Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 
Are 
Not 
Alone”

There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.

Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

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DVD Review: Scott and Bailey Series 1-3

“You went to live with a fella in Wigan, I assume he had a roof”
 

As with so many television programmes these days, it has taken me an inexplicably long time to get around to watching Scott and Bailey and sure enough once I started, I found myself mainlining all three series in advance of the new series starting on ITV. And sure enough, I loved it. Sally Wainwright is one of our best writers of television without a shadow of a doubt and no matter what she turns her hand to, she barely puts a foot wrong, all the while pushing the boundaries of conventional drama to become infinitely more inclusive, whether through the older characters of Last Tango in Halifax or the fierce and flawed policewomen of Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey.

Scott and Bailey grew out of an original idea by Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay which Wainwright has written up into three (plus one to come) series of fantastic television. Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey are both DCs in the Manchester Metropolitan Police, part of the MIT team that deals with serious crime. And though it may seem trivial to say it, it is just so brilliantly and so casually feminist. The vast majority of the major roles in the police force just happen to be taken by women – Amelia Bullmore’s DCI Murray heads up the team, Pippa Haywood’s DSI Dodson is the next later up, the main pathologist goes by the name of Scary Mary…and none of it is ever an issue.

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Radio review: Blood Wedding

“You have already thrown me away”

Ted Hughes’ reworking of Blood Wedding first aired in 2008 and won awards that year. It was re-broadcast as part of Radio 3’s season covering Lorca’s Rural Trilogy – this play, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. Productions of Lorca’s work often search for the elusive spirit of the duende, that magical ingredient that brings out the chills, and that is markedly present here due to Pauline Harris’ astute direction. 

Rather than try and create a taste of Spain, Hughes and Harris focus on the rural, evoking the timeless spirit of folkloric traditions that transcends nations. So the tale of two feuding families, locked in a death spiral of conflict even as they celebrate a marriage that should be uniting their houses, could be anywhere, not just the Almerian mountains where Lorca set it, and a multitude of British accents thus don’t sound out of place. Continue reading “Radio review: Blood Wedding”

Short Film Review #12

Instalment 12 of the Short Film Review – keep those recommendations coming and I promise I will get round to them all eventually, I’ve a fair few to work through 😉

Bride of Vernon

A rather playful take on the Frankenstein story, The Bride of Vernon is a stop-motion animation in the mould of Wallace and Gromit which was written, animated and directed by Calvin Dyson and ended up winning the Best UK Short Film Award at the 2012 Manchester International Film Festival. Vernon Van Dyke, the appealingly voiced Dan Clark, is the lonely young scientist who is battling against the repeated failures of his experiment to create himself a bride and even the faithful Fritz (David Schofield as the Igor-style assistant) is rebelling and demanding better pay and conditions due to his recent unionisation.


Things brighten up though with the arrival of Mary Mae, a real life woman who offers a whole new world of possibility to Vernon as they start dating and here, Katherine Parkinson is excellent casting, her richly expressive voice is beautifully suited to the hesitant goodness of this character and they are so sweet together. Of course, things go wrong over dinner with an accidental poisoning and it is up to Vernon to see if he can save Mary Mae by hook or by crook. The film is really well put together, it looks a high quality product and Michael Slevin Uttley’s score fits over it like a glove to make this what seems to be a well-deserving prize winner.

Standing Room Only 
With a cast including the likes of Michael Gambon, Hugh Jackman, Maureen Lipman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, you’d be forgiven that thinking that Standing Room Only is no common-or-garden short film and you’d be right. It undoubtedly owes its star-studded nature to the marital connections of its writer/director Deborra-Lee Furness, otherwise known as Mrs Hugh Jackman, but it makes a rather amusing study of the politics of day seating for a sold out show. Mostly silent (although this version of the clip is dubbed in Russian – translating the signs I think…), we see a queue of people slowly build up outside the New Ambassadors Theatre to see the hugely popular Man of a Thousand Faces.


I’ve not done a huge amount of day-seating myself but I know people who have and so there is a wry amusement of much of the little details here which seem authentically familiar. And it is a pleasure to see the likes of Gambon, Jackman  and Joanna Lumley cutting loose on something comedic and light – Furness includes a flirtatiously delicious moment from her husband  at 5.27 – and it is all a breezy bit of fun, even if I wasn’t mad keen on the way that it ends.

The Rules of the Game 

This film is directed by Tom Daley but lest you think it is connected with anything misguidedly-orange and publicity-hunting, it ain’t anything to do with diving… No, it’s a 2009 short written by Sam Michell, a monologue written about a groom-to-be who is preparing for a stag night to remember in a smart country house. Christopher Harper plays Henry and over the 7 or so minutes of film, he fills us in on all the gory details of his last few months and the revelations that have raised the stake of this occasion just ever so slightly.


Harper is excellent as the narrator, his direct address to the camera is always playful rather than too intense, Michell’s writing dancing with the lightness of stream-of-consciousness and imagined actions as well as putting across the story itself. And Daley directs with a smooth fluidity as we constantly move throughout the stately home, Max McGill’s cinematography making everything look delicious and usefully reminding me of how much I like Harper as an actor.

3-minute 4-play 

At a brief 3 minutes (and change), Johnny O’Reilly’s 3-Minute 4-Play is a cracking little Irish battle of the sexes thing. Set in a dreamlike white space where things can be wished into reality, Ristéard Cooper’s man conjures up the girl of his dreams – Ruth Negga – but as always, one has to be careful about what one wishes for as it turns out that he can’t control her, and her own desires don’t necessarily match up with his. It’s simply done but very effective and highly watchable – Cooper is always charismatic and I loved seeing and hearing Negga working in her natural accent. Lots of fun.

DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby

“You must bear up against sorrow my dear”

Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby manages the not-unimpressive feat of condensing Dickens’ weighty novel into a two hour film, and whilst much must have been jettisoned (I’ve never read the book so I couldn’t tell you what) it still hangs together as a cohesive story with much to recommend it. McGrath also directs and remains very much faithful to the spirit of Dickens with a straightforward aesthetic that takes a few artistic liberties but whose heart is very much in the right place.

After the death of Nickleby senior, Nickleby junior is thrust into the role of head of the family but with the dastardly deeds of their unscrupulous Uncle Ralph, Nicholas has to work extremely hard and keep his wits about him in order to protect his friends and family from the misfortune around them. Those misfortunes are many and varied but entertainingly portrayed here as there’s a good deal of humour and pathos mixed in with the grimness. Continue reading “DVD Review: Nicholas Nickleby”

DVD Review: ShakespeaRe-Told – The Taming of the Shrew/A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“When you speak, it sounds like poetry”

The second disc of ShakespeaRe-Told (first disc reviewed here) features reworkings of The Taming of the Shrew by Sally Wainwright and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Peter Bowker. Shrew is a problematic play at the best of times and I have to say that I found this interpretation to be very difficult. Katherine becomes an abrasive politician aiming to become Leader of the Opposition who is advised to get married for her image, Petruchio is a foppish aristocrat who has fallen on hard times and is attracted by her wealth. They meet, sparks fly and thus do battle whilst conducting their relationship. Initially it works, as he is just as mad as her – almost cartoonish in how mental they are – but the ‘taming’ that ensues only applies to her and so the unease feeling of misogyny is always too present. Shirley Henderson gives shrewish life to Katherine (sorry) and Rufus Sewell swaggers well as the cross-dressing Petruchio, but it never really flies as a revision.

The subplot involves her supermodel sister Bianca – Jaime Murray as she bats away the affections of her manager for the seductive allure of a Spanish stranger Lucentio. I have to say that Santiago Cabrera looks pretty much like perfection here, the sexiest glasses-wearer ever, and so is forgiven for the underwhelming way in which this subplot works. Stephen Tompkinson’s manager is oddly fobbed off with the mother – Twiggy of all people – but it does lead up to a nifty conclusion in which Katherine’s hard-to-swallow speech ends up being about prenuptial agreements. David Mitchell is also featured in this as Katherine’s aide, demonstrating just how little range the man has.

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Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Open the clouds”

It is rare that one witnesses people encouraging the clouds to open at any performance at the Globe, it seems like a needless temptation of fate! But nevertheless, Tony Harrison works in the phrase into this play and on this occasion at least, the heavens did not open (although Mary did still get assumpted!) Starting off with God and the creation and whipping through key stories from the Bible – ostensibly with messages incorporated for us in modern life – until we reach the last judgement, The Globe Mysteries is Tony Harrison’s own adaptation of his 1977 version of The Mysteries for the National Theatre.

Played with a cast of 14 who cover over 60 roles between them, we move from the Garden of Eden through Noah to the birth and death of Jesus and then beyond. There’s a rough chronology which sees us sweeping through time so that we end up more or less in a modern-day setting around the time of Jesus’ death which means the whole range of the costume department is exploited. Harrison’s text is a rough kind of verse, with rhyming couplets and modern reference points aplenty but it is a deeply traditional set of stories which doesn’t take well to the transfer and overall, I found it to be rather problematic. Continue reading “Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare’s Globe”