News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added

Ahead of National Theatre at Home’s one year anniversary on 1 December, the National Theatre has today announced the next filmed productions to be added to the streaming service, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Joining the platform today is Simon Godwin’s critically acclaimed 2018 production of Antony & Cleopatra in the Olivier theatre, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo playing Shakespeare’s famous fated couple. Then the iconic and multi-award-winning production of War Horsebased on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, will be available from 1 December until 31 January 2022 on demand internationally for the first time since its premiere 14 years ago. It will be available with British Sign Language, audio description and captions. Continue reading “News: One year of National Theatre at Home – New titles added”

Film review: the Johnny English trilogy

Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again prove ideal brainless festive watching

“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari Desert carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of sherbet lemons”

I don’t believe in any of my pleasures being guilty, if something makes you smile then who is anyone else to dictate whether that’s acceptable? The Johhny English film trilogy – Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) – holds a special place in my heart (well, the first two do) as they formed the backdrop to a couple of great family holidays and several of the funnier lines have snuck into the family vernacular.

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English is an amusing entry into the series. Rowan Atkinson’s English is a hapless MI7 employee whose bumbling sees their top agent accidentally killed and then all their other agents massacred in a bomb at his funeral. As the sole agent left, he has to thwart a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and decipher John Malkovich’s comedy villain French accent. Continue reading “Film review: the Johnny English trilogy”

Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)

My lockdown watching doesn’t get much better with the horribly dreary Red Joan which sorely misuses the treasure that is Dame Judi Dench

“You did this, didn’t you”

Hurrah, you might think, a film with Dame Judi Dench in the lead part. But hold on a mo, Red Joan is also a Trevor Nunn film – take that as you will – and should it ever have reached award conversations, Dench would surely have had to be in the supporting actress category, such is her role in the way the story is lugubriously doled out like a barely dripping tap.

She plays Joan Stanley, a character loosely based on Soviet spy Melita Norwood who passed on details of the British nuclear programme to Moscow, who finds Special Branch knocking on her door and muttering treason. But the majority of the film is told in flashback, as Sophie Cookson plays the younger Joan who back in the 1940s, had her head turned at Cambridge University by the flirty Leo (Tom Hughes with an unconscionable accent) and her politics turned by the horrors of war. Continue reading “Lockdown film review: Red Joan (2018)”

Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)

Baron Fellowes of West Stafford stretches not a single muscle in pumping out more of the same in the tiresomely dull Downton Abbey the movie

“I want everything to stop being a struggle”

To crib the tagline of a certain jukebox musical (here we go again…) you already know whether you’re a fan of Downton Abbey the movie. By any stretch of the imagination, it is just an extension of the TV series and so is guaranteed to maintain that same level of comfort that you have always got from the Granthams et al, whether that’s good or bad.

For me, it means a thoroughly unchallenging film and one which proves increasingly dull. (For reference, I’ve only ever seen (some of) the Christmas Day episodes as my parents are fans.) The hook of the film is that it is now 1927 and King George V and Queen Mary are coming to stay for the evening and heavens to Betsy, we’re all of a dither. Continue reading “Film review: Downton Abbey (2019)”

Review: Consent, Harold Pinter Theatre

With a mostly new cast, Nina Raine’s deeply considered and thought-provoking Consent transfers from the National to the Harold Pinter

“It’s a fight between two opposing narratives”

Nina Raine’s Consent is yet another play to make the West End transfer out of the National Theatre’s Dorfman space. And a well-timed one it is too as even though it is only a year since it ran, the landscape when talking about how aspects of society deal with sexual assault and rape is significantly different. Read my 4 star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Consent is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11th August

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Review: Photograph 51, Noël Coward

“The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race” 

The biggest shame about the long awaited return of Nicole Kidman to the London stage is that it has given many a lazy hack an excuse to rehash ‘that’ Charles Spencer quote without considering just what they are reducing this Academy Award-winning actor to. Which perhaps is an irony that is suited to Photograph 51, the play that has brought her here, a portrait of British scientist Rosalind Franklin whose role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, of “the secret to life” itself as the publicity breathily puts it, is one that has been shamefully sidelined.

Anna Ziegler’s play explores the life of the research scientist with surprising depth and clarity – there’s no danger of being blinded by science here – as she follows the two rival teams trying to crack the code of the double helix. Franklin was the only woman working on either team and there is no hiding of the fact that she was strong-willed to the point of being obstinate and innately distrustful of those around her, even her King’s College colleagues, and thus showing how personality as much as intelligence had a role to play in the discoveries that were to come. Continue reading “Review: Photograph 51, Noël Coward”

Short Film Review #15

 

The danger of ripping the piss out of something is that you often leave yourself open to the same charge. And so whilst Brian Crano’s 2008 film Official Selection sets about parodying many of the tropes of contemporary (and possibly pretentious) short film making, it takes a lengthy 10 minutes to do what it basically achieves in half the time.

It is undoubtedly amusing: watching Rebecca Hall deliver po-faced dialogue and simultaneously share an apple with a native American, Amanda Seyfried rubbing apple slices everywhere, Stephen Campbell Moore as a random astronaut and Dominic Cooper doing smell-the-fart acting, amongst many others, is lots of fun. And it is comical because much of it is true, so many of the arty shots here are highly recognisable as ways in which people have tried, and largely failed, to make their films more interesting. It’s worth the watch, but had it been half the length it might well have been twice as funny. Continue reading “Short Film Review #15”

Review: Chimerica, Almeida Theatre

“I’m looking for the Tank Man” 

There’s a moment of genius near the end of Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Chimerica that manages that all-too-rare feat of managing to unearth something genuinely new out of the familiar, challenging the way we hold viewpoints and the assumptions that come with them. It is a startling realisation, excellently executed and one which allows for an interesting reinterpretation of what has gone before. Kirkwood’s subject is the fast-changing and complex relationship between China and the USA and sprawls ambitiously over 24 years and multiple storylines to create an unwieldy epic, co-produced with Headlong, that just might be one of the most interesting and exciting pieces of new writing in London.

At the heart of the story is Joe Schofield, a photojournalist responsible for one of the iconic images of the twentieth century in capturing the moment a protestor stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, who gets the sniff of a new story when he finds out the man might be living in America. As he pursues this new lead through the nooks and crannies of Chinatown to glittering political fundraisers, his singlemindedness threatens his relationships with the friends and lovers around him, but also with his key Chinese friend and contact for whom the price to pay is significantly higher.  Continue reading “Review: Chimerica, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right

What could be more innocent than visiting the vicar of Cockchaffington?”

So having completely tumbled for the charms of The Way We Live Now, I turned to the following BBC Anthony Trollope adaptation He Knew He Was Right which was also reworked by Andrew Davies and broadcast in 2004. Trollope’s main concern here was the corrosive effect of jealousy and particularly on his lead character of Louis Trevelyan whose marriage and family are broken up as he struggles to deal with the independent mind of his wife Emily as he suspects her of having an affair, and suffers the consequences of a gossipy Victorian society.

And thus the problems started for me – I never once found myself believing or really caring for Louis or Emily or their relationship. Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser both struggled with the likeability factor for me and so as a central plot point, the story lost me from the beginning. More engaging was Emily’s younger sister Nora’s romantic travails as she falls for a penniless writer – Christina Cole and Stephen Campbell Moore just lovely together, and another love story as a kind but poor young companion falls for her mistress’s great-nephew against society’s rules. Continue reading “DVD Review: He Knew He Was Right”