Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3

It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another 

“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”

I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).

But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”
 

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre

“Governments fall, wars break out – there’ll be nothing left of this country”

Recent Croatian history forms the fascinating backdrop to Tena Štivičić’s 3 Winters, a multi-generational family drama that stretches across nearly 70 years and endless drama, both political and personal. From the 1945 establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that replaced the monarchy and promised a bright future, to its collapse in 1990 presaging both independence and the bitterly fought Balkan conflicts of that decade, and then on again to a 2011 that heralds another form of confederacy as Croatia enters into EU accession talks. Štivičić’s focus remains on a single household throughout but it can’t help but be influenced by the turbulence of the times.

That household is the Zagreb home of the Kos family, a plush place passed into their hands during the nationalisation of property at the end of the Second World War. So the residence that Monika previously served in becomes the house her daughter Rose moves into with her daughter Masha. Masha grows up to be a forthright wife and mother of two and as the clan gathers to celebrate the wedding of one of those daughters Lucia, years of frustrations and secrets and history and lies begin to uncoil as past events catch up with present actions. Štivičić takes her time to set up the play in a languorous first half but the pay off is intensely wielded after the interval. Continue reading “Review: 3 Winters, National Theatre”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

“She is spherical – like a globe”

There’s something lovely about the exposure that director Blanche McIntyre is now receiving (see this interview, if not the comments) although some of us may have been aware of her talent for a wee while now. She now makes her directorial bow at the Globe with a nifty take on The Comedy of Errors. As two sets of identical twins rattle around an evocatively near-Eastern Ephesus, there’s a good deal of humour but cleverly there’s also an underlying tone of real pathos that McIntyre gradually brings to the fore.

Matthew Needham and Simon Harrison’s Antipholuses (Antipholi?) have a marked similarity that excuses Hattie Ladbury’s Adriana’s case of mistaken identity as she enthusiastically tries to iron out another rocky patch in her marriage and as their manservants, Brodie Ross and Jamie Wilkes make a fine pair of Dromios as their hapless helplessness in the face of much confusion allows for some of the funnier, slapstick-inflected moments of the production to come forth.

As is often the case at this venue, the comedy is broad, extremely so, but the usage of turkeys and octopi would surely put a smile on even the most churlish of faces, and there’s a delightful strangeness to the work of Stefan Adegbola as a mysterious Dr Pinch. And as the physical bluster eventually subsides, there’s a charming deal of affection that comes shining through in the end as the mayhem subsides, even if just for a moment.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th October

Review: Henry V, Noël Coward

“What art thou, thou idle ceremony?”

Early days for the final instalment in Michael Grandage’s season at the Noël Coward and another return to Shakespeare. But the Jude Law-starring Henry V did little to entertain, not helped by an abortive start which meant the opening scenes had to be replayed, with a production that is full of Acting with a capital A but little sense of theatrical vibrancy. Truth be told, I think I’m done with the play for a while – last year saw a slew of adaptations, some more successful than others, and so it doesn’t feel like a necessary addition to our stages (though I appreciate not everyone will be in quite the same position.)

 
Part of the problem is soon apparent with the sneaking suspicion that we’ve been here before. Longtime collaborator Christopher Oram’s distressed wood set recalls the Donmar’s Lear, the throne as icon imagery their Richard II. Ashley Zhangazha’s Chorus arrives onstage in modern dress (with what looks suspiciously like a Viva Forever t-shirt) but this is a red herring as the play is performed in classic dress, although Law’s soldier King is frequently attired in some distractingly tight-fitting trouser-wear.  Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Noël Coward”