TV Review: W1A (Series 2)

Something doesn’t quite click right with Series 2 of W1A, as it struggles to live up to what has gone before though still remaining quite gently funny

“I don’t want to be dramatic about it, and I mean we all love Sue Barker, but I’ve to to say we are looking at a situation here”

I’ve loved going back to watch Twenty Twelve and my memories of the shift to W1A were that it was just as good, if not better. I’d definitely say that about the first series but having just gone through series 2, I found myself just a little disappointed. The bar having been raised so high, it feels like this collection of four episodes just doesn’t have the same zing that really grabs your attention.

In many respects, nothing has really changed. There’s still much comic currency in the exposure of the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the BBC and the determination of any middle-to-senior manager to avoid actually making a decision. But there’s also a slight sense of familiar ground being retrodden that dulls the edge – I mean once again any and every female is falling at the feet of Ian Fletcher, really? Continue reading “TV Review: W1A (Series 2)”

Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker more than lives up to expectations as Doctor Who in Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – plus Bradley Walsh may well make you cry

“Half an hour ago I was a white haired Scotsman”

“Change my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon”. From the mouth of the Sixth Doctor himself, the very nature of Doctor Who (both the programme and the Time Lord) has always been its infinite variety. So it’s about bloody time that we now have the first female in the role – the excellent Jodie Whittaker – as new show-runner Chris Chibnall makes his definitive mark on the BBC serial.

And on the evidence of this first episode (and, let’s face it, to anyone with common sense), the Doctor’s gender is of little consequence. The ability to act as if you have two hearts knows no bounds, who knew, and the hints of Whittaker’s Doctor that were allowed to peek through the regenerative funk suggest we’re in for something of a real treat with an effervescent sense of personality shining through. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1

“Oh for…fucking internet”

On the first day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…a politician fucking a pig.

Can Charlie Brooker ever have conceived that four years after The National Anthem aired, the theme of his first episode of Black Mirror would actually come horrifically to life as Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron alluded to unsavoury acts with a pig’s head. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 1:1”

TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4

“Everyone fucks everyone, eventually”

I wrote here about the first episode of Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sitcom for Channel 4, and though it didn’t really float my boat, I did persevere with the rest of the series. Truth be told though, it was just more of the same – I continued to like what I liked about it and similarly, what substantially rubbed me up the wrong way continued to bug me.

Namely, the thoroughly unlikeable nature of Waller-Bridge’s self-played lead Lulu, crashing into the lives of old friend Anthony and his fiancée Kate and doing her utmost to fuck up their relationship in order to act on their hitherto unexplored lifelong sexual tension. Not that characters have to be likeable to be good but I found nothing redeemable in Lulu, just a thoroughly obnoxious selfishness that turned me off pretty much the whole show. Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing Series 1, Channel 4”

TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4

Someone needs an orgasm”

After the Olivier Award-nominated success of her solo show Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has now made the leap to the small screen with Crashing, a new six-part comedy which is airing on Channel 4. Reuniting her with frequent creative partner Vicky Jones, its set-up involves a group of youngish Londoners who have opted out of increasing rental rates and signed up as property guardians for a disused hospital in which they now reside. 

It’s hard to judge a series on its first episode alone but it does feel that Crashing has a way to go if it is going to work effectively. The writing does feel rather derivative – I kept having flashbacks to The One, with its repeated fake-outs – and rather too determined to be bolshy and indeed banterish, instead of, well, funny. The jokes about tampons, lesbian porn et al try too hard, the will-they-won’t-hey trope is deployed twice in this first episode alone, there’s work to be done…  Continue reading “TV Review: Crashing, Channel 4”

Review: East is East, Trafalgar Studios

“You not need to know my bloody business, missus”

There’s much indeed to love about East is East, the 1996 Ayub Khan Din play that was later made into a successful film (albeit one I have yet to catch), not least in the return of the remarkable Jane Horrocks to the stage and another of Tom Scutt’s impressive sets, marking him as one of the most interesting designers working in UK theatre at the moment. The play itself came at what could be considered a watershed moment in cultural representations of British Asians but given what has happened in the 20 or so years that have passed since its writing, it is interesting to consider how it stacks up now against today’s society.

The tale is an autobiographical one – Khan Din was himself part of a large family from Salford with a white British mother and a Pakistani father and a thinly disguised version of this household is what he puts on stage. It’s 1971 and George’s overbearing paterfamilias is keen for his seven children to respect and revere their sub-continental heritage, especially at a time when East Pakistan was fighting for its independence. He’s appalled that his children consider themselves more British than Asian though and have no respect for the customs he would impose upon them, especially in the arranged marriages he tries to secure for the family.

What additionally makes Sam Yates’ production spectacular is that Khan Din is playing George, the barely fictionalised representation of his father in all his complex frustrated rage and fury, a deeply moving portrayal that brings such nuance to a man who could so easily be demonised and dismissed as an autocratic wife-beater. Instead we come to realise the fear with which he would rule is his own fear of being left behind, of becoming his own father. And whilst our sympathies automatically go to Horrocks’ highly pragmatic Ella, we’re never in any doubt as to the depth of emotion that holds them together, even if their kids can’t understand why she doesn’t leave him.

Those kids are also excellent by the way, from the shyness of Michael Karim’s youngest Sajit through the sparkiness of Taj Atwell’s Meenah – the only girl – to Ashley Kumar’s wannabe heartthrob, the way these siblings rub each other up is heartening and hilarious, we so quickly get so fully engaged in their fates that it is nigh on impossible to not get caught up in the emotional ties that bind them all. Scutt’s design of terraced houses and flexible proppage adds to a recognisable feel that variations of the family dramas here are played out in houses across the nations and across the ages, and all with an Auntie Annie passing comment from the corner of the room! A hugely worthwhile revival.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January

DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)

“Solly Shimshillewitz? Why didn’t they just call you “Jewie-jew-jew-jew-jew” and be done with it?”

Not having seen the film of The Infidel before catching the musical adaptation at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I quickly rectified that with a cheeky online rental on my new iPhone 6+ (plug!). Written by David Baddiel and directed by Josh Appignanesi, it was a moderate success in 2010 although watching it now, I was struck by how comparatively muted the humour was and impressed that Baddiel and co saw musical theatre as the best way to translate the story for the stage as it isn’t immediately obvious.

Omid Djalili takes on the role of Mahmud, the British Muslim whose life is turned upside down when he discovers that he is in fact adopted and is Jewish by birth to boot, and impresses in the everyman part of the role, emphasising the story’s point about how we all wear our beliefs differently but no less strongly. He’s a little more restrained than I was expecting though and Archie Panjabi, good as she is, feels miscast as his wife, their relationship improbably imbalanced and so lacking the deep-seated connection that ought to be holding them together even during the most strained times. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Infidel (2010)”