TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2

“You haven’t lost your faith in people, have you?”

The problem with using superlatives is that it is so easy to get carried away. And having declared the second series of Unforgotten to be sure of being one of the best pieces of television we’ll see this year, I’m now having to add The Moorside to that same category. The first episode blew me away and the second, directed by Paul Whittington and written by Neil McKay, confirmed the show as a devastating tour de force.

Occupying the slightly hazy ground of docudrama, where real-life events are augmented with highly researched dramatised scenes, The Moorside nevertheless smacks of the ring of truth from start to finish. The second instalment picks up with Shannon Matthews having been found by the police and whilst the community who came together so dramatically to search for her celebrate, questions about Karen Matthews’ involvement in the disappearance of her daughter hang ominously in the air. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 2”

TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1

“Anyone tells you you’re not a good mother, you can tell them to shove it up their arse”

Coming from the same creative team as the extraordinary Appropriate Adult, it is no surprise that the first episode of new BBC two-parter The Moorside was a superlative hour of TV, leaving me eagerly awaiting the second instalment next week (just like the good old days, none of your stripping a show across consecutive days here). And as they did by looking at the deeds of Fred and Rosemary West through the experience of the social worker drafted in to assist him, the 2008 case of missing Dewsbury schoolgirl Shannon Matthews is retold here largely through the eyes of Julie Bushby, a friend of Shannon’s mother, who was instrumental in leading the community effort to find the young girl. 

Where Appropriate Adult excelled was in its first-rate casting, securing the services of Emily Watson, Dominic West and a truly fearsome Monica Dolan to lend the work real gravitas. And if The Moorside doesn’t necessarily have an Oscar nominee in its company, it has a no less sensational trio at its core (all with sterling theatrical credits too). Sheridan Smith is the highest profile as Julie Bushby but Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones’ Yara Greyjoy) more than matches her with a frankly terrifying performance of blankness curdling into disturbing strangeness as Shannon’s mother Karen. And following on from her recent high profile turn in Sherlock, Siân Brooke also excels as her increasingly sceptical friend Natalie. Continue reading “TV Review: The Moorside Episode 1”

DVD Review: Born Romantic

“Have you never been in love?
‘No, too much choice.’”

Now this is a curious thing – released in 2001 but feeling very much a child of the 90s, Born Romantic is a British rom-com written and directed by David Kane, centring on a salsa club in London and the romantic capers of the men and women to attend. It has a highly personable cast – and there’s always fun in seeing familiar faces with a much fresher hue about them – but this is fairly bog-standard, low-budget stuff. It says nothing new about relationships, metropolitan living or indeed anything exciting, it just putters along in a rather inoffensive manner that makes it hard to recommend.

For those who know their US late-night chat-show hosts, there’s still fun in seeing Craig Ferguson in a straight acting role, one of three main “romantics” of the multi-stranded story. His Frankie is a hapless divorcee, still co-habiting with his ex played by Hermione Norris, and struggling to wangle his way into the affections of emotionally distant art restorer Eleanor, the divine Olivia Williams who like everyone else here is treading water. Kane’s writing hits on some interesting points but rarely gets the opportunity to delve beneath the surface as the narrative skips around the numerous other storylines, barely scratching the surface of any. Continue reading “DVD Review: Born Romantic”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall

“She is a strumpet”

I’ve been meaning to get around to watching this for ages now, having picked up the DVD in Chichester for a snip, and having recently seen Jessie Wallace on stage and a date with Richard Armitage coming soon at the Old Vic, it seemed as good a time as any to delve into this 80 minute drama looking at the life and times of music hall superstar Marie Lloyd. Sadly, it should probably have lingered on the shelf a good while longer along with all the other charity shop bargains as I found it quite a disappointing bit of television.

For me, Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall’s main problem lies in its format. Having avoided being a straight-up biopic, James Hawes’ production (written by Martyn Hesford, although he is curiously uncredited on the DVD) opts for a fantasia, gliding from scene to scene with little connective tissue giving us the context of the 30 odd years that are passing by. So we get the highlights of this remarkable woman’s life but nothing else –marriage, motherhood, divorce, remarriage, industrial action, public ruin, scandalous affair, boom boom boom – everything gets five minutes and then we move swiftly on. Continue reading “DVD Review: Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall”

Short Film Review #22

The opening section of Gavin Toomey’s Drop is just gorgeous – Russell Tovey’s bored security guard illuminated by the screens he’s barely watching, until his attention is drawn by a figure on edge of a rooftop. Roused from his stupor, Ben treks up to the top of the inner-city building and encounters Greg – their meeting is brief but significant, they’re two completely different people yet somehow connected and though Toomey’s screenplay cleverly leaves much unsaid, there’s something achingly gorgeous that still transpires. Tovey and Antony Edridge are both excellent and a string-laden soundtrack captures the elegiac mood perfectly. Continue reading “Short Film Review #22”

Short Film Review #18

Originally included as an extra on the DVD of the first series of The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan’s Hello Friend plays amusingly on the difficulties that can ensue when venturing into the unknown with new internet software for computers. Martin Savage’s John Ward buys “Praemus”, which claims to be a better way to use the internet but soon gets caught up in a horrendous world of huge bills, faceless bureaucracy and email-only customer service which takes over his life completely. It is perhaps a little bit too long, given it is one extended skit but it is nevertheless good fun, not least for the brief cameo from Richard Ayoade’s Moss. Continue reading “Short Film Review #18”

TV Review: The Town

“Apparently once death seems possible, the idea catches on”

One of the things about winding down the theatregoing at Christmas is being able to catch up on some of the television that I rarely have time to watch normally, and doing so at my parents’ house is particularly ace because of their awesome telly. First up for me was The Town, an ITV three-parter written by one of the hottest playwrights in the country Mike Bartlett. Upping the ante was a cast that included Julia McKenzie, Andrew Scott, Douglas Hodge and also Phil Davis and Siobhan Redmond.

I have long been a fan of Redmond so I was pleased to see the opening moments of the show devoted to her as her character went about the rituals at the end of her day including saying goodnight to her husband as played by Phil Davis. I was then gutted as this proved to be a great case of misdirection as they were both then found dead the next morning by their teenage daughter Jodie, never to be seen again. As their son Mark returns to bury them in this provincial town he left 10 years ago to move to London, the show then deals with the difficulties in returning to a less than lamented hometown, combined with the growing sense that the deaths – recorded as a joint suicide – are less clear-cut than the police would seem to think. Continue reading “TV Review: The Town”

DVD Review: All or Nothing

“Love, it’s like a dripping tap”

First up was 2002’s All or Nothing, though it was a little of an inauspicious beginning, as I’m not sure how much I actually liked this film in the end. Set on a modern-day London council estate, it circles the fortunes of three working-class families and their everyday lives, so far so Leigh, but it doesn’t really develop into anything that gripped me. There are several outstandingly strong elements in here, but they never really coalesce into an effective whole but rather remain too separate and thus end up losing some impact.

The focus settles on one of the families: Phil, Timothy Spall, is a taxi driver who has long lost ambition for life and is reduced to scraping pennies from his family in order to pay his retainer for the taxi firm; Penny, Lesley Manville, works the checkout at a supermarket and is struggling to remember what it is she ever loved about Phil. Alison Garland plays their daughter Rachel who works as a cleaner in an old people’s home and is being semi-stalked by Sam Kelly’s much older colleague and James Corden is their unemployed and belligerent son. There’s a whole lot of misery, which is then alleviated by tragedy, which ultimately suggests that life might hold something more. Continue reading “DVD Review: All or Nothing”