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: Life (Series 1)

Mike Bartlett’s new TV show Life is rich in middle-class miseries and stellar performances from Victoria Hamilton and Alison Steadman

“One can’t have blessings without sufferings”

My main feelings about Mike Bartlett’s Life revolve around Rachael Stirling and thus are somewhat spoilerific – consider yourself warned! I was highly excited to see Stirling back on our screens so I was a tad disappointed when it turned out that her character was in fact a ghost and could only be seen by her grieving husband Adrian Lester.

But then when it was revealed that she was in fact a bisexual ghost – a proper shout at the TV moment – and her entanglements drew in at least one other, it was a glorious pay-off which almost, almost made up for her not being a full-on member of the ensemble. And its a hefty ensemble, set in a large house split into four flats in which four sets of tenants are all facing their own trials. Continue reading “TV Review: Life (Series 1)”

TV Review: Secret State (2012)

With Lia Williams and Sylvestra Le Touzel both being badass in the cast, how could I not love Secret State

“Do I look like somebody who reads tweets?”

Inspired by Chris Mullin’s 1982 novel A Very British Coup, 2012’s Secret State stands up realy well nearly a decade on. And how could it not, when it features Lia Williams at the head of MI5, Sylvestra Le Touzel as the Foreign Secretary, Gina McKee and Douglas Hodge as hotshot reporters and Tobias Menzies as the Prime Minister. Continue reading “TV Review: Secret State (2012)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7

In which the rollercoaster of quality rockets sky-high again, Series 7 of Spooks ranks as one of my favourites

“I want my team to know why I acted the way I did”

The introduction of series-long plots didn’t necessarily work first time round for Spooks but in Series 7, the magic certainly happens to produce one of the best seasons across its decade-long life. Perhaps the reduced episode order from 10 to 8 helped to refine the effectiveness of the storytelling, recognising that it was Adam’s time to go definitely worked and finally made the right kind of room for Ros to rise, and giving Gemma Jones this material was an absolute masterstroke. 

Undoing the silly fakeouts of Ros and Jo’s ‘deaths’ right from the off, the introduction of Richard Armitage’s Lucas North also works well, his time in Russian captivity casting a nice shade of doubt over his presence in the team, a marked difference to the alpha males of Tom and Adam. And the ongoing Sugarhorse mystery is skillfully wound throughout the whole season, coiling ever-tighter until the hammer blows of a properly fierce finale. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
She’s just a distant memory at this point – Harry really is such a fuckboy. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 7”

Review: Not Talking, Arcola Theatre

This ‘new’ Mike Bartlett’ play is well-acted at the Arcola Theatre but Not Talking can’t quite hide its origins in radio

“If I don’t want to tell anyone, it’s up to me, right?”

A treat here in the premiere of Mike Bartlett’s first-ever play, never seen before in a theatre. But something of a qualified treat, because 2005’s Not Talking was written as a radio play and as sumptuously cast as James Hiller’s production for the Arcola and Defibrillator is (with Kika Markham and David Horovitch), it’s a drama that never really escapes these origins.

The play is constructed as two pairs of two intertwining but distinct monologues – separated by time on the one side, kept apart by emotional distance on the other. Reflecting back on their lives, James and Lucy have the benefit, such as it is, of experience; at the beginning of their potential story, Mark and Amanda find their lives no less blighted by momentous events. Continue reading “Review: Not Talking, Arcola Theatre”

TV Review: Fearless, ITV

“I learned a long time ago not to trust what people tell me”

I did want to love Fearless, I really did. Any series with Helen McCrory in its leading role has to be worthy of consideration and ITV have been upping their drama game (qv Unforgotten) recently. But despite an intriguing opener, the six episodes of Fearless increasingly tested the patience as Patrick Harbinson’s script failed to deliver on its twistily complex promise, instead giving us a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller that ultimately proved less than thrilling.

With a playbook that threw out major themes with regularity – miscarriages of justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, institutional corruption, the war in Iraq, the ethics of the surveillance state, just to name a few – it was inevitable that some would fall by the wayside. But with the amount of personal backstory for McCrory’s Emma also shoehorned in there, the narrative was both painfully overstuffed and sadly inconsequential – it was increasingly hard to know what we were meant to care about.

Continue reading “TV Review: Fearless, ITV”

TV Review: Fearless Episode 1

“You let a terrorist’s wife live in your home and you set a murderer free”

Fearless is a new six-part drama on ITV and whilst some people might be excited by the fact that it is written by one of the writers of Homeland (Patrick Harbinson), all right-thinking people will of course be psyched that it is giving Helen McCrory a stonking leading role. She plays human rights lawyer Emma Banville who is utterly unafraid to butt heads with the world as she investigates miscarriages of justice.

Her latest case draws her into the orbit of Kevin Russell (definite fave Sam Swainsbury) whose conviction for murder looks to be a little iffy. With perhaps a little too much ease, she finds it unsafe and secures a retrial but looks set to have opened up quite the can of national security-flavoured worms as a serious-looking transatlantic phone call on a secure line seems to suggest that there is much more to this than meets the eye. Continue reading “TV Review: Fearless Episode 1”

Casting awareness for ITV’s Fearless

“There’s something else going on here”
 

I can’t call this a casting announcement as who knows when this news was actually revealed. But I’ve only just got around to looking at the cast for new ITV drama Fearless and oh lordy, it’s a good’un. Written by Homeland writer and executive producer Patrick Harbinson, Fearless has Helen McCrory in its lead role which of course makes it an instant winner, but by putting the likes of Sam Swainsbury, Jamie Bamber, David Mumeni and Sam Crane in the ensemble makes it a must-see – purely for the acting talent of course… 😉

Re-review: Escaped Alone, Royal Court

Image result for escaped alone royal court

“I’m walking down the street and there’s a door in the fence open and inside there are three women I’ve seen before”

There’s something delicious about seeing the Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone return to the Royal Court before heading out to New York and then a UK tour. It’s also testament to James MacDonald’s production that the quartet of actors who originated their parts have all returned – Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson, marvels every one.

I ranked the play as the fourth best thing that I saw last year and though I don’t always like to go back to things I enjoyed (in case it sullies the memory), I wanted to treat myself to this again. And I’m glad I did, for the layered complexity of Churchill’s writing allows for re-appreciation and indeed re-interpretation. My original review holds true but given the way the world has lurched closer to apocalypse (literally so, apparently), the play’s contrast between Doomsday and the domestic feels ever more poignant and pertinent.

Running time: 50 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 11th February, then touring 15 – 26 Feb BAM, New York; 7 – 11 March The Lowry, Salford; 14- 18 March Cambridge Arts Theatre; 22 – 26 March Bristol Old Vic