TV Review: The Crown, Series 3 Episodes 1-3

The Crown returns with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies at the helm, and Helena Bonham Carter stealing the show

“Everyone at the Post Office is delighted with the new profile”

Gotta get those hits…who knows how far behind I am, given I’m 9 hours ahead of the UK at the moment, but I thought I’d jot down my initial thoughts on the first three episodes of series 3 of The Crown (all written by Peter Morgan and directed by Benjamin Caron), as Netflix kindly offered them up as holiday entertainment. (And since I’m away, I’ve been a little insulated from all the Prince Andrew drama, which from over here almost feels like a random bit of guerilla marketing).

  • I wonder if I have a little hangover from just how good Claire Foy was, but I’m 100% feeling Olivia Colman in the role yet. She doesn’t seem quite as subsumed into the character, in the way that Foy’s every minutely detailed movement seemed to be. That said, there’s some scorching moments when Jason Watkins’ Harold Wilson dares to suggest her response to the Aberfan tragedy is lacking.
  • The excellent Tobias Menzies hasn’t really had enough screen time yet to have his Prince Philip make an impact, though I’ve every faith.
  • The casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret is inspired, the extravagance of the character is perfectly suited to her but she’s bringing a real depth at the same time. 
  • And I have to say I miss Matthew Goode’s hugely erotic insouciance as Antony Armstrong-Jones, Ben Daniels’ much more wearied take hasn’t quite ticked my boxes yet.

Elsewhere, the headlong rush through the years means that we’re doomed to the smallest contributions from some excellent actors – Samuel West’s Anthony Blunt and Angus Wright’s MI5 bod were gone too soon, though I live in hope of more from Penny Downie’s Duchess of Gloucester, Aden Gillett as Richard Crossman and Sinéad Matthews as Marcia Williams (seriously, her accent is a thing of pure beauty).

And given the budget is allegedly in the many millions, it certainly looks a treat once again. From glistening palatial lushness to agonisingly destroyed villages, these are fully realised worlds no matter how short a space of time we end up spending in them. Caron’s direction also makes room for a more uncomplicated cinematic as well though, choosing iconic visual to close out each episode – the regal silhouette, juxtapositions of Margarets old and new, the children playing. This is a Crown that has lost none of its lustre.

Photo: Sophie Mutevelian

Review: Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, Nuffield

“In the end, who knows what is true?”

Nuffield’s commissioning of new writing that is connected to the area has long been impressive (I still remember The Saints most fondly) and continues with Nick Dear’s new play Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, their contribution to the Shakespeare400 celebrations. The Southampton here though is Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, rather than the place and the subject of the play, a dramatised fantasia on what lengths to which their relationship might have entailed.

All we know for sure is that Shakespeare dedicated two narrative poems to him – Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece – and from these slim pickings, Dear imagines three competing, but not necessarily contradictory scenarios which are played out simultaneously. The patron in pursuit of artistic excellence or personal fame, the playwright seduced by the prospect of a bulging purse or simply the bulge in his pants. a pair of contemporaries locked together in swordplay or gay lovers dancing a pavane (great movement work from Siân Williams). Continue reading “Review: Dedication – Shakespeare and Southampton, Nuffield”

DVD Review: Match Point

“I’m so sick of this acting thing, it’s just not working out”

If Woody Allen’s Match Point had been set in the Hamptons as it was originally meant to be, I think I would really like this film but as it is, its relocation to London proves to be a constant distraction as this glossily cinematic version of my hometown is often ludicrous. Yes it is fiction and yes it is set in the world of the idly uber-rich with all their casual trips to Ralph Lauren and chauffeured cars but as with James Bond surfing down the escalators on the tube in Skyfall it’s the little things that draw the attention. 

From the unrelenting RP accents to scarcely believable dialogue in the “London Police”, the revelation that being “born in Belgravia” is the key to a lifetime of cultural invitations and the insistence on only showing postcard-pretty shots of London, Match Point has little anchoring in the real world and especially not in the city where it is now set. Putting aside the unlikelihood of shop workers being able to afford cabs home everyday and even worse, neighbours actually talking to each other in a friendly manner, it’s all just so superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: Match Point”

Film Review: Get Santa

“That is one exceptionally clever squirrel”

A slightly odd addition to the festive film slate, Christopher Smith’s Get Santa has a strangely muted sense of Christmas spirit, which viewed through these Brit flick lenses, never really takes off. Rafe Spall’s failed getaway driver Steve is just out of jail and all he wants is to spend Christmas with his son Tom, a cute Kit Connor. But partner Alison has a new fella, his parole officer is out for blood and his kid seems more preoccupied with the bearded man in a red suit he’s found in the shed.

Of course that turns out to be the real Santa, aka Jim Broadbent, who has crashlanded in Richmond Park taking his sleigh for a test run. And in the course of trying to rescue his reindeer from the pound, he ends up in prison (allowing for the film’s one 24 carat joke as the resident barber does his hair and beard up gang-style to help him blend in) and so it is left to Steve and Tom to save Christmas, even if it means breaking his parole. Continue reading “Film Review: Get Santa”

Short Film Review #19

Sonja Phillips’ The Knickerman is a bit of a bonkers 1970s fest but hugely entertaining with it. Featuring some of the most epic denim flares you’ll ever see, the women of a sleepy village in Lincolnshire have their life changed when a handsome knicker salesman arrives on the market. Told through the eyes of a little girl who is transfixed by the “miracle” he claims to give women through their knickers, it’s a relaxed film , almost with the feel of an Instagram filter in its 70s glaze and from Jamie Sives’ charismatic lothario to the likes of Saskia Reeves and Annette Badland as the women who make regular visits to his stall, it’s a charmingly lovely piece of storytelling.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #19”

Review: Address Unknown, Soho Theatre

“I loved you not because of your race, but in spite of it”

Adapted for the stage by Frank Dunlop, Address Unknown started life as an epistolary novella from 1938, written by Kathrine Kressman Taylor and charting the tragic deconstruction of a once-beloved friendship. Max and Martin are German business partners, the former a Jewish art dealer residing in San Francisco and the latter a Gentile who has now returned to Munich. But the year is 1932 and with National Socialism on the rise, the pair become increasingly estranged as their lives and philosophies diverge to the point of no return.

Over a period of a couple of years, the two men exchange letters and this is what makes the play. Two desks on raised platforms are occupied by two men, each reading aloud what they write and the other reacting, over and over until bitter recrimination has swallowed the last tiny bit of affection that was ever there. Steve Marmion injects as much intensity as possible into the production which is essentially static by nature, opting to ratchet up the atmosphere with the crackle of newsreel and radio adding texture and the lighting design increasingly exposing their differences even in terms of office furniture and wall decoration. Continue reading “Review: Address Unknown, Soho Theatre”

Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre

“You are a tyrant, a traitor and a murderer, a public and implacable enemy of the Commonwealth of England”

55 Days sees playwright Howard Brenton return to the history books, after the sheer brilliance that was Anne Boleyn, in this new play for the Hampstead Theatre. The 55 days of the title refer to the period between the enforced creation of the Rump Parliament, the men determined to try King Charles I for high treason, and the subsequent execution of the monarch after Oliver Cromwell failed to reach a compromise with him. It’s a densely packed historical drama, perhaps a greater intellectual than emotional pleasure, but intriguing all the same.

Mark Gatiss takes on the role of Charles I with a wonderfully arch arrogance, utterly convinced of his divine right to rule and the inability of any higher authority to challenge his own, and his louche physical language belies a sharper intelligence that threatens to undo the work of Parliament to build an unprecedented, solid legal case against their king. And that Parliament is led by Douglas Henshall’s puritanical and precise Cromwell, a powerfully pugnacious presence who, though claiming to be governed by pure notions of free-nation-building, is not above the politicking necessary in order to ensure the smooth passing of his will. Continue reading “Review: 55 Days, Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith

“Well, wasn’t that Christmassy!”

The Hackney Empire currently has the reputation of the must-see pantomime in London but the Lyric Hammersmith has been crafting its own little niche in the market and I’d happily wager that with Aladdin this year they have truly come up with the goods and I doubt that this panto will be bettered this year. Co-writers Steve Marmion, Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, returning from last year’s Dick Whittington along with much of the same crew and cast, continue to reinvigorate the form by working in a fresh contemporary vibe whilst never losing sight of what makes a panto work. There’s nothing old-fashioned about this trip to Ha-Maa-Smiitt (say it with an East Asian accent…) where the dastardly Abanazar is plotting to take over the kingdom, whilst unassuming, sweet-nicking Aladdin daydreams of a better life with the Princess Karen until he is thrust into action to save the day.

The script is punchy with a few neat topical references and absolutely chock-ablock with jokes which work on all levels (I was relieved to see the kids in front us perplexed as to why we were laughing so much as Widow Twanky departed on a washing machine) I was laughing out loud throughout the entire show, especially with the physical humour. But it is also a visual treat: Tom Scutt’s costume and set design is sunny and bright, Mark Smith has come up with some interesting choreography and with the magic carpet sequence, there is pure awe-inspiring theatrical magic at work. It would be unfair to say more about it but rest assured it is worth the ticket price alone. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith”

Review: Mongrel Island, Soho Theatre

“Administrate it to buggery”

Steve Marmion’s opening season as artistic director for the Soho Theatre continues with Mongrel Island, a new play by Ed Harris, which follows on both thematically, in its utterly surreal exploration of the mind and memory and in retaining part of the same company, who played in Anthony Neilson’s Realism which has just finished its run in the main theatre. Harris sets his play in the workplace, an office where a group of people are going about the deathly dull business of a massive data transfer, a job so mind-numbing yet all-compassing that it soon starts to take over their whole lives.

Marie, Only Joe and Elvis toil away under the watchful, twitching eye of boss Honey, but when Marie, a charming turn from Robyn Addison, takes on extra hours in order to try and get a few days off to visit her father, the already odd atmosphere in the office takes a turn for the even more surreal. Harris’ writing is strongest when he is evoking the grim realities of an uninspiring working life, the inane chat to fill the silence, the casual cruelty born simply of the need to entertain, the sexual connections made to alleviate the boredom. Simon Kunz’s vicious Only Joe and Shane Zaza’s Elvis with his head seemingly in the clouds entertaining greatly here, Elvis’ storytelling having a particularly surreal poetic beauty even when talking about giant prawns battling polar bears. Continue reading “Review: Mongrel Island, Soho Theatre”

Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith

“We just need someone to run London”

Dick Whittington and his Cat is the Lyric Hammersmith’s choice of pantomime this year with its ageless tale of a young boy making his way to London to find his fortune. Updating the story slightly to include all sorts of modern references and something of a street sensibility, it does a great job of observing the golden rule of pantomime of keeping its audience engaged and ensuring that the humour contained within hits on all levels, amusing young and old alike, working in slapstick, sight gags, silliness and a fair old bit of smut in Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s excellent script.

There’s a steady flow of musical numbers, mainly up-to-the-minute pop songs like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ ‘Empire State of Mind’, Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’ and Glee’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ featuring lyrical changes to make them London- and Hammersmith –specific. The best of them though is the genuinely funny take on Lady GaGa’s ‘Bad Romance’ by King Rat, Bad Rodent, which both excellently comic and creepy and it is nice to see the amount of effort that has gone into adapting all these songs in an integrated way into the show, rather than making them simple karaoke numbers. Continue reading “Review: Dick Whittington and his Cat, Lyric Hammersmith”