TV Review: W1A (Series 3)

W1A remains entirely watchable in Series 3 but repetition sets in to blunt its comic edges

“It may be the future but it’s still the BBC”

Returning to W1A has been good fun, though watching its three series back-to-back, it is interesting to see just how much it wears its concept increasingly thin.  Series 1 was a winner, introducing its cast of misfits all trying to navigate the bureauracy of the BBC and avoid doing as much work as possible but even by Series 2, the strains were clear to see.

John Morton’s Twenty Twelve, the show that kicked off this mockumentary mini-universe, had an inbuilt advantage in that it had a clearly defined end-point, the thing that everyone was working towards. By contrast, W1A has a sense of ambling on which, while perfectly pleasant to watch, means that a terminal case of diminishing returns sets in. Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 3)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 10

Spooks comes to an end with a shortened series 10 which, while not perfect, is effective in many ways

“Wait Harry, this can’t be the end”

And so after a decade, it comes to an end. Series 10 of Spooks, a shortened order of six episodes, sees the writers flip from the Lucas North show to the Harry Pearce show. This naturally makes more sense, with Harry being the head of Section D after all, but I’m not 100% sure that it completely works as it goes against the ensemble ethos of the show at its best.

The argument here is that Harry is the heart of the show and given the jib of his recent decision-making at this point, you have to wonder if this is all that wise. Given all that transpires, the final scene of the show hardly inspires confidence. That said, the memorial is a beautiful touch and Lara Pulver’s new chief Erin Watts proved a strong addition to Thames House.

Nicola Walker-ometer
A tough one this, Walker rises brilliantly to the challenge of essentially co-leading the series as a result of the Harry focus. But her treatment in the final moments of the series can’t help but feel a little unnecessary, essentially cheapened by her reduction to nothing but an adjunct to Harry. She only gets killed because of the personal connection rather than a heroic act of Queen and country she deserved (if she had to die at all). Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 10”

DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)

“Joseph, please don’t hate me”

As one of those stories that so many of us learnt whilst very young, the tale of the Nativity occupies a near-unassailable position in the cultural consciousness and so it is unsurprising that it has received the odd televisual adaptation or two. But both versions that I watched this week suffered criminally from a po-faced seriousness, trying to create a literal interpretation of the Biblical story despite the ever-so-tiny possibility that it might not necessarily be based in deep realism…

The Nativity Story, the 2006 film version, written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is particularly onerous, deadly serious in tone and mostly traditional in its storytelling, so that Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary unblinkingly accepts the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and the news that she’s gonna be expecting. Yet Hardwicke can’t resist a little of the Bella Swan stroppiness as Mary gets to complain (unrealistically) about her enforced betrothal to Joseph.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

Review: Julius Caesar, Noël Coward Theatre

“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”

I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.

Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.

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TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4

“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”

In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).

Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”

Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse

“The triple pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool”

After playing the role herself in 1974 for the RSC, Janet Suzman returns to Antony and Cleopatra but this time as its director and has pulled off one of the canniest casting coups of the year in persuading Kim Cattrall to return to the city of her birth to head up the cast alongside Jeffery Kissoon at the Liverpool Playhouse. The ultimate tale of the trouble caused when the personal and the political are so inextricably entwined as Cleopatra and Mark Antony tumble into a passionate affair regardless of the fact that their infatuation threatens to destroy the world around them.

 Feisty yet graceful, powerful yet passionate, Cattrall’s portrayal is simply superb. A highly intelligent woman, one can see the calculations behind her eyes as she weighs up each decision that will affect her so hugely but she also plays the comedy well and her touching vulnerability when seized by thoughts of love is beautiful: the recollection of their salad days is exceptional. Kissoon’s Antony is clearly a relic of a passing age, moody and tinged with madness from the outset. His battles come from his uncertainty at his place in this world as much as they do from his doomed affair and so he is a more shambolic leader. Continue reading “Review: Antony & Cleopatra, Liverpool Playhouse”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”