TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

DVD Review: These Foolish Things

“You always do the decent thing”

Noel Langley might be best known for being one of the screenwriters for The Wizard of Oz but his work as an author and playwright stretched over several decades and in 2006, an adaptation of his novel There’s A Porpoise Close Behind Us was released with the title These Foolish Things, both adapted and directed by Julia Taylor-Stanley. It’s a perfectly passable 1930s romp, set in the world of the theatre as the dark shadows of war gather (but not too closely) and a struggling young playwright goes about trying to get his play and his girlfriend on the London stage. What is oddly notable about it is the heavyweight Hollywood legends that have somehow gotten roped into the whole shebang – Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Terence Stamp…none of whom are in a major role.

Instead it proves to be something of a Brit flick. Floppily handsome David Leon plays playwright Robin who offers Diana a place in his lodgings as she moves to London to follow in her actress mother’s footsteps but finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of the theatre world. As she steadies herself, she finds both allies – Julia McKenzie’s compassionate landlady, Andrew Lincoln’s helpful Christopher – and enemies – her own nefarious cousin Garstin, Leo Bill in full-on sneering mode, and Mark Umbers’ sexually voracious and unfussy Douglas. With Huston’s glamorous patron of the arts Lottie Osgood in the middle of them all, the play edges ever closer to production, but at no small cost to everyone concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: These Foolish Things”

DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth

“It’s the children…”

Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.

Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature. Continue reading “DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth”

Review: All New People, Duke of York’s

“We’re all in pain, Charlie”

Zach Braff’s debut play All New People premiered off-Broadway last year with the new playwright remaining behind the scenes. But for its arrival into the West End, after a short UK tour, the Scrubs star has taken up the lead role as the suicidal Charlie. He’s shut himself away in a New Jersey beach house in the depth of winter to do the deed, but his solitude is interrupted by the arrival of three misfits who set about infuriating him yet ultimately helping to shift his outlook in the subtlest of ways.

Yet the play is anything but subtle. The cutaways to flashbacks to explain why each of the characters has ended up in this particular circumstance offer amusing cameos from a range of stars, but rob scenes of their dramatic impetus; the destruction of a bead-filled piece of African art sets up some painfully contrived pratfalls; the continued recourse to (sometimes highly amusing) one-liners; the clunky shoehorning in of the show’s title in a moment of cod-philosophy in the final moments. The clumsy construction of the play’s components is frequently laid bare and the lack of finesse in the writing all too apparent. Continue reading “Review: All New People, Duke of York’s”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”