TV Review: Quiz

James Graham’s Quiz makes a marvellous leap from stage to screen

“People still want to gather as a nation, to experience something big together”

Not a huge amount to say about the TV adaptation of James Graham’s Quiz, a show I enjoyed in the West End, not least because of its interactive elements (even if we lost). It bloomed in the televisual treatment, losing a little of its structural intricacy but gaining a narrative through-line that really worked, the explosive arrival of Helen McCrory’s QC making it worth the while. And the story remains as intriguing as ever, though just as free from doubt for me.

They totally did it, right – the Ingrams may have been stitched up in court by the tinkered-with evidence (and credit to Matthew Mcfadyen and Sian Clifford for two excellent performances) – but they totally did it.  Fun to see cameos like Paul Bazeley’s Lionel from Legal and Maggie Service’s Kerry the Floor Manager, and original cast members like Sarah Woodward and Keir Charle too.

TV Review: The Good Fight Series 3

Michael Sheen does his best to destabilise Series 3 of The Good Fight but Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald just about pull it back

“Don’t get in the way of someone kicking ass”

For a season that contains the wonder that is Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald casually duetting on ‘Raspberry Beret’, Series 3 of The Good Fight ends up being something of a challenge. The presence of Michael Sheen’s Mephistophelian Roland Blum was clearly meant to shake things up but that chaotic energy ends up being destabilising.

Which is a shame, as so much of what makes The Good Fight click so well is present here. Topics ripped from up-to-the-minute headlines, including voter suppression, racial profiling, Karens calling the polices, troll farms, historic sexual harassment cases, Kim and Kanye… And they’re all treated sensitively but still daringly in some bold storytelling. Continue reading “TV Review: The Good Fight Series 3”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

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: Mary Reilly (1996)

“I always knew you’d be the death of us.”

Even the look on Julia Roberts’ face is warning you away, ‘don’t watch Mary Reilly, it isn’t that good a film at all and my fringe is terrible’. Not only her fringe, her Irish accent is atrocious and inconsistent and the whole premise of the film – a retelling of the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde story from Valerie Martin’s novel – rests on people not being able to recognise John Malkovich in a wig and coloured contacts. 

It could have been so much more promising. Director Stephen Frears reunited several of his Dangerous Liaisons colleagues – screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and several others – but the slow, dour nature of the film is horrifically exacerbated by Roberts and Malkovich’s performances in all their miscast, malformed unglory. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mary Reilly (1996)”

Short Film Review #39

WOW 2014 – A Day In Detention

 

Not a short film as such, but utterly essential. The Women of the World Festival took place at the Southbank Centre in early March and A Day In Detention was part of that event. A piece of verbatim theatre pulled together by Nell Leyshon and directed by Jessica Swale, it looks at varying experiences of refugee women in the UK asylum system with an unblinking eye and a near-shocking straightforwardness. The harsh reality of what they are forced to go through, after escaping untold horrors in their own country, is appallingly bleak but there’s a beautiful dignity to the way in which their stories are told, both in the way they have been captured and also in the stunning performances of Juliet Stevenson, Bryony Hannah and an unbearably moving Cush Jumbo.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #39”

DVD Review: Wilde

“It is monstrous how people say things behind one’s back that are perfectly true”

Based on Richard Ellman’s biography, Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde saw Stephen Fry take on the eponymous role in a sweeping biopic slash drama which stretches over the last 18 years of his life. Beginning with his return to London from a trip to America and ripping speedily through his marriage to Jennifer Ehle’s kindly Constance and the birth of their two children, it is his relationship with family friend Robbie Ross that leads him into a world of sexual discovery. He finds there Jude Law’s impossibly handsome Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas and falls head over heels into a tempestuous relationship, but in a society where homosexuality is illegal and propriety is everything, a happy ending is far from likely.

Fry makes an appealing Wilde, though one shorn of much of the acerbic nature one might imagine he had, he is a gentle father – telling his own story of The Selfish Giant acts as a clever layer of extra commentary – and he brings an almost avuncular warmth to the part. Jude Law’s Bosie is a revelation though, a serious reminder of his talents as an actor, with a capriciousness that is seductively alluring and yet criminally irresponsible. As Wilde seeks to lay the blame at the door of Bosie’s domineering father the Marquess of Queensbury, he ignores the knife-edge that their relationship is balanced on with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wilde”

DVD Review: Bright Young Things

“Reader, be glad that you have nothing to do with this world. Its glamour is a delusion, its speed a snare, its music a scream of fear.”

Whilst recently sitting through the 1930s-set play I Am A Camera at the Southwark Playhouse, I had that frustrating sensation of being reminded of a film that I couldn’t quite recall, mainly in the carefree attitudes of its lead characters. A post-show drink or three finally got me there, the film was Bright Young Things and so I popped it onto my Lovefilm list as it had been quite a while since I last saw it and I was keen for a rewatch.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies which written in 1930, the film marked the screenwriting and directorial debut of a certain Stephen Fry. Positioned as a satire on this section of society, the plot circles around a fast-living decadent set of aristocrats and bohemians living the high life of cocaine and champagne-fuelled parties completely divorced from the realities and responsibilities of the real world around them. Would-be novelist Adam Fenwick-Symes and party girl fiancée Nina Blount are the central couple whose wedding is forever being put off as he keeps losing the money for it, but the Jack and Karen in their lives – the Hon Agatha Runcible and the fey Miles – are much more fun. Continue reading “DVD Review: Bright Young Things”

DVD Review: The Queen

“Duty first, self second”

I hadn’t watched the film of The Queen since seeing it at the cinema back when it was released in 2006 and I have to say I quite enjoyed watching it again. Watching it at a time when admiration for the monarch is rather high given the celebration of her 50 years of service, it is a little hard to credit the way in which public opinion swung so viciously against her and the Royal Family in the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the hugely unexpected outpouring of public grief. Peter Morgan depicts a fictional account of the events that followed, though with so much still fresh in the mind, and documentary footage included in Stephen Frear’s film, there’s a sometimes uneasy mix of truth and fiction.

Central to the film is of course Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as the monarch, completely caught unawares by the shift in public mood and unable to seek refuge in the comfort of age-old protocol as the hands-on government of Tony Blair demands a different way of reacting than she has ever been used to before. Mirren is undoubtedly excellent, steering clear of outright impersonation and finding a vein of dry wit which makes the quieter moments of the film some of the best. She is aided by Michael Sheen returning to the role of Tony Blair, which he really has now made his own, as the PM who seizes the moment to lead the country and is determined to take the monarchy with him, kicking and screaming into a new era. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen”