TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

 
Drip by drip, the National is teasing us with the cast reveals for Network.

Latest to be announced is Douglas Henshall who is to play Max Schumacher in this world-premiere of Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, the cast also includes Tony award winner Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana Christenson. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4

“Watch what I do, not what I say”

So Series 4 of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty winds up to its insanely tense climax and once again it satisfies the requirements of event TV – giving some answers but withholding others, in the full anticipation of further seasons in which to explore the overarching stories that still remain. This did also mean that it didn’t quite push all of my buttons the way I would have liked for it to be as spectacular as the end to Series 3.

With the Caddy arc being resolved so thoroughly then, I very much enjoyed the fresh slate of AC12’s investigation of an entirely new case here (review of Episode 1 here). And Thandie Newton’s superbly slippery DCI Roz Huntley was an excellent antagonist, the potential framing of a suspect being only the beginning of the twistiest of tales that threatened to swallow up any and everyone around her, good or bad, corrupt or misogynist. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1

“Don’t make out I’m in the wrong”

After three superlative, and interlinked, series, one might have forgiven Jed Mercurio for leaving Line of Duty as it was. But the show has been a victim of its own slow-burning success and so a fourth series has arrived, with a plum Sunday evening slot in the schedule to boot and the good folk of AC-12 are once again with us. And having most cleverly toyed with its structure of featuring a high profile lead guest star in the previous series, the arrival of Thandie Newton as this year’s bent cop (or is she…) left us pondering how the hell are they going to top Series 3’s opening instalment.

 Well, like this is how! The beauty of Line of Duty has been how it has increasingly embraced its batshit mental moments with the intense realism that comes from its peerless interrogation scenes. It is both silly and serious and it pulls it off with real élan – so much so that you don’t care how ridiculous it is that Vicky McClure’s Kate can still slide in to work undercover in police stations that are down the road from her own or that forensics guys apparently aren’t so hot at telling whether people are dead or not.  Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1”

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”

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

“I would his troubles were expired”

The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.

And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1”

DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey

“I said hip, hop, Santa’s gonna stop”

Has ever a movie franchise fallen from grace quite so sadly as Debbie Isitt’s Nativity films? It was made worse for me as I watched them all for the first time this year and so the decline has been compressed into a couple of weeks. The first film utterly enchanted me, the second somewhat disappointed by the third – Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey – thoroughly junked everything that worked about the original.

Once again, a new teacher is introduced to St Bernadette’s (this time, Martin Clunes’ Mr Shepherd) and once again, inimitable (and irritating) teaching assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) is on hand to cause mayhem with his unruly antics leading his class astray. But where the first film was rooted in the universal appeal of school nativities, this sequel opts for the bandwagon-jumping of focusing on flashmobs, which meant it was probably out-of-date as it arrived in cinemas last winter, never mind now in 2015. Continue reading “DVD review: Nativity 3 – Dude, Where’s My Donkey”

DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger

“You can be our Justin Bieber”

After being pleasantly surprised by how much fun Nativity was, it seemed only natural to watch the sequel Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger when it appeared in the festive TV schedule too. Sad to say it didn’t live up to its predecessor, its attempts to replicate the formula losing much of the charm that made the first movie something of a real treasure. Writer and director Debbie Isitt returned to the improvised style that saw her company of kids and adults work without a script or advance knowledge of how the plot would unfold, but the problem lies in that uninspired narrative. 

We’re still at St Bernadette’s, but Martin Freeman’s Mr Maddens has been replaced by David Tennant’s Mr Peterson, the school nativity has been replaced by a national ‘Song for Christmas’ competition and Marc Wootton’s irrepressible teaching assistant Mr Poppy remains very much in situ. And it is the nonsense that his actions provokes that proves the tipping point here – from purloined babies and donkeys to reckless child endangerment and the very fact that he’s teaching a class alone, Poppy’s character is a huge ask even when not taking it too seriously and for me, he was too grating too often. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger”

DVD Review: Nativity

“As if Hollywood would come to Coventry”

For whatever reason, I hadn’t ever gotten round to watching festive film Nativity since its release in 2009 but its broadcast on BBC1 meant I finally got the opportunity to be thoroughly won over by its lo-fi festive spirit. Written by Debbie Isitt but also partially improvised by the cast, it nails that typical (successful) Brit-flick style with all its deprecatory charm and underdog spirit, along with an unexpectedly effective original musical score.

Nativity centres on an inter-school rivalry in Coventry, where private primary school Oakmoor consistently produce the best-received nativity show. This year, the headteacher of St Bernadette’s has something to say about that and so puts curmudgeonly Christmas-hater Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) in charge of their show, aware that his old drama school friend and rival Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) is the one succeeding at Oakmoor, Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity”