I’d follow Deborah Findlay anywhere but Channel 5’s schlocky drama The Drowning might have been a step too far
“I understand how it feels to lose someone”
The premise of The Drowning, Channel 5’s newest original drama, seemed intriguing enough and its first episode mostly delivered on that promise. At a family picnic, 4 year old Tom goes missing, drowned in a lake, and his mother’s life naturally shatters. Nine years later, Jodie spots a teenage boy who bears a scar on his face that looks just like one Tom has and becomes convinced that it is, in fact, her son.
Directed by Carolina Giammetta, Luke Watson and Francesca Brill’s drama has clear designs on aping the Nordic Noir vibes of many a Scandi-drama, not least in its beautiful colour palette, but it is let down by some horrific writing choices that see it veer far closer to trashy thriller than affecting crime drama in the vein of, say, Unforgotten. Continue reading “TV Review: The Drowning (Channel 5)”
Channel 5 drama The Drowning has a cast headed up by some great names – Jill Halfpenny, Rupert Penry-Jones, Jade Anouka – and its first episode proves intriguing
“We were all at the lake that day and he always blamed me”
I would go most places for Deborah Findlay and so this week I am watching Channel 5 for the first time in…I couldn’t tell you how long, the launch show with the Spice Girls covering Manfred Mann…? Created by Luke Watson and Francesca Brill, The Drowning follows Jill Halfpenny’s Jodie as she becomes fixated on a teenager who she is sure is her son Tom, who drowned nine years ago at the age of four but whose body was never recovered.
As a depiction of the shattering effects of grief, how it remakes every single relationship in your life, this first episode is particularly good. Halfpenny nails the abrasive side of Jodie’s personality as she screws over friends, family and exes in her relentless pursuit of the boy she believes to be Tom, caring little for the chaos in her wake, the damage she perpetuates even as she still tries to recover from her own. Continue reading “TV Review: The Drowning – Episode 1 (Channel 5)”
AKA the one that doesn’t work and the one that you should avoid if you’re feeling angsty about the current situation – approach Spooks Series 6 with caution
“The only option will be national quarantine and burial pits”
Series 6 is one of the trickier ones to watch right now so be warned – it opens with a two-parter called ‘The Virus’ which makes for a eerily chilling watch. It’s also a curious season as whilst the introduction of a series-long storyline – Iran seeking to gain nuclear capability – for the first time seems like it should work no problem, the reality doesn’t hang together quite as well as it ought.
The major level conspiracy theory takes too long to click into gear, and never really reaches the high-stakes territory it needs to hit home hard. The ‘mole in MI-5’ thread doesn’t pay off convincingly, recruiting another journalist off the street tests the patience (sorry Ben) and where one fake-out death of a major character might be permitted, two in the space of three episodes feels lazy. A major disappointment following the highs of Series 5.
Absolute zero, it’s as if she never existed. Fucking Harry. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 6”
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.
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”
With the loss of its original core cast and the destabilising presence of Martine McCutcheon, Series 4 of Spooks struggles to find its feet
“You’re up against the British state…who do you think is going to win that particular battle?”
This season of Spooks struggles quite badly amidst all the upheaval of Series 3 in which in the entire original team departed Thames House. Tom’s identikit replacement Adam does well enough but somehow, something goes terribly wrong with the introduction of his wife and fellow spy Fiona (Olga Sosnovska). They sadly lack chemistry and their domestic drama just doesn’t translate well into the business of saving the country on a weekly basis.
The tone is set by the randomly chaotic energy of Martine McCutcheon’s guest spot in the opener two-parter and from then on, as we cover people smuggling, the rise of far right political movements, cultists and the ethics of releasing terrorist suspects, the series jerks along rather, Raza Jaffrey’s Danny-a-like isn’t given anywhere near enough to do and the snaffling of Miranda Raison’s Jo off the street is as bizarre an advert for recruitment as any.
It’s a pretty low-key series for Ruth – hints of her passion for Harry come through whether in romantic feeling or rebelling against him a bit. She comes into her own in the final episode with the revelation of a step-brother who killed himself but has never been mentioned before putting her in the line of fire but all in all she deserves better. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 4”
It’s all change at Thames House as Series 3 of Spooks sees the original core team leave the security service one way or another
“We cannot have another Tom Quinn”
I’d forgotten just monumental this series of Spooks was, as first Matthew MacFadyen’s Tom took his leave after getting a conscience, then Keeley Hawes’ Zoe was shunted off to Chile to evade justice and then David Oyelowo’s Danny shuffled off this mortal coil thanks to bloody Fiona and an annoyed Iraqi terrorist. Rupert Penry-Jones was drafted in as Adam, a friendly MI6 type who fits the Tom mould perfectly, though we could have done without his wife (more of that anon).
But even besides all the personnel shifting, the writing is shit-hot in this season, especially when the focus is on the morality of security service actions. Targeted assassinations on North Sea ferries, honeytrapping members of the Turkish mafia, these are meaty issues with some real consequences for all concerned.
Now firmly established in the team, attention turns to her trying to get some, in the most Ruth-like possible way, ie stalking someone illegally and sharing a carbonara with a traitorous ex-colleague, this is prime Ruth territory. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 3”
Written by Eileen Atkins, Vita and Virginia doesn’t quite capture the intensity of this iconic love affair
“When was the moment of your greatest disillusionment?
‘The first time I saw a penis'”
I didn’t know that Eileen Atkins had written a play about Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf but given that it dates back to 1992 and hasn’t been much – if at all – revived, I could perhaps be forgiven. It is that play Vita and Virginia that she has adapted for the screen with Chanya Button, who also directs, and something of its theatrical nature remains.
Based on their copious letters to each others, Vita and Virginia is perhaps inevitably wordy and this isn’t always a great thing in a film. Set as it is in 1920s bohemian London, you might expect the vibe of a decadent whirl and for a while at least, thanks in large part to Isobel Waller-Bridge’s effectively anachronistic score, this is a most seductive party. Continue reading “Film Review: Vita and Virginia (2018)”
“It should have been a warning to us”
Krakatoa: The Last Days is a rather po-faced 2006 docu-drama about the cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, based on eyewitness accounts. Its strenuous attempts at historical gravitas make it extremely worthy, trying wisely to keep away from the disaster-porn ethos that would make it a schlock-fest, but it straddles the line between docu and drama quite uncertainly and rarely becomes a compelling watch.
The narrative is split mainly between the account of a Dutch geologist Rogier Verbeek (Kevin McMonagle) who became the father of modern vulcanology with his study of the events which were the first ever scientific accounts of the full cycle of a volcanic eruption, and the trials of the family Beijerinck, the colonial masters of a small village that lay right in the path of the first shockwaves to emanate from Krakatoa. Continue reading “DVD Review: Krakatoa The Last Days”
“We’re living in extraordinary times Virginia”
I think Rachel Freck and I would be very good friends, given the exquisite job she did in casting BBC1 miniseries Life in Squares very much according to my preferences. Phoebe Fox and Eve Best, Lydia Leonard and Al Weaver, James Norton and Rupert Penry-Jones and Elliot Cowan, plus bonus Deborah Findlay and Emily Bruni amongst many more – the stuff of my dreams. So I was already very well-inclined towards this retelling of the travails of the Bloomsbury set, written by Amanda Coe and directed by Simon Kaisjer, before it had even started.
Fortunately it also delivered well over its three hour-long episodes, giving us costume drama with a bit of a difference (and a smattering of raunch as its publicity campaign unnecessarily blurted). Kaisjer’s vision was less opulent fantasy than lived-in reality, albeit through an artistic filter, and so handheld camerawork mixed with everyday costumes to achieve this more rooted ethos. And Coe’s script putting one of the lesser celebrated of the set – Vanessa Bell née Stephens – at the heart of the narrative gave the narrative the freedom to stretch out across multiple timeframe, remaining fresh all the while. Continue reading “TV Review: Life in Squares”
“I’m so sick of this acting thing, it’s just not working out”
If Woody Allen’s Match Point had been set in the Hamptons as it was originally meant to be, I think I would really like this film but as it is, its relocation to London proves to be a constant distraction as this glossily cinematic version of my hometown is often ludicrous. Yes it is fiction and yes it is set in the world of the idly uber-rich with all their casual trips to Ralph Lauren and chauffeured cars but as with James Bond surfing down the escalators on the tube in Skyfall it’s the little things that draw the attention.
From the unrelenting RP accents to scarcely believable dialogue in the “London Police”, the revelation that being “born in Belgravia” is the key to a lifetime of cultural invitations and the insistence on only showing postcard-pretty shots of London, Match Point has little anchoring in the real world and especially not in the city where it is now set. Putting aside the unlikelihood of shop workers being able to afford cabs home everyday and even worse, neighbours actually talking to each other in a friendly manner, it’s all just so superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: Match Point”