Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

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Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8

With major fluctuations in the force, Series 8 maintains a strong level for Spooks – you could argue it should have stopped here

“They think you’ve got Harry Pearce in the palm of you hand and you’re making moves”

 

Finally, after too many years of yoyo-ing between good series bad series, Spooks finally put together two strong instalments back to back. I think the shorter run (8 episodes) really does focus the writing which now goes all-in on the serial plot line running through the whole series, yet still finding time to blend in self-contained storylines here and there.

Big betrayals cut deep, harsh on a team barely recovered from Connie’s recent deception. Personnel changes rock the team equally hard, as Malcolm is (metaphorically) sacrificed to bring back Ruth, Jo is (literally) sacrificed for big business and Ros (understandably) goes in hard for Tobias Menzies. And Richard Armitage’s Lucas North gets his arse out – quality TV all round. Should Spooks have gone out all guns blazing here?

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She’s back! There’s a measure of contrivance in Ruth’s return to the show, necessary to undo the finality of her previous departure and to extricate her from the cushy life in Cyprus which she’d established forself. So cheerio to handsome new partner (they weren’t married so it’s OK he got killed), sayonara to her step-child in all but name, and welcome back to sweet emotional lrepression with Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 8”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

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She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6

AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution

“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”

Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.

The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.

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Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”

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.

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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: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner finally directs a play by a woman but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation of novel Alys, Always is a disappointment for me at the Bridge Theatre

“I’m going to bake a cake”

In well over 30 years of being a director, it seems scarcely credible that it is only now that Nicholas Hytner is turning his hand to directing a play written by a woman. For all of his considerable contributions to the British theatre ecology, it is a startling and sobering statistic that demonstrates the scale of the problem faced by those who would (rightfully) change the status quo.

The play in question here is Alys, Always, written by Lucinda Coxon from Harriet Lane’s 2012 novel. And it proves a serviceable psychological thriller of sorts that sits a little too cosily in the middle class-baiting madeleine-scented air of the Bridge Theatre. It is glossy and magazine-spread chic, undoubtedly shinily cast (Joanne Froggatt, Robert Glenister) but rarely essential. Continue reading “Review: Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre”

Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre

Pinter Four serves up something of a difficult double bill at the Harold Pinter Theatre, but Bríd Brennan and Janie Dee are there to help us through the dark times

“Rationality went down the drain donkey’s years ago and hasn’t been seen since”

Thing about blogging is you can’t hide from the past, or your past opinions, so the fact that the first time I saw Harold Pinter’s Moonlight was one of the most torturous hours I’d spent in a theatre up until then is no secret. So the fact that it was included along with Night School in the double bill that makes up Pinter Four gave me significant – Pinteresque even…  pause.

But that was seven years ago, people change, as do tastes, and the luxury casting of the Pinter at the Pinter season made it an attractive enough proposition to revisit. And am I a now Moonlight convert? Not exactly, but it did prove a less painful experience, even if it does still maintain a power to elongate time which is exacerbated by its coolly distant demeanour. Continue reading “Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

A beautifully sensitive film adaptation of Journey’s End that spares none of its horror

“Smells like liver without the smooth wet look”

In all of the art that has been created around the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is a shame that this film adaptation of Journey’s End passed by without much fanfare last year. RC Sherriff’s play is a rightfully punishing and pummeling play and Simon Reade’s adaptation loses none of the ferocity and horror of the writing, while adding new layers of disturbing verisimilitude in its staging.

Set in the final months of the First World War in the trenches of northern France, Journey’s End follows C Company as they await orders with an increasing sense of dread. Newly arrived Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested the posting as he naively wants to be reunited with former school colleague and family friend Captain Stanhope. But nothing can prepare him for life on the front line, nor the effects of war on his pal. Continue reading “Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)”

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse

“We’re a dying breed”

Obviously, the choice to stage David Mamet’s ode to toxic masculinity Glengarry Glen Ross was made long before the hashtag #MeToo shattered the blinkers of anyone unaware of what men have been getting away with. But it feels indicative of a theatrical culture that has reflected and reinforced a societal imbalance – all-male plays, written by men, directed by men, lauded by prize ceremonies and thus easy targets (and safer bets) for revivals, a self-perpetuating loop that doesn’t seem to even be coming close to stopping. 

And why should it, one might argue. Sam Yates’ production is astutely cast and tightly wound as it visits the world of Chicago real estate. Firstly through a set of short duologues in a Chinese restaurant in which we variously meet a set of salesmen and discover their place in the pecking order. And then after the interval, they’re all brought together in their office (an impressive almighty set change from Chiara Stephenson) which has been broken into and where all the frustrations and feelings they’ve been bottling up now come tumbling free.  Continue reading “Review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse”