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)”

New TV shows to get stuck into

I get stuck into the first episodes of TV shows Van Der Valk, The Good Fight, Gangs of London and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels to see what my next must-see will be

“Who else was masturbating into plants?!”

I’m of course far too young to remember the original Van Der Valk – had I seen it before though, I might well have saved myself this couple of hours. Importing a British cast to play Dutch detectives in a crime serial set in Amsterdam seems like such a retrograde move, I still can’t get my head around it, especially in this day and age when so much quality foreign-language drama is readily available. Written by Chris Murray, this revival sees Marc Warren head up the cast as a maverick detective with a team who aid and abet his behaviour – there’s not a smack of originality about it, nor any real interest sadly…great locations though. Am already dreaming of my return to the city, but not sure I’ll be revisiting this show. Continue reading “New TV shows to get stuck into”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1

I had already started a rewatch of Spooks earlier this year as part of a planned Nicola Walker retrospective but as it turns out, I’ll have to use that Britbox subscription for something else!

“When will you tell her that your real name is Tom Quinn and that you are a spy”

It is interesting to look at back at much-loved shows and be reminded of how not everything is always how you remember. So much of Spooks has aged remarkably well – not least its choice of subjects that have remained terrifyingly evergreen – that it is easy to forget that this opening season of 6 episodes sees them still searching for that house style. 

It is undoubtedly a bit shonky in look and feel, the slick Thames House set isn’t yet in place and the focus on the lead team at the expense of too many nameless supporting bods gives the personal dynamics a somewhat off-balance feel as we delve into too much of the personal lives of Tom, Zoe and Danny.

But airing in May 2002 in the immediate post 9/11 climate gives its geopolitics real currency. And the threats they face – homegrown far-right movements, fears over immigration, the push for Kurdish self-government, US abortion rights, Russian spies being murdered on British soil… – are compelling throughout. And any show that has Jenny Agutter and Nicholas Farrell dry-humping in a corridor has to be a winner right?!   

Nicola Walker-ometer
To be honest, I’d forgotten Ruth wasn’t a member of the team from the start, so these six episodes pass by with an outrageous lack of Nicola Walker. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 1”

Short Film Review #17

Mockingbird

Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these films comes from nowhere to just punch in the guts with its downright amazingness yet simultaneously leaving unable to really articulate just why it is so. Joe Tunmer’s Mockingbird is such a film – achingly beautiful, gorgeously shot and infinitely moving. William Houston is extraordinary, Eliza Darby refreshingly appealing and there’s bonus Olivia Williams – what more do you want?!

Farrington

A 7 minute clip from Aneil Karia, Farrington is one of the funnier short films I’ve had the pleasure to watch recently. Robert Bathurst plays an investment banker named Henry who opts to take a wee career break to take part in a reality TV show where he will have 12 days to try and learn a whole new craft and convince a panel at the end that he is indeed a master of said skill. The joy comes from what that thing is and I won’t spoil it here, save to say it is refreshingly un-PC and leads to some cracking lines from the team of ‘experts’ set up to help, including Prasanna Puwanarajah and James Garnon. Definitely recommended.

Rover’s Return

The central idea of Rover’s Return – rich person pays someone to babysit their dearest love, who turns out to be a pet – and something goes horribly wrong – is not a new one – I’ve seen at least two other short films execute something similar. It’s clearly not a bad idea and who knows who had it first but coming in now for me, this version felt a little uninspired. Indira Varma is the high-flyer who is heading to Paris for a nookie-filled break and Andrea Lowe her junior colleague who is looking after the mutt in her absence. She’s inexperienced with dogs and predictably things go pear-shaped – it’s all a bit predictable and lacks any particularly unique facet to hook the attention, either in Oliver Ledwith’s direction or Patrick Ledwith’s script. 

The Honeymoon Suite

Possessed of an utterly gorgeous rasping voice, Alexis Zegerman is one of those actors I could listen to all day, but for her short film debut, The Honeymoon Suite, she opted to remain behind the camera. Lola Zidi-Rénier and Tim Key take on the role of a newly-wed Jewish couple who barely know each other, pushed together in some kind of arranged marriage and as they tumble into their hotel room after the ceremony, they get their first moment of quiet together, but it is the worst kind of awkward silence that fills the room. As they painfully tease out detail after detail about each other that seems to make them increasingly ill-suited together, they eventually find a tiny glimmer of hope that things might not be so bad after all. It is well done and nicely understated by all involved.

Veils

Another film funded by the Jewish Film Council is Dan Susman’s Veils, an insightful look into the Jewish/Palestinian conflict through the eyes of impending marriage for a Jewish girl and a Palestinian man in modern-day North London. As each prepare themselves on the wedding day, we see how the intransigent attitudes of some of their extended families are so strongly held that not even the joy of nuptial bliss can sway them, the difficulties of reconciliation laid bare in front of us as grandfather rejects grandson, family friends finding the most obscure of excuses not to attend. It is well-shot and cleverly structured too in the way that it teases the expectations. 

Review: The Westbridge, Royal Court

“Everyone lived perfectly happily round here together before you young ones try to integrate and confuse things”

First things first, Ultz’s staging upstairs at the Royal Court for The Westbridge is a piece of craziness. Most of the seating is in the centre with chairs pointing in all different directions and stages around the edge of the theatre. I found it highly frustrating as the structure of the show with its mutliple short scenes meant there was constant moving around in our seats and much huffing and puffing from a midweek matinee audience who generally weren’t up for it.

The play itself is very Royal Court Upstairs and I can totally see the logic in premiering it in Peckham as part of their Theatre Local initiative. I have to admit to turning down the chance to see it there several times as I was sure I didn’t want to see it. But I let people’s recommendations sway me and I’m glad I did, but I really do wish I’d seen it with a Peckham audience to see how it connected to a non-traditional audience (assuming it wasn’t full of regular Royal Court visitors going on the cheap!) Continue reading “Review: The Westbridge, Royal Court”