TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 2)

Something doesn’t quite click right with Series 2 of W1A, as it struggles to live up to what has gone before though still remaining quite gently funny

“I don’t want to be dramatic about it, and I mean we all love Sue Barker, but I’ve to to say we are looking at a situation here”

I’ve loved going back to watch Twenty Twelve and my memories of the shift to W1A were that it was just as good, if not better. I’d definitely say that about the first series but having just gone through series 2, I found myself just a little disappointed. The bar having been raised so high, it feels like this collection of four episodes just doesn’t have the same zing that really grabs your attention.

In many respects, nothing has really changed. There’s still much comic currency in the exposure of the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the BBC and the determination of any middle-to-senior manager to avoid actually making a decision. But there’s also a slight sense of familiar ground being retrodden that dulls the edge – I mean once again any and every female is falling at the feet of Ian Fletcher, really? Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 2)”

TV Review: W1A (Series 1)

Series 1 of W1A hits the spot when its humour tends towards the gently absurd. And at any moment when Monica Dolan, Jason Watkins or Sarah Parish are onscreen.

“I’m sorry…I don’t want to be rude or anything but Ian is not Justin Bieber”

Following on from the success of Twenty Twelve, John Morton’s W1A scooped up its key personnel and shifted them from the bloated organisational chaos of the Olympics Deliverance Team over to the no-less-unwieldly bureaucracy of the BBC. So Ian Fletcher Hugh Bonneville) takes the scarcely defined job as Head of Values there, is saddled once again with Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes) as Brand Consultant and the whole thing is deliciously narrated by a super-dry David Tennant.

And to a large extent, the transplant is successful. The key to these shows is the quality of an evenly-balanced ensemble and W1A knocks it out of the park from top to bottom. Monica Dolan’s bruisingly plain-spoken comms officer, Nina Sosanya’s too-good-for-this-world TV producer, Rufus Jones’ hilariously too-rubbish-for-this-world counterpart and best of all, Jason Watkins’ director of strategic governance and Sarah Parish’s head of output both delivering masterclasses in avoiding making any decisions at all. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 1)”

News: National Theatre at Home continues with dual Frankensteins and more

National Theatre at Home continues its home programming with both versions of Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, plus there’s a National Theatre at Home Quiz 

Following on from the success of its opening set of transmissionsOne Man, Two Guvnors was viewed over 2.5 million times in the week it was available – the National Theatre has announced the next two productions it will be airing as part of National Theatre at Home. 2011’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller sharing its two main roles and 2018’s Antony and Cleopatra, starring Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.

Both productions will be free to stream, premiering at 7.00PM BST and then available on demand for seven days. Further productions to be streamed as part of National Theatre at Home will be announced soon.

Today also sees the launch of the National Theatre at Home Quiz, to be played from home featuring familiar faces from the world of stage and screen as the quizmasters. Each quiz will include rounds of five questions on a wide variety of topics.

On the final Monday of each month people will be able join the virtual quiz directly from their homes via the NT’s YouTube channel and Facebook page live at 7pm. The first quiz will be on Monday 27 April with quizmasters Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Lenny Henry, Lesley Manville, and Sir Ian McKellen asking questions on topics including history, sport, nature, and of course, the National Theatre (bagsy team Manville).  

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Short Film Review #36

Tortoise, written and directed by Andy Bloom, details the relationship between two teenage brothers who live a sheltered life deep in rural isolation. Things are made worse by the presence of their violent and unpredictable father, a brilliantly unlikeable Matthew Kelly, who dominates their every waking moment and so older brother Charlie, a steely-jawed Tom Hughes, has determined to escape the situation. Problem is the more fragile Billy, a cowed Rob Ostlere, isn’t completely sure and so they’ve waited for over a year until finally provoked once too many. Grim but reflective, a powerful reminder of how they fuck you up, your mum and dad. Sometimes. 

Small Things 
 
Another trip into Icelandic Cinema Online threw up this little gem, Small Things or Litlir Hlutir by Davíð Óskar Ólafsson. A Lantana-like confection, combining together disparate stories and characters into one interconnected world where one small thing for one person sets in chain huge events for others. Gripping stuff which you can watch for a euro here. http://icelandiccinema.com/watch/187  Continue reading “Short Film Review #36”

Short Film Review #35

Knowledgy

Another Icelandic short (it’s a slippery slope once I start on these things…) and this time it’s a jet black comedy. Hrefna Hagalín and Kristín Bára Haraldsdóttir’s Knowledgy follows a naïve Icelandic couple as they get suckered into an LA-based cult by the charismatic leaders (and the example of Ashton Kutcher). Following their every move is their lodger who is filming their story for his film project and provides an excellent external view into this ever-darkening tale.


Audiobook

Another short and sharp clip, James Spinney’s Audiobook is a wryly funny look at the recording of an actor’s memoirs. Daniel Ings’ arrogant Aussie is a volatile presence who threatens to completely overwhelm Oliver Stevens’ young sound technician with his over-inflated and easily-pricked ego. Stevens also wrote the film, which may be short but has a punchy sense of humour about it.


Eddie Loves Mary

A dinky little thing, Hannah Rothschild’s Eddie Loves Mary is a lovely sweet-natured film that wears its sentimental heart proudly on its sleeve. Kevin McNally and Gina McKee lead the cast but there’s a host of brief appearances from familiar faces like Steven Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin and Stephen Mangan as we get closer to the mystery of who is spray-painting Eddie Loves Mary all over the place.


Grow Up

Ivan Madeira’s Grow Up serves as a really nice companion piece to Kate Tempest’s Wasted starring as it does Cary Crankson who appears in both. Grow Up is the precursor, a 10 minute blast through the trials of getting through the mundaneness of young adulthood and the onset of real life and responsibility. Lots of fun and full of astute observations.

Short Film Review #34

Korriró

The Icelandic Vesturport company are well known here for their theatre work – I’ve seen their collaborations on Faust and The Heart of Robin Hood – but they are also film producers, both long and short. The first of their shorts that I caught was Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Korriró as it starred two actors I’ve previously seen – Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Filippusdóttir plays a homeless woman who happens on an open garage door into a luxury home which offers a brief respite from the drudgery of her life. It is beautifully shot and uncompromisingly direct – confronting us all with our attitudes towards the homeless and those from whom we avert our gaze.


The Last Temptation of William Shaw

Described as a promotional trailer for the upcoming feature ‘My Power Animal is the Pigeon” (of which I can find no trace), The Last Temptation of William Shaw has the double whammy benefit of a shirtless Daniel Ings and an animated Ings too. A mixture of live action and animation from Alois Di Leo and Mat Rawlins, it’s only brief but intriguingly effective – I wonder if there’s any future life in the Pigeon. 

Gone to the Dogs

Liz Tuccillo’s Gone to the Dogs captures perfectly the most annoying aspects of the anthropomorphisation of having a dog, which seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in our culture, whilst also managing to remind us of its sheer inconsequentiality. When a latecomer to a dinner party brings along her pooch as a plus one and brings him to the table, the scene is set for some serious debate about how far we’re willing to go for our animals and it is all engagingly good. Great stuff, and the presence of the ever-excellent Martha Plimpton makes it even better. 

Bloom

On paper, I ought to have really liked Bloom – a gentle rom-com in the making with shades of Little Shop of Horrors, but it never really quite manages to hit the mark. Amanda Root’s shy Helen is more than a little surprised when her tidy flat is taken over by marauding greenery and though she has never previously said a word to her neighbour, Richard Hope’s green-fingered Richard, it soon emerges he is her only hope. Emma Scott Robinson’s script doesn’t establish the characters well enough to make us care though and so it passes by amiably enough but never compelling. 

A Sunny Morning

Charlie Cox is one of those actors I wish I could see more of, he doesn’t work anywhere near enough for my liking (plus I haven’t gotten round to starting Boardwalk Empire yet) so I was glad to be able to spot him in a couple of shorts. Joseph Proctor’s A Sunny Morning is a simple two hander also starring Sophia Myles as a couple enter the aftermath of an argument with her having decided on something big. Clues are there – a copy of Hedda Gabler is on the nightstand next to her wedding ring – but as she and her husband chat, will her resolve falter? Cox is delightfully handsome as ever in his ruffled way but the film really belongs to Myles and her hugely expressive face, full of subtleties and emotion captured beautifully in Trevor Speed’s cinematography.