TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)

Helen McCrory and Maxine Peake help elevate Messiah – The Harrowing to arguably the series’ devastatingly effective high point

“See beyond the victim, see the killer”

The first series of Messiah is certainly one of the best, setting the wheels in motion for an effective crime series, but I’d argue that it is the fourth instalment Messiah – The Harrowing that is the best of them all. The arrival of a new writer – Terry Cafolla – releases the show from the baggage of its legacy which seemed to weigh the last series one and produces something that is really, well, harrowing.

Harking back to that first series and its connecting device of people being killed in the style of the Apostles, the murderous connection here ends up being Dante’s The Divine Comedy and its descent into hell. And weighted around the death by suicide of the daughter of one of their colleagues, Red and his team (with Maxine Peake’s DS Clarke now in for a retired Kate) find themselves once again up against the darkest parts of human nature. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Harrowing (2005)”

TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

TV Review: Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine (2003)

Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine keeps the gruesome intensity of this series effectively and chillingly high

“For every wrong conviction we’ve made, an innocent person could die”

Following on from the success of the first series, Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine continues in the same vein though it does so with an original screenplay from Lizzie Mickery, who adapted Boris Starling’s novel first time around. And much like the first series of certain successful Scandi-dramas, it manages the transition away from a highly personal narrative for its leads into something (slightly) more general.

That’s not to say that the cases here aren’t intimately linked to the key investigating team of Red Medcalfe (Ken Stott), Kate Beauchamp (Frances Grey) and Duncan Warren (Neil Dudgeon) but there’s only so far you can drag a tortured soul so directly through the mire. A subplot featuring Red’s brother does it best but you can’t deny its effectiveness in mirroring the key themes here, humanising the conflicts. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah 2: Vengeance Is Mine (2003)”

TV Review: Messiah (2001)

The first series of Messiah only occasionally shows its age, mostly remaining a powerfully effective serial killer drama and franchise opener  

“Maybe we’re getting too bogged and missed the connection”

Whilst theatre is off the menu, at least to the extent that I used to consume it, I have enjoyed being in of an evening and watching a lot more TV than I have done for a long time. And seeking the comfort of nostalgia, I’ve been delving into some of the shows that I enjoyed in the past – this week’s fun and games is the Messiah series.

Based on Boris Starling’s highly successful debut novel, the first series of Messiah (well, two feature-length episodes) holds up well nearly 20 years after it aired. And you can see the influence it has had on shows like Luther and River to name just a couple, as its gritty realism aligns with this country’s obsession with serial killer serials. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah (2001)”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 2

“People died.
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”

Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.

Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”

TV Review: Fortitude Season 2 Episode 1

“The reason we can’t find the head in the snow is that someone has taken it away”

Just a quickie for this as I’m way behind (the series premiered at the end of January). I only caught up with Fortitude’s first season over New Year and I have to say I kinda loved the way it went from interestingly good to genuine batshit wtfuckery. It wasn’t necessarily calling out for a second series though and from the evidence of the first episode, it’s not immediately clear that it’s strictly necessary, even if you throw Dennis Quaid and Michelle Fairley in there as a new family. 

A new crime has been committed hence layering in all sorts of new mystery but in a town where they’d previously boasted of never having had any crime, it kinda feels like overkill. And the writing feels caught between referencing previous events and starting completely anew, anthology-style, ie Luke Treadaway’s return for what appears to be a single episode versus the new Quaid/Fairley family unit. Sofie Gråbøl and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s chemistry as the first couple of Fortitude remains a thing of joy though (so is probably doomed) and I’m more than happy to give the show the benefit of the doubt, despite a slightly shaky start.

 

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

2015 British Academy Television Awards nominations

Best Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock as Sherlock Holmes (BBC One)
Toby Jones – Marvellous as Neil Baldwin (BBC Two)
James Nesbitt – The Missing as Tony Hughes (BBC One)
Jason Watkins – The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies as Christopher Jefferies (ITV)

Best Actress
Georgina Campbell – Murdered by My Boyfriend as Ashley Jones (BBC Three)
Keeley Hawes – Line of Duty as DI Lindsay Denton (BBC Two)
Sarah Lancashire – Happy Valley as Catherine Cawood (BBC One)
Sheridan Smith – Cilla as Cilla Black (ITV) Continue reading “2015 British Academy Television Awards nominations”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville

“Damn this old age, it’s so vile and repulsive”

Revivals of classics often find themselves caught between two schools: revitalising an oft-performed play with a fresh energy, but remaining aware of not rocking the boat too much in order to maintain a healthy (West End in this case) audience. The Print Room – a venue perhaps less burdened by quite the same commercial concerns as West End houses – were able to go whole-heartedly for the former with a scorchingly good version of Uncle Vanya which paid huge dividends. And Lindsay Posner has definitely gone for the latter option with a stolidly traditional production at the Vaudeville Theatre which does the job but rarely excited me in a similar way.

It is undoubtedly well acted, very much so in some quarters, but the performances are overpowered by the stultifying pace of a production that never really got out of second gear. The demonstration of how boring country life can be should never relate to the play itself but Posner has taken Chekhov too literally here and so far too little of the emotional energy being expended by the actors is allowed to take flight on the stage. Instead, the dominant aspect becomes Christopher Oram’s design and the interminably long pauses it enforces during lengthy scene changes which hardly feel worth the effort in the final analysis. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville”