Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

A starry Mary Queen of Scots proves an intriguing if a little frustrating film debut for Josie Rourke

“The world will decide for itself”

An intriguing, if a little frustrating one this. Josie Rourke is a titan in the world of theatre and Mary Queen of Scots marks her cinematic debut. But despite a classy pair of lead performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as diametrically opposed queens Mary and Elizabeth, an ensemble consisting of the cream of British acting talent, and the sweeping beauty of the Highlands to frame every other shot, the film never really quite sparks into life.

Beau Willimon’s screenplay, based on John Guy’s book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, dances around historical accuracy with its own determination, building in a climactic meeting between the two which although visually striking, dramatically brings precious little. Before then, the film is plotted as a strategic confrontation between two monarchs, two women, who are battling the worlds around them as much as each other. Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Queen of Scots (2018)”

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”

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”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #3

“A lot of fighting ensues”

The Globe’s Complete Walk is being released in dribs and drabs for all to see and given the helter-skelter busy-ness of a blogger’s life, it’s actually working out quite well in working my way through them slowly. Click on the links for the first lot and the second lot for read about them and head below for 

Dominic Dromgoole is one of the directors lucky enough to secure the same actor for his film as for the stage versions of the play – Jamie Parker took on Henry V to great acclaim in 2012, clips of which we see here, but there’s a special thrill in seeing him on the fields of Agincourt, chatting incognito with Joel MacCormack’s sceptical soldier. And the final shot, showing Agincourt for what it is today is subtly but beautifully done.


Henry VI Part 1

Taking in clips from the 2012 touring version from the Globe and the adaptation from National Theatre Belgrade, Henry VI Part 1 is served well here. But it’s Olivia Ross’ Joan of Arc speaking from the splendour of the Château de Loches in the Loire Valley that truly stirs the soul, especially once it moves into spectral strangeness.


Going for a kind of London gangster film feel, Nick Bagnall puts Henry VI Part 2’s civil unrest in the heart of Spitalfields Market as Neil Maskell’s Jack Cade – Rebel and Dean Nolan’s Dick the Butcher – Nutcase butt heads viscerally, contrasted with the Globe’s touring show’s more restrained take on its momentous events.


Trapped in the unforgiving gloom of the Yorkshire moors, Towton Battlefield to be precise, Alex Waldmann’s Henry VI witnesses the moving lamentations of David and Tom Burke’s Father and Son as the civil war comes to a bloody climax. For me though, I could have done with more of the Macedonian version of Henry VI Part 3 which looked, and sounded, stunning, representing the Globe to Globe Festival.

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Despite no lack of ambition (and a reputed £17 million budget), Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands proves a sore disappointment

“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come”

Looking back at my review of Episode 1 of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, there really was a naive hope on my part that this would be something of a success, as ITV lunged for a slice of the epic fantasy TV market. But lawksamercy it hasn’t been good.

Cleaving so closely to the Game of Thrones template (seriously, those opening credits…) does the show no favours at all, as they can’t hope to compete with the meticulousness of the years of George RR Martin’s world-building or the heft of HBO’s cinematic-sized budget. Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands”

DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”

Gregory Doran’s production of Macbeth for the RSC played at the Swan in 1999 before transferring to the Roundhouse and then touring internationally with its stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter. And given its success, the show was filmed for television at the London venue, using the subterranean tunnels there as well as the stage to make the most of the location.

It’s a highly atmospheric, contemporary take on the play that may lack a little specificity but soars on the strengths of its leads. Sher makes an unexpectedly convincing soldier, on the brink of madness from the outset and Walter makes possibly the best Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen, from her quivering anticipation whilst bathing to the chilling eroticism with which she controls her husband, it’s an extraordinary performance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (2001)”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1

“Some people say that heroes are born and some that they’re made” 

As Da Vinci’s Demons draws to a close and Game of Thrones fans have to wait until the end of April for Season 6 to start, ITV step into the big-budget historical fantasy genre with their 12-part serialisation of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Created by James Dormer, Tim Haines and Katie Newman, Beowulf is based on the epic Old English poem set in the Dark Ages in Northumbria but spins its own fantasy world out of the source material, something that looks promising on the evidence of this first episode. 

With any new series, there’s a certain amount of setting up to be done in the first episode and Dormer’s writing does well to weave plenty of exposition into the story without weighing it down too much. After seeing his father killed by a fearsome beast which he then slaughters, the young Beowulf is adopted by the local thane Hrothgar. This is shown in a brief prologue as as the show starts proper, we’ve skipped a couple of decades ahead where Beowulf, long estranged from his family, returns to the frontier town of Herot to mourn Hrothgar’s passing.  Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1”

DVD Review: Wolf Hall

“By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus”

Peter Straughan’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies into a six-part TV serial has no right to be this good but somehow, it manages the extraordinary feat of being genuinely excellent. I didn’t watch it at the time and so caught up with its complexities and nuances over a binge-watch at Christmas. And though I’m no real fan of his acting on stage, there’s no doubting the titanic performance of Mark Rylance as the almighty Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel charts the rise of this lowly-born blacksmith’s boy through service as lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey (a brilliant Jonathan Pryce) to the heights of the Tudor court as Henry VII’s (Damian Lewis on fine form) chief fixer, predominantly in the matter of securing the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to enable him to wed Anne Boleyn. Rylance really is very good, subtler than he is onstage as he negotiates the world of ‘gentlemen’ – in which he is constantly underestimated – from the sidelines, wielding increasing amounts of power, though with it fewer and fewer scruples. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wolf Hall”

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”