TV Review: Man in an Orange Shirt

I end up a little disappointed after an excellent first half of Man in an Orange Shirt

“You didn’t think we could set up home together like man and wife?”

I wanted to love Man in an Orange Shirt , I really did. A BBC two-part mini-series from 2017, it was written by Patrick Gale using elements from his own family history. And featuring a cast that is both suitably impressive -James McArdle, Vanessa Redgrave – and pretty – newcomers to me Julian Morris and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

The first half is by far the stronger. Set in the 1940s, old schoolmates Michael and Thomas find themselves stationed together in WWII Italy. An unexpected connection blooms between the pair and once war is over, Michael searches out Thomas and they spend a blissful weekend together. Only trouble is, Michael also has to eventually reunite with his fiancée too. Continue reading “TV Review: Man in an Orange Shirt”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”

It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.

Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis. Continue reading “Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

Film Review: Suffragette

“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette offers a rather striking perspective on the women’s suffrage movement, inventing a working class character and following her political awakening at a key moment in the fight for women’s rights. Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts is a dutiful wife and mother, working long, thankless hours at a Bethnal Green laundry whose chance encounter with a riotous group of suffragettes slowly rouses something within her.

This is where Morgan and Gavron’s approach pays dividends, in seeing the movement through working class eyes away from the privilege and relative freedom of the leaders. Even on a shop-floor full of much-put-upon women, suffragette is spat as a dirty word and in the close-knit neighbourhoods too, the leap that Maud has to make to merely stand up for what she believes is right is that much more difficult, more life-changingly dramatic and Mulligan is truly superb in tracing this transformation. Continue reading “Film Review: Suffragette”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Crucible, Old Vic

“An everlasting funeral marches round your heart”

On paper, this latest incarnation of The Crucible at the Old Vic may seem everlasting – early previews hit four hours and with no change to the 7.30pm starting time, it may feel like an endurance test in the making. But settled in at just under 3 hours 30 minutes, Yaël Farber’s production emerges as a slow-burning success, much in the vein of the Streetcar up the road in being utterly unafraid to take its time to build up the requisite atmosphere of horrifying suspicion and fear that renders Arthur Miller’s play a striking and timeless triumph.
 

And creatively it really is a triumph – Soutra Gilmour utilising the in-the-round setting perfectly whilst Richard Hammarton’s pervasive music and sound wriggle under the skin and Tim Lutkin’s lighting creates as much shadow as it does light, all combining to heighten the increasingly nightmarish scenario as the action snowballs to the terrible climax we know must come. The immediacy and intimacy that comes from being much closer than usual (for the vast majority in this theatre anyway) is almost unbearable but completely justifies keeping the theatre in this configuration for a while longer.

Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Old Vic”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

DVD Review: Wild Target

“I’m Victor Maynard, I’m 54 years old and I work as a professional killer”

Wild Target was a 2010 Brit-flick, adapted by Lucinda Coxon from the French film Cible Émouvante and directed by Jonathan Lynn, that made little real impact despite a rather fabulous cast. Bill Nighy plays Victor Maynard, a middle-aged man who has followed in the footsteps of his father as an assassin, but has no personal or social life to speak of, just regular visits to his mother, Eileen Atkins in fierce form. But when a job goes wrong, he finds himself trying to defend the very person he’s meant to kill, Emily Blunt’s con-artist Rose with the help of a young would-be apprentice in the shape of Rupert Grint’s Tony. 

It’s mainly frothy silliness. Amusing in parts as the threesome try to avoid being killed by the hapless assassins dispatched to finish off the original contract and round up the loose ends, including Martin Freeman with some lovely dental work…, the bond that grows between them is strongest when it is most ambiguous. There’s hints that the hitherto asexual Maynard may be a closet case, though meeting George Rainsford as a waiter in a gay café (that I would so frequent) sadly leads to nothing; Rose and Tony both come unencumbered by any attachments and so it seems it is anyone’s game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wild Target”