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”

Film Review: In Secret (or Thérèse) (or Thérèse Raquin)

“It’s always the ones in the corner you have too worry about”
 
This film version of Thérèse Raquin was originally entitled Thérèse Raquin as it is based on Neal Bell’s stage adaptation but between presumed focus groups and a less than stellar premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it was renamed Thérèse and in advance of its muted recent wider release, it changed again to In Secret. It is hard to see the logic of divorcing the title entirely from any connection with Zola as the generic replacement is hardly a big pull but who knows how the minds of Hollywood executives work.
 
As it is, I don’t think it would have made too much difference to the success of the film, as stellar performance from Jessica Lange aside, it is a fairly hokey take on the story which somewhat misses the mark. A young Thérèse gets a potted backstory as she’s left in the care of her aunt (Lange) by kindly parents and quickly morphs into a gamine Elizabeth Olsen who must play nursemaid and companion, and eventually wife, to her sickly cousin Camille (a brilliantly washed out Tom Felton).

Continue reading “Film Review: In Secret (or Thérèse) (or Thérèse Raquin)”

Review: Love Story, Octagon

“What can you say, about a girl…”

Just a quickie for this most beloved of shows. The CFT production of Love Story that failed to take the West End by storm back in 2010 was a thing of sheer loveliness and Howard Goodall’s luscious score has to rank among my all-time favourites, I really do think it is that beautiful. So all future productions have a high benchmark to live up to – there was a low-key version at the Brockley Jack last year and this year, we have Elizabeth Newman’s production for the Bolton Octagon.

And what a lovely thing it is. Unafraid to be delicately simple and flirting with actor-musicianship in Ciaran Bagnall’s cleverly designed set, it is a deeply musical take on the soaring romance of the story that glides speedily through the relationship between Daniel Boys’ college jock Oliver Barrett IV and Lauren Samuels’ wisecracking musician Jennifer Cavilleri. From the chemistry of their ‘opposites attract’ first meeting to the heartbreaking sadness of the end, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Octagon”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

DVD Review: The Shadow in the North

“I thought you had a bit of milk in your coconut”

The second (and last) of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries to be adapted for the television, The Shadow in the North very much pales in the shadow of The Ruby in the Smoke for me as the lesser of the two, which is a real shame as I did love the latter and felt it showed great promise in setting up the mini-franchise. This story sees Sally following up a client who has lost her savings after investing in a company, on Sally’s advice, which went bust suspiciously. The mysterious industrialist behind that company the Swedish Axel Bellman quickly set up again and so Sally’s instincts are aroused as she investigates the business dealings in order to get compensation for her client. But accusing such a powerful man of corruption and fraud sets her on a most dangerous course and puts the lives of those around her at severe risk.

So the ingredients are there, and the story is one I enjoyed reading, but something was just missing. The mystery never quite has the drive to keep the story going, the tone ends up being rather dour rather than dark and subsequently doesn’t grip like it ought. And its nature means that Billie Piper’s Sally is given less chance to interact with the key players around her – it is Pullman’s fault rather than the show’s but it is a real shame that Hayley Atwell’s Rosa is dispatched to marital bliss in the country within 10 minutes of the show starting as they made a great team. Instead, the personal intrigue is around whether Sally will admit to her feelings for JJ Feild’s Fred (still so handsome!) and Matt Smith’s Jim, thankfully no longer the narrator, hangs around like a bit of a spare part, though gets to do a lot of the investigating (bizarrely though off-screen and on his own…). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Shadow in the North”