TV Review: Silent Witness Series 23

What the… Series 23 of Silent Witness maintains a rich vein of form but then really upends the apple cart 

“What would Thomas do?”

All good things must come to an end, eh? Having settled into an excellent run of form with all four members of the Lyall team firing on all cylinders, Series 23 of Silent Witness culminates in some serious upheaval with the departure of no less than two of them in a brutally effective final story that probably ranks as one of the best ever.

So farewell to Clarissa, leaving on her own terms to pursue new opportunities, Liz Carr’s performance hands down one of the best on TV in and of itself before you even factor in the shot in the arm it has been for representation. And with a pleasingly meaty storyline involving her mother, it proved a satisfying journey although a gutting loss for the show. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 23”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8

Amanda Burton’s departure is smoothly managed as Series 8 of Silent Witness heralds a major new age for the show 

“Hard act to follow…the blessed Sam”

Given that the first 7 series of Silent Witness featured Amanda Burton’s name above the title, it is impressive that the show’s transition to life without her is effected so smoothly here. She leaves after the first story of Series 8 with a return to Northern Ireland and some long held secrets from the past and if her departure comes a little as a surprise, it’s slightly less so given how the first part of that story finishes on quite the cliffhanger.

Harry and Leo then get one story to themselves and their petty rivalries until Emilia Fox’s effervescent Dr Nikki Alexander is introduced to the team. She comes as a forensic anthropologist, focusing on Iron Age facial reconstructions but is soon co-opted into the Lyell Centre’s ways (“Why are they still involved? They’re pathologists”) in a dicey tale of horse racing and helicopters and then a truly harrowing tale of the aftermath of a train crash, stirringly written by Michael Crompton. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 8”

TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)

The Jonathan Creek specials from 2009–2013 undo much of the damage from Series 4, with Sheridan Smith largely to thank for that

“I’ve got a very important presentation to Weetabix in five minutes”

After the horror show that was the fourth series, Jonathan Creek disappeared from our TV screens for five years and for the subsequent five, returned only intermittently for three feature-length specials from 2009–2013. And I think the break did everyone a world of good as these episodes rival some of the show’s best in recapturing the sense of investigative fun that lay at its heart.

Chief in this is the casting of Sheridan Smith as wise-cracking paranormal investigator Joey Ross. Their buddy relationship is well drawn, wisely kept clear of any romantic entanglement and yet still deeply affectionate at its heart. Complex, multi-faceted mysteries are allowed to unfold more effectively in the longer format, although Renwick can’t help himself with women as porn stars and clod-hopping trans jokes. For the most part, everything just hangs together  better – until Jonathan get a wife that is…More of that in Series 5. Continue reading “TV Review: Jonathan Creek Specials (2009–2013)”

TV Review: Waking the Dead Series 7

Series 7 of Waking the Dead continues its golden era, with a walloping personal impact for Boyd 

“I wish you never found that body”

The introduction of George Rainsford as Boyd’s son Luke was a really ballsy move from Waking the Dead.  His disappearance has long been a driver for Boyd’s every action, particularly in cases where missing children were involved, so you knew that Luke’s return would be noteworthy to say the least.

But I don’t think anyone would have predicted where Series 7 would take us. With Luke still deep in the throes of drug addiction and Boyd unwilling or unable to ask for help, there’s a deeply tragic trajectory to their relationship, ultimately proving desperately devastating in the final episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Waking the Dead Series 7”

TV Review: Sticks and Stones

Mike Bartlett adapts his play Bull for the TV in the form of Sticks and Stones, with mixed if enjoyable results

“Maybe it’s banter”

I had clocked that Sticks and Stones that a new TV drama written and created by Mike Bartlett, hence it appearing pretty high on my to-watch list. What I hadn’t realised was that it is an adaptation of his cracking 2013 play Bull, which I have seen a fair few times, dating back to a reading in 2010. Given that the play was less than an hour and this serial was three (ITV) hours, I was intrigued to see how an extended version of this workplace bullying drama would work and I was pleased to see Ken Nwosu leading the cast, which included an alumni of the Young Vic production in Susannah Fielding.

And in line with the way his TV writing has been skewing, the result is something far more melodramatically silly than you’d ever expect from Bartlett in a theatre. I don’t say it as a particularly negative thing, more a statement of fact. The tautness of the play’s running time meant that once teeth were bared, it was one vicious snarl through to the end, heart-racingly menacing in its cruelty. Here, there’s much more time to fill and so it is more of slow build, as nice guy Thomas is essentially gaslit by his cut-throat team of property mangers (“we’re now able to offer a bespoke office solution”). Continue reading “TV Review: Sticks and Stones”

TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)

The Secret of Crickley Hall is a disappointing ghost story that not even Suranne Jones can rescue 

“Hands up who wants to move out of here
‘Hands up who wants to know where Cam is?'”

You know how it is. You nod off while you’re watching your son at the playground and then he disappears. And then 11 months later you move to the north and find yourself in a haunted mansion where his spirit starts talking to you. Such is the world of The Secret of Crickley Hall, which flits between affecting family drama and haunted house hokum as it follows its parallel timestreams.

Adapted by Joe Ahearne from James Herbert’s novel (airing on the BBC on 2012), the current-day trials of the relocated Caleigh family run alongside the experience of the group of orphans who were evacuated there in 1943. At the heart of the story lies Eve, wracked with guilt over the disappearance of her son Cam, the conviction that she has some kind of sixth sense leaving her susceptible to the torrid history of her new home.  Continue reading “TV Review: The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)”

How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015

“It’s from that play with lots of words…”

My first ever trip to the institution that is the National Theatre Christmas Quiz saw teams of four from current shows Husbands and Sons and wonder.land doing battle for the honour of, well, several bottles of fizz as it turned out. With Emma Freud as Quizmistress and Angus Deayton keeping the scores, it was a light-hearted 45 minutes of festive fun.

Rounds varied from odd-one-out, working out song lyrics from a dry line reading by Deayton, guess which NT show the costume was from, to Taboo-style-guessing-games, and a surprising array of knowledge troves and hidden talents soon came to life – Anne-Marie Duff was very up on her theatrical knowledge, Julia Ford is clearly itching to do a musical and Anna Francolini bossed everything (apart from Katie Mitchell…). Continue reading “How-could-it-be-a-review: The National Theatre Theatre Quiz 2015”

DVD Review: Now Is Good

“When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday?”

Now is Good is a remarkably clear-eyed entry into the teen weepie genre, based on Jenny Downham’s novel Before I Die. Ol Parker’s film centres on Tessa, a girl dying of leukaemia but who has put together a bucket list to ensure she enjoys every last moment. Chief among these is losing her virginity and falling in love, giving the story its main thrust, but more moving is Tessa’s relationships with her family and friends and even with herself as the inevitable comes ever closer.

Dakota Fanning is the sole US interloper in what is otherwise a very British film but her strong and sarcastic performance and the mordant strain of humour – mainly delivered by Edgar Canham’s younger brother Cal – keeps the sentimentality from overwhelming much of the story. Jeremy Irvine’s Adam is a more interesting love interest than one might expect and the delicacy of their emotional journey is well-handled throughout. Continue reading “DVD Review: Now Is Good”

Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre

“How is a woman to have a husband when all the men belong to their mothers?”

You have to respect the huge ambition behind Husbands and Sons, Marianne Elliott and Ben Power’s adaptation of three DH Lawrence plays which sees each of them run simultaneously in the round in the Dorfman. It manages this by taking the Holroyds from The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, the Gascoignes from The Daughter-in-Law and the Lamberts from A Collier’s Friday Night and imagining them living on the same street in the East Midlands village of Eastwood. And spread over three weeks in October 1911, the interlocked, if not intersecting, dramas of their lives play out, dominated by the long shadow of the pit. 

Initially it’s a dizzying affair, as the eye and the ear deals with the three separate domestic establishments. Bunny Christie’s design takes a visual cue from the Lars von Trier film Dogville with the fully furnished houses demarcated by white lines on the floor and labelled by name, doors (and coats, weirdly) are mimed with accompanying sound effects. And with a nod to the fixedness of this arrangement, ticket-holders in the pit swap seats at the interval, getting to sit in the corresponding place on the other side of the auditorium, offering an alternative perspective on the goings-on. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Sons, National Theatre”