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)”

Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk

Nominated for 8 Oscars, can Chrstopher Nolan’s Dunkirk change my mind about war films…?

“The tide’s turning now.
‘How can you tell?’
The bodies are coming back.”

I’m not really a fan of war films, hence having avoided Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk until now. ‘It’s not a war film’ they said, tempting me to overcome my natural antipathy but they lied. It may not be a conventional war film but it remains a punishing film with a whole lot of war in it and so really not my thing at all.

Nolan is a bravura film-maker, that much is true. And this is an audacious take on a much-filmed, much-explored moment in world history. Free from context, meaningful dialogue, narrative thrust, this becomes a study in the desperate struggle for survival of the Allied forces on that beach in Northern France. And all the waiting they did. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: Dunkirk”

23rd Critics’ Choice Awards nominees

Best Picture
The Big Sick
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me by Your Name
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Spielberg – The Post Continue reading “23rd Critics’ Choice Awards nominees”

Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court

“Confused people may need some help”

I’m pretty sure that somebody has already reached this blog before by googling “sexy Peter Pan takes a load in the face” – such is the way that these search algorithms work (don’t talk to me about how my search results were skewed by seeing a play called Reclining N*de With Black St*ckings) – so there’s at least one person who will be inordinately excited by the anarchic spirit that rules the first half of Tim Price’s Teh Internet is Serious Business, directed with some astonishing brio by Hamish Pirie.

Continue reading “Review: Teh Internet is Serious Business, Royal Court”

DVD Review: Sunshine on Leith

“If I get drunk, well I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you”

The idea of a Proclaimers jukebox musical is not one that appealed when I first heard of it and so Sunshine on Leith was hardly on my list of films to see when Stephen Greenhorn’s musical was made into a film by Dexter Fletcher last year. But one of the lead actors George MacKay caught my attention in The Cement Garden a couple of months ago and reading in the programme that he had won awards for his performance, I decided to give it a whirl.

And as is often the case when expectations are low, I ended up absolutely adoring it. It may be jukebox in form but I’d wager most people – myself included – would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by the bespectacled brothers (who make a neat early cameo) and so there’s a real freshness to the score, a vibrancy that is essentially Scottish but ultimately universal in its celebration of the quirkiness of life and the emotions that govern us all. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sunshine on Leith”

Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

“Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”

What is it that makes a hit? Jamie Lloyd’s Macbeth, the first show in his Trafalgar Transformed residency at the Trafalgar Studios, has rapidly become one of the hottest tickets in town, selling out nearly all of its shows and inspiring epic levels of queuing for the dayseats. And the audience it has drawn, at this show at least, felt significantly younger than one would usually see at a West End house. So something has clearly worked in the marketing of Shakespeare’s tragedy to make it the kind of success that they most likely hadn’t dared dream of. In light of that, it seems almost immaterial that I predominantly found it a disappointing production.

It was a fascinating experience to see the reactions of fresher eyes to a play whose ubiquity, arguably, does not necessarily correlate with its quality. For all its noble brutality and visceral poetry, it can be something of a hard ask in its later stages, no more so than in Act 4 Scene 3 which is the stuff of theatrical nightmares, yet it remains popular. And in Lloyd’s production with its Kensington Gore-splattered imagining of a near-future dystopian Scotland (the consequence of independence…?) and frequent bold strokes especially in Soutra Gilmour’s design which cleverly opens out, it clearly connected with its teenage audience from their frequent audible reactions. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios”

Review: Peter Pan, Barbican

“Second star to the right and straight on till morning”

There’s something about revisiting childhood favourites as an adult, a huge pleasure in discovering the deeper levels and meanings that escaped one’s more youthful self: I remember vividly discovering just how dark and vicious Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka gets with the truly revolting children in his factory after years of revelling in all the sweets, the excitement of the golden tickets and the Oompah Loompahs. Similarly here, my memories of Peter Pan were limited to the Disney film and the remake Hook, so in a nutshell, lots of fun as a Lost Boy and Julia Roberts being brought back to life. What I was not prepared for was the discovery of a huge well of aching sadness at the heart of this play.

This partly due to the new version created by David Greig for the National Theatre of Scotland, of J.M. Barrie’s classic, which relocates the action to Victorian Edinburgh and in particular the time of the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge, the instant parallels being drawn between the Lost Boys or Neverland and the gangs of young boys used to pass the molten hot rivets to the ironworkers on the bridge. There’s little fun to be had here, but there’s also less fun to be had in Neverland which is reconceived as a darker, more anarchic and dangerous place, populated by boys in need of motherly love, a hunger which drives this whole play and it is one which affected me greatly, as my companion for the evening will attest, tears rolled down my cheeks solidly for the last 30 minutes! Continue reading “Review: Peter Pan, Barbican”