TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Review: The Audience, Apollo Theatre

“A good Labour woman…”

Not content with becoming a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire earlier this year, Kristin Scott Thomas was also awarded an upgraded Légion d’honneur (from chevalier to officer to be precise) in what has become something of a banner year for her. She’s also completing the not-inconsiderable feat of stepping into Helen Mirren’s award-winning shoes as Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s The Audience, whilst Dame Helen reprises the role and the award-winning on Broadway.

Morgan’s revival has updated the play a little from its first outing – Tony Blair is in, Jim Callaghan is out, the recent election gets its mention with a barbed Miliband joke, but essentially it remains the same non-confrontational easy-Sunday-evening –television style viewing. The parade of PMs mostly play off a sole predictable character note, the Queen gets an easy ride of it with a strange intimation of where her personal politics might lie, there’s not a dramatic surprise to be had in here nor anything truly arresting through all its luxuriousness. Continue reading “Review: The Audience, Apollo Theatre”

Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award (Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar, The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer, I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin, My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter, Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher, On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck, On the Town Continue reading “Nominations for 2014-2015 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Review: The Audience, Gielgud Theatre

“It is the flow of information from one institution to another”

Helen Mirren took home the Academy Award in 2006 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s film The Queen, so it was perhaps a bit of a surprise that her reprisal of the role was announced to take place on the stage of the Gielgud Theatre in The Audience, a new play written by Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry. The Audience centres on the custom for the reigning monarch to meet their Prime Minister every week at Buckingham Palace, a meeting which is held in complete privacy, and it is this that Morgan has seized upon. The play has just started previews and opens officially on 5th March.

He imagines how some of these audiences might have gone, with strong political characters and epochal events of the second half of the twentieth century passing through and the Queen being the only constant, though not unchanging. There have been 12 Prime Ministers during the Queen’s reign so far, 8 are featured here and even some of those are just fleeting appearances. But Morgan’s selectiveness and use of a non-chronological ordering pays huge dividends in the development of the play and of the Queen as a dramatic character.  Continue reading “Review: The Audience, Gielgud Theatre”

DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)

“He did do it, didn’t he?“

One of the side-effects of seeing so much theatre is that there is less time available to imbibe other forms of culture and for me, it has meant that I watch hardly any television these days. I rely on the iPlayer (although too much of what I download ends up lingering unwatched and then expiring) and other catch-up TV services, or else I add the DVD to my ever-growing pile of things to watch on a rare quiet day. Which means it frequently takes me ages to catch up, even with things that I am most looking forward to, one of which was the second series of Peter Morgan’s The Jury which played on ITV last year.

To be honest, calling it a second series is something of a misnomer as it bears no real connection to the first one from 2002, aside from being a show about a jury, which is something of a shame as that show remains one of the televisual highlights of my life. It was one of the shows that introduced me to love of my life Helen McCrory and also featured a smoking hot pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler, but also played out as a rather satisfying combination of character study and legal drama. This time round, the case in question was a retrial of a triple murder, but the focus is as much on the lives of the twelve people eventually selected as jurors. I’m not quite sure why Morgan decided to revisit the format, as in the end it was to somewhat lesser effect for me. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury (Series 2)”

DVD Review: The Queen

“Duty first, self second”

I hadn’t watched the film of The Queen since seeing it at the cinema back when it was released in 2006 and I have to say I quite enjoyed watching it again. Watching it at a time when admiration for the monarch is rather high given the celebration of her 50 years of service, it is a little hard to credit the way in which public opinion swung so viciously against her and the Royal Family in the aftermath of the death of Diana Princess of Wales and the hugely unexpected outpouring of public grief. Peter Morgan depicts a fictional account of the events that followed, though with so much still fresh in the mind, and documentary footage included in Stephen Frear’s film, there’s a sometimes uneasy mix of truth and fiction.

Central to the film is of course Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning turn as the monarch, completely caught unawares by the shift in public mood and unable to seek refuge in the comfort of age-old protocol as the hands-on government of Tony Blair demands a different way of reacting than she has ever been used to before. Mirren is undoubtedly excellent, steering clear of outright impersonation and finding a vein of dry wit which makes the quieter moments of the film some of the best. She is aided by Michael Sheen returning to the role of Tony Blair, which he really has now made his own, as the PM who seizes the moment to lead the country and is determined to take the monarchy with him, kicking and screaming into a new era. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Queen”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”