Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread

It may be Daniel Day-Lewis’ apparent last hurrah but Phantom Thread is all about Lesley Manville’s world-conquering excellence.

“No one gives a tinker’s fucking curse about Mrs. Vaughn’s satisfaction!”

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for 6 Academy Awards, a lot of the attention around Phantom Thread has been around Daniel Day-Lewis’ announcement that this would be his last film role. But for me (and for any right-thinking folk), the pleasure comes from a scene-stealing supporting role for Lesley Manville which has garnered her one of those nods. (Not sure if she’ll be attending the ceremony though or giving her understudy a brief moment in the sun.)

And it is an unexpectedly engaging and surprising film. Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock whose rule on the world of 1950s London couture is slowly slipping due to the arrival of the New Wave. His audacious arrogance, sorry artistic temperament, is brought into question when he meets Belgian waitress Alma but when a romance sparks up between the pair, the result is a far from conventional affair which leaves its gender dynamics entirely shooketh. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Phantom Thread”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1

“Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”

To mark Series 10 of Doctor Who starting on BBC1 next week, I’ve been counting down the weeks with a rewatch of all 9 of the previous series of new Who. And now we’re within touching distance, I’m counting down the days talking about each one. For once though, I’m going to keep these posts (relatively) short and sweet, following the below format.

With just the one series to judge him on, and that series being the very first when everyone was still finding their feet, Christopher Eccleston’s Nine often gets a bit of a raw deal. And some of his zany moments are undoubtedly really quite awkward to watch but for me, they’re easily outweighed by the emotional weight of his more serious work, especially when hinting at the considerable darkness of the events of his recent past that had left him so haunted. A solid re-entry back into the televisual world. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 1”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

DVD Review: Locke

“You don’t trust God when it comes to concrete”

Steven Knight’s Locke is a really rather remarkable film, set in real-time in a BMW as engineer Ivan Locke makes a hurried journey from Birmingham to Croydon. He’s the only person we see on screen, though he spends much of the time on his phone, and a large part of the dialogue is taken up with the logistics of what will be the most ambitious pouring of concrete since…well, who knows, but from these unlikely beginnings emerges a genuinely gripping thriller.

With a huge skyscraper project about to crown a glowing career and his wife and two teenage boys setting up a blissful family night in watching the football, Tom Hardy’s well-bearded Locke seems to have it all set. But the phone call that has precipitated his dash onto the motorway throws everything up in the air and forces him to face some huge challenges, all whilst never leaving his seat or letting his foot up off the accelerator. Continue reading “DVD Review: Locke”

Review: Drawing the Line, Hampstead via livestreaming

“When blood is spilt, disputes between people, nations, religions become all but impossible to solve”

A complete Brucie bonus to start off the year was the unexpected announcement that Howard Brenton’s new play Drawing the Line – a sell-out success at the Hampstead – would have its final performance live-streamed on t’internet. I hadn’t booked for the show as something had to give over Christmas and New Year and so the chance to catch up with it for free, albeit on the screen of my laptop, was one I was glad to take.

The play is set in the final days of the empire, as the British are beating a hasty retreat from the subcontinent but are determined to partition the land, and its diverse people, into India and Pakistan. The job of, quite literally, drawing the line falls to archetypal Englishman and judge Cyril Radcliffe who is shipped off to somewhere he has never been before, to accomplish what turns out to be a fiendishly complex assignment. 

For the concept of nation-building is no tidy affair, especially in a region filled with different ethnicities and religions, and though the British administration have imposed an intolerably tight deadline, Radcliffe is determined to do as good a job as he can. But he has to face the anger that has built over years of colonial oppression and the competing factional interests who are desperately trying to make sure the line falls the right way for them.


Brenton is one of our most skilled writers, especially when it comes to bringing potentially dusty historical subjects to life, and so it proves once again here. The cast intelligently interrogate the honourable compassion at the heart of Radcliffe’s effort, expose the misguided good intentions and indeed the naked self-interest of so many of the interested parties. He also keeps a great sense of clarity to his writing, no history lessons needed here to understand just what is going on.


Even through the distance imposed by the camera, the performance level of Howard Davies’ production remained deeply affecting. Tom Beard’s Radcliffe is an ideal central figure, gently baffled by the situation he finds himself in and taking the audience with him as he battles to see a way through to the future. Silas Carson’s sinuous Nehru s excellent, dignified in his pragmatism and movingly human as exposed by his affair with Mountbatten’s wife, a sensitive turn from Lucy Black. 

People do like to debate whether filmed theatre heralds the end of days, but it does strike me as a rather narrow-minded point of view. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that enterprises such as these are going to replace live theatre, they never could and they are not intended to. Rather, they expand a production’s reach in ways a venue could never meet and it will be fascinating to hear from the Hampstead how many countries across the world tuned in to watch this really rather good play. 

Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre

“Who will win in a free and fair election?”

Vinegar, Pepsi and onions. The things one learns at the theatre are many and varied but having seen The Prophet at the Gate Theatre, I now know three ways to counteract the effects of tear gas. With the fresh turmoil of the Egyptian presidential election and a military -enforced constitutional crisis, Hassan Abdulrazzak’s new play arrives with impeccable timing. Set in the middle of the Arab Spring in a Cairo bubbling with possibility of significant change and all the danger it brought with it, he uses this as a backdrop to explore the lives of people living in the middle of it.

Hisham and Layla have been married for seven years but things are going stale. He’s struggling with writer’s block but having his head turned by interest from glamorous Western literary agents; she’s an engineer, fending off her amorous boss even as she feels utterly neglected in the marital bed. Initially, the incipient revolution seems like an unwanted distraction from their comfortable liberal lives but as it awakens Layla’s nascent political activism and Hashim’s imagination flips into fevered overdrive, their own well-buried secrets threaten as seismic a change as the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.      Continue reading “Review: The Prophet, Gate Theatre”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre

“How ill agrees it with your gravity to counterfeit thus grossly with your slave”

Ephesus is London, Syracuse is somewhere in the West Indies (I think) and we’re in the modern day: Dominic Cooke’s production of The Comedy of Errors moves into the Olivier at the National Theatre for an epically long run of a thoroughly updated version of this play. One of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it’s a classic tale of mistaken identities as two sets of twins separated at birth by a shipwreck rocket around the same city causing absolute mayhem as wives, merchants and policemen get tangled in a confused mess over the course of a manic day. We took in a late preview of this show which opens officially on Tuesday 29th.

Though it is Lenny Henry’s face on the poster, this is Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry’s show. As Adriana and Luciana, here a pair of loaded Essex girls, they ooze buckets of attitude as they sit through manicures and massages whilst bemoaning their menfolk and spend the vast majority of the play in some seriously impressive towering heels, even managing to run round the stage in them several times. Blakely’s comic timing is nigh on perfect as she rages through Ephesus/London but also plays a depth to this woman, all too aware of her husband’s philandering and her final contemplative gaze at her husband is a mightily powerful moment. Terry is transformed with straightened blonde locks and a delightfully brash manner which milks every conceivable laugh from her lines: together they are just dynamite. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre”