Film review: the Johnny English trilogy

Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again prove ideal brainless festive watching

“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari Desert carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of sherbet lemons”

I don’t believe in any of my pleasures being guilty, if something makes you smile then who is anyone else to dictate whether that’s acceptable? The Johhny English film trilogy – Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) – holds a special place in my heart (well, the first two do) as they formed the backdrop to a couple of great family holidays and several of the funnier lines have snuck into the family vernacular.

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English is an amusing entry into the series. Rowan Atkinson’s English is a hapless MI7 employee whose bumbling sees their top agent accidentally killed and then all their other agents massacred in a bomb at his funeral. As the sole agent left, he has to thwart a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and decipher John Malkovich’s comedy villain French accent. Continue reading “Film review: the Johnny English trilogy”

Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National Theatre

#3 in the National Theatre’s Queer Theatre season of rehearsed readings

“Well join the radical wing of the movement where to be really queer you have, as it were, to nail your foreskin to the transgressive mast. Literally it seems, on occasion.”

I have to admit to not necessarily being the greatest fan of Peter Gill’s writing and seeing a reading of one of his plays after having partaken of a little of the Pride festivities on Saturday afternoon was definitely not one of my wiser moves. But I wanted the complete set of these readings and so I sat down for 2009’s Certain Young Men.

Following the lives of four gay couples and told predominantly in duologues, it had the slight sense of yet another version of La Ronde as established pairings disintegrate and new ones reform. It is more complex than that, as it seeks to present varied and various forms of gay personalities and relationships, resisting the easy definition of a gay community to present a heterogenous grouping of homosexual men with multiple and conflicting desires. Continue reading “Review: Queer Theatre – Certain Young Men, National Theatre”

Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Theatre Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Theatre Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston”

Re-review: Great Britain, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“They weren’t lies, they were well researched stories that later turned out not to be true”

Just a quickie for this unexpected revisit to Great Britain. I hadn’t intended to go back to this Richard Bean play, which made a rapid transfer from the National Theatre to the Theatre Royal Haymarket after its up-to-the-minute emergence on the schedule after the culmination of a certain trial involving a certain Eastender-star-bashing redhead. But the offer of a good ticket and the chance to see Lucy Punch – of whom I’ve heard much but never seen on stage – tempted me once again into this murky world of tabloid junkies.

My original review can be read here and if anything, I think I might have been a little kind to it. The play hasn’t aged well, even in the six months since it opened as the fast-moving world of political, institutional and journalistic scandal moves on so quickly IRL that this fictional version already seems quaint. Add in that its bite has been evidently neutered by legal threats and its intelligence barely scrapes the surface of the ethical issues at hand, and it’s a bit of a damn squib for me. Punch was good though.

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

DVD Review: Belle

“How can I be too high in rank to dine with the servants but too low to dine with my own family?”

As Avenue Q once counselled us, “you should be…careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race “ and Amma Asante’s 2014 film Belle does exactly that, treading delicately but definitively in telling this real-life story of a mixed race woman who found herself at the heart of English society in the late 1700s. Inspired by a painting of this woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray that hung in Kenwood House, scriptwriter Misan Sagay (and Asante herself too, as reports would suggest) have fashioned a most elegant biography which has a little more bite than your usual period drama due to the inclusion of the slave trade as a significant sub-plot.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is excellent as Belle, the illegitimate daughter of an enslaved African woman and a British navy captain, who is placed into the care of his uncle Lord Mansfield as a ward. He and his wife already care for another niece and so the two become as if sisters, scarcely aware of Belle’s unique position. For though she is ostensibly a part of society, and upon her father’s death a woman of independent means, she is not permitted to contravene society’s rules – so she may not dine with her family and their guests for propriety’s sake, but she may join them after dinner. And she and Bette start to attract the interest of notable suitors, she becomes increasingly aware of the problems in the world she has been placed in. Continue reading “DVD Review: Belle”

Review: Great Britain, National Theatre

 “That’s what we do, we destroy lives…but it’s on your behalf, because you like to read about it”

It’s not quite Beyoncé releasing her latest album without prior notice but it’s not far off. Richard Bean’s new play for the National was something of an open secret even if its specifics were unknown but still, announcing it with five days’ notice and no previews is a pretty bold move. What Great Britain has going for it though is a right-up-to-the-minute immediacy as Bean responds with speed to the scandals that have engulfed certain sections of the tabloid media in recent times and a court case that may or may not have just reached a verdict…

We’re in a satirical, pseudo-recognisable world – a ratings-hungry red-top (called The Free Press) is owned by a foreign-born media mogul who wants to buy a television station (an Irishman called Paschal O’Leary if you will) and has a fiercely ambitious news editor at its helm (a blonde woman called Paige Britain, she didn’t say she was “vindicated” so I have no idea who she was meant to be…). Manipulating their way to a position of huge influence with both Police and Parliament under their thumb, it seems nothing could go wrong. That is, until a little thing called phone hacking breaks into the national consciousness. Continue reading “Review: Great Britain, National Theatre”