TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here. Continue reading “TV Review: The English Game (2020)”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

DVD Review: Cambridge Spies

“Ponces and spies, Anthony. The people with most to hide never have moustaches.”

In retrospect, I can’t even begin to comprehend why it has taken me so long to getting round to watching Cambridge Spies (the obvious lack of time given how much theatre I see aside) – a quality BBC drama with a properly thesp-heavy cast about spies, with gayness involved, and Imelda Staunton as the Queen (Mother). But regardless, it has taken me this long and of course I’m kicking myself as I thought it was a brilliant piece of drama. Over four parts, Peter Moffat takes us through the key years of four of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies from their recruitment at Trinity College through to the defection of two of them nearly 20 years later.

It was a story I knew little of, so there was a genuine frisson in watching how it all unfolded, not knowing what would happen next, but the real thrill was in the excellent character work from the four leads – Toby Stephens as Kim Philby, Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess, Rupert Penry-Jones as Donald Maclean and particularly Samuel West as Anthony Blunt. From their idealistic anti-fascist student days when the Soviet Union seemed like the only real option to stand against the encroaching terror, the wisdom of the KGB’s recruiting plan was borne out by the ascendance of these four into the higher echelons of the British state, from where they would be able to provide the most important of secrets. Continue reading “DVD Review: Cambridge Spies”

Radio Review: My Fair Lady, Prom 2 on Radio 3

“I understand dear, it’s all so grand dear.”

One of the earlier Proms this year featured a semi-staged, fully-talent loaded yet inexplicably unfilmed production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical My Fair Lady. Fortunately it was recorded by Radio 3 so its reach wasn’t just limited to those who were able to get tickets for the Royal Albert Hall. And as befits the Proms, it was given an extraordinarily lush treatment by Shaun Kerrison, with John Wilson conducting his own orchestra of 70, using Previn’s film score orchestrations, and a classy cast and chorus plus dancers to make this quite the significant event and probably deserving of more than this mini-review.  

First off, it sounded simply glorious. The score is just a delight to listen to at the best of times but given full orchestral rein here, the songs like ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly?’, ‘On The Street Where You Live’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ amongst many many others, sparkled and shone and made an instant reminder as to why this show has endured so well. And it was largely sung well: Annalene Beechey (an actress we really ought to see more of on-stage, darn her maternal instincts ;-)) and Julian Ovenden bringing their customary interpretative skill to Eliza and Freddie and making a darn fine job of it. Continue reading “Radio Review: My Fair Lady, Prom 2 on Radio 3”

DVD Review: The King’s Speech

“When I see the common man in the street, I’m struck by how little I know of his life and how little he knows of mine”

My abiding memory of going to see The King’s Speech at the cinema was the bizarre round of applause that came at the end from about two thirds of the Hammersmith Cineworld audience, a truly odd moment. I did rather like the film, but couldn’t quite see why it was lauded quite so much: it tells its story extremely well but lacked a certain emotional heart for me, I didn’t end up caring a huge amount for Colin Firth’s George VI if I’m honest. But as the film came on over Christmas, I decided to give it a go again, not least becaus I will be going to see the play of The King’s Speech in Guildford in February, David Seidler having initially written this for the stage.

Again, I did quite enjoy watching the film, but was struck by how emotionally uninvolving it is for large stretches. Normally, I’d be a sucker for this kind of thing but for whatever reason, it never quite hits the mark. Firth is good as the monarch faced with trying to conquer his stammer but his Oscar should really have come the year before for A Single Man and Geoffrey Rush is superb as the anarchic Antipodean speech therapist whose unconventional methods eventually reap rewards. But it is only in Helena Bonham Carter’s excellent Queen Elizabeth (now, she should definitely have won the Oscar for making such a brilliant job out of a role that basically required her to just react) that the movie has any heart, her looks of tender concern and joy full of deep meaning and a wry sense of humour about her position that manifests itself in some great one-liners. Continue reading “DVD Review: The King’s Speech”

17th Screen Actors Guild Awards winners

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech as King George VI
Jeff Bridges – True Grit as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn
Robert Duvall – Get Low as Felix Bush
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg
James Franco – 127 Hours as Aron Ralston

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman – Black Swan as Nina Sayers
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right as Dr. Nicole “Nic” Allgood
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole as Becca Corbett
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone as Ree Dolly
Hilary Swank – Conviction as Betty Anne Walters Continue reading “17th Screen Actors Guild Awards winners”

17th Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges – True Grit as Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn
Robert Duvall – Get Low as Felix Bush
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network as Mark Zuckerberg
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech as King George VI
James Franco – 127 Hours as Aron Ralston

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right as Dr. Nicole “Nic” Allgood
Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole as Becca Corbett
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone as Ree Dolly
Natalie Portman – Black Swan as Nina Sayers
Hilary Swank – Conviction as Betty Anne Walters Continue reading “17th Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees”

Review: The Letter, Wyndham’s Theatre

Based on a real life scandal, Somerset Maugham’s The Letter takes place in the house of a plantation owner, Robert Crosbie, and his wife Leslie in the British colony of Malaya in the 1920s. With her husband away on business, Leslie claims that she shot a mutual friend, Geoff Hammond, in self-defence, following an attempted rape, and the play focuses on the steps taken by the wife’s lawyer to convince the court of her innocence. Matters are complicated somewhat following the discovery of an incriminating letter which throws doubt on her innocence and her lawyer is forced to make a huge decision in order to save her.


I imagine that Jenny Seagrove is aiming for impassive here as Leslie, but just comes across as wooden and completely devoid of emotion. It is as stiff a performance as I have ever seen, she never feels relaxed or comfortable on the stage and it was quite hard to watch. Matters are not helped by the plummy accents which permeate this production, but lend it the air of farce. Anthony Andrews was just dull as the lawyer who faces a dilemma and I didn’t give two hoots about him in the end. Jason Chan’s Chinese lawyer clerk does well to try and rise above the questionable racial stereotyping; Andrew Charleson’s blindly devoted husband is fine and Peter Sandys-Clarke’s British consul was nicely observed.



The scene changes were bizarre with a bamboo screen wheeling its way across the stage languidly and sapping any energy that might have been built up, with only the opium den scene providing any real interest. Altogether though, it is an unfortunately dull play, only the one vaguely thrilling moment at the very beginning, and it is riven with racial and sexual anachronisms and such a dated idea of stiff-upper-lipped British reserve which make it hard to swallow these days. But even with those edges smoothed, the play The Letter is just fundamentally dramatically unexciting and this production is therefore really not worth the effort.