TV Review: Silent Witness Series 22

Series 22 of Silent Witness continues a rich vein of form as it hits 200 episodes of hot button topics

“Things don’t always conform to expectation”

Series 22 of Silent Witness sees the crime procedural hit the impressive landmark of 200 episodes and after the highs of the previous season, it maintains a strong standard of storytelling that keeps it feeling fresh, even if it does tend to fall back on its regular crutches as it refuses to let hardly any characters recur beyond their single stories. 

Even with Nikki having found love and managing to maintain a transatlantic relationship with Michael Landes’ US diplomat Matt from last time around, keeping him in Washington means he’s barely there. And new intern Alice, who gets to play a big part in the final case, is only introduced just beforehand which feels like a waste of Kiran Sonia Sawar (and also reduces the story’s emotional impact since she’s practically a stranger, qv Mexican intern Luisa from last season’s finale…). Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 22”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 18

As the dust settles on all the recent changes, Series 18 of Silent Witness turns out to be just a little bit average 

“If you think you can do better, you’re very welcome to try”

After some wholesale changes to the core team and indeed the remit of the show, Series 18 of Silent Witness is the first chance to really sees where the land lies now that the dust has settled. The biggest consequence is the shift to incorporating forensic science just as much as, if not more than, forensic pathology which of course lends much more credence to the team spending so much time out of the lab.

I say the team, I actually mean Nikki and Jack, as it is these two who unquestionably lead the investigations now, Emilia Fox and David Caves finding a nice chemistry. Richard Lintern’s Thomas may be the head of the Lyell but is comparatively considerably under-used. He’s less a third lead than a second supporting lead alongside Liz Carr’s Clarissa, whose dry wit makes her the MVP here. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 18”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8

Amanda Burton’s departure is smoothly managed as Series 8 of Silent Witness heralds a major new age for the show 

“Hard act to follow…the blessed Sam”

Given that the first 7 series of Silent Witness featured Amanda Burton’s name above the title, it is impressive that the show’s transition to life without her is effected so smoothly here. She leaves after the first story of Series 8 with a return to Northern Ireland and some long held secrets from the past and if her departure comes a little as a surprise, it’s slightly less so given how the first part of that story finishes on quite the cliffhanger.

Harry and Leo then get one story to themselves and their petty rivalries until Emilia Fox’s effervescent Dr Nikki Alexander is introduced to the team. She comes as a forensic anthropologist, focusing on Iron Age facial reconstructions but is soon co-opted into the Lyell Centre’s ways (“Why are they still involved? They’re pathologists”) in a dicey tale of horse racing and helicopters and then a truly harrowing tale of the aftermath of a train crash, stirringly written by Michael Crompton. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8”

Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 2

A quick whip through Series 2 of The Crown

“History is not made by those who did nothing”

Do I still love The Crown? Yes. Do I still find it a little hard to muster enthusiasm about it until I’m watching it. Absolutely. It remains lavish prestige drama that carries little excitement about it and that’s perhaps inevitable as it trundles through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, little dramatic surprise can really be sprung.

Instead, the thrills come from the script of Peter Morgan’s fantasia into the emotional life of our monarch, and a production that looks like the multi-millions of dollars that have been spent on it. Oh, and the cream of British acting talent popping in for a scene or two at an astonishingly high rate. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 2”

Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre

 “The years roll by and nothing changes”

I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’. All the while, the show is doing great business with a general public who are just excited to see a hot new play.

Which is all a long-winded introduction to me getting to see Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman for a second time. I enjoyed the play, immensely so in places, when I first saw it in its initial run but it was a four star show for me rather than the full five – here’s my review from the Royal Court. And in its grander new home at the Gielgud, I have to say I pretty much felt the same way. It is a play that wields extraordinary power but it also one which struggles a tad with subtlety.

Continue reading “Re-review: The Ferryman, Gielgud Theatre”

Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court

“This family can take care of its own”

The hype around Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman was so expertly managed that the show became the fastest-selling-ever for the Royal Court with a West End transfer already neatly positioned to meet the demand. And why not, Jerusalem conquered the country (if not me) and The River stretched all the way to Broadway, plus The Ferryman also has Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut – it’s almost as if co-producer Sonia Friedman knows what she is doing!

The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done. And what a clan it is, Rob Howell’s farmhouse kitchen design really does disguise its hidden depths as family member after family member emerges from its nooks and crannies, and that’s before the cousins from Derry have turned up too. But as with any family drama worth its salt, it’s the guests you’re not expecting that you have to watch out for.

Continue reading “Review: The Ferryman, Royal Court”

Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National Theatre

“We should show life…as we see it in our dreams.”

The Seagull may be the most ensemble-focused of the three plays that make up Young Chekhov but with the glorious Anna Chancellor appearing as the mercurial Arkadina – her star cachet getting her out of having to do either of the other two – the attention can’t help but be drawn to her and her extraordinary stage presence.

This may be the most well-known of the Chekhov plays being presented here, it certainly deservedly emerges as the strongest, and so David Hare’s freshened-up version has little of the heavy work it had to do with the others. Jonathan Kent’s production places it at the end of the three-show day deliberately, it’s where it sits chronologically and you really do get to see the maturation of the writer, his ability to develop his characters and themes more dramatically effectively. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – The Seagull, National Theatre”

Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National Theatre

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…), 

I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National Theatre”