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”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 2

“People died.
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”

Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.

Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”

TV Review: Fortitude Season 2 Episode 1

“The reason we can’t find the head in the snow is that someone has taken it away”

Just a quickie for this as I’m way behind (the series premiered at the end of January). I only caught up with Fortitude’s first season over New Year and I have to say I kinda loved the way it went from interestingly good to genuine batshit wtfuckery. It wasn’t necessarily calling out for a second series though and from the evidence of the first episode, it’s not immediately clear that it’s strictly necessary, even if you throw Dennis Quaid and Michelle Fairley in there as a new family. 

A new crime has been committed hence layering in all sorts of new mystery but in a town where they’d previously boasted of never having had any crime, it kinda feels like overkill. And the writing feels caught between referencing previous events and starting completely anew, anthology-style, ie Luke Treadaway’s return for what appears to be a single episode versus the new Quaid/Fairley family unit. Sofie Gråbøl and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s chemistry as the first couple of Fortitude remains a thing of joy though (so is probably doomed) and I’m more than happy to give the show the benefit of the doubt, despite a slightly shaky start.

 

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

TV review: Line of Duty Series 1

“Do you want me to recrime it sir?”

With Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty about to start its third series on BBC2, I thought I’d go back to the first two series as they have to rank as some of the best police dramas out there. Centred on the world of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit charged with investigating suspected police wrongdoing, we’ve been so far blessed with two extraordinary stories, hanging on superb performances from the people under suspicion – Keeley Hawes (whose series we’ll get to next) and Lennie James.

James plays DCI Tony Gates, a decorated officer with an amazing clear-up rate that seems too good to be true, and so when he comes to the attention of AC-12, initially for something completely unrelated, the wheels are set in motion for a fast-degenerating state of affairs. Money laundering, drug running, cover-ups, and gruesome murders intertwine and intersect with Gates at the heart of it all, but his true connections to events always in question, right until the end. Continue reading “TV review: Line of Duty Series 1”

Short Film Review #56

 

Almost unbearably sad, Hope Dickson Leach’s Morning Echo captures the suffocating resentment that can build up in families when caring for a loved one who’s terminally ill. Here, Franny Moffat didn’t think she’d live for another Christmas so her family held a Christmas Day for her in October. Fast forward to 25th December and she’s still alive but her family are crumbling around her under the strain and it is agonisingly compelling to watch. Kerry Fox and Peter Sullivan are just fantastic as the embittered parents and an assortment of other children play out their dysfunction in a range of disarming ways. Even as they’re all eventually brought together in the end for Franny, the melancholy note on which it finishes has lingered long in the mind. Hauntingly good.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #56”

Review: Ghosts via Digital Theatre (plus thoughts on the filming of theatre more generally)

“You have no idea what this has cost me”

There’s something a little ironic about the fact that many of the people who write about the filming of theatre shows are precisely those who need it the least, myself included. I am in the fortunate position that all the shows I’ve wanted to see that have been broadcast in cinemas through NT Live or captured on Digital Theatre have been shows I was able to see live. To poke at too easy a target, Shenton’s assertion that these are for people who are “not organised enough or connected enough or rich enough to get your hands on a ticket” feels misguided in light of the news that the recent live showing of Billy Elliot topped the UK box office; the audience is clearly there, just not necessarily in London’s IMAX screens.
It can be easy to forget that for people who do not live in London, the expense incurred in sorting out a trip to the theatre, especially for a high-demand show, verges on the ridiculous. Train timetables now work against anyone hoping to catch an evening show, the steady rise in ticket prices means taking a family to see something is increasingly expensive, etc etc. So the option of going to the local picturehouse offers something of a solution, not a replacement but a widening of the opportunity (as Shenton does acknowledge before the above quote).
As for those of us who more habitually spend most evenings in theatres, the gnashing of the teeth about filmed versions replacing the live experience of sitting in a playhouse equally feels wrong. I don’t think anyone is suggesting at all that these innovations are in place of the ‘real thing’ but rather an accompaniment, something to enrich that very experience. I’ve always felt this – having seen many a show from the cheap seats in the larger West End theatres, the chance to see things up close offers a completely new take on the show as well as the joy of revisiting something you enjoyed that otherwise would just live in the memory.
These thoughts ran through my head again as I watched Digital Theatre’s production of the multi award-winning Ghosts, recorded during the show’s transfer to the Trafalgar Studios after an extraordinary run at the Almeida where Richard Eyre’s adaptation completely won me over. The Trafalgar is a notoriously uncomfortable theatre and you can end up paying a ton to still be far away so I didn’t go back to the show there but now, one has the opportunity to watch it again from the comfort of, well, wherever one chooses.
And yes, there are aspects that are lost in viewing it this way. The majesty of Tim Hatley’s translucent design never really comes across and the perspective is always dictated by the camera crew. But trusting them to make good decisions, it is easy to turn that frown upside down as the frequent close-ups on Lesley Manville’s Mrs Alving offer a unique opportunity to observe the finer details of a truly magnificent performance – the way the word “whoring” catches in her mouth, the trembles as she speaks of “the right thing to do”, the agony on her face as she hears that her son has not escaped “the sins of the father”.
The thought that this performance has been captured for posterity if nothing else is a thrilling one and I was recently pointed to the 1987 film (that can be seen on YouTube here) which features Judi Dench in a stunning, if slightly more stagey production. And this feeds into the idea of a rich theatrical archive being built up, in far more democratic a fashion than usual, so that maybe in another 25 years we’ll be able to compare and contrast another spell-binding turn from an actor in her fifties (Phoebe Fox or Vanessa Kirby would be my prediction).
There’s also the other pleasures contained here, the chance to see the late lamented Natasha Richardson work for one and the freshness of a youthful Kenneth Branagh for another, he probably comes out about equal with the excellent Jack Lowden for my money, as the ailing Oswald. Really, I can’t see why people get so het up about the idea of filmed theatre.
Ghosts, along with five other shows on Digital Theatre, is now available with the option of StageText captioning; that’s the sound of another barrier being broken down as the choices open to those who rely on captioning in theatres are limited and being able to make the precious few performances that are covered often requires planning of military precision. Adding this option here is therefore a real boon and shows that this is a company thoughtfully considering what their role in the capturing of live theatre really means. Well worth the investigation.

Review: Ghosts, Almeida

“I want the kind of love a mother cannot give”

Like the dose of the clap on which it is centred, productions of Ibsen’s Ghosts appear with alarming regularity – indeed Stephen Unwin premiered his own new version for the Rose Kingston and English Touring Theatre just a couple of weeks ago – and for someone who has largely remained immune to Ibsen’s charms, the claims that this is one of the dramatic pinnacles of the theatrical canon have always bemused me somewhat. Unwin’s detailed period production laboured heavily under its respectful approach that ended up almost dull in its restraint but Richard Eyre’s interpretation, which he has adapted and directed himself for the Almeida, is fresh and raw and as appallingly exciting as this play could ever hope to be.

Lesley Manville has rarely been better than as Helene Alving here, a woman caught up in the cocoon of protective lies she has told to protect her son from the knowledge that his father was a philandering ne’er-do-well who carried the pox, to protect her family’s reputation from the moralistic gaze of a fiercely hypocritical society, to protect herself from the inherent misery of the life that society has deemed appropriate for her. The minute that cocoon starts to unravel, so too does Manville, coils of hair break free from her coiffure and tightly bottled emotions start to spill forth. It’s a freedom of sorts with an exhilarating compulsive energy but it spirals out of her control, as she realises she can’t escape anything from the past, it is utterly heartbreaking. Continue reading “Review: Ghosts, Almeida”