TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)

With its third instalment The Promise, Messiah loses its way a little bit given the high standards of the first two serials

“I wasn’t alone, other people were there”

The problem with doing things so damn well, is that you then have to live up to those standards. Messiah found itself in such a position after a first and second series that helped to redefine the serial killer genre and with  2004’s The Promise, it struggled to meet that bar. Written again by Lizzie Mickery, it suffers from the unnecessary compulsion to cleave to the template of prior series rather than having the boldness to step outside.

So with Ken Stott’s Red and Neil Dudgeon’s Duncan pasts having figured so heavily in the last two series, it isn’t hard to work out that it is Frances Grey’s Kate to have a go through the emotional wringer. It starts sooner than you might think with a daring opening sequence set in a prison that is highly effective. And as deaths of people involved start to mount up, long buried secrets prove the key to finding the killer and saving the day. Continue reading “TV Review: Messiah – The Promise (2004)”

Review: If We Were Older, National Theatre

Alice Schofield’s New Views-winning play If We Were Older is an absolute triumph at the National Theatre – a bright new talent is discovered

“An old woman is staring at me holding hands with a girl on the tube…”

Wowzers! I was hoping for an enjoyable afternoon catching up on some of the plays that were shortlisted for the National Theatre’s New Views teen playwriting competition, but I wasn’t expecting to be completely blown away by the one that was victorious. If We Were Older by Alice Schofield (a student of CAPA College, Wakefield) proves a more than worthy winner and absolutely, completely, worth junking your plans for late Friday afternoon so that you can catch its final performance. 

On finally getting round to watching Patrick Gale’s Man in an Orange Shirt, I was left a tad disappointed in the conventionally linear way it explored its dual timestreams. And it is tempting to think that Schofield might have felt the same way, as as her characters Maggie and Daisy have a little contretemps on the tube, the fallout in which she explores each of their personal histories is beautifully commingled, their stories intricately entwined as we discover they’re so much more alike than they could ever know. Continue reading “Review: If We Were Older, National Theatre”

TV Review: No Offence Series 2

“Now is not the time for your Bronte Sisters-saurus act”

In what’s been a blistering start to the televisual year (Unforgotten, The Moorside), the second series of Paul Abbott’s No Offence is definitely up there, offering at least a little comic relief along with its deadly serious dark side. My views on episode 1 set the tone for the rest to come – the glorious return of the Friday Street team, led by Joanna Scanlan’s inimitable DI Viv Deering, having met their match in the arch-villain Nora Attah, a glorious performance from Rakie Ayola.

And typical of Abbott’s oeuvre, along with his co-writers, there’s a fantastic complexity to his characters. Attah may rule her gangland with a rod of iron, issuing icy reprisals against rivals who dare cross her path, but as subplots about FGM and sexual violence are threaded through the season, there’s strong hints about the harshness of the world that has shaped her. And that makes her the ideal counterpart for Deering’s anarchic policing style, our sympathies caught in the complex conflict between their respective shades of grey. Continue reading “TV Review: No Offence Series 2”

TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4

“All we can do is hang on”

Rather incredibly, given the number of crime dramas there are, Cuffs is actually the BBC’s first police procedural since 2007’s Holby Blue (according to Wikipedia at least), but a rather good one it is too. Creator Julie Gearey has set the show in Brighton and its environs, the territory of the South Sussex Police service, and the first four episodes (which entertained me on a train journey back from Amsterdam) started Cuffs off so strongly that I wanted to recommend it now whilst you can still catch them all on the iPlayer.

The opening episodes are jam-packed with incident, the first part alone crammed child abduction, stolen JCBs, stabbings and a racist released from prison to give a strong sense of the relentless pace of life in the force but the writing has been particularly strong in demonstrating the peculiar demands of modern policing. Traditional boundaries of respect have been torn down so we see the police punched, spat on, and kicked in the face and also having to deal with rubberneckers filming accident scenes on their phone, and members of the public chancing their arm with harassment claims. Continue reading “TV Review: Cuffs Episodes 1-4”

DVD Review: Emma (2009)

“He would know me but there’s no reason I would know a farmer”

Of all the versions of Jane Austen’s Emma, I can’t really believe that I will ever see one as well done as this 2009 BBC adaptation by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon. Everything about it works for me, from the clever casting choices to the subtle redefinition of some characters, the (now) luxurious running time to the production values which mark it as something of a dying breed in terms of BBC period dramas.

I love its inventive prologue contrasting the early lives of Emma, Frank and Jane, how tragedy touched them all but their positions in life meant their journeys took wildly different paths. Romola Garai makes an immensely appealing heroine, her beautiful wide eyes so open and honest yet quickly able to take on a harder glint as her more self-obsessed side takes over, and she works so brilliantly with her cast-mates to give us full-fleshed, believable relationships.

There’s genuine affection with Michael Gambon’s fretful father, a tangible sisterly bond with Jodhi May’s former governess, a vivid friendship with Louise Dylan’s hapless Harriet and that real sense of antipathy that comes from two beautiful girls not quite able to make each other out with the arrival of Laura Pyper’s mysterious Jane Fairfax. And there’s Jonny Lee Miller’s excellent Mr Knightley, a hugely handsomely dashing figure who shares immense chemistry with Garai. Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (2009)”

DVD Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)

“Oh we’ll make him suffer, but will he make himself?”

This 2002 BBC2 adaptation of Crime and Punishment by Tony Marchant is a rather good bit of television – it may be a goodly while since I read Dostoevsky’s novel but it struck me as a respectful interpretation of the story, though not overly so, and one which makes the most of the televisual approach. Directed by Julian Jarrold, it employs a vivid array of camerawork – from jerky handheld work to epic sweeps of the St Petersburg location – to really capture the idiosyncrasies of the story. 

Jarrold really takes us into the mind of impoverished student Raskolnikov, a man who makes a virtue of his immorality in coming up with a plan to murder an unscrupulous pawnbroker as a justifiable good deed to the world at large. Fevered dream sequences, intensely visceral interactions, we delve right into his highly disorientated state of being as he struggles to ratify his choices in the face of their impact on his friends and family and as the law encroaches in on him. Continue reading “DVD Review: Crime and Punishment (2002)”

Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse

“Just because he doesn’t say much doesn’t mean that he hasn’t feelings like the rest of us”

Instincts can be useful and they can also be really annoying, especially when you don’t follow them. After three weeks away from the theatre, most of which has been spent lying by a pool in the South-West of France, my first engagement back was at the Donmar Warehouse to see Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! As with most things at theatres such as these, I automatically book for everything as soon as it is released, sometimes it’s the only way to guarantee getting the cheap seats, and so there is rarely any sense of deciding whether I actually want to see something or not. And because it is then cheap, thus one can argue that it doesn’t really matter if I don’t like it – such excellent self-perpetuating logic is needed to ensure I keep getting up early to join the website-crashing scrum of first day booking.

But my tolerance has lessened somewhat as I’m slowly weaning myself off my addiction to theatre (at least to a more manageable position…) and after having unpacked my holiday things and checked the calendar as to when I was next booked in anywhere, my heart was not particularly singing with joy at the prospect of seeing this play. I allowed myself to be persuaded that I needed to “get back on the horse” and that I was just suffering from post-holiday blues – my companion reckoned I wouldn’t have been enthused about any play that didn’t involve me sitting in a hot tub – but in all honesty, my overall impression of Philadelphia… was one of overwhelming ‘meh’. Continue reading “Review: Philadelphia, Here I Come! Donmar Warehouse”