TV Review: Hollington Drive

Anna Maxwell Martin AND Rachael Stiring in the same show? As sisters? Hollington Drive sure knows how to tempt me in but can it deliver…

“I never thought this would happen”

One of the newest glossy ITV thrillers is Hollington Drive, precision-tooled to my interests as it has cast Anna Maxwell Martin and Rachael Stirling as sisters Theresa and Helen. And as is par for the course, it is full of wild improbabilities (like those sisters living next door to each other in suburban luxury) and unchallengeable truths (someone has an affair with other neighbour Jonas Armstrong because, well, you would). 

The actual story follows the impact on their families of a local boy going missing. Both Theresa and Helen have children who are classmates of 10 year old Alex and on the afternoon he goes missing, Ben and Eva go out to play for a suspiciously long time. When the sisters clock this disturbing detail, they go into overdrive trying to work out if that sickening feeling in their stomachs is justified, forcing them to consider how far they’ll go to preserve the sanctity of their family units. Continue reading “TV Review: Hollington Drive”

Film Review: The Dig (2021)

Simon Stone creates a beautifully warm Britflick in the gentle Sutton Hoo drama The Dig

“Don’t let Ipswich Museum take your glory”

If you had to guess which particular avant-garde theatre director was responsible for The Dig, I’m pretty sure no-one would plump for Simon Stone. But after blistering takes on the likes of Medea, Yerma and The Wild Duck, UK historico-fiction is where we’ve ended up and what a rather lovely thing it is.

Written by Moira Buffini from John Preston’s novel, The Dig takes the true story of the Sutton Hoo excavation, when a self-taught archaeologist unearthed an Anglo-Saxon burial mound, and builds a world of classic English emotional restraint around it, even as amazing treasure is revealed. Continue reading “Film Review: The Dig (2021)”

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”

Not-a-review: Travesties, Apollo

“It may be nonsense but at least it’s not clever nonsense”

The problem with being addicted to theatre is that it can be hard to turn down things, even against your better instincts. I knew I didn’t really want to see Travesties so I didn’t go to the Menier but sure enough, it transferred into the West End to test my resistance further and I crumbled.

I should not have done.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th April

DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3

“In Whitechapel, they die every day”

When low ratings for series 2 of Ripper Street saw the BBC decide to pull the plug on it, it was something of a surprise to hear Amazon Video would be taking it over (this was 2014 after all) in a deal that would see episodes released first for streaming, and then shown on the BBC a few months later. And thank the ripper that they did, for I’d argue that this was the best series yet, the storytelling taking on an epic quality as it shifted the personal lives of its key personnel into the frontline with a series-long arc to extraordinary effect.

And this ambition is none more so evident than in the first episode which crashes a train right in the middle of Whitechapel, reuniting Reid with his erstwhile comrades Drake and Jackson four years on since we last saw them. A catastrophic event in and of itself, killing over 50 people, it also set up new villain Capshaw (the always excellent John Heffernan) and brilliantly complicated the character of Susan, promoting her to a deserved series lead as her keen eye for business, and particularly supporting the women of Whitechapel, throws her up against some hard choices. Continue reading “DVD Review: Ripper Street Series 3”

TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4

“Calm, methodical, Sunday fucking best”

There’s no two ways about it, Paul Abbott’s latest TV series has been an absolute triumph. Channel 4’s No Offence has kept me properly gripped over the last eight weeks and I’m delighted that a second series has already been commissioned as its enthralling mixture of comedy drama and police procedural has been irresistible from its opening five minutes with all its squashed-head shenanigans through to its thrilling finale which kept us on tenterhooks right til its final minutes.

Whence such success? A perfect storm of inspired casting and pin-sharp writing from Abbott and his team. Joanna Scanlan’s DI Viv Deering reinvigorates the stereotypical police boss to create a career-best character for Scanlan, her fierce loyalty played straight but her dry one-liners making the most of her comic genius. Elaine Cassidy’s DC Dinah Kowalska, the eager young copper on whom the focus settles most often, Alexandra Roach’s earnest but quick-learning DS Joy Freer completing the leads. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence, Channel 4”

Re-review: The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre

“Such a small thing. But a huge thing”

The Donmar’s production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir was an undoubted success last year and so the news of a West End transfer into the Wyndham’s was hardly too surprising. Josie Rourke has kept her cast of five intact for this stunningly effective piece of drama which has been grandly hailed as one of the all-time great modern classics. Who knows whether that much is true, but a return visit did confirm it as one of the most highly-rated plays I saw last year (review here).

What I was interested to see was how it stood up to a second viewing. Many of the critics this time round approached the revival having seen the original run back in 1997 and so viewing it from that prism clearly had an effect on how they received it (more four stars than five), but I have to say I adored being able to revisit the play. Able to breathe much more this time as the suspense was much less, I was able to take in the wash of beautiful language that ebbs and flows through this rural Irish pub. Continue reading “Re-review: The Weir, Wyndham’s Theatre”

Short Film Review #19

Sonja Phillips’ The Knickerman is a bit of a bonkers 1970s fest but hugely entertaining with it. Featuring some of the most epic denim flares you’ll ever see, the women of a sleepy village in Lincolnshire have their life changed when a handsome knicker salesman arrives on the market. Told through the eyes of a little girl who is transfixed by the “miracle” he claims to give women through their knickers, it’s a relaxed film , almost with the feel of an Instagram filter in its 70s glaze and from Jamie Sives’ charismatic lothario to the likes of Saskia Reeves and Annette Badland as the women who make regular visits to his stall, it’s a charmingly lovely piece of storytelling.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #19”

Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse

“And the barman asked if I was alright”

It is interesting how the experience of one play can shape attitudes towards a playwright and for me, it was 2011’s The Veil which completely turned me off Conor McPherson to the point where I really wasn’t keen to be seeing any more of his plays. It’s not even as if The Veil was that bad but it was hard work and that thought has lingered strongly, to the point where I really wasn’t too keen on seeing the Donmar’s revival of the The Weir, especially since the venue has been far from a must-see place in recent times. But an irresistible opportunity to see it was dangled in front of me and I took it, and as is so often the case with low expectations, I had an absolutely cracking evening in the theatre.

Josie Rourke’s production is just sensational. Creatively, Tom Scutt’s design is perfectly, realistically detailed right down to the packets of bacon fries on the wall (though I always preferred the scampi ones myself) and Neil Austin’s lighting subtly graduates throughout the show to take us through the light and shade of the changing moods. And the casting is pitch-perfect, bringing together five Irish actors at the top of their game and combining to hauntingly fantastic effect in the rural bar room in which the play is set. Continue reading “Review: The Weir, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Veil, National Theatre

“What is it about this place that is a conduit for desperate souls”

Conor McPherson’s The Veil is his first original play for 5 years and set in 1822, marks his first foray into period writing although as it is set in a haunted country house in rural Ireland, he isn’t venturing too far from familiar territory. Rae Smith’s one room set, although it is a lavish recreation of the faded grandeur of a crumbling country pile, has great attention to detail with a great staircase going off the left and up to the gods and a large tree out the back of the conservatory and in it, we see the trials of the Lambroke family. Lady Madeleine’s estate is heavily indebted after the death of her husband and an impending economic crisis and so her 17 year old daughter Hannah is being married off to an English marquis. Hannah is a troubled young woman though, who hears voices and when her chaperone Berkeley proposes a séance before heading back to England with his philosopher friend Audelle, the personal demons and family secrets thus revealed threaten devastating effects.

I was someone else’s plus one for the evening for once and wasn’t actually aware it was the first preview until we arrived at the National in good company (though I did know it was early in the run) and so all the usual caveats apply. And they will apply because I didn’t like it all, though as ever, people rarely seem to have complaints when it is a positive review about a preview… McPherson directs his own play in the Lyttelton and I tend to be a little wary when I hear that playwrights are directing their own work, especially with new plays, as I always innately feel that they would benefit from external influences. Whether that is true or not I don’t know, but what I do know is that The Veil was painfully sluggish and not because of the mechanics of working through a first performance but mainly because of the writing and its construction. Continue reading “Review: The Veil, National Theatre”