Film Review: Effie Gray (2014)

An entertaining cast make the curious Effie Gray more engaging than it might otherwise have been

“Marriage, dear boy, is all about learning how to wait”

In what turned out to be an afternoon of staid, true-life Victorian romances, Effie Gray turned out to be the odder. Richard Laxton’s film, written by Emma Thompson, follows the story of the troubled marriage between polymath John Ruskin and Euphemia ‘Effie’ Gray which was never consummated and ended when she bucked the social mores of the time to pursue an annulment, which she was indeed granted.

And starting as we do with the marriage between the pair, we see a lot – a LOT – of the dry and dessicated home life of the couple which kicks off with him professing disgust at her naked person and agreeing a five year abstention from sex so he could focus on his work. Plus, his family – with whom they live – aren’t much keener on her, so life’s generally a downer. Continue reading “Film Review: Effie Gray (2014)”

TV Review: Silent Witness Series 11

Signs of staleness start to creep in Series 11 of Silent Witness as Nikki ends up in ‘mortal’ peril for the second time in four stories

“Please, you’re letting this become personal”

There’s an easy chemistry that flows between William Gaminara, Tom Ward and Emilia Fox as the core team in mid-career Silent Witness that it seems churlish to criticise. I find their gentle banter and dad jokes just a delight to watch in their office scenes, but sadly that’s not enough to hang a top-rated BBC series on.

So as it is, Series 11 finds itself tackling such wide-ranging topics as military secrecy and medical bureaucracy, neglect of the traveller community and asylum seekers, abuse in both the Catholic Church and in African religious groups, even mad cow disease. The less said about Leo’s white saviour moment the better. And of course, there’s a pronounced divergence from their remit as forensic pathologists. Continue reading “TV Review: Silent Witness Series 11”

Film Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Even if it didn’t follow the big success of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies would still have disappointed. Bonus point for predicting something of the future though…

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success”

Tomorrow Never Dies had the unenviable task of following up the enormous success of the reboot-of-sorts that was Goldeneye, which firmly established Pierce Brosnan as the new Bond and suggested a real place in contemporary cinema for the franchise. And despite a troubled production history due in large part to the rush to capitalise on this and director Roger Spottiswoode not necessarily firing on all cylinders, it ain’t too bad, mainly due to Michelle Yeoh.

Its main antagonist is a Robert Maxwell/Rupert Murdoch-type media mogul, played with relish by Jonathan Pryce who wants…to secure exclusive broadcasting rights in China for 100 years and is willing to start a world war to get them. It’s a strong if ultimately dull concept but Götz Otto gives good classic henchman as his underling Stamper and Brosnan’s gun-toting Bond gets to be more violent than perhaps we’re used to, which is a change if nothing else. Continue reading “Film Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)”

News: Effie Gray to be re-released in the UK

Sovereign is proud to announce the return of Effie Gray, the true story of a scandal that shocked Victorian England, on 19th April in Virtual Cinemas and on VOD, and out 31st May as a special collector’s edition DVD and Blu-ray.

Nineteen-year-old Effie Gray marries esteemed art critic John Ruskin, a cold and distant man who, seemingly repelled by his young bride, refuses to consummate their marriage. Neglected and shunned, and her health suffering from the strain of the crumbling relationship, Effie defies Victorian society by striking up a friendship with one of Ruskin’s acolytes, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painter John Everett Millais. It’s friendship that blossoms into something else, that sends shockwaves through polite society. Continue reading “News: Effie Gray to be re-released in the UK”

TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

TV Review: Roadkill

The new David Hare political drama Roadkill proves to be the scariest thing about this year’s Hallowe’en, and not in a good way

“You can get away with anything if you just brazen it out”

Throwing in a cast like this can usually get me to forgive a lot but not even the combined thrills of Helen McCrory, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Saskia Reeves could get me to like Roadkill. Maybe its the closeness of it all, Tory political corruption is headline news pretty much every day now, so why would we want it on our TV screens as drama as well.

Potential timing issues aside (though when are the Tories never out grasping for themselves…), there are more fundamental problems at play here though. David Hare’s writing feels particularly aimless here, there’s little sense of accretion in watching Hugh Laurie’s Teflon-coated minister Peter Laurence ride out any number of potential scandals, just a relentless, remorseless journey of scum rising to the top. Continue reading “TV Review: Roadkill”

New TV shows for winter

As the clocks go back, the prestige TV shows come out, so I checked out the first episodes of The Undoing, Roadkill and The Sister to find not one but two Scandiqueens

“Sounds like we’re digging in for a long answer”

With a company that includes Noma Dumezweni and the empress of jumpers Sofie Gråbøl, I was initially a little disappointed that neither appeared in the first episode of new HBO show The Undoing. But when your leads are Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, your writer is David E Kelley and your director is Susanne Bier, then there’s little to complain about. Based on a Jean Hanff Korelitz novel and set in the dripping wealth of the Upper East Side, the tantalising promise of murder and adultery is skilfully woven across this opening episode and I’m definitely hooked.  Continue reading “New TV shows for winter”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5

Full of shocks that actually mean something, Series 5 of Spooks is one of its absolute best

“The British people will accept anything if you serve it up with a picture of Will Young in the shower”

A cracking series of Spooks that starts off with a series of bangs, robbing Colin of his life and Juliet Shaw of her ability to walk, the introduction of Ros Myers to the team is an invigorating success, particularly as she inspires Jo to become more badass too. This incarnation of the team really does click well, responding smoothly to the enforced changes in personnel, though newly single father Adam’s mental health crisis too often feels like a plot device rather than a genuine exploration of PTSD.

Subject-wise, the relevance level remains high, particularly pertinent when it comes to national crises with panic buying and over-stuffed hospitals feeling all too real. The role of fundamentalist zealots is shared equally between Christian and Islamic believers over the series and even if the finale underwhelms somewhat, the eco-terrorism theme hasn’t become any less significant.

Nicola Walker-ometer
I’m still not over it, the defenestration of Ruth Evershed. Having finally made it to a date with Harry, which went about as well as could be expected, she runs up against a murderous Oliver Mace conspiracy and ends up having to fake her own death to protect Harry and ends up fleeing the country. An ignominious end for the heart of the team.  Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 5”

TV Review: The Crown Series 3

Series 3 of The Crown sees new actors in across the board but Olivia Colman is sadly no Claire Foy. Helena Bonham Carter rocks though

“Sometimes duty requires one to put personal feelings…
‘And frivolity”
…aside”

Doing little to dispel rumours that she isn’t a Time Lord, The Crown takes its cues from Doctor Who as Series 3 sees the Queen regenerate from Claire Foy to Olivia Colman. And not just that, the whole cast of main players has been replaced as this new company will take us through the next couple of series. It’s a clever move, considering the spain of history that the show takes but it is also a little sad to lose such excellent performances as Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret, Victoria Hamilton’s Queen Mum, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams as Edward and Wallis and of course, Foy’s exceptional work.     

Series 3 then, takes us from 1964 to 1977, featuring such notable events as the Aberfan tragedy, the moon landing and the arrival of Camilla in Charles’ life. And with its many millions and pick of the white acting talent in this country, it remains eminently watchable. That said, something has shifted for me and it just doesn’t feel as effective as the first two seasons. A large element of this is the way series creator and main writer Peter Morgan has structured the show, choosing to maintain a massive ensemble of recurring characters but keeping the focus, and turnover, of episodes relentlessly tight. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Series 3”

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

The Crown returns with Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies at the helm, and Helena Bonham Carter stealing the show

“Everyone at the Post Office is delighted with the new profile”

Gotta get those hits…who knows how far behind I am, given I’m 9 hours ahead of the UK at the moment, but I thought I’d jot down my initial thoughts on the first three episodes of series 3 of The Crown (all written by Peter Morgan and directed by Benjamin Caron), as Netflix kindly offered them up as holiday entertainment. (And since I’m away, I’ve been a little insulated from all the Prince Andrew drama, which from over here almost feels like a random bit of guerilla marketing).

  • I wonder if I have a little hangover from just how good Claire Foy was, but I’m 100% feeling Olivia Colman in the role yet. She doesn’t seem quite as subsumed into the character, in the way that Foy’s every minutely detailed movement seemed to be. That said, there’s some scorching moments when Jason Watkins’ Harold Wilson dares to suggest her response to the Aberfan tragedy is lacking.
  • The excellent Tobias Menzies hasn’t really had enough screen time yet to have his Prince Philip make an impact, though I’ve every faith.
  • The casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret is inspired, the extravagance of the character is perfectly suited to her but she’s bringing a real depth at the same time. 
  • And I have to say I miss Matthew Goode’s hugely erotic insouciance as Antony Armstrong-Jones, Ben Daniels’ much more wearied take hasn’t quite ticked my boxes yet.

Elsewhere, the headlong rush through the years means that we’re doomed to the smallest contributions from some excellent actors – Samuel West’s Anthony Blunt and Angus Wright’s MI5 bod were gone too soon, though I live in hope of more from Penny Downie’s Duchess of Gloucester, Aden Gillett as Richard Crossman and Sinéad Matthews as Marcia Williams (seriously, her accent is a thing of pure beauty).

And given the budget is allegedly in the many millions, it certainly looks a treat once again. From glistening palatial lushness to agonisingly destroyed villages, these are fully realised worlds no matter how short a space of time we end up spending in them. Caron’s direction also makes room for a more uncomplicated cinematic as well though, choosing iconic visual to close out each episode – the regal silhouette, juxtapositions of Margarets old and new, the children playing. This is a Crown that has lost none of its lustre.

Photo: Sophie Mutevelian