Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Not-a-review: Four Weddings in a Funeral reading, Hampstead

“Fuck-a-doodle-doo”
 
It is slightly terrifying to think that it is 23 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral was released – the world will insist on reminding me I’m getting older… And though I don’t think I’ve actually seen it in about 20 years, the prospect of a reading of the film as part of the Hampstead Theatre Festival had quite the allure. Mainly because of John Heffernan and Jemima Rooper in the cast if we’re being honest, and they were worth it, but I’m low on time so I’m leaving it at that.

 

 

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4

“Edmund Reid did this”

As I might have predicted after the soaring heights of Series 3, the fourth season of Ripper Street didn’t quite live up to its forerunner. Then again, how could it after the epic sweep of the storytelling had so much of the finale about it in terms of where it left its key characters – Matthew Macfadyen’s Reid, Jerome Flynn’s Drake, Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Susan – picking up the pieces to carry on was always going to be difficult.

To recap, Reid had given up the police force after being reunited with his previously-thought-dead daughter Mathilda, and Susan’s momentous struggle against the patriarchal strictures of society (and also the nefarious entanglements of her actual father) saw her and Jackson end up behind bars, having also drawn Reid and the promoted Drake into the exacting of an individual kind of justice.  Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 4”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 2”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

Review: The Wasp, Hampstead Downstairs

“Looks like we’re both a bit more like each other than we thought”
 

Maintaining an enviable record of attracting superior acting talent, the Hampstead Downstairs brings Dame-in-the-making Sinéad Matthews back to the stage alongside Myanna Buring in The Wasp, a new two-hander from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm that casts a disturbing light over the legacy of our school days and how we can let them shape us for years into the future. I am convinced that we will be talking about Matthews in 40 years time in the way we talk about Judi Dench and Maggie Smith now so it is always exciting to get to see her work, especially in such intimate surroundings as these.

The Wasp sees her take on the role of Heather, a well-to-do married woman struggling to conceive who makes contact with old school chum Carla, significantly less well-off and expecting her fifth child, after tracking her down on Facebook. Although close as kids, high school saw them drift into different social groups and let bullying tendencies take over, so it isn’t immediately apparent why Heather has made contact after so long. Cheating husbands and surrogate pregnancies seem to be on the table but when a bag full of money and an even stranger proposition spills forth, the first of many twists kicks in. Continue reading “Review: The Wasp, Hampstead Downstairs”

Review: Strangers on a Train, Gielgud

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer”


Despite never having seen or read Strangers on a Train, I seemed to carry a strong idea of what the plot would entail. So of course I was disappointed to find out that the play wasn’t actually about two men deciding to kill each other’s wives on a long journey on the rails and that the action actually left the train carriage pretty early on. Expectations aside, I was also a little surprised at just how cinematic Robert Allan Ackerman’s production was, a veritable film noir brought to life in all its tense monochrome glory.


But for all the gloss that Tim Goodchild’s ever-revolving set and Peter Wilms’ frequent projections bring, there’s a curious lack of effective theatricality to Craig Warner’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel. The fateful initial meeting between Laurence Fox’s Guy and Jack Huston’s Bruno is charged with homoerotic tension as the latter teasingly offers to kill the former’s unloved wife if he will reciprocate by offing his overbearing father. Yet this isn’t something that is played out in the psychodrama that follows, exploring the effects on each man of perpetrating their crimes.


Indeed, we’re offered very little reason to empathise with either of them, neither is presented in a likeable light but neither actor really makes a convincing case that their emotional turmoil is something we ought to engage with. Fox’s stilted Englishness feels uncomfortably awkward throughout and though Huston is better as the free-wheeling Bruno, their story just doesn’t rouse anything beneath the surface. That the show has to rely so greatly on the volume of Avgoustous Psillas’ sound design to get its shocks is symptomatic of its inherent heavy-handedness. 

Supporting roles offer a little light relief – Imogen Stubbs’ vampish mother, Miranda Raison’s glacial femme fatale, Christian Kay’s intrepid PI – but the bloating running time sees diminishing returns as the melodrama increases, especially as the interminable second half crawls to its dénouement. I would warrant that Strangers on a Train has solid enough credentials to ensure that it will be enough of a success but on this evidence, it is hard to suggest that it is that welcome an addition to the West End. 

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 22nd February