Review: Pinter Five, Harold Pinter Theatre

Jane Horrocks and Rupert Graves shine in Pinter Five, featuring The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices at the Harold Pinter Theatre

“You know where you are here”

Pinter Five sees Patrick Marber, someone who could call Harold Pinter a friend and colleague, take the directorial wheel as he presents a triple-bill of The Room, Victoria Station and Family Voices, delving further into the wealth of short plays left behind by the playwright.

The first half is taken up by Pinter’s first play, 1957’s The Room, a prototype for so much of what was to come as he settled into his distinctive voice. The air of menacing strangeness looming over seemingly everyday situations, visitors who disrupt and disturb, relationships that can never be quite pinned down… Continue reading “Review: Pinter Five, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”

Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.

Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.

The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time.  Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7”

DVD Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3

“You can’t put a price on avoiding deep vein thrombosis”

I sat down to watch the new episodes of Last Tango in Halifax on the iPlayer but only as it started, did I realise that I had somehow neglected to watch Series 3 when it aired a couple of years ago. So having tracked it down, I indulged in a good old binge of quality Sally Wainwright drama. I loved Series 1 and Series 2 but in the final analysis, found this third season to be a little disappointing by comparison.

Since we’re more than two years down the line now, I think I can safely discuss the main reason for this – the killing-off of Nina Sosanya’s Kate in an unexpected incident of Dead Lesbian Syndrome. It was a high value example of the trope as well, considering it happened on the day after her wedding to Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline and whilst she was heavily pregnant with the child they intended to raise together. Continue reading “DVD Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3”

DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield

“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”

Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores. 

It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Salting the Battlefield”

DVD Review: Turks and Caicos

“Whatever happened to the idea of shame?”

Part 2 of David Hare’s Johnny Worricker trilogy, Turks and Caicos followed on from the events of Page Eight albeit somewhat less engagingly for me. Bill Nighy’s ex-MI5 man is holed up in the Caribbean living the life of Riley under an assumed name but his lobster-eating peace is shattered when a shadowy CIA man reveals he knows who Johnny is and sucks him into a morass of shady big business deals with some shady US big businessmen and he finds himself having to make his own deals in a desperate attempt to maintain his cover.

Though the tropical island setting looks amazing with all its luxury hotel trappings and Hare has secured quite the swanky cast – Winona Ryder, Christopher Walken, Rupert Graves and Helena Bonham Carter joining returnees Nighy and Ralph Fiennes as the unscrupulous Prime Minister – this is nowhere near the same tightly plotted, intelligent spy thriller as its predecessor. The plot relies on far too many contrivances to hook into the larger narrative of the trilogy and rarely gets out of third gear, there’s no adrenaline here at all. Continue reading “DVD Review: Turks and Caicos”

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”

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”

Review: Radio Dramas – Bad Memories and That’s Mine, This is Yours

“According to the meta-data on the files…”

From the first moments of the prologue, it is clear why Julian Simpson’s haunted house radio play Bad Memories won awards for its sound design. Recorded at Stanmer House in Brighton, David Chilton has created an amazingly well-textured soundscape which responds perfectly to the challenges of Simpson’s writing. To solve the mystery of the disappearance of an architect’s family whose bodies turn up in their cellar several years later yet with extremely perplexing forensic discoveries, the investigating officer turns to a tech wizard to see if a digital voice recorder found with them can reveal any clues.

And who else would you turn to in such a time but ‘Ruth from Spooks’?! Technically speaking it is Nicola Walker, playing a character called Rachel Weir, but it must be said that there’s not too much distance between the two. But as a huge fan of Spooks, and of Walker’s, I had no problem whatsoever with this. And as she works through the short clips of recordings that she is able to rescue, along with Rupert Graves’ detective, a disturbing tale of paranormal investigators, haunted children and scary little-girl-ghosts (always the worst kind!) begins to emerge. Continue reading “Review: Radio Dramas – Bad Memories and That’s Mine, This is Yours”