Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse

“I am not the man I thought myself”

There’s a knack to finding the kind of long-neglected plays that respond well to a revival, as opposed to the ones that are deservedly collecting dust, and Ashley Cook’s Troupe seem to have nailed it. Making a name for themselves with the likes of Rodney Ackland’s After October and James Shirley’s The Cardinal, Troupe has now turned to JM Barrie – best known of course for sharing the same birthday as me, oh, and Peter Pan – to shine a light on the little-performed 1917 play Dear Brutus.

It is undoubtedly a curious thing. It is set in a country house where the Puckish figure of its owner – Robin Hooper’s Lob – has invited a group of strangers for the weekend, with the intention of luring them into the enchanted wood that appears every midsummer to explore the lives that they might have led. A piece of magic-infused escapism that shifts tonally between whimsical frivolity and real psychological acuity, tear-jerking drama and comic romps and as such, can feel hard to pin down.  Continue reading “Review: Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

Review: Twelve Angry Men, Garrick

“There’s always one”

My classic movie knowledge is terrible – I rarely watch old films and though I am frequently bought DVDs of “must-see classics”, they invariably remain in their wrappers on a shelf, waiting for the day when I finally decide to catch up on years of cinematic history. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never seen Twelve Angry Men. Nor had I any intention of going to see it onstage to be honest – though the Garrick Theatre is blessed with a lovely intimacy from the Grand Circle, charging 40-odd quid does seem a little optimistic, but the lovely people at Bargain Theatre (worth following on Twitter too) came through with a deal that saw those seats reduced to £16 and so I took the bait. 

Playing out in real time, the play follows the deliberations of an all-white 12-man jury on a hot and sticky New York afternoon in the 1950s as they are tasked with delivering a verdict on a murder case which has seen a young black man be accused of stabbing his father. But what seems like an open-and-shut case becomes more complicated when the initial vote indicates 11 consider him guilty and 1 considers there to be reasonable doubt, and so the debate begins as each side tries to win the absolute majority it needs to prevail. In doing so, the various men – all only known by their juror numbers, never their names – reveal how their prejudices and presumptions have guided them as they decide whether to send this man to the electric chair. 

As they thrash through the finer details of the case and interrogate the notion of reasonable doubt, it is impossible to ignore the contrivances needed to keep the action firmly in the jury room – the defence counsel were clearly having a bad day in the office given what they apparently missed. And there’s something schematic in the way in which the momentum in the room inexorably shifts, there is no doubt at all about how the whole thing will play out from the off as the artfully pensive Martin Bell-suited Juror 8 starts sowing his seeds of doubt. Martin Shaw is certainly good in this role but it’s awfully hard not to see him as just slightly sanctimonious at times.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself somewhat at the same time as identifying this creakiness. Michael Pavelka’s set revolves its giant table to show the wheel of justice in (slow-)motion and has the unexpected benefit of showing you exactly where we are in the play (it makes one full circuit by the end). And it also helps director Christopher Haydon allow his cast their moment each to shine, whether Miles Richardson’s virulent working-class racism, Robert Vaughn’s elder statesman ultimately bringing his experience to bear or the reasoned if shouty determination of Jeff Fahey. Legal dramas may have come a long way since Reginald Rose wrote this but there’s something of the old-school charm about Twelve Angry Men (but keep your eyes out for a deal).

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Booking until 1st March

DVD Review: Cambridge Spies

“Ponces and spies, Anthony. The people with most to hide never have moustaches.”

In retrospect, I can’t even begin to comprehend why it has taken me so long to getting round to watching Cambridge Spies (the obvious lack of time given how much theatre I see aside) – a quality BBC drama with a properly thesp-heavy cast about spies, with gayness involved, and Imelda Staunton as the Queen (Mother). But regardless, it has taken me this long and of course I’m kicking myself as I thought it was a brilliant piece of drama. Over four parts, Peter Moffat takes us through the key years of four of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies from their recruitment at Trinity College through to the defection of two of them nearly 20 years later.

It was a story I knew little of, so there was a genuine frisson in watching how it all unfolded, not knowing what would happen next, but the real thrill was in the excellent character work from the four leads – Toby Stephens as Kim Philby, Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess, Rupert Penry-Jones as Donald Maclean and particularly Samuel West as Anthony Blunt. From their idealistic anti-fascist student days when the Soviet Union seemed like the only real option to stand against the encroaching terror, the wisdom of the KGB’s recruiting plan was borne out by the ascendance of these four into the higher echelons of the British state, from where they would be able to provide the most important of secrets. Continue reading “DVD Review: Cambridge Spies”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud

Marking Dame Judi Dench’s return to the RSC after many years away, this production of All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare lesser performed plays, transferred to London from the Swan in Stratford. It is called a problem play as it is neither fully comedy nor tragedy but a curious mixture of fairytale-like wonder, cold realism and gritty humour. Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, son of the Countess of Rousillon, but the only way she can gain him as a husband is as a reward for curing the King of France of a terrible ailment. He reacts badly to being forced into marriage with someone of lowly birth and so runs away to Italy to join the wars but not before fixing two fiendishly difficult conditions to their marriage, things he believes Helena will never be able to achieve but he does not count on her tenacity.

Even in a relatively minor part, which the Countess is it has to be said, Dench is a mesmerising performer, she manages so much with such economy of performance, the simplest gesture or twitch of the face speaks volumes and as the matriarch of the piece, she oozes a compassion and wisdom that makes a firm bedrock for the production. Gary Waldhorn as the King of France does well though as the most senior male character, rising from his sickbed to become an inspirational leader. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud”