TV Review: Black Earth Rising

A cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati make Hugo Blick’s complex Black Earth Rising watchable if not quite essential

“That is why I made a deal like that”

A tricky one this. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a Hugo Blick drama (qv The Shadow Line, The Honorable Woman), weighty complex dramas with amazing casts tackling inscrutable global conspiracies. And Black Earth Rising is no different, as it puts the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath under the microscope, examining Western colonial and capitalist attitudes towards Africa along with the role of the Iinternational Criminal Court.

And with a cast led by Michaela Coel, Noma Dumezweni, Harriet Walter, John Goodman and Lucian Msamati to name just a few, it is naturally eminently watchable. Coel plays Kate Ashby, a young woman with a complicated relationship with her barrister mother Eve (Walter). Eve adopted Kate from Rwanda years back but her decision to take on a case prosecuting a Tutsi general who, after helping end the genocide, went on to commit war crimes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, outrages Kate who is also Tutsi.
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DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”

Short Film Review #39

WOW 2014 – A Day In Detention

 

Not a short film as such, but utterly essential. The Women of the World Festival took place at the Southbank Centre in early March and A Day In Detention was part of that event. A piece of verbatim theatre pulled together by Nell Leyshon and directed by Jessica Swale, it looks at varying experiences of refugee women in the UK asylum system with an unblinking eye and a near-shocking straightforwardness. The harsh reality of what they are forced to go through, after escaping untold horrors in their own country, is appallingly bleak but there’s a beautiful dignity to the way in which their stories are told, both in the way they have been captured and also in the stunning performances of Juliet Stevenson, Bryony Hannah and an unbearably moving Cush Jumbo.

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Review: Fred’s Diner, Theatre on the Fly Chichester

Whereas Chichester Festival Theatre should most definitely be applauded for stretching its artistic remit with the construction of the temporary Theatre on the Fly to give it a much-needed shot in the arm of contemporary drama, it could still do with a look at the scheduling. By putting shows on at 8pm, especially ones which run for nearly 2 hours 30 minutes, they’ve instantly nixed any chance of people coming to see it via public transport unless they make it to a matinée performance. As it was, I was headed this way(ish) en route to Brighton Pride and I love me some Cush Jumbo so I was willing to make the effort to see Penelope Skinner’s latest play Fred’s Diner.

Fred’s is a 50s-themed motorway restaurant, a failing slice of Americana in the West Midlands in which acts as a cul-de-sac for troubled souls. On the staff, Heather is an ex-con desperate for the opportunity to prove herself, Chloe’s a bit of a drifter even at 30, work-shy and only really there to pay off her debts and the bills from her late ‘gap-year’ to Thailand, and Melissa dreams of studying law at Oxford. But Melissa is the daughter of Fred, and as the play evolves, we see the horribly tense dynamic that exists between father and daughter and realise how trapped all the women, but particularly Melissa, are beneath their matching uniforms. Continue reading “Review: Fred’s Diner, Theatre on the Fly Chichester”

Review: Backstage Pass (pilot) Inside Fanny

“You’ve got to feed your fanny”

Ain’t Twitter grand. All sorts of randomness appears on Twitter, peccadilloes exposed, truths revealed and a whole lot of guff expounded about any range of subjects. But sometimes little gems appear (and not just the lettuces) as it was with this YouTube clip that was pointed out to me. It’s a spoof South Bank-style documentary, following the fortunes of an actress ‘up-and-coming’ as described by only her, and her disastrous experiences in the company of a newly opened show.

It was actually put together by the cast of When Did You Last See My Mother which played at the Trafalgar Studios 2 last year, assumably for a bit of a laugh and though it is perhaps a little overlong, I’d say it is worth the watch. It feels quite Victoria Wood-like (I think it most reminds me of a backstage episode of Acorn Antiques) and is often quite amusing in the way it contrasts the accounts of her God-given talent and the forced smiles of her co-stars as they are grudgingly interviewed, and the realities of just how shit she is as revealed by hilarious ‘candid’ encounters with the same colleagues as she continually screws up and is exposed for the chancer she is. Continue reading “Review: Backstage Pass (pilot) Inside Fanny”

Review: When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 2

“You can be terribly tactless Ian”

There are two ways this review could go and since I ticked the ‘fanboy going overboard’ box with a mildly amusing drunken encounter (which rebounded on me in the most unexpected way – actors read this thing?!) at the Hampstead Theatre 2 Fridays ago, I shall try to use a more measured approach here. But the uninitiated should know that I do have a slight admiration for the work of Sam Swainsbury… 😉 Anyhoo, to the matter in hand. When Did You Last See My Mother was the first play that Christopher Hampton ever wrote as a teenager in 1964, but despite his reputation has remained rather unknown.

And it is a little hard to believe as whilst it may not be the most sophisticated piece of theatre with an ending which whilst sweet is a little too neat, it contains a masterful piece of character work with main protagonist Ian that is a gift of a role for a talented young actor. Director Blanche McIntyre has chosen wisely in casting Harry Melling, perhaps the one of the kids from of the Harry Potter who has shown the most promise as an actor, on the stage at least, and he delivers an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “Review: When Did You Last See My Mother, Trafalgar Studios 2”