DVD Review: The Way We Live Now

“We’ll be making history gentleman, and money too”

I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now mid-November and as my first Anthony Trollope novel, I rather enjoyed reading it. So with time on my hands for once over Christmas, I decided to watch the 2001 BBC adaptation which I didn’t watch at the time. Prolific period adaptor Andrew Davies was on hand to turn this lengthy novel into a four parter (just about 5 hours in total) and I found it to be a rather effective rendering of a most complex world of plots and subplots which, although a tad disappointing in its ending, was well worth the time to savour and enjoy.

If it were on the stage, it would be labelled all over as a ‘timely revival’ as Trollope’s main thrust concerns the deviousness of financiers and politicos and the depths that society will sink to in order to maintain its position. There’s also love and good natured people involved to and the balance between the ever-spinning storylines is very well done. At the heart of it all is David Suchet’s Augustus Melmotte, surely one of his best ever performances, a foreign businessman who attempts to reinvent himself as a Englishman of pedigree by buying his way into business, society, property, the House of Commons, his ambitions know no bounds. And as he does so, many around him attempt to jump on his coat-tails for the ride up, not least the aristocratic but impoverished Carburys.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Way We Live Now”

DVD Review: Calendar Girls

“I can’t knit or make plum jam, but I can make a bloody victoria sponge…Of course I didn’t make this one, I got it from Marks and Spencer”

I managed to resist the temptation to go and see the stage version of Calendar Girls, the prospect of it never really appealed and though it has now started appearing with regularity on the touring circuit, I still haven’t worked enough desire to make the effort. When the film appeared on the television though in a post-turkey leftovers dinner haze, I couldn’t find the remote and so ended up watching it. I seem to remember quite liking it in the cinema, but something obviously didn’t settle too well in my memory as I’d never revisited on DVD or TV, never mind on stage, despite its epic cast of dames to be.

For much like with The King’s Speech, the feel-good factor that comes from the first viewing just evaporated and what was left was, to me at least, a rather thin film, of limited characterisation and what little there is feels laboured and contrived. A problem I guess that results from trying to dramatise a real life story, but one which felt rather exposed when rewatching the film. Continue reading “DVD Review: Calendar Girls”

Review: And Then There Were None, Gielgud

There has been something a little snobbish about the reaction to And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie’s first appearance on the West End (the ever-long-running The Mousetrap notwithstanding) for quite some time. For all people’s talk that it is ‘just another Agatha Christie’, it is somewhat undermined by this above fact that her work is largely never revived in London and as for the dismissive assertions that it is just perfect for Middle England, I find that a horrendous attitude. There’s room enough for all kinds of theatre in London, and for people to like some or all of those kinds as they see fit: the idea that because something might be popular, it loses any artistic value is a perilous one and shockingly naïve given the economic realities of mounting West End shows.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, this is a new version of this show by Kevin Elyot who, according to my companion, has actually done very little updating or modernising in the end, instead relying on Christie’s intelligently intricate plotting and a very solid cast, to deliver the twists and shocks of this murder mystery set on an island. Opening with ten strangers sat around a dinner table, invited by a mysterious man Mr U N Owen, who are then picked off one by one according to the words of the nursery rhyme from which the title is taken.

But it is no ordinary whodunit as it emerges that these are no ordinary everyday citizens and what is happening here is more about the exacting of justice on those who have avoided it. Thus there’s a double set of revelations as we discover who these people really are, followed up by their demise, and the atmosphere is suitably taut as a drum in the glorious Art Deco decorated set and there’s plenty of shocks and thrills, not least from the ever-present storm, to keep the audience constantly jumping out of their seats.

Everyone in the cast was great: the women edged it for me with Tara Fitzgerald giving good jolly-hockey-sticks as a games teacher and Gemma Jones’ utterly chilling righteous Miss Brent as the standout performances of the night, though Anthony Howell, Sam Crane and Richard Clothier kept up the men’s side well. I don’t want to say too much more as I’ll get dangerously close to giving important things away! Yes, there’s elements of Christie’s work that will always feel familiar due to its ubiquity on our television screens, but it does not take much to realise that there is a greater depth and nuance to her work here that ought to begin to change the mind of the most hardened sceptic.