DVD Review: The Way We Live Now

“We’ll be making history gentleman, and money too”

I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now mid-November and as my first Anthony Trollope novel, I rather enjoyed reading it. So with time on my hands for once over Christmas, I decided to watch the 2001 BBC adaptation which I didn’t watch at the time. Prolific period adaptor Andrew Davies was on hand to turn this lengthy novel into a four parter (just about 5 hours in total) and I found it to be a rather effective rendering of a most complex world of plots and subplots which, although a tad disappointing in its ending, was well worth the time to savour and enjoy.

If it were on the stage, it would be labelled all over as a ‘timely revival’ as Trollope’s main thrust concerns the deviousness of financiers and politicos and the depths that society will sink to in order to maintain its position. There’s also love and good natured people involved to and the balance between the ever-spinning storylines is very well done. At the heart of it all is David Suchet’s Augustus Melmotte, surely one of his best ever performances, a foreign businessman who attempts to reinvent himself as a Englishman of pedigree by buying his way into business, society, property, the House of Commons, his ambitions know no bounds. And as he does so, many around him attempt to jump on his coat-tails for the ride up, not least the aristocratic but impoverished Carburys.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Way We Live Now”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II

“I’ll tickle your catastrophe”

I was mildly disappointed by the second instalment of The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I and so it was pretty much a given that I’d feel more or less the same about Henry IV Part II and so it came to pass. In some ways, little changed: Walters and Russell Beale continued to be themselves, Heffernan continued to be neglected as a simple serving boy, the women continued to get a raw deal of it only this time Niamh Cusack got in on the action with a mere handful of lines as Lady Northumberland (and admittedly Maxine Peake rightly got a bit more screentime as Doll Tearsheet), Hiddleston and Irons continued to be epically good and it all felt a bit too theatrical for my liking.

I did like that we got more Dominc Rowan in this one, though his hair still caused me consternation, Iain Glen and Pip Carter were great additions to the cast as Warwick and Gower respectively – Glen was particularly sonorous when speaking – and everyone has got to love a scene that looks like it could have been set in a gay sauna 😉 And though they lacked a certain something, the rural scenes with David Bamber and Tim McMullan as Shallow and Silence, were largely well-played. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part II”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I

“Then would I have his Harry, and he mine”

The Hollow Crown continues with Henry IV Part I, directed by Richard Eyre who also does the ensuing Part II (but not Henry V, though the productions are cross-cast). But where Rupert Goold’s Richard II embraced the form to create something more cinematic (although not to everyone’s tastes), this is an altogether more traditional affair and not necessarily the better for it. 

What Eyre brings out is the father-son relationships. Tom Hiddleston’s carousing Prince Hal, partnered extremely well by David Dawson’s Poins in what was an excellent performance I thought, is movingly forced towards maturity on the battlefield, as King Henry, Jeremy Irons in impassive form and making the presence of what is admittedly quite a secondary character really stand out, laments the fecklessness of his heir. This is contrasted of course by the gumption of young Hotspur, Joe Armstrong oozing rugged charisma and forming the highlight of the whole thing for me, and in a lovely piece of casting, his real father, Alun Armstrong has been cast as his onscreen father which added poignancy to their moments.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part I”

Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only

Time is slipping away from me somewhat and so I’m going to cheat a little by lumping together reviews of Radio 4 Afternoon Plays into one post which might hide the fact they’re more mini-reviews than anything. I do like to diarise everything theatrical, such being the addictive nature of maintaining this blog, and so I wanted to tip the nod to these plays, Lilo by Katie Hims but particularly Dawn King’s most excellent My One and Only.

I first became aware of King with her darkly atmospheric play Foxfinder at the Finborough last year which I rather enjoyed, so was looking forward to My One and Only even before the announcement of the frankly fantabulous Katherine Parkinson as Layla, one of the lead roles in this tale about stalkerish obsessive love and the modern technological age facilitates that all too easily. A modern advancement of the epistolary form, this play is made up purely of phone calls yet King manages to build up character and mood in the most effective of manners as the tale twists and turns with jaw-dropping revelations and heart-stopping tension. Continue reading “Review: Afternoon Dramas – Lilo and My One and Only”

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”

Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre

“The closer you are to the truth, the harder it is talk about it”

Loyalty is the debut play from Sarah Helm, a journalist and author who also happens to be the wife of Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff. This privileged position made her an intimate witness to the weeks leading up to the 2003 invasion which she opposed and it is that that she has developed into this work – described as ‘a fictionalised memoir’ – of the struggle of a chief of staff Nick to balance the personal and political as he advises a Prime Minister named Tony who is edging closer to invading Iraq with an American President named George whilst ignoring his own conscience and the stridently vocal objections of his wife Laura. But it is fiction remember, at least some of the names are different…

The first half is genuinely excellent. Helm locates it firmly in the Stockwell home of Nick and Laura and we become observers along with Laura and her trusty notepad as Nick is involved with phone calls between the Prime Minister and figures of global importance discussing highly sensitive matters which we overhear. How this refracts back through their daily life is endlessly fascinating: the top secret documents just lying around the house, her frustrations at not being able to write about these things, the tensions caused by her friendship with an ex who just happens to be a journalist, the casualness with which he discusses the PM with their Polish au pair, even the level of security necessary in their home, the level of detailing is just undeniably authentic and convincing. And Maxine Peake as Laura anchors the play with an exceptional performance. Continue reading “Review: Loyalty, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: The Deep Blue Sea, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“What else is there after hope?”

In the never-ending quest to variously improve my theatrical knowledge, experience and horizons (plus to see one of my favourite actors), the next week sees me making three trips out of London, the first of which was to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds to see Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. It is the centenary year of Rattigan’s birth and so productions of his work are popping up all over the country and through the West End too as his work is seriously reassessed. The Deep Blue Sea has long been considered one of his finest plays though and so we took the opportunity to travel north and make a first visit to this theatre, the size of which (in the Quarry at least) took me most by surprise.

Ruari Murchison’s design was most impressive, perhaps a little perversely so given the post-war austerity it was meant to be evoking, but a necessity in filling the wide expanse in the Quarry auditorium. I wasn’t too sure that the picture frame on which the apartment was set was needed but the rooms themselves were convincingly mounted with dark gauze filling in for walls, sometimes impermeable, sometimes allowing us a peek into the rooms at the rear of the bedsit or best of all, into the working stairwell which led both up and down, calling to mind Bunny Christie’s design for the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep, but at a fraction of the budget I should imagine. Continue reading “Review: The Deep Blue Sea, West Yorkshire Playhouse”