TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 2)

Series 2 of Top Boy- Summerhouse is, quite frankly, exceptional

“I don’t wanna go to Ramsgate”

The first series of Top Boy surprised me at just how good it was, making a mockery of my earlier decision that it wasn’t my kind of thing. So I launched straight into the second series (now labelled Top Boy- Summerhouse on Netflix), unprepared for how harrowing it would get. It may have taken two years for it to be created but boy it was worth the wait.

Ronan Bennett’s series picks up one year later with Dushane’s (Ashley Walters_ status at the head of the Summerhouse estate as equally precarious and secure as ever, forever dependent on the next big drug delivery. But the Albanians have got their own plans, former besty Sully is setting up his own rival crew and the police have just dug up a body – eep! Continue reading “TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 2)”

TV Review: Van der Valk Series 1

The location shots of Amsterdam are wonderful but Series 1 of Van der Valk is crushingly boring

“Try and solve it without bringing Amsterdam to a standstill”

I may be getting on but even I’m too young for Van der Valk to have any cultural relevance to me, so the fact that this is a remake by ITV means little. And in the final analysis, this is a series that means little to me as I found its three feature-length episodes really hardgoing.

Marc Warren plays Commisaris Piet Van der Valk, a Dutch detective (who speaks English throughout, as do all the characters) who has a troubled lovelife/haunted past/maverick way about him like so many TV cops before him. Warren isn’t bad at all, it’s just such a crowded marketplace for this type of show. Continue reading “TV Review: Van der Valk Series 1”

Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

New TV shows to get stuck into

I get stuck into the first episodes of TV shows Van Der Valk, The Good Fight, Gangs of London and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels to see what my next must-see will be

“Who else was masturbating into plants?!”

I’m of course far too young to remember the original Van Der Valk – had I seen it before though, I might well have saved myself this couple of hours. Importing a British cast to play Dutch detectives in a crime serial set in Amsterdam seems like such a retrograde move, I still can’t get my head around it, especially in this day and age when so much quality foreign-language drama is readily available. Written by Chris Murray, this revival sees Marc Warren head up the cast as a maverick detective with a team who aid and abet his behaviour – there’s not a smack of originality about it, nor any real interest sadly…great locations though. Am already dreaming of my return to the city, but not sure I’ll be revisiting this show. Continue reading “New TV shows to get stuck into”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4

With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet

“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”

This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.

The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.

Nicola Walker-ometer
It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”

Film Review: Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Written by Peaky Blinder maestro Steven Knight and directed by Stephen Frears, Dirty Pretty Things remains a pretty darn great movie

“You are a refugee. You have no position here. You have nothing, You are nothing.”

There’s no doubting that Steven Knight is a pretty decent writer, the enormous success of Peaky Blinders shows us that, but he’s also a dab hand at films too, with credits that include Locke and Dirty Pretty Things. Dating back to 2002, the latter is powerfully effective, reminding us of the hypocrisy of a London economy that relies so heavily on exploited immigrant labour whilst mandating so hostile an environment for them.

Stephen Frears’ film is far more than a treatise on asylum seekers. Rather, it is a thriller, almost a heist movie in the end, which carries the reality for immigrant workers as its backdrop. Okwe is Nigerian and Senay is Turkish, both here without paperwork and both barely scratching a living through the most menial of jobs in taxi firms, sweatshops and shady hotels. It is at this last one where they meet and where they get swept up into a right rollicking time. Continue reading “Film Review: Dirty Pretty Things (2002)”

Too-hot-to-review: Woyzeck, Old Vic

“We are too desperate to do anything but live our lives desperately”

To be quite honest, I hadn’t intended to see Woyzeck, little about it appealing to me (despite the presence of Nancy Carroll and Ben Batt in the cast – attractive to me in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY). But a bargain and the chance to catch up with an old friend got me to the Old Vic on a gorgeously sunny afternoon where, inevitably, I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. There’s just a few performances left though if you want to catch it for yourself/bask in their air-con.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

The news of Tim Pigott-Smith’s passing at the age of 70 yesterday was a terrible shock, not least because he was still in a rich creative vein – a tour of Death of a Salesman was scheduled for next month and the long-anticipated TV adaptation of his multi-award-nominated turn in the lead role of King Charles III is due later this year.

This tribute from Mike Bartlett is beautifully done. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: X, Royal Court

“You’re asking me all these questions and they’re all,
And it’s not – 
It doesn’t mean anything”

True story – every time someone raves about Pomona, a new fan of Miss Saigon is born. The determination to force a new world order from the unlikely starting spot of the Orange Tree Theatre has meant that Alistair McDowall now has that unfortunate albatross of hype firmly attached to his neck and thus his new play X, opening at the Royal Court, comes burdened – a little unfairly – with the weight of expectation.

And I have to say for me, it’s hard to tell whether they’ll be met or not. Perhaps predictably, X is a curious, slippery beast that wilfully toys with notions of audience satisfaction, in that it really doesn’t care whether you ‘get’ it or not. Set on Pluto, the crew of a small research base have lost contact with Earth and are left waiting. For what exactly, they don’t know. And after two and a half hours or so of Vicky Featherstone’s production, neither do we. Continue reading “Review: X, Royal Court”