TV Review: The Girl Before

A glossy psychological thriller that twists and turns entertainingly, The Girl Before is a nice bit of luxury TV

“I don’t think Facebook follows me into the shower”

Adapted by JP Delaney from his novel of the same name, The Girl Before does a clever job of taking all-too-familiar TV thriller tropes and if not subverting them, actually uses them efficiently and effectively, which feels like a more radical act in some ways. So there’s an incredibly glamorous house and a narrative unfolding in two time-periods simultaneously but for once, these choices are entirely justified.   

That house is 1 Folgate Street, an ultra-minimalist architect’s wet dream which has been made available by that architect for an incredibly cheap rent. Only thing is, there’s a whole set of rules you have to abide by, if you pass the interview, in order to maintain the place in keeping with its impossibly stylish aesthetic. And of course, that landlord has a handsome face and a mysterious past which doesn’t bode well for any prospective tenants. Continue reading “TV Review: The Girl Before”

News: National Theatre Live relaunches with new programme of four productions in cinemas worldwide

The National Theatre today announces the return of National Theatre Live with a new programme of four productions to be broadcast to audiences worldwide in cinemas, starting in the UK and Ireland in January, and with tickets now on sale.

The productions are Tom Stoppard’s Olivier-Award winning play Leopoldstadt from Sonia Friedman Productions in the West End which will be broadcast to cinemas from January; Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage from the Bridge Theatre in February; Tanya Ronder, Jim Fortune and Rufus Norris’ new musical Hex from the NT will be broadcast in March and the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Henry V starring Kit Harington will be in cinemas from April.

Since March 2020, National Theatre Live has broadcast in cinemas with special encore screenings of Follies from 2 September 2021 and the NT’s feature film Romeo & Juliet was also broadcast to cinemas from 28 September 2021.

The NT’s next feature film Death of England: Face to Face will be in Curzon cinemas on Tuesday 2 November. The film will then be broadcast, for free, on Sky Arts at 9pm on Thursday 25 November (Freeview channel 11).

Sky Arts is the Headline Partner of National Theatre Live in the UK. Continue reading “News: National Theatre Live relaunches with new programme of four productions in cinemas worldwide”

TV Review: The English Game (2020)

Not even a precious few shots of rippling abs and a cast full of talent can save the mad folly of The English Game, someone stop Julian Fellowes now please

“Lads, football is not complicated”

Who would have thought it? Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford has zero facility for writing Northern working class characters. (Or on this evidence, any characters at all.) Not having watched Downton Abbey in any meaningful way (though I did suffer through the film), I wasn’t prepared for just how cringeworthily bad it would be in his Netflix series The English Game.

I remembered Lucy Mangan’s excoriation of the show in the Guardian just as the first lockdown kicked in but it has taken me this long to get round to watching it myself, despite Netflix constantly flicking it onto my homepage. And there’s actually something quite magisterial in just how jawdroppingly awful the first episode is, even with the changing room scenes that have somehow been screenshotted here. Continue reading “TV Review: The English Game (2020)”

Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs

“I’m not trying to justify it…that’s the fucking point”

The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well – Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished – Sam Hoare’s debut play – that is occupying the experimental space.

In Polly Sullivan’s starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she’s being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter. Continue reading “Review: Diminished, Hampstead Downstairs”

TV Review: National Treasure, Episode 1

“Is he supposed to be nice?”

Just a quickie to cover the first episode of this new Jack Thorne drama on Channel 4, and I’ll review the series as a whole once all four episodes have aired. National Treasure takes its inspiration directly from Operation Yewtree and its revelations about the nefarious activities of veteran TV personages, to give us an exploration into how such a scandal could unfold, sweeping up everyone in its path and uncovering a painstakingly hidden past.

Robbie Coltrane takes the role of Paul Finchley, one half of a much-loved TV comedy duo, whose world is rocked by a historical accusation of rape. Placed under investigation by the police, his personal life is shaken, not least his marriage to Julie Walters and his shaky relationship with recovering addict daughter Andrea Riseborough. And once the news conveniently slips into the media, his professional life is also called into question as the number of accusations multiplies. Continue reading “TV Review: National Treasure, Episode 1”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Despite no lack of ambition (and a reputed £17 million budget), Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands proves a sore disappointment

“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come”

Looking back at my review of Episode 1 of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, there really was a naive hope on my part that this would be something of a success, as ITV lunged for a slice of the epic fantasy TV market. But lawksamercy it hasn’t been good.

Cleaving so closely to the Game of Thrones template (seriously, those opening credits…) does the show no favours at all, as they can’t hope to compete with the meticulousness of the years of George RR Martin’s world-building or the heft of HBO’s cinematic-sized budget. Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

TV Review: Life in Squares

“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”

TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”

Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.

And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who). Continue reading “TV Review: An Adventure in Space and Time”

DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)

“We’re not the platonic sort Jane”

The 2006 BBC take on Jane Eyre marked Ruth Wilson’s major television debut and in quite some style too. Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous heroine is surely one of literature’s most loved but it is a challenge that Wilson rises to excellently, with the kind of nuanced sensitive portrayal that will ensure that this version will remain near the top of the ever-growing pile of adaptations of this story. Alongside Toby Stephens as Rochester, she drives this clear-sighted, uncomplicated retelling over four hour-long episodes as Jane negotiates the many travails of her life.

From being abandoned as a poor relation with a dour aunt to the unfriendly walls of Lowood School and then on to her first job as governess to a young girl in a household where the promise of love and genuine affection offer a first chance at happiness, but also where secrets abound and threaten to snatch it away before it has even started. Wilson makes Jane a straightforward girl, always pragmatic in the face of adversity and even as she melts in the face of kindness, whether from Lorraine Ashbourne’s kindly Mrs Fairfax or the one that eventually comes from Rochester, she has enough nous to be able to retain her poise. Stephens really is good here too, balancing the macho arrogance of the man with a more romantic sensibility that comes through but always keeping each element in play so we never forget the complexity of the man, yet remaining entirely drawn by his charisma.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)”