TV Review: Harlots Series 2

Season 2 of Harlots maintains an impressive run for this excellent series

“You let women do this to you?”

I loved the first series of Harlots when I finally got round to catching up with it recently, so I was keen not to let too pass to tackle Series 2. Inspired by Hallie Rubenhold’s The Covent Garden Ladies, creators Alison Newman and Moira Buffini have done a marvellous job of conjuring and maintaining a richly detailed world that puts women’s experiences front and centre.

The heart of the show has been the burning rivalry between competing madams Lydia Quigley and Margaret Wells, and Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton remain a titanic force as they do battle with each other while simultaneously battling a corrupt patriarchy that would abuse them and their power for a guinea a time. And with its new additions, this second series widens out that focus to incorporate the experiences of other women. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 2”

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: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre

“Everybody else works little fiddles, because that’s what the system is designed for”

Who knows what hold Alan Ayckbourn has over the theatrical establishment but by heavens, it is a strong one. As prolific a playwright as they come, the appetite for his plays is seemingly insatiable with what must be a constant stream of productions – I imagine one would be hard-pressed to find a week where there isn’t at least one of his plays being performed somewhere in the country. But his charms have never really worked on me, it is with a heavy heart that I hear there’s a new Ayckbourn somewhere with a cast I can’t resist (although I did only see one of his plays last year) and this time round, it is all Nigel Lindsay’s fault.

A Small Family Business is a 1987 play that was hailed as a searching examination of how Thatcherite values eroded societal links through the experience of one man realising that the family furniture business he has inherited is rife with corruption. But in 2014 it feels a little neutered, what once might have appeared daring has been nullified by a quarter century of rapacious capitalism and so what is left is the well-trodden farcical shenanigans that Ayckbourn loves so much, accompanied by an attempt at a darker side that sits very awkwardly indeed with the dated comedy. Continue reading “Review: A Small Family Business, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Short Film Review #24

Call Register is the perfect film for anyone who has issues about what mobile telephones have done to our lives. Martin Freeman’s Kevin borrows his best mate’s phone to make a call, James Lance’s Julian, as he wants to set up a date with a girl he’s just met, Neve McIntosh’s Amanda. But Julian’s phone recognises the number and through an series of short phone calls, writer and director Ed Roe details much of the awkwardness around dating, especially when a friend has already been there first, and also adroitly explores the uniquely modern perils that mobiles have brought to the way in which we communicate. There’s much to enjoy here, not least the understated charm of all three actors, and also much that will be painfully familiar to anyone who’s ever called someone up for a date. Continue reading “Short Film Review #24”

DVD Review: Starter for 10

 “Sometimes it’s not about knowing the right answer”

Starter for 10 may only have been filmed seven or eight years ago but for several of its leads, it feels like a lot longer. For it is a great opportunity to see James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch earlier in their careers and all exhibiting a youthful freshness which has now matured out of their performances. David Nicholls wrote the screenplay from his own novel, about a working class Essex lad to makes it to university in Bristol, the first in his family, and pursues his long-cherished dream of participating in TV quiz show University Challenge

McAvoy plays Brian, the naïf at the heart of the story, looking almost impossibly young and appealingly handsome and there’s fun to be had in his awkwardness at settling into uni life, his pursuit of the brittle TV presenter wannabe blonde Alice, played by Alice Eve and his burgeoning friendship with Rebecca Hall’s politically active student Rebecca. Hall is wonderful here, full of quirky charm and wry humour and as the ‘right’ one for Brian, even though he can’t see it, there’s a great pull to their relationship.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Starter for 10”

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

“We are tiny, tiny fragments of miniscule cogs in a grand and fabulously random collision”

If it ain’t broke… Adaptor Andrew Upton, director Howard Davies and designer Bunny Christie have had considerable success with previous Russian epics Philistines and The White Guard and so they’ve reunited once again, this time to breathe new life in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, which has just started its run in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre. Set in a small town in a Russia on the cusp of revolution (1905 rather than 1917), experimental chemist Protasov and his coterie of middle class hangers-on are waltzing through life oblivious to the turmoil outside the gates of their estate, but their tragedy is as much personal as they turn out to be as blind to the needs and desires of each other as well. 

Gorky’s writing is remarkably perceptive throughout the play. Written in 1905 as a direct response to the huge societal changes around him, he skilfully diagnoses the malaise of the self-absorbed bourgeoisie and lays bare the blinkeredness of their cosseted ignorance and the hopelessness of their grandiose idealism. But he does it with a real deftness of touch, creating richly detailed characters who are rarely so insufferable that one’s heart doesn’t ache at the inevitability of the violent collapse of their entire world. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s erudite academic Protasov fully exemplifies this – a man full of an acute sense of the growing importance of science in the world yet an abject failure at maintaining the relationships in his life. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

DVD Review: Vera Drake

“She’s gonna get herself in trouble one of these days”

I’m pretty sure that Vera Drake was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw, and what a cracker it is. It really is an extraordinary performance from Imelda Staunton as the perma-humming cheerful soul with a positive word and deed for everyone around her, the nice suggestion of putting the kettle on being the remedy for everything and her kindly demeanour drawing people close to her.

Vera’s family life is perfectly drawn too: the drudgery of post-war working-class existence in no way stinted on and the different ways it has affected people clearly evident in her children, Daniel Mays making the best of things as a cheery chatty tailor and Alex Kelly’s cowed Ethel, somewhat diminished by life as a light-bulb tester. With Phil Davis completing the family unit, there’s such genuine connectivity to these scenes, a real sense of family life being lived and a gorgeous flicker of romance brightening Ethel’s life, that the knock on the door as the law finally catches up with Vera really does come as a genuine heart-wrenching kick as their lives are shattered by the revelation that she has been carrying out illegal abortions, or just ‘helping some girls out’ as she puts it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vera Drake”