TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5

The short and sweet fifth series of Sally Wainwright’s excellent Last Tango in Halifax is a much-needed shot of the warm and fuzzies 

“I’m not deluded. Nice things do make me happy”

With an almost unerring sense of timing, Sally Wainwright gave the nation a shot of the warm and fuzzies with the perfectly short and sweet fifth series of Last Tango in Halifax. Having to wait for three years for it certainly built anticipation but it also had a powerful effect on the storytelling. In a series that has long been rooted in everyday life, allowing so much of that life to happen before revisiting them (as opposed to the laziness of a time jump) really deepens the context. Also, the official confirmation of the Wainwright shared universe was a real delight, how I would watch these avengers assemble!

So the ‘opposites attract’ element of Alan and Celia’s late-blooming relationship is now manifested in deeper ideological differences on subjects such as Brexit. And Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid play this sense of shifting priorities beautifully as his attention turns to his new job at the supermarket and hers is swallowed up the potential of a new kitchen. And as their families look on slightly aghast, there’s a real sense over the four episodes that this core marriage might actually be in peril. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5”

TV Review: The Split Series 1 / The Good Fight Series 2

If female-fronted lawyer shows are your bag (and why wouldn’t they be!), the twin joys of The Split and The Good Fight have marvellous to behold

“Kill all the lawyers”

If I’m completely honest, Abi Morgan’s The Split did leave me a tad disappointed as it veered away from its legal beginnings to something considerably more soapy over its six episodes. The personal lives of the Defoe clan well and truly took over at the expense of any of the cases they were looking after and even if that family includes Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Deborah Findlay, it’s still a bit of a shame that it ended up so schlocky. Continue reading “TV Review: The Split Series 1 / The Good Fight Series 2”

TV Review: War Book

“We’re here to outplay a scenario”

I can’t remember who alerted me to Jack Thorne’s War Book being on iPlayer but I’m grateful to them as it is a classy little thing indeed, boasting a top-quality cast and Tom Hooper on directorial duties. A BBC4 drama that takes place over the three days of a role-playing exercise by the government in which assorted civil servants take on the mantle of the different departments tasked with responding to the outbreak of nuclear hostility between two countries, a conflict which threatens to break out into all-out nuclear war.

Designed as a hothouse experiment to produce the kind of thinking that can’t be replicated in traditional briefings, Thorne subtly suggests how decision-making, even at this level, can be shaped by personal circumstances (the husband struggling with his wife’s illness) but also how we’re not all in thrall to their influence (the cancer survivor who has to advocate for the withdrawal drugs from the general public). And as the ‘crisis’ escalates, serious questions are asked and discussed about what it really means to be a nuclear power.  Continue reading “TV Review: War Book”

Short Film Review #56

 

Almost unbearably sad, Hope Dickson Leach’s Morning Echo captures the suffocating resentment that can build up in families when caring for a loved one who’s terminally ill. Here, Franny Moffat didn’t think she’d live for another Christmas so her family held a Christmas Day for her in October. Fast forward to 25th December and she’s still alive but her family are crumbling around her under the strain and it is agonisingly compelling to watch. Kerry Fox and Peter Sullivan are just fantastic as the embittered parents and an assortment of other children play out their dysfunction in a range of disarming ways. Even as they’re all eventually brought together in the end for Franny, the melancholy note on which it finishes has lingered long in the mind. Hauntingly good.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #56”

Review: The Vortex, Rose Kingston

“He’s always taciturn after a matinée”

I’m unwilling to write it off just yet, but I really do have problems with the Rose Kingston as a theatrical space. Its very design seems inimical to fostering the sense of emotional connection that marks truly great productions and very few directors I have seen work there have been able to substantially address this. As the AD of the place, Stephen Unwin has tried more than most but in a play like The Vortex, which unusually for Noël Coward coils ever tighter into the most intense of two-handers in its final act, it proves a serious issue.

Coward’s 1924 debut work caused shockwaves with its portrayal of casual marital infidelity and cocaine addiction and though it may have lost some of that power now, it still has the power to move. Nicky Lancaster is a disaffected young music student who returns from a sojourn in Paris with a fiancée, a drug habit and an uncertain amount of sexual confusion. He is shocked on his arrival though, to find his mother Florence engaged in a heady affair with a much younger Guards Officer and determined to live her life free from societal pressure or marital responsibilities. Over the course of a weekend, their lives and the secrets they both possess clash to devastating effect. 


Though the production never really moved me as I thought it might, it did have flashes of inspiration. There are several gorgeous touches like having Nicky play Someone To Watch Over Me as a desperate plea to his self-involved mother and making Rebecca Johnson’s über-honest Helen – unexpectedly the production’s highlight – not just Florence’s confidante but someone who would be more than just a friend. And it is moments like these that sit beautifully alongside the strong performances of the leads.

  

The divine Kerry Fox – an actress whose CV is admirably if frustratingly sparse – makes Florence a fearsomely determined figure, less flighty society hostess and more a woman utterly convinced of her infallibility, which makes the stripping back of her certainties all the more effective. And David Dawson nails the quicksilver changes of mood of Nicky, one moment the epitome of Coward-esque charm, the next lost in the haunting depths of his despair.


But where the show ought to ratchet up the intensity, the atmosphere is broken by the insertion of two regular-sized intervals which undo so much of the good work that has been done. And the other members of the company often just seem marooned on the platform of the stage, raised and removed from the audience and so not always able to bridge that gap to draw us into their world. Solid rather than superlative, the lead performances make it worth a visit. 


Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with 2 intervals)

Booking until 2nd March

Review: Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s

Speaking in Tongues is the second play by Australian playwright Andrew Bovell to open in recent months in London, following the Almeida’s production of When The Rain Stops Falling. That play was well-received, rapturously so by yours truly, and this play was made into a film in 2001 called Lantana which happens to be one of my all-time favourite films, so safe to say I was somewhat looking forward to this production opening in the West End at the Duke of York’s theatre.

Ostensibly, this play is centred around the disappearance of a woman and the subsequent police investigation, but in reality it is much more about the fragility of human relationships and the ways in which we betray each other. Nine characters feature in Speaking in Tongues in a tangle of adulterous liaisons, betrayals, unexpected connections, confessions and interviews. These are all presented in a variety of formats which may take the viewer by surprise especially with a big shift as the second half starts, but stick with it as it does all become clear. Continue reading “Review: Speaking in Tongues, Duke of York’s”