TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4

Series 4 sees Jonathan Creek lose its way badly as chauvinism slides into misogyny amid Alan Davies and Julia Sawalha’s strange chemistry

“Now it’ll save your time and mine, I think, if I truncate”

I found series 4 of Jonathan Creek surprisingly difficult to watch. Even if the quality had started to taper off over the course of the previous three seasons, something critical had been lost at this point, far over and beyond the departure of original star Caroline Quentin. Her replacement was Julia Sawalha’s Carla, introduced in the 2001 Christmas special and though she shares a screwball-ish energy with Alan Davies’ duffle-coated protagonist, she’s been married off to Ade Edmondson’s svengali Brendan.

It’s an odd choice that unsettles the whole rhythm of the show, as it devotes way too much time to the uneasy relationship between the pair. And as David Renwick’s writing fully immerses itself in its worst male chauvinist excesses – just look at how women are presented in the first episode, from the prizewinner presented as a grotesque to Anna Francolini being done dirty as a ditzy assistant – the idea that the majority of female characters now have to throw themselves at Jonathan’s feet, is delusional nonsense. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 4”

Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)

Despite a mostly good cast, Tulip Fever proves a punishingly dull film – not even self-isolation should drive you to this one

“Amsterdam was captivated by a flower”

The signs weren’t good. Tulip Fever was filmed in 2014 but was pushed and pulled around the schedules before it finally surfaced in 2017, notorious producer Harvey Weinstein clearly hoping that some post-production magic would win over reluctant test audiences. Safe to say though, such an amount of chopping and changing does no-one any favours as Justin Chadwick’s film remains punishingly dull. 

Based on Deborah Moggach’s book, with screenplay by Moggach and Tom Stoppard, the story (mainly) centres on Sophia, an orphan whisked out of convent life by a wealthy merchant who wants her essentially as a brood mare, But things ain’t clicking in the bedroom, so Sophia tumbles into an affair with the artist her husband has commissioned to do their portrait. And competing for screentime, tulip mania has hit the Netherlands. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)”

Review: Late Company, Finborough Theatre

“When you wake up in a cold sweat at night and you think someone is watching you, well it’s me. I’m watching you”

Guess who’s coming to dinner, Toronto-style. The table has been set at Debora and Michael’s oh-so-tasteful upper class home but the atmosphere is thick with tension as their guests are Curtis, the schoolboy who bullied their son Joel – who committed suicide a year ago – and his parents. The meeting has been arranged in order to try and achieve some kind of emotional closure but as it is revealed just how raw the wounds still are, there’s so much more to dig into than a bowl of seafood pasta.

The Finborough has long had a record of supporting Canadian writers and Jordan Tannahill certainly seems like one to watch. Directed with an unhurried and unfussy clarity by Michael Yale, Late Company blisters through its hot-button topics of cyber-bullying and teen suicide with real skill, presenting an even-handed look at the issues but what really impresses, is the way in which he drips revelation after revelation into his narrative to keep us constantly on the edge of our seats. Continue reading “Review: Late Company, Finborough Theatre”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

“You take pleasure then in the message?”

The good bits of Much Ado About Nothing, when done well, are so very good indeed, that it is sometimes hard to remember that the play has its dodgier moments too, for me at least. And it is none more so evident than in Kenneth Branagh’s beautifully sun-kissed adaptation, filmed in the rolling hills of the Italian countryside. The scenes with Dogberry and the Watch are usually problematic for me and with the broad stylings of Michael Keaton and Ben Elton here, they become unusually painful.

Thank the heavens then for Branagh and Emma Thompson, at this point midway through their six-year marriage and simply perfectly suited as sparring paramours Benedick and Beatrice. They spark off each other beautifully, making us believe in their spontaneous wit and all-too-human fallibility and you could watch them for days. Thompson plays up Beatrice’s bruised heart superbly as once bitten, twice shy, she prowls around Branagh’s amusedly careworn Benedick, who eventually deepens into real grace once the stakes are raised. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)”

DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn

“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff” 

I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole. 

Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life.  Continue reading “DVD Review: My Week With Marilyn”

DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)

“We’ve been getting phone calls, text messages, emails…can’t trace where or who from”

Another drama about online shenanigans, as should be evident from the titular ‘U’, U Be Dead is an ITV television movie from 2009 and written by Gwyneth Hughes. Jan and Debra are in the midst of preparing for a lavish wedding but when they start to receive threatening messages and anonymous phone calls as part of a systematic campaign of harassment, their lives are thrown into complete turmoil. 

It’s all a bit schlocky to be completely honest (but then it is ITV) though there are some strong performances that shine through. Tara Fitzgerald unravels spectacularly as Debra, the target of the most vitriolic aspects of the stalking and clearly far too good for David Morrissey’s rather taciturn psychiatrist/speedboat racer, whose head is easily turned by pert new arrival Bethan played by Lucy Griffith, even in the midst of the crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)”

Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion

“Stay out of my sight cos you’re likely to light my fuse”

South of the river, Philip Ridley’s natural home is the Southwark Playhouse but up north, it is the Old Red Lion that has proved an ideal fit as a series of revivals there continues with Piranha Heights. The warped uniqueness of his apocalyptic worldview is well suited to the claustrophobic intimacy that can be generated in this Angel pub theatre, under the new artistic directorship of Stewart Pringle, and this D.E.M. Productions take on this 2008 play is no exception.

There’s anger here, elemental fury that literally shakes the walls of Cécile Trémolières’ inventive set as the responsibilities that one generation owes to the next are explored and exploded, and repeated as the next ones come along. The impact of parental legacies – both emotional in the psychological damage they can inflict, and physical in the passing on of property and effects – make this a fantastical yet gripping theatrical experience under Max Barton’s direction. Continue reading “Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion”