A quality cast including Gemma Arterton and Dame Diana Rigg can’t save Black Narcissus for me
“Better honey than vinegar”
A funny one this, particularly for the captive audience of the inbuilt lethargy of the Twixmas period. In the absence of Sarah Phelps’ brilliant reinventions of Agatha Christie, Black Narcissus was the BBC’s big drama punt on the festive schedule but I’m not entirely sure if it was the right choice.
Based on the Rumer Godden novel and famously filmed in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger with Deborah Kerr, the story follows a band of Anglican nuns as they try to establish a new mission in the Himalayan mountains. Their chosen base is a former palace with erotic paintings on the bricks, a troubled history seeping from the mortar and a swarthily handsome agent who keeps popping by – Sister Act this ain’t. Continue reading “TV Review: Black Narcissus”
Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage
Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.
Continue reading “Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand”
Despite a mostly good cast, Tulip Fever proves a punishingly dull film – not even self-isolation should drive you to this one
“Amsterdam was captivated by a flower”
The signs weren’t good. Tulip Fever was filmed in 2014 but was pushed and pulled around the schedules before it finally surfaced in 2017, notorious producer Harvey Weinstein clearly hoping that some post-production magic would win over reluctant test audiences. Safe to say though, such an amount of chopping and changing does no-one any favours as Justin Chadwick’s film remains punishingly dull.
Based on Deborah Moggach’s book, with screenplay by Moggach and Tom Stoppard, the story (mainly) centres on Sophia, an orphan whisked out of convent life by a wealthy merchant who wants her essentially as a brood mare, But things ain’t clicking in the bedroom, so Sophia tumbles into an affair with the artist her husband has commissioned to do their portrait. And competing for screentime, tulip mania has hit the Netherlands. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Tulip Fever (2017)”
The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand
Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.
And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”
I succumb easily to the charms of Paddington 2 and Hugh Grant having the time of his life
“Exit bear, pursued by an actor”
In a year when sequels have outperformed expectations (at least mine anyway), I should have heeded the signs that Paddington 2 heralded back last winter that sequels were ‘in’. Paul King’s follow-up to his 2014 warm-hearted original, reintroducing us to our ursine Peruvian hero, occupies a similar space of resolutely British family films that are a cut above.
Written by King and Simon Farnaby, the film is unafraid to take its audience seriously and for every adorably sweet sequence, there’s genuine peril and even darkness in there too. Hugh Grant is the main antagonist, an actor called Phoenix Buchanan who has been reduced to making dog-food adverts and his ne’er-d-well ways see Paddington framed for a crime he did not commit. Continue reading “Review: Paddington 2 (2017)”
A contemporary adaptation of King Lear does little to prove its worth on BBC Two
“Some villain hath done me wrong”
A belated visit to this Bank Holiday TV offering and one I should probably have left alone. I’m not the biggest fan of King Lear, nor of Anthony Hopkins if I’m honest. But the notion of a contemporary adaptation and a deluxe level of supporting casting was enough of a draw for me to give it a try.
A co-production between the BBC and Amazon, this Lear has been adapted and directed by Richard Eyre. Trimmed down to a scant couple of hours and located in a contemporary England, it clearly has its eye on new audiences as much as your Shakespearean buff, and I’d be intrigued to know how the former reacted. Continue reading “TV Review: King Lear, BBC Two”
“I am not made of stone”
The boldness of Shakespearean adaptation can be a car crash when it goes wrong but when it is right, as in this 1995 version of Richard III, it is utterly thrilling. From the crashing of a tank through walls and subsequent gory executions into the jaunty sway of 1930s music, Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine’s idiosyncratic reshaping of the story, first seen at the NT in 1992, is cannily and compellingly done. And because it has been done well, one is far more inclined to grant the liberties that have been taken with the text, because they’re reasoned and reasonable.
Relocated to a parallel version of 1930s Britain in which years of civil war has bred fascism, Richard of York’s rise to power has never seemed quite so chilling as it does here. An ingenious use of British landmarks put to different use cleverly disorients the audience but never so much that it seems too far beyond belief. So Battersea Power Station becomes a coastal military base, St Pancras is substituted for Westminster, and the visuals are just stunning throughout, culminating in a genuinely breath-taking rally. Continue reading “DVD Review: Richard III (1995)”
“Once the kids have gone, what’s left of us?”
Renewing the creative partnership between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (which has included The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother), Le Week-End was released in 2013 to well-deserved, general acclaim. And it really is well-deserved, this is the third time I’ve seen the film and I still find myself hugely enamoured of its bittersweet portrait of a long-married couple trying to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, with the emphasis very much on bitter.
We first meet Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) on the Eurostar, where we first see the niggling signs of discontentment, the tiny behavioural tics that in isolation seem manageable, but over a lifetime, build up to intolerable degrees. Meg’s frustration boils over with a snafu over Nick’s hotel booking and though they soon replace that establishment with a far fancier one they can ill afford, the scene is set for an excoriating examination into the state of their marriage. Continue reading “DVD Review: Le Week-end”
Thing with resolutions is that it is terribly easy to break them. And having resolved to see no Christmas shows this year, Jim Broadbent only went and decided to do A Christmas Carol in the West End. Not having seen him on stage before, I decided to take the plunge just before heading back up north for the 25th and truth be told, I probably should have left it.
This adaptation (for there are many around) is by Patrick Barlow, him of The 39 Steps, and has much of the same knockabout energy of that recently departed show. And in Tom Pye’s set of a miniature Victorian theatre in which the play is a play-within-a-play, puppets fly in and out and a genteel atmosphere of old-fashioned fun reigns, overseen by the indubitable twinkle in Broadbent’s eye. Continue reading “Review: A Christmas Carol, Noël Coward”
“People lie Danny, they lie very well”
Well this was a disappointment wasn’t it, there’s no two ways about it. Tom Rob Smith’s London Spy started its five episode run most promisingly with its forthrightly modern gay love story – between emotionally reclusive Secret Service operative Alex and Danny, a shift worker and regular on the hard-partying Vauxhall gay clubbing scene. Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw made a powerfully effective couple, negotiating their differences beautifully and believably so that by the time Alex went missing, the substance of the emerging conspiracy theories actually meant something.
But as the plot wound vaguely into labyrinthine dead ends and red herrings, it became increasingly hard to get a handle not just on what was happening but what Smith was trying to say. And directed in would-be sepulchral (but actually just frustratingly dark) gloom by Jakob Verbruggen, the joys of recognising bits of my local Vauxhall soon wore off as you realised that such a stunning supporting cast as Adrian Lester, Clarke Peters and Harriet Walter were indeed being criminally underused or landed with heinous dialogue and what started off irresistibly disintegrated into implausibility. Continue reading “TV Review: London Spy”