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)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1

Gentleman Jack proves a huge success, for Sally Wainwight, for Suranne Jones, for lesbian storytelling, for everyone

“So much drama, always, with Anne”

Even with as reliably assured hands as Sally Wainwright’s at the tiller, I was a little nervous for Gentleman Jack in the pride-of-place Sunday evening TV slot. But I should have been surer of my faith, for it has been a stonkingly good 8 hours of drama, with an epically romantic lesbian relationship at its heart.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) is a wealthy Yorkshire heiress whose uncompromising nature about any and every aspect of her life rubs any number of people up the wrong way. Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is most definitely not one of them though, she wants to be rubbed the right way and so we follow the path of true love as it winds through the prejudices of the Yorkshire Pennines and Anne’s attempts to break into the coal mining world. Continue reading “TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward

“We’re practically our own children’s book department”

Second up for the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre is the only new play out of the programme of five – John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Logan’s stock is riding high both as a screenwriter – a 3-time Academy Award nominee and most recently responsible for Skyfall – and a playwright – his last play Red was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic – and the premise of this play, a meeting between the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland and the man who gave his name to Peter Pan, is one that certainly showed promise. But after attending this preview performance, it is not abundantly clear that this promise has been fulfilled.

The play sparks off of the real life meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, aged 35 and 80 respectively, and imagines a conversation in which they share stories of being so closely involved with 2 key figures of children’s literature. Llewelyn Davies was one of the brood of brothers with whom JM Barrie became very close and wrote Peter Pan for, and Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland after first recounting the story to Liddell Hargreaves on a family boat trip. Thus their places in literary history were sealed and Logan explores not just how their lives consequently rolled out but also touches on their relationships with the writers and the characters they inspired. Continue reading “Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth

 

You really put the w into anchorman don’t you”

Another of those random charity shop bargains was this double DVD sets of modern Shakespeare adaptations – ShakespeaRe-Told (I bet that was a smug day when that title was revealed!). The first disc features rewrites of Much Ado About Nothing by David Nicholls and Macbeth by Peter Moffatt shifting the plays to a modern context and employing starry ensemble casts.

Much Ado About Nothing has been relocated to a local news station in Dorset where Sarah Parish’s Beatrice is reunited with former colleague Benedick, Damian Lewis sporting an epic moustache – who never quite got round to getting together when they worked together before – on the news desk of Wessex TV. Hero is the weather girl, daughter of the station manager, newly engaged to Claude on the sports desk though Don from Visual Effects has been nurturing an epic crush on her too and so sets about a dastardly plan to break up the engagement. Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth”