Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

Not even Judi Dench can save this irresponsible look at the British colonial legacy, Victoria and Abdul nevertheless takes two Oscar nominations into the ceremony.

“It is imperative that the royal colon receives a little roughage”

AKA The Other V&A. You can see the rationale behind Victoria and Abdul, allowing Dame Judi Dench to reprise her much-loved role from Mrs Brown with another 20 years under her belt. And directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Lee Hall, hopes were reasonably high.

What results though, is a film that indulges in an irresponsible kind of historical revisionism, a refusal to engage with and interrogate the reality of British colonial rule. Hall’s version of Victoria is allowed to be coyly ignorant of the looting of Indian treasure, a champion of diversity too in an improbable twist. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

DVD Review: The Heart of Me

“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”

For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.

It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Heart of Me”

Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train

“I have to write an essay on Shakespeare’s view of the family, it’s a bugger”

Denmark Hill is something of a rarity, a 30 year old Alan Bennett television play that never saw the light of day and so remained unproduced until this radio version brought it back to life. A suburban riff on Hamlet which sets it in a contemporary South London, it’s more of an interesting curio than an essential addition to the Bennett canon but it still has many points of interest. A nifty turn of phrase when it comes to a joke, the often ridiculous behaviour of human beings at times of crisis, and a top-notch cast that includes Penny Downie’s Gwen, her new lover George played by Robert Glenister and her angst-ridden son Charles, the ever-lovely Samuel Barnett.

Sadly not a dramatisation of the Ocean Colour Scene song, Nick Payne’s The Day We Caught The Train is a predictably lovely piece of writing from one of our most reliable new writers. Olivia Colman’s Sally is a GP mourning the recent death of her mother, trying hard not to let being a single mother rule her life even if the fact is she hasn’t had sex for a year. We join her on a regular day full of mini-dramas which seem designed to keep her from something special, a date with Ralph Ineson’s kindly David. Naturally, it doesn’t quite go to plan but the way it unfolds into something beautifully moving is skilfully done indeed. Continue reading “Radio Review: Denmark Hill / Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight / The Day We Caught The Train”

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”

Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4

“The only thing is to grin and bear it”

Timing is everything and the anti-war message of Somerset Maugham’s 1932 play For Services Rendered failed to gain any purchase on contemporary audiences, making it something of a failure. But listening to Lu Kemp’s adaptation for Radio 4, it strikes as an extraordinarily prescient piece of work, more so given the eventual declaration and devastation of the Second World War, and it surely due for a substantial theatrical revival. As it is, this version will more than do for now as its tale of how the impact of the First World War lingered perniciously on in the lives of the nation is embodied in the trials of the Ardsley family and their friends.

Leonard and Charlotte Ardsley have four children and though superficially their lives in the Kent countryside are going well, there’s much trauma and difficulty just beneath the surface. Only son Sydney was blinded in the war and sister Eva has devoted herself entirely to his care, much to the expense of her own situation and youngest daughter Lois also finds herself unmarried due to the lack of prospects. Ethel is the one that did manage to secure herself a husband but the upheaval of wartime blinded her to his eminent lack of suitability and now in peacetime, she is left to repent at leisure. With so much bubbling away as the social order decays, it isn’t long before changes start to force themselves upon this group. Continue reading “Review: For Services Rendered / Carnival, Radio 4”