain’s hottest talent will portray the determined and passionate characters behind the daily news at two fictional, competing newspapers in Mike Bartlett’s (Doctor Foster, King Charles III) drama series, Press, on BBC One.
Charlotte Riley (King Charles III, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) will play the News Editor of fictional broadsheet, The Herald and Ben Chaplin (Apple Tree Yard, The Thin Red Line) will play the Editor of fictional tabloid newspaper, The Post, while Priyanga Burford (London Spy, King Charles III) will play The Herald’s Editor. Paapa Essiedu (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, RSC’s Hamlet) will play The Post’s newest reporter and Shane Zaza (Happy Valley, The Da Vinci Code) its News Editor; while Ellie Kendrick (Game Of Thrones, The Diary Of Anne Frank) will be a junior reporter; Al Weaver (Grantchester, The Hollow Crown) an investigative journalist and Brendan Cowell (Young Vic’s Yerma, Game Of Thrones) the Deputy Editor at The Herald.
They will be joined by David Suchet (Poirot) who will play the Chairman & CEO of Worldwide News, owner of The Post.
Press will be directed by Tom Vaughan (Victoria, Doctor Foster) and produced by Paul Gilbert (Humans).
Set in the fast-paced and challenging environment of the British newspaper industry, Press immerse viewers in the personal lives and the constant professional dilemmas facing its characters. The series follow their lives as they attempt to balance work and play, ambition and integrity, amid the never-ending pressure of the 24-hour global news cycle and an industry in turmoil.
Press is a Lookout Point, BBC Studios, Deep Indigo production, co-produced with Masterpiece, for BBC One. Executive Producers are Faith Penhale and Mike Bartlett for Lookout Point, Bethan Jones for BBC Studios, Nigel Stafford-Clark for Deep Indigo, Mona Qureshi for BBC One and Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece. International Distribution will be handled by BBC Worldwide.
Press begins filming in London in October and will broadcast on BBC One in 2018.

Album Review: The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 Television Series)

“We knew the excitement was bound to begin

When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin
And I couldn’t have liked it more”


The main reason for getting your hands on the soundtrack to the ITV series The Halcyon is for Beverley Knight’s highly spirited and hugely seductive take on Noël Coward’s ‘Marvellous Party’. I start with this, lest you think that I’m recommending Jamie Cullum to you (he has two tracks on here, specially recorded for the show) – his appeal having long eluded me. 


The rest of the album is filled with Kara Tointon’s rather lovely voice sliding over classics from the first half of the twentieth century and Samuel Sims’ original compositions for the 1940s drama. You might not think it’s particularly worth searching out if you didn’t see the show but in all honesty, even if you’re just a bit a fan of the era then it is worth a listen and a download or three.


There’s a slight oddity too with the track used as the theme song being included here – the moody, almost Massive Attack-like ‘Hourglass’ is a slinkily effective tune, with a great vocal from Tracy Kashi and a gorgeous orchestral swell, but it’s an incongruous selection nonetheless, especially considering the rest of the material here. 

TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. I’m sure it’s just another false alarm “

Oh The Halcyon – shafted by the overwhelming desire for it to be the new Downton, or maybe the unfriendly Monday evening slot, or maybe the fact that Charlott Jones’ serial never quite honed in on what it wanted to be. Following the fortunes of a luxury London hotel during the first couple of years of the Second World War, it took all possible opportunities to explore a society on the cusp of major change. But between the aristocrats who owned it, the aristocrats who stayed there, the lower classes who work there, and the multitudes of people affiliated to all these lives, the canvas was far too wide.
The hints were there right from the off in episode 1 which struggled to introduce even just its leading players in its running time, whilst still proving most tantalising, due to its cracking cast and its sumptuous design (those costumes!). At the heart of The Halycon lay the antagonistic relationship between Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton and Steven Mackintosh’s Mr Garland, owner versus manager as they butted heads over practicalities in the face of an ensuing Blitz but though their scenes were electric, they were given too little too late together to exploit this to its fullest. 
Across the eight episodes, subjects covered included international espionage, the difficulties of securing a goose during rationing, the consequences of appeasement, homosexuality, inter-racial relationships, inter-class relationships, the ethics of war reporting, US reluctance to get involved in WWII, women’s rise in the workplace, just to name a few. And naturally, it dealt with the vast majority of them briefly, on the surface, an issue to be wrapped up neatly rather than investigated thoroughly which would have been fine if The Halcyon had leaned into its soapy side as much as its dramatic tendencies.
Similarly, the series suffered from the insistence on infusing more modern attitudes than would be strictly historically accurate into its scenes. So scenes dealing with the intolerance directed towards Nico Rogner’s Austrian Jewish refugee working in the kitchen were improbably wide-eyed; the build up to Edward Bluemel’s Hon. Toby Hamilton and Akshay Kumar’s barman’s illicit liaisons was sweetly done but once they started boning, they were ridiculously indiscreet (purely in service of the plot); Garland’s daughter Emma’s rise from receptionist to assistant manager to active WVS member was simplified and unproblematic and less interesting for it.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Halcyon, it was occasionally extremely good fun. The music always set the scene well, led by Kara Tointon’s cheery singer Betsey, Liz White’s telephonist eventually got a satisfying amount to do, and Charles Edwards’ Lucian D’Abberville had a most entertaining plot which unfolded as well as anything did in the show. Throw in cameos from the likes of Fenella Woolgar, Matthew Marsh, Beverley Knight, Danny Webb, Charity Wakefield et al, and no matter how nonsensical it got, things were always watchable.