TV Review: Black Narcissus

A quality cast including Gemma Arterton and Dame Diana Rigg can’t save Black Narcissus for me

“Better honey than vinegar”

A funny one this, particularly for the captive audience of the inbuilt lethargy of the Twixmas period. In the absence of Sarah Phelps’ brilliant reinventions of Agatha Christie, Black Narcissus was the BBC’s big drama punt on the festive schedule but I’m not entirely sure if it was the right choice.

Based on the Rumer Godden novel and famously filmed in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger with Deborah Kerr, the story follows a band of Anglican nuns as they try to establish a new mission in the Himalayan mountains. Their chosen base is a former palace with erotic paintings on the bricks, a troubled history seeping from the mortar and a swarthily handsome agent who keeps popping by – Sister Act this ain’t. Continue reading “TV Review: Black Narcissus”

Film Review: The Children Act (2017)

The neglect of Stanley Tucci aside, The Children Act does a decent job of bringing Ian McEwan’s novel to the screen, with Emma Thompson on fine form

“I think it’s my choice
‘I’m afraid the law doesn’t agree'”

The first half of The Children Act is astounding. Family court judge Fiona Maye is utterly devoted to her career, deciding carefully but firmly on the most delicate of ruilngs. But the case of Adam Henry gives her cause, a 17 year old cancer victim whose Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are leading him to refuse the blood transfusion that could save his life.

As Maye, Emma Thompson makes you feel every inch of the emotional stoicism she has developed in order to rise through the judicial ranks so. There’s admiration sure but also a touch of apprehension – the brittleness with which she interacts with her devoted clerk (Jason Watkins) and the casual callousness with which she takes her long-suffering husband (Stanley Tucci) for granted. Continue reading “Film Review: The Children Act (2017)”

TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1

Gentleman Jack proves a huge success, for Sally Wainwight, for Suranne Jones, for lesbian storytelling, for everyone

“So much drama, always, with Anne”

Even with as reliably assured hands as Sally Wainwright’s at the tiller, I was a little nervous for Gentleman Jack in the pride-of-place Sunday evening TV slot. But I should have been surer of my faith, for it has been a stonkingly good 8 hours of drama, with an epically romantic lesbian relationship at its heart.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) is a wealthy Yorkshire heiress whose uncompromising nature about any and every aspect of her life rubs any number of people up the wrong way. Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) is most definitely not one of them though, she wants to be rubbed the right way and so we follow the path of true love as it winds through the prejudices of the Yorkshire Pennines and Anne’s attempts to break into the coal mining world. Continue reading “TV Review: Gentleman Jack Series 1”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2

“You might put me in prison but let me tell you this: you can’t judge me unless you’ve had it done to you.”

Blimey, I knew Unforgotten was good (here’s my Episode 1 review, and my Series 1 review) but I wasn’t expecting it to be this soul-shatteringly excellent. More fool me I suppose, Nicola Walker is a god among mortals and her presence alone is reliably proving a harbinger of excellence, but allied to Chris Lang’s scorching writing, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll see much better television than this before the year is out. 

That it managed this by using elements that have been seen recently (historical child sex abuse as per Line of Duty; the Strangers on a Train twist featured in Silent Witness just last month) and imbuing them with a compelling freshness is impressive enough, but the way in which it revealed this at the mid-point of the series and yet still had hooks and surprises aplenty to keep me gripped right until the bitterly haunting end.  Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2”

TV Review: The Crimson Petal and the White

A strong cast can’t persuade me about literary adaptation The Crimson Petal and the White

“Here, people go to sleep as soon as the gin takes effect”

This TV adaptation of Michael Faber’s 2002 novel dates back to 2011 but despite having the kind of cast that normally attracts me like a moth to a flame, I never quite got round to watching The Crimson Petal and the White. And in all honesty, I should have stuck with my initial sixth sense…

Set in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, the story follows Romola Garai’s courtesan Sugar and the relationship she develops with feckless perfume heir William Rackham, a persuasive Chris O’Dowd. From a flop of a first night, he soon becomes entirely infatuated with her, not letting the fact that he has a mentally ill wife get in the way. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crimson Petal and the White”

TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1

“Maybe we should be concentrating on the suitcase”

In the glut of new crime series that have started this week – Death In Paradise, No Offence – Chris Lang’s Unforgotten stands out for me as a clever twist on a crowded genre, plus it has the bonus of the ever-excellent Nicola Walker in a starring role. Unforgotten’s twist on the crime drama is to completely emphasise the latter over the former, so whilst each series hooks on a cold case brought back to life, the focus is on the lives that have continued in its wake.

The reveal of the format was a highlight of the beginning of the first series, the disparate stories of 4 seemingly unconnected people bound together by the discovery of their phone numbers in the victim’s diary. And this second series wisely sticks largely to the same formula, introducing us to a Brighton gay couple in the process of adopting, a nurse on a cancer ward in London, a teacher applying for a headship in a school in special measures, a young man lying to his mother…all of whom are sure to be linked to the body found in a suitcase in the River Lea. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten Series 2 Episode 1”

DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger

“You can be our Justin Bieber”

After being pleasantly surprised by how much fun Nativity was, it seemed only natural to watch the sequel Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger when it appeared in the festive TV schedule too. Sad to say it didn’t live up to its predecessor, its attempts to replicate the formula losing much of the charm that made the first movie something of a real treasure. Writer and director Debbie Isitt returned to the improvised style that saw her company of kids and adults work without a script or advance knowledge of how the plot would unfold, but the problem lies in that uninspired narrative. 

We’re still at St Bernadette’s, but Martin Freeman’s Mr Maddens has been replaced by David Tennant’s Mr Peterson, the school nativity has been replaced by a national ‘Song for Christmas’ competition and Marc Wootton’s irrepressible teaching assistant Mr Poppy remains very much in situ. And it is the nonsense that his actions provokes that proves the tipping point here – from purloined babies and donkeys to reckless child endangerment and the very fact that he’s teaching a class alone, Poppy’s character is a huge ask even when not taking it too seriously and for me, he was too grating too often. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity 2 – Danger in the Manger”

DVD Review: Nativity

“As if Hollywood would come to Coventry”

For whatever reason, I hadn’t ever gotten round to watching festive film Nativity since its release in 2009 but its broadcast on BBC1 meant I finally got the opportunity to be thoroughly won over by its lo-fi festive spirit. Written by Debbie Isitt but also partially improvised by the cast, it nails that typical (successful) Brit-flick style with all its deprecatory charm and underdog spirit, along with an unexpectedly effective original musical score.

Nativity centres on an inter-school rivalry in Coventry, where private primary school Oakmoor consistently produce the best-received nativity show. This year, the headteacher of St Bernadette’s has something to say about that and so puts curmudgeonly Christmas-hater Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) in charge of their show, aware that his old drama school friend and rival Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) is the one succeeding at Oakmoor, Continue reading “DVD Review: Nativity”

DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook”