Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the Doctor Who rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone). Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”

Gregory Doran’s production of Macbeth for the RSC played at the Swan in 1999 before transferring to the Roundhouse and then touring internationally with its stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter. And given its success, the show was filmed for television at the London venue, using the subterranean tunnels there as well as the stage to make the most of the location.

It’s a highly atmospheric, contemporary take on the play that may lack a little specificity but soars on the strengths of its leads. Sher makes an unexpectedly convincing soldier, on the brink of madness from the outset and Walter makes possibly the best Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen, from her quivering anticipation whilst bathing to the chilling eroticism with which she controls her husband, it’s an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)

“Joseph, please don’t hate me”

As one of those stories that so many of us learnt whilst very young, the tale of the Nativity occupies a near-unassailable position in the cultural consciousness and so it is unsurprising that it has received the odd televisual adaptation or two. But both versions that I watched this week suffered criminally from a po-faced seriousness, trying to create a literal interpretation of the Biblical story despite the ever-so-tiny possibility that it might not necessarily be based in deep realism…

The Nativity Story, the 2006 film version, written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is particularly onerous, deadly serious in tone and mostly traditional in its storytelling, so that Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary unblinkingly accepts the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and the news that she’s gonna be expecting. Yet Hardwicke can’t resist a little of the Bella Swan stroppiness as Mary gets to complain (unrealistically) about her enforced betrothal to Joseph.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)”

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 Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)

“Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge”

It is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that any mention of Alexandra Gilbreath – recent winner of the Best Supporting Actress in a Play fosterIAN to be sure – sends me all a quiver. So when someone told me about this production of The Winter’s Tale which features not only her as Hermione but also has Nancy Carroll lurking in the ensemble, I was most keen to watch it. Plus there’s the small matter of Antony Sher as Leontes, an actor whom I am always intrigued to see more of as I’ve have actually had little experience of him as a performer.

An RSC production from 1998, this was recorded at the Barbican and so as a straight filming of the stage show, it is free from the kind of directorial innovation that blighted (IMHO) the versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest also covered this weekend. Instead, we get the theatrical experience minus the live thrill but with the added bonus of close up work. And it is a great bonus here. Sher does so much acting with his eyes as a paranoiac Leontes, mentally damaged as suggested by a prologue and incapable of not seeing the dark shadows in the corner of the room. The way his suspicions are aroused by Polixenes’ attentiveness to his wife is brilliantly done as she is actually suffering from pregnancy pain but Leontes misses the crucial moments and all too easily lets the darkness consume him. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Winter’s Tale (RSC at the Barbican, 1998)”

Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic

“I don’t want to believe that we come from monkeys and apes, but I guess that’s kinda besides the point”

Inherit The Wind is a courtroom drama, based on the true life story of a Tennessee schoolteacher who was threatened with imprisonment for teaching Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution, in direct contravention of school policy. A highly strung court case then follows, pitching creationists against evolutionists, and bringing two legal titans to a small town in Tennessee to argue the case, the ramifications of which clearly extend beyond that classroom in the Deep South. Its timing seems uncanny: even on the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species, a highly recommended (by me at least) film Creation, about Darwin’s struggles with his own faith as he wrote it, has not been able to find a distributor in the US because it is considered too ‘controversial’ in a country where allegedly barely a third of the population actually believe in evolution.

The scale of this production really is admirably epic: the staging is superb, with the Old Vic’s stage being opened up to a great depth (you could probably fit the stage for Annie Get Your Gun on there 15 times over!), the already healthy cast is ably bolstered by a phalanx of supernumaries, bringing the total company to 50 bodies who bring an authentic air of claustrophobic small-town living to several scenes, most notably the prayer meeting just before the trial. The use of hymns sung by the company during scene changes further reinforces this strong sense of a community joined by the power of their faith. Continue reading “Review: Inherit The Wind, Old Vic”

Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre

Much of the talk about Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new play Her Naked Skin has focused on the rather shameful fact that it is the first play by a female writer to be staged on the main Olivier stage at the National Theatre. Which whilst true and a definite achievement in itself, should not detract from the fact that this is a really rather sensationally good play.

Set in the Suffragette Movement in London in 1913 with excitement in the air as victory can be tasted, but times have never been more frenzied or dangerous as militant tendencies are at their strongest and many women are experiencing jail time on a regular basis. Lenkiewicz pitches the continuance of this struggle against the more personal story of Lady Celia Cain, bored in life and with her traditional marriage and family, who launches into a passionate lesbian love affair with a much younger, much more lower-class seamstress whom she shares a cell with and soon much more. As the affair hots up, so too does the political climate as emancipation comes closer to becoming a reality. Continue reading “Review: Her Naked Skin, National Theatre”