Lockdown TV review: Belgravia (ITV)

The first couple of episodes of Julian Fellowes’ latest TV series Belgravia are quite frankly an embarrassment

“How strange that we should be having a ball when we are on the brink of war”

Who knows what hold Julian Fellowes has over the British cultural industries as once again, another major commission comes through for this painfully lazy of writers. I should have resisted Belgravia but with a cast that includes Harriet Walter, Tara Fitzgerald and Saskia Reeves, not to mention Penny Layden and Adam James, curiosity got the better of me and by the crin, I wish it hadn’t. Lucy Mangan puts it scathingly well in her review for the Guardian and I couldn’t have put it any better. Avoid like the, well, plague.

Photo: ITV

Not-a-review: Shipwreck, Almeida Theatre

Who wants a play about Trump? Not me. Shipwreck proves a crashing bore at the Almeida

From across the room I saw the President, torchlight playing across his visage.
And the violins began, and the low rumble of the timpani.
I screamed. I ran.”

My fault really. On a day when the people were descending on London to march, my attempt to escape people talking/moaning about politics was kyboshed by picking a play which featured little else but people talking/moaning about politics. Anne Washburn’s Shipwreck just wasn’t the one for me, though it is cool she has two shows in town (even if it is the wrong one that got the transfer).

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Shipwreck is booking at the Almeida until 30th March

 

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo as Dalton Trumbo
Johnny Depp – Black Mass as James “Whitey” Bulger
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant as Hugh Glass
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs as Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl as Lili Elbe / Einar Wegener

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett – Carol as Carol Aird
Brie Larson – Room as Joy “Ma” Newsome
Helen Mirren – Woman in Gold as Maria Altmann
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn as Eilis Lacey
Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back as Elaine “Laney” Brooks Continue reading “22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees”

Review: Gaslight, Royal and Derngate

“Suddenly, I’m beginning not to trust my memory at all“

I do like me some Tara Fitzgerald and reckon she’s probably under-rated both in my personal pantheon of favourite actresses and by the industry at large. So I was more than happy to get the train back up to Northampton (after last month’s Brave New World) to see her take the lead in a new revival of Gaslight, despite not having enjoyed the play the one time I previously saw it in Salisbury. And fickle as I am, I enjoyed it much more here, Lucy Bailey’s production rising to the challenges of the somewhat hokey writing.

For I don’t think anyone could truly claim that Patrick Hamilton’s play is particularly well-written or that well-constructed, its almost farcical nature needs careful treatment in this more sceptical day and age but that is exactly what it gets here. Fitzgerald plays Bella Manningham, a Victorian wife convinced that she is losing her mind as did her mother, and with her husband often away on business, the fears that her house is haunted grow near-insurmountable. But are they real or is something more cruelly manipulative afoot? Continue reading “Review: Gaslight, Royal and Derngate”

Review: Oresteia, Almeida Theatre

There isn’t one true version. There isn’t. There isn’t one story — a line of truth that stretches start to end.”

I saw Robert Icke’s extraordinary new version of Oresteia on the same day that I watched episode 9 of series 5 of Game of Thrones [here be spoilers] and gods alive, that was a brutal day of dead children. It was also a day of some sensational acting – Stephen Dillane and Tara Fitzgerald both doing excellent work in the North, and Angus Wright and Lia Williams in blistering form in North London in the first show of the Almeida’s Greeks season which on this evidence, looks set to be a thrilling highlight of the year.

Described as an adaptation by Icke of Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays detailing the fall of the House of Atreus, the reality feels more all-encompassing, a transfiguration of the drama(s) into something genuinely new that really examines the nature of Greek tragedies in light of contemporary theatre. Appropriately, Ivo van Hove was in the audience having spoken on a panel discussion earlier in the day, and it was clear to see that Icke is in part paying homage to the Belgian with influences both specific and more general clear to see in the direction here.

Continue reading “Review: Oresteia, Almeida Theatre”

DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)

“We’ve been getting phone calls, text messages, emails…can’t trace where or who from”

Another drama about online shenanigans, as should be evident from the titular ‘U’, U Be Dead is an ITV television movie from 2009 and written by Gwyneth Hughes. Jan and Debra are in the midst of preparing for a lavish wedding but when they start to receive threatening messages and anonymous phone calls as part of a systematic campaign of harassment, their lives are thrown into complete turmoil. 

It’s all a bit schlocky to be completely honest (but then it is ITV) though there are some strong performances that shine through. Tara Fitzgerald unravels spectacularly as Debra, the target of the most vitriolic aspects of the stalking and clearly far too good for David Morrissey’s rather taciturn psychiatrist/speedboat racer, whose head is easily turned by pert new arrival Bethan played by Lucy Griffith, even in the midst of the crisis. Continue reading “DVD Review: U Be Dead (2009)”

DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)

“We’re not the platonic sort Jane”

The 2006 BBC take on Jane Eyre marked Ruth Wilson’s major television debut and in quite some style too. Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous heroine is surely one of literature’s most loved but it is a challenge that Wilson rises to excellently, with the kind of nuanced sensitive portrayal that will ensure that this version will remain near the top of the ever-growing pile of adaptations of this story. Alongside Toby Stephens as Rochester, she drives this clear-sighted, uncomplicated retelling over four hour-long episodes as Jane negotiates the many travails of her life.

From being abandoned as a poor relation with a dour aunt to the unfriendly walls of Lowood School and then on to her first job as governess to a young girl in a household where the promise of love and genuine affection offer a first chance at happiness, but also where secrets abound and threaten to snatch it away before it has even started. Wilson makes Jane a straightforward girl, always pragmatic in the face of adversity and even as she melts in the face of kindness, whether from Lorraine Ashbourne’s kindly Mrs Fairfax or the one that eventually comes from Rochester, she has enough nous to be able to retain her poise. Stephens really is good here too, balancing the macho arrogance of the man with a more romantic sensibility that comes through but always keeping each element in play so we never forget the complexity of the man, yet remaining entirely drawn by his charisma.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Jane Eyre (2006)”

Radio Review: Second Body + Art and Gadg, Radio 4

“Be careful Anna, of the dark forces of the human mind”

I knew I liked Tara Fitzgerald’s voice, but I hadn’t realised I loved it. Listening to the radio play Second Body that featured her in a starring role was a genuine auditory pleasure which made me want to track down illegal ways of recording it off the iPlayer so that I could listen to it over again. Trevor Preston’s swirlingly dark drama centres on Fitzgerald’s Anna, a successful artist but one driven by haunting and disturbing visions and as she seeks to put together some of her work for a big new exhibition, a worrying prophecy of a death stalks her subconscious.

Toby Swift’s production brings a wonderfully surreal quality to Anna’s experiences, full of textured sound effects and evocative atmosphere, and so as the stuff of her dreams starts to invade her waking life, we’re never quite sure how real any of it is – whether she is possessed of some supernatural gift or if actually, her artistic temperament masks some signs of mental illness. Fitzgerald’s honeyed tones constantly keep us guessing as her voice glides like velvet through the twists and turns as friends, agents and colleagues gather round to try and guide her through these troubled times.  Continue reading “Radio Review: Second Body + Art and Gadg, Radio 4”