TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)

The Secret of Crickley Hall is a disappointing ghost story that not even Suranne Jones can rescue 

“Hands up who wants to move out of here
‘Hands up who wants to know where Cam is?'”

You know how it is. You nod off while you’re watching your son at the playground and then he disappears. And then 11 months later you move to the north and find yourself in a haunted mansion where his spirit starts talking to you. Such is the world of The Secret of Crickley Hall, which flits between affecting family drama and haunted house hokum as it follows its parallel timestreams.

Adapted by Joe Ahearne from James Herbert’s novel (airing on the BBC on 2012), the current-day trials of the relocated Caleigh family run alongside the experience of the group of orphans who were evacuated there in 1943. At the heart of the story lies Eve, wracked with guilt over the disappearance of her son Cam, the conviction that she has some kind of sixth sense leaving her susceptible to the torrid history of her new home.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

 
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
 
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

Review: The Lyons, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Some people are happy and some people are lonely, mean and sad. You strike me as the second kind”

Families – who’d have ‘em? Not Ben Lyons that’s for sure, as in his upscale New York private hospital room where his terminal cancer has reached crisis point, the cacophony that arises when his wife and two children are around his bed is enough to make anyone reach for the morphine button. Nicky Silver’s Broadway hit The Lyons, transferred here to the Menier Chocolate Factory, is one of the most vicious and spikiest dark comedies you’ll see all year – this isn’t so much a family united in tragedy as further shattered by it.

It’s occasionally cruel, it’s sometimes funny, more often than not it is cruelly funny – audacious in the jabs that these people make towards their ‘nearest and dearest’. Isla Blair’s Rita is sat by the bed planning how to redecorate the living room and the sibling rivalry between Charlotte Randle’s daughter Lisa, in an alcohol-recovery programme with a turbulent relationship history, and Tom Ellis’ son Curtis, shunned by his father due to his sexuality and with his own unique relationship problems, starts from the minute they arrive at the hospital, warring over the size of their respective gifts.

What Silver shows is how wrapped up people get in their own personal tragedies, how the wounds that cut one’s own flesh will always hurt more than someone else’s, even if theirs are fatal. So despite being the reason that they have all convened, Nicholas Day’s Ben is often just a spectator in the war of attrition between all four of them – dark secrets being dragged out, deeply held frustrations being aired, a brutal sense of scores being settled in a lifelong struggle. But for all the darkness, glimmers of light are allowed to shine through in a slightly more reflective second half.

The theatrical ancestry of the show feel directly drawn from plays like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but what director Mark Brokaw brings is a televisual feel that also makes it cousins with something like Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. It’s not that the Lyons start to gain our sympathies but rather that once the atmosphere subsides a little, the characters, and the actors, are allowed to flourish more and suggest their depth. 

Randle’s Lisa is transformed by the prospect of a simple kindness towards a man, Ellis’ Curtis has a late Damascene where he realises the change he needs to make to his life, even Blair’s sharp Rita offers something of a clue to her demeanour. It’s not enough to really create an emotional connection to the characters, but that would recast the play into more of a tragedy and shift the balance right off-kilter whereas right now, they are few things funnier playing in London. Not a play for those of a delicate disposition, but a bracing piece of blistering comic writing that deserves to be seen.


Running time: 2 hours (with interval) Booking until 16th November
Photos: Nobby Clarke

Originally written for The Public Reviews

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2

 

“Posh girls don’t hit people”

Series 1 of Suburban Shootout was something of a pleasant surprise, a rather mental British TV series set in the idyllic country village of Little Stempington which is the scene of secret gang warfare between two rival groups of housewives. The first season finished on something of a cliff-hanger and that is where things pick up, with Joyce Hazeldine having to pick up the mantle of leader of the ‘good’ group after Anna Chanceller’s utterly fierce Camilla framed her bitter rival Felicity Montagu’s Barbara Du Prez.

What follows is essentially more of the same, except it just isn’t quite as funny as before, certainly not as compelling now that the novelty has worn off and the writing sadly just feels largely uninspired. The major storyline follows the attempt to get a supercasino built on some treasured wetlands, Barbara’s trials in prison and the struggles of Camilla and Joyce to keep control of their respective situations. But it’s over in six quick episodes and to little real impact. And worst of all, Ruth Wilson is hardly in it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2”

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout

“I’m a housewife Barbara, not a hitman”

Suburban Shootout ought to have ticked all the boxes to become one of my guilty pleasures when it was shown on TV in 2006, a black comedy featuring Anna Chancellor as the fierce leader of a gang of murderous housewives. But as it was shown on Channel 5, who also produced it, it got lost somewhere along the way and I have to admit to not even having heard of it at the time. It lives on on DVD though and actually provides a highly amusing opportunity to see not just Ruth Wilson early in her career, but also a fresh-faced Tom Hiddleston before he was swept up by Hollywood. 

Set in the fictional small town of Little Stempington, smack in the middle of the Home Counties, Joyce Hazeldine and her policeman husband Jeremy move into a new house, seeking respite from hectic London life, and are very much looking forward to their new quiet life. But the premise of the show, created by Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin, is that the village is secretly controlled by two opposing gangs of housewives – both determined to keep village life crime-free, but deadly rivals into the bargain and both keen to co-opt Joyce into their crew. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout”

DVD Review: Vera Drake

“She’s gonna get herself in trouble one of these days”

I’m pretty sure that Vera Drake was actually the first Mike Leigh film I saw, and what a cracker it is. It really is an extraordinary performance from Imelda Staunton as the perma-humming cheerful soul with a positive word and deed for everyone around her, the nice suggestion of putting the kettle on being the remedy for everything and her kindly demeanour drawing people close to her.

Vera’s family life is perfectly drawn too: the drudgery of post-war working-class existence in no way stinted on and the different ways it has affected people clearly evident in her children, Daniel Mays making the best of things as a cheery chatty tailor and Alex Kelly’s cowed Ethel, somewhat diminished by life as a light-bulb tester. With Phil Davis completing the family unit, there’s such genuine connectivity to these scenes, a real sense of family life being lived and a gorgeous flicker of romance brightening Ethel’s life, that the knock on the door as the law finally catches up with Vera really does come as a genuine heart-wrenching kick as their lives are shattered by the revelation that she has been carrying out illegal abortions, or just ‘helping some girls out’ as she puts it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vera Drake”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth

 

You really put the w into anchorman don’t you”

Another of those random charity shop bargains was this double DVD sets of modern Shakespeare adaptations – ShakespeaRe-Told (I bet that was a smug day when that title was revealed!). The first disc features rewrites of Much Ado About Nothing by David Nicholls and Macbeth by Peter Moffatt shifting the plays to a modern context and employing starry ensemble casts.

Much Ado About Nothing has been relocated to a local news station in Dorset where Sarah Parish’s Beatrice is reunited with former colleague Benedick, Damian Lewis sporting an epic moustache – who never quite got round to getting together when they worked together before – on the news desk of Wessex TV. Hero is the weather girl, daughter of the station manager, newly engaged to Claude on the sports desk though Don from Visual Effects has been nurturing an epic crush on her too and so sets about a dastardly plan to break up the engagement. Continue reading “DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – Much Ado About Nothing/Macbeth”