Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul

Not even Judi Dench can save this irresponsible look at the British colonial legacy, Victoria and Abdul nevertheless takes two Oscar nominations into the ceremony.

“It is imperative that the royal colon receives a little roughage”

AKA The Other V&A. You can see the rationale behind Victoria and Abdul, allowing Dame Judi Dench to reprise her much-loved role from Mrs Brown with another 20 years under her belt. And directed by Stephen Frears from a screenplay by Lee Hall, hopes were reasonably high.

What results though, is a film that indulges in an irresponsible kind of historical revisionism, a refusal to engage with and interrogate the reality of British colonial rule. Hall’s version of Victoria is allowed to be coyly ignorant of the looting of Indian treasure, a champion of diversity too in an improbable twist. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Victoria and Abdul”

Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre

“I can be anything I want. 
I can be a Hufflepuff if I want.”

Just a quickie for this as it closes this week (I had the unfortunate accident of being in Vienna for its press night). Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes has been a sell-out success for the National, packing out the Dorfman perhaps initially for its deluxe casting of two Olivias – Colman and Williams – but latterly due to some superb word of mouth as well. And given that this is largely a play about two sisters who can’t help but bicker all their lives, it is brilliantly well cast.

Williams is Alice, a scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and Colman is Jenny, a medical sales rep living in Luton. Nominally, the former is a success, the latter a fuckup, an idea reinforced by Jenny arriving in Geneva to recuperate from a devastating personal loss. But Kirkwood’s writing is far too nuanced to let that be all, she thoroughly interrogates our preconceptions as she whirls through a universe-ful of ideas including anti-vaxxers, revenge porn, society’s inherent misogyny, science and religion and much more besides. Continue reading “Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre”

TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1

“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. I’m sure it’s just another false alarm”

Oh The Halcyon – shafted by the overwhelming desire for it to be the new Downton, or maybe the unfriendly Monday evening slot, or maybe the fact that Charlotte Jones’ serial never quite honed in on what it wanted to be. Following the fortunes of a luxury London hotel during the first couple of years of the Second World War, it took all possible opportunities to explore a society on the cusp of major change. But between the aristocrats who owned it, the aristocrats who stayed there, the lower classes who work there, and the multitudes of people affiliated to all these lives, the canvas was far too wide.

The hints were there right from the off in episode 1 which struggled to introduce even just its leading players in its running time, whilst still proving most tantalising, due to its cracking cast and its sumptuous design (those costumes!). At the heart of The Halycon lay the antagonistic relationship between Olivia Williams’ Lady Hamilton and Steven Mackintosh’s Mr Garland, owner versus manager as they butted heads over practicalities in the face of an ensuing Blitz but though their scenes were electric, they were given too little too late together to exploit this to its fullest.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Series 1”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Christine Edzard will be writing and directing a new version of The Good Soldier Schwejkbased on the satirical Czech novel by Jaroslav Hašek, and creating a daring theatrical and filmic experience.  

Published in serial form, The Good Soldier Schwejk became an instant success. Hažek died in 1923 leaving the novel unfinished. By 1926 it was translated into German and spread across Europe, acquiring cult status. Since then, the good soldier has appeared in many forms across the world, as a powerfully comic symbol of anti authoritarianism, anti militarism and resistance.

Edzard will present a contemporary ‘take’ on Hašek’s original, in an unconventional, rule-breaking adaptation. The subject of Edzard’s film is in fact a play, a comedy, which she has scripted as a live, cabaret style performance. Her Schwejk will be filmed from curtain up to curtain down as performed over the course of a week in the intimate wooden theatre at Sands Studios in Rotherhithe. The compression of Hažek’s sprawling novel into cabaret form will add bite and contemporary relevance to the satire. The Cabaret form also reflects the background of Schwejk’s original creator – Jaroslav Hašek was a frequent performer of politically engaged cabaret in Prague.

A small cast:
Alfie Stewart 
Joe Armstrong
Kevin Brewer
Sean Gilder
Michael Mears
Aaron Neil
Andrew Tiernan
and
Michele Wade 

will take on multiple roles and there will be live music and (partially scripted) audience participation. Editing will take place after the shoot in the normal way

It all sounds very intriguing indeed (follow their Twitter here for more info) and I’m pleased to be able to share some rehearsal images for Good Soldier Schwejk with you below. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1

“Gin please.
‘Of course.'”

Billing something as the new Downton Abbey is all well and good but for someone who only ever watched the Christmas specials because his parents commandeered the telly on Christmas Day, it’s not actually that much of a pull. What I can’t resist however is Olivia Williams, and Olivia Williams in a period drama in particular, and so I put on ITV for what feels like the first time in ages for The Halcyon.

Set in a swish London hotel of the same name in 1940, The Halcyon looks to be your regular upstairs-downstairs as the aristocratic residents lounge about talking about Nazi sympathisers and swigging gin, while the honest-guv staff scurry around being decent and hard-working and dull and thoroughly unbelievable in the way that they chat so easily with their employers and clientele (just one of the things that bugged me about the little of Downton that I saw). Continue reading “TV Review: The Halcyon Episode 1”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #2

“I would you were as I would have you be”

Our journey along the Complete Walk, at our own speed and from the comfort of our own home, continues apace. Here’s my thoughts on the first suite of films and now there’s four more for your delectation.
Twelfth Night comes to us from Parham House, West Sussex, with the glorious Olivia Williams and Susannah Fielding playing Olivia and Viola/Cesario. And directed by Jessica Swale, it’s deliciously exciting and erotic as the former is utterly thunderstruck by the latter, both actors hitting the mark perfectly and suggesting that this would be a production for the ages were it ever to happen in full. It is spliced with Tim Carroll’s 2012 production which saw Mark Rylance reprise his Olivia, a performance of which, in all honesty, I was no real fan back then and remain so now.
Macbeth
Interestingly, this was the first of the films that felt heavier on the Globe production rather than the new clip. In the atmospheric gloom of Glamis Castle, Adele Thomas directs a forcefully weird Joanna Scanlan as the Porter but the majority of the action comes from Eve Best’s 2013 production, (sadly not the Elliot Cowan-starring one from 2010) with Joseph Millson’s beautifully spoken M and Samantha Spiro’s vibrant Lady M. It was nice to see them again but the final result did thus feel a little unbalanced.
Now this one was good. Sheila Reid’s storytelling Gower, reprised from the Swanamaker production earlier this year, enhanced by wordless excerpts from the National Theatre of Greece’s version from the Globe To Globe season and illustrated animation too, Dominic Dromgoole’s direction took Reid all around the Globe complex and beautifully so.
One of the cushier jobs in this series, Douglas Hodge’s achingly voiced Prospero finds himself marooned on Bermuda and shot gorgeously by Jessica Swale mostly in voiceover to beautiful effect, And it was nice to revisit Jeremy Herrin’s Roger Allam-starring version for the Globe in 2013, even if I remain unconvinced by its Ferdinand and Miranda, a sterling combination of old and new.

Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream

“I’m stunned with wonder”

When Rupert Goold first announced the #AlmeidaGreeks season with all its familiar titles, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how genuinely epic a sweep of theatrical innovation it would usher in. From the extraordinary Oresteia to the shattering Bakkhai and Medea, the radical main house programme has been supported by a wide range of supplementary activity, not least the 16 hour, 60+ actor retelling of The Iliad (which can now be viewed in full on the Almeida website).

So it’s only natural that as the season draws to an end, it is bookended by another Homeric extravaganza in The Odyssey, again with 60 odd actors participating in a 12 hour non-stop feat of major storytelling which was live-streamed on t’internet. And conscious of raising the ante, directors Rupert Goold and Robert Icke took us on a literal journey, putting the players in taxicabs, boats, buses, trekking across rooftops and down busy streets to bring Ithaca to Islington as Odysseus winds his way home. Continue reading “Review: The Odyssey, Almeida/Live-stream”

Review: Waste, National Theatre

“The stateman’s task is the accommodation of stubborn facts to shifting circumstance and in effect to the practical capacities of the average stupid man. Democracy involves admission of that”

It’s always a bit tough to forge one’s own opinion of something already lauded as a masterpiece, the assumption being if you don’t like it then you’re missing something, but this is the second time I’ve seen a solidly good production of Harley Granville Barker’s Waste and it’s the second time that I just haven’t been blown away by it. Seven years ago saw Samuel West tackle it for the Almeida and now it is Roger Michell’s turn in the Lyttelton as Rufus Norris continues his balancing act of reinvigorating the National Theatre without scaring the regulars off.

But spread over a goodly three hours with a pace that could be described as stately at best and glacial at its worst, it’s hard to see Waste converting any newcomers to the joys of theatre. And even with the quality that emanates from the female-centric first scene – Olivia Williams, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Doreen Mantle and Lucy Robinson (forever in my heart as my first Lady Macbeth) doing fine work – the energy is just singularly lacking even as sex, sleaze and suicide pop up on the menu for this slice of the Edwardian political elite.  Continue reading “Review: Waste, National Theatre”

Blogged: Olivia Williams

I do love me a bit of Olivia Williams, so was more than disappointed that Waste at the National Theatre didn’t float my boat. Fortunately, she has a prolific body of work in both the UK and Hollywood with which I was happy to reacquaint myself, alongside some titles I was watching for the first time, like Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Now Is Good and Peter Pan (the 2003 version).  Continue reading “Blogged: Olivia Williams”

DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”