TV Review: Rules of the Game

Kieran Bew and Ben Batt for the heart; Maxine Peake, Rakhee Thakrar and Alison Steadman for the head; Rules of the Game offers some luxury casting for a ferocious tale of post-#MeToo workplace life

“You don’t get to leave us, you’re part of this”

With obedient poodle Nadine Dorries doing her level best to distract from the utter shitshow that has become Boris Johnson’s reign by wielding a headline-stealing axe over the BBC, it feels like we ought to be celebrating whatever drama Aunty can still provide us at the moment. Latest up is Ruth Fowler’s 4-parter Rules of the Game which stars a red-hot Maxine Peake and makes Alison Steadman as scary as she’s ever been.

Set in and around the offices of Fly Dynamics, a Cheshire-based, family-run sportswear company that is on the verge of a stock market flotation designed to take them global, COO Sam finds a significant fly in the ointment when she trips over a body in their foyer. In a Big Little Lies-ish twist, we don’t find out who is it but rather, we’re plunged into the trials and tribulations of what turns out to be the most toxic of workplaces. Continue reading “TV Review: Rules of the Game”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 14

With Kieran Bew with his top off and Barbara Flynn breaking every singe person’s heart, Series 14 of Silent Witness is mostly excellent. We just need to talk about Harry…

“If you’re deliberately trying to annoy me, you’re succeeding”

Series 14 of Silent Witness is the first one that contains episodes that I actually remember from first time around, two of them in fact. One – ‘Lost – can lay claim to being one of the best ever stories that the show has produced. The other indulges in a fakeout that had me hook line and sinker at the time though as I recall, not my dad!

It’s a season that start off tremendously, the serial killer vibes of ‘A Guilty Mind’ and the decades-spanning effects of ‘Lost’ offering up a different take on forensics for once. But towards the end of the run, it is clear that a decision has been made (who knows by whom) to give Harry more to do and that throws things off balance. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 14”

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: The Bletchley Circle Series 1

Rachael Stirling and Anna Maxwell Martin are fantastic in Series 1 of The Bletchley Circle, which I’ve finally gotten round to watching 

“You really think that just by listening to the wireless, you can tell the police where to look for a murder victim”

I don’t really know how I have left it this late to finally watch The Bletchley Circle, just nine years since series 1 first aired in the UK. It is tailor-made for my interests too: Rachael Stirling, Anna Maxwell Martin, women in wartime(ish), oh and Rachael Stirling 😍 and with the show being on one of my streaming services, I finally took the plunge. This miniseries was written by Guy Burt and directed by Andy De Emmony, with Julie Graham and Sophie Rundle rounding out the lead cast.

And but of course, I loved it. An all-too-brief three episodes take us through the crime-solving exploits of four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park but now, in 1952, find their talents ignored by a resumption of traditional societal values. As a serial killer murders young women across London and the police fail to take their warnings sufficiently seriously, the foursome start to delve into the investigation themselves despite the intense danger that emerges. Continue reading “TV Review: The Bletchley Circle Series 1”

Happy 50th Birthday to the Young Vic

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic, has announced the start of the Young Vic’s 50th birthday with a year-long programme of work entitled We are the New Tide, dedicated to the theatre’s milestone birthday.

The 50th birthday year of work begins with three major commissions:

  • YV 50thProjection Project – a projection celebrating the people and productions from across five extraordinary decades, illuminating the front of the Young Vic building each evening, with video design by Duncan McLean – check out just some of those productions in the gallery above.

    From 11 Sept – 4 October, 7.30pm – 10.30pm daily except Sundays, free.

  • The Unforgotten an interactive outdoor art installation commemorating trailblazers Mary Seacole, Marsha P. Johnson and Ulric Cross. Furthering the conversation within the Black Lives Matter movement, the Young Vic community will be invited to contribute to the installation by submitting their own nominations in writing on the side of the building and online, asking us all to (re)consider who we celebrate as our heroes. Created by artists Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Anna Fleischle.
    From 11 September, free.
  • The New Tomorrow– for the first piece of live theatre since the pandemic closed UK theatres, this weekend festival of speeches and monologues asks what the next fifty years hold. Writers and artists Jade Anouka, Marina Carr, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Ruth Madeley, Amy Ng, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne, Isobel Waller-Bridge and Steve Waters will explore the change that has come and is coming. Cast to be announced.
    3 & 4 October, 4pm, Main House, free

TV Review: Liar Series 2

Series 2 of Liar shifts the focus from rape to murder but does little to raise this from bog-standard thriller territory

“Sometimes bad things happen and we just have to deal with them”

Was the world calling out for a second season of Liar? When the first apparently did such great numbers for ITV, it seems the decision was inevitable but it has taken more than two years for it to arrive and I’m not sure that it carries the same level of impetus with it – I don’t imagine ratings will have held up to anywhere near the same degree.

That first series did show much promise, complicating a rape story by presenting a he said/she said narrative that asked some big questions. But midway through, Liar tipped its hand and ended up as a bog-standard thriller and it is in that same spirit that it continues here. A bit of story-telling trickery allows for Ioan Gruffudd’s Andrew to return alongside Joanne Froggatt as Laura but I have to say I really wasn’t gripped. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar Series 2”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

TV Review: Liar (Series 1)

A strong opening concept makes the first half of series one of Liar a must-see, until convention creeps in to mar the second.

“I feel like I’m in Dawson’s Creek

From the very beginnings of Liar, it is tough to like central character Laura Nielson. She’s the type of person who goes canoeing in the morning before going to work, she’s the kind of secondary school teacher who happily flips the bird to unruly students, heck she even sings to Sam Smith in the shower. But before you can get too annoyed with her for being someone who doesn’t prebook her taxi before going on a date, the hammer blow of date rape lands heavily to reshape our preconceptions.

The cleverness of Harry and Jack Williams’ series, at least for its first few episodes, is how it toys with those expectations. As Laura reels from the aftermath of her dinner with handsome surgeon Andrew Earlham, the shattered narrative structure flits repeatedly from present to past as it also switches perspective. It’s a neatly disorientating device that constantly calls into question the ‘truth’ of what we’re hearing or seeing, really ramping up the ‘he said she said’ format as consequences unravel dramatically for the both of them. Continue reading “TV Review: Liar (Series 1)”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10

Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
Extremis
The Doctor Falls
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Smile
The Pilot
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land

Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain 
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision

Saddest death
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…

Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.

Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

So here we are, the moment that the epic rewatch has been building up to – the start of Doctor Who’s tenth series, notable for being the final one for both Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and showrunner Steven Moffat. And perhaps predictably, Episode One – The Pilot is a cracking piece of TV, a real return to form that hopefully will last across the entire series (I’m not holding my breath…) or at least the majority of it (that I feel more confident about).

Key to this is the arrival of Pearl Mackie’s new companion Bill, a welcome breath of real fresh air into the standard trope but more importantly, a distinct separation from what came just before. No offence to Jenna Coleman’s Clara but the character’s knowingness made it hard to ever warm to her and though on paper, the idea of her being more of an equal to the Doctor has legs, in reality it just became rather self-satisfyingly wearying. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot”