I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!
“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”
It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style.
It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.
But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”
The third series of Chris Lang’s Unforgotten is another corker, and not just because of Nicola Walker, honest!
“We’ve all done things of which we are ashamed”
The cold cases of Unforgotten have rightly proved a success for their alternative tale on crime drama, putting a real focus on the victims rather than the crimes, a neat corrective to the sometimes exploitative gaze that can characterise this genre. And this third series maintained that strong record (quick review of episodes 1 and 2 here)
A measure of the regard in which Unforgotten is held is the sheer quality of its cast. With James Fleet, Alex Jennings, Kevin McNally and Neil Morrissey as its lead quartet, it added Sasha Behar, Emma Fielding, Indra Ové and Amanda Root as their partners, and then threw in Siobhan Redmond and Sara Stewart as exes as well. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3”
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”
The third series of Unforgotten starts and once again, Nicola Walker fails to disappoint
“Who buries a body in the central reservation of the M1”
They’re back! Nicola Walker’s DCI Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Khan sit at the heart of Chris Lang’s cold case thriller Unforgotten and for the previous two series, have been extremely impressive. Carving out a niche in the crowded police procedural TV market is enough of a job but doing it this well is noteworthy.
So it is little surprise that they have returned for a third series and though the format might be creaking ever so slightly as the same model is recycled once again, there’s enough here to point out the differences between so many of the other programmes who long to be recommissioned and respected this much. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 3 Episodes 1+2”
“I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”
I left it a little while to watch Fleabag on television, for though Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ascension to the ranks of hugely buzzworthy writer has been pleasing to watch, I haven’t – dare I say it – always been the hugest fan of her work. For me, the effectiveness of her writing hasn’t always matched with the audacity of its frankness and so in her plays and TV shows like Crashing, I’ve admired the path she’s taking without hugely enjoying it.
Her breakthrough piece Fleabag equally didn’t hit my buttons in the way that it did for many others, thus my delay in getting round to watching it. And as is often the case with lowered expectations, it actually surprised me by being a very effective adaptation of the play. Its world has been expanded, both physically and personally, a whole cast of supporting characters now appear but crucially, there’s the thing I was missing most at the Soho – direct eye contact.
Fleabag rides on its confessional style and on screen, Waller-Bridge and director Harry Bradbeer nail it, direct asides giving us piecemeal insight into the trials and tribulations of this young woman struggling to make life in London work. Afraid of being a bad feminist and unafraid of her sexuality, desperately damaged by the death of her best friend and unable to connect with her family in a meaningful way, the piece is thoroughly enlivened and enriched by its treatment on screen. Continue reading “TV Review: Fleabag”
“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him”
I have to admit that my hopes were not high for Valkyrie, the assumption prevailing that Hollywood couldn’t manage a nuanced film about the Nazis. But I do have to commend Bryan Singer for at least exceeding those expectations. It’s still not a film that I particularly enjoyed though, not quite tense or suspenseful enough for a thriller, not quite psychologically intense.
The film concerns the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler by German officers of the Wehrmacht in 1944. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg returns from a grisly battle in Tunisia gravely injured and is identified as a key target by the German resistance after getting a desk job that puts him in the ideal position to destroy the Nazi high command from the inside. Spoiler alert – things, however, do not go to plan. Continue reading “DVD Review: Valkyrie (2008)”
“It took a lot of love to hate him”
On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.
Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover. Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”
I was lucky enough to catch Louis Garrel on stage in Paris recently and exploring his film work has been something of a pleasure, he’s an intriguing actor who I definitely haven’t seen enough of. Diarchy (or Diarchia) is a 2010 short by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. Garrel and Riccardo Scamarcio play Luc and Giano, two friends whose complex relationship is tested when they take shelter in Luc’s family villa during a storm. Their competitiveness comes to fore, along with a delicious hint of homoeroticism, and the whole thing is beautifully shot by Filomarino.
Continue reading “Short Film Review #40”
Another Icelandic short (it’s a slippery slope once I start on these things…) and this time it’s a jet black comedy. Hrefna Hagalín and Kristín Bára Haraldsdóttir’s Knowledgy follows a naïve Icelandic couple as they get suckered into an LA-based cult by the charismatic leaders (and the example of Ashton Kutcher). Following their every move is their lodger who is filming their story for his film project and provides an excellent external view into this ever-darkening tale.
Another short and sharp clip, James Spinney’s Audiobook is a wryly funny look at the recording of an actor’s memoirs. Daniel Ings’ arrogant Aussie is a volatile presence who threatens to completely overwhelm Oliver Stevens’ young sound technician with his over-inflated and easily-pricked ego. Stevens also wrote the film, which may be short but has a punchy sense of humour about it.
Eddie Loves Mary
A dinky little thing, Hannah Rothschild’s Eddie Loves Mary is a lovely sweet-natured film that wears its sentimental heart proudly on its sleeve. Kevin McNally and Gina McKee lead the cast but there’s a host of brief appearances from familiar faces like Steven Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin and Stephen Mangan as we get closer to the mystery of who is spray-painting Eddie Loves Mary all over the place.
Ivan Madeira’s Grow Up serves as a really nice companion piece to Kate Tempest’s Wasted starring as it does Cary Crankson who appears in both. Grow Up is the precursor, a 10 minute blast through the trials of getting through the mundaneness of young adulthood and the onset of real life and responsibility. Lots of fun and full of astute observations.
“I knew you’d pull that sausage out of the sack”
The Donmar’s residency at the Trafalgar Studios 2 continues to showcase the work of new directors and now sees Titas Halder taking on the 1900 Strindberg play The Dance of Death, in a new version by Conor McPherson. Edgar and Alice are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary but their marriage has grown toxic. On the isolated Swedish island where they reside, life in a cloistered military garrison has turned them in on each other – the 15 years younger Alice bemoans the acting career she left behind, Edgar’s health is failing dramatically and yet they still persist in clashing their embittered selves right up against each other.
Richard Kent’s set design works very well at making the already intimate Trafalgar Studios 2 space even more claustrophobic and visibly demonstrates the decay of the physical environment of this couple, right alongside their mutual emotional neglect. But where the psychodrama of this story frequently calls to mind Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it never really mines similar tragicomic depths. Halder’s production of McPherson’s new version has a keen eye for the desperate comedy of the situation but consequently leaves it a little unbalanced. Continue reading “Review: The Dance of Death, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios 2”