News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)

The National Theatre last night hosted its biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, raising over a million pounds to support access to the arts for children and young people across the country. I think they forgot to invite me though… 😜

 

Performances commissioned especially for the event included a new piece by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside performances by Sir Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Duff and hundreds of talented young people from across London.

Continue reading “News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things”

I came to Da Vinci’s Demons late but I really enjoyed working my way through Series 1 and Series 2 of this historical fantasy in order to get up to speed for the arrival of the third series. This turned out to be a bit of a bittersweet exercise as the show was then cancelled and the decision made to release the final series in its entirety online. I reviewed the first two episodes here but it has taken me a while to get to watching the rest though sadly, it wasn’t quite the swansong I’d hoped for.

Now thoroughly uprooted from Florence, the multitudinous locations of the many-stranded narrative leave Da Vinci’s Demons flailing aimlessly a little too often, with a sense of confusion about where and when (and indeed why) things are happening and not enough of a grand design emerging, drawing the pieces together with increasing clarity. The most frustrating part of this is the prominence of the programme’s internal mythology, pitching the Sons of Mithras (now bad) against the Labyrinth (possibly good, I think). Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3”

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”

TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2

“This chemistry sounds much too sophisticated for a horde of heathens”

In this world of Netflix and Amazon dramas, the rules of getting your televisual content out there have changed for everyone and following suit, the entirety of the third series of Starz’ Da Vinci’s Demons has been released for people to go for a binge-watch or bite-site chunks as they see fit. I haven’t got a huge amount of time this week so I thought I’d sample the opening two episodes of this final (for now) season of this highly enjoyable historical fantasy romp, not least to get the cliff-hanger ending of Series 2 out of the way.

And perhaps acknowledging the forthcoming ending (although the series was filmed before the cancellation was announced), the tone of the show has darkened, increasingly bloody and brutal as ritual and warcraft take a more vicious turn with the stakes rising for pretty much every concerned. The Turks’ sacking of Naples gives us the best battle the show has done with fearsome consequences for several characters, Riario’s dealings with The Labyrinth become ever more sinister and even Gregg Chillin’s Zoroaster gets a decent plot for once. Continue reading “TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)

“There’s something about Fanny I’ve often observed” 

This being my first experience with Mansfield Park, I can’t really talk about it as an adaptation (although it was impossible to avoid the opprobrium it seems to have evoked) but even as a standalone piece of drama, it can’t help but disappoint. Maggie Wadey’s writing lacks any real sense of the carefully constructed literary world of Jane Austen and Iain B MacDonald’s direction has a very loose sense of time and self, clearly straining for a connection with a contemporary audience but in doing so, losing sight of the story it is trying to tell.

Billie Piper’s Fanny, sent to live with her rich aunt (a distracted Jemma Redgrave) and uncle (a delightfully brusque Douglas Hodge) and whilst initially feeling out of place – “I was the poor relation and was made to feel it” – builds a place for herself as an indispensable member of the household. But with her tousled sun-bleached hair and entirely modern ways, she just doesn’t convince as a historical heroine. She’s not helped by a scarcely-there plot in which little of consequence seems to actually happen, it’s all just so uneventful. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mansfield Park (2007)”

DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

Short film reviews #2

There are so many short films out there featuring so many actors that I like that I found it impossible choose my favourites…so here’s a second set for your delectations, there may well be more to come!

I do

The main reason I started looking at short films was after having been sent this little beauty which was a finalist in the 2010 Electric Shorts competition. I Do stars both Julian Ovenden and Aden Gillett so it should be clear why someone thought it relevant to my interests, but it is actually a really well put together little film by Duncan Cargill. It looks good, it is sexy and fresh and wittily clever all within less than three minutes. If you only watch one of these films, I’d make it this one! Continue reading “Short film reviews #2”

Review: Money, Radio 3

“Men are valued not on what they are, but what they seem to be”

The term ‘all-star cast’ is bandied about quite a bit these days and the more I go to the theatre, the more I realise how subjective a concept it is for me at least. Looking at the performer credits for this Radio 3 production of the Victorian satirical drama Money by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, I went into paroxysms of delight at the names contained within, but chatting later that evening to a group of non-theatre-going friends (for indeed I do still have some!), my excitement was hardly shared.

But for those of you in the know, and I’m counting all you readers of this blog, this is a great collection of actors. Celia Imrie, Roger Allam, Ian McDiarmid, Bertie Carvel, Tom Goodman-Hill, Phoebe Waller-Bridge to name just a few and all directed by the estimable Samuel West, making his radio directorial debut – how could anyone resist. For this version, the play, given a major production by the National Theatre in 1999 which also featured Allam, was recorded on location at Knebworth House which was inherited by Bulwer-Lytton himself just after he wrote this very work in 1840. Continue reading “Review: Money, Radio 3”