TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here. Continue reading “TV Review: The English Game (2020)”

TV Review: Small Axe

Steve McQueen’s anthology flm series Small Axe is an absolute triumph as it depicts the West Indian experience in London but tells us all so much about the UK

“We mustn’t be victims, but protagonists of our stories. And what better way of representing ourselves than self-representing ourselves”

Not too much to say about Small Axe that hasn’t been said much more eloquently and appropriately by many others. But I just wanted to applaud some stirring acting work across all 5 films – in particular Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright in Mangrove and John Boyega in Red White and Blue. And writer/director Steve McQueen, with co-writing work from Alastair Siddons and Courttia Newland, who plants racism, and racist activity, so undeniably in front of a Sunday night BBC1 audience in a way that has so rarely been done before.

TV Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles, Series 1

Sean Bean does Sean Bean in the slight oddity that is Series 1 of The Frankenstein Chronicles, good work too from Vanessa Kirby

“This will be my penance”

Just a quickie for this, as it was one of those shows I’ve been meaning to watch for ages due to the list of actors in its first series (rather than its subject). Elliot Cowan, Anna Maxwell Martin, Ryan Sampson, Ed Stoppard, Sam West…a supporting company right out of Clowns central casting.

Created and mostly written by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford, The Frankenstein Chronicles plays out as an “inspired by” Mary Shelley’s novel rather than a direct adaptation. It is essentially a 19th century police procedural but given we open with the discovery of a stitched-together body and its dramatis personae include William Blake and Shelley herself, it is clear what kind of universe we’re operating in. Continue reading “TV Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles, Series 1”

TV Review: Peaky Blinders Series 5

Series 5 of Peaky Blinders plots a particularly dark path for Tommy Shelby but leaves a little too much up in the air – spoilers abound

“It was a consequence of good intentions”

Getting Elliot Cowan into the new series of Peaky Blinders made my heart sing, getting him to play a closeted gay journalist was just gilding the lily, so naturally he didn’t make it past the end of the first episodes. Such are the ways that this show breaks your heart.

As the race through the years carries on apace, we’re now in the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the rise of fascism with the arrival of Oswald Mosley, and these two points are the main drivers of this fifth series. The recalibration of the family business to cover their losses, and Tommy’s burgeoning political career serving his increasingly varied ambition. Continue reading “TV Review: Peaky Blinders Series 5”

Not-a-Review: Bad Roads, Royal Court

“A body without a head in a body bag just doesn’t turn me on”

Was no fan of Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads I’m afraid. Plays about war in the Ukraine will perhaps predictably be brutal but the experience of watching it doesn’t have to be the same way. Vicky Featherstone’s trailblazing at the Royal Court gets her a long way but it’s hard not to feel the programming has been decidedly mixed and something of a challenge. Too much, for me, in this case.

Running time: 23rd December
Booking until 95 minutes (without interval)

                     

 

TV Review: London Spy

 “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”

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”

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2014

I’ll be doing a regular top 10 alongside all the other end-of-year totting up of the theatrical delights on offer in 2014 that will eventually be written up but I thought it might be interesting to first look at it from a slightly different angle, thinking about the single moments – rather than the productions as a whole – that took my breath away (or were hair-raisingly good…) Undoubtedly there will be some crossover between the two lists, but there are things here that crop up the mind just as often as the plays I’ve labelled my favourites so here we go – naturally, some production spoilers abound…
Continue reading “11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2014”