Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

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I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

DVD Review: Henry V (1989)

”Customs curtsy to great kings”

It is instructive to watch performances from Kenneth Branagh such as these, to counteract the ones he is currently giving as part of his company’s year-long residency at the Garrick. They have their fans to be sure but for me, there’s something much more powerful about the subtlety on display as a younger actor as opposed to the broader, louder turns he’s given thus far. Sacrilegious as it may be to admit it, I have no real love for Henry V as a play but there is no denying this excellent piece of film-making, directed by Branagh in his debut in the chair.

Taking a grittier, more ‘realistic’ take on this history pays dividends, not least in minimising the slapstick for which I care little but also emphasising an emotional truthfulness that doesn’t always come across on stage. Only the stoniest of hearts could remain unmoved by Judi Dench’s achingly poignant farewell to Falstaff, or be swept up in the playful flirtiness between the King and Emma Thompson’s Princess Katherine, or be chilled by the declaration at Harfleur, Branagh showing us the young monarch taking the brutal responsibility of a warrior.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Henry V (1989)”

DVD Review: Othello (1995)

“But yet the pity of it”

Oliver Parker’s directorial career has taken in glossy takes on Wilde in An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest as well as the St Trinian’s films and the recent Dad’s Army remake. But it all started in 1995 with this adaptation, and the word is used advisedly, of Othello. As with many cinematic Shakespearean ventures, it plays fast and loose with the text, cutting large amounts of it and then adding supplementary scenes because the director wants to impose a vision.

The publicity campaign for the film played down its classical roots, focusing instead on the interracial politics of its love story – a hot button topic for the US then, as it is still is now. And well it might, for Parker’s screenplay makes a crucial mistake in rupturing the natural rhythms of the speech, well above and beyond the trimming down which in and of itself, is never a bad thing. Instead, this version feels reductive and rebarbative as it mangles its way through the play. Continue reading “DVD Review: Othello (1995)”

DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)

“I’m clean, I’m conscientious and I travel with my own tits”

Where else would you get to see Adrian Scarborough’s Richard III but in passing in a random Kenneth Branagh backstage movie. His movie as a director in which he does not star, A Midwinter’s Tale (or In The Bleak Midwinter as it appears to be known in some places) is a rather sweet comedy that makes for a light-hearted take on the often-time serious Shakespeare for which he was getting increasingly known.

Though fun, it is an acutely observed look at the itinerant life of an actor and the different ways in which people deal with its stresses. Unemployed for a year, Michael Maloney’s Joe offers to help out his sister’s local church by mounting a Christmas production of Hamlet, gathering a cast of similar odds and sods who are also available at the last minute. And together, even with the copious issues this motley crew bring with them, theatrical magic somehow begins to bloom.  Continue reading “DVD Review: A Midwinter’s Tale (1995)”

DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)

“What means your lordship?”

Having just seen a corking production of Hamlet at the RSC, I wasn’t expecting to like Franco Zefferelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, not least because Mel Gibson couldn’t possibly be a good Hamlet could he but I have to hold my hands up, I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. Granted, from low expectations that might not always mean a huge amount but it was good enough for me, Glenn Close’s Gertrude an impressive Shakespearean debut amongst a quality cast combining youth and experience.

It’s full of interesting choices, not all of them 100% successful but intelligently considered nonetheless in creating a cinematic version of this theatrical behemoth that stands out on its own merits. So Ian Holm’s Polonius becomes a dour-minded, almost cruel figure that is very much at odds with how I’ve ever seen the character played, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude are shown to be locked in an Oedipal relationship (I like to think this is a nod to the fact that Close is just 9 years older than Gibson though I doubt it – I don’t think I’ve seen this interpretation onstage recently though), Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia a strikingly self-possessed figure from the start.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Short Film Review #47

Eclipse Theatre’s 10by10 project was a series of short films “exploding the myth of a homogenised Black British culture”, all directed by Dawn Walton but written by and starring a wide range of some of our most exciting writers and performers. Filmed in 10 different cities across the UK, the hometowns of the playwrights in fact, and each shot in a single day, these make a fascinating insight into a wider cross-section of British society that perhaps is normally seen. Part 1 of 2.

Parking Wars

Representing for South London is Bola Agbaje’s Parking Wars, a short, sharp and ultimately sweet tale of the thing most likely to test religious harmony on a Sunday morning – parking spaces. Richard Pepple’s pastor and Danny Sapani’s imam preach in neighbouring rooms and are united by their annoyance as the sound of car horns and shouting from outside. And out there, is a challenge that would faze any man, no matter his religion – good fun.

  

Brown Widow

Leah Chillery’s entry for Nottingham is blessed with an exceptionally good performance from Vinette Robinson as the titular Brown Widow, Gee. Beautiful, and she knows it, opinionated, and she isn’t afraid to show it; naturally, she’s not quite everything she seems.

Black Magic

Best known for his enduring role in Holby City, Hugh Quarshie is rather good fun as an avuncular protector who stumbles on a young boy being chased by some bullies down a Leeds back street. Sprinkling some of his voodoo on them to scare ‘em off, he takes the lad home and introduces him to a side of his heritage he’s never known before. Ben Tagoe’s Black Magic may be one of the more slight pieces in this series, it is nevertheless still entertaining.

Rage

Written by Akala in verse, North London’s Rage toys cleverly with perceptions of black men in prison as Jimmy Akingbola’s poetic narration from his cell leads us up the wrong path and only slowly do we get to see the full picture as life from the outside – featuring Pippa Bennett-Warner and Michael Maloney – fill in the blanks and hit home hard.

Two-Tone

Arzhang Pezhman’s Two-Tone represents Wolverhampton in this enterprise and for the shallow part of me, is one of my favourites featuring as it does both Shane Zaza and Neet Mohan. But it is also one of the better films as it combines comedy and the serious, highly topical subject matter and dramatically-satisfying mystery. Recommended.

Barely-a-Review: Richard III, Radio 3


So wise, so young, they say, do never live long

I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.