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”

DVD Review: Atonement (2007)

“I suppose we should start by reading it”

Atonement was only Joe Wright’s second film but crikey it’s a good’un. Following on from Pride and Prejudice with another literary adaptation was a bold move, especially in taking on such a modern classic as Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker Prize nominee but with Christopher Hampton on script duties and Wright’s visionary eye at the helm, Atonement is a deliciously gorgeous piece of art.

From Kiera Knightley’s iconic green dress to that epic Dunkirk tracking shot, from a three-fold Briony (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave) to narrative daring that enriches the whole piece, Atonement is a sumptuous and assured film that has lost none of its charge nearly ten years on. Wright is blessed with a top-notch cast to be sure, but it is his flair that characterises the film’s brilliance. Continue reading “DVD Review: Atonement (2007)”

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre

“Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes”

There’s an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace’s new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of “doing something good about something bad”. Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise ‘Congo Voice’, a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there. Continue reading “Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”

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: Salt, Root and Roe, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2

“Oh don’t start the Welsh”

One of the pleasures that comes from working one’s way through the raft of theatregoing opportunities that present themselves here is the chance of spotting emerging talent and being able to follow their early days, not just with actors but with playwrights too. Laura Stevens is one such writer I’m tipping for success and another is Tim Price whose new play Salt, Root and Roe is the opening work in this year’s Donmar Trafalgar Studios season. His first play For Once was a highlight of new writing in the summer downstairs at the Hampstead and so my expectations here were high.

The three play Donmar at Trafalgar season is designed to showcase their Resident Assistant Directors scheme and with Salt, Root and Roe, it is Hamish Pirie’s turn to bring some of the Donmar aesthetic to the intimate Studio 2. The play is set in the West Wales childhood home of Menna, a phobic woman who returns home when she receives a disturbing letter from her aunt Iola declaring her intention to end her life. Iola has a tumour and is suffering from dementia and her twin sister Anest – Menna’s mother – is determined to accompany her and the younger woman is caught between the desire to intervene and the recognition that the bond between twins is often inexplicably deep. Continue reading “Review: Salt, Root and Roe, Donmar Warehouse at Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Red Bud, Royal Court

“Red Bud makes the pressure better: it’s the excitement”

Slotting in upstairs at the Royal Court, Red Bud is a play by upcoming American writer Brett Neveu. Five friends make their annual trip to a motorcycle championship in southern Michigan but more than twenty years down the line, the attraction is beginning to wear thin, middle-aged concerns are taking over from high school dreams and not even copious quantities of alcohol and dope can paper over the cracks that have developed in their friendship. This is a review of a preview performance.

Initially full of the forced bonhomie, banalities and those easy recollections of the past that are the fallback of people who have drifted apart, the paper-thin veneer of this camaraderie is severely challenged by the introduction of a raft of drinking games from their youth which quickly darkens the mood as tensions rise to the fore, brutal truths are revealed and frustrations worked out as the evening degenerates into bitterness and violence. It is very well done starting off with an amusingly effective stunt and playing out the fast-unravelling scenario resulting in some convincing fight sequences and great use of fake blood given how exposed the actors are in this set-up. Continue reading “Review: Red Bud, Royal Court”