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: Albert Nobbs

“You don’t have to be anything but who you are”

Close’s sixth and most recent Academy Award nomination came with 2011’s Albert Nobbs, a project with which she has been closely connected since starring in an adaptation of George Moore’s novella in 1982. As a producer and co-writer with John Banville, it’s clearly a labour of love for Close and along with co-star Janet McTeer, there’s some powerfully accomplished acting going on here, directed by Rodrigo García, that was rightfully recognised, with nominations at least, in that award season.

It is, however, not the most vivacious piece of writing you’ll come across. Nobbs is a butler in a small Dublin hotel run by Pauline Collins’ Margaret Baker in the late 19th century, which caters to the various whims of a carousing upper class (Jonathan Rhys Meyer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, John Light, Phyllida Law among the bisexual and bolshy). Reclusive but dedicated, Nobbs has been squirelling away wages and tips for years with the hope of purchasing his own business, there’s just the small matter of a little secret that is, of course, no secret to us. Continue reading “DVD Review: Albert Nobbs”

DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

“If we make this coat, it would be as if I was wearing your dog”

One of Close’s most iconic roles is Cruella De Vil from the 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians and not having seen it for many, many years, I was intrigued to see how it had stood the test of time. And surprisingly well was the verdict, from me at least. The live action film does away with voices for the dogs but still captures communication between them most effectively (and I’m not even an animal lover) and charmingly, as Pongo and Perdita join forces to defeat the dastardly scheming of twisted fashion designer De Vil.

And what was interesting seeing the film though adult eyes, was the extent to which Close plays her as genuinely insane, all bwah hah hah cackles wherever possible and wild-eyed stares at whoever happens to be in her path. It’s a gloriously over-the-top performance but she commits entirely and so delivers perfectly, you can’t help but root for her a tiny bit, she makes evil seem such fun. Joely Richardson and Jeff Bridges as the dogs’ owners can’t help but seem a little bland by comparison, though their romance is rather sweetly portrayed. Continue reading “DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)”

DVD Review: The Heart of Me

“And throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me”

For me, there’s a serious problem that lies at the heart of The Heart of Me and that is that the man at the apex of the love triangle that tears two sisters apart just isn’t worth it. Paul Bettany’s Rickie marries Olivia Williams’ Madeleine in the whirl of 1930s London but her repressed nature contrasts strongly with her much more bohemian sister Dinah, Helena Bonham-Carter in fine, liberated form, and an affair strikes up between the pair, the effects of which ricochet hard through all their lives. It’s very much a slow-burner and in the grand tradition of Merchant Ivory, it evokes so much of the early twentieth century British character that has proven endurably entertaining to watch on screen and stage.

It is a brave choice to make Rickie a complexly dark character, the way his frustrations spill out as he abuses marital privileges and his moral weakness in the face of tough decisions make him a rotter par excellence which Bettany pulls off well. Yet the spark of something there, to draw Dinah into betraying her sibling so, has to be pulsatingly powerful so as to ride roughshod over convention and I never really bought that, instead one is left with the pure selfishness of their action, as opposed to the purity of their love, and thus I had difficulties with much of this story thread. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Heart of Me”

DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (2008)

“I think we all have to find our own ways to be happy”

Who else but Andrew Davies did this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility for the BBC and to be sure, it is another cracker. I vividly remember loving this immensely when it aired and then being ridiculously excited as I was able to tick the actors off one by one as I saw them on the stage. From Hattie Morahan to Charity Wakefield, Dominic Cooper to Dan Stevens, Claire Skinner to the marvellous Linda Bassett, it is a wonderful cast and over the three hours of this version directed by John Alexander, they give great life to the tale of the Dashwood women as they are forced to downsize yet still find themselves suitable husbands.

Led by the widowed Mrs Dashwood (a wounded yet pragmatic Janet McTeer), eldest daughter Elinor (a magnificent performance of beautiful restraint from Hattie Morahan) and impetuous middle child Marianne (a deliciously spunky Charity Wakefield) have to dance their way through the minefield of male attention, conscious of the fact that their reduced situation may have limited them somewhat but hyper-aware of the importance in following their passion. Davies’ writing plays up the real difficulties for women stuck in a world where men make the rules and this more serious vein really works. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (2008)”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

 
To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

Review: Tartuffe, Birmingham Rep

“I am a native of Wolverhampton”

Molière in the modern day via the Midlands? Tartuffe is Roxana Silbert’s first production as Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep and sees her bring a distinctly local flavour to this classic French comedy. Chris Campbell’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets and crowbars in a ton of local references and fourth wall breaking to create a highly comic atmosphere, but one which sacrifices any sense of subtlety or depth of character for the quickfire laughs which feel more reminiscent of a panto than anything else.

My main reason for booking, aside from a trip to see the new theatre, was to see Siân Brooke, too long absent from our stages, but the main draw in the case is Mark Williams as Tartuffe, the religious hypocrite who inveigles his way into the household of self-made man Orgon, with designs on both his wife and his daughter. Not everyone falls under his spell though and the situation quickly turns farcical as they try to expose Tartuffe for what he really is, with Aston Villa scarves, jokes about HS2 and funny walks aplenty. Continue reading “Review: Tartuffe, Birmingham Rep”