DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

DVD Review: Paddington (2014)

“I’m going to stuff you, bear”

A rather unexpectedly lovely surprise from the end of last year whose key message of acceptance of foreigners feels ever more pertinent in the current circumstances. Paul King’s Paddington, based on Michael Bond’s classic creation, has that warm feel of a classic family film, full of set-pieces and humour and a deal of minor peril, but none so much as to really make you scared. Instead, there’s a glowing happiness that almost (sadly) feels as old-fashioned as a marmalade sandwich.

As if you didn’t know, Paddington comes from darkest Peru and a wittily filmed black and white prologue shows us how a British geographer called Montgomery Clyde befriended his family in the jungle, eventually leaving with a promise of a place to stay should they ever visit London. When circumstances conspire to leave Paddington alone on a railway platform in W2, he’s taken in by the Brown family and capers ensue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Paddington (2014)”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 1

“245 women silks ever, out of tens of thousands”

I do love a legal drama and so too does Peter Moffat. I’m forever grateful for him for the Helen McCrory-starring joy that was North Square and I’ve recently caught up with the two series of Criminal Justice that he was responsible for, so it was only natural that I should be a big fan of Silk. But as the time pressures of a busy theatre schedule rarely let go, it wasn’t something I had time to watch live and it was only with its arrival on Netflix that I was able to catch up with it. The show focuses on a single chambers with two leading lights both hoping to be appointed Queen’s Counsel, “taking silk” as it were, and dealing with the pressures of life at the Bar.

Casting Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones as the rivals Martha Costello and Clive Reader works extremely well – her fierce intelligence and emotional counterbalance being perfectly portrayed by the ever-strong Peake and Penry-Jones making Reader something of an arrogant buffoon yet one with some redeeming qualities as he competes and consoles, seduces and shines his way through life. Over the six episodes, the focus is mainly on Martha and her dilemmas as she finds herself pregnant at a time of huge professional significance, but the series as a whole makes for a modern and exciting version of a legal drama. Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 1”

Review: Travels with my Aunt, Menier Chocolate Factory

“People who like quotations love meaningless generalisations”

There’s a strange disconnect at the heart of Travels with my Aunt which means it never really ignites the comic potential it possesses. Giles Havergal’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel sees four actors cover a multitude of characters and a globe-trotting range of locations in a free-wheeling narrative which commences with retired bank manager Henry Pulling being reunited with his long-lost Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral. But the adventures that follow have a dated feel to them with a distinctly not-quite-post-colonial flavour and the presentational style also has a measured quality which only intermittently embraces the carefree spirit of the story.

There’s fun to be had though, as Henry falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole opened by his aunt and they ricochet from the depths of suburbia to Turkey, Paraguay and more and he gradually becomes more accustomed to the new excitements of his life, which had previously been limited to growing dahlias in his back garden. The actors share the roles as well as sharing them out so Greene’s richly evocative writing is constantly changing mouthpiece as all of them take turns in playing Henry, as well as the colourful cast of characters that pop up along the journey.


David Bamber just about wins on points as the most compelling version of Henry but also brings a lightness to a range of female characters and Gregory Gudgeon demonstrates huge variety and versatility covering a multitude of tiny parts, the postman being one of the wryly funniest. But in among the turns are slightly more questionable decisions. Jonathan Hyde’s Aunt Augusta is undoubtedly amusing but his style of female impersonation feels something of an anachronism in this day and age and Iain Mitchell has to tread a slightly dubious line as her Sierra Leonean manservant and lover Wordsworth.

Christopher Luscombe’s revival certainly oozes quality, not least in Colin Falconer’s richly detailed set design with its railway destination board which effectively locates the fast-moving action, and the experienced cast who display their skills with panache despite initially looking like a row of blandly grey motor traders insurance salesmen. But it rarely makes an effective case for this being a play worthy of such attention. It is old-fashioned due to its very nature but the problem is it feels old-fashioned too – its antiquated attitudes, the construction that loses its comic spark at the expense of predictable twists, an overall atmosphere of dated quaintness albeit strongly performed.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 29th June

Originally written for The Public Reviews

DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)

 

“He did do it, didn’t he?“

One of the side-effects of seeing so much theatre is that there is less time available to imbibe other forms of culture and for me, it has meant that I watch hardly any television these days. I rely on the iPlayer (although too much of what I download ends up lingering unwatched and then expiring) and other catch-up TV services, or else I add the DVD to my ever-growing pile of things to watch on a rare quiet day. Which means it frequently takes me ages to catch up, even with things that I am most looking forward to, one of which was the second series of Peter Morgan’s The Jury which played on ITV last year.

To be honest, calling it a second series is something of a misnomer as it bears no real connection to the first one from 2002, aside from being a show about a jury, which is something of a shame as that show remains one of the televisual highlights of my life. It was one of the shows that introduced me to love of my life Helen McCrory and also featured a smoking hot pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler, but also played out as a rather satisfying combination of character study and legal drama. This time round, the case in question was a retrial of a triple murder, but the focus is as much on the lives of the twelve people eventually selected as jurors. I’m not quite sure why Morgan decided to revisit the format, as in the end it was to somewhat lesser effect for me. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)”

DVD Review: The Madness of King George

“Do you think that you are mad?”

I remember very little of this film, having not seen it since it was first released, so much so that much of the stage play – recently revived for a tour which will shortly take up residency in the West End – felt brand new to me. Alan Bennett adapted his own play, The Madness of George III (the film had to be retitled for international audiences…) and Nicholas Hytner directed the film, as he directed the show at the National Theatre, and it fit quite neatly into my post-Christmas costume drama/Royalty film splurge.

The story of how George III’s deteriorating mental health led to a constitutional crisis as his ambitious son made a play for power to try and force a Regency forms the backbone of the film as Nigel Hawthorne’s monarch is subjected to the vagaries of contemporary medical practice which had no understanding of mental illness and contained very little practice, instead being based on observations. It is only when a new course of action is recommended by non-medical man Dr Willis who utilises behaviour modification to try help regain equilibrium that progress is begin to be made, but the Prince of Wales and his political allies are moving fast to seize power. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Madness of King George”

DVD Review: The Young Victoria

“Do you ever feel like a chess piece being moved around in a game against your will”

Much as my favourite genre of theatres is old-school musicals, my favourite type of film is a lavish costume drama, especially and since I’m nicely ensconced at my parents’ house with their flash new television, I’m going to blog a few of them. First up is The Young Victoria, the 2009 film detailing the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria and the beginnings of her grand romance with Albert. I have a serious girl crush on Emily Blunt, she was the highlight of The Devil Wears Prada for me but I really fell in love with her whilst watching the bloopers from the film, she has the kind of irresistible laugh I could listen to all day but I do think she is becoming a really interesting actor (who someone should get on the stage!).

Written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and including producers like Martin Scorsese and Sarah Ferguson – a major force behind getting it made apparently – the film starts off with Victoria as heir presumptive to her uncle King William IV and trying to fend off the avaricious advances of her mother the Duchess of Kent and the hugely ambitious comptroller of her household Sir John Conroy. Matters are complicated by her other uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, who wants to use his family connections to build a British/Belgian alliance, but his decision to use his nephew to seduce his way into her affections has unexpected repercussions for everyone, as the nephew is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Young Victoria”

Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse

“Judas…Traitor…Het-er-o-sexual!”

When it was first announced that John Barrowman would be taking one of the lead roles in La Cage au Folles, many, including myself, instantly called this a crazy decision. Having seen this show twice already with different casts, and it remaining one of my favourite things I have seen on the stage this year, I had my doubts about this particular casting decision but when a family delegation (including 3 major Barrowman fangirls) expressed their interest in coming down to see the show, tickets were booked.

The obvious criticism is that John Barrowman is too young and good-looking to play Albin, especially given the actors who have played the role here previously, but by casting an equally younger-looking and handsome Simon Burke as his lover, this production has been cleverly reconceived. Instead of being a meditation on a drag queen at the end of his career, the focus here is more on Albin’s insecurities about his relationship with Georges, the comment about not being able to play Salome any longer becomes more of a bitchy aside than a sad statement of truth. There has been a considerable injection of raunchiness into this production, with some very suggestive croissant eating that was dangerously close to the bone (fnarr fnarr) for a family show. However this more overt sexuality played very convincingly with the younger coupling and led to some hilarious scenes. Continue reading “Re-review: La Cage aux Folles, Playhouse”