Film Review: Peterloo (2018)

I wanted to like Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, I really did…

“You must be famished coming all the way from Wigan”

I’ve been a big fan of Mike Leigh’s film work, since discovering it in the last decade or so, and loved his last film Mr Turner. So news of his return to period drama, albeit through his idiosyncratic process, in Peterloo was a plus for me. The reality though is an epic that proved a real slog for me, even boring by the end. Continue reading “Film Review: Peterloo (2018)”

TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

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”

TV Review: National Treasure, Episode 1

“Is he supposed to be nice?”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new Jack Thorne drama on Channel 4, and I’ll review the series as a whole once all four episodes have aired. National Treasure takes its inspiration directly from Operation Yewtree and its revelations about the nefarious activities of veteran TV personages, to give us an exploration into how such a scandal could unfold, sweeping up everyone in its path and uncovering a painstakingly hidden past.

Robbie Coltrane takes the role of Paul Finchley, one half of a much-loved TV comedy duo, whose world is rocked by a historical accusation of rape. Placed under investigation by the police, his personal life is shaken, not least his marriage to Julie Walters and his shaky relationship with recovering addict daughter Andrea Riseborough. And once the news conveniently slips into the media, his professional life is also called into question as the number of accusations multiplies. Continue reading “TV Review: National Treasure, Episode 1”

DVD Review: Richard III (1995)

“I am not made of stone”

The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.

Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”

DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)

“If we make this coat, it would be as if I was wearing your dog”

One of Close’s most iconic roles is Cruella De Vil from the 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians and not having seen it for many, many years, I was intrigued to see how it had stood the test of time. And surprisingly well was the verdict, from me at least. The live action film does away with voices for the dogs but still captures communication between them most effectively (and I’m not even an animal lover) and charmingly, as Pongo and Perdita join forces to defeat the dastardly scheming of twisted fashion designer De Vil.

And what was interesting seeing the film though adult eyes, was the extent to which Close plays her as genuinely insane, all bwah hah hah cackles wherever possible and wild-eyed stares at whoever happens to be in her path. It’s a gloriously over-the-top performance but she commits entirely and so delivers perfectly, you can’t help but root for her a tiny bit, she makes evil seem such fun. Joely Richardson and Jeff Bridges as the dogs’ owners can’t help but seem a little bland by comparison, though their romance is rather sweetly portrayed. Continue reading “DVD Review: 101 Dalmatians (1996)”

DVD Review: 102 Dalmatians

“Can you tell us how Cruella De Vil became plain Ella”

Cos you gotta have a sequel right? I really enjoyed revisiting 101 Dalmatians but remembered very little at all about the sequel that came 4 years later, even whether I’d actually seen it or not to be honest. 102 Dalmatians takes place three years after the original, Cruella De Vil having served her time in prison and undergone therapy to cure her of her tendency to have the fur off anyone’s back.

It just so happens that her parole officer Chloe loves dalmatians and is the owner of Dipstick, one of the original puppies, who has a family of his own with Dottie. So when Cruella’s treatment is reversed by the sound of Big Ben, because…you know…that’s how therapy works, she and her faithful manservant Alonzo are well-placed to recommence her fur coat-loving ways, this time aided and abetted by fashion designer Jean-Pierre LePelt.  Continue reading “DVD Review: 102 Dalmatians”

Short Film Review: #52

 

An achingly beautiful story of two former lovers who meet up again over a pint and rehash some painful personal history. Declan Feenan’s writing is deliberately spare as the pair skirt around the real issues that are on the table and as the tension ratchets up towards the end, there’s still a very powerful use of poetic language, almost hypnotic in its telling. It helps that my newest crush Liz White is the one detailing what was done to her as a bedraggled Con O’Neill hangs his head in shame, and Jonathan Humphrey’s direction ensures a beautiful sense of imagery permeates the film, whether in profile shots or the dream-like reminiscences that can never be forgotten. Highly recommended.


 

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Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4

“What would this devastated world be without us?”

Radio 4 recently put together a season of work entitled Dangerous Visions, inspired by JG Ballard’s dystopian take on the near future and featuring adaptations of two of his works – Concrete Island and The Drowned World – alongside the responses of five contemporary writers on a similar theme. My favourite of the pieces that I managed to listen to was Graham White’s adaptation of The Drowned World, a moody exploration of a world wracked by solar flares which have caused the flooding of some of the major cities of the world. Not only that, the ecological crisis has brought with it a new evolutionary shift, but one which is regressive as humanity is forced to change in order to survive, even if it means reverting to a more primitive state of being.

Not having read the book, I can’t comment on the adaptation but it felt like a slickly told story, motoring through its central premise of the world going backwards, in all senses. We see this primarily through the eyes of lovers Beatrice and Kerans, the ever-excellent Hattie Morahan and James D’Arcy both in glorious vocal form, as their passion becomes increasingly primal. But also through the experiences of the people around them as Kerans is part of a scientific expedition to explore one last time before the newly watery world is abandoned. And there we see human behaviour degenerating, especially in the shape of Tim McInnerny’s pirate-like Strangman, out for selfish gain no matter the consequences. A powerfully evocative reading of the story makes this a recommended listen. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4”

Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong

“Foxoliver?”

Michael Frayn’s 80th birthday is being celebrated by BBC radio with a mini-season of his work, featuring a new version of his play Copenhagen and adaptation of his novels Skios and Headlong. First up was Skios, a farcical tale somewhat in the vein of Noises Off and something really quite funny indeed. The tale itself, of mistaken identities, fake professors and frustrated lovers, is mostly entertaining if not quite as masterfully complex as his other work, but what really lifts this dramatisation by Archie Scottney is the kind of dream comic casting one would pay through the nose to see in a theatre.

Tom Hollander plays Oliver Fox, who is going on an ill-advised romantic break to Greece with a woman he has just met. When he is taken for someone else at arrivals, he soon finds himself installed in the warm embrace of the Toppler Foundation who believe that he is Dr Norman Wilfred, the keynote speaker at their conference on Scientometrics and has his every need attended to by super-efficient PA Nikki Hook, Lisa Dillon in sparklingly funny form, who finds herself rather taken by him. Meanwhile, the real Dr Wilfred, a bumbling High Bonneville, also finds himself the victim of misidentification as he ends up in the remote Greek villa where Oliver was meant to be going and where his would-be girlfriend is still headed, the glorious Janie Dee starring as the unawares Georgie. Continue reading “Radio Review: Skios/Copenhagen/Headlong”