TV Review: Secret State (2012)

With Lia Williams and Sylvestra Le Touzel both being badass in the cast, how could I not love Secret State

“Do I look like somebody who reads tweets?”

Inspired by Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel A Very British Coup, 2012’s Secret State stands up realy well nearly a decade on. And how could it not, when it features Lia Williams at the head of MI5, Sylvestra Le Touzel as the Foreign Secretary, Gina McKee and Douglas Hodge as hotshot reporters and Tobias Menzies as the Prime Minister. Continue reading “TV Review: Secret State (2012)”

TV Review: The Smoke (2014)

London’s Burning for the 21st century? The Smoke treads familiar ground in soapy nonsense set at a fire station

“I thought aubergines, it’s a party, why not”

As does many a Sky drama, The Smoke passed me by on its release in 2014 but in the search for unchallenging entertainment, it scratches the itch with some interesting variations on a familiar formula. I won’t give away the jaw-dropping moment from the first episode but safe to say, you’ll be in no doubt as to exactly what tone Lucy Kirkwood’s show is pitching for.

We follow the shenanigans of White Watch, a brigade of London firefighters who battle just as much personal drama as they do actual fires. Chief among them is Jamie Bamber’s Kev who suffered traumatic injuries in a huge fire and still has his demons even as he returns as fire chief. Helping him is the fact that his girlfriend is the Doctor (aka Jodie Whittaker). Continue reading “TV Review: The Smoke (2014)”

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)”

Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre

Pinter Four serves up something of a difficult double bill at the Harold Pinter Theatre, but Bríd Brennan and Janie Dee are there to help us through the dark times

“Rationality went down the drain donkey’s years ago and hasn’t been seen since”

Thing about blogging is you can’t hide from the past, or your past opinions, so the fact that the first time I saw Harold Pinter’s Moonlight was one of the most torturous hours I’d spent in a theatre up until then is no secret. So the fact that it was included along with Night School in the double bill that makes up Pinter Four gave me significant – Pinteresque even…  pause.

But that was seven years ago, people change, as do tastes, and the luxury casting of the Pinter at the Pinter season made it an attractive enough proposition to revisit. And am I a now Moonlight convert? Not exactly, but it did prove a less painful experience, even if it does still maintain a power to elongate time which is exacerbated by its coolly distant demeanour. Continue reading “Review: Pinter Four, Harold Pinter Theatre”

TV Review: Press (BBC1)

Mike Bartlett’s Press has a fantastic company and big ambitions but is probably best enjoyed as feisty entertainment than an accurate portrayal of the world of journalism

“We do it through the most outrageous storytelling in the world, not statistics”

A lot of the chat around Mike Bartlett’s new series Press, as written by journalists at least, was around how the show fails to represent life at a contemporary newspaper in an accurate manner. So I hasten to remind us all, as if it were really necessary, that Press is a drama and not a documentary, and that dramatic license and a real, and frankly essential, thing.

Soapbox done, this six parter is an interesting if simplistic look at duelling newsroom as it follows the teams at Sun-a-like The Post and Guardian-a-like The Herald as they follow stories, set the news agenda and battle for the very soul of journalism. It’s all highly watchable in a popcorn-munching kind of way but – perhaps ironically given my first paragraph – the shadow of the real world occasionally looms a little too large.  Continue reading “TV Review: Press (BBC1)”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III

“The king’s name is a tower of strength”

The Hollow Crown reaches its climax with a solid and occasionally very strong Richard III which once again shimmers with quality and hints of artistic innovation. And for all the lauding of Benedict Cumberbatch’s starring role, it is pleasing to see Dominic Cooke and Ben Power give Sophie Okonedo’s excoriating Margaret of Anjou her due as one of the real pleasures of running these plays together is to trace her complete arc (for she’s the only character to appear in them all) and root her enmity – alongside that of so many others – in something most palpable.

Cooke’s direction also benefits from loosening its representational restraints, Richard III’s monologues and asides make this a different type of play and Cooke responds with a series of interesting choices (though the surfeit of nervy finger-tapping was a touch too much for me) making great use of both gloomy interiors and hauntingly effective exteriors. Playing so many scenes in woodlands was an inspired decision as it leant a real eeriness to proceedings, whether Margaret or Richard bursting from the bushes to disrupt the private mourning of Elizabeth or Anne. Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 3. Richard III”

TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2

“I was a woeful looker-on”

On a night when the real drama was unfolding in Stockholm’s Globen arena and the main internecine conflict was between the juries of music professionals and the public vote as revealed by the new counting mechanism, the BBC’s decision to schedule The Hollow Crown against the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t work for me. Last week’s Henry VI Part 1 was a great reintroduction into these quality adaptations as it started the new series but the follow-up doesn’t quite match the same level.

Part of the issue lies in the seemingly accepted wisdom that the Henry VI plays are problems that need solving – I’ve still not managed to see a conventional production of the trilogy to use as a benchmark – and so the plays are often abandoned to the mercies of the vision of writers and directors. Such is the case with The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2, chopped down and frantically paced, there’s a whole lot of fury but just not enough feeling (though if you’re a fan of battlefields and decapitated heads, you might fare better than I did). Continue reading “TV Review: The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 2”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
Rob Edwards, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Michael Hugo, in Around The World In 80 Days, at the Royal Exchange
Harry McEntire, in Billy Liar, at the Royal Exchange
Dan Parr, in Britannia Waves The Rules, at the Royal Exchange
Michael Shelford, in Early One Morning, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Best Actress
Clare Foster, in Duet For One and Separation, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Natalie Grady, in Hobson’s Choice, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Suranne Jones, in Orlando, at the Royal Exchange
Maxine Peake, in Hamlet, at the Royal Exchange
Lauren Samuels, in Love Story, at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton Continue reading “The 2014 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”