Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

DVD Review: Silk, Series 2

“People are saying you only made silk because you’re a woman and from Bolton”

The joys of Netflix allowed me to quickly move onto Series 2 of Silk in perfect time before the third, and final, series hit BBC1, and it remains an excellent piece of television, a quality legal drama blessed with some cracking writing, a stellar leading cast, and a revolving ensemble which continues to draw in the cream of British acting talent to give their supporting roles and cameos. The series kicks off with Maxine Peake’s Martha having ascended to the ranks of QC whilst Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive languishes in her slipstream, and the dynamics of their relationship form a major driver of the narrative. 

Her adjustments to her new role and responsibilities are fascinatingly drawn, especially as she negotiates the ethics of working with a notorious crime family and their shady legal representation. And his pursuit of that exalted status of QC as he stretches himself professionally to take in prosecutions, as well as Indira Varma’s attractive solicitor, is challenged when he overreaches himself in a particularly pressing case. As ever, individual cases fit into each episode as well, but these wider storylines are where the real interest comes.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Silk, Series 2”

DVD Review: The Politician’s Husband

”Sometimes you have to do bad things to get into power, in order to do good things when you get there”

18 years may have passed since Paula Milne wrote The Politician’s Wife so it was something of a surprise to hear that a companion piece called The Politician’s Husband was in the works. Shown on BBC2 last year, it followed the same 3 episode miniseries format as its forefather and directed by Simon Cellan Jones, had a splashy cast in David Tennant and Emily Watson as a high-flying political couple forced to navigate tricky ground when her career starts to outshine his. But for all the expectation that may have surrounded this, it sadly didn’t feel like a worthy follow-up, satisfyingly excellent performance from Emily Watson aside. 

It’s not immediately clear why Milne decided to write this sequel of sorts. The surnames of her characters pay homage to the West Wing (Hoynes, Gardner, Babbish…) and the Machiavellian manipulations of those in power and those who would be speak of many a political thriller gone by. But it is a very British kind of politics that is being interrogated here, the expenses scandal looms large in the public disillusionment with the establishment. And though no affiliations are made with any particular political parties, it is hard not to see echoes of an imagined Balls/Cooper household here, though it is a universal truth that the power-hungry are not restricted to any one ideology. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Politician’s Husband”

Short Film Review #30

 
War Hero

 

Doug Rao came to my attention as part of the Spanish Golden Age ensemble currently at the Arcola and I was intrigued to see he was an acclaimed writer and director as well as an actor. His debut short film War Hero hit the festival circuit in 2007 and it isn’t hard to see how it was considered worthy. A densely packed story set in a military hospital , Rao poses questions about the morality of warfare (particularly in Iraq), its effects on the individuals tasked with carrying out the orders and the collateral damage it inevitably collects.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #30”

Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle

“It’s like being at a crosswords”

Indhu Rubasingham keeps it in the family with her opening salvo as Artistic Director at the Tricycle as Lolita Chakrabarti’s first play Red Velvet features her husband Adrian Lester in the main role. But her tale of the experiences of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth-century African-American actor who caused shockwaves with his performances, offers an intriguing preview of sorts as Lester will be taking on the role of Othello for the National Theatre next year.

For Aldridge was a Shakespearean actor of some renown who toured Europe with many productions and the opening of the play sees him preparing to take on the role of King Lear in a Polish theatre. He’s being interviewed by a journalist about the key moment in his career though, a disastrous attempt to take on the role of Othello which was received with horrific racism (a man blacking up to take on the role was infinitely more preferable) and distaste from nearly all around. Continue reading “Review: Red Velvet, Tricycle”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“There are over 200 countries in the world and only 8, maybe 9 have nuclear weapons”

The second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is named Second Blast: Present Dangers and focuses its attention on where the nuclear threat lies now, i.e. in the Middle East and North Korea. Alongside the five plays, there’s more of the verbatim reportage, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, in this section, effectively deployed to demonstrate the almost ridiculousness of the way in which the debate about Iran and nuclear capability has been framed the US and Israel, and later on to remind us of the official political positions of many of our own leaders in the UK.

Altogether I was a tiny bit disappointed with this half of the day (I’d’ve given it 3.5 stars as opposed to 4 for Part 1) as First Blast: Proliferation had cast its net far and wide to cover five different aspects of the history of the bomb but Second Blast returned time and time again to Iran (3 times in fact) in terms of the present day. Obviously it’s a massive part of where we are in terms of potential instability, but I felt that a more useful eye could have been cast elsewhere as well – in a savage indictment of those countries like Israel and Pakistan who still refuse to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or indeed a more damning look at those countries that have signed yet show no signs of reducing their stockpile. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – Second Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: Axis

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

 

“Hungry as they are, they are proud to be North Korean and not American puppets”

Even within the constraints of a short piece of drama, playwrights often think and write big, but not always to the greatest effect, and so it felt a little bit with Diana Son’s Axis, one of the plays making up the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history. Starting off in a White House strategy room, two advisers try to come up with a sexy soundbite that will help sell Dubya’s aggressive post 9/11 strategy, we then flip ten years into the future in North Korea where two members of the government discuss what things might be like under their new inexperienced leader Kim Jong-Un.

Both sections have their merits: the idea that something as powerful and definitive as the ‘Axis of Evil’ rhetoric is something that could have been whipped by speech-writers and spin doctors has a horribly persuasive currency but it felt a lost opportunity for the revelation that this policy threw away the considerable diplomatic efforts of the previous administration who had come close to buying out the North Koreans’ nuclear programme in exchange for aid to just be used as a post-script caption. And where the 2012 discussion of the huge uncertainty around their untried new leader does look at the repercussions of this hardening of the position on both sides, especially on worsening the poverty in North Korea, there’s an almost slapstick tone which undermined the seriousness of the subject. Continue reading “Review: Axis”

Review: The Letter of Last Resort

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – Second Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“Onboard a submarine, there’s a safe. Inside that safe there’s another safe. And inside that one is a letter.”

Probably my favourite section in the second part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history was David Greig’s The Letter of Last Resort. Simon Chandler’s civil servant is pressuring Belinda Lang’s newly installed Prime Minister to put contingency arrangements in place in case of a (nuclear) catastrophe yet as she decides what course of action is to be taken in response to whatever attack has taken place, she is pulled down into a swirl of contradictory absurdist logic.

Greig’s writing is sharply observed and extremely funny – especially in the revelation of just how the submarine commander will ascertain if Britain has been destroyed – but it also has real heart as this PM comes to terms with the gravity of the decision she has to make. Lang plays this excellently, her determination to not let her position rob her of her humanity slowly worn down by the devil’s advocate of Simon Chandler’s adviser who is always able to offer the bigger picture about what must be done as opposed to what is right. Continue reading “Review: The Letter of Last Resort”

Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre

“Gentlemen, let the race begin”

Nicolas Kent’s final hurrah at the Tricycle Theatre, which he has patiently nurtured into fine battling form as a theatre really at the cutting edge of hot-topic drama, is this multi-authored two-part epic – The Bomb – a partial history. Inviting nine authors to respond to the debate (or more accurately the lack thereof) around nuclear weapons, Kent has pieced together a stimulating and challenging piece of theatre, divided into two parts, which can be experienced separately on different nights or one after the other on certain days, in a seven-hour marathon, which is how I did it (and probably how I’d recommend to it). 

Part one is labelled First Blast: Proliferation and focuses on the period 1940-1992 as nuclear weapons became a horrendous reality as Japan found out to its cost and then a terrible threat to all as the Cold War descended between the superpowers of the USA and the USSR, and more and more countries sought to gain nuclear capabilities for themselves, threatening imbalances right across the globe. The attempts to control the spread of nuclear weaponry is also dealt with as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into being and international pressure exerted to try and bring everyone into the fold. Continue reading “Review: The Bomb: a partial history – First Blast, Tricycle Theatre”

Review: From Elsewhere: the message…, Tricycle Theatre

Part of The Bomb: A Partial History – First Blast season at the Tricycle Theatre

“One kilo, a bag of sugar…you could make a bomb with THAT”

Set in a Whitehall antechamber in 1940, the opening play in the first part of the Tricycle’s The Bomb – a partial history is Zinnie Harris’ From Elsewhere: the message…. Scientists Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch have been conducting research in their laboratory in Birmingham looking at the discoveries of other people working in the field of trying achieve effective nuclear fission and hit upon a massive discovery. But as they wait to be admitted to the War Committee to give their revelation which has the potential to utterly change the course of the war, doubts creep in as to whether they, two expat Germanic Jews will be taken seriously.

What emerges is an intermittently fascinating tale that takes us through the early years of nuclear research and the slow realisation of the terrible power that the work that these physicists are carrying out will wield in the wrong hands. The race for knowledge was happening in several places, but it was Peierls’ fleeing from Germany where he had been working with the world-leader in atomic research Niel Bohr and subsequently sharing his knowledge with Frisch’s own advances that proved the critical moment. This is all described rather entertainingly, interspersed with their nervousness at having such a responsibility on their hands in such an unfriendly environment – as underlined by Simon Chandler’s sniffy clerk. Continue reading “Review: From Elsewhere: the message…, Tricycle Theatre”