Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

TV Review: Mrs Wilson

Ruth Wilson excels in the intriguing Mrs Wilson, a drama that couldn’t possibly be true…

“You know all you need to know”

Mrs Wilson begins with ‘the following is inspired by real events’ but the truth is even more than that, as main protagonist Alison Wilson is played by Ruth Wilson, who just happens to be her granddaughter. For the story is taken from the extraordinary revelations of her own family history and adapted into a three-part serial here, which is marvellously tense and beautifully filmed.

We begin on an ordinary day in the early 60s as Alison nips home from her job to make a lunch of cold cuts for her novelist husband Alec. He doesn’t make it down to the table though as he’s kicked the bucket and instantly, hints of mystery abound as she hides his wallet and makes a surreptitious phone call. What she doesn’t expect is the knock on the door a few days later from a woman who claim to be his wife. Continue reading “TV Review: Mrs Wilson”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1

“Oh for…fucking internet”

On the first day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a politician fucking a pig.

Can Charlie Brooker ever have conceived that four years after The National Anthem aired, the theme of his first episode of Black Mirror would actually come horrifically to life as Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron alluded to unsavoury acts with a pig’s head. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1”

Review: Oil, Almeida,

“I left a man I loved so much, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. It makes you strong”

I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it along to Oil – my original date being derailed by travel chaos and a busy Autumn schedule meaning I could barely find space. But space I found eventually and whilst I’m glad that I got to see Ella Hickson’s new play, for me it didn’t quite live up to the (admittedly high) expectations that had been built up over its run at the Almeida. It’s still good, and often very good, especially in its lead performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Yolanda Kettle, but I just didn’t connect with the play at large.

There’s no doubting the scale of the ambition here, the epic form tackled with gusto as the play’s timeline stretches over 150 years with mother and daughter May and Amy playing out their five scenes ranging from the late nineteenth century to the near future. And whilst society’s connection to and reliance upon oil is under the microscope, so too is the evolving role of women in that society, its changes explored by the time-travelling nature of the writing and the visionary production by Carrie Cracknell. Continue reading “Review: Oil, Almeida,”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

Review: Photograph 51, Noël Coward

“The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race” 

The biggest shame about the long awaited return of Nicole Kidman to the London stage is that it has given many a lazy hack an excuse to rehash ‘that’ Charles Spencer quote without considering just what they are reducing this Academy Award-winning actor to. Which perhaps is an irony that is suited to Photograph 51, the play that has brought her here, a portrait of British scientist Rosalind Franklin whose role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, of “the secret to life” itself as the publicity breathily puts it, is one that has been shamefully sidelined.

Anna Ziegler’s play explores the life of the research scientist with surprising depth and clarity – there’s no danger of being blinded by science here – as she follows the two rival teams trying to crack the code of the double helix. Franklin was the only woman working on either team and there is no hiding of the fact that she was strong-willed to the point of being obstinate and innately distrustful of those around her, even her King’s College colleagues, and thus showing how personality as much as intelligence had a role to play in the discoveries that were to come. Continue reading “Review: Photograph 51, Noël Coward”

DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

 “I’m bored with widowhood”

As the aristocratic Lady Conway, Thelma Barlow’s amusing run through the options open to a rich widow of nearly 70 sets up Mrs Henderson Presents succinctly in its opening moments – Laura Henderson pricks her thumb trying embroidery as a hobby and bristles at the snobbery of the ladies who run charities for the deserving and so is left to spend money as she sees fit, alighting on the derelict Windmill Theatre which she purchases in a moment of inspiration as she passes in her car. Martin Sherman’s script is based on the true story of this woman who became an unlikely theatrical impresario and in director Stephen Frears’ hands, Judi Dench delivers a heart-warmingly cracking performance at the centre of a lovely film.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Laura as she and her theatre manager, Bob Hoskins’ cantankerous but inspired Vivian van Damm, set up a continuous variety revue called Revudeville and trying to keep ahead of a market full of copycats, they introduce still tableaux of female nudity into the show which becomes a roaring success. The onset of war casts a heavy shadow though and whilst the show continues, providing much needed entertainment and respite, as the bombs fall on London, the determination that the show must go on puts everyone in serious peril. Continue reading “DVD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents”

DVD Review: Einstein and Eddington

“We need English science to prove to everyone just how good we are”

A 2008 BBC film, Einstein and Eddington offers limited pleasure to the Lucy Cohu lover as she plays Einstein’s increasingly estranged wife Mileva and is consequently predominantly left to look moody in the background looking after some mopey moppets. But elsewhere it was a surprisingly engaging piece of film-making, bringing a very human aspect to the work of science, the sacrifices necessary, and also showing that nothing, not even ground-breaking scientific discoveries, happen in moral or ethical vaccums.

The focus is pulling together of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and how against the backdrop of the First World War, a correspondence grew between him and British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington which enabled the Brit to use his greater freedom to gather the necessary proof for the theory and catapult the German-born into the history books. But the pursuit of life-enhancing knowledge has its consequences and this Peter Moffat-written drama doesn’t shy away from showing the emotional damage suffered by all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Einstein and Eddington”

Review: No Quarter, Royal Court

“I would punch a baby for a cigarette”

During Dominic Cooke’s reign, the Royal Court has done an excellent job in nurturing a generation of new young female playwrights and Polly Stenham surely has to be considered as one of the breakout successes from this cohort, managing to maintain an air of great anticipation alongside a unhurried workrate. Her third play No Quarter, for the Royal Court as with That Face and Tusk Tusk, occupies similar territory as her earlier work, in the chronicling of dysfunction in families of the more privileged classes, but it could be said it is with diminishing returns.

24 year old music school dropout Robin has lost himself in a haze of drink and drugs but when he returns to the dilapidated manor house that is his family home, it is to the suffocatingly intense embrace of his dementia-stricken mother who wants his help to ease her way into death. But when he finds that the home he thought he would inherit has actually been sold from under him to developers, his self-destructive instincts kick in and the night of her wake sees him attract an assorted crowd for a wild party to end all parties, anything to avoid confronting the enduring malaise that weighs him down. Continue reading “Review: No Quarter, Royal Court”