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”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Review: Hangmen, Royal Court

“Don’t worry. I may have my quirks but I’m not an animal. Or am I? One for the courts to discuss.”

The term ‘dark comedy’ is much abused but there really is no better descriptor for Hangmen, Martin McDonagh’s long-awaited return to theatrical writing. Set (mostly) within the tobacco-stained walls of a proper boozer in Oldham in the 1960s on the day that Britain has abolished the death penalty, landlord Harry’s (the excellent David Morrissey) past comes back to haunt him in a big way. For he was the last hangman in the country, as evinced by a cracking prologue (that isn’t for the squeamish) that sees him and his assistant Syd go about their business.

The arrival of enigmatic Londoner Mooney (Johnny Flynn never better) is the catalyst for the plot, as Harry’s disaffected daughter becomes easy prey to his professed affections and disappears with him, round about the same time Syd reappears in Harry’s life to say something rum is going on with a serial killer who has a Southern accent. But the real joy is in the motley crew of grizzled regulars who gather in the pub and the cracking dialogue McDonagh gives them as they dance around the morbid curiosity that has called them to this pub rather than any others.  Continue reading “Review: Hangmen, Royal Court”

DVD Review: Scott and Bailey Series 1-3

“You went to live with a fella in Wigan, I assume he had a roof”
 

As with so many television programmes these days, it has taken me an inexplicably long time to get around to watching Scott and Bailey and sure enough once I started, I found myself mainlining all three series in advance of the new series starting on ITV. And sure enough, I loved it. Sally Wainwright is one of our best writers of television without a shadow of a doubt and no matter what she turns her hand to, she barely puts a foot wrong, all the while pushing the boundaries of conventional drama to become infinitely more inclusive, whether through the older characters of Last Tango in Halifax or the fierce and flawed policewomen of Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.

Scott and Bailey grew out of an original idea by Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay which Wainwright has written up into three (plus one to come) series of fantastic television. Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey are both DCs in the Manchester Metropolitan Police, part of the MIT team that deals with serious crime. And though it may seem trivial to say it, it is just so brilliantly and so casually feminist. The vast majority of the major roles in the police force just happen to be taken by women – Amelia Bullmore’s DCI Murray heads up the team, Pippa Haywood’s DSI Dodson is the next later up, the main pathologist goes by the name of Scary Mary…and none of it is ever an issue.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Scott and Bailey Series 1-3”

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2

 

“Posh girls don’t hit people”

Series 1 of Suburban Shootout was something of a pleasant surprise, a rather mental British TV series set in the idyllic country village of Little Stempington which is the scene of secret gang warfare between two rival groups of housewives. The first season finished on something of a cliff-hanger and that is where things pick up, with Joyce Hazeldine having to pick up the mantle of leader of the ‘good’ group after Anna Chanceller’s utterly fierce Camilla framed her bitter rival Felicity Montagu’s Barbara Du Prez.

What follows is essentially more of the same, except it just isn’t quite as funny as before, certainly not as compelling now that the novelty has worn off and the writing sadly just feels largely uninspired. The major storyline follows the attempt to get a supercasino built on some treasured wetlands, Barbara’s trials in prison and the struggles of Camilla and Joyce to keep control of their respective situations. But it’s over in six quick episodes and to little real impact. And worst of all, Ruth Wilson is hardly in it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2”

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout

“I’m a housewife Barbara, not a hitman”

Suburban Shootout ought to have ticked all the boxes to become one of my guilty pleasures when it was shown on TV in 2006, a black comedy featuring Anna Chancellor as the fierce leader of a gang of murderous housewives. But as it was shown on Channel 5, who also produced it, it got lost somewhere along the way and I have to admit to not even having heard of it at the time. It lives on on DVD though and actually provides a highly amusing opportunity to see not just Ruth Wilson early in her career, but also a fresh-faced Tom Hiddleston before he was swept up by Hollywood. 

Set in the fictional small town of Little Stempington, smack in the middle of the Home Counties, Joyce Hazeldine and her policeman husband Jeremy move into a new house, seeking respite from hectic London life, and are very much looking forward to their new quiet life. But the premise of the show, created by Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin, is that the village is secretly controlled by two opposing gangs of housewives – both determined to keep village life crime-free, but deadly rivals into the bargain and both keen to co-opt Joyce into their crew. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout”

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”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth

 

You really put the w into anchorman don’t you”

Another of those random charity shop bargains was this double DVD sets of modern Shakespeare adaptations – ShakespeaRe-Told (I bet that was a smug day when that title was revealed!). The first disc features rewrites of Much Ado About Nothing by David Nicholls and Macbeth by Peter Moffatt shifting the plays to a modern context and employing starry ensemble casts.

Much Ado About Nothing has been relocated to a local news station in Dorset where Sarah Parish’s Beatrice is reunited with former colleague Benedick, Damian Lewis sporting an epic moustache – who never quite got round to getting together when they worked together before – on the news desk of Wessex TV. Hero is the weather girl, daughter of the station manager, newly engaged to Claude on the sports desk though Don from Visual Effects has been nurturing an epic crush on her too and so sets about a dastardly plan to break up the engagement. Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth”