TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

TV Review: A Very English Scandal

Hugh Grant delivers a career best performance in the hugely enjoyable A Very English Scandal. Just don’t mention your National Insurance card.

“Tell him not to talk. And not to write to my mother describing acts of anal sex under any circumstances whatsoever”

I don’t think I’ve ever been chilled quite so much by the end credits of anything like A Very English Scandal. You know, that bit when you find out what happened next to the people who you’ve just been watching. It helps of course that I knew nothing about the 1970s Jeremy Thorpe affair on which it was based but still, never have 11 dogs and a missing NI card seemed so ominous.

Written by Russell T Davies, adapted from John Preston’s book, and directed by Stephen Frears, A Very English Scandal is a complete breath of fresh air. Perhaps surprisingly for a true-life tale of sex, politics and attempted murder, it has a quirky, almost jolly tone that is hugely enjoyable, deftly comic as it negotiates the would-be Machiavellian moves of a politician desperate to save his skin. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very English Scandal”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

DVD Review: Now Is Good

“When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday?”

Now is Good is a remarkably clear-eyed entry into the teen weepie genre, based on Jenny Downham’s novel Before I Die. Ol Parker’s film centres on Tessa, a girl dying of leukaemia but who has put together a bucket list to ensure she enjoys every last moment. Chief among these is losing her virginity and falling in love, giving the story its main thrust, but more moving is Tessa’s relationships with her family and friends and even with herself as the inevitable comes ever closer.

Dakota Fanning is the sole US interloper in what is otherwise a very British film but her strong and sarcastic performance and the mordant strain of humour – mainly delivered by Edgar Canham’s younger brother Cal – keeps the sentimentality from overwhelming much of the story. Jeremy Irvine’s Adam is a more interesting love interest than one might expect and the delicacy of their emotional journey is well-handled throughout. Continue reading “DVD Review: Now Is Good”

Film Review: Suffragette

“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette offers a rather striking perspective on the women’s suffrage movement, inventing a working class character and following her political awakening at a key moment in the fight for women’s rights. Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts is a dutiful wife and mother, working long, thankless hours at a Bethnal Green laundry whose chance encounter with a riotous group of suffragettes slowly rouses something within her.

This is where Morgan and Gavron’s approach pays dividends, in seeing the movement through working class eyes away from the privilege and relative freedom of the leaders. Even on a shop-floor full of much-put-upon women, suffragette is spat as a dirty word and in the close-knit neighbourhoods too, the leap that Maud has to make to merely stand up for what she believes is right is that much more difficult, more life-changingly dramatic and Mulligan is truly superb in tracing this transformation. Continue reading “Film Review: Suffragette”

Short Film Review #59

Toilets from Gabriel Bisset-Smith on Vimeo.
Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s Toilets is a great twist on your average rom-com, focusing on the people that just pop into your life every now and again but leaving such lasting impressions that one always wonders what if… For George, it is the American Fee who is his recurring theme, always appearing when he’s in the middle of something with his almost-out lesbian friend Link, and these fleeting moments are brilliantly conceived. Centring these encounters around conveniences is a neat way of linking them and the common threads of sex, drugs and dance music add an entertaining edge to this almost-love story.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #59”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

Short Film Review #32

At what point does a short film stop being a short film?

Hereafter comes in at just over half an hour so I’m not sure exactly where it stands but no matter what you want to call it, there is no denying it is a rather nifty bit of sci-fi. Set in a grim version of the near future, a figure called The Ghost is haunting the minds and actions of people, driving them to murder and suicide, and it is up to The Guardians to stop it if they can. Becoming a Guardian is a perilous business but resourceful orphan Katcher is shortlisted for the process, which turns out to be brutal beyond belief and made more dangerous by the ever-approaching Ghost. Continue reading “Short Film Review #32”

Review: Desire Under The Elms, Lyric Hammersmith

“Ye make a slick pair of murderin’ turtle-doves”

It’s been a slow but increasingly steady journey into the world of Eugene O’Neill for me: since 2010’s Beyond The Horizon, high profile productions of Anna Christie and Long Day’s Journey Into Night confirmed his reputation was indeed well earned (I do like to be able to make up my own mind on such things, I hate being told “so and so is the greatest playwright” and being expected just to accept it). And after The Hairy Ape at the Southwark Playhouse, it is now the turn of the Lyric Hammersmith to get in on the action with Sean Holmes’ production of his 1924 play Desire Under The Elms

Drawing heavily from Greek tragedy and in particular the tale of Phaedra, O’Neill locates his story in 19th century New England but mines a similar vein of earth-shattering catastrophe. Son of his father’s second wife, Eben is determined to secure the family farm for his inheritance. He pays off his two older half-brothers as they depart for the Gold Rush, but his father Ephraim is a randy old goat and marries for the third time, scuppering Eben’s plan as his new young wife Abbie stakes her own claim. But matters are further problematized by an illicit attraction between son and stepmother and when Abbie falls pregnant…well, do you think there’ll be a happy ending? Continue reading “Review: Desire Under The Elms, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith

“Yer ain’t arf nosey”

Edward Bond’s Saved caused quite the hoohah when it premiered at the Royal Court in 1965, due to its unflinching portrayal of the total disillusionment of a whole slice of society but mainly because of a highly provocative scene of [spoiler alert] a baby being stoned to death in its pram. Sean Holmes of the Lyric Hammersmith has given it a rare revival at a point in time which seems eerily prescient given the riots that were experienced across the UK this summer.

Set around a South London household in which meaningless existences are played out: Pam sleeps around with the local bad boys and neglects her unnamed baby and her parents, with whom she still lives, haven’t spoken to each other in years. When they take in a lodger who seems to offer a faint ray of light in this dull world, his decency takes a battering but ultimately shows up the corrosive effect of a world that feels dead set against them. Continue reading “Review: Saved, Lyric Hammersmith”