TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1

I turn to a rewatch of Jonathan Creek to get me through Week 2 of Lockdown #2 and enjoy the freshness of the first series

“No one could have killed your husband and then left this room”

Starting in 1997 and memorably co-opting Saint-Saëns’ renowned ‘Danse Macabre’ for its theme tune, mystery crime thriller Jonathan Creek occupies a happy place in my TV memories, so I was a little hesitant at first in case it didn’t match up to how I remembered.

From cracking seemingly impenetrable alibis, to working out how to escape a nuclear bunker, to locked room mysteries of all sorts, it turns out David Renwick’s writing holds up rather well. The plotting is sufficiently twisty that it is nigh on impossible to figure out who and certainly howdunnit and I remembered none of the important details so it was like watching it anew. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek, Series 1”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

10 questions for 10 years – Ming Ho

Playwright and scriptwriter Ming Ho takes on 10 questions and reveals the unlikeliest of Josephs you ever did  hear…!

I love a show that completely takes you by surprise and the aural adventure (plus snacks!) of Citizens of Nowhere? – a show commissioned and produced by Chinese Arts Now – did just that, lingering long in the mind. So I thought I’d invite writer Ming Ho to speak a little about that show, and much more besides:

“Getting to work with the lovely cast, Jennifer Lim, Siu Hun Li (who inspired the character of Jun in the play!), and Pik-Sen Lim, a rare East Asian face on TV when I was growing up.” 

  • Where were you 10 years ago?

    In the wilderness. Having started out as a script editor in TV drama and moved into scriptwriting, I’d had a solid few years working on long-running series (Eastenders, Casualty etc), but my mum had been developing symptoms of dementia for probably over a decade, and her needs became pressing; as an only child with no other immediate family, I found myself spending more and more time supporting her, shuttling back and forth from our family home to my flat in London, and eventually having to arrange residential care for her and sell the house. She’s been in care for 8 years now in two different homes and is at a very advanced stage. In 2013, I started a blog about our experiences, Dementia Just Ain’t Sexy, and have since become heavily involved in campaigning re dementia and carer issues, sitting on the Carers Advisory Panel of Dementia Carers Count  and the Advisory Board of Raising Films.

    I never consciously withdrew from TV writing, but fell out of circulation on the long-runners, and that year of 2009 also had major surgery that I’d been putting off for some time, due to mum’s condition. I kept up contact with the business through involvement with the Writers’ Guild, sitting on the TV Committee and Executive Council, and being Deputy Chair from 2012-14. It was a traumatic time, but arguably, with hindsight, it has given me pause for thought about the kind of work I really want to do. I’ve realised that autonomy and truthfulness of content are the drivers for me and have since been focusing on original work for stage, screen, and radio.

    Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Ming Ho”

TV Review: The Split Series 1 / The Good Fight Series 2

If female-fronted lawyer shows are your bag (and why wouldn’t they be!), the twin joys of The Split and The Good Fight have marvellous to behold

“Kill all the lawyers”

If I’m completely honest, Abi Morgan’s The Split did leave me a tad disappointed as it veered away from its legal beginnings to something considerably more soapy over its six episodes. The personal lives of the Defoe clan well and truly took over at the expense of any of the cases they were looking after and even if that family includes Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Deborah Findlay, it’s still a bit of a shame that it ended up so schlocky. Continue reading “TV Review: The Split Series 1 / The Good Fight Series 2”

TV Review: The Split, BBC1 (Episode 1)

All hail the return of Nicola Walker to our TV screens in new Abi Morgan drama The Split

“Divorce shouldn’t be easy”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new legal drama which looks extremely promising, not least because of a swooningly wonderful cast. The aforementioned Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Fiona Button as sisters, the ever-marvellous Deborah Findlay as their fearsome mother, people like Stephen Tompkinson and Meera Syal as clients, hunky Dutchmen like Barry Atsma looming on the sidelines, and the likes of Rudi Dharmalingam and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith also on the fringes. 

Photograph: Mark Johnson/BBC/Sister Pictures

Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo

“I hate her being the mistress of a rich, old voluptuary”

I wasn’t intending to revisit Love In Idleness, newly transferred to the Apollo Theatre for a limited 50 performance run, as first time round, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I got a little caught up in the strange genesis of the show and the fact that I was half-remembering the plot of Less Than Kind in real time, which proved to be rather distracting. But there’s no denying the sheer star quality of Eve Best and who am I to turn down any chance to see her.

And I’m glad I returned as I found myself enjoying the play a lot more second time round. Taking it for what it is, which is a Rattigan curiosity rather than a revelatory (re)discovery, this light-hearted comedy is actually an interesting addition to the West End’s early summer. Its main joy remains the relaxed but realistically palpable chemistry between Best and Anthony Head, as widow Olivia and government minister Sir John Fletcher whose relationship comes under strain when her son Michael returns from four years evacuated to Canada. Continue reading “Re-review: Love in Idleness, Apollo”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2

“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).

Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2”

Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

“There’s no situation in the world that can’t be passed off with small-talk”

Overlord of all that is authentic in British theatre, Trevor Nunn is now further redefining authenticity by presenting us with a Terence Rattigan premiere, cobbled together from two pre-existing versions of the same play. Love in Idleness was originally known as Less Than Kind (which itself was seen at the Jermyn Street back in 2011) but was rewritten at the behest of its stars, a commercially minded decision which proved fatal to Rattigan’s reputation. And rather than choose one or the other, Nunn has fashioned something new (but assumably still authentic), named for the later version.

Sadly, that sense of compromise lingers strongly here. Fans of Rattigan were utterly spoiled by pitch-perfect interpretations of After the Dance and Flare Path (also by Nunn) at the beginning of this decade and again last year with an excoriating The Deep Blue Sea, so knowing the emotional force with which he can devastate us can only leave you disappointed at the tonally strange and inconsequential comedy of sorts with which we’re presented here. Only the long-awaited return of the marvellous Eve Best to the London stage imbues the evening with the quality it scarcely deserves. Continue reading “Review: Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: Ticking, Trafalgar Studios 2

“I haven’t got long Mum, tell me something nice”

Whilst sitting through Paul Andrew Williams’ play Ticking, I was constantly reminded of a Madonna lyric, ‘time goes by, so slowly’. Though under 90 minutes in length and played out in real-time, Williams’ self-directed drama stretches time unforgivably in a way not seen since the Donmar’s interminable Moonlight – had it been easier to leave my seat without walking right across the stage in this bijou studio, I would have done so.

Simon is on death row in a Chinese prison, having been found guilty of murder, and has one last hour to spend with his parents. But he’s no tear-stained victim, he’s a thoroughly obnoxious rich kid and has opted to use this time to work through his long-held problems with his mother and particularly his father, shattering the illusions of the past but also any inkling whatsoever that this is a character we should care anything for (as of course we’re meant to do once the twist eventually unfolds). Continue reading “Review: Ticking, Trafalgar Studios 2”

DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)

“I will not allow a woman’s nature to be more unconstant than a man’s”

This was actually my first interaction with Persuasion, the novel has languished on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never seen an adaptation before, so it was an interesting experience to take the story in for the first time with this ITV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Simon Burke’s adaptation condenses Austen’s work right down to 90 minutes, which means a lot may well have been lost, but it also made a great introduction for a novice.

After an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth eight years ago which crumbled in the face of her family’s disapproval, Anne Elliot finds herself on the shelf at 27. When her father and sister’s lavish lifestyle requires a downsizing of their household, life seems set to change for good as their beloved Kellynch Hall has to be let out to tenants. But the world is a small place and the connections that emerge between her sister’s household where she goes to stay and the new tenants, the Crofts, ensure that the past is not so easily left behind. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)”