Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.

Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3”

Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4

“What would this devastated world be without us?”

Radio 4 recently put together a season of work entitled Dangerous Visions, inspired by JG Ballard’s dystopian take on the near future and featuring adaptations of two of his works – Concrete Island and The Drowned World – alongside the responses of five contemporary writers on a similar theme. My favourite of the pieces that I managed to listen to was Graham White’s adaptation of The Drowned World, a moody exploration of a world wracked by solar flares which have caused the flooding of some of the major cities of the world. Not only that, the ecological crisis has brought with it a new evolutionary shift, but one which is regressive as humanity is forced to change in order to survive, even if it means reverting to a more primitive state of being.

Not having read the book, I can’t comment on the adaptation but it felt like a slickly told story, motoring through its central premise of the world going backwards, in all senses. We see this primarily through the eyes of lovers Beatrice and Kerans, the ever-excellent Hattie Morahan and James D’Arcy both in glorious vocal form, as their passion becomes increasingly primal. But also through the experiences of the people around them as Kerans is part of a scientific expedition to explore one last time before the newly watery world is abandoned. And there we see human behaviour degenerating, especially in the shape of Tim McInnerny’s pirate-like Strangman, out for selfish gain no matter the consequences. A powerfully evocative reading of the story makes this a recommended listen. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Visions – Radio 4”

DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands

“The consequences of doing the right thing…”

Cape Wrath, or Meadowlands as it was retitled for the US market, was a 2007 TV drama which aired on Channel 4, following the fortunes of a family who have to enter a witness protection programme in an idyllic new neighbourhood but increasingly find that they may just have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Lucy Cohu stars as the matriarch of the family, Evelyn Brogan, who with her twin children have been uprooted due to some unspecified incident that involved her husband, David Morrissey’s Danny and over the eight episodes of the show, it proves a good showcase for her talents.

Created and largely written by Robert Murphy, the story unwinds as a psychological thriller as the Brogans struggle to come to terms with their new way of life and find many a mystery which keeps their paranoia levels justifiably high. Morrissey’s Danny is the main investigator of the strange goings-on around him as his testy relationships with Nina Sosanya’s Samantha, the bureaucrat who runs the programme, Ralph Brown’s magnificently moustached policeman and Tom Hardy’s lascivious handyman with an eye on his daughter instantly put him on guard as he soon clocks that something suspicious is going on in their new home. Continue reading “DVD: Cape Wrath / Meadowlands”

DVD Review: The Line of Beauty

“So what are you doing about sex just now?”

As a young gay, reading Alan Hollinghurst novels felt like the height of sophistication, and whether true or not, there was an air of exclusivity about those of us who knew him (at least in the circles I moved in). So his ‘breakthrough’ with winning the Man Booker Prize for The Line of Beauty was a validation tinged with disappointment that I now had to share that something special. His journey into the mainstream was completed with the requisite television adaptation, but with Andrew Davies at the helm for BBC2, it did feel like the right hands were on the tiller.

Hollinghurst’s story centres on a five year period in the life of Nick Guest, a fresh-faced Oxford graduate who moves to London in the summer of 1983. His offer to house-sit for the family of a university friend leads into an odyssey of personal and sexual discovery as he becomes a full-on lodger, thrust into the world of Tory politicians and old money, around which he fits furtive encounters with men as he explores his sexuality in a world in where homosexuality is far from being widely accepted in public. Thus the two main strands overlap and complement each other: Nick is given a window into the privileged lives of the wealthy upper classes in the Thatcherite boom years and in which he is allowed to play his own supporting part, but in the shadow of the emerging AIDS crisis, he discovers just how barely tolerated gay life is and just how hypocritical this society can be.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Line of Beauty”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare on 3

“What should it be that they so shriek abroad”

After Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare on 3 radio season continues with Romeo and Juliet with the same company, plus a few additions, taking on the Bard’s work again. Whereas there’s a nice sense of continuity about it, it’s an odd choice as there’s another play, The Tempest, to complete the season which uses a different cast. And it is also a slightly difficult choice in the limitations it imposes on the casting, although this may just be a personal thing as it took a long time for me accept the idea of Trystan Gravelle, an actor I really like, as the teenage Romeo.

His voice is so melodiously identifiable that I completely failed at convincing myself I was listening to Romeo rather than Gravelle, and even if you’re not familiar with him, I’m pretty sure he just sounds too old and experienced for the role. Paired with Vanessa Kirby as Juliet, whose voice I struggled to warm to in Twelfth Night, it made for an ignominious beginning despite the evocative sound design of the piece. But something eventually clicked after about an hour, whether it was my preconception finally dying down or the production finding another gear or some combination of both, and from their post-coital glow of tenderness I completely bought into them as a couple. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare on 3”

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3

“Oh had I but followed the arts”

Joining in the veritable orgy of Bard love that is currently going on, the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked season has a wide-ranging programme of features, not least three radio productions of his plays by the Drama on 3 team, two of which are cross-cast from the same company which was full of names I like and was keen to hear. First up was Sally Avens’ Twelfth Night, probably most notable for casting David Tennant as Malvolio.

I haven’t ever just listened to a Shakespeare play before, and though I wasn’t doubting the poetry of Shakespeare’s words, I did wonder what effect removing the visual, and Twelfth Night is a very visual play, would have on the whole. Knowing the play fairly well was both a blessing and a curse in some ways – little was ever likely to surprise me and I had no sense of what this would be like for a first-time-listener, but that knowledge also meant I could relax a little rom trying to work out what was going on. And fortunately, a cast of great experience and talent meant that the thrusting of the language front and centre was a largely successful exercise. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3”

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare on 3

“If you now beheld them, your affections would become tender”

And so to The Tempest, the third and final radio adaptation (by Jeremy Mortimer here) in the Shakespeare on 3 season, though oddly not cross-cast with the other two so its place in the programme felt a little incongruous. And whether I’d had my fill of Shakespeare on radio or whether its my fatigue with this particular play or whether it just generally wasn’t that distinctive, I found this a bit of a slog.

It wasn’t bad per se, just never particularly engaging for me, and consequently I’ve haven’t much to say about it (for once). The incidental music that plays throughout the show was specially written (and also performed by) The Devil’s Violin Company and adds an interesting additional texture, but when the most interesting thing I can think to say about a Shakespeare production is about the music, then something is wrong.

DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke

“I mean to have that ruby”

The Ruby from the Smoke is the first in a series of four books featuring adventuring lead character Sally Lockhart. Here a mysterious message received from her father just before he drowned in the South China Seas sets her on a dangerous journey which starts with a man dying in front of her very eyes at the mere mention of what is contained within. She is then drawn into a mystery involving the opium trade, the fabled Ruby of Agrapur and even secrets from her own family history as her life is under constant peril from the dastardly Mrs Holland.

This was one of those things that I pretty much knew I was going to love from the moment I heard about it, but it certainly does help that I do really like the actress that Billie Piper has become. There’s an inner strength to her as well as a richly warm quality that is highly endearing and ideally suited to this modern figure of a woman, challenging Victorian notions of womanhood as she strives to uncover the truth. And Pullman writes extremely well for his female characters, something carried over in Adrian Hodges’ screenplay, as Hayley Atwell’s Rosa makes a sterling ally for Sally and as the evil Mrs Holland, Julie Walters makes a convincing villain. Obviously casting against type, it is an astonishingly effective performance, exuding huge malevolence and full of spine-chilling touches – the false teeth in particular – it’s a vein of work she ought to pursue a little more. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ruby in the Smoke”