Series 1 of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess introduces Elliot Cowan and Harriet Walter to the mix with great success
“I won’t be passed around Europe like a colection plate”
Following on from The White Princess, The Spanish Princess is based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, and the first instalment of eight episodes tackles the arrival of Catherine of Aragon to England to meet the man she has been betrothed to since they were both children, Arthur, heir apparent to Henry VII.
The biggest problem, aside from the weather and the racism (members of her court had Moorish and descent), is that the epistolary courtship that had so wooed her teenage heart, was actually written by his younger brother Henry…plot twist. But when Arthur died young, it meant that the plan for peace between England and Spain could still be found in another marriage. Continue reading “TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 1”
Lennie James and his iconic yellow jacket return for an uncompromising and still excellent second series of Save Me, this time with added Lesley Manville
“Thought I was cleverer than I am, I went in there, bloody swinging my dick. I offered him out and he sat me on my arse”
After a scorching first series, series 2 of Save Me, wittily named Save Me Too, picks up some 17 months later. South East London charmer Nelly had his world tipped upside down when his long-estranged daughter Jody was abducted and all signs pointed to someone he knew being deeply involved. And a tense finale saw him following the trail only to find a different kidnapped girl – Grace.
The slight time-jump of this second series is an effective tool as it allows James to explore the weight of tragedy with a little distance added in. Two years or so down the line, life has had to continue but the shadow of a child abuse ring naturally lingers heavily and we how see James’ Nelly, and to a lesser degree Suranne Jones’ Claire – Jody’s mum – have accommodated as best they can the vacuum in their world. Continue reading “TV Review: Save Me Too”
Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best
“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”
A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.
Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”
Over on Sky, Save Me turns out to be something rather brutally brilliant, written by and starring Lennie James, alongside an exceptional Suranne Jones
“I’ve just gone to see my dad”
Lennie James is billed as the creator of Save Me, as well as leading the cast alongside Suranne Jones, and it is a good thing he is up to the job as it has turned out to be a rather brutally brilliant series. Set in a tight-knit community in Deptford, it’s a clever take on the missing child genre that proved remarkably tense and completely gripping as it winds to a gut-punch of a conclusion.
James plays Nelson Rowe, Nelly to those that love him and it is clear that many do in this corner of South East London. He’s a total chancer, sleeping with any number of lovers, and balancing any number of side hustles in lieu of an actual job. But when the police come crashing through the door, everything changes. The daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was three has gone missing and she was on her way to see him, as her phone shows she’s been messaging with him for weeks. Continue reading “TV Review: Save Me (Series 1)”
“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”
I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.
Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”
“How can I be too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with my own family?”
As Avenue Q once counselled us, “you should be…careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race “ and Amma Asante’s 2014 film Belle does exactly that, treading delicately but definitively in telling this real-life story of a mixed race woman who found herself at the heart of English society in the late 1700s. Inspired by a painting of this woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray that hung in Kenwood House, scriptwriter Misan Sagay (and Asante herself too, as reports would suggest) have fashioned a most elegant biography which has a little more bite than your usual period drama due to the inclusion of the slave trade as a significant sub-plot.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is excellent as Belle, the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved African woman and a British navy captain, who is placed into the care of his uncle Lord Mansfield as a ward. He and his wife already care for another niece and so the two become as if sisters, scarcely aware of Belle’s unique position. For though she is ostensibly a part of society, and upon her father’s death a woman of independent means, she is not permitted to contravene society’s rules – so she may not dine with her family and their guests for propriety’s sake, but she may join them after dinner. And she and Bette start to attract the interest of notable suitors, she becomes increasingly aware of the problems in the world she has been placed in. Continue reading “DVD Review: Belle”
“You took my shopping and then you took my virginity”
Oh lordy, I have no idea what Noel Clarke is like as a person but on this evidence he is in desperate need of someone to tell him ‘no son, no’. Having shown promise with his earlier work, 126.96.36.199. sees Clarke moving onto what he sees as the next level , it just so happens that it is the next level down rather than up. A brash would-be comedy thriller that dreams so dreadfully of transatlantic success and yet comes off as exploitative try-hard, depressingly manipulative and a laughable vanity project.
Even at its base, it is a disappointment. The structure of the film follows four young friends as they deal with a particularly hectic time involving some gangsters and a bag of conflict diamonds they’ve nicked. Clarke retells the story from each woman’s point of view, a tried and tested device, but one which is wasted here – the narratives are kept essentially separate with no sophisticated intersection or interplay in the storytelling that would actually justify the format. Continue reading “DVD Review: 4321”
Expectation Management, Episode 2 from tupaq felber on Vimeo.
A second instalment for Tupaq Felber’s Expectation Management, seeing Jon Foster’s Owen remaining unlucky in love and dating, not least because of the efforts of his friends. It’s not quite as funny as the first but still rather good fun. Continue reading “Short Film Review #46”
A real work of art this. Johnny Daukes’ Wonder
has much of the multi-stranded, deeply emotional feel of one of my favourite films Lantana
and is just beautifully made. Set in London with the odd excursion to the picturesque Dorset coast, a set of disparate lives are shown to us – a couple about to separate, another one tired of their long relationship, a family grieving, a jealous lover wanting to trust his boyfriend. Daukes spares us too much dialogue and focuses instead on gorgeous shots and an evocative, self-penned score, making this a deserved success.
Continue reading “Short Film Review #44”
“Fools tell the truth”
Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.
I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial. Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”