TV Review: Spooks – Code 9

Spooks – Code 9 is a spin-off that spins off too far, nowhere near deserving of the Spooks name

“Don’t make me look like a dickhead”

An absolutely baffling one this. Spooks – Code 9 was commissioned by the Beeb as a spin-off of the Spooks franchise that was aimed at the 16-24 demographic. Conventional wisdom dictates that a spin-off has at least some connection to its parent but for some reason, the decision was made to completely sever this new show, with no crossover with Spooks whatsoever.

Not only that, it is also set in an entirely different universe as this series is set in a UK that is reeling from a nuclear attack during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics Games. With London irradiated and most of its staff killed, MI5 has had to evacuate Thames House and set up regional field offices. Because the only way to justify setting a show in Leeds is to make London radioactive…(and even then they can’t keep away for the finale). Continue reading “TV Review: Spooks – Code 9”

TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1

Or to give it its true title, Ruth Wilson in His Dark Materials, the BBC scores big with Jack Thorne’s crafty and considered adaptation

“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny”

There was never really any chance that I wouldn’t like His Dark Materials but as Series 1 draws to a close, I’m still amazed by how much I loved it. Given the complexity of Philip Pullman’s world-building as written, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the first novel Northern Lights cleverly opted to tread its own path, moving revels and plot points here and there, plus weaving in elements of The Subtle Knife (the second) to wrongfoot and thrill anyone who thought they knew what they were expecting. With some stonking production design and top-notch VFX bringing the daemons (and more) to life, it has been simply fantastic (read my thoughts on episode 1 here).

Dafne Keen has been a revelation as Lyra Belacqua, the girl on whom so much rests in a world not so different from our own. So adult in so many ways as she battles everything to save her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd – heartbreakingkly good), she’s also touchingly young in others (especially where Pan – voiced so well by Kit Connor- is concerned), as her understanding of the world can’t help but be coloured by her comparative inexperience, buffeted by devastating waves of parental ineptitude and cruelty. Revelations about those parents, about the mysterious substance Dust too, underline the sophistication of the writing here,never once looking down at its audience,no matter their age. Continue reading “TV Review: His Dark Materials Series 1”

Review: Unfaithful, Found111

“We need to talk about this”

As interesting as Found111 is as a pop-up venue, and an intriguingly programmed one too, attracting a strong calibre of actor thus far, it remains extremely problematic to me that a new venue – the issue of whether London is lacking in theatres aside – can be opened without any access to wheelchair users, as there’s no way to get to the auditorium without climbing 71 steps. For me, accessibility isn’t something you get to pick and choose and so no matter how atmospheric this old Central St Martins building may be, just shrugging that it is “regrettably inaccessible” feels an inadequate response.

It’s more of a shame given that the latest production is arguably the best of the three that Emily Dobbs Productions has mounted here – Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful blisters its way through the world of relationships with his unmistakable gift for excruciatingly sharp dialogue and the messy way in which we so often end up treating the ones we love. Middle-aged Tom and Joan have hit something of a rut, their uni-going daughter isn’t talking to them and they’re not talking to each other. And the substantially younger Peter and Tara are in the midst of their own crisis, suffering their own communication difficulties. Continue reading “Review: Unfaithful, Found111”

TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis. Continue reading “TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1”

DVD Review: Personal Affairs

“It’s always going to be someone else’s lipstick”

A completely random discovery, via an excellent bundle of birthday presents, was this BBC3 series from 2009, Personal Affairs. In its easy mixture of comedy and drama of 4 City PAs trying to discover what happened to one of their friends who has disappeared, it was rather enjoyable if hardly ground-breaking over its six episodes. But where it was huge amounts of fun was in the sheer number of theatrical spots it contained which made it a highly entertaining watch for me.

Whether it was Annabel Scholey as Scouse X-Factor wannabe Midge or Ruth Negga’s strident temp Sid amongst the leads, Al Weaver as a plotting boyfriend or a gorgeously bearded Kieran Bew (correctly assessed as the main attraction for me!)  as a potential love interest and Mark Benton and Emily Bruni amongst the bosses, the regular cast held much delight. Combined with a supporting guest cast which featured the likes of Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Mark Bonnar and Annette Badland, the acting was predictably of a high quality which ensured it was always extremely watchable. Continue reading “DVD Review: Personal Affairs”

Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s

“Do you want to be part of the group, or do you want to be an individual?”

Telling the ‘origin story’ of the Beatles, how they paid their dues as a rock’n’roll covers band in Hamburg with their original line-up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe, Backbeat is actually less Beatles-centric than one might expect. The focus of the show, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys from Softley’s 1994 film of the same name, is actually the relationship between original bassist and visual artist Stuart Sutcliffe and the two main figures in his life: best friend Lennon who teaches him guitar so that he can join the band on their trip and abandon art school, and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who falls passionately for him and recognises his true artistic potential.

It is this conflict that forms the backbone of the show – Sutcliffe struggling to balance his best friend and his lover, the band and his art – all underpinned by the knowledge that his cruel early death from a brain haemorrhage came just as the Beatles were about to hit the big time. And it is clear that these are the only really fully-fleshed characters in the show: Nick Blood’s achingly cool and handsome Sutcliffe strikes a magnetically seductive pose, connecting beautifully with Ruta Gedmintas’ coolly composed Astrid and sparking well with Andrew Knott’s bolshy, hero-worshipping Lennon. They make an intriguing threesome and in some ways it is a shame that the show doesn’t get to delve more deeply into these relationships, particularly between Sutcliffe and Lennon. Continue reading “Review: Backbeat, Duke of York’s”