Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley is excellent in the all-too-relevant Official Secrets, a film full of theatrical talent 

“Just because you’re the Prime Minister doesn’t mean you can make up your own facts”

I’m not quite sure how I managed to let Official Secrets pass me by late last year, given how thesp-heavy its cast is. Practically every scene is filled with familiar faces of much-loved actors, so getting to catch up with it now was a real pleasure. Based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, Gavin Hood’s docudrama is eminently watchable  and a salutary reminder of how far governments are willing to (over)reach in the face of uncomfortable truths.

It is based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a low-level GCHQ employee who leaked a secret memo that exposed the lengths that the US and UK were willing to go to in order to secure backing for their invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of the lack of any tangible WMDs. She copies the memo for a media friend, a front-page scoop follows and thus the consequences of breaching the Official Secret Act are brought to bear. Continue reading “Film Review: Official Secrets (2019)”

TV Review: Chernobyl

In its exploration of the human stories around the nuclear accident, Craig Mazin’s mini-series Chernobyl is simply superb

“You are dealing with something that has never happened on the planet before”

Yeesh! TV dramas surely don’t have the right to be as good as Chernobyl, particularly when they’re ostensibly about such grimly horrific a topic as this,  But as creator, writer, and executive producer Craig Mazin has adroitly identified, the 1986 nuclear disaster – and the human impact it had on those closest to it – is relatively under-explored, in mainstream Western culture at least. 

Chernobyl seeks to explain what happened on that fateful day, and its terrible aftermath, on two distinct levels. Focusing in on the microlevel, we follow stories such as those of the power station workers, the first responders, the people who watched the fire burn up close. But it also takes a strategic look at the Soviet system at large, tracing the institutional problems that allowed it to happen.

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Review: After Independence, Arcola Theatre

“Why must your wound be healed by wounding me?”

The Papatango Theatre Company have long been at the forefront of new writing with their annual prize competition always one to look out for and now they’re expanding their territory, premiering a new piece from their first Resident Playwright here at the Arcola. Edinburgh-born May Sumbwanyambe’s family hails from right across Southern Africa and it is there, specifically, Zimbabwe, to which he has turned for After Independence.

Set at the end of the last century when a majority black government first came to power in Harare, the play circles the contentious issue of land grabs, as white farmers and landowners have their property redistributed – sometimes forcefully – to the black population. But though their claims look to the future, they deny the past of a population who consider themselves just as African, and thus the horns of a terrible dilemma present themselves. Continue reading “Review: After Independence, Arcola Theatre”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1

“War has always been the handmaiden of progress”

From its opening moments of buttocks and blood (both belonging to an uncredited Hugh Bonneville if that floats your boat), it’s clear that Da Vinci’s Demons is going to have its fun whilst playing fast and loose with the early life of its subject, Florentine polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Conceived by David S Goyer and a co-production between Starz and BBC Worldwide, it’s a good-natured romp of a drama series much in the mould of Merlin, Atlantis or the lamented Sinbad but perhaps tied a little closer to reality as it dips in and out of the tangled history of the Italian city states. 

And it is its historical connections that serves as a main driver for the technological innovations for which Leonardo is famed and which form the ‘issue of the week’ around which most of the episodes hang. So as Da Vinci climbs into bed with the ruling Medici family, he’s sucked into their political machinations whilst battling rival families in Florence and the ever-present threat of the Catholic Church in Rome. Alongside this sits a more fantastical series-long arc about the mystical Book of Leaves and the Sons of Mithras who believe Da Vinci has only just begun to tap into his true power. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 1”

Review: Hamlet, Citizens Theatre

“One may smile and smile and be a villain”

It was with a little hesitation that I went to another Hamlet so soon after the extraordinary (and criminally under-rated) efforts of Maxine Peake and co but work circumstances conspired to land me in Glasgow (city of my alma mater) and so I made my first trip to the Citizens Theatre. And though Dominic Hill’s creative vision has its own unique stamp, it was interesting to note the parallels that emerged in these two re-envisionings of Shakespeare’s work.

The personal rather than the political was foregrounded (it’s been a rough year for budding Fortinbrases) as the sphere of the play became a domestic one once again and I have to say I love Hamlet as a family drama. The spin on the relationships possess a real power when the scope of the play is thus reduced and their dynamics gain in intensity. Pushing it as far as they do here in Glasgow, one could even argue that the play is transformed into an ensemble drama. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Citizens Theatre”