TV Review: The Pact (BBC1)

Julie Hesmondhalgh and Laura Fraser shine in The Pact, an excellent ensemble drama which twists and turns to its final beat

“This is Wales Gwen, not Los Angeles”

Ooh, well this was fun. Julie Hesmondhalgh has slowly but surely developed into the kind of actor I want to watch in everything she does. Her latest project started on BBC1 a couple of weeks ago but such is the way things are done these days, you can stream all six episodes of The Pact on the iPlayer now.

Written by Pete McTighe, it’s a murderous drama set by in a mid-Wales community where everyone knows each other. So much so that it’s best not to commit a major crime as your husband might end up being the one to investigates it. Such is the case for Laura Fraser’s Anna who, along with her best pals Nancy (Hesmondhalgh), Cat (Heledd Gwynn) and Louie (Eiry Thomas), plays a prank on their entitled a-hole of a boss, the ramifications of which unfold in ways which no-one could imagine. Continue reading “TV Review: The Pact (BBC1)”

24th Critics’ Choice Awards nominees

Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
The Favourite

First Man
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma
A Star Is Born

Vice

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – First Man
Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma
Peter Farrelly – Green Book
Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite
Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay – Vice Continue reading “24th Critics’ Choice Awards nominees”

Film Review: Their Finest

“He is an actor. Unless you have reviewed him, had intercourse with him, or done both simultaneously, he won’t remember you”

With Gemma Arterton doing a Welsh accent and some wistful crying, Rachael Stirling as a fearsome, elegant-trouser-wearing lesbian with a fabulous line in repartee, Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy, and the subject being women working in wartime, Their Finest is pretty much tailor-made for my interests, it even has bonus Helen McCrory in it for God’s sake! But even without all that box-ticking, it is a gently, most enjoyable film.

Adapted by Gaby Chiappe from Lissa Evans’s novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, and directed by Lone Scherfig, the story follows a British Ministry of Information film team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. So it’s a film about making films, the romance and realities of the business, with the added spin of it being set in wartime. Continue reading “Film Review: Their Finest”

TV Review: River

“We’re all shattered underneath really, aren’t we”

The second part of Nicola Walker’s cross-channel takeover of crime drama has been BBC1’s River. An altogether different prospect to ITV’s Unforgotten, Abi Morgan’s six-parter is aesthetically closer to the Nordic noir of which TV audiences seem unendingly enamoured but still manages to find its unique niche in a crowded marketplace. The Scandi feel is enhanced by the genuine casting coup of Stellan Skarsgård as DI John River but what marks out River are the people around him.

Chief among these is Walker’s Stevie, DS Stevenson, who we meet straightaway and instantly get a feel for their closeness of their professional relationship as they tackle crime on the streets of London. But what is brilliantly done is the shift from buddy cop show to something altogether darker as [major spoiler alert] we find out at the end of episode 1 that Stevie is dead, murdered recently, and River is in fact imagining her presence at his side, even to the extent of regularly conversing with her. Continue reading “TV Review: River”

DVD Review: X+Y

“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you” 

Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!

Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges. Continue reading “DVD Review: X+Y”

DVD Review: Match Point

“I’m so sick of this acting thing, it’s just not working out”

If Woody Allen’s Match Point had been set in the Hamptons as it was originally meant to be, I think I would really like this film but as it is, its relocation to London proves to be a constant distraction as this glossily cinematic version of my hometown is often ludicrous. Yes it is fiction and yes it is set in the world of the idly uber-rich with all their casual trips to Ralph Lauren and chauffeured cars but as with James Bond surfing down the escalators on the tube in Skyfall it’s the little things that draw the attention. 

From the unrelenting RP accents to scarcely believable dialogue in the “London Police”, the revelation that being “born in Belgravia” is the key to a lifetime of cultural invitations and the insistence on only showing postcard-pretty shots of London, Match Point has little anchoring in the real world and especially not in the city where it is now set. Putting aside the unlikelihood of shop workers being able to afford cabs home everyday and even worse, neighbours actually talking to each other in a friendly manner, it’s all just so superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: Match Point”

Short Film Review #37

Method Actor from Justin Stokes on Vimeo.

A monologue by the silken-voiced John Shrapnel is something to look forward to no matter the format, and Justin Stokes’ short film Method Actor is a brilliant vehicle for it. Mere minutes long, it courses through the imagination of an ageing actor as he dispenses bitterly-won advice on how he has gotten where he has, Glenn Smith’s script cleverly weaving its way into unexpected places and DP John Lynch creating a gorgeously lush world for him to inhabit. Continue reading “Short Film Review #37”

Short Film Review #10

A new set of short films for your delectation.

Laura Degnan’s film Blind Eye is chiefly so effective because it taps into one of those fears that is so current and real and the reason why most sensible people avoid the top decks of buses that populated by roving youths. Anchored by a compelling performance from Liz White as the mother torn between doing the right thing and protective self-interest for herself and her daughter, Degnan explores the ‘what would you do’ scenario with visual interest and a little imagination. And if it gets a little heavy-handed towards its ending, then it worth remembering that it’s an issue where we’d all need a little prodding to decide where we’d ultimately come down. 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #10”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2

“Fools tell the truth”

Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.

I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice 2”

DVD Review: The 39 Steps

“Life never seems grim after a couple of fried eggs”

I haven’t quite made it to see The 39 Steps on the stage yet, it’s one of those shows that seems set to go nowhere and so I am waiting for a cast to arrive that will really excite me and finally get me into the Criterion Theatre to see it. In the meantime, I borrowed this 2008 BBC adaptation on DVD off a friend to fit into my weekend of spy thrillers. For anyone who hasn’t seen it before (like me), the story revolves around Richard Hannay who, finding himself wrongfully accused of murder in mid-1914, is forced on the run as he uncovers a dastardly plot to cause a major war led by a German spy ring somewhere in Scotland and finds himself being chased by the Germans, the British police and a mysterious bi-plane, even as he tries to save the nation from invasion.

This adaptation was written by Lizzie Mickery from John Buchan’s novel and directed by James Hawes so its pedigree was relatively high, but I have to admit to finding the whole thing a bit creaky. Part of the problem was the central casting of Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay, an actor whom I’ve previously much enjoyed but who lacks much presence at all here as events just spiral on all around him. Hawes could have done with injecting much more pace into the production all-around too but Mickery’s writing doesn’t help as it lacks any real menace to convince us of the peril in which our hero finds himself in. Continue reading “DVD Review: The 39 Steps”