TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11”

DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson

“But, to answer your question, Elizabeth, I ‘am’ going to eat a hot dog”

Directed by Roger Michell and written by Richard Nelson, Hyde Park in Hudson is a rather delightful little thing, a trifle of a film that nonetheless has an endearing emotional edge to it. Set on the eve of World War II, George VI and Queen Elizabeth become the first British monarchs to visit the US but rather than the pomp and circumstance of an official state visit, they’re taken to Franklin D Roosevelt’s country estate and introduced to the complex personal relationships he’s built around him.

Key among these is Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, a distant cousin and childhood friend who has recently returned to his life and who narrates the film in Laura Linney’s delicate but determined tones. The Royals want to secure US support for the war they know is coming, the polio-ravaged FDR wants to be left alone to amuse himself with the collection of women he’s gathered around him and Daisy just wants to know where she is in the pecking order. Continue reading “DVD Review: Hyde Park in Hudson”

DVD Review: Mission Impossible

“Ethan, you’re not making any sense”

Emmanuelle Béart probably wouldn’t thank me for selecting this particular movie to represent her but as I scrolled down the rest of the cast list, I could scarcely believe that both Kristin Scott Thomas and Vanessa Redgrave were in this film – it being so long since I first saw it that I remember nothing of it – that I couldn’t resist revisiting it. A remake of the 70s TV show helmed by Brian De Palma and led by Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible has since become a highly successful franchise, though this first film hasn’t really stood up to the test of time.

It is actually quite amusing to watch, not least because it is nearly 20 years old now and nothing dates quite so quickly as a movie that does hi-tech. The 90s version of the internet is hilarious as is the technological chatter, and the email client that is used is as quaint as anything. Special effects look laboured (those glasses…!) and the climactic big sequence is simply daft – a helicopter chasing a Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel? (although granted, such ridiculousness is a Hollywood staple in such big-budget action films). Continue reading “DVD Review: Mission Impossible”

Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola Theatre

“A lot can happen in one night”

The stereotypical image of musical theatre as a happy clappy ball of cheesy fun would surely be less prevalent if shows like Sweet Smell of Success were better known. But paradoxically, it benefits from having its British premiere out on the fringe in the dark warehouse surroundings of Dalston’s Arcola as this bitterly desperate tale of the hollowness at the centre of the world of celebrity journalism in 1950s America certainly benefits from the intimacy of this theatre. It has its challenges though, as an uncompromisingly bleak tale of immorality which doesn’t always quite get the balance right as director Mehmet Ergen tries to leaven the mood. 

John Guare’s story centres on JJ Hunsecker, a vicious-tongued and immensely influential columnist who has 60 million readers and is willing to do absolutely anything to keep them and his lofty position. His weakness lies in his troublingly deep affection for his half-sister Susan and his attempts to manipulate her life and her relationships threaten to drag all them down, including JJ’s protégé Sidney Falcone, all too willing to carry out his boss’s wishes in order to get the leg up he craves. The ethics of sensationalist journalism of course have a compelling currency in today’s post-Leveson environment but though David Bamber’s Hunsecker is at the centre of the story, there’s never really a sense that we get to know much about him. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse

“Even Floyd knew somethin’ wasn’t right”

I don’t normally read much about shows before I go in especially if they are new to me, as I do like that element of surprise and novelty that is increasingly rare. But had I read that Floyd Collins, just opened at the Southwark Playhouse, was a musical containing a song that Stephen Sondheim wished he had wrote and is routinely described as complex, demanding and jagged, I might have been a little better prepared for it. Tina Landau (book and additional lyrics) and Adam Guettel’s (music and lyrics) musical really is a daring piece of work which challenges and provokes, though in this case ultimately frustrates.

Using the depths of the converted Vault space and a lot of ladders, James Perkins’ design seems ideally suited to recreating 1925 Kentucky and its system of inter-connected caves which our eponymous leading man is famed for exploring. But as he searches for more fame and fortune in new caves, he gets trapped by a rockfall 55 feet under the ground but it is the efforts to try and release him end up and the huge media circus that forms around it that makes up much of the show, exposing the effects on Floyd, his family and those trying to rescue him. Continue reading “Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse”