TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 2

Laura Carmichael emerges as a late MVP in the second instalment of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess

“Maybe we could have some lemon cake”

Based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, The Spanish Princess was split into two chunks of eight episodes by Starz, a decision which might have made sense for them but didn’t quite come off dramatically. Losing heavy hitters Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort leaves something of a vacuum which is never really replaced as we enter the final straits of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage.

I’m not someone who gets particularly hung up on notions of historical accuracy, particularly with accounts of events of 500 years ago. And when you’re talking about about a Gregory-inspired version which races through 14 years in 8 episodes. that goes double. What is more of an issue here is the fact that Charlotte Hope’s portrayal of Catherine doesn’t really change, physically or emotionally, so that she feels the same as a teenager as she does the 40 year old we end with. Continue reading “TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 2”

TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 1

Series 1 of Philippa Gregory’s The Spanish Princess introduces Elliot Cowan and Harriet Walter to the mix with great success

“I won’t be passed around Europe like a colection plate”

Following on from The White Princess, The Spanish Princess is based on the Philippa Gregory novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, and the first instalment of eight episodes tackles the arrival of Catherine of Aragon to England to meet the man she has been betrothed to since they were both children, Arthur, heir apparent to Henry VII.

The biggest problem, aside from the weather and the racism (members of her court had Moorish and descent), is that the epistolary courtship that had so wooed her teenage heart, was actually written by his younger brother Henry…plot twist. But when Arthur died young, it meant that the plan for peace between England and Spain could still be found in another marriage. Continue reading “TV Review: The Spanish Princess, Series 1”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8

“Are you one of those? They’re everywhere in Brighton aren’t they.
‘Yeah, not so many in Halifax though, cos of the weather’”

I really enjoyed the opening half of new BBC police drama Cuffs and so whacked up a review of those four episodes whilst they were still watchable on the iPlayer. The show has now finished its run, 8 episodes being the default setting for a ‘long’ series here in the UK, and whilst it may have lost a little of the fast-paced energy that characterised its arrival, its bevy of boisterous characters ensured I was fully engaged right through to the end of the last episode.

With such a large ensemble making up the South Sussex team, Cuffs did sometimes struggle in giving each of them a fair crack of the whip. For me, it was Amanda Abbington’s Jo who got the shortest end of the stick, too much of her screen-time, especially early on, being taken up with the fallout of her illicit affair instead of showing her as the more than capable police officer we finally saw in the latter episodes. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 5-8”

Short Film Review #56

 

Almost unbearably sad, Hope Dickson Leach’s Morning Echo captures the suffocating resentment that can build up in families when caring for a loved one who’s terminally ill. Here, Franny Moffat didn’t think she’d live for another Christmas so her family held a Christmas Day for her in October. Fast forward to 25th December and she’s still alive but her family are crumbling around her under the strain and it is agonisingly compelling to watch. Kerry Fox and Peter Sullivan are just fantastic as the embittered parents and an assortment of other children play out their dysfunction in a range of disarming ways. Even as they’re all eventually brought together in the end for Franny, the melancholy note on which it finishes has lingered long in the mind. Hauntingly good.


 

Continue reading “Short Film Review #56”

DVD Review: Stage Beauty

“A woman playing a woman, where’s the trick in that” 

Any film with Clare Higgins yelling ‘give me back my merkin’ is surely destined for stone cold classic status but 2004’s Stage Beauty seems to have slipped from people’s minds whereas I always remembered it as a film I really enjoyed, more so that Shakespeare in Love. Much will depend on your opinion of Claire Danes but this tale of the rapidly changing world of the theatre during Charles II’s reign proved much more enjoyable than Shakespeare in Love ever did, and offers a fascinating, even-handed look at how both the men and women of the stage were affected by the decision to ban the former from playing the latter.

Billy Crudup’s Ned Kynaston has become one of the top actors in town, specialising in female characters like Othello’s Desdemona in which he frequently steals the show and aided by his faithful dresser Maria, played by Danes. She has a burning desire to act on the stage herself but since the Puritans outlawed such a thing in professional theatres, she’s limited to appearing in grubby pub theatres on the fringe (plus ça change…). The thespian desires of Charles’ ambitious mistress Nell Gwynn seem set to change that completely though, along with the fortunes of all concerned. Continue reading “DVD Review: Stage Beauty”

Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola Theatre

“I may exaggerate beyond all sense and reason”

The third of the Spanish Golden Age plays for me was Punishment without Revenge – El Castigo sin Venganza – another Lope de Vega play but rather than the (not so) comic stylings of green breeches, this is a straight up tragedy and consequently emerges as the strongest of the lot. In the court of the Duke of Ferrara, an illicit passion builds up between the Duke’s bastard son Federico and Cassandra the Duchess of Mantua, the woman he is sent to collect to be a bride for his father. They submit to their urges when the Duke leaves for battle but on his return, the abuse to his honour must be avenged.

William Hoyland is excellent as the vituperative Duke, possessed of a deadly charm with the most vicious edges with some striking speechifying; Nick Barber’s handsome Federico pairs well with Frances McNamee’s Cassandra (a nice casting touch as they also portray lovers in another of the plays) as they pursue their doomed love in spite of the threat it poses to them; and even a lighter side is allowed to shine through the court shenanigans in the form of Simon Scardifield’s manservant and the blustering courtiers of Chris Andrew Mellon and Jim Bywater. Continue reading “Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola Theatre”

Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola Theatre

“She is as thick as potato mash”

The remit of the Spanish Golden Age rep season, a co-production between Arcola Theatre, the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, is to bring to light three rarely performed plays from what they term “the last unopened treasure chest of world drama”. But whilst the academic interest of delving into this cultural period is undoubtable, the quality of the drama uncovered feels variable.

Lope de Vega’s A Lady of Little Sense, or La Dama Boba from 1613, is a romantic comedy whose tales of the arranged marriages of two sisters recalls The Taming of the Shrew. Wealthy businessman Don Octavio has two beautiful daughters to marry off but the educated Nise has an arrogance to match her intelligence and her sister Finea is as dopey as they come – the suitors that come to take their hands thus have to decide the lesser of two evils. Continue reading “Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre

“What’s your disguise for?”

The signs were there, I just chose not to see them. The main one being that the author of Don Gil of the Green Breechesor Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes was Tirso de Molina, who also wrote Damned By Despair, otherwise known as one of the biggest car crashes at the National in a goodly while. But I didn’t investigate too much – I allowed myself to be seduced by the notion of an ensemble performing new translations of three neglected plays from the Spanish Golden Age and the murmurings of good reviews from Bath where they opened last year.

But suffice to say that Don Gil did not do it for me. A broad cross-dressing comedy of sledgehammer subtlety, one can identify some similarities with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which preceded this play by about a decade, but what is more notable is the poor comparison that it makes. The plot twists endlessly and mindlessly through a set of baffling contrivances and clearly cognisant of this, Tirso de Molina has one character or another recap just where we’re at at the beginning of what feels like every scene, there’s nothing but exposition and it is still clear as mud. Continue reading “Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre”

DVD Review: Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe

“And what’s he then that says I play the villain?When this advice is free I give and honest”

My first Othello was just last month with the Crucible’s extraordinary production which was rather breath-takingly good, so I was a little trepidatious about putting on this DVD on the Globe’s take on the play from 2007. Wilson Milam directed this rather traditional production but I was still rather keen to see an alternative version, especially once I’d found out that it contained John Stahl and Sam Crane in its ensemble.

Given how strong the four central characters were in Sheffield, I was quite surprised, and pleased, at how good I (mostly) found the four actors here to be, offering different but equally effective takes on the roles and demonstrating the malleability of Shakespeare’s text when in the right hands. Eamonn Walker’s Othello is a strident beast, most definitely a warrior though with hints of vulnerability which Zoë Tapper’s astoundingly accomplished Desdemona is clearly attracted to and thoroughly won over by. He perhaps could have worked in a little more charisma into his performance and his verse speaking didn’t always feel quite so natural, but this was mainly in comparison to Tapper whose luminosity shone through onstage, through every move she made and word she spoke, truly breaking the heart as the betrayals kick in. It feels a crime that she hasn’t done more stage work. Continue reading “DVD Review: Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe”

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”