Friday, 31 July 2015

Partners in Crime


Tommy (David Walliams) and Tuppence (Jessica Raine) are a couple who embark on amateur detective adventures in the 1950s in this BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie's dwarfed-by-Poirot/Marple novels.  For the three people remaining in the English-speaking world who still haven't heard of Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa, she had a mind for murder like few others, and millions have whiled away a cosy afternoon or evening reading about stabbings, strangulation and poison.  Murder may appeal, but coupled with 1930s or 1950s settings and costumes and the attendant traditional trappings of a country house, or a steam train, and the mysteries are irresistible to large swathes of the population.  Readers and viewers don't expect too much gore, and hardly any realism at all, and they are rarely disappointed.

'Partners in Crime' will have pleased its target audience, we think it fair to say.  Dan is not fond of the elderly lady with the knitting, nor ze little man wiz ze grey cells, but even he found this watchable and has made a note for Sunday evenings.  The nonsense plot, as always, turns on rather unlikely coincidences and some deeply unpleasant types, but the Beresfords are enjoyably batty - even if Walliams is too Walliams to be entirely Tommy - and good on the writers to keep them of their time in their so-hideous-it's-wonderful interior design and their boarding-school son.  The script has (adds?) a soupcon of wit, Jessica Raine  is wonderful as Tuppence and the production looks gorgeous.  Is the licence fee worth it?  How can you ask?!  We're already hoping for a Christmas special. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Witnesses


C4 have pinched what would have been an ideal BBC4 Saturday night foreign cop drama, presumably buoyed by the popularity of their previous French offering, 'The Returned'.  Being French, there's a bit of a gruesome twist on the procedural, with the victims in this case having been exhumed and posed in show homes as a family group, despite being probable strangers to one another.

Our lead, Sandra (Marie Dompnier), is a seemingly together woman with a rebellious past and a potentially adulterous boyfriend, whose former tutor at cop training college, Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte), is connected to one of the crime scenes by way of his photograph appearing on the bedside table.  He too has some skeletons impatient to escape his closet, in the form of his wife's death and his own subsequent car crash and retreat to seclusion.  There's a nice mood of menace building up, but it was slow and puzzling in places.  Why did Sandra fail to confront her boyfriend about the lipstick in his car, despite being agitated by it?  Why did Paul get into a cable car and, having reached the summit, almost immediately plunge back down again?  And what the hell was a wolf doing in a beach hut?  This could knit together nicely, or all fall apart with an unconvincing denouement.  We're hoping at least for some gripping stuff beyond the sudden outburst of violence at the end of the first episode.  

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Life in Squares


We are probably not the best judges of this 3-part offering from BBC2, since Dan is reluctant to watch anything that neither makes him laugh nor worry in any way and Ali tends to feel suicidal even thinking about Virginia Woolf.  But we tried.

'Life in Squares' is a biopic about the bohemian lives of the so-called Bloomsbury Set, a  group of early 20th Century artists and writers whose illustrious members included the above-mentioned author of 'Orlando' et al (here played by Lydia Leonard), her sister Vanessa Bell (Phoebe Fox) and husband Clive (Sam Hoare), Lytton Strachey (Ed Birch), John Maynard Keynes (Edmund Kinglsey) and EM Forster.  No doubt they were a lively lot, but this managed to be mannered and turgid despite the numerous sex scenes with various combinations of lovers.  Part of the problem, we suppose, is that it represents a fast set from a much slower age.  What would have shocked and/or excited their contemporaries in pre-WWI England is mundane a century later, and other than a rather staid aunt (Eleanor Bron) there is no real context to show what the friends were rebelling against.  Corsets and marriage were the rather heavy-handed symbols of conformity that the Stephen sisters rejected, at least in part, and the script was hampered by references to everyone by name and their relationship to everyone else, so that we wouldn't confuse two men with, for example, similar moustaches.

By the end of the hour we left the Bells exploring an open marriage and the promiscuous Duncan Grant (James Norton) switching his affections from Strachey to Keynes, strangely interspersed with a scene of the older set (still painting and chatting in a garden) in the 1930s.  It painted a picture of gilded and indulgent types who daubed everything in sight in lurid colours, yet still managed to be miserable.  We think assertions that this will cause a flood of tourists in Bloomsbury a la Poldark in Cornwall are premature.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Outcast


Just in case you were tempted towards nostalgia for the era of Miss Marple - even, bless, a juicy murder or three - along comes a handsomely mounted, superbly acted drama that'll have you happy that the past is a foreign country, where things were done very differently.

Based on the novel by Sadie Jones, this is the tale of Lewis Aldridge (George MacKay), who becomes the eponymous outcast after witnessing his beloved mother's accidental drowning as a boy.  We haven't read the novel and thought the scant publicity looked rather liked (whisper it) chick lit, but this was 90 minutes of sensitive storytelling, beginning when Lewis's father Gilbert (Greg Wise) returned from the war a damaged, distant near-stranger.  Unable to share his grief at Elizabeth's (Hattie Morahan) tragic death, he sends his son off to boarding school and remarries.  Young Alice (Jessica Brown-Findlay) tries to become a mother, to her stepson and in her own right, but she fails at both, and by the time Lewis reaches his teens he is in very deep trouble indeed.

Yes, these were the days of sunny bike rides in green pastures, solid furniture, swishy table skirts and smoke-filled jazz clubs in sexy soho, but the same era brought disgusted incomprehension towards self-harm, guilt, loneliness and grief.  There's still a chance that this will turn out to be a very 21st Century take on the 1950s (we've left Lewis sentenced after burning down the local church) but so far this has been a welcome addition to the current rich pickings on British TV, alongside 'Humans', 'Odyssey' and 'The Saboteurs'.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Odyssey


Ms. Friel again, playing here a modern plucky gal rather than a 1940s lipsticked one in 'The Saboteurs'.  This time she's American, and the security of western democracy is in her hands.  Or something.  A bit like 'Homeland', in other words.  However, a rather tired-sounding premise and a few early cliches (a young activist in New York is the son of a powerful businessman; a moral mover-and-shaker - who happens to be a dead ringer for a young Matthew McConnaughey btw - has a wife who delicately reminds him what a good job and lovely house he has) flourishes into a watchable, decent drama.  OK, Odelle Ballard (Anna Friel) manages to escape death almost as often as James Bond, if with rather more reliance on outside aid, but her journey along the Mali/Algerian border, interlaced with the attempts of her fellow Americans to find her, had us gripped for the extra-long 90-minute episode.

If she manages not to have an affair with any of the men who are looking for her, it'll be more believable than 'Homeland' for that alone.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Cordon


There are lots of jokes about the Belgians, not least that the three things they do well are chocolate, gravy trains and overcharging.  We can vouch for the last, but disagree with the generalisation of the first two.  So the words 'Belgian drama' don't have quite the thrill of Nordic, Skandi or even, these days, US drama.  'Cordon' is all about an infectious disease.  Biologists are doubtless on the edge of their seats, waiting to lambast the portrayed security protocols or the claimed provenance of some disease.  For the rest of us, it's a bit like a disaster movie, i.e. a good part of the first hour is spent establishing some characters and their backstories in order to throw them mercilessly into the path of tragedy and chaos.  It's all a bit bewildering thus far.  What is this flu-like virus that they're so scared of, and who are all these people milling around the Antwerp Institute of Contagious Diseases?  It's not 'The Cassandra Crossing', which made everything crystal clear (we were dealing with the Beubonic Plague) but it's just as depressing.  Not very Saturday night!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Black Work


Jo Gillespie (Sheridan Smith) has an undercover cop, Ryan (Kenny Doughty) for a husband, with whom she has a daughter and a stepson.  His frequent absences from her life have led to her seeking solace with one of his colleagues (Matthew McNulty).  She decides to give her marriage another go, but before she can do anything about it, he is found shot dead in an empty warehouse.  She'd believed he was at a football match (that went on all night...?) and so she begins a quest to find out who her dead husband really was and how he died.  Unsurprisingly, the police aren't too keen, especially as it soon becomes clear that they aren't too sure what he was doing either.

The post-mortem discovery of a loved one's secret life is hardly a new formula, but there's plenty of basis in reality for the scenario, at least, with recent news stories and trials concerning cops undercover for years, going 'native', having relationships and even children.  Difficult to tell whether this will be credible, as so far there have been a few implausibilities or handy coincidences (surveillance teams would go to the trouble of putting bugged conversations on CD, of all things?  Said CDs are stowed in the airing cupboard?  Obliging lover leaks information about dead hubby's undercover identity?  Same dead hubby has a hideout his bosses haven't investigated?).  The next two parts could give us explanations for these things, and the cast is strong enough to keep us watching to find out.  In addition, there's some nice footage of Leeds and West Yorkshire as neither the grim Northern hell nor the American-sell gloss usually depicted.