TV Review: Twenty Twelve (Series 2)

Despite an excellent Samuel Barnett, the second series of Twenty Twelve isn’t quite at the level of the first, though still very enjoyable

“I’m not from the sanitary world, I’m from Yorkshire”

Perhaps inevitably, the second series of Twenty Twelve doesn’t quite live up the revelatory quality of the first, the tinkering with the formula knocking the exact chemistry of the ensemble ever so slightly off-balance. Split into two (although you wouldn’t know it watching it now), the final episode ran just a couple of days before the Opening Ceremony of London 2012, and the show’s success was such that it made the move from BBC4 to BBC2.

In many ways, the recipe for John Morton’s mockumentary series didn’t change. The Olympic Deliverance Commission continued their hapless march towards the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games, battling their own ineptitude and institutitional intransigency as personal ambition sets up against religious rights, the Royal Family, the nation’s comparative lack of interest in women’s football and sportsmen’s innate lack of personality to name but a few. Continue reading “TV Review: Twenty Twelve (Series 2)”

Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston

“I can’t handle another book right now”

Quite the coup for the Rose Kingston this, not just in John Malkovich’s London debut as a director but in the English language premiere of Zach Helm’s 2006 play Good Canary. The two go hand in hand though, Malkovich having previously helmed its opening run in France (as Le Bon Canari) and then its subsequent production in Mexico (El Buen Canario), a clear affinity for the material bringing him back time and again.

The play is a hard-hitting, at times searing, examination of mental illness and how they intersect both with the creative process and the reality of being a woman in the contemporary USA. On top of the world after great notices for his first novel, Harry Lloyd’s Jack is mulling over a big bucks offer for the next but his wife Annie, Freya Mavor, is self-medicating her mental health with a hefty speed addiction and neither are clear what impact such a change might have on their lives. Continue reading “Review: Good Canary, Rose Kingston”

TV Review: Unforgotten

“All these cases where people pretends to be one thing for half a century and then turn out to be something else”

The insanity that is the scheduling wars between the BBC and ITV often throws up random anomalies but rarely has the result been something as rewarding as a surfeit of Nicola Walker. Having recently made River for the BBC and Unforgotten for ITV, both police dramas were premiered in the same week and as six-part dramas, are reaching their climax at the same time too. And what has been particularly pleasing is the fact that both have proved to be highly watchable and interesting takes on the genre.

Chris Lang’s Unforgotten focused on a cold case from nearly 40 years ago as skeletal remains are found in the basement of a derelict house and in the cleverly constructed first episode, the four disparate characters that we have been following are eventually tied together as their phone numbers are found in the victim’s diary. Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s DS Sunny Khan soon identify him as a Jimmy Sullivan but the show focuses as much on the effect of long-buried secrets on the potential suspects as it does on the case itself. Continue reading “TV Review: Unforgotten”

DVD Review: Now Is Good

“When Tessa dies, can we go on holiday?”

Now is Good is a remarkably clear-eyed entry into the teen weepie genre, based on Jenny Downham’s novel Before I Die. Ol Parker’s film centres on Tessa, a girl dying of leukaemia but who has put together a bucket list to ensure she enjoys every last moment. Chief among these is losing her virginity and falling in love, giving the story its main thrust, but more moving is Tessa’s relationships with her family and friends and even with herself as the inevitable comes ever closer.

Dakota Fanning is the sole US interloper in what is otherwise a very British film but her strong and sarcastic performance and the mordant strain of humour – mainly delivered by Edgar Canham’s younger brother Cal – keeps the sentimentality from overwhelming much of the story. Jeremy Irvine’s Adam is a more interesting love interest than one might expect and the delicacy of their emotional journey is well-handled throughout. Continue reading “DVD Review: Now Is Good”

Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre

“This thing – this thing is not over yet….”

Ivo van Hove’s revelatory approach to Arthur Miller’s work has set the bar almost impossibly high for other directors and so it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that Timothy Sheader is first up with All My Sons, the opening production in this year’s season in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. It’s not that it’s a bad production, not at all, but rather it just feels a little pedestrian, too traditional to really make the heart beat faster in the way brilliant theatre should, and in the way previous productions have done.

There are elements that work well – the span of the play over a day is perfectly suited to the night that slowly falls over the park, the planes that fly noisily overhead add a piquancy of their own and the well-cast company are excellent. Tom Mannion’s Joe Keller is the patriarch whose collusion in a terrible fraud hangs ominously like a cloud over his family, Charles Aitken and Amy Nuttall are moving as son Chris and his intended (with strings) Ann and Bríd Brennan is fearsomely fantastic as the delusional Kate. Continue reading “Review: All My Sons, Open Air Theatre”

DVD Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

You won’t see better for your grey pound”

The opening quarter of John Madden’s film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might leave you wondering about the state of British comedy and our collective tastes, given that it really was quite the box office success in 2011. A unconnected collection of retired and retiring Brits all decide to up sticks and move to a hotel in the Indian city of Jaipur, though it turns out the judicious use of Photoshop means it is not quite the luxurious venue it has set itself up to be. Their reasons for going are various – personal, medical, debt-fuelled – and as we delve into each of these characters, we see how their journeys are just as much emotional as they are physical.

The film’s success was practically guaranteed with its luxurious casting of the crème de la crème of this particular age bracket – Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, its pretty much a dream collection and they add a veneer of class to the whole film which pulls it through its undoubtedly tricksier moments. These come during the aforementioned opening section which seems to set the film up as a broad culture-clash comedy, poking easy fun at the discomfort of elderly travellers arriving in a completely foreign land. Is it funny? Are racist comments in this context acceptable because they’re delivered with a wonderfully acerbic bite by Maggie Smith? I guess it is a decision you make for yourself but it feels a fine line. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

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”

TV Review: Luther, Series 3

 “You assert this fabulous moral conscience John, this adherence to unwritten law”

Despite finding Ruth Wilson’s performance as Alice Morgan one of the greatest things on TV, it was with a slightly heavy heart that I heard she would be returning to Luther for its third series. The way in which she was crowbarred into the second was no great success and I feared that familiarity might breed yet more contempt, but my faith in writer/creator Neil Cross was strong enough to see me through, along with the news that favourite-in-these-parts Elliot Cowan would be part of the guest cast. 

The 4 part series essentially took the form of two 2-parters – the first making literal the horror trope of there being something under the bed and the second exploring vigilante justice, along with a series-long story which saw Internal Affairs turn the heat on Luther himself, trying to get to the bottom of just why so many of the people around him ended up dead. This latter strand didn’t really work for me, rehashing Dermot Crowley’s Schenk’s original role in the show, and adding a note of false jeopardy that never felt like it was going to go anywhere substantive.
Continue reading “TV Review: Luther, Series 3”

Review The Resistance of Mrs Brown, Radio 4

“I never miss an opportunity to go unnoticed”

I love me some wartime drama especially when it involves the role of women, TV films like Housewife 49 and plays like The Firewatchers fill my heart with joy, and so the 15 minute drama for this week (formerly the Women’s Hour drama) fell very much into my field of interest, with an added twist of alternate history in the mix. Ed Harris’ The Resistance of Mrs Brown imagines a world where the British were defeated at Dunkirk and a Nazi Military Administration has been set up in London. Joan Brown works as a tea lady for the new powers-that-be and is determined to keep her head down, especially after the death of her husband, but when she advertises for a new lodger, she is contacted by the Resistance who want to use her unique position to help strike a blow against the Nazis.

Amanda Root’s delicate clipped tones make a beautifully unwilling heroine out of Mrs Brown, who is pushed along by the forthright Mrs Crace, a delightfully matter-of-fact Adjoa Andoh and Simon Bubb’s Wode who try their best to cajole her into going along with their plans, and using her as a narrator is an inspired choice by director Jonquil Panting as we’re constantly reminded of her reticent fragility which ends up responding beautifully to the challenges that are presented to her. Whether its her daughter, her boss or the men she serves tea to who come to know her a little, she is pulled one way or another until she finally gains the confidence to stand up for what she truly believes in and consequently makes decisions according to her own conscience. Continue reading “Review The Resistance of Mrs Brown, Radio 4”

Review: The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, National Theatre

Featuring 450 characters played by 27 actors with not a word spoken during its 100 minutes running time, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is certainly an eyebrow-raiser and an experience, but is it really theatre? I’m still not sure. A Peter Handke play, although presented here by Meredith Oakes in a new translation which has caused a fair bit of mirth considering there’s no talking, so perhaps a new ‘interpretation’ might have been a better way of describing it?

In terms of what happens, well a lot passes by on stage but equally nothing actually happens. People walk, run, skip, jump, limp across the stage in various guises, some dressed as recognisable figures, most just regularly clad, and tiny little stories are played out during their journeys from one side of the stage to other. Life, death, tragedy, sex and lots of comedy are on display here and it is fitfully awe-inspiringly good, especially when there’s the stronger narrative arc that engages the attention, like the terrorist attack towards the end. Continue reading “Review: The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, National Theatre”