TV Review: His Dark Materials, Series 2

No spoilers, but the second series of His Dark Materials is a continued absolute triumph

“Your duty is to protect the girl…and the boy”

We may have lost an episode of the second series of His Dark Materials to the pandemic but you really couldn’t tell, its atmospheric and elegiac storytelling feeling like some of the most mature work on screen right now. Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s novel(s) manages a brilliant balance between faithfulness and invention, an added scene between Mrs Coulter and Lee Scoresby is a sensational addition. And the direction from Leanne Welham and Jamie Childs keeps the show looking amazing.

From Lyra’s enduring guilt over Roger’s demise in the Series 1 finale, to climactic struggles that lead to some truly traumatising conclusions, the odyssey that Lyra and Will take from their Oxfords to CittĂ gazze and beyond is nothing short of stunning. Dafne Keen’s Lyra remains as intellectually curious as ever but Amir Wilson’s Will takes the spotlight as he’s forced to reckon with the weight of responsibility forced onto his shoulders. And he is achingly good, a new maturity coming forth episode by episode. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials, Series 2”

TV Review: His Dark Materials, Series 2 Episode 1

Episode 1 of the second season of His Dark Materials continues its excellent work, matching my heightened expectations

“A wound caused by magic must be closed by magic”

Just a quickie as I didn’t want to leave this unmarked. His Dark Materials returns to our screens with a second series that focuses on the events of the book The Subtle Knife. Which means if you’re a James McAvoy fan, you’re in for a bit of a disappointment (unless adapter Jack Thorne has done something tricksy) as Lord Asriel is out for the duration.

But we still have Ruth Wilson doing amazing work as the iconic Mrs Coulter, dominating the men of the Magisterium with her will. And Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson are excellent as the newly-teamed up Lyra and Will, stepping into the strange new world of CittĂ gazze with its genuinely horrifying spectres. And the world of the witches is expanded with Jade Anouka’s Ruta Skadi joining Ruta Gedmintas’ Serafina Pekkala as they consider their role in the events to come. All very exciting stuff.

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”

Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”

TV Review: His Dark Materials Episode 1

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form

“In every child’s nightmare, there is an element of truth”

After what has felt like an interminable wait, the BBC’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials arrives onscreen in scintillating form. Written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hooper, this first episode set the tone marvellously, balancing all the detail needed for world-building for newcomers and yet still maintaining enough magic to hook in those more seasoned fans of the work.

I definitely count myself in that latter category. The books were the first I ever hungered for in waiting for the publication of the second and third in the trilogy. The National Theatre production ranks as one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a theatre and I trekked to Bath and Salford to see subsequent revivals. I even don’t think the film adaptation of The Golden Compass is the worst thing in the world, honest… Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Episode 1”

DVD Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Despite that title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society proves unremarkable in its gentle cosiness

“Everyone lost someone in this war”

Directed by Mike Newell and written by Don Roos and Tom Bezucha from the novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society really ought to have hit the spot for me. Women-heavy wartime story – check, a cast including Lily James and Katharine Parkinson – check, and a title you can’t help but misremember. 

But it never really clicks into gear as greater than the sum of these parts, sticking at a tone of gently cosy which is never offensive, but rarely remarkable with it.  Set just after the end of the Second World War in 1946, the plot follows a London-based writer who becomes fascinated by the experience of the residents on the island of Guernsey which, lest we forget, was under German occupation. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)”

Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

Fancy three and a half hours of Ingmar Bergman? At least the Old Vic’s seats are comfortable for Fanny and Alexander with  a marvellous Penelope Wilton 

“I’d really like to know what anyone else thinks”

I can’t think of Fanny and Alexander without thinking of the phrase sweet Fanny Adams (which, sidebar, has quite the horrific origin). But more to the point, I have to say the idea of another adaptation of an Ingmar Bergman film didn’t quite fill me with enough joy to be rushing to the Old Vic (the extraordinary Scenes From A Marriage aside, I’ve not had the best of times with him).

So with Stephen Beresford (he of The Last of the Haussmans) adapting and Max Webster (he of The Lorax) directing, it was with a little reluctance that I devoted a swathe of my Easter Saturday to this drama. And while I’d love to say that it was totally worth it, as a way to wait for the Resurrection it left me feeling a little like Pontius Pilate must have done way back when. Continue reading “Review: Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic”