TV Review: Liar Series 2

Series 2 of Liar shifts the focus from rape to murder but does little to raise this from bog-standard thriller territory

“Sometimes bad things happen and we just have to deal with them”

Was the world calling out for a second season of Liar? When the first apparently did such great numbers for ITV, it seems the decision was inevitable but it has taken more than two years for it to arrive and I’m not sure that it carries the same level of impetus with it – I don’t imagine ratings will have held up to anywhere near the same degree.

That first series did show much promise, complicating a rape story by presenting a he said/she said narrative that asked some big questions. But midway through, Liar tipped its hand and ended up as a bog-standard thriller and it is in that same spirit that it continues here. A bit of story-telling trickery allows for Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew to return alongside Joanne Froggatt as Laura but I have to say I really wasn’t gripped. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar Series 2”

TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War

Despite some considerable talent involved, I vote to leave Brexit: The Uncivil War

“It says here you basically ran the Leave campaign and yet I doubt most people have ever heard of you”

It is difficult to watch Brexit: The Uncivil War because it is hard to locate a raison d’être for telling this story as a drama rather than a documentary. Given how close it is to the present day and the way in which so much has still yet to unfold in the way the UK eventually disentangles from the EU, making the choice to start creating art around it feels an odd choice.

I’ve long been a fan of James Graham, like any rational person, and the way he has been able to dig deep and really explore so many of the issues afflicting contemporary society has been brilliantly in evidence. But it is hard not to feel that Brexit is a mis-step in the way that it seeks to reinterpret the roles of the key dramatis personae in this whole sorry shebang. Continue reading “TV Review: Brexit: The Uncivil War”

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”

TV Review: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4

“Everyone fucks everyone, eventually”

I wrote here about the first episode of Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sitcom for Channel 4, and though it didn’t really float my boat, I did persevere with the rest of the series. Truth be told though, it was just more of the same – I continued to like what I liked about it and similarly, what substantially rubbed me up the wrong way continued to bug me.

Namely, the thoroughly unlikeable nature of Waller-Bridge’s self-played lead Lulu, crashing into the lives of old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate and doing her utmost to fuck up their relationship in order to act on their hitherto unexplored lifelong sexual tension. Not that characters have to be likeable to be good but I found nothing redeemable in Lulu, just a thoroughly obnoxious selfishness that turned me off pretty much the whole show. Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

“We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame.  Continue reading “TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”

DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky

“En-ra-ha, EN-RA-HA!”

This was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw at the cinema and I absolutely loved it, so it was interesting revisiting it on DVD, especially so in the context of his other films. To my eye Happy-Go-Lucky sticks out as being a bit different to the others, and not just because it doesn’t feature Lesley Manville (or Imelda Staunton for that matter), but because its general aesthetic feels in a different key.

Sally Hawkins’ Poppy is a permanently chirpy primary school teacher whose life we follow throughout the film and though Hawkins is exceptional, as ever is the way of things with me, it is the second female lead that really grabs me and it is Alexis Zegerman’s Zoe Poppy’s best friend and flatmate that really wins me over with her drawled-out, deadpan delivery proving surprisingly alluring. That said, there is endless comedy gold in Hawkins’ face throughout the film, whether trampolining, the reactions to having her back massaged to find out where some pain is coming from, or responding to Flamenco teacher’s request, it is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “DVD Review: Happy Go Lucky”

DVD Review: Another Year

“On a scale of one to ten, how happy would you say you were”

Mike Leigh’s most recent film split my friends – you can read a lengthy and less than enthusiastic review of Another Year here, but others really enjoyed it and I have to say that I found it to be a warm, perceptive and affecting drama that fits in perfectly to his work in the 2000s. Initially it seems to come from the same mould as Happy Go Lucky as we focus on engineer Tom and therapist Gerri, a long-married couple who are still deeply affectionate for each other and appear to live lives untroubled by major concerns and more than happy with their lot.

Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent fit together beautifully, their affability shining through as they tend to their beloved allotment or entertain their son Joe, Oliver Maltman in a seemingly permanent flirtatious mood. But it seems that happiness is something of a lottery and as we progress through the four acts of the film, taking place over the seasons of a year, we see that the lives of the people living around this couple are substantially less than idyllic. Whether it is Gerri’s client, a devastatingly pinched Imelda Staunton; Tom’s old pal Ken who has hit the booze and pies incredibly hard, Peter Wight in great desperate bedraggled form; David Bradley’s shell-shocked Ronnie, Tom’s brother with a tearaway nightmare of a son, Martin Savage crackling with vicious energy, it seem that happiness has passed them all by. Continue reading “DVD Review: Another Year”