TV Review: Close to Me, Episode 1

The first episode of Channel 4’s new drama Close to Me promises much, with Connie Nielsen and Christopher Eccleston in unsettlingly good form

“How could she have hurt herself so badly just falling down the stairs?”

Based on Amanda Reynolds’ 2017 novel and written by Angela Pell, Close to Me looks set to take the place of the stylish drama of the month. All six of its episodes have been released on All4 but I’m going to resist the urge to binge for now at least, although with Susan Lynch in the cast and Kate O’Flynn yet to appear, this will be quite the effort. 

Connie Nielsen’s Jo has taken a nasty fall down the stairs at home which has left her with a serious case of amnesia, the whole last year gone from her memories. But as she recuperates and tries to piece it back together, it turns out life is a lot more complicated than that, with secrets heaped upon secrets involving both family and friends. Continue reading “TV Review: Close to Me, Episode 1”

TV Review: Motherland Series 3

Series 3 of Motherland returns to give us more of the excellent parental shenanigans, led by the peerless Anna Maxwell Martin

“Another glass of dry white wine”

Despite losing Sharon Horgan from the writing team (she’s still onboard as a producer), the third series of Motherland remains in the safe hands of Holly Walsh, Helen Serafinowicz and Barunka O’Shaughnessy, who regale us with yet more tales of middle-class school gate shenanigans, led by brilliant performances from Anna Maxwell Martin, Diane Morgan, Paul Ready and Lucy Punch.

This time round, we deal with nits, school trips and catchment areas on the lighter side plus a touch of racism, cancer and divorce adding the requisite darker note that has been this series’ hallmark, making it more than just another featherlight comedy. The tightness of the core ensemble means that so much of it works so well but a real joy comes now with the well-judged reappearance of recurring characters. Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland Series 3”

TV Review: Motherland Christmas special

Motherland continues to excel with this sharp-edged and scabrously funny Christmas special

“What absolute shite are you gonna panic-buy me this year?”

Whether the choice to ignore the pandemic was circumstantial or deliberate, it lends a certain piquancy to many of the scenes of festive revelry in Motherland. For as disastrous as they inevitably turn out to be, social distancing restrictions mean that we could only dream of being that close to that many people with an egg nog in hand. 

This Christmas special wisely doesn’t tinker with much as writers Sharon Horgan, Helen Serafinowicz, Holly Walsh and Barunka O’Shaughnessy cleave closely to their successful formula. Anna Maxwell Martin’s perma-harrassed Julia ricochets from domestic chaos to partying mayhem with her best pals Liz and Kevin in hand. Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland Christmas special”

TV Review: Motherland (Series 2)

The second series of Motherland continues to peel back layers of articifice around cultural ideas of motherhood – still bruisingly comic but sometimes just bruising

“Life’s too short to dick about with aubergines”

There’s a boldness to this second series of Motherland that is sometimes breath-taking. The show, created by Sharon Horgan, G*a*a* L*n*h*n, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh, has never been sentimental about motherhood, brutally comic about the varying difficulties of being a parent/partner/employee/friend all at the same time and being utterly unafraid to show its characters failing at one if not more of them on an episodal basis.  

This second season though, all now available to watch on t’iPlayer, tightens the screws even more, really pushing out the limits of what these people are willing to inflict on others in the name of just getting through the day. It makes for a bracing watch but even I was wondering whether the brutality shouldn’t be reined in just a bit… Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland (Series 2)”

TV Review: Years and Years

Years and Years sees Russell T Davies take on dystopian near-future sci-fi to startling effect

“We’re not stupid, we’re not poor, we’re not lacking. I’m sorry, but we’re clever. We can think of something, surely.”

What if…? What if…? What Brexit happens, what if Trump is voted in again and fires a nuclear bomb towards China, what if global warming happens today and not tomorrow, what if Lee from Steps is the most successful one…? Such is the world of Years and Years, Russell T Davies’ latest TV venture, a six-part drama that dares to ask what if it is already too late.

He uses the Lyons family as a prism to explore what the next 15 years of human history might look like, as technological advances make leaps and bounds alongside the political and social upheaval that strikes at the very heart of this sprawing middle-class Manchester-based family. It’s a daring piece of drama, full of Davies’ typically big heart and bold emotional colours and I have to say I rather loved it. Continue reading “TV Review: Years and Years”

TV Review: Motherland (Series 1)

Anna Maxwell Martin shines in funny new sitcom Motherland

“It’s better now I’ve got this nanny…”

Between Father Ted and The IT Crowd (I’ve never seen Black Books), Graham Linehan has quite the sitcom-that-I-love pedigree so I’ve been keen to see what his latest Motherland would bring, after an entertaining pilot aired last year.

Written with Sharon Horgan, Helen Linehan and Holly Walsh, the show follows Anna Maxwell Martin’s perma-harassed Julia as she struggles to deal with her mother declining to help out with childcare and the school run. As she’s caught between the hyper-efficiency of the Alpha mums and the schlubby friendliness available at the opposite end of the scale, it’s a highly entertaining take on working parenthood. Continue reading “TV Review: Motherland (Series 1)”

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”

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: Oil, Almeida, Theatre

“I left a man I loved so much, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. It makes you strong”

I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it along to Oil – my original date being derailed by travel chaos and a busy Autumn schedule meaning I could barely find space. But space I found eventually and whilst I’m glad that I got to see Ella Hickson’s new play, for me it didn’t quite live up to the (admittedly high) expectations that had been built up over its run at the Almeida. It’s still good, and often very good, especially in its lead performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Yolanda Kettle, but I just didn’t connect with the play at large.

There’s no doubting the scale of the ambition here, the epic form tackled with gusto as the play’s timeline stretches over 150 years with mother and daughter May and Amy playing out their five scenes ranging from the late nineteenth century to the near future. And whilst society’s connection to and reliance upon oil is under the microscope, so too is the evolving role of women in that society, its changes explored by the time-travelling nature of the writing and the visionary production by Carrie Cracknell. Continue reading “Review: Oil, Almeida, Theatre”