DVD Review: Grace of Monaco

“The idea of my life as a fairytale is itself a fairytale”

The recent biopic Diana is a highwater point in films-that-are-so-bad-they’re-good and when Grace of Monaco was similarly lampooned by the unforgiving Cannes audiences, my hopes were raised for an enjoyable time of it. But sadly, Grace of Monaco fails at even being entertaining in its shitness, it is just seriously, badly, dull. Olivier Dahan’s direction is preposterous (those close-ups) and ill-thought-through (more of those close-ups!) and Arash Amel’s script is lazy in the extreme (it plays fast and loose with historical fact for no appreciable gain) and utterly misguided (it asks us to root for the protection of Monaco as a tax haven, save the poor rich people…).

Set at a time of constitutional crisis for the principality as Charles de Gaulle sought to incorporate it into mainland France, the film asks us to believe that Princess Grace, whilst selflessly turning down a return to the Hollywood career that made her name, was able to solve all these crises by winning the hearts of the people with a few French lessons and breaking the French government’s resolve (and apparently solving the war in Algeria) with some simpering speech-making. Never mind that the most of it has been made up by Amel, it is just frightfully dull in the telling of it. Nicole Kidman looks suitably like the epitome of Old Hollywood glamour but cannot do anything to inject any life here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Grace of Monaco”

Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre

“I’m a poached cake without a piece of toast
Yorkshire pudding without a beef to roast”

It’s no secret at all that I love a good old-fashioned musical but it is hard to feel that we need more of them in the world. PG Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress started life as a novel in 1919, has been adapted on both stage (with Ian Hay) and screen, where it was augmented by a suite of songs by George and Ira Gershwin, and now finds itself as a piece of musical theatre with a new book by Jeremy Sams and Robert Hudson and vibrantly directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford. 

With a cast that contains Richard Dempsey, Isla Blair, Nicholas Farrell, Sally Ann Triplett, plus the requisite Strallen (Summer, in this case), there’s little about which to complain. Yet I find myself grumbling a little, the bar at Chichester has been set so extraordinarily high with their recent successes, that even a very good production can seem a little lacklustre by comparison. And with so many great ‘traditional’ musicals of this form in the canon, do we really need new ones to be constructed?  Continue reading “Review: A Damsel in Distress, Chichester Festival Theatre”

DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)

“I will not allow a woman’s nature to be more unconstant than a man’s”

This was actually my first interaction with Persuasion, the novel has languished on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never seen an adaptation before, so it was an interesting experience to take the story in for the first time with this ITV adaptation starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. Simon Burke’s adaptation condenses Austen’s work right down to 90 minutes, which means a lot may well have been lost, but it also made a great introduction for a novice.

After an engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth eight years ago which crumbled in the face of her family’s disapproval, Anne Elliot finds herself on the shelf at 27. When her father and sister’s lavish lifestyle requires a downsizing of their household, life seems set to change for good as their beloved Kellynch Hall has to be let out to tenants. But the world is a small place and the connections that emerge between her sister’s household where she goes to stay and the new tenants, the Crofts, ensure that the past is not so easily left behind. Continue reading “DVD Review: Persuasion (2007)”

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2

“Posh girls don’t hit people”

Series 1 of Suburban Shootout was something of a pleasant surprise, a rather mental British TV series set in the idyllic country village of Little Stempington which is the scene of secret gang warfare between two rival groups of housewives. The first season finished on something of a cliff-hanger and that is where things pick up, with Joyce Hazeldine having to pick up the mantle of leader of the ‘good’ group after Anna Chanceller’s utterly fierce Camilla framed her bitter rival Felicity Montagu’s Barbara Du Prez.

What follows is essentially more of the same, except it just isn’t quite as funny as before, certainly not as compelling now that the novelty has worn off and the writing sadly just feels largely uninspired. The major storyline follows the attempt to get a supercasino built on some treasured wetlands, Barbara’s trials in prison and the struggles of Camilla and Joyce to keep control of their respective situations. But it’s over in six quick episodes and to little real impact. And worst of all, Ruth Wilson is hardly in it. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout Series 2”

DVD Review: Suburban Shootout

“I’m a housewife Barbara, not a hitman”

Suburban Shootout ought to have ticked all the boxes to become one of my guilty pleasures when it was shown on TV in 2006, a black comedy featuring Anna Chancellor as the fierce leader of a gang of murderous housewives. But as it was shown on Channel 5, who also produced it, it got lost somewhere along the way and I have to admit to not even having heard of it at the time. It lives on on DVD though and actually provides a highly amusing opportunity to see not just Ruth Wilson early in her career, but also a fresh-faced Tom Hiddleston before he was swept up by Hollywood. 

Set in the fictional small town of Little Stempington, smack in the middle of the Home Counties, Joyce Hazeldine and her policeman husband Jeremy move into a new house, seeking respite from hectic London life, and are very much looking forward to their new quiet life. But the premise of the show, created by Roger Beckett and James Gary Martin, is that the village is secretly controlled by two opposing gangs of housewives – both determined to keep village life crime-free, but deadly rivals into the bargain and both keen to co-opt Joyce into their crew. Continue reading “DVD Review: Suburban Shootout”

DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth

“It’s the children…”

Well I don’t think anyone saw that coming. A darker spin-off from Doctor Who that took a little while to find its feet in its first couple of years, the third series of Torchwood – sub-titled Children of Earth – saw the show graduate to BBC1 (all the more impressive given its original BBC3 origins) with a 5-parter of some considerable drama that pushed the boundaries of anything previously shown in the Whoniverse (apologies for that word!) And though it is here due to being one of the first times that Lucy Cohu entered my consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised to find it populated with actors that I have latterly come to admire – Ian Gelder and Cush Jumbo in particular.

Children of Earth was so successful for me because although its main premise is rooted in the sci-fi world – a mysterious alien presence arrives on Earth, seizing control of the minds of all its children and demanding their sacrifice – so much of the conflict comes from the human drama, the moral ambiguities that arise as times of crisis require difficult decision making. And having established a Spooks-like level of turnover with its cast with the Series 2 finale, it added another, even crueller, twist of the screw, made all the more distressing for its unassuming nature. Continue reading “DVD Review: Torchwood – Children of Earth”

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward Theatre

“We’re practically our own children’s book department”

Second up for the Michael Grandage season at the Noël Coward Theatre is the only new play out of the programme of five – John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Logan’s stock is riding high both as a screenwriter – a 3-time Academy Award nominee and most recently responsible for Skyfall – and a playwright – his last play Red was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic – and the premise of this play, a meeting between the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland and the man who gave his name to Peter Pan, is one that certainly showed promise. But after attending this preview performance, it is not abundantly clear that this promise has been fulfilled.

The play sparks off of the real life meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, aged 35 and 80 respectively, and imagines a conversation in which they share stories of being so closely involved with 2 key figures of children’s literature. Llewelyn Davies was one of the brood of brothers with whom JM Barrie became very close and wrote Peter Pan for, and Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland after first recounting the story to Liddell Hargreaves on a family boat trip. Thus their places in literary history were sealed and Logan explores not just how their lives consequently rolled out but also touches on their relationships with the writers and the characters they inspired. Continue reading “Review: Peter and Alice, Noël Coward Theatre”

Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3

“My ear is much enamoured of your note”

I’m nothing if not predictable, so despite having been distinctly underwhelmed by the Shakespeare on 3 productions and sworn off the Bard on radio, the replay of this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Radio 3 was irresistible to me as I just could not resist the spectacular cast assembled.

I’d been warned in advance that Lesley Sharp didn’t sound like herself in this as Titania and it’s true, but the precisely mannered intonation she adopts works really well here and made me long to see her back on stage. Toby Stephens was serviceable as Oberon but I did enjoy Freddie Fox’s impish Puck. And as the troublesome lovers, Joseph Timms and Ferdinand Kingsley, and Emerald O’Hanrahan and Anna Madeley were all nicely characterful. Continue reading “Radio Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Radio 3”

DVD Review: The Jury

Part of Helen McCrory weekend

“I know first hand the cruelty he’s capable of”

Though North Square was probably the first time I really took notice of Helen McCrory, it was in The Jury that she really stole my heart and for ages, it was this show that I fruitlessly referenced when trying to explain who she was. Written by Peter Morgan, The Jury played on ITV in 2002 over 6 episodes following a single court case as a Sikh teenager is accused of killing his 15 year old classmate. But rather than focusing on the case, as the title suggests the attention was the men and women that made up the jury and how the experience affected their lives in a multitude of ways.

McCrory played Rose, a rather nervous woman with an overbearing husband (boo, Mark Strong) who unexpectedly finds a sense of freedom in being allowed out into a new world and seizes the opportunity with both hands. Stuck in a room with people she doesn’t know, she almost reinvents herself from scratch and find herself increasingly drawn to Johnnie, who is played by a pre-Hollywood Gerard Butler (so who can blame her). He has his own challenges from a troubled recent past though and so whilst the sweet relationship that builds between the two is beautifully essayed as one senses the genuine spark between the pair, the small matter of his demons and her husband remain in the way. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Jury”