TV Review: The White Queen

This TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen proves rather schlockily enjoyable

“You live in a country that is divided”

Philippa Gregory’s novels have long been a pleasure for me, a guilty pleasure if I believed in such a thing, as her female-focused, historical fictions offer much trashy enjoyment. A miniseries of The White Queen was created in 2013 but though it aired on the BBC and garnered some award success, it proved to be a one-off (for five years at least).

The White Queen is an adaptation of her Cousins’ War series ((The White QueenThe Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter) and uses the Wars of the Roses as its backdrop to explore the roles of some of the most powerful women in the country. Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, Anne Neville – all determined to parlay their dynastic power into a real shot at the English throne. Continue reading “TV Review: The White Queen”

TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

Film Review: Notes on a Scandal (2006)

A marvellously against-type Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett score a huge hit in Notes on a Scandal

“Lasagne irritates my bowels, I’ll ask for a small portion”

Intelligently adapted from Zoë Heller’s novel by Patrick Marber, you get the feeling that Notes on a Scandal would be good even if anyone was acting in it. But since Richard Eyre’s film boasts Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett as its leads, it is something extraordinary.

Barbara and Sheba both teach at the same Islington secondary school. Barbara a long-serving history teacher, Sheba a brand new recruit to the art department, an unlikely friendship develops between the pair, one which detonates when the latter starts an affair with a pupil. Continue reading “Film Review: Notes on a Scandal (2006)”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carter rocks though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

DVD Review: Henry V (1989)

”Customs curtsy to great kings”

It is instructive to watch performances from Kenneth Branagh such as these, to counteract the ones he is currently giving as part of his company’s year-long residency at the Garrick. They have their fans to be sure but for me, there’s something much more powerful about the subtlety on display as a younger actor as opposed to the broader, louder turns he’s given thus far. Sacrilegious as it may be to admit it, I have no real love for Henry V as a play but there is no denying this excellent piece of film-making, directed by Branagh in his debut in the chair.

Taking a grittier, more ‘realistic’ take on this history pays dividends, not least in minimising the slapstick for which I care little but also emphasising an emotional truthfulness that doesn’t always come across on stage. Only the stoniest of hearts could remain unmoved by Judi Dench’s achingly poignant farewell to Falstaff, or be swept up in the playful flirtiness between the King and Emma Thompson’s Princess Katherine, or be chilled by the declaration at Harfleur, Branagh showing us the young monarch taking the brutal responsibility of a warrior.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Henry V (1989)”

DVD Review: Othello (1995)

“But yet the pity of it”

Oliver Parker’s directorial career has taken in glossy takes on Wilde in An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest as well as the St Trinian’s films and the recent Dad’s Army remake. But it all started in 1995 with this adaptation, and the word is used advisedly, of Othello. As with many cinematic Shakespearean ventures, it plays fast and loose with the text, cutting large amounts of it and then adding supplementary scenes because the director wants to impose a vision.

The publicity campaign for the film played down its classical roots, focusing instead on the interracial politics of its love story – a hot button topic for the US then, as it is still is now. And well it might, for Parker’s screenplay makes a crucial mistake in rupturing the natural rhythms of the speech, well above and beyond the trimming down which in and of itself, is never a bad thing. Instead, this version feels reductive and rebarbative as it mangles its way through the play. Continue reading “DVD Review: Othello (1995)”