Lockdown TV review: Belgravia (ITV)

The first couple of episodes of Julian Fellowes’ latest TV series Belgravia are quite frankly an embarrassment

“How strange that we should be having a ball when we are on the brink of war”

Who knows what hold Julian Fellowes has over the British cultural industries as once again, another major commission comes through for this painfully lazy of writers. I should have resisted Belgravia but with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald and Saskia Reeves, not to mention Penny Layden and Adam James, curiosity got the better of me and by the crin, I wish it hadn’t. Lucy Mangan puts it scathingly well in her review for the Guardian and I couldn’t have put it any better. Avoid like the, well, plague.

Photo: ITV

Review: The Collector, Vaults

“There are two sides to every story”

Based on the novel of the same name by John Fowles, The Collector is a psychological thriller that ultimately sits rather uncomfortably in this theatrical form. Max Dorey’s extraordinarily detailed set sits well in the atmospheric surroundings of Waterloo’s Vaults, setting the scene for creepy goings-on, but Mark Healy’s adaptation loses the dual perspective of the novel and thus fatally upsets the storytelling balance. 

The Collector is a kidnap drama – Lily Loveless’ Miranda has been abducted by butterfly enthusiast Frederick, a bumbling young man who is new to the kidnap game and is well portrayed by Game of Thrones star Daniel Portman in all his needy awkwardness. But where Fowles deepened his narrative by giving us an account of the story from both perspective, Healy draws the focus in and loses much of what makes these characters interesting. Continue reading “Review: The Collector, Vaults”

DVD review: About Time

“Get ready for spooky time”

To criticise a film about time travel for not possessing the most stringent internal logic might seem perverse (though it has never stopped those who watch Doctor Who…); to criticise a Richard Curtis film for being utterly daft feels likewise misintentioned, his work is what it is. But there’s something really rather frustrating about his 2013 work About Time that is determined to have its cutesy cutesy pie and eat it, saccharine sweetness and all.

It is as much a father/son love story as it is a boy/girl romance in which Domhnall Gleeson’s nerdishly appealing Hugh-Grant-a-like Tim, is the son of an upper-class boho family – troubled-but-not-too-much sister (Lydia Wilson), check; slightly doolally uncle (Richard Cordery), check; perfect parents (Lindsay Duncan and Bill Nighy), check. And wouldn’t you know it, it turns out the men in this family have the power to travel back in time by closing their eyes and squeezing a fist. Continue reading “DVD review: About Time”

TV Review: WPC 56, Series 2

 “Haven’t you got better things to do?”

After finally being able to catch up with Series 1 of WPC 56 and loving it, I was looking forward to Series 2. The BBC1 afternoon drama about the experiences of the first WPC in a fictional West Midlands constabulary really captured my attention with its mix of the personal and the policing but almost from the word go, this second series failed to live up to its predecessor.

First up was the saddening decision to have Kieran Bew’s DI Burns leave but not only that, have him appear in the first scene as if nothing had changed, all bearded up most handsomely indeed, and then snatching the rug from under us. His relationship with Jennie Jacques’ WPC Gina Dawson was one of the stronger parts of the show so I was genuinely sad as well as gutted on a more shallow basis.  Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 2”

Review: Blood and Gifts, National Theatre

“Russian soldiers being shot with Chinese bullets, sometimes the world is so beautiful”

JT Rogers’ Blood and Gifts started off life as one of the short plays that constituted The Great Game, the Tricycle’s hugely ambitious cycle of works about Afghanistan. He withdrew it from the recent re-run of that set of shows to work it up into a full length play which now premieres at the Lyttelton in the National Theatre. It has apparently had a few teething problems resulting in the first preview being cancelled, so this is a review what became the second preview.

The play starts off in 1981 in Pakistan, in the offices of the Intelligence Services there and up in the mountainous borders with Afghanistan, as James Warnock a CIA agent is sent to the region to try and stop the Soviets in their aggression. In order to do so, Warnock needs to negotiate with the Pakistani Intelligence Services, the KGB and MI6 presence there and most trickily, with the slippery Afghan warlords whose loyalties are easily bought but just as easily lost. We then track events for the next 10 years as the war continues, relationships develop over money and arms, watching appeals at the US senate for Stinger missiles, then finally moving to Afghan foothills for a blistering climax when some serious truths are finally revealed. Continue reading “Review: Blood and Gifts, National Theatre”

Review: The White Guard, National

“Negativity be damned”

Maintaining a strong record of reviving Russian plays (Burnt By The Sun was a highlight of last year for me), Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard takes up residence in the Lyttleton in a version by Andrew Upton (I saw a preview, it opens officially on 23rd April). Stalin was famously a fan of this play but it should be noted that Bulgakov was no Stalinist and was pretty much a dissident, writing as anti-Soviet works as he dared whilst forbidden to leave the country and suffering much from censorship, a theme visited in another of his plays, Molière or the League of Hypocrites seen in London late last year at the Finborough.

The White Guard is a look at the price that is paid by people during wartime: both on the grand political scale, but also on the personal and family lives. Set in the Ukraine in 1918, we follow the Turbin family as they struggle to maintain their lives in a Kiev ravaged by the just-ended First World War, yet flung headlong into the Russian Civil War which ensued immediately after. The Turbin’s apartment is presided over by the luminous Lena, around whom a coterie of assorted characters gravitate, as the tumultuous sequence of events and invaders threaten to irrevocably change to everyone’s way of life. Continue reading “Review: The White Guard, National”