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”

DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)

“What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war?”

Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave will be starring together in the Almeida’s Richard III later this year but it’s not their first time doing Shakespeare together – Redgrave played an excellent Volumnia to Fiennes’ Coriolanus in this 2011 film adaptation which was directed by Fiennes himself. Scripted by John Logan in a trimmed and taut two hours, it’s a fiercely contemporary retelling that draws heavily on modern conflicts such as the Balkans and the Arab Spring.

The brutal sense of savage civil war is apparent from the shocking outset, there’s a real sense of the nervy tension on the streets of this version of Rome as warrior Caius Martius defends it from the invading Volscian army, simultaneously barely holding off a riot from within as the public rise up against an out-of-touch ruling class. But persuaded to run for office and unable to conceal his contempt for the mob, he is exiled and Rome’s biggest hero becomes its most unpredictable enemy. Continue reading “DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

 Thou metst with things dying,
I with things new-born”

It’s easy to feel a little jaded when it comes to Shakespeare, the same plays coming round with regularity and not always inspiring such great theatre. So I’m delighted to report that Michael Longhurst’s production of The Winter’s Tale for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is probably the best version of the play I’ve ever seen. The Kenneth Branagh Company’s The Winter’s Tale was a staid disappointment for me, previously the Crucible had let me down too but in the candlelit atmosphere on Bankside, something truly magical is happening.

It’s a tricky play to get right in its split of two very different worlds but where Longhurst really succeeds is in suggesting that Sicilia and Bohemia perhaps aren’t too separate at all. Modern designers often highlight the dichotomy between the chilly stateliness of Leonte’s Sicilia with the freewheeling japery of Polixenes’ Bohemia but in the simplicity of Richard Kent’s design, they’re both very much on the same sliding scale – psychological darkness pervading the light in both worlds, the promise of redemption ultimately illuminating one and the other too. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

DVD Review: The Line of Beauty

“So what are you doing about sex just now?”

As a young gay, reading Alan Hollinghurst novels felt like the height of sophistication, and whether true or not, there was an air of exclusivity about those of us who knew him (at least in the circles I moved in). So his ‘breakthrough’ with winning the Man Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty was a validation tinged with disappointment that I now had to share that something special. His journey into the mainstream was completed with the requisite television adaptation, but with Andrew Davies at the helm for BBC2, it did feel like the right hands were on the tiller.

Hollinghurst’s story centres on a five year period in the life of Nick Guest, a fresh-faced Oxford graduate who moves to London in the summer of 1983. His offer to house-sit for the family of a university friend leads into an odyssey of personal and sexual discovery as he becomes a full-on lodger, thrust into the world of Tory politicians and old money, around which he fits furtive encounters with men as he explores his sexuality in a world in where homosexuality is far from being widely accepted in public. Thus the two main strands overlap and complement each other: Nick is given a window into the privileged lives of the wealthy upper classes in the Thatcherite boom years and in which he is allowed to play his own supporting part, but in the shadow of the emerging AIDS crisis, he discovers just how barely tolerated gay life is and just how hypocritical this society can be.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Line of Beauty”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room

“My life no longer has any shape to it”

It was perhaps a little bit of a surprise when the Print Room announced their latest show to be Chekhov’s classic Uncle Vanya, the relatively new theatre having previously concentrated on lesser-known works by playwrights. But any doubts should be seriously allayed by this intimately atmospheric production which utilises a new version by Mike Poulton to lend a fresh dynamic to this tale of corrosive inaction.

Vanya has spent much of his life attending to the affairs of his former brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov, sequestered in a household of misfits in the Russian countryside. But when the professor turns up with his new much younger wife, Vanya is provoked into a period of gloomy self-reflexiveness as he faces up to how much of his life he has wasted. The new arrivals also cause havoc for other residents of the estate as ultimately everyone is forced to confront what might have been. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Print Room”