Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

A starry Mary Queen of Scots proves an intriguing if a little frustrating film debut for Josie Rourke

“The world will decide for itself”

An intriguing, if a little frustrating one this. Josie Rourke is a titan in the world of theatre and Mary Queen of Scots marks her cinematic debut. But despite a classy pair of lead performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as diametrically opposed queens Mary and Elizabeth, an ensemble consisting of the cream of British acting talent, and the sweeping beauty of the Highlands to frame every other shot, the film never really quite sparks into life.

Beau Willimon’s screenplay, based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, dances around historical accuracy with its own determination, building in a climactic meeting between the two which although visually striking, dramatically brings precious little. Before then, the film is plotted as a strategic confrontation between two monarchs, two women, who are battling the worlds around them as much as each other. Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)”

TV Review: Line of Duty (Series 5)

Series 5 of Line of Duty has some cracking moments, some big revelations and one of Anna Maxwell Martin’s best ever performances

“There’s no secrets in AC12”

So we make it to the end of Series 5 of Line of Duty and it was a lot wasn’t it. A properly tragic couple of deaths, a deep suspicion of a core team member or two and perhaps inevitably, one step forwards and two steps back in the ongoing H conspiracy.  

Jed Mercurio’s plotting remains as tightly wound and full of surprises as ever, the reveals in the organised crime group were well done but I think the gang stuff was nowhere near as much fun as the internecine conflicts within the police force itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty (Series 5)”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4

“Watch what I do, not what I say”

So Series 4 of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty winds up to its insanely tense climax and once again it satisfies the requirements of event TV – giving some answers but withholding others, in the full anticipation of further seasons in which to explore the overarching stories that still remain. This did also mean that it didn’t quite push all of my buttons the way I would have liked for it to be as spectacular as the end to Series 3.

With the Caddy arc being resolved so thoroughly then, I very much enjoyed the fresh slate of AC12’s investigation of an entirely new case here (review of Episode 1 here). And Thandie Newton’s superbly slippery DCI Roz Huntley was an excellent antagonist, the potential framing of a suspect being only the beginning of the twistiest of tales that threatened to swallow up any and everyone around her, good or bad, corrupt or misogynist. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1

“Don’t make out I’m in the wrong”

After three superlative, and interlinked, series, one might have forgiven Jed Mercurio for leaving Line of Duty as it was. But the show has been a victim of its own slow-burning success and so a fourth series has arrived, with a plum Sunday evening slot in the schedule to boot and the good folk of AC-12 are once again with us. And having most cleverly toyed with its structure of featuring a high profile lead guest star in the previous series, the arrival of Thandie Newton as this year’s bent cop (or is she…) left us pondering how the hell are they going to top Series 3’s opening instalment.

 Well, like this is how! The beauty of Line of Duty has been how it has increasingly embraced its batshit mental moments with the intense realism that comes from its peerless interrogation scenes. It is both silly and serious and it pulls it off with real élan – so much so that you don’t care how ridiculous it is that Vicky McClure’s Kate can still slide in to work undercover in police stations that are down the road from her own or that forensics guys apparently aren’t so hot at telling whether people are dead or not.  Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 4 Episode 1”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3

“There’s a line. It’s called right and wrong and I know which side my duty lies”

Well, that’s what you call a series finale! After the brilliant fake-out of Danny Waldron not being the new Tony Gates or Lindsay Denton, Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty took us further than we ever could have dared into the murky world of police corruption, weaving together story strands from all three series into an overarching conspiracy thriller that has to rank as one of the televisual highlights of the year so far.

My Episode 1 review can be found here and I won’t say much more here than to recommend you buy the DVD boxset now.

 

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1

“We’re all in this together. Best way”

 The first two series of Line of Duty have been an unqualified success for BBC2 and Jed Mercurio and so this third series has definitely been much anticipated chez Clowns, even if I’m not Daniel Mays’ biggest fan, he being trailed as the actor to take on the Lennie James/Keeley Hawes role as the Big Bad for this series. I should warn you now that spoilers will abound in this review of the first episode!

First off, I loved it. Resisting the temptation to feckle too much, Mercurio presents a very smart spin on the familiar world of AC-12 and its attempts to snuff out corruption in the police force. This time round, we’re left in no doubt as to whether the cop did it, the taut opening sequence sees May’s Sergeant Danny Waldron lead his armed response unit on an op which ends with him shooting the suspect in the head three times execution-style and then coercing his colleagues into a cover-up. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 3 Episode 1”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

TV review: Line of Duty Series 1

“Do you want me to recrime it sir?”

With Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty about to start its third series on BBC2, I thought I’d go back to the first two series as they have to rank as some of the best police dramas out there. Centred on the world of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit charged with investigating suspected police wrongdoing, we’ve been so far blessed with two extraordinary stories, hanging on superb performances from the people under suspicion – Keeley Hawes (whose series we’ll get to next) and Lennie James.

James plays DCI Tony Gates, a decorated officer with an amazing clear-up rate that seems too good to be true, and so when he comes to the attention of AC-12, initially for something completely unrelated, the wheels are set in motion for a fast-degenerating state of affairs. Money laundering, drug running, cover-ups, and gruesome murders intertwine and intersect with Gates at the heart of it all, but his true connections to events always in question, right until the end. Continue reading “TV review: Line of Duty Series 1”