TV Review: Liar Series 2

Series 2 of Liar shifts the focus from rape to murder but does little to raise this from bog-standard thriller territory

“Sometimes bad things happen and we just have to deal with them”

Was the world calling out for a second season of Liar? When the first apparently did such great numbers for ITV, it seems the decision was inevitable but it has taken more than two years for it to arrive and I’m not sure that it carries the same level of impetus with it – I don’t imagine ratings will have held up to anywhere near the same degree.

That first series did show much promise, complicating a rape story by presenting a he said/she said narrative that asked some big questions. But midway through, Liar tipped its hand and ended up as a bog-standard thriller and it is in that same spirit that it continues here. A bit of story-telling trickery allows for Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew to return alongside Joanne Froggatt as Laura but I have to say I really wasn’t gripped. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar Series 2”

TV Review: Spooks – Code 9

Spooks – Code 9 is a spin-off that spins off too far, nowhere near deserving of the Spooks name

“Don’t make me look like a dickhead”

An absolutely baffling one this. Spooks – Code 9 was commissioned by the Beeb as a spin-off of the Spooks franchise that was aimed at the 16-24 demographic. Conventional wisdom dictates that a spin-off has at least some connection to its parent but for some reason, the decision was made to completely sever this new show, with no crossover with Spooks whatsoever.

Not only that, it is also set in an entirely different universe as this series is set in a UK that is reeling from a nuclear attack during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics Games. With London irradiated and most of its staff killed, MI5 has had to evacuate Thames House and set up regional field offices. Because the only way to justify setting a show in Leeds is to make London radioactive…(and even then they can’t keep away for the finale). Continue reading “TV Review: Spooks – Code 9”

Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie

“I want everything to stop being a struggle”

To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.

For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”

Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

TV Review: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

DVD Review: Rabbit Hole

“Things aren’t nice any more”

London has yet to see the theatrical premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole as the Joanne Froggatt-starring production mooted for the Vaudeville late last year was postponed due to scheduling issues and with no further news about it forthcoming. Which is possibly a good thing for me as on watching the film version, the ugly crying it reduced me to once again is not something I’d want to replicate in a theatre!

Rabbit Hole is a simple but stunning look at the way that families deal with loss, specifically the loss of a child, and what if anything can be done to help acknowledge and move on from such a tragedy. Danny and Becca’s 4 year old Danny died in a car accident outside their house 8 months ago and it has shattered them. Caught in their own worlds of grief, their friends and family look on helplessly as they drift apart, unaware or unwilling to accept the help on offer.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Rabbit Hole”

DVD Review: uwantme2killhim (2013)

“Everyone is being followed”

A rather successful foray into the world of internet chatrooms, somewhat akin to Enda Walsh’s Chatroom, Mike Walsh’s uwantme2killhim invites descriptors such as darkly compelling and timely as it follows two teenagers sucked into a morass of online deception. Directed by Andrew Douglas, it takes a fairly traditional approach to representing digital communication – they speak as they type, which let’s face it, a lot of us do anyway – but the complications thrown up by their actions are thoroughly modern.

Based loosely on a true story, the film opens with Joanne Froggatt’s fervent Detective Inspector trying to work out why Mark has stabbed John, a schoolmate supposed to be his friend. We then loop back to the beginnings of Mark’s venturing into chatrooms and in particular with his friendship with Rachel, who turns out to John’s older sister. She’s in a witness protection program and has a violent boyfriend but Mark has fallen head over heels and will do anything for her. And ultimately he does do anything for her. Continue reading “DVD Review: uwantme2killhim (2013)”

TV Review: The Secrets 4 – The Lie

“Are you in a relationship now?”

The Secrets now turns to Elinor Cook’s for The Lie as once again marriage falls under the scrutiny of our young writers. Here, Lexie’s domestic bliss is shattered when an inopportune phone call reveals that her husband is hiding something from her, a double life as she quickly finds out. And as with all such things, she visits the other woman’s house, who turns out to be a counsellor, and pretends to be a client in need of help.

Thus Lexie tries to explore what her husband has been up to and why, whilst not letting on to him that she knows, Joanne Froggatt’s brittle intensity perfect for the role as she comes up against the comparative glamour of Emilia Fox’s Zara. Their shared scenes are excellent and the hints of psychodrama that creep in here are amongst the story’s highlights. Ben Chaplin’s Philip isn’t quite the draw he needs to be though, the character never really suggesting adequate appeal.

Continue reading “TV Review: The Secrets 4 – The Lie”

Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch

“Kill her and be free”

Greek tragedies are never a light affair but The Libation Bearers, the second part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy is particularly brutal. Following on from the vengeful fury of Clytemnesta slaying her husband Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to the gods, the thirst for revenge switches to her other children Electra and Orestes, the latter of whom returning from exile to kill his mother for murdering his father. He’s got his own permission from the gods so it’s ok and urged on by a viciously determined Electra to conquer his nagging doubts, he sets about steeling himself for such a deed.

Ed Hime’s new version is highly atmospheric and swirls effectively on the edge of the mystical. His Chorus of slave women are voiced by Amanda Lawrence, Carys Eleri and Sheila Reid, their cracked voices recalling Macbeth’s Weird Sisters in urging Will Howard’s solid Orestes towards matricide. Lesley Sharp is strong again as Clytemnesta, haunted by her misdeeds and Electra is given a chilling intensity by Joanne Froggatt – I just find it interesting that there is no attempt to understand her mother’s actions, instead Agamemnon is venerated as the greatest leader ever despite the fact he had her sister killed. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Oresteia – The Libation Bearers / The 40 Year Twitch”