News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added

Ahead of National Theatre at Home’s one year anniversary on 1 December, the National Theatre has today announced the next filmed productions to be added to the streaming service, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Joining the platform today is Simon Godwin’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Antony & Cleopatra in the Olivier theatre, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo playing Shakespeare’s famous fated couple. Then the iconic and multi-award-winning production of War Horsebased on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, will be available from 1 December until 31 January 2022 on demand internationally for the first time since its premiere 14 years ago. It will be available with British Sign Language, audio description and captions. Continue reading “News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added”

TV Review: Spooks – Code 9

Spooks – Code 9 is a spin-off that spins off too far, nowhere near deserving of the Spooks name

“Don’t make me look like a dickhead”

An absolutely baffling one this. Spooks – Code 9 was commissioned by the Beeb as a spin-off of the Spooks franchise that was aimed at the 16-24 demographic. Conventional wisdom dictates that a spin-off has at least some connection to its parent but for some reason, the decision was made to completely sever this new show, with no crossover with Spooks whatsoever.

Not only that, it is also set in an entirely different universe as this series is set in a UK that is reeling from a nuclear attack during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics Games. With London irradiated and most of its staff killed, MI5 has had to evacuate Thames House and set up regional field offices. Because the only way to justify setting a show in Leeds is to make London radioactive…(and even then they can’t keep away for the finale). Continue reading “TV Review: Spooks – Code 9”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“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”

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”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“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”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

Short Film Review #44


WONDER from johnnydaukes on Vimeo.
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”

Review: National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage

“We’ve got two hours to show the vast range of work the National has done over the last 50 years by staging scenes from some of the most memorable shows – there are more than 800 to choose from”

Celebrating a notable half-century of the South Bank institution, National Theatre – Fifty Years on Stage proved a remarkable evening of theatre, gratefully captured on film so that its reach could indeed be closer to national than the capacity of the Oliver would allow. And Nicholas Hytner did a fine job of representing the illustrious past, showcasing 30 or so productions, mainly through live performance but also with some choice trips to the video archive.

The snippets of archive footage were delightful – from Robert Stephens, Maggie Smith and Olivier carousing in The Recruiting Officer and Smith with Anthony Nicholls in Hay Fever to Fiona Shaw’s incredible Richard II and Ian McKellen’s exceptional Richard III. And always alive to the connections to the past, we opened with the first scene of Hamlet featuring Sir Derek Jacobi as the ghost, revisiting the play in which he played Laertes in the very first production on this stage, And we end in a similarly ghostly manner, as the voices of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear giving us Othello give way to a recording of Laurence Olivier and Frank Finlay from 1965

Of the live performances, I loved Joan Plowright returning to Joan of Arc to spinetingling effect, the same with Judi Dench’s Cleopatra. Dench has a superb night in all, reprising her highly affecting rendition of A Little Night Music’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ too. And also doing it for the dames, Helen Mirren scorches in Mourning Becomes Electra, opposite Tim Pigott-Smith. And the tidbits of ‘productions we’ll never see’ were a constant delight. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch enlivening Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead no end, Ralph Fiennes and Charles Edwards teasing what they could do with Pravda, Andrew Scott and Dominic Cooper promising the world with a near-perfect slice of Angels in America. I also really enjoyed the dream cast of Arcadia, Anna Maxwell Martin and Jonathan Bailey making Stoppardian magic with Rory Kinnear and Olivia Vinall, you just wish that we could somehow get longer with all of them.

Perhaps inevitably, there’s a slight whiff of the largely male, pale and stale to proceedings. Tripping from Coward to Pinter to Ayckbourn is a natural reflection of the way things were but there’s a slight danger in perpetuating that state of affairs. There’s of course a thrill in seeing Jacobi and Michael Gambon’s excerpt of No Man’s Land but you have to hope that the future (100 Years on Stage?) is able to showcase a wider range of dramatic talent to reflect a truly national theatre.

Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s

“Do you want to be part of the group, or do you want to be an individual?”

Telling the ‘origin story’ of the Beatles, how they paid their dues as a rock’n’roll covers band in Hamburg with their original line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, Backbeat is actually less Beatles-centric than one might expect. The focus of the show, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys from Softley’s 1994 film of the same name, is actually the relationship between original bassist and visual artist Stuart Sutcliffe and the two main figures in his life: best friend Lennon who teaches him guitar so that he can join the band on their trip and abandon art school, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who falls passionately for him and recognises his true artistic potential.

It is this conflict that forms the backbone of the show – Sutcliffe struggling to balance his best friend and his lover, the band and his art – all underpinned by the knowledge that his cruel early death from a brain haemorrhage came just as the Beatles were about to hit the big time. And it is clear that these are the only really fully-fleshed characters in the show: Nick Blood’s achingly cool and handsome Sutcliffe strikes a magnetically seductive pose, connecting beautifully with Ruta Gedmintas’ coolly composed Astrid and sparking well with Andrew Knott’s bolshy, hero-worshipping Lennon. They make an intriguing threesome and in some ways it is a shame that the show doesn’t get to delve more deeply into these relationships, particularly between Sutcliffe and Lennon. Continue reading “Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s”