TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

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)”

Shakespeare Solos – Part 2

“Are you meditating on virginity?”

The Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos series continues apace with its second suite of videos now released on their website and this time they’re much more of a mixed bag. There’s strong work from a duffle coat-clad David Threlfall as The Tempest’s Prospero , mightily bearded and bedraggled but achingly eloquent too with all the heaving sorrow of revels ending. And Samuel West is an excellent Henry V, pacing the South Bank with the Houses of Parliament in full view as he experiences a restless night before launching into war. 

An unexpected delight is Sacha Dhawan taking on the role of a would-be pickup artist in a King’s Cross cocktail bar to deliver Parolles’ speech about virginity from All’s Well That Ends Well. Dhawan is a highly charismatic performer but inhabits this role perfectly, not bad for a Shakespearean screen debut. And there’s striking work from Camille O’Sullivan as King John’s grief-stricken Constance, director Dan Susman capturing much of the intensity that made her Rape of Lucrece so memorable. Continue reading “Shakespeare Solos – Part 2”

DVD Review: Late Bloomers

“Did you see how he combined misogyny with just blatant ageism”

A film that passed me by on its 2011 release (possibly as it’s a French film, though English-language), Julie Gavras’ Late Bloomers entertained me much more than the rather tepid critical response had led me to expect. I think this is mainly because the script, written by Gavras with Olivier Dazat, treats its protagonists Adam and Mary with equal importance.

Both heading into their sixties after thirty-odd years of marriage, a mid-to-late-life crisis hits the couple in different ways. He’s an architect who throws himself into working late nights with young associates rather than design retirement homes and feeling neglected, she focuses on her doctor’s advice to keep active after an incident of memory loss leaves her shaken. With three adult children watching haplessly, their parents’ different responses to the reality of ageing threatens to shatter all their worlds. Continue reading “DVD Review: Late Bloomers”

DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage

“We rubbed along alright”

Master of televisual adaptation Andrew Davies turned his hand to Angela Lambert’s novel A Rather English Marriage in 1998 and watching it back now, it seems to harken back to an even earlier age, one of uncomplicated classic quality with a resolutely unfashionable straight-forwardness that we simply don’t see that much at all these days. The tale is a simple one of two retired veterans who, after being widowed on the same day, are placed together by a well-meaning social worker who reckons the companionship will do them both a world of good.

They’re an odd couple though. Albert Finney’s Reggie was an air squadron leader and having married into money, is used to a wealthy life. By comparison, Tom Courtenay’s Roy was a mere NCO and became a milkman after the war so as they move into together, Reggie naturally assumes a dominant position with Roy slipping easily into the habit of calling him Sir as their relationship settles into something imbalanced. Ultimately, both men recognise the private pain they are hiding as long-held secrets come to light but it is the return of women to their lives that proves to be the most significant change. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Rather English Marriage”

Short Film Review #12

Instalment 12 of the Short Film Review – keep those recommendations coming and I promise I will get round to them all eventually, I’ve a fair few to work through 😉

Bride of Vernon

A rather playful take on the Frankenstein story, The Bride of Vernon is a stop-motion animation in the mould of Wallace and Gromit which was written, animated and directed by Calvin Dyson and ended up winning the Best UK Short Film Award at the 2012 Manchester International Film Festival. Vernon Van Dyke, the appealingly voiced Dan Clark, is the lonely young scientist who is battling against the repeated failures of his experiment to create himself a bride and even the faithful Fritz (David Schofield as the Igor-style assistant) is rebelling and demanding better pay and conditions due to his recent unionisation.


Things brighten up though with the arrival of Mary Mae, a real life woman who offers a whole new world of possibility to Vernon as they start dating and here, Katherine Parkinson is excellent casting, her richly expressive voice is beautifully suited to the hesitant goodness of this character and they are so sweet together. Of course, things go wrong over dinner with an accidental poisoning and it is up to Vernon to see if he can save Mary Mae by hook or by crook. The film is really well put together, it looks a high quality product and Michael Slevin Uttley’s score fits over it like a glove to make this what seems to be a well-deserving prize winner.

Standing Room Only 
With a cast including the likes of Michael Gambon, Hugh Jackman, Maureen Lipman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, you’d be forgiven that thinking that Standing Room Only is no common-or-garden short film and you’d be right. It undoubtedly owes its star-studded nature to the marital connections of its writer/director Deborra-Lee Furness, otherwise known as Mrs Hugh Jackman, but it makes a rather amusing study of the politics of day seating for a sold out show. Mostly silent (although this version of the clip is dubbed in Russian – translating the signs I think…), we see a queue of people slowly build up outside the New Ambassadors Theatre to see the hugely popular Man of a Thousand Faces.


I’ve not done a huge amount of day-seating myself but I know people who have and so there is a wry amusement of much of the little details here which seem authentically familiar. And it is a pleasure to see the likes of Gambon, Jackman  and Joanna Lumley cutting loose on something comedic and light – Furness includes a flirtatiously delicious moment from her husband  at 5.27 – and it is all a breezy bit of fun, even if I wasn’t mad keen on the way that it ends.

The Rules of the Game 

This film is directed by Tom Daley but lest you think it is connected with anything misguidedly-orange and publicity-hunting, it ain’t anything to do with diving… No, it’s a 2009 short written by Sam Michell, a monologue written about a groom-to-be who is preparing for a stag night to remember in a smart country house. Christopher Harper plays Henry and over the 7 or so minutes of film, he fills us in on all the gory details of his last few months and the revelations that have raised the stake of this occasion just ever so slightly.


Harper is excellent as the narrator, his direct address to the camera is always playful rather than too intense, Michell’s writing dancing with the lightness of stream-of-consciousness and imagined actions as well as putting across the story itself. And Daley directs with a smooth fluidity as we constantly move throughout the stately home, Max McGill’s cinematography making everything look delicious and usefully reminding me of how much I like Harper as an actor.

3-minute 4-play 

At a brief 3 minutes (and change), Johnny O’Reilly’s 3-Minute 4-Play is a cracking little Irish battle of the sexes thing. Set in a dreamlike white space where things can be wished into reality, Ristéard Cooper’s man conjures up the girl of his dreams – Ruth Negga – but as always, one has to be careful about what one wishes for as it turns out that he can’t control her, and her own desires don’t necessarily match up with his. It’s simply done but very effective and highly watchable – Cooper is always charismatic and I loved seeing and hearing Negga working in her natural accent. Lots of fun.

Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You will take what Daddy gives you”

I have to start this review off with an apology to my Medieval History A-Level teacher Mrs Grist. Despite having spent two years studying the subject, and writing an extended essay on the Capetian King Philip Augustus (who appears as a young man in this play), precious little of the detail has remained in my head. Fortunately James Goldman’s The Lion In Winter, Trevor Nunn’s latest entry in his Theatre Royal Haymarket season, has a rather loose basis in history, coming from the Philippa Gregory-type school of soapy melodrama rather striving for historical accuracy, and so the vagueness of my recollections was just fine as this ends up being more of an Ayckbourn-style domestic conflict piece – Season’s Greetings but with a cast of historical royals instead.

Things get off to a rather shaky start with a huge amount of backstory text scrolling up the screen, which is surrounded by the cheapest-looking holly border straight out of a clip-art folder. It is a rather unwieldy way to convey a ton of information which if significant, ought to be clear anyway from strong playwriting. But in a nutshell, the play is set at Christmastime 1183 in the château of Chinon, Anjou in Western France where Henry II of England has kept his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, prisoner for a decade after she led a rebellion against him. Accompanying the warring couple are their three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, who are all competing for their father’s favour in order to be named his successor and their guest, King Philip II of France, whose half-sister Alais just happens to be Richard’s fiancée and Henry’s mistress. And for two and a half hour, they all jockey for position with each other, trying to work out who will end up on top. Continue reading “Review: The Lion in Winter, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

65th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Brian Bedford – The Importance of Being Earnest as Lady Bracknell
Bobby Cannavale – The Motherfucker With the Hat as Jackie
Joe Mantello – The Normal Heart as Ned Weeks
Al Pacino – The Merchant of Venice as Shylock
Mark Rylance – Jerusalem as Johnny “Rooster” Byron

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Nina Arianda – Born Yesterday as Emma ‘Billie’ Dawn
Frances McDormand – Good People as Margie Walsh
Lily Rabe – The Merchant of Venice as Portia

Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy as Daisy Werthan
Hannah Yelland – Brief Encounter as Laura Jesson

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Norbert Leo Butz – Catch Me If You Can as Carl Hanratty
Josh Gad – The Book of Mormon as Elder Cunningham
Joshua Henry – The Scottsboro Boys as Haywood Patterson
Andrew Rannells – The Book of Mormon as Elder Price
Tony Sheldon – Priscilla Queen of the Desert as Bernadette Continue reading “65th Tony Award nominations”

Review: La Bête, Comedy Theatre

“I have listened to you speechify for what feels like a century in hell”

Written in 1991 by American David Hirson, La Bête is set in the French court of Languedoc in the seventeenth century and is a pastiche of plays by the likes of Molière, going so far as being written entirely in verse. The rather staid and self-satisfied Elomire is the leader of a troupe of actors in favour with the Princess, but when she orders him to include the brash and vulgar Valere the stage is set for an almighty debate on artistic integrity versus commercialism and the role of patronage in the arts.

It has been cast to the hilt, Mark Rylance following on from his well-received (if not by yours truly) turn in Jerusalem plays the boorish Valere, David Hyde-Pierce making his West End debut as the prim Elomire and Joanna Lumley making a rare stage appearance as the Princess. And such is the confidence behind this production that a Broadway run has already been booked to run straight after the West End run finishes. Such confidence is interesting given that the original Broadway run flopped quite badly, something that me and my companion both well understand, for a variety of reasons.

Much as with The Misanthrope, I felt isolated from the audience at large right from the start as they whooped and laughed heartily from the very first rhyming couplet. Maybe it was the Saturday night audience, maybe I hadn’t had enough to drink but it is a while since I found repeated fart jokes and the mocking of the afflicted as funny as those around me. I can respect the virtuosity of Rylance’s opening speech which lasts over 30 minutes; it is an impressive piece of theatre that probably only he could carry off right now and it is intermittently very funny, but resorting to crude toilet humour and its subsequent reaction just disappointed me.

The dominance of Valere as a character, but also Rylance’s portrayal means that the play has little place to go after the opening salvo. Hyde-Pierce reacts well to all the posturing but there’s only so many faces of disgust one can show over half an hour and even when finally allowed to speak, he isn’t allowed any depth or complexity, it feels a criminal waste of his talents. And sad to say, there’s no honesty in Lumley’s performance as the Princess until far too late when she is finally allowed to do something more than posture and pout: both these characters being sadly underwritten and ultimately having been cast way above their remit.

Part of the problem comes from the form. It is written exclusively in rhyming couplets and I have to say that all the cast did exceptionally well in their verse reading, all of them concerned with telling the story rather than making it rhyme. But it is one trick which soon begins to try one’s patience, it is clever for sure, but just not particularly dramatic or engaging and by the final act, unbearably repetitive. There’s a chance for a raucous Springtime for Hitler type rendition of one of Valere’s plays but it is just a wasted opportunity as Two Boys from Cadiz barely raises a chuckle.

I also could not really work out what the play was trying to say. Having invested so much work in setting Valere up as the epitome of self-obsessed, low-brow showmanship, we’re then asked to buy him suddenly becoming an erudite defender of commercial art. This tension between art and commerce is never really satisfactorily dealt with and so as we slog to the finish line, it does become somewhat heavy going. So a curious one: it will probably be a relative success here, I’m not sure how it will fare across the ocean, but ultimately, Rylance’s opening speech aside, it’s a bit of a waste of some considerable talent.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with no interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 4th September