DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures

“There was a motivation…” 

This is a curious thing – a drama-documentary of legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie which utilises a double flashback structure to form a kind of biopic of her life, but one with an additional focus on her mysterious disappearance over several days after a particularly traumatic, though unexplained, experience. Anna Massey plays Christie late in life, at a party celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Mousetrap’s West End run, where she fields questions from journalists about her life, the answers to which are played out in flashback. Olivia Williams takes on the younger role who is meeting with a psychiatrist to try and explain her experiences, which are also replayed to us, through the delicate probing of her psyche. 

It is all elegantly done in this BBC adaptation, written and directed by Richard Curson Smith, covering the key points of her life – a happy childhood devastated by the loss of her father, the freedom of becoming a volunteer nurse and then pharmacist during the Great War, the beginnings of her career as a writer – but with little real insight or inspiration in what it is saying. The scenes around her disappearance have more meat to them but again fail to really click as the build-up to the grand reveal of what caused it falls rather flat in the final analysis. The split narrative adds nothing and instead subtract substantially from the pace of the film, continually frustrating as we switch fruitlessly between the two.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Agatha Christie – A Life In Pictures”

TV Review: Humans Series 1

“You’re just a stupid machine aren’t you”

I wasn’t going to write Humans up but I’ve spoken so enthusiastically about it with several people since I watched the whole thing in three days and so thought I’d better recommend it even further. If there’s any justice in the world, Gemma Chan will win all sorts of awards for her performance as Anita (later Mia), the Synth or human-like android that has become the must-have accessory for domestic service in this parallel present-day universe. 

Anita is bought by the Hawkins family who soon start to twig that something isn’t right in the way she is behaving and as Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s drama continues over its 8 episodes, we come to see that the lines between human and machine have been considerably blurred by technological advancement and its potential to be exploited identified as a key priority for the nefarious powers-that-be.

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DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife

“Why do you think it is always Conservative politicians who end up in these kind of sexual scandals?”

The list of actresses that I just LOVE is ridiculously long and seemingly grows by the day, but Juliet Stevenson has long been on there and a discussion with a colleague just before I popped off to see Happy Days reminded me that one of my earliest memories of her work was in 1995’s The Politician’s Wife, which due to the lovely folk of 4OD, one can watch at one’s leisure. And so I did. And whilst there may be a hint of the rose-tinted glow about it, I have to say I really enjoyed delving back into the story.

Set in a Conservative administration largely inspired by the heady days of John Major’s Back to Basics campaign, Minister for Families Duncan Matlock finds himself mired in tabloid scandal as his affair with ostensible researcher Jennifer Caird is exposed to all and sundry. Devoted wife Flora is left in shock, at first by her husband’s dalliances but then by the revelation that several party grandees knew long before she did and so she plots a calculated revenge with help from some unexpected quarters. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Politician’s Wife”

(P)review: King Lear, National Theatre

“We cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” 

One of the hottest tickets of the New Year is undoubtedly Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale tackling King Lear for the National Theatre, a show which has now started previews in the Olivier. I saw it tonight but as press night is a week away next Thursday, I’m opting to preview the show rather than reviewing it per se, offering tasters and teasers about what to expect whilst trying my best to avoid spoilers.First up, you can read an interview here with Simon Russell Beale about how he got his hair did. I assume more features and things are due this weekend as this was the only one I could find about this production. The show currently comes in at a shade under 3 hours 30 minutes and though my initial reaction was along the lines of

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DVD Review: Luther Series 2

“They’ve set up a new unit”

Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.

For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore. Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 2”

DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin

“Dirt is the enemy”

Breaking the Mould was a 2009 TV movie for BBC4, starring Denis Lawson and Dominic West, about the development of penicillin for use as a medicine. It occupies that strange ground of fictionalised reality, in that it is based on real people and events but contains invented scenes “for the purposes of the narrative”. Added to that is a rather tight timeframe of 80 minutes in which the story is told, which results in a rather lightweight affair, which is nonetheless intermittently entertaining.

Starting in 1938, after beginning with one of those annoying flash-forwards to the end of the story, the film focuses on a group of scientists at the Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford, led by Australian Howard Florey. Aided by the German Ernst Chain and the English Norman Heatley, he was preoccupied creation of a stable form of penicillin that could be developed for medical use, following Fleming’s initial discovery of its antibacterial properties. Against the antipathy of the scientific community and the hardship imposed by the declaration of WWII, their determination to succeed eventually led to one of the most significant discoveries of the century, although it doesn’t always necessarily feel like it here. Continue reading “DVD Review: Breaking the Mould – The Story of Penicillin”

Review: Written on the Heart, Duchess Theatre

“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”

In perhaps one of the more surprising transfer moves of recent months, the RSC have brought last year’s production of David Edgar’s new play Written on the Heart into the West End to take up residency in the Duchess Theatre. I say surprising because it is a good while since the show ran in Stratford and though it received relatively good notices, they hardly set the world alight. But to town it has come and to be honest with you although it is nice to see a wealth of plays occupying West End houses, I can’t see it lasting very long in the cut-throat theatrical ecology.  

Edgar’s play is an almightily verbose work about the creation of the King James Bible. We start with James I’s decision to commission an authorised English Bible nearing its end in 1610 in the midst of endless committees debating the translation of every word. We then move around in time to see William Tynedale reaping the grim consequences of creating his own version in the reign of Henry VIII and also dip into the reign of Elizabeth I during the decatholicisation of many churches, where a young clergyman sees Tyndale’s work for the first time. As we then return to 1610, we see that that young man, Lancelot Andrewes, is now spearheading the Authorised version and recognise the debt that he owes to Tyndale. Continue reading “Review: Written on the Heart, Duchess Theatre”

Review: Hay Fever, Rose Theatre Kingston

“People stare in astonishment when we say the most ordinary things”

In mounting a new production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, the Rose Theatre, Kingston has managed another casting coup after attracting Judi Dench out west earlier this year, although their plans haven’t quite gone according to schedule. Celia Imrie agreed to take on the lead role of Judith Bliss, but subsequent filming commitments meant she can only fulfil half the run, so Nichola McAuliffe will be stepping in for the final two weeks. Still, a very interesting cast under Stephen Unwin’s direction, makes this an intriguing proposition.

Set in the Blisses’ family home in the 1920s, Judith, a recently retired stage actress, David, a self-absorbed novelist, and their two equally unconventional children make for a eccentric family grouping given to melodramatic theatrical excesses. On the weekend we see them, they have each invited someone, unbeknownst to the others, a stuffy diplomat, a shy girl, an athletic boxer and a fashionable sophisticate and the scene is set for comedic chaos as endless scenes and permutations are played out by the Blisses and their unsuspecting house guests. Continue reading “Review: Hay Fever, Rose Theatre Kingston”