TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2

The second series of Jonathan Creek continues the good form of the first, even if the writing starts to verge on the misogynistic

“There’s always an explanation”

After the success of its first season, Series 2 of Jonathan Creek followed in short order in early 1998. And having firmly established its modus operandi of impossible crimes and simmering but awkward sexual chemistry between Akan Davies’ Jonathan and Caroline Quentin’s Maddy, it carries on ploughing that same furrow.

This series sees Stuart Milligan added to the mix as Adam Klein, replacing Anthony Head who got the job as Giles on Buffy and whilst he is a vividly entertaining character, his presence seems to allow writer David Renwick to indulge in some misogynistic touches over and above what might be ‘forgiven’ for being 20 years old, just look at the way Adam and indeed Jonathan treat the majority of the women in their life…  Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 2”

News: Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman launch theatre support fund

With a long list of major founding donors, including Danny Boyle, Emilia Clarke, Tom Hiddleston, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Thompson and Rachel Weisz, the Theatre Community Fund has received a pledge of £1 million.

Some of the biggest names from British stage and screen have joined together to support creatives in the beleaguered theater industry as it struggles to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Colman and theatre producer Francesca Moody (who was the original producer of Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag stage show), the newly-launched Theatre Community Fund has already received a pledge of £1 million and amassed £500,000, having signed up a who’s who of actors, directors, writers and producers as founding donors. Continue reading “News: Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman launch theatre support fund”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

“This is not life”

Released last year, Victor Frankenstein has the ignominy of being something of a flop, a little surprising when you consider it is loaded with Brit talent like James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe and was directed by Sherlock alum Paul McGuigan. But as many have learned, not least Dr Frankenstein himself, reanimating old things doesn’t always go smoothly. 

Writer Max Landis’ new spin on Mary Shelley’s classic is that the story is told from (the non-canonical) Igor’s perspective, reframing the ‘hunchback assistant’ as something much more nuanced and offering a fresh set of eyes on their scientific endeavours. Here, McAvoy’s Victor is a manic medical student who rescues Radcliffe’s Igor from an undignified life as a circus freak and quite literally gives him a new lease of life as his collaborator.  Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Victor Frankenstein (2015)”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)

“Dear Emma bears everything so well”

Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Emma for the television may have suffered by being released in the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film version but it is infinitely superior, a much better observed version blessed with an excellent cast, many of whom have gone on to bigger things indeed. Emma herself is played by Kate Beckinsale, Mr Knightley is the recently-returned-to-our-stages Mark Strong, Samantha Morton is the willing Miss Smith and the ever-superb Olivia Williams stars as the inscrutable Miss Fairfax.

Star-spotting aside, it really works as a piece of drama. There’s a real warmth behind the whole affair which keeps it entirely engaging, Beckinsale’s Miss Woodhouse is the personification of charm and her gaucheness feels genuinely couched in innocence as she leads Morton’s Harriet a merry dance with her misguided match-making and eventually learns more about the world than her Highbury blinkers ever allowed. And Mark Strong’s pragmatically strong (ba-dum-tish) Knightley is a perfect match for her, practical in every sense as a hands-on landlord. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 TV)”

Review: Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

“What kind of man would you be without the theatre”

I can’t lie – I had rather low expectations when it came to the stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love, not helped by rewatching the film recently and marvelling at how it managed to win 7 Academy Awards back in 1999. But I equally have to admit to being swept away by Declan Donellan’s production of Lee Hall’s adaptation which is set to open this week at the Noël Coward Theatre, it managing to find an identity of its own (after a relatively slow start) to try and recapture the hearts of audiences anew.

Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman’s original screenplay saw Shakespeare as a jobbing playwright, tussling for commissions with friendly rival Kit Marlowe and dealing with a particularly sticky case of writer’s block. With his unhappily married wife and kids sequestered in Stratford-upon-Avon, he embarks on a forbidden affair with noblewoman Viola de Lesseps, who has her own battles to face in being denied the career on the stage that she craves and being married off to the obnoxious Wessex. Their romantic strife thus provides the creative spark for Will to write Romeo and Juliet.

Where the film did work for me was in the overload of Shakespearean puns worked into the script, often wittily suggesting that the bard took inspiration from all around him; where it did not was with the central romance which lacked any real sense of passion for me. Funnily enough, the converse was pretty much true here. Tom Bateman’s freshly appealing Will and Lucy Briggs-Owen’s hugely characterful Viola have enormous chemistry and theirs is a romance to root for.

Instead, the repeated gags of references to other Shakespeare plays prove to be something of a hindrance, occasionally interrupting the flow of the show –(the ‘out damned spot’ bit takes way too long of a set-up although the payoff is fun) – and often falling flat. Without them being cleverly worked in (like ‘tomorrow’ ‘and tomorrow’), they lose their impact, Will just declaring ‘oh brave new world’ as he schtups Viola doesn’t really mean anything at all. Equally, the delayed John Webster joke flew over the heads of the majority of this particular audience!

Fortunately there’s much more to the production as well. Paddy Cunneen’s highly atmospheric music is sung and played live onstage, Nick Ormerod’s inventive design allows for both the intimate and the grand, and the brightness of the supporting cast – David Oakes’ twinkle-eyed Marlowe, Ferdy Roberts’ Fenniman, David Ganly’s Burbage and Paul Chahidi’s Henslowe just to name a few, give real life to the Elizabethan theatrical world.

And this is where the show really works, a Noises Off-esque sequence that takes place backstage as a play goes on is really well put together, combining great humour and pathos, and the rivalries and relationships between the playwrights and theatre managers give rise to a wonderful sense of community, ending up as a love letter to the theatre as much to Shakespeare himself.

Photos: Johan Persson
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £4
Booking until 25th October

DVD Review: The Duchess

“As they say, the Duke of Devonshire is the only man in england not in love with his wife”

Another of the films that I revisited in my period drama splurge over Christmas was The Duchess. This Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes vehicle did fairly well in 2008 and I quite enjoyed it at the cinema, though I remember being a little tired of the marketing shtick that overplayed the title character’s familial connection with the late sainted Diana, Princess of Wales and rather unnecessarily sought to draw huge parallels between the two. The film is about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who delighted and scandalised late eighteenth century society with her extravagance, forward fashion sense and a soft spot for gambling. Her marriage to the Duke though was far from happy though and as her public persona rises and rises and she becomes beloved of most everyone, behind closed doors infidelities and terrible betrayals push the Duchess to extreme measures.

I did enjoy watching this again for the most part and it is strongly acted, but for a film that covers at least ten years, it is surprisingly slow moving. Knightley in particular is excellent as Georgiana (I’ve never understood why she is such a polarising figure), a woman ahead of her time in many ways with her intellect and political nous having no official outlet in the society of its time and also challenged by being unable to contain her passion for Dominic Cooper’s Charles Gray (great casting choice!). Her portrayal deepens as the film progresses too, she becomes a convincing mother and pained victim faced with a harrowing choice as Fiennes’ passive-aggressive Duke finally rouses into action. He is superbly controlled throughout, almost terrifying with his impassive domination of all around him and the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, are the masterful shots at the long dinner table with husband and wife at either end and his mistress in the middle – beautifully, excruciatingly done. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Duchess”

Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre

This week saw a visit to the Lyttleton at the National Theatre for the first preview of J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways. Starting off in 1919 at a birthday party, we meet the Conways, a rich family infused with hope for the future: the Great War is over, the sons have returned home safely and potential love matches abound for the numerous sisters. This act is sumptuously mounted, the costumes are fantastic and the company do a great job of introducing a sense of real decadence and loucheness, exuding the confidence that their upper-class lives safely back in place after the wartime turmoil. Francesca Annis as the mother of the family excels here, ruling her roost with a witty demeanour, as does Faye Castelow as the youngest daughter, a bubble of positive energy in primrose yellow. Annis also dealt extremely well with her scarf becoming attached to one of her daughter’s rings for over a minute!

Act II then skips 20 years into the future to see how the passage of time has affected the Conways. With this leap forward, all the actors are called on to really deliver sufficiently nuanced performances to convey the passage of time, and with the aid of some impressive make-up, they pretty much all succeed in this. Lydia Leonard and Hattie Morahan in particular stood out for me, both of them reaching deep to show the frustrations that inter-war life has imposed on them. That said, the acting all-around was of a high quality, although some nerves were in evidence with a couple of fluffed lines (something I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed at the National before).

The final act then returns to where we left off at the end of Act I and we see the culmination of the storylines that started, but with the knowledge of how they will ultimately turn out, 20 years later.

Continue reading “Review: Time And The Conways, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre

Most of what I wanted to say about His Dark Materials have been made in the earlier review of Part I, but I wanted to separate the reviews out as they are treated as separate plays although I can’t imagine anyone would just see Part I, especially with its cliff-hanger ending, and I know I couldn’t have waited any longer than the couple of hours that we did to see Part II on the same day.

This part is where some of the more obvious changes to the original books are more evident. Much of the third book has been excised, the character of Mary Malone not used here and the amber spyglass becomes less important as a result. But the story still works nonetheless, and the trip to the Land of the Dead has to rank as one of the most beautifully realised pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, haunting and incredibly moving. Likewise, the ending to the whole story was devastatingly done, leaving me crying for a good 10 minutes after we had left the theatre even though I knew what was coming. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre”