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”

DVD Review: Now Is Good

“When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday?”

Now is Good is a remarkably clear-eyed entry into the teen weepie genre, based on Jenny Downham’s novel Before I Die. Ol Parker’s film centres on Tessa, a girl dying of leukaemia but who has put together a bucket list to ensure she enjoys every last moment. Chief among these is losing her virginity and falling in love, giving the story its main thrust, but more moving is Tessa’s relationships with her family and friends and even with herself as the inevitable comes ever closer.

Dakota Fanning is the sole US interloper in what is otherwise a very British film but her strong and sarcastic performance and the mordant strain of humour – mainly delivered by Edgar Canham’s younger brother Cal – keeps the sentimentality from overwhelming much of the story. Jeremy Irvine’s Adam is a more interesting love interest than one might expect and the delicacy of their emotional journey is well-handled throughout. Continue reading “DVD Review: Now Is Good”

TV Review: Silk, Series 3


“It’s not what any of you want”

And so it ends. A little unexpectedly, it was announced by creator Peter Moffat that this third series of Silk would be the last and whilst I would love to say that it was a fitting finale to the joys that were Series 1 and 2, I have to say I was quite disappointed in it. After showcasing Maxine Peake marvellously as the driven QC Martha Costello, here the character was barely recognisable; after securing the fabulous Frances Barber as a striking opposing counsel as Caroline Warwick, her incorporation into Shoe Lane Chambers neutered almost all the interest that had made her so fascinating; and with Neil Stuke’s Billy suffering health issues all the way through, the focus was too often drawn away from the courtroom.

When it did sit inside the Old Bailey, it did what the series has previously done so well, refracting topical issues through the eyes of the law – the kittling of protestors, Premiership footballers believing themselves beyond justice, assisted suicide, the effects of counter-terrorism on minority communities. And it continued to bring a pleasingly high level of guest cast – Claire Skinner was scorchingly effective as a mother accused of a mercy killing, Eleanor Matsuura’s sharp US lawyer reminding me how much I like this actress who deserves a breakthrough, and it always nice to see one of my favourites Kirsty Bushell on the tellybox, even if she melted a little too predictably into Rupert Penry-Jones’ arms. Continue reading “TV Review: Silk, Series 3”

DVD Review: Maurice

“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature”

This Merchant Ivory production of EM Forster’s novel of self-discovery Maurice was one of the first gay films I remember watching and it remains a remarkably touching watch now 25 years after it was made. A tale of gay love in the early 20th century, its poignancy is all the more moving for knowing that the novel was never published in Forster’s lifetime, cognisant of society’s (and the law’s) slow changing attitudes towards homosexuality, he withheld it from public consumption.

The story follows Maurice Hall from school to university and then into the real world full of careers, war and marriage as he struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a world where being gay is illegal. From a typically bashful initiation into the facts of life from a school professor to a Cambridge University full of possibility where the chance of love with a man first rears its head and then on into adult life where the slow acceptance of who he really is and what he really wants comes hand in hand with him falling in love with a man from a lower class, bringing further complications as the vagaries of the English class system are added to his trials. Continue reading “DVD Review: Maurice”

Radio Review: Flare Path / Rock and Doris and Elizabeth

“There’s a war on, things will have to be different”

There was so much activity celebrating the centenary of Terence Rattigan’s birth last year that it is hardly surprising that I missed some of it, but I can’t believe I let this radio adaptation of Flare Path pass me by. Trevor Nunn’s revival at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was a genuine highlight of last year, a true revelation from this long-neglected playwright whose belated reassessment has been proved over and again by a suite of excellent productions over the last few years. And so a radio version, starring none other than my beloved Ruth Wilson alongside other such favourites like Rupert Penry-Jones, Rory Kinnear and Monica Dolan, was guaranteed to grab my attention, if only second time around.

My love for Ruth Wilson aside, her casting is inspired here as haughty actress Pat, especially with Monica Dolan as the contrastingly open Doris. Where Sienna Miller caught the aloofness of Pat but didn’t always pair that with the emotional depth necessary to express the conflict of the central love triangle, Wilson gets to the heart of the woman and makes us care much more about her dilemma, her mellifluous voice cracking as she is confronted with feelings and situations that shake her certainties. And against Sheridan Smith’s superlative performance as Doris, Monica Dolan does a brilliant job with a subtly different take on the character, a more roundedly intelligent, slightly less dippy interpretation, but no less moving as she anxiously waits for news of her missing husband. Continue reading “Radio Review: Flare Path / Rock and Doris and Elizabeth”

Review: This House, National Theatre

“We have traditions, gentlemen’s agreements…things to help us to the best we can”

It’s always nice when karma works out in your favour. A clash in the schedule meant that I had to return my original ticket for This House and as the run was completely sold out, I was doubtful that I’d get to see the show. But as it turned out, standing tickets in the pit had just been released and so for the princely sum of £5, I was able to take in an early preview of James Graham’s new play for the National Theatre.

Set in the halls of Westminster across the incident-ridden 1974-1979 parliament, This House occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality that so many playwrights seem to love. Graham has taken inspiration from the real events of the time – the hung parliament, economic crises, changes in leadership and a surprisingly high mortality rate among MPs – and created his own version of events. His focus lies with the whips on both sides and it is from their perspective that we see events occur, as they troubleshoot left, right and centre, struggle to control their wayward members and do deal after deal with their opposing counterparts, observing the age-old traditions and principles that serve in place of a constitution. Continue reading “Review: This House, National Theatre”

DVD Review: Wallis and Edward

Taking the well known story of the Abdication Crisis, Wallis and Edward – an ITV TV movie from 2005 – professes to be the first to tell it from the point of view of Mrs Simpson. It’s potentially an interesting approach but one which emerges to be riddled with difficulties in the telling here. Picking up the story from the point at which the affair started with Edward as the Prince of Wales and Wallis still married to her second husband, it progresses through the 1930s as their affair became more involved and problematic as he acceded to the throne in the knowledge that royal protocol would never allow the relationship to continue.

The problem is that it never really becomes an involving love story. Not all relationships that start from adulterous beginnings are doomed, but they do need to work rather harder to convince of their legitimacy (for want of a better term) and that doesn’t really happen here. Joely Richardson’s Wallis is extremely brittle and Stephen Campbell Moore’s Edward the epitome of clipped English royalty but in Sarah Williams’ writing, there never really emerged a love story that I could get behind and so it became a rather dull watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wallis and Edward”

DVD Review: The Madness of King George

“Do you think that you are mad?”

I remember very little of this film, having not seen it since it was first released, so much so that much of the stage play – recently revived for a tour which will shortly take up residency in the West End – felt brand new to me. Alan Bennett adapted his own play, The Madness of George III (the film had to be retitled for international audiences…) and Nicholas Hytner directed the film, as he directed the show at the National Theatre, and it fit quite neatly into my post-Christmas costume drama/Royalty film splurge.

The story of how George III’s deteriorating mental health led to a constitutional crisis as his ambitious son made a play for power to try and force a Regency forms the backbone of the film as Nigel Hawthorne’s monarch is subjected to the vagaries of contemporary medical practice which had no understanding of mental illness and contained very little practice, instead being based on observations. It is only when a new course of action is recommended by non-medical man Dr Willis who utilises behaviour modification to try help regain equilibrium that progress is begin to be made, but the Prince of Wales and his political allies are moving fast to seize power. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Madness of King George”

Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“Make yourself ready in your cabin for the mischance of the hours”

Very occasionally I see a play which saps the life of my desire to write about all the shows that I see. Good ones are great, bad ones are fine as they often provoke much thought and opinion, but some are just so crushingly dull that they simply inspire nothing. Trevor Nunn’s production of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket was such a play and what is worse, I already knew that that would be my response to it due to the feedback from people who had already gone. Fortunately, I was gifted the ticket for services rendered so there was no financial cost but things can tax you severely in other ways.

Mainly it is due to the extreme lack of pace, the play is stretched out laboriously over more than three hours for no discernible reason than to fill time, there’s no reason contained within the interpretation that justifies this lack of speed and it becomes painfully obvious that we’re in for the long haul from the outset with precious few sparks of life animating events onstage. As Prospero, Ralph Fiennes was actually better than I was anticipating, the sole beneficiary of my lowered expectations, with a vocal performance that was colourful and commanding. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse

“Your face isn’t the most cheerful today”

The Prince of Homburg by Heinrich von Kleist is this year’s summer play at the Donmar Warehouse marking the return of Ian McDiarmid after Be Near Me last year. Presented in a new version here by Dennis Kelly (who I still haven’t quite forgiven yet for The Gods Weep), it was written in 1811 just before the German Romantic playwright committed suicide, and apparently was one of Hitler’s favourite plays. In order to squeeze this in before my holiday, I ended up seeing the second preview which should be acknowledged when reading my comments.

The play follows the titular Prince of Homburg, a shining light in the Prussian Army but possessed of a dreamy waywardness which flies in the face of the strict obedience of the law that typifies Prussian military behaviour and when he defies an order from his father-figure the Elector, matters of courage and honour push them both to a horrifying point of no return. Continue reading “Review: The Prince of Homburg, Donmar Warehouse”