TV Review: A Very British Scandal

Claire Foy and Paul Bettany headline some rather alternative festive fare in the BBC’s Christmas special A Very British Scandal

“Canapes and cock, is there anything else?”

A drama about the first major case of slut-shaming in the British media, a warning note about the dangers of dick pics, a harrowing example of how vicious divorce can get, the BBC really do know how to wish us a merry Christmas! A spiritual follow-up to A Very English Scandal, A Very British Scandal was written by Sarah Phelps whose Agatha Christie adaptations briefly threatened to become a welcome festive institution but instead, there was a pivot.

And make no mistake, this is still a high quality 3 hours of a miniseries, blessed with two strong leads in Claire Foy and Paul Bettany and taken from a true story (with the requisite dramatic license) that is eye-wincingly lurid. The 1963 Argyll v Argyll divorce case was groundbreaking in terms of the salaciousness and scandalous detail that it included that was then widely published by the media in a way that had never been done before, not least in revealing the existence of explicit photos showing non-marital relations. Continue reading “TV Review: A Very British Scandal”

TV Review: Roadkill

The new David Hare political drama Roadkill proves to be the scariest thing about this year’s Hallowe’en, and not in a good way

“You can get away with anything if you just brazen it out”

Throwing in a cast like this can usually get me to forgive a lot but not even the combined thrills of Helen McCrory, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Saskia Reeves could get me to like Roadkill. Maybe its the closeness of it all, Tory political corruption is headline news pretty much every day now, so why would we want it on our TV screens as drama as well.

Potential timing issues aside (though when are the Tories never out grasping for themselves…), there are more fundamental problems at play here though. David Hare’s writing feels particularly aimless here, there’s little sense of accretion in watching Hugh Laurie’s Teflon-coated minister Peter Laurence ride out any number of potential scandals, just a relentless, remorseless journey of scum rising to the top. Continue reading “TV Review: Roadkill”

New TV shows for winter

As the clocks go back, the prestige TV shows come out, so I checked out the first episodes of The Undoing, Roadkill and The Sister to find not one but two Scandiqueens

“Sounds like we’re digging in for a long answer”

With a company that includes Noma Dumezweni and the empress of jumpers Sofie Gråbøl, I was initially a little disappointed that neither appeared in the first episode of new HBO show The Undoing. But when your leads are Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, your writer is David E Kelley and your director is Susanne Bier, then there’s little to complain about. Based on a Jean Hanff Korelitz novel and set in the dripping wealth of the Upper East Side, the tantalising promise of murder and adultery is skilfully woven across this opening episode and I’m definitely hooked.  Continue reading “New TV shows for winter”

Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)

Given the current discourse around Churchill and the aspects of British history that are commonly taught, watching A United Kingdom couldn’t be more timely

“Would you care for a sherry?”

It’s no secret that the realities of British colonial history are too often and too easily brushed under the carpet. And so it’s no surprise that it is directors of colour who are dragging them into the spotlight, as Amma Asante does with A United Kingdom. You can’t imagine a history lesson that wouldn’t benefit from screening this for its students.

Written by Guy Hibbert from Susan Williams’ Colour Bar, it is based on the true-life story of a law student named Seretse and a underwriters’ clerk named Ruth who met at a dance and fell in love, the film intelligently explores and exposes post-war British imperialist attitudes as well as giving us an epic love story. Continue reading “Film Review: A United Kingdom (2016)”

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: Albion, Almeida Theatre

“The fantasy that brings the reality into being”

 As Mike Bartlett’s profile grows and grows, one can’t help but fear that his TV successes will lead to movie commissions but for the moment, he’s not forgotten where he started and with Albion, there’s a ferocious reminder of how theatrically skilled he is. Additionally, there’s one of the performances of the year from Victoria Hamilton so I’d hotfoot it to the Almeida now, there’s no guarantee this one will transfer.

Successful businesswoman Audrey has her world rocked when her son is killed on duty in the Middle East and so she decides to retreat to the countryside, rural Oxfordshire to be precise, where she buys the neglected home of her uncle, along with its once-impressive garden. But what first seems like a fun restoration project snowballs into chaos as her increasingly ambitious plans threaten to push everyone close to her away. Continue reading “Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea as Lee Chandler
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge as Desmond T. Doss
Ryan Gosling – La La Land as Sebastian Wilder
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic as Ben Cash
Denzel Washington – Fences as Troy Maxson

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Amy Adams – Arrival as Dr. Louise Banks
Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train as Rachel Watson
Natalie Portman – Jackie as Jackie Kennedy
Emma Stone – La La Land as Mia Dolan
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins as Florence Foster Jenkins Continue reading “23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”