TV Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2015)

With the eroticism dialled right down, Lady Chatterley’s Lover ends up leaving me disappointed

“I wondered what the hammering was”

From the creator of the likes of Line of Duty, you might have expected something more of a rollicking version of DH Lawrence’s perennial classic Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Or maybe vague memories of the 1994 version with Sean Bean and all the teenage hormones thus provoked linger a little too long… Either way, Jed Mercurio’s adaptation plays out just a little too safely to really inflame any passions.

Everything is present and correct. The core of the story – after her husband is fucked by the First World War, Lady Chatterley gets fucked by the gamekeeper – remains, random bits of artistic license make the literary translation to the televisual medium more effective (as well as inevitably riling up purists), and a photogenic cast led by Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden and James Norton. Continue reading “TV Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2015)”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carters rock though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1

“The cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail”

The focus may be elsewhere with regards to returning cult TV shows this spring but to my mind, there’s something more satisfying about the Victorian Gothic psychodrama of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful than we’ve had recently in Westeros. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a turn on the Game of Thrones as much as the next Lannister child but the greater focus and emotional intensity of Penny Dreadful’s supernatural solemnity has kept me gripped over the last two seasons (Season 1 review; Season 2 review) and had me keenly anticipating the third, showing on Showtime (USA) and Sky Atlantic (UK).

The catastrophic climax of Season 2 saw our cast of characters fleeing the gaslit darkness of London and scattering across the globe, each ruminating over their lot. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler is extradited back to New Mexico under Douglas Hodge’s wonderfully taciturn supervision as Inspector Rusk, Timothy Dalton’s Sir Malcolm finds himself in Zanzibar after burying the unfortunately deceased Sembene, Rory Kinnear’s John Clare aka Caliban aka The Creature is stuck on an ice-bound ship in the Arctic, and in a London caught in mourning for Alfred Lord Tennyson (the episode is called “The Day Tennyson Died”), Eva Green’s Vanessa and Harry Treadaway’s Frankenstein are each trapped in their own emotional paralysis. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3 Episode 1”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

 
Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).
 

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”

Film Review: The Lone Ranger

“Please don’t do this”

The lure of the Western has never really appealed to me and so though I have heard of The Lone Ranger, I would not be able to tell you that much about him. And I certainly wouldn’t have bothered watching his film but the casting of Ruth Wilson meant that that was going to be an inevitability. More’s the pity as I found to be an excruciatingly boring film but I’ve only myself to blame as central to the creative team were Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp, responsible for the inexplicably successful Pirates of the Caribbean films, the latter two of which are horrendously bloated and dull – in my own opinion of course.

The main problem with The Lone Ranger though is the complete imbalance at the centre of it. It is never clear what type of film it is trying to be – a serious Western about blood and honour or an affectionate send-up of the genre, a conflict epitomised by Armie Hammer’s John Reid (who becomes the masked avenger after his brother’s heart gets eaten by a bad man) and Johnny Depp’s Tonto (a Native American spirit guide given to Yoda-isms and repeatedly touching the dead crow that lives on top of his head). Depp’s casting as the sidekick also throws the balance off, he’s frequently to be found at the centre of the shot, constantly pulling focus, not least in the ridiculously unnecessary framing device. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lone Ranger”

DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands

“The consequences of doing the right thing…”

Cape Wrath, or Meadowlands as it was retitled for the US market, was a 2007 TV drama which aired on Channel 4, following the fortunes of a family who have to enter a witness protection programme in an idyllic new neighbourhood but increasingly find that they may just have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Lucy Cohu stars as the matriarch of the family, Evelyn Brogan, who with her twin children have been uprooted due to some unspecified incident that involved her husband, David Morrissey’s Danny and over the eight episodes of the show, it proves a good showcase for her talents.

Created and largely written by Robert Murphy, the story unwinds as a psychological thriller as the Brogans struggle to come to terms with their new way of life and find many a mystery which keeps their paranoia levels justifiably high. Morrissey’s Danny is the main investigator of the strange goings-on around him as his testy relationships with Nina Sosanya’s Samantha, the bureaucrat who runs the programme, Ralph Brown’s magnificently moustached policeman and Tom Hardy’s lascivious handyman with an eye on his daughter instantly put him on guard as he soon clocks that something suspicious is going on in their new home. Continue reading “DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands”

Re-review: Tribes, Royal Court

One of the highlights of October’s theatregoing for me was Nina Raine’s Tribes at the Royal Court, indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if it figures highly in my year-end chart too as a play which was extremely close to my heart and provoked a considerable emotional reaction in me for which I was ill-prepared. It has however stimulated much discussion and interesting developments for me and so when I was offered the chance to see it again from a most kind benefactor, I decided to revisit the play. I wasn’t too sure at first given just how emotional I got when I first saw it, but I was intrigued by the prospect of reassessing the play with a little perspective. Try as I might though, I struggled once again to separate the personal from the critical but that is the joy, for me at least, of the theatre, those moments when it transcends people just speaking words on the stage and becomes an all-encompassing, life-changing experience that will live with you for a long time.

You can read what I thought of it last time here; this is less of a review and more of a collection of thoughts and reflections. Some people have complained that not enough ‘happens’ in the show, but this for me is one of its strengths. In avoiding attaching the deaf ‘issue’ to a larger storyline as a subsidiary plot-point and placing it at the heart of the play, it allows for an intelligent portrayal of the deaf experience at its simplest and most affecting, in the heart of the family home. It is able to illustrate so much more by focusing on the seemingly mundane as opposed to a hugely dramatic sequence of events and therein lies its power: its depiction of a thoroughly realistic and relatable world is why it affected me and countless others so much. Continue reading “Re-review: Tribes, Royal Court”