Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 1

“It’s not a new hotel we need, it’s a bigger morgue”

The publicity for Season 2 of Fortitude, just starting now on Sky Atlantic, reminded me that I had the first series still lying around unwatched and that now would be as good a time as any to get stuck in. Created and written by Simon Donald, it manages the not-inconsiderable feat of being an effective cross-genre show, so much so that it flicks from one to another from scene to scene. It begins life as a murder mystery set in the isolated town of Fortitude in Arctic Norway, the quality of its cast meaning that it can afford to knock off Christopher Eccleston’s scientist within the first couple of episodes.

As it is a community of about 700 in extreme conditions, it also plays out as a small town comedy of the blackest kind, as the quote up top demonstrates, bringing in soap opera-ish twists which also darken as well, pretty much into horror show territory. But where Fortitude is most unexpected is in its ventures into sci-fi, as the strange happenings in the township begin to defy any kind of rational explanation. It’s a disconcerting move but once the paradigm is established, I kinda liked the randomness it brought to the show, especially since I had no idea that that was where we were heading. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 1”

DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)

“No-one wants to be in calm waters all their life”

Anyone who has read this blog for a wee while will know I’m a sucker for a thesp-heavy cast but not even could have come up with the manifold delights of the ensemble for this 1995 version of Persuasion. Directed by Roger Michell and adapted by Nick Dear, it features Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds as Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, a once-engaged couple who were pulled apart by societal pressure as he was but a penniless seaman. Eight years later, Anne’s family is struggling to maintain their aristrocratic lifestyle due to overspending but Wentworth is now a captain and highly sought after – might their love be reunited after all? Watch this space…

Root and Hinds are both excellent with hugely subtle performances suggesting the depth of emotion each holds, unable to express how they truly feel and buffeted around a range of alternative marriage proposals as everyone tries to secure the best possible situation for themselves. But real pleasure comes too in the supporting performances, seeing such fantastic actors earlier in their career and tracing something of a journey in their acting careers. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (1995)”

DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street

“I don’t care what they do in St Helens but in Salford, no-one puts soap next to bacon”

Despite being relevant to my interests on a number of levels (David Dawson, I’m northern, and the rest of that cast!), The Road to Coronation Street managed to slip by me when it was first broadcast on BBC4 in 2010. Though a long term fixture on ITV (this drama celebrated the 50th anniversary of the soap opera), it was the BBC that took up the reins of creating this origin story for the show, a journey that partly reflects that of its writer Daran Little, who worked on Coronation Street for many years as an archivist but is now a screenwriter for Eastenders, long its traditional rival. But oddities aside, it was a frenetic, energetic romp that I found highly engaging and found it to be over far too soon with its scant 75 minutes-long running time.

The programme tells the true life story of how Tony Warren, a young screenwriter struggling to make his name in the business at Granada Studios, who hit on the idea of creating a television programme that related directly to its audience by presenting a version of everyday working class life on a terraced street in Manchester. We see the genesis of Warren’s idea, conceived from so many details of his own upbringing; his fight to convince his Canadian-born boss to take a chance on it; their battle to persuade the Bernsteins, the studio owners, to put it on the air; and once agreed, the trials of casting it perfectly so that it met both the exacting standards of Warren’s ideal and the new realities of acting on television.   Continue reading “DVD Review: The Road to Coronation Street”

DVD Review: Clapham Junction

“The whole gay thing, is it still an issue any more?”

Part of Channel 4’s 2007 gay season, Clapham Junction was written by Kevin Elyot showing the lives of a number of separate but interconnected gay men over 36 hours in the Clapham area of London. So we have civil partnership ceremonies with the groom shagging one of the waiters at the party afterwards, dinner party guests meeting inopportunely at the local cottage before a ghastly middle class gathering, a teenage stalker finally meeting the handsome neighbour unaware of his troubled past, and guys prowling round the common for anonymous sex, little aware that a violent psychotic is amongst them.

Phoebe Nicholls’ delightfully overbearing mother with her monstrous prejudices, Samantha Bond’s blithely unaware party guest, Luke Treadaway’s sweatily intense teenager Theo desperate to offer himself up to Joseph Mawle’s lithe mystery man, Rupert Graves’ confident out television maker toying with James Wilby’s closet case (a neat nod back to Maurice), there are undoubtedly performances aplenty to be savoured in here. But the construction of the whole film is just generally too weak, Elyot’s writing uninventive and heavy-handed in the message it thumps home. Continue reading “DVD Review: Clapham Junction”

DVD Review: Maurice

“England has always been disinclined to accept human nature”

This Merchant Ivory production of EM Forster’s novel of self-discovery Maurice was one of the first gay films I remember watching and it remains a remarkably touching watch now 25 years after it was made. A tale of gay love in the early 20th century, its poignancy is all the more moving for knowing that the novel was never published in Forster’s lifetime, cognisant of society’s (and the law’s) slow changing attitudes towards homosexuality, he withheld it from public consumption.

The story follows Maurice Hall from school to university and then into the real world full of careers, war and marriage as he struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a world where being gay is illegal. From a typically bashful initiation into the facts of life from a school professor to a Cambridge University full of possibility where the chance of love with a man first rears its head and then on into adult life where the slow acceptance of who he really is and what he really wants comes hand in hand with him falling in love with a man from a lower class, bringing further complications as the vagaries of the English class system are added to his trials. Continue reading “DVD Review: Maurice”

TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto

“Young people make promises because they don’t know what life is like”

Housewife, 49 was one of the highlights of my TV viewing last Christmas, quite how I had missed it first time round I do not know and so once I saw that Victoria Wood had penned a new drama, Loving Miss Hatto, I was determined not to leave it quite so long this time round. Based on a story from the New Yorker on the strange but real-life case of classical music fraud around pianist Joyce Hatto, this was a beautifully modulated piece of drama with a light sweetness and just enough of the trademark Wood humour, interwoven with such melancholic depths of human tragedy.
 
Starting in the 1950s, we meet Joyce Hatto as a rehearsal pianist in whom self-described musical impresario William Barrington-Coupe (or Barrie for short) spotted much potential. But as something of a wideboy and of a conman, his dreams of moulding Joyce into a top-rank concert pianist never quite came to fruition, something exacerbated by her stage fright. The story then flicked forward to the 2000s where embittered by the frustrations of life, Joyce is now dying of cancer and unable to play. With the dawn of the digital age and in light of a flurry of interest in Hatto on a messageboard, Barrie hit upon the idea of satisfying the demand for recordings of her work by releasing a series of CDs. Only problem was, there were no recordings and Barrie was passing off other pianists’ work as his wife’s.

Continue reading “TV Review: Loving Miss Hatto”

Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre

“Art is opinion, and opinion is the source of all authority”

Not too much to say about Scenes from an Execution as we left at the interval and so any opinion has to take that into account, along with the fact this was actually the first full preview (the previous night’s performance being re-cast as a full dress). Howard Barker’s play, originally written for radio, is centred on Galactia, a sixteenth century Venetian artist who is commissioned to create a giant celebration of the triumphant Battle of Lepanto, but whose strong will and artistic impulses set her firmly at odds with the authorities.

Fiona Shaw returns to the National Theatre to take on this part, directed by Tom Cairns, so it is fair to say that expectations were a little high, but I just wasn’t prepared for the utter lack of engagement that came from the first half. It opens entertainingly enough: a naked man spread-eagled on a rock, an artist sketching him with a smock barely covering her up, a narrator figure flying around (literally) in a big white box (kudos to Hildegard Bechtler’s design). But after the initial set-up, I found little of interest in the portrayal of this fictional painter’s trials and tribulations. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Scenes from an Execution, National Theatre”

The 2009 Clarence Derwent Awards

UK – Best male in a supporting role
Clifford Rose as The Judge in The Chalk Garden

UK – Best female in a supporting role
Phoebe Nicholls as Frances Trebell in Waste and Helen Seville in The Vortex

US – Most promising Male
Aaron Tveit – as Gabriel Goodman in Next to Normal

US – Most promising female
Quincy Tyler Bernstine– as Salima in Ruined