DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures

“There was a motivation…” 

This is a curious thing – a drama-documentary of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie which utilises a double flashback structure to form a kind of biopic of her life, but one with an additional focus on her mysterious disappearance over several days after a particularly traumatic, though unexplained, experience. Anna Massey plays Christie late in life, at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap’s West End run, where she fields questions from journalists about her life, the answers to which are played out in flashback. Olivia Williams takes on the younger role who is meeting with a psychiatrist to try and explain her experiences, which are also replayed to us, through the delicate probing of her psyche. 

It is all elegantly done in this BBC adaptation, written and directed by Richard Curson Smith, covering the key points of her life – a happy childhood devastated by the loss of her father, the freedom of becoming a volunteer nurse and then pharmacist during the Great War, the beginnings of her career as a writer – but with little real insight or inspiration in what it is saying. The scenes around her disappearance have more meat to them but again fail to really click as the build-up to the grand reveal of what caused it falls rather flat in the final analysis. The split narrative adds nothing and instead subtract substantially from the pace of the film, continually frustrating as we switch fruitlessly between the two.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”

I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.

Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”

Review: The Keepers of Infinite Space, Park Theatre

“A property developer, a fighter and a bookshop owner – of those three, it’s the bookshop owner who finds himself stuck in here. That’s Israel for you.”

There’s an interesting tension at the heart of this production of Omar El-Khairy’s The Keepers of Infinite Space and though it is one that is never really satisfactorily resolved, it is still making me think today. El-Khairy’s play is a no-holds-barred indictment of the prison system in Israeli-occupied Palestine, taking root in the shocking statistic that up to 40% of the male population has been detained under military orders at one time or another. But director Zoe Lafferty’s vision seems to locate it in a less specific context, making its issues about incarceration more universal.

This she does by having her actors speaking in (presumably) their natural accents, so one of the prisoners is a Geordie, the governor a malevolent Scot. But though there are aspects of the story that reach beyond the Middle East – the brutality of torture and its effects on the guards that commit it, the way in which the past is often its own sort of jail that imprisons generations in endless cycles of hate – too much of it is inextricably tied to the details of El-Khairy’s narrative, of an innocuous bookseller caught up in crisis by family connections beyond his ken. Continue reading “Review: The Keepers of Infinite Space, Park Theatre”