Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications
“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”
It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.
Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst.
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”
“He wants people to face the consequences of what they say and do”
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…the bees, THE BEES!
After a slight hiccup in previous episode Men Against Fire, feature-length episode Hated in the Nation restored Black Mirror to its rightful glory to round off this third series. Adopting something of a police procedural approach and aligning itself closer to today’s society than the majority of previous instalments, this was a proper thriller and hugely enjoyable with it.
In a world where mini-drones have replaced the collapsing bee population, Kelly McDonald’s DCI Karin Parke is investigating a series of deaths where the victims are celebrities who have recently provoked the ire of social media. Along with newly transferred colleague and tech wiz Blue (Faye Marsay), solving the crimes leads them down a merry path of murderous hashtags, governmental misdemeanours and social responsibility. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:6”
Best Actor in a Play
Philip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for Goalposts
Maybe a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t pick between the two stars of one of the best new plays of recent years and the most genuinely lovely depiction of teenage romance you could ever hope to see. I’ve seen them three times and have a sneaky trip booked to the last performance at the Bush too.
Honourable mention: Al Weaver, The Pride
Beautifully affecting, Weaver has been an actor I’ve had my eye on for a time and so it was pleasing to see him deliver the goods in a major production, opposite Harry Hadden-Paton in Jamie Lloyd’s The Pride.
Brian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Richard Clothier, 50 Words; Harry Hadden-Paton, The Pride; Mark Quartley, Armstrong’s War; Ben Whishaw, Mojo
Best Actor in a Musical
Kyle Scatliffe, The Scottsboro Boys
As Scottsboro boy-in-chief Haywood Patterson, Scatliffe personified beautifully the horrendous struggle of the young men who found themselves at the mercy of the justice system in the Deep South. The burden was strong given the under-writing of his compatriots but he delivered intense emotion and fervent conviction that the right thing would eventually happen, in what has to be a career-defining role.
Honourable mention: Declan Bennett, Once the musical
The brooding intensity of Bennett’s Guy fitted the aching romance of Once like a glove, elevating the score from any potential moments of lachrymosity into something subtly beautiful and stirring in its simplicity.
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Gavin Creel, The Book of Mormon; Fra Fee, Candide; Douglas Hodge, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; David Hunter, The Hired Man
With the news that the wonderful Rio cinema in Dalston is once again under threat, Paul Rapacioli and Joe Shaw’s film Passing Through feels an entirely appropriate starting point for this post, even though it was made in 2002. A ruminative love letter to the cinema – both in terms of classic film-making and also the demise of old-school picture houses – it’s a powerfully moving and beautiful piece of work as Graham Pountney’s projectionist marks his last day at work, before enforced early retirement, with an uncharacteristic act of rebellion. It’s a heartfelt choice and even in the depths of despair, it brings to him something infinitely lasting, reminding us all of the magic of the cinema. Highly recommended.
The premise behind Joyce Treasure’s Be Mine is really rather lovely – a 10 year girl from some rough area of Birmingham dreams of a shiny red bike in a local shop window, and expresses her desire mainly through the medium of song and dance. And in Esther May Campbell’s 2005 film, it has a delightfully homespun charm about it as Sophie Jukes’ Tina tries to persuade her mum (Maxine Peake) that it would be the perfect birthday present. As part of the Bollywood Shorts competition, it draws on sub-Continental influences but could have perhaps gone a little further – the main dance routine does come a little out of nowhere – but the ambition of this project is definitely delightful.
Dan Zeff’s film features a most fresh-faced David Tennant as Pete, an attentive young man agonising over the most painless way to dump his girlfriend Juliet. He makes everything as nice as can be, treats her well and prepares her for a life-changing revelation but before he actually gets to it, the phone rings and Juliet answers, revealing that she’s got the wrong end of the stick and thinks he is trying to propose. The ‘news’ soon spreads quickly and an array of well-wishers turn up to wish them well, including nice turns from Diana Hardcastle as her mother, Thusitha Jayasundera as a colleague of hers, the hilarious Bruce Mackinnon as one of his friends and Barry McCarthy as his dad. The final note doesn’t quite have the impact it desires, the abrupt end a little too brutal but it’s fun none the less.
Benedict Wong has had a great year on the stage but delving into his filmography has been lots of fun too as his short film work is pretty bloody good too. Selina Lim’s Painkiller is another example of his extraordinary talent at bringing portrayals of bruised masculinity to life as a stick-up of a convenience store goes wrong with him stuck inside. Franz Drameh’s Dominic is the youthful robber determined to make a quick getaway but finds himself distracted and nearly derailed by Wong’s Jay, a depressed taxi driver who manages to connect with him. Director Mustapha Kseibati keeps us on our toes throughout, throwing in sharp beats, comic beats, dark beats, particularly where Kris Saddler’s hapless cashier is involved, and it makes for a brilliant piece of film.
Mr John from Julian Kerridge on Vimeo.
Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that are most affecting and Julian Kerridge’s 2005 film debut Mr John is full of gorgeous, intimate details that make it a most charming prospect. Benedict Wong’s Mr John is an agoraphobic television critic but the arrival of a pretty upstairs neighbour, in the form of Nicola Stephenson’s Carol, forces him to look at the limits of his world anew. Their burgeoning relationship is a delight to behold – the gift of a casserole, a love for volcano documentaries, the re-organisation of a video collection – the quirky aspects of what makes her utterly adorable is perfectly played by Stephenson, the wry smile as she walks down the steps at the end enough to melt any heart. And Wong is appealingly nerdish as Mr John, initially disgruntled at the intrusion into his hermit-like existence but soon won over and willing to confront his greatest fear. Just lovely. Continue reading “Short Film Review #25”
My Dad the Communist from Tuyen Do on Vimeo.
It is tempting to see My Dad the Communist
as something of a neat companion piece to Chimerica
, featuring a Benedict Wong character responding to the events of Tiananmen Square in a completely different way but in truth, they are separate beasts and the only real thing linking them is the dearth of complex Asian-related stories on our screens and stages (although things do seem to be changing, slowly). This Lab Ky Mo film focuses on a typical British-Chinese family who work in a takeaway (where else?!) – Tony has lived all of his life in the UK yet his father has remained stubbornly, inscrutably Chinese in his behaviour, rarely uttering anything at all or showing any affection to his wife or son.
A car accident involving the older man motivates Tony to look back on his 20 year life and reflect on the rare moments that his dad did speak, realising the huge significance of those events, and the ones where he didn’t, imagining the parental figure he craved. Mo utilises the fantasy flashback several times to great effect, we really get a sense of being caught up in Tony’s reverie and it is really quite moving. Wong is customarily excellent as the taciturn father, Siu Hun Li is also strong as the son trying to do things differently, not least with his own new wife, an expressive performance from Tuyen Do.
Continue reading “Short Film Review #23”
“I’m looking for the Tank Man”
There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.
At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher. Continue reading “Review: Chimerica, Almeida”
“The art is in what happened to those people’s spirits”
The trick behind James Macdonald’s production of Howard Brenton’s new play #aiww The Arrest of Ai Weiwei is to suggest that the 2011 detention and interrogation of the artist by the Chinese authorities was as big and far-reaching a piece of conceptual art as any of his installations at the Tate Modern. Ashley Martin Davies’ design sets the drama in a gleaming white gallery with spectators lining up either side of a wooden crate, whose walls are opened up to portray the two different cells in which he was kept during the 81 days of his imprisonment. The observers, or netizens, remain onstage throughout as Ai is trapped inside the nightmarish absurdities of such an authoritarian regime.
Based on Barnaby Martin’s book Hanging Man which documented Ai’s ordeal using his own testimony, Brenton’s play eschews conventional dramatic structure – it is no secret that the artist is eventually released – for something more ruminative about the nature of incarceration. And in its focus on the detail of the situation, it is ultimately rather insightful into the labyrinthine complexities of living and working under an unbending state whose orthodoxy is struggling to deal with a dissident whose worldwide fame precludes any unexplained disappearance into the murky depths of the system. Continue reading “Review: #aiww The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Hampstead Theatre”
Even goddesses sometime make mis-steps and this modern-day rewriting of Frankenstein by Jed Mercurio probably fits closer to that category than anything else I’ve seen her in. A 2007 ITV special, it adapted Mary Shelley’s story into a contemporary world of stem cells and genetic engineering and cast McCrory as the lead, Doctor Victoria Frankenstein if you will. The new take is superficially surprisingly effective as the main thrust of the story is that Victoria is running an organ-growing experiment – the Universal Xenograft project – and is extremely motivated by the fact her young son is suffering from a terminal disease, his only hope being multiple organ transplant… As his condition worsens, so her desperation increases, resulting in her injecting her son William’s blood into the procedure though it is too late to save him. This has unexpected consequences though and in the murky void between bioethics and unscrupulous moneymen, the experiment is allowed to continue though no-one is sure exactly what has been created.
The emotional power of the story is heightened by the simple gender switch, McCrory excels at evoking the earth-shattering grief of a mother nursing her dying child and struggling to come to terms with the reality of his condition. That she channels her energies into her research is unsurprising and it is not by chance that it takes 9 months for the being – the UX – to enter the world. The relationship that then develops between creature and creator is then a most twisted one because of the genetic material contained within, part of her dead son is in the UX and in her grieving state, the lines become blurred. Contrasted against this relationship is the cold calculating mind of Victoria’s boss, Professor Pretorius – a steely turn from Lindsay Duncan – who is alive to the monetary and business potential that has come from this huge scientific breakthough. Victoria’s estranged husband also reappears on the scene though he is not all he seems as he has his own designs on the UX. Continue reading “DVD Review: Frankenstein”