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”

News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced

How do you mark a significant birthday? My parents are currently (jointly) turning 140 and are celebrating the occasion with a six month program of events, peaking with an all-day party happening very soon. But if you’re the Old Vic and you’re turning 200, you open your contacts and see who is free.

Turns out a fair few people are, and so their list currently includes Nikki Amuka-Bird, Sheila Atim, John Boyega, Cate Blanchett, Bertie Carvel, Kim Cattrall, Lily Cole, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Michelle Dockery, Rupert Everett, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, David Harewood, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Cush Jumbo, Ben Kingsley, Pearl Mackie, Helen McCrory, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Anika Noni Rose, Maxine Peake, Mark Rylance, Andrew Scott, Tom Stoppard, Stanley Tucci and Julie Walters.

Continue reading “News: Old Vic bicentenary ambassadors announced”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”

So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you đŸ˜‰ Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5”

DVD Review: Valkyrie (2008)

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him”

I have to admit that my hopes were not high for Valkyrie, the assumption prevailing that Hollywood couldn’t manage a nuanced film about the Nazis. But I do have to commend Bryan Singer for at least exceeding those expectations. It’s still not a film that I particularly enjoyed though, not quite tense or suspenseful enough for a thriller, not quite psychologically intense.

The film concerns the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler by German officers of the Wehrmacht in 1944. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg returns from a grisly battle in Tunisia gravely injured and is identified as a key target by the German resistance after getting a desk job that puts him in the ideal position to destroy the Nazi high command from the inside. Spoiler alert – things, however, do not go to plan. Continue reading “DVD Review: Valkyrie (2008)”

Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic

“They see what they want to see, not what they really see”

I seem to be surrounded by people who saw and loved the original production of Blue/Orange, with its extremely tasty cast of Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and who love to tell me about it! It was however before my time (here in London at least) and so my first, and only, previous experience of the show was with Tiata Fahdozi’s all-female version at the old Arcola, with a less starry but no less interesting cast of Helen Schlesinger, Esther Hall and Ayesha Antoine.

I mention this because it is interesting to me the ways in which people’s journeys with plays are shaped by these interactions, especially when they have been lauded as modern classics. Of the eight, only two are going back to this new production at the Young Vic (it doesn’t seem to be inspiring repeat visits), and the one who has been already didn’t like it. And critics’ responses thus far stretch from Aleks Sierz reconfirming its status as a contemporary classic to Matt Trueman declaring that it hasn’t aged well. Continue reading “Review: Blue/Orange, Young Vic”

DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“The proof of our success is we’re victims of it”

The news of a sequel to the better-than-I-thought-it-would-be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was received with something of a heavy heart, the automatic assumption being that it wouldn’t, couldn’t, match the success of the first film. But dangnabbit if ain’t actually, possibly, slightly better. Managing the not inconsiderable feat of reuniting the vast majority of the ensemble with writer Ol Parker and director John Madden, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel navigates many of the pitfalls of sequels to produce a story that is at times, deeply moving.

It manages this by emphasising its strengths in its stunning array of acting talent and really capitalising on the universe it built up. Though there are a couple of new faces (Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig), the film focuses on a genuine continuation of story and character. We return to the Indian city of Jaipur where Dev Patel’s Sonny and Maggie Smith’s Muriel’s retirement home is going great guns and they’re looking for finance for a new location, dependent on the results from an anonymous inspection (which is where Gere and Greig come in, thankfully briefly). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”

DVD Review: Lucky Break

“When everyone is taking their bows, you and me exit stage left”

Lucky Break is the type of slight and inoffensive film that makes you wonder how on earth it got made yet at the same time makes you glad for its lazy Sunday afternoon viewing potential. Director Peter Cattaneo also helmed The Full Monty (which might answer the first point) and though there are similarities between the two – putting a certain type of British masculinity under the microscope – Lucky Break pulls back quickly from any real emotional depth or societal analysis in favour of popcorn-led entertainment. And as long as you go in fully aware of this, you might find yourself enjoying it.

Jimmy is a repeat offender who finds himself in prison once again after a particularly botched bank job but soon spots an opportunity to make a break for it. Prison warden Mortimer is keen for the inmates to put on a production of his newly-penned musical and as it will be performed in the old chapel that offers the easiest route out of the clink, Jimmy persuades his buddies to join in the amateur dramatics fun of Nelson – The Musical and allow him to jump the wall. Nothing is ever quite as easy as all that though, not least his budding relationship with prison psychiatrist Annabel. Continue reading “DVD Review: Lucky Break”

DVD Review: Turks and Caicos

“Whatever happened to the idea of shame?”

Part 2 of David Hare’s Johnny Worricker trilogy, Turks and Caicos followed on from the events of Page Eight albeit somewhat less engagingly for me. Bill Nighy’s ex-MI5 man is holed up in the Caribbean living the life of Riley under an assumed name but his lobster-eating peace is shattered when a shadowy CIA man reveals he knows who Johnny is and sucks him into a morass of shady big business deals with some shady US big businessmen and he finds himself having to make his own deals in a desperate attempt to maintain his cover.

Though the tropical island setting looks amazing with all its luxury hotel trappings and Hare has secured quite the swanky cast – Winona Ryder, Christopher Walken, Rupert Graves and Helena Bonham Carter joining returnees Nighy and Ralph Fiennes as the unscrupulous Prime Minister – this is nowhere near the same tightly plotted, intelligent spy thriller as its predecessor. The plot relies on far too many contrivances to hook into the larger narrative of the trilogy and rarely gets out of third gear, there’s no adrenaline here at all. Continue reading “DVD Review: Turks and Caicos”