Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results
“Maybe it’s banter”
I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.
And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”
After a brilliantly brutal opening, the third series of No Offence twists into something different as the team face off against the far-right
“We’ve all led each other to each other”
The third series of No Offence started with a real bang as they kept us all on our toes by offing one of its lead characters. And though things calmed down considerably, the ongoing main story of Friday Street’s battle against the rising far-right threat offered an interesting spin for the series.
Paul Abbott’s writing always excels when it puts its characters in the forefront and it’s no different here. Dealing with grief (in their own inimitable way) only added to the portrayals, as Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy and Will Mellor all rose to the occasion, and it was great to see more of Paul Ritter’s maverick forensics guy. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3”
The third series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns to Channel 4 in brilliantly unsentimental form
“What the f*** just happened?”
No Offence makes a welcome return to our television screens but with a quirk of timing, finds itself occupying some of the same space as Bodyguard. Who knows whether Paul Abbott and Jed Mercurio met in a pub to compare storylines and in any case, when they’re both done as compellingly as this, it really doesn’t matter.
We return to Friday Street police station and the big concern for the Manchester Met is currently local politics, a mayoral race potentially being derailed by the efforts of a far right pressure group. And during a hustings event, things go terribly, tragically wrong in a way that seems set to shape the emotional palette for the entire series to come. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 3 Episode 1”
“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”
In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.
And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”
“A police presence is non-negotiable”
Paul Abbott’s No Offence returns for a most welcome second season after a quality Series 1 in mid-2015 added to the purple patch for police procedurals that we seem to be in. Abbott’s spin places us with the Manchester Metropolitan Police and in a world that is equally darkly comic and dramatic as the squad deal with the ramifications of the climax of that first series, as well as keeping an eye on the combustible gangland situation that looks set to involve our guys here.
And what guys – Joanna Scanlan’s almost impossibly charismatic DI Viv Deering as comically sharp as she is whip-smart, Elaine Cassidy’s pragmatic DC Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach’s serious-minded DS Joy Freer underneath her, with Sarah Solemani’s ice-cold DCI Christine Lickberg joining them, providing scarcely wanted oversight and some juicy looking tension. The casual female focus (of the series at large) and refreshing body positivity (of this episode in particular) are just marvellous to behold. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2 Episode 1”
“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”
Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.
We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”
“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”
There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.
Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”
“I never know when I’m going too far but I’m always so glad when I do.”
It was with no little intrigue that I approached watching the boxset of ITV sitcom Vicious – memories of its run from last year focused on the absolute hammering it got, how it had apparently set representations of gay men back centuries and basically broken television. I have to admit to having no interest in watching it from the moment I’d heard about it but clearly something had mellowed by the time I spotted a bargain in a charity shop and sat down to watch Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a long-partnered, long-bickering couple.
Written and created by Gary Janetti (a veteran of US TV including Will & Grace) and Mark Ravenhill (a UK playwright of no little renown), it is an homage to, or more accurately a riff off, the world of 1970s sitcoms with its single living room set where Freddie and Stuart bitch away at each other all day long. They’re frequently joined on the sofa by barely-tolerated fag hag Violet, a deliciously fruity Frances De La Tour, and their newly arrived eye candy neighbour, the handsome but heterosexual Ash played by Iwan Rheon, and that’s pretty much your set-up from which endless capers abound. Continue reading “DVD Review: Vicious”
“Kind of like the opera of my life”
Next up in the list of films I didn’t think I’d ever watch was Paul Potts’ biopic One Chance. For those not in the know or at least have little knowledge of Britain’s Got Talent, he emerged as the winner of the first series, his backstory as an unremarkable mobile telephone salesman with bad teeth the perfect foil for a rich operatic tenor. And as it turns out, his life was a catalogue of misfortunes, bullying and bad health holding back his dream of becoming a singer – perfect material to make into a film one might think.
Not on this evidence. David Frankel’s film is hamstrung from the outset by the fatal miscasting of James Corden in the leading role. Potts, or at least the version that is presented here, is a shy, retiring type full of crippling vulnerabilities and crucially enlivened through the gift of music but Corden conveys little, if any of this through his performance. He’s not helped by having to mime along to Potts’ own voice but there’s something more fundamentally wrong here, Corden’s cursory attempts at impersonation horribly superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: One Chance”
“Do you believe in ghosts”
The BBC having decided that we needed to be scared this Christmas put on this ghost story, adapted from a novel by Diane Setterfield. In many ways, The Thirteenth Tale ticks the boxes of the stereotypes of the genre – ginger people, creepy twin girls, a haunted house, a spooky housekeeper not telling the new governess everything, a disembodied girl’s voice singing nursery rhymes. But putting a twist in, it also adds Vanessa Redgrave in a ginger wig and Olivia Colman with her serious face on to make a melodramatic but somewhat unsatisfying piece of television.
Redgrave plays Vida Winter, a dying novelist whose most famous work was called Thirteen Tales despite only containing twelve, and whose biographical details have long been surrounded by obfuscation and contradictions. As the wolf comes baying at the door, as she describes her end-stage pancreatic cancer, she summons biographer Margaret Lea to her home to finally tell the truth about her life. But Vida’s choice was no accident and as Margaret peels through the impenetrable layers of the thirteenth tale, she is forced to face up to her own stories. Continue reading “TV Review: The Thirteenth Tale”