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 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution

“You’re a liar, aren’t you”

After the success of And Then There Were None last Christmas, it was most pleasing to see another Agatha Christie adaptation on the schedule for this year. And given how good The Witness for the Prosecution was, here’s hoping that the BBC can persuade Sarah Phelps to make this a new annual tradition as it is proving to be a most fruitful creative enterprise, completely reinvigorating a genre that has arguably gotten a little too cosy, stale even.

Originally a Christie short story from 1925, later adapted into a courtroom-based play in 1953 (a version of which I saw a few years ago), the story revolves around the murder of wealthy femme d’un certain âge Emily French. The prime suspect is Leonard Vole, her lover, who we discover is a married man and who just happens to have been made the sole beneficiary of French’s will. Vole’s court case relies on the testimony of his wife Romaine but naturally, things prove not to be quite that simple. Continue reading “TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution”

Review: Waste, National Theatre

“The stateman’s task is the accommodation of stubborn facts to shifting circumstance and in effect to the practical capacities of the average stupid man. Democracy involves admission of that”

It’s always a bit tough to forge one’s own opinion of something already lauded as a masterpiece, the assumption being if you don’t like it then you’re missing something, but this is the second time I’ve seen a solidly good production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste and it’s the second time that I just haven’t been blown away by it. Seven years ago saw Samuel West tackle it for the Almeida and now it is Roger Michell’s turn in the Lyttelton as Rufus Norris continues his balancing act of reinvigorating the National Theatre without scaring the regulars off.

But spread over a goodly three hours with a pace that could be described as stately at best and glacial at its worst, it’s hard to see Waste converting any newcomers to the joys of theatre. And even with the quality that emanates from the female-centric first scene – Olivia Williams, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Doreen Mantle and Lucy Robinson (forever in my heart as my first Lady Macbeth) doing fine work – the energy is just singularly lacking even as sex, sleaze and suicide pop up on the menu for this slice of the Edwardian political elite.  Continue reading “Review: Waste, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson

“But, to answer your question, Elizabeth, I ‘am’ going to eat a hot dog”

Directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Nelson, Hyde Park in Hudson is a rather delightful little thing, a trifle of a film that nonetheless has an endearing emotional edge to it. Set on the eve of World War II, George VI and Queen Elizabeth become the first British monarchs to visit the US but rather than the pomp and circumstance of an official state visit, they’re taken to Franklin D Roosevelt’s country estate and introduced to the complex personal relationships he’s built around him.

Key among these is Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, a distant cousin and childhood friend who has recently returned to his life and who narrates the film in Laura Linney’s delicate but determined tones. The Royals want to secure US support for the war they know is coming, the polio-ravaged FDR wants to be left alone to amuse himself with the collection of women he’s gathered around him and Daisy just wants to know where she is in the pecking order. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson”

DVD Review: The Heart of Me

“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”

For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.

It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Heart of Me”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre

“I’m the son of a son of a son of a collier’s son, the last in a long line”

So this is actually a review of a preview, although it was not intended to be. Beth Steel’s Wonderland was meant to open on Thursday but had to delay it until next week due to “ensure the safety of the cast” which may seem a little dramatic but once you enter the Hampstead Theatre’s main auditorium, it soon becomes clear that this was no idle claim. The theatre has gone into the round again and this time, Ashley Martin Davis’ awe-inspiring design has carved out a 3-storey high pit shaft that operates at three levels. Even the act of walking to your seat (if you’re on the stage) becomes precarious as high-heeled shoes must be removed and if you don’t like heights, I wouldn’t look down…!

In a year that marks the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, Steel’s play instantly feels well-timed but cleverly, it is not the play you might be expecting. The presence of Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher loom large (how could they not) but the focus lies elsewhere, in the heart of a Nottinghamshire mining community that feels the effects of the strike, and its lingering aftermath, most keenly indeed. We join the play as two lads start their first day down the pit and are initiated into its unique working ways and its all-encompassing camaraderie, right at the moment that the government has decided to take on the miners as part of a schismatic ideological shift in workers’ rights. Continue reading “Review: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment.  Continue reading “Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming”

Short Film Review #16

Stalking Ben Chadz

 

The characters of Stalking Ben Chadz – June and Izzy – have appeared in another short film Mourning Rules which I previously reviewed here http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/short-film-review-5.html and enjoyed so I was pleased to see another film from Montserrat Lombard and Olivia Poulet along with their co-writer Daniel Castella. It’s another brief glimpse into the somewhat batty lives of these sisters, here literally stalking a guy named Ben, who Izzy has decided is the love of her life. It’s witty – the phone call is great fun – and silly and huge amounts of fun, both Lombard and Poulet have a gift for observational comedy and so it’s well worth 2 minutes 30 of your day.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #16”