TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3

The third series of Chris Lang’s Unforgotten is another corker, and not just because of Nicola Walker, honest!

“We’ve all done things of which we are ashamed”

The cold cases of Unforgotten have rightly proved a success for their alternative tale on crime drama, putting a real focus on the victims rather than the crimes, a neat corrective to the sometimes exploitative gaze that can characterise this genre. And this third series maintained that strong record (quick review of episodes 1 and 2 here)

A measure of the regard in which Unforgotten is held is the sheer quality of its cast. With James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally and Neil Morrissey as its lead quartet, it added Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ové and Amanda Root as their partners, and then threw in Siobhan Redmond and Sara Stewart as exes as well.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3 Episodes 1+2

The third series of Unforgotten starts and once again, Nicola Walker fails to disappoint

“Who buries a body in the central reservation of the M1”

They’re back! Nicola Walker’s DCI Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Khan sit at the heart of Chris Lang’s cold case thriller Unforgotten and for the previous two series, have been extremely impressive. Carving out a niche in the crowded police procedural TV market is enough of a job but doing it this well is noteworthy.

So it is little surprise that they have returned for a third series and though the format might be creaking ever so slightly as the same model is recycled once again, there’s enough here to point out the differences between so many of the other programmes who long to be recommissioned and respected this much. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3 Episodes 1+2”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

Review: Les Blancs, National

“Do you think the rape of a continent dissolves in cigarette smoke?”

To think that just a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t ever seen a play by Lorraine Hansberry and now I’ve seen two – the extraordinary A Raisin in the Sun which has now completed its UK tour and this new production of Les Blancs at the National. The sad reality is that there isn’t much more to see now, pancreatic cancer taking her life at just 34, but what a startling legacy this writer left of theatre that delves uncompromisingly into issues of race and identity, that remains as pertinent today as it did the mid-twentieth century when she was writing.

Hansberry didn’t get to complete Les Blancs before her death and so this final text was adapted by her sometime husband and collaborator Robert Nemiroff and it is directed here by Yaël Farber, making her National Theatre debut after her highly acclaimed 2014 The Crucible for the Old Vic. And people who saw that production will instantly recognise Farber’s modus operandi as this show opens in a highly atmospheric manner – a group of matriarchs, led by musical director Joyce Moholoagae, chanting and singing in Xhosa to leave us in no doubt what continent we’re on. Continue reading “Review: Les Blancs, National”

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)”

DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (1995)

“People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them”

Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility has aged rather well, a tribute to the efforts of its star and screenwriter Emma Thompson (along with countless others), and is probably one of the best big screen adaptations of any of Jane Austen’s works. It has a collection of performances that run counter to expectations – Alan Rickman makes a rare trip onto the good side as the compassionate Colonel Brandon, Kate Winslet has a raw freshness to her that makes for an ideal Marianne, and these were the days when Hugh Grant still had a suggestion of flexibility about his range as the decent Edward Ferrars.

And even when there aren’t too many surprises, Lee teases real emotion from his performers – Gemma Jones’ matriarch is full of aching emotion, a propensity echoed beautifully in Emma Thompson’s Elinor whose expressions of heartbreak and pain are just exquisite in their agony. In the smaller roles there’s delicious biting manipulation from Harriet Walter’s snobbish Fanny, riding roughshod over James Fleet’s John as they take over Norland; Imogen Stubbs finds a lovely delicacy in Lucy Steele; and it’s intriguing to see Imelda Staunton as a startling brash Charlotte Palmer, missing something of the subtlety we’re used to now from her. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (1995)”

TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

“We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame.  Continue reading “TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”

Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3

“We talked about how memory deals or doesn’t deal with what is intolerable”

WG Sebald’s novel Austerlitz is a simply astounding piece of writing so I knew that I would have to make time in the busy Christmas schedule to listen to Michael Butt’s adaptation for Radio 3, even if it isn’t necessarily the most festive of fare. An emotive tale of repressed memories and how the echoes of an unresolved past can ripple out throughout an entire lifetime.

The story is based around a series of meetings between the narrator and a man named Austerlitz. From the waiting room in Antwerp station to London hotels and Parisian cafés, a relationship grows between the two men as the narrator gradually teases out the long-buried story of Austerlitz’s past which, as he was born into a Czechoslovakian Jewish family in the 1930s, is intrinsically entwined with the Holocaust, an event his mother saved him from by having him transported to the UK where he was adopted by a Welsh family and given a whole new identity. Continue reading “Radio Review: Austerlitz, Radio 3”

Radio Review: My Fair Lady, Prom 2 on Radio 3

“I understand dear, it’s all so grand dear.”

One of the earlier Proms this year featured a semi-staged, fully-talent loaded yet inexplicably unfilmed production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical My Fair Lady. Fortunately it was recorded by Radio 3 so its reach wasn’t just limited to those who were able to get tickets for the Royal Albert Hall. And as befits the Proms, it was given an extraordinarily lush treatment by Shaun Kerrison, with John Wilson conducting his own orchestra of 70, using Previn’s film score orchestrations, and a classy cast and chorus plus dancers to make this quite the significant event and probably deserving of more than this mini-review.  

First off, it sounded simply glorious. The score is just a delight to listen to at the best of times but given full orchestral rein here, the songs like ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly?’, ‘On The Street Where You Live’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ amongst many many others, sparkled and shone and made an instant reminder as to why this show has endured so well. And it was largely sung well: Annalene Beechey (an actress we really ought to see more of on-stage, darn her maternal instincts ;-)) and Julian Ovenden bringing their customary interpretative skill to Eliza and Freddie and making a darn fine job of it. Continue reading “Radio Review: My Fair Lady, Prom 2 on Radio 3”