TV Review: The Crown, Series 4

Whereas I was sad that the cast of The Crown had to regenerate at the end of Series 2, I’m kinda glad that Series 4 is the last we’ll see of this second generation  

“Let’s just say, I can’t see it ending well for you”

I sampled the first few episodes of Series 4 of The Crown on release and whilst still appreciating much of the quality of this prestige drama, I couldn’t help but feel that it just isn’t quite up to par. An element of that is certainly personal, I just have zero desire to see depictions of Margaret Thatcher in anything. But there’s also something more nigglingly fundamental awry here, as we move to closer to the current day and increasingly feature people who are still alive. 

Whether royalist or republican (do republicans watch The Crown…?), there’s something fascinating about the way in which Peter Morgan’s writing has challenged conventional notions of myth-building around the British Royal Family. What might previously have been called decorum has been jettisoned with little seeming sacrosanct now, particularly as we delve into the marriage of Charles and Diana and his enduring relationship with Camilla, plus going deeper into Thatcher’s psyche than one could ever care to. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4”

TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3

I ration myself to Episodes 1-3 of Series 4 of The Crown in the first instance but find it is losing its lustre a little

“I’m struggling to find any redeeming features in these people at all”

Kicking off in 1977, Series 4 of The Crown swiftly moves into my lifetime with its second scene taking place in 1979, although not quite into events that I remember, at least in these first three episodes. And with the arrival of both Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher on the scene, there’s quite the decade to explore.

But something has gone a little awry for me and The Crown. The sheer scope of Peter Morgan’s writing means that there’s a mahoosive ensemble at work here but the nature of his construction of episodes that drill down to intimate focus means that there’s huge gaps and terrible wastage, particularly of Helena Bonham Carter’s delicious Princess Margaret. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 4 Episodes 1-3”

Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

TV Review: Harlots Series 1

The best TV show you haven’t heard about? Harlots just might be it!

“When the time comes, I hope your quim splits”

I suppose that it is good that we have so many more options for good television to be made these days. The flipside to that is that it can be harder to keep track of it all. Harlots is fricking fantastic, a hugely enjoyable and high quality drama but airing on ITV Encore (and Hulu in the US),  it has languished in the doldrums of the unfairly unheralded.

A glance at the castlist shows you how much of a waste this is. Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville at the head, Jessica Brown Findlay, Hugh Skinner and Dorothy Atkinson among the supporting, Fenella Woolgar, Danny Sapani and Kate Fleetwood popping up now and again too. This is luxury stuff and yet criminally few know about it. Continue reading “TV Review: Harlots Series 1”

Film Review: The Danish Girl

“Is there something you’d like to tell me?
‘Is there something you’d like to know'”

Though it is the striking image of Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe that dominates the publicity for this film, it is actually Alicia Vikander who emerges as the star of The Danish Girl. As Gerda Wegener, a mildly successful painter in mid-1920s Copenhagen, her emotional journey as a woman coming to terms with her husband’s Einar’s realisation that she’s a transgender woman offers the film’s most fully rounded character and in Vikander’s hands, a sense of raw, unpredictable emotion that is gorgeous to watch as the very limits of her tolerance and understanding are tested.

After a year where transgender issues came to the fore, it seems only natural that a film about Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, should be an apparent front-runner for this year’s award season. At the same time though, one can’t help but wish that Tom Hooper’s film hadn’t been made with two eyes fixed on the Academy Awards. His glossy and ultimately quite superficial approach – based on David Ebershoff’s novel which is a fictionalised version of Lili’s life – thus feels like a missed opportunity, as artificial an image as Caitlyn Jenner’s Annie Leibovitz-assisted cover.  Continue reading “Film Review: The Danish Girl”

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2014

I’ll be doing a regular top 10 alongside all the other end-of-year totting up of the theatrical delights on offer in 2014 that will eventually be written up but I thought it might be interesting to first look at it from a slightly different angle, thinking about the single moments – rather than the productions as a whole – that took my breath away (or were hair-raisingly good…) Undoubtedly there will be some crossover between the two lists, but there are things here that crop up the mind just as often as the plays I’ve labelled my favourites so here we go – naturally, some production spoilers abound…
Continue reading “11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2014”

Review: Our Town, Almeida Theatre

“The morning star always get wonderful bright the minute before it has to go”

Some images sear themselves into the mind, never to be forgotten and for me, the staging of the third act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town was such a one – something so simply done yet achingly powerful in effect, all the more so given it isn’t immediately apparent. And after Mr Burns, it is the second time in three plays that the Almeida has delivered a doozy of a third act – one can’t help but feel sorry (or laugh) at the doofuses that left at any of the intervals.

It is interesting to see the strength of the reactions to David Cromer’s version of this show – in the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford decries it as glib, desultory and that final act as smug(!) and Jake Orr dismissed it thus Continue reading “Review: Our Town, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love

“Theatre is the handmaiden of the devil”

With a theatrical version of Shakespeare in Love about to open in the West End, I thought I’d revisit the 1998 film as I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen it since it was first released. It is still surprising to see that it managed to win seven Academy Awards and whilst I like both Gwyneth Paltrow and Dame Judi Dench, looking at their competition it is a little galling to think that they were recognised for these roles. And in the light of the huge authorship furore that erupted around Anonymous, it is interesting to see how little comparable fuss the level of invention here caused.

To be fair, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s film makes no pretence to be literarily or historically accurate (given the paucity of source material, it’s hardly surprising) but because the approach here is a hugely affectionate one towards the Bard, rather than challenging popular notions about him, it is clear something of a free pass has been given here. So we see Joseph Fiennes’ Shakespeare working on a comedy called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter and being inspired by the everyday chatter and the tumult of his personal life to amend the play and write his famous words.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Shakespeare in Love”

Review: Uncle Vanya, Arcola Theatre

“He understands nothing, achieved little, influenced no-one”

Sad to say, I think I will never fall in love with the new Arcola, or rather Studio 1 there. It comes across as such a difficult, inflexible space with (for me at least) frequent acoustic issues and a loss of what made the old Arcola Street location so special. I’m still hopeful that one show or another there will change my mind soon but my experience at this co-production of Uncle Vanya with Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre did not manage it. Part of it was due to the last-minute nature of my attendance: TfL’s inability to keep a tube moving forced me to miss The Four Stages of Cruelty in Studio 2 and so I was lucky to catch anything at all, sneaking into Studio 1 at the last minute but consequently ending up in terrible seats which ultimately coloured my experience.

This is a new version of Chekhov’s play by Helena Kaut-Howson and Jon Strickland, the latter of whom also takes on the title role whose quiet life in the country is disrupted when society darling relatives come to stay. The new arrivals struggle to get accustomed to the new pace of rural life but it is the household around them who are affected the more as the upheaval forces reassessment of loves, lives and expectations. This adaptation wisely plays up the humour to counterpoint the grim bleakness that typifies much of Chekhov’s work and as per usual, there is the staticness of people trapped in their milieu which can be oh so frustrating to watch. Continue reading “Review: Uncle Vanya, Arcola Theatre”