TV Review: Years and Years

Years and Years sees Russell T Davies take on dystopian near-future sci-fi to startling effect

“We’re not stupid, we’re not poor, we’re not lacking. I’m sorry, but we’re clever. We can think of something, surely.”

What if…? What if…? What Brexit happens, what if Trump is voted in again and fires a nuclear bomb towards China, what if global warming happens today and not tomorrow, what if Lee from Steps is the most successful one…? Such is the world of Years and Years, Russell T Davies’ latest TV venture, a six-part drama that dares to ask what if it is already too late.

He uses the Lyons family as a prism to explore what the next 15 years of human history might look like, as technological advances make leaps and bounds alongside the political and social upheaval that strikes at the very heart of this sprawing middle-class Manchester-based family. It’s a daring piece of drama, full of Davies’ typically big heart and bold emotional colours and I have to say I rather loved it. Continue reading “TV Review: Years and Years”

Review: Paddington 2 (2017)

I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life

“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”

In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above. 

Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

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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: Born Romantic

“Have you never been in love?
‘No, too much choice.’”

Now this is a curious thing – released in 2001 but feeling very much a child of the 90s, Born Romantic is a British rom-com written and directed by David Kane, centring on a salsa club in London and the romantic capers of the men and women to attend. It has a highly personable cast – and there’s always fun in seeing familiar faces with a much fresher hue about them – but this is fairly bog-standard, low-budget stuff. It says nothing new about relationships, metropolitan living or indeed anything exciting, it just putters along in a rather inoffensive manner that makes it hard to recommend.

For those who know their US late-night chat-show hosts, there’s still fun in seeing Craig Ferguson in a straight acting role, one of three main “romantics” of the multi-stranded story. His Frankie is a hapless divorcee, still co-habiting with his ex played by Hermione Norris, and struggling to wangle his way into the affections of emotionally distant art restorer Eleanor, the divine Olivia Williams who like everyone else here is treading water. Kane’s writing hits on some interesting points but rarely gets the opportunity to delve beneath the surface as the narrative skips around the numerous other storylines, barely scratching the surface of any. Continue reading “DVD Review: Born Romantic”

My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances

With the new series of Doctor Who almost upon us, I thought I’d look back on some of my favourite guest spots on the show since it has come back on air, as it has become quite the magnet for actors to get on their CV. Have a look at my top 10, well 11, here and let me know who you think should have been on there instead.

Suranne Jones (The Doctor’s Wife)
This is probably my all-time favourite moment out of all of the new Doctor Who episodes. Neil Gaiman’s conceit was brilliantly simple, to bring the TARDIS to life, but Jones’ performance elevates it to something extraordinary, I get goosebumps just thinking about it and this scene, from near the end, is just perfection. As Matt Smith’s lip starts to wobble, we see the Doctor at his most affectingly human.


Continue reading “My top 10 favourite Doctor Who guest star appearances”

Review: The Priory, Royal Court

“No-one wants to be associated with failure…”

Following on from the mammoth successes of the over-rated Jerusalem and the equally highly praised Enron, The Priory has a lot to live up to in maintaining the Royal Court’s current run. A new play by Matthew Wynne, it follows a group of 30-something old friends as they convene on a country house to celebrate New Year’s Eve away from the rat race. Brought together by their mutual friend Kate for reasons of her own, secrets are uncovered and tempers flare as the frustrations of modern living are brought into sharp relief and the question of ‘what is success’ is repeatedly challenged.

Jessica Hynes’s Kate is the emotional centre of this work. Sifting through the emotional detritus of a highly traumatic year, her search for some kind of meaning is what drives the play. Whether its seeking refuge in the company of old friends, the solace of an old love or the temptation of a new faith, Kate’s attempts to deal with her angst seem doomed to failure, and her loneliness, even when surrounded by others is heartbreaking to watch: I found Hynes to be utterly convincing in this part. Continue reading “Review: The Priory, Royal Court”

63rd Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Jeff Daniels – God of Carnage as Alan
Raúl Esparza – Speed-the-Plow as Charlie Fox
James Gandolfini – God of Carnage as Michael
Geoffrey Rush – Exit the King as King Berenger
Thomas Sadoski – reasons to be pretty as Greg

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Hope Davis – God of Carnage as Annette
Jane Fonda – 33 Variations as Katherine Brandt
Marcia Gay Harden – God of Carnage as Veronica
Janet McTeer – Mary Stuart as Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter – Mary Stuart as Elizabeth I

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot the Musical as Billy Elliot
Gavin Creel – Hair as Claude
Brian d’Arcy James – Shrek the Musical as Shrek
Constantine Maroulis – Rock of Ages as Drew
J. Robert Spencer – Next to Normal as Dan Continue reading “63rd Tony Award nominations”