DVD Review: Made In Dagenham

“All over the country, women are getting less because they’re women”

I thought this would make an appropriate film review for International Women’s Day, it being a celebration of the sewing machinists whose ground-breaking 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham plant laid the basis for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, enshrining the right of equal pay for equal work. Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, written by William Ivory around the real life events, has been turned into a musical which will be opening at the end of the year, Gemma Arterton taking the lead role under Rupert Goold’s direction, but she has a lot to live up against the glorious Sally Hawkins and what is a rather lovely film.

Made in Dagenham very much fits into the well-established working class Brit flick template – think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls… – in that it is never particularly challenging, it revels in period cliché and can definitely be described as heart-warming. But also like those films, it does have a little grit at its base, realism (of sorts) is allowed to temper the optimism that drives this huge moment of social change, the individual struggles of these women co-existing with the collective battle to great effect and backed by a super cast, it is frequently moving. Continue reading “DVD Review: Made In Dagenham”

Review: In Basildon, Royal Court

“There’s no new beginnings for families like ours. And there never has been.”

One of David Eldridge’s most recent previous plays – The Knot of the Heart for the Almeida – proved to be one of the most divisive I’ve experienced in terms of the response from the critics who lauded it and so many of the bloggers and audience members of my acquaintance who really did not like it at all. So when the new season at the Royal Court was announced featuring a new play by him, I was OK with not booking it as it helped me with my ‘I will cut down on the amount of theatre I see’ mantra. But then they announced the cast and as soon as I saw the names Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen I knew that I would have to book for In Basildon. Bassett blew me away in the Arcola’s undersung The Road To Mecca and Sheen is an actress whose work I have recently revisited and adored in recent Mike Leigh films, and the Leigh connection is furthered with the presence of other regular collaborators Peter Wight and Wendy Nottingham. So I was a mixture of reluctance and eager anticipation as I schlepped off to Sloane Square to catch the final preview.

Dying from prostate cancer, salt-of-the-earth Len has returned to the home he inherited from his parents as friends and family gather round his sickbed. Sister Doreen and best friend Ken lead the group but the atmosphere is shaken by the return of estranged sister Maureen who hasn’t spoken to ‘Dor’ in nearly 20 years. As Len passes away, attention turns to his will as everyone seems to have a claim on something, including Pam from next door, Doreen’s son Barry and his wife, and Shelley, Maureen’s daughter and Eldridge explores the tensions that emerge from these family loyalties and how they change over time and across the generations. The complexities of sibling relationships are brutally exposed but also overlaid with a frank discussion about class and how it is intrinsically connected to location, their working-class politics shaped by hard-earned experience. Confrontational, conflicted and compelling, Eldridge’s writing speaks with the darkest of humour but also the ring of a deep emotional truth. It’s just a shame that the Royal Court have decided to play the ‘tricksy’ card with the staging. Continue reading “Review: In Basildon, Royal Court”

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”

Review: The Village Bike, Royal Court

“You think I’m this respectable married teacher person”

Penelope Skinner makes her Royal Court debut upstairs with The Village Bike, having previously been a member of their Young Writers Programme and being the recipient of the 2011 George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright (assumedly given before she co-authored Greenland…). It’s an unsettling portrait of a just-pregnant woman, Becky, recently moved to the country and struggling to come to terms with her new life and the restrictions placed on her both by her condition and her do-gooder husband who has taken to the role of father-to-be with great gusto but rather neglecting the role of husband, leading Becky to deal with her frustrations in ever-reckless ways.

It is a very frank play, dealing with female sexuality in a way which is rarely seen (at least by me) onstage as Becky turns first to her husband’s furtive stash of p*rn films and then to a heady set of illicit liaisons with local bad boy Oliver Hardcastle, from whom she keeps her pregnancy secret, as she lives out her (and his) wildest sexual fantasies in the oppressive atmosphere of the heatwave that affecting just about everyone in the village. For no-one is particularly happy, especially the married people: fertility issues, dealing with continued absences due to work travel, difficulties of parenthood, sexual frustration, all these issues reverberate around the populace of the village, all underscored by the overbearing fear of loneliness that Skinner argues characterises rural living here. Continue reading “Review: The Village Bike, Royal Court”