TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1

Gentleman Jack proves a huge success, for Sally Wainwight, for Suranne Jones, for lesbian storytelling, for everyone

“So much drama, always, with Anne”

Even with as reliably assured hands as Sally Wainwright’s at the tiller, I was a little nervous for Gentleman Jack in the pride-of-place Sunday evening TV slot. But I should have been surer of my faith, for it has been a stonkingly good 8 hours of drama, with an epically romantic lesbian relationship at its heart.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) is a wealthy Yorkshire heiress whose uncompromising nature about any and every aspect of her life rubs any number of people up the wrong way. Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is most definitely not one of them though, she wants to be rubbed the right way and so we follow the path of true love as it winds through the prejudices of the Yorkshire Pennines and Anne’s attempts to break into the coal mining world. Continue reading “TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1”

TV Review: Bodyguard Series 1

Bodyguard reaches a thrilling climax that is sure to disappoint some but left me on the edge of my seat

“I wanted to know who did it, I don’t know who did it”

Except we do finally know who did it. Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard – an unexpected massive hit and a reminder that the appointment-to-view model is far from over – reached its climax tonight in typically high-tension style, confounding expectations to the end and dashing the dreams of many a conspiracy theorist to boot. Seriously, so glad that Julia Montague remained dead (at least until a sequel is announced and we have to go through this whole farrago again). 

And though it is bound to have its detractors, I have to say I found it all hugely entertaining. If it just wasn’t realistic enough for you, then WTF are you doing watching dramas? If you’re getting swept up in locations in this fictionalised version of London not being where they are in real life, turn the damn thing off! Its not for everyone, that’s absolutely fine, but you don’t have to drag everyone else down with your misery. Continue reading “TV Review: Bodyguard Series 1”

TV Review: Bodyguard, BBC1

Jed Mercurio hits the mark once again with new drama Bodyguard, led by two excellent performances from Kelley Hawes and Richard Madden

“Looks like the Home Secretary couldn’t be in safer hands”

The weather taking a turn for the blessedly British feels like a most appropriate herald for the return of proper drama to our tellyboxes and first out of the gate for this year’s slate of autumn dramas is Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard with a properly nail-biting opening 20 minutes which serve as a remarkable statement of intent for this series.

In an expertly tense sequence, Afghan vet turned special protection officer David Budd (Richard Madden) negotiates the peaceful surrender of a suicide bomber of a train in Euston. The perpetrator(s) (as it turns out) may be Islamists but its the gung-ho approach of the police that emerges as much as a threat to a peaceful resolution. Continue reading “TV Review: Bodyguard, BBC1”

Review: Mary Stuart, Almeida

“The Queen? Which Queen?”

Robert Icke’s Mary Stuart is a towering success, an extraordinary piece of theatre that surely ranks amongst the year’s best, no mean feat considering his Oresteia, also for the Almeida, did the same thing last. There’s added spice here too since leading players Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson do not know which of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots they will be playing until the beginning of the performance when it is decided with a coin toss. And so too, dear reader, must you decide…

 

Heads          Tails

News – more tickets for Mary Stuart released today

“It’s all in the execution”

Aside from an excuse to use one of the greatest publicity shot ever created in our lifetimes, courtesy of Miles Aldridge, this is actually a public service announcement to let you know that more tickets for Mary Stuart will go on sale at 10am today (Monday 5th December). And  a little bird can tell you that since the show is pretty much in the round, the new seats that they’ve added in the Stalls (Section C) are really rather good as you’re very close to the action. (Sightlines are affected occasionally esp in final scene so I’d opt for 3-4 or 31-32 if you can). That little bird might also tell you to book now for the love of God, tickets will be like gold dust!

Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes (with interval) (subject to change)
Booking until 21st January

Mary Stuart – heads you win

“We are both queens”
 

There’s much to enjoy about this Mary Stuart but what is particularly pleasing to see is Robert Icke’s directorial instincts developing and maturing. The production opens with Tim Reid’s live video, capturing the opening gambit, but cannily isn’t used again until a key counterbalancing action later on; likewise original compositions from Laura Marling are quite the coup but again are used sparingly, wisely, at two crucial and contrasting moments. The timestamping of each act over a more or less 24 hour period measures out a steady but always forceful sense of pace – Icke has always been a strikingly effective director but the less is more ethos espoused here is singularly superb.

So too with the political overtones of his adaptation, everywhere you look contemporary resonances can be found but they’re never overplayed. The 52% are hauled over the coals when “a majority does not prove a thing is right”; the dangers of riding roughshod, Trump-like, over the tenets of “international laws” are explored; the doublespeak (or rather non-speak) of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ finds a chilling partner in Elizabeth’s determination to shift the responsibility of the death warrant onto her man Davison, surely no accident that his modern-day equivalent is called David Davis… Continue reading “Mary Stuart – heads you win”

Mary Stuart – tails you lose

“You seem to know our miseries alright”

A coin toss is naturally a game of chance and so the odds of getting the same side twice in a row are just as high as getting heads and then tails (or maybe not, but I’m not researching probability theory on Wikipedia to pretend that I know). What I’m trying to say is that I went back a week later and I got Williams as Elizabeth and Stevenson as Mary again and so my plans of having two different reviews went kaput!

Here’s the review I did write.

 

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: That Day We Sang

“We want all the spirit of Lancashire, but not the accent” 

One of the most anticipated bits of TV this Christmas was surely Victoria Wood’s adaptation of her musical That Day We Sang, featuring a Sweeney Todd reunion with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball taking on the lead roles of Enid and Tubby. The show is a wonderfully heart-warming tale of extraordinariness coming out of the ordinary as Wood does so well, following two lonely middle aged Mancunians who dare to dream of love when life offers them a second chance.

They’re initially brought together at a special event in 1969 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Manchester Children’s Choir recording Purcell’s Nymphs and Shepherds (a real life event). Having lost touch and been ground down by the drudgery of life, each puts a long awaited sparkle in the other’s eye though as ever, the path of true love ne’er did run smooth. And Wood contrasts this story with a 1929 narrative that follows the experiences of the choir as they build up to their momentous day. Continue reading “TV Review: That Day We Sang”