TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse

“Democracy…such an un-English word”

Expectations for Peter Gill’s Versailles were quite low due to a number of factors – a five star review from Billington; my reaction to Making Noise Quickly, Gill’s last directorial intervention at the Donmar; the announcement of a running time of 3 hours; and decidedly mixed chatter from friends who had already seen it. And as it often the way with these things, I ended up rather enjoying it. It certainly helped that I was prepared for the extreme steadiness of its pacing and the dip of the second act of this self-directed play.

Set in the aftermath of the First World War, Gill examines and contrasts the impact of the peace process of Versailles on a Europe ravaged by conflict and also on a slice of middle-class English society, notably Kentish families the Rawlinsons and the Chaters. Leonard Rawlinson is a young civil servant involved in the negotiations for the treaty but he is haunted by both his doubts of whether a lasting peace can be achieved through these means and the ghost of his fallen soldier lover Gerald, who just happened to be the son of the neighbouring Chaters.  Continue reading “Review: Versailles, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Summer Day’s Dream, Finborough

“I spent more than half my life, when I ought to have been enjoying myself, arguing and planning and running around like a maniac”

The Finborough continue their run of unearthing any number of “neglected classics” from some of our most illustrious playwrights with a first revival for JB Priestley’s 1949 play Summer Day’s Dream. Set in a then post-apocalyptic 1975, a nuclear war –World War III? – has devastated Britain and returned it to a simpler way of life. Deep in the South Downs, the Dawlish family epitomise the new England, which strangely looks very much like the old pre-industrial one, but their quiet farming lives are disrupted by three exploitative visitors.


This trio – an American, a Russian and an Indian – represent the new superpowers and initially arrive under benevolent auspices, but as we and the Dawlishes soon come to realise, they are here to strip the land of its valuable minerals. Through them, Priestley explores a surprisingly modern take on global politics and the role of the national versus the international, alongside a more twee paean to the virtues of agrarian life and good olde England, as suggested by the homage of sorts to Shakespeare contained in the title.


Alex Marker’s mannered production makes a solid job of it. The structural formality of the writing precludes much innovation but a stately steadiness provides a measured pace and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of the limited staging opportunities., Patrick Poletti’s Yankee industrialist, Peter Singh as the Indian scientist and particularly Helen Keeley as the Soviet commissar make strong impressions as the interlopers and if the majority of the Dawlishes are frequently overburdened by Priestley’s speechifying, Kevin Colson as the patriarch Stephen and Eleanor Yates as his considerate niece Rosalie also impress.


Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)

Playtext cost: £3

Booking until 24th September