Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

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She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

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She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

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”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4

With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet

“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”

This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.

The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.

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It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”

Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn

“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff” 

I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole. 

Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn”

Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick

“Which text are you using?”

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo as his year-long residency at the Garrick begins is the Terence Rattigan double header of Harlequinade and All On Her Own. When originally performed, Harlequinade was paired up with another of Rattigan’s short plays The Browning Version to beef up the bill and the same thinking has been applied here. Taking advantage of Zoë Wanamaker’s presence in the company, Branagh has introduced one-woman 30-minute play All On Her Own (also known as Duologue) to the programme, playing directly before Harlequinade with nary an interval between them.

One can see the theoretical case for the decision, ensuring West End prices can still be charged but providing a much more slimline companion piece to the three hours of The Winter’s Tale but in reality, it’s an odd pairing that demonstrates little complementarity (apart from for Rattigan completists). All On Her Own is a grand showcase for Wanamaker, as her widow returns from a party somewhat tipsy and begins to reminisce about her dead husband, even talking to him. It’s a little bit funny, it’s a little bit sad, but it’s a little bit perplexing too, especially as it has no connection to the ensuing HarlequinadeContinue reading “Review: Harlequinade / All On Her Own, Garrick”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick

“I do feel it gone, But know not how it went”

Perhaps one of the biggest lures of the newly established Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and its year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre is the return of Dame Judi Dench to the stage, playing Paulina in their opening production of The Winter’s Tale. One of the pre-eminent Shakespeareans of this or any age, the run largely sold out in advance proving the astute business sense but with Branagh and Rob Ashford co-directing this oft-described problem play, does it make artistic sense?

And I’m not 100% sure that it does, this doesn’t feel like a production that one will remember as a classic of our time. It is undoubtedly a difficult play to mount, the chilly stateliness of the first act’s Sicilia contrasting strongly with the permissive post-interval (and 16 years hence) Bohemia and with a rambling plot full of statuesque tragicomedy, it’s a hard one to love. Branagh and Ashford keep things more or less traditional, and of course excellently spoken, but rarely soul-stirringly good. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Garrick”