TV Review: It’s A Sin

La. It’s A Sin is a triumphant piece of television written by Russell T Davies, a crucial if challenging watch about how HIV/AIDS cut through the gay community in 1980s London

“We’ve got this great big killer disease and it’s happening in silence”

On the face of it, a five-parter on the AIDS crisis in 1980s London isn’t what you’d necessarily pick to schedule in the depths of a Covid-blighted January. But Russell T Davies and Channel 4 have absolutely hit the mark with It’s A Sin, Dipping every couple of years into the lives of a group of friends who find each other in London’s queer corners, this journey from 1981 to 1991 takes place under the ever-growing and ever-threatening shadow of HIV/AIDS.

It’s the kind of script where you can feel that every word has been intimately felt, with characters based on Davies’ own life, At the heart of it lies Olly Alexander’s Ritchie, an 18 year old would-be law student just waiting to explode out of the closet from his Isle of Wight homelife. It being the 80s, he soon finds himself in a chaotic but fab houseshare in which a new queer family develops – Roscoe (Omari Douglas) escaping his Nigerian family’s plan to straighten him out, the dreamy Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) with his douching advice, quiet Welsh boy Colin (a superb Callum Scott Howells) and Jill (an equally excellent Lydia West) who tempts him over onto the drama course and establishes one of the key relationships of the show (reflecting one of Davies’ own and in a neat touch, the real Jill appears as the fictional Jill’s mum). Continue reading “TV Review: It’s A Sin”

Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9

Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications

“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”

It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.

Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst. 

Nicola Walker-ometer
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12

Series 12 of Doctor Who goes hard on what we think we know about the Time Lord and finishes in a blaze of glory

“You can be a pacifist tomorrow. Today you just need to survive”

I don’t think I have ever minded anything that happened in Doctor Who so much that I have declared it cancelled, even at the point where all the magnificent character development by Catherine Tate’s Donna was undone in a plot point of real cruelty. So it is hard to take so-called fans of the show seriously when torrents of complaints are unleashed about the sanctity of a world of science fiction that has long enjoyed challenging and expanding what we know about characters we love. (See my Episode 1 review here.)

So it should come as little surprise that I really rather enjoyed series 12 of Doctor Who. Across the season as a whole, I felt that Jodie Whittaker has settled more into the role, especially as the writers feel more confident in finding her voice. And the balancing act of having three companions in the TARDIS has been more assured now that the business of introducing them is over, allowing the group to splinter off for large chunks of episodes has allowed much more of their characters to shine through, particularly for Mandip Gill’s Yaz (who I am mightily glad survived that final episode – I thought she was doomed after her chat with Graham). Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 12”

TV Review: Fortitude Series 2

“People died.
And now people are dying again and what the fuck are they doing about it”

Series 1 of Fortitude was one of those genuinely unexpected dramas which unveiled its genre-spanning ways with some proper jaw-dropping moments, so Sky Atlantic’s decision to commission a second series wasn’t entirely unexpected (though you do wonder what viewing figures are like over there). Though having revealed itself as a sci-fi/horror/psychological thriller/serial killer murder mystery with political and environmental themes thrown in for a good measure, creator Simon Donald was faced with a decision about which way to go to continue the story.

Or, as it turned out, he didn’t make the decision but rather decided to pursue them all once again. And as is proving a recurring theme with shows I’ve been catching up on (Fearless, The Halcyon), the desire to develop multi-stranded complex dramas falls short once again with the writing ending up serving a jack of all trades and master of none. There’s just so much going on in so many of the episodes that it becomes increasingly hard to keep track of exactly what is what, who knows what, who is doing what to whom, and where we are in any of the stories. Continue reading “TV Review: Fortitude Series 2”

TV Review: Fortitude Season 2 Episode 1

“The reason we can’t find the head in the snow is that someone has taken it away”

Just a quickie for this as I’m way behind (the series premiered at the end of January). I only caught up with Fortitude’s first season over New Year and I have to say I kinda loved the way it went from interestingly good to genuine batshit wtfuckery. It wasn’t necessarily calling out for a second series though and from the evidence of the first episode, it’s not immediately clear that it’s strictly necessary, even if you throw Dennis Quaid and Michelle Fairley in there as a new family. 

A new crime has been committed hence layering in all sorts of new mystery but in a town where they’d previously boasted of never having had any crime, it kinda feels like overkill. And the writing feels caught between referencing previous events and starting completely anew, anthology-style, ie Luke Treadaway’s return for what appears to be a single episode versus the new Quaid/Fairley family unit. Sofie Gråbøl and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s chemistry as the first couple of Fortitude remains a thing of joy though (so is probably doomed) and I’m more than happy to give the show the benefit of the doubt, despite a slightly shaky start.

 

Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court

“How much you think we’re gonna be worth when Freedom comes?”

There is scheduled to be at least another six parts to Suzan-Lori Parks’ ambitious play cycle but don’t let that put you off, the three hours of Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) are well spent in exploring race, slavery and the US civil war and how its pernicious legacy permeates through even to contemporary (US) society. Jo Bonney’s production is not always the easiest to watch but then how could it be, rather it seeks to provoke serious thought and consideration about what it meant – and what it still means – to be free.

To take on such a grand narrative and possibly to alleviate some of the intense seriousness, Parks has playfully borrowed from a range of storytelling techniques, most notably the Greeks, And through them establishes her interpretation of the African-American experience – the magpie nature of Emilio Sosa’s costume design with details both period and present-day, reinforcing the continuing relevance of its message.  Continue reading “Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Royal Court”

TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2

“We underestimated her”

The first series of Line of Duty was well-received by critics and audiences alike, hence a second series of Jed Mercurio’s police show being commissioned. With the centre of the anti-corruption team AC-12’s investigation DCI Gates having reached a conclusion of sorts, their attentions are turned onto Keeley Hawes’ DI Lindsay Denton, the sole survivor of an ambush on a witness protection scheme that leaves three police officers dead. Suspicions are aroused by some suspect decision-making on her part but it’s soon evident that there’s much more to the case, not least in the tendrils that connect it to the past.

Series 1 was very good but Series 2 seriously raises the bar, firstly by engaging in some Spooks-level business in casting the excellent Jessica Raine and well…spoilers, but secondly in getting from Hawes the performance of a lifetime in a masterpiece of a character. Denton is so multi-faceted that she’d beat a hall of mirrors at its own game and from her manipulative use of HR to her way with noisy neighbours to the shocking abuse she suffers in custody to the machinations of her superiors, the slipperiness of this woman is merciless and magisterial in its execution, its inscrutable nature utterly compelling. Continue reading “TV Review: Line of Duty Series 2”

TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4

“This is something I can’t ignore”

Typical really, the first series of Scott & Bailey that I actually get to watch live on air and it’s the first one that disappointed me. I caught up quickly with the first three over the last few weeks so that I would be up to speed with Series 4 but all in all, I didn’t feel like it was up to the standard. No real overarching story emerged across the eight episodes and without the heightened drama that would have added, this just felt like a retread of some of the same old plot points.

An ill-advised affair with a colleague, a promotion not taken due to personal circumstances, Janet’s kids playing up, tough but tender relations with Gill…it does feel like we’ve been here before. And though there are new twists, none of them really took flight – Rachel’s step up to sergeant never really foregrounded, a hint of romance for Janet left until the very end. The individual cases that came up maintained the usual level of interest but something was lacking in the end. Continue reading “TV Review: Scott and Bailey Series 4”

Radio Review: Pride and Prejudice, Radio 4

“I think the temptations will be too strong in Brighton”

 Just a quickie for this 3 hour adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which was spread over 3 weeks and so proved to be quite a drawn-out experience. Charlotte Jones’ dramatisation, directed by Sally Avens, worked extremely well, thanks to a spiffingly high-quality cast. Current RSC darling Pippa Nixon ad Jamie Parker took on the leading couple, Samantha Spiro as Mrs Bennett, Toby Jones as Mr Collins, Fenella Woolgar as Miss Bingley…the list goes on. And narrated by Amanda  Root, it was practically tailor-made for me.

Which made the scheduling a tad frustrating, the week-long gaps a little too long for my apparent attention span these days whereas I would have rather binged on the whole thing in one go. But it was good. Parker taking a little getting used to as Darcy but getting there, connecting well with Nixon’s vibrant Elizabeth. Lydia Wilson making a compassionate Jane, Michelle Terry the same with Charlotte Lucas, David Troughton’s Mr Bennett resignedly pleasant against Spiro’s over-exuberant wife. A genuine pleasure.