Film review: the Johnny English trilogy

Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again prove ideal brainless festive watching

“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari Desert carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of sherbet lemons”

I don’t believe in any of my pleasures being guilty, if something makes you smile then who is anyone else to dictate whether that’s acceptable? The Johhny English film trilogy – Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) – holds a special place in my heart (well, the first two do) as they formed the backdrop to a couple of great family holidays and several of the funnier lines have snuck into the family vernacular.

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English is an amusing entry into the series. Rowan Atkinson’s English is a hapless MI7 employee whose bumbling sees their top agent accidentally killed and then all their other agents massacred in a bomb at his funeral. As the sole agent left, he has to thwart a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and decipher John Malkovich’s comedy villain French accent. Continue reading “Film review: the Johnny English trilogy”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2

Now this is more like it, Series 2 of Spooks settles into the classic feel that works so well

“This ridiculous James Bondery…do we need it?”

With this second season, Spooks really gets into its stride I think, recognising that it is an ensemble show at heart (and a rolling ensemble at that, although it’s a shame new recruit Sam doesn’t get more to do) and nailing the variation in tone and style of episodes which largely remain self-contained. Also, Nicola Walker finally arrives as Ruth, which is good news for the audience, Harry and the nation.

Topics-wise, we touch on hacker kids, Irish republicanism, Islamic radicalisation and Anglo-American relations among others. But it is ‘I Spy Apocalypse’, written by Howard Brenton and brilliantly directed by Justin Chadwick with a smothering sense of claustrophobia that really gets the pulse racing as a fire drill for a terrorist incident gets very dark very quickly – it’s possibly one of the best ever episodes of Spooks.

Nicola Walker-ometer
Praise the Lord – analyst Ruth Evershed finally arrives in Episode 2 in all her long cardigans and flowing skirts and though initially viewed with suspicion coming from GCHQ as she does, she soon wins over the team with her knowledge of Greek mythology, Russian crucifixion practices and much more besides. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 2”

Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

Not-a-review: The Chalk Garden, Chichester Festival Theatre

The Chalk Garden fails to do it for me at Chichester Festival Theatre, despite the presence of the likes of Penelope Keith, Oliver Ford Davies  and Amanda Root

“Oh, if I could only be somewhere other than where I am”

But question The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre, insufferably dull as it turned out to be.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
The Chalk Garden is booking at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 16th June

DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (1995)

“People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them”

Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility has aged rather well, a tribute to the efforts of its star and screenwriter Emma Thompson (along with countless others), and is probably one of the best big screen adaptations of any of Jane Austen’s works. It has a collection of performances that run counter to expectations – Alan Rickman makes a rare trip onto the good side as the compassionate Colonel Brandon, Kate Winslet has a raw freshness to her that makes for an ideal Marianne, and these were the days when Hugh Grant still had a suggestion of flexibility about his range as the decent Edward Ferrars.

And even when there aren’t too many surprises, Lee teases real emotion from his performers – Gemma Jones’ matriarch is full of aching emotion, a propensity echoed beautifully in Emma Thompson’s Elinor whose expressions of heartbreak and pain are just exquisite in their agony. In the smaller roles there’s delicious biting manipulation from Harriet Walter’s snobbish Fanny, riding roughshod over James Fleet’s John as they take over Norland; Imogen Stubbs finds a lovely delicacy in Lucy Steele; and it’s intriguing to see Imelda Staunton as a startling brash Charlotte Palmer, missing something of the subtlety we’re used to now from her. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sense and Sensibility (1995)”

DVD Review: The Mother

Would you come to the spare room with me?” 

It is remarkable that even now, 10 years after it was released, it is difficult to name another film aside from The Mother which has dealt so openly with the sexuality of older people, specifically older women. Can it really still be something of a taboo subject? One would like to think not but a sneaking suspicion remains that this might just be the case. Thus this film, directed by Roger Michell from Hanif Kureishi’s story, is all the more special, not least because it is also a rather spectacularly good piece of work.

Anne Reid plays May, a Northern grandmother in her sixties who finds herself bundled down to London where her two children live, after the sudden death of her husband. But metropolitan life leaves her nonplussed and in the face of her children’s disinterest in her welfare over the dramas of their own lives, she finds herself spending more and more time with Daniel Craig’s Darren. He’s building a conservatory for her son and is sleeping with her daughter, but an irresistible connection grows between the pair which eventually turns into a sexual affair, the fallout from which scatters its shockwaves far and wide. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Mother”

Review: Richard II, Barbican

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”

I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.

But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Barbican”

DVD Review: The Way We Live Now

“We’ll be making history gentleman, and money too”

I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now mid-November and as my first Anthony Trollope novel, I rather enjoyed reading it. So with time on my hands for once over Christmas, I decided to watch the 2001 BBC adaptation which I didn’t watch at the time. Prolific period adaptor Andrew Davies was on hand to turn this lengthy novel into a four parter (just about 5 hours in total) and I found it to be a rather effective rendering of a most complex world of plots and subplots which, although a tad disappointing in its ending, was well worth the time to savour and enjoy.

If it were on the stage, it would be labelled all over as a ‘timely revival’ as Trollope’s main thrust concerns the deviousness of financiers and politicos and the depths that society will sink to in order to maintain its position. There’s also love and good natured people involved to and the balance between the ever-spinning storylines is very well done. At the heart of it all is David Suchet’s Augustus Melmotte, surely one of his best ever performances, a foreign businessman who attempts to reinvent himself as a Englishman of pedigree by buying his way into business, society, property, the House of Commons, his ambitions know no bounds. And as he does so, many around him attempt to jump on his coat-tails for the ride up, not least the aristocratic but impoverished Carburys.  Continue reading “DVD Review: The Way We Live Now”

Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre

“I’ve got the evacuee to prove it”

Now that Blood Brothers has now finished its lengthy London run, the Phoenix Theatre is opening up its doors to new productions: Midnight Tango and Once will come in the new year but first up is Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Goodnight Mr Tom ahead of a UK tour. Michelle Magorian’s novel belongs to the similar strong tradition of children’s literature as Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, that contextualises the Second World War evacuee experience for many children. And David Wood’s adaptation wisely does not attempt to sugar the pill, though billed as a family show and with a beautifully sensitive story of personal awakening at its heart, there is no escaping the brutal shadow of war which ensures the production is never in danger of becoming twee. 

The story brings out a wonderful sense of the potential for emotional growth at any age: Oliver Ford Davies’ gruff but kind Tom encourages the bruised soul that is Will, played here by Ewan Harris (one of three young actors sharing the role), to come out of his shell as the young Londoner is billeted to a Dorset village where he experiences the countryside for the first time, learns to read and write and generally flourishes now away from the troubled, abusive mother left in London. But Will provides a similar service for Tom, releasing him from the emotional paralysis that has gripped him for nigh on 40 years and Ford Davies’ depiction of the slow release of his suppressed paternal instinct is just beautiful to watch. Continue reading “Review: Goodnight Mr Tom, Phoenix Theatre”

DVD Review: An Ideal Husband

“Sooner or later, we shall all have to pay for what we do”

Oliver Parker’s first Wilde adaptation was this 1999 film of An Ideal Husband, with Rupert Everett leading the cast as Lord Goring. What is remarkable now though is the casting of both Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore who now boast nearly 10 Academy Award nominations (and 1 win) between them so this proves a great opportunity to catch them both just at the point where their careers were going stratospheric.

Sir Robert Chiltern’s security as a politician and respected gentleman comes under threat when the devilish Mrs Cheveley, a school-time enemy of his wife Lady Gertrude, attempts to blackmail him into voting a particular way in Parliament as she has evidence of past misdoings. He turns to his friend and eternal bachelor Lord Goring for assistance, who is currently avoiding the keen attentions of Robert’s sister Mabel, as he was previously engaged to Mrs Cheveley but the plot to extricate him has unintended consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Ideal Husband”