Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas 2012 Schedules




Not strictly Christmas, but near enough, and in content as Christmas as it gets: The Making of a Lady.  Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the strange novella 'The Making of a Marchioness' followed by 'The Methods of Lady Walderhurst' which, several years behind 'The Secret Garden' have finally made it to the screen.  On the page, they read as an uneasy mix of light social commentary and high melodrama.  Television does us proud, therefore, by ditching the former and playing the latter with the straightest of faces.  Poor-but-respectable Emily Fox Seton (Lydia Wilson) marries unpromising-but-rich Lord Walderhurst (Linus Roache) and after the briefest of good starts - sex is ok and he's teaching her to swim, by Gad - he takes off to India for the Honour of the Regiment and leaves her at the mercy of his scheming cousin Alec Osborn (James D'Arcy) and Alec's wife Hester (Hasina Haque).  With the help of Hester's elderly ayah, Ameera, they plan to poison Lady W before she gives birth to an heir, thereby inheriting the house.  As stuffed with TWNH moments as your average turkey is with chestnuts, but fabulously daft fun.




Last night we were Loving Miss Hatto.  Penniless chancer William Barrington Coupe (Rory Kinnear) meets promising pianist Joyce Hatto (Maimie McCoy) in 1953 and is smitten with both her and her potential.  They try to overcome the disadvantages of a lack of contacts, her stage nerves and her vicious mother, but after some success they go no further and settle for a life of suburban quiet, natural history programmes and buns for tea.  When older William (Alfred Molina) manages to fake a CD of one of Joyce's recitals well enough to fool her and fans on an internet forum, he takes it up in earnest, to bring her the acclaim she deserves, and soon Joyce (Francesca Annis) is being sought by the likes of Radio 3 and Gramophone.  All of this, of-course, brings the fraud closer to the surface.  As with 'Housewife 49', Wood writes with candour, humour and ease about 'ordinary' Englishmen and women battling life's odds.  Drama for audiences with Dysons, written about people who could never have them.  Dare we say thank heavens for the much-maligned BBC?




Tomorrow there's a good helping of 'Call the Midwife' followed by lashings of 'Downton Abbey'. The only spoiler alert necessary is that of their combined effect on a digestion loaded with Christmas dinner and pudding  is likely to be messy.

P.S. It was messy.  The Workhouse Howl of one morphed into a wail for the insufferably good Matthew in the other.  Heaven forbid there should be real surprises on Christmas Day, so news of Dan Stevens wanting to exit was publicised some while ago....




The Girl.  Hadn't got around to watching this on Boxing Day.  Cups overfloweth etc.  We were busy watching the below.  So, a few days late, we watched the drama chronicling the making of 'The Birds'.  Toby Jones is a wonderfully slimy, sinister Hitchcock while Sienna Miller is rather less mannered and vacuous than Tippi Hedren always appeared in both 'The Birds' and 'Marnie'.  The material is discomforting, both because of its nature and because of the fact that it's been the subject of intense conjecture for decades, so while this offers nothing new in the way of knowledge, it offers a very definite take on the events during filming - Miss Hedren's.  Maybe it's as near to the truth as dammit, and maybe we shouldn't care, so long as it offers 90 minutes of entertainment, but... we suspect a full-blown biopic of Hitch could fill almost as many hours as his life, and the real and the lurid imaginary would be almost indistinguishable.  Maybe the best and only insight into the strange talent that was Alfred Hitchcock is his string of films.



Doors Open, which almost justifies the term 'crime caper'.  Ian Rankin, Stephen Fry, Douglas Henshall, Leonora Critchlow and that painting of a woman that turns up on Penguin Classics, not necessarily in that order, can together offer perfect Boxing Day fare.  There's love, there's theft, disillusion, art treasures, heartless bankers, a spot of double-crossing and an absolutely mad plot.  Sit back, relax, enjoy, and don't do this at home.





Restless - Half of us have read the novel this was based on, by William Boyd, and that half was pre-disposed to like this adaptation.  The other half felt it was a tad cliched.

British agent turns out to be a double agent working for the Russians, who sets up his colleague and lover to further the ends of his Soviet masters.  She evades death, and him, for some thirty years but is always conscious of being on the run.  It was a fun watch (says the non-book half) with the likes of Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling all acting their woolly socks off, but sometimes it was woolly elsewhere too.  No doubt all these points are explained in the book, but here it wasn't clear: Why did Romer (Sewell, later Gambon) choose to set up Eva (Atwell, later Rampling) assuming she would be anti-Russian despite... being Russian?  How did his assumption that she wouldn't follow orders and would discover the terrible forged Nazi maps help him?  Why did she send her daughter Ruth (Michelle Dockery, swapping flapper for hippy) to meet Romer when she could surely have found the information without revealing her true identity and thus putting herself in danger again?  What did she have on Romer to make him kill himself?  And while the Russian phone books, not to mention coffee table books on Matisse, may be full of Delectorskayas, it sounds like a highly unsubtle way to promote her delectability as the heroine.

Still heaps better than 'Charlotte Gray' though, if nothing else for the message that espionage will leave you permanently paranoid.



Panto - obviously we were too busy watching 'Restless' to have seen this when originally aired.  Coming to it on 4th January, we conclude it was best watched in a festive haze.  It shouldn't have been a stretch for John Bishop to act the part of a feckless and fun-loving DJ but he suffered from the same affliction that Jerry Seinfeld did when acting his own comedy script: smirking when he should have been showing any other emotion.  Harmless fun but no surprises beyond perennial villain Michael Cochrane playing an "accc-TOR" reduced to being a (wonderful) pantomime dame.



Ripper Street, so-named in case you forget that this is 1889, dramatizes a range of stories which are, of necessity, not nearly as interesting as that of Jack the Ripper.  To be fair, it'd be hard to film anything set in 1889 with a modicum of atmosphere without resorting to cliche.  So we're in the grimy (though mercifully not foggy) London streets with strutting prostitutes and an early entrepreneur leading Whitechapel Walks.  Nearby, men in severe need of a bath are foaming at the mouth at a bout of bare-knuckle fighting involving Jerome Flynn.  (He comes by way of the RSC and Soldier Soldier, dear viewers).  Altogether it's sold almost as a Western, with the beleaguered cops battling shady types in a lawless town. 

The discovery of a victim with the hallmarks of the Ripper involves Detective Matthew McFadyen and his ex-boss, Fred Abberline, who has been dragged in from reality as the lead investigator of the Ripper crimes in 1888.  Our hero McFadyen suspects this is not the Ripper but has been made to look like it.  Think 'Whitechapel' with corsets and say 'copycat'.  Say also 'modern sexual sadism projected onto a historical past'.  No doubt akin to 'City of Vice' and 'Garrow's Law' this will feature other modern preoccupations in its run.  There is a posh baddie with an ugly moustache, and prostitutes treated as expendable actors in pornographic violence.  MyAnna Buring rounds off a busy year as a Madam, while Amanda Hale who played the mad wife in 'The Crimson Petal and the White' remains trapped in bustles as the detective's wife.

It's alright, in a 9pm Sunday sort of a way, but was probably more fun to make than it is to watch.

Dan adds:  For me, this was a 1970s cop show in fancy dress.  The plot was very 1970s (porn, snuff movies), and the cops beat up suspects and charged around doing what they wanted; as with Life On Mars the BBC managed to make a 1970s cop show in disguise, this time taking it 90 years earlier.  I'm not complaining, but why can't they just do one in modern dress for a change?

Ali adds:  C'mon Dan, they do endless cop shows in modern dress!  Don't forget it's harder to mix in real people in modern shows.  Mob leader Lusk turns up in episode 2.  We're holding out for Queen Victoria....




Remember 'The Paradise' and thinking idly how it was probably based on a department store like Selfridges?  (More Galeries Lafayette, since it was Zola, but hey).  Well here it is, the supposedly real story of the Oxford Street favourite, and the best ad they could ever want.  Mr Selfridge has the love interests, the love of retail (yawn), the ambitious sales girl (Aisling Loftus, who has yet to put a foot wrong in her career), the leaden script and the handsome Frenchman from 'Spiral' (Gregory Fitoussi as artist Henri LeClair).  The only things it lacks are the yellow bags and the hordes of tourists.  It's so like 'The Paradise' though that even the archetypes are present: there's a Miss Audrey type (Amanda Abbington), a bitchy sales assistant jealous of our ambitious heroine etc.  Soon we'll be asking where the Miss Audrey is in any department store we visit.

The first 90-minute-minus-ad-breaks episode covered the building and opening, but like 'The Paradise' (TP) it's less of a rags-to-riches story than an already-fairly-rich soap opera.  Jeremy Piven as Harry Gordon Selfridge declaims every line as though to a theatre audience.  If true, this must have been very tiring for his long-suffering wife (here played by Frances O'Connor), even more so than his dalliance with a music hall artiste, Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper).  Sam West, Tim Woodward and a barmaid from Corrie turn up to befriend or use our Mr S, who proves his many hidebound critics wrong and opens a stunner of a store on the 'dead end of Oxford Street'.  These were, lest we forget, the days before Primark when, errr, Tyburn Gallows wasn't quite quoshed in public memory and shoppers presumably hadn't cottoned onto the existence of either Liberty's or Whiteley's.

It seems as we leave the turn of the century behind that we're increasingly turning back to the turn of the last one for comfort telly.  OK, so the direct competition in the schedules is Ripper Street, which isn't exactly comfortable viewing, but the choice is between the swishing fabrics and gilt elevators of the 1900s West End and the nasty, brutish and short lives of (in episode 2 at least) some nasty, brutish and short villains in the grimy, gaslit East End.  Children in 1889 may have been victims, forced to work like slaves or join a gang and murder people, but at least it was all a long, long time ago.  In the light of the Savile investigation, no-one who watched 'I Love the 1970s and 1980s' series can still think of light entertainment figures as eccentric but essentially benign men with terrible dress sense.  The 1870s and the 1880s are much safer viewing.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Poison Tree






More familiar ITV territory here, based on a Ruth Rendellish novel.  Translator Karen (MyAnna Buring) tries to rebuild her life with partner Rex (Matthew Goode) and their daughter Alice when he is released after a 12-year prison sentence.  It comes as no surprise that she is haunted by events in their past, or rather that someone in the present knows about them.  Cue flashbacks to when she and Rex met at university, via Rex's oddball sister Biba (Ophelia Lovibond).

We know they're headed for Bad Things, but whether the conclusion is worth the two-episode watch remains to be seen.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Town


Very unlike usual ITV output, i.e. we'll keep watching.  Sounds like a surreal version of JK Rowling's 'Casual Vacancy', and so far in a subtle and intriguing key.  More anon....

The Fear


We liked and liked a lot.  Strange scheduling over four consecutive nights, but at least sensibly post-watershed considering the violence, sex and swearing.

It started with a cliched premise: old gangster losing his grip, Albanians who can trump his violence, sons who are loose canon, a wife he's emotionally estranged from, a guilty secret from the past.  It did what good drama should do, though, and engaged with a good script, fine performances and enough interesting plot developments to keep viewers hooked.

We know Brighton, and the seriously strange twists of fate that have befallen the West Pier, so this had extra appeal.  It also meant, though, that the shootout in the streets was a little TWNH.  No-one would say there's no serious crime in Brighton - Graham Greene and a long line of news reports put paid to that - but a Chicago-style gun-fest?  After all the bodies, all connected with Richie (Peter Mullan) and his family, you'd have thought that the police would be a little more interested in his home, family and business, rather than just turning up and asking the odd question, but these are minor detractions from a stylish gangster thriller that has family sorrow and the consequences of moral poverty at its heart.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Last Tango in Halifax


You can't claim the title's misleading.  Not Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider and arguably the most romantic city in the world: Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid and rainy Yorkshire.  What it lacks in Lurpak, however, it makes up for with a warm, sharp script and a couple of promising sub-plots involving their children's families.  Oh and a car chase.

Good to know there are strong roles roles for older women that allow more subtle characterisation than Sarah Lancashire's recent role in 'The Paradise', or Anne Reid's in 'Upstairs, Downstairs'.  Both of them shine here, as does Nicola Walker.  Good also to know that there are still dramas made to engage an older audience, besides 'New Tricks'.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Secret of Crickley Hall


OK, this has all the staple ingredients: a 'normal' couple called 'Eve' and 'Gabe' (pick up that Old Testament, now!) with a tragedy (a missing child), a big creepy old house with a sinister reputation and a back story involving cruel guardians of innocent children, a strange attic and an even stranger basement, a dog - c'mon, there's always a ghost-detecting dog - swinging doors, scary-looking old toys and a noisy clock.  If you can't guess its every twist and turn, you can grasp the general gist.

At the moment there isn't a clear link between the orphanage of the 1940s and the modern-day goings on, but we do know that there was a flash flood in 1943 that killed 68 of the Devil's Cleave villagers, that the village was named for a legend involving... yes, the Devil, swearing revenge on the area, and that Suranne Jones has some kind of telepathic contact both with her missing son and with the past tragedies at the Hall.

If you want revisionist, this won't be your bag, but for an old-fashioned grip-the-cushions ghost story, this will darken your autumn evenings quite nicely.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Secret State


Apparently "very loosely based on" 'A Very British Coup', a book previously dramatised with the late Ray McAnally  in 1988.  This seems to have more in common, on the strength of the first episode, with a 1985 film also starring a young Gabriel Byrne, albeit as poacher rather than nominal gamekeeper, 'Defence of the Realm'.  One of those stodgy, ponderous, chase-the-zeitgeist conspiracy thrillers that thrive on shots of the scared and sinister in the corridors of power and dingy back-alley rendezvous.  This has the usual cast of characters.  Gabriel Byrne is Tom Dawkins, Deputy Prime Minister who finds himself in very deep, dark waters after an explosion at the Petrofex chemical plant and the death of the Prime Minister, Charles Flyte (Tobias Menzies) in a mysterious plane crash.  Yes, nice mix of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte to represent the establishment.  A host of known faces portray the other usual characters: Charles Dance, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Lia Williams and Rupert Graves as shadowy, power-hungry ministers; Gina McKee as the journalist investigating corruption and cover-ups; Douglas Hodge as the jaded, alcoholic ex-MI5er.

Tom has a a history as a soldier in Bosnia and a self-possessed, bruised ex-wife (Sophie Ward).  After faltering faith in the government, a new poll suggests that he is a popular new leader, which makes his colleagues wary and even more distrustful of him.  Unknown to him, GCHQ are listening in to his every conversation with both the press and the pathologist, who has found high levels of toxicity in the explosion victims, and ends up hanging from the ceiling of his lab.

Worth watching just for Byrne's craggy face, which holds such gravitas it wouldn't be out of place on Mount Rushmore.  Also great to see Ruth Negga back onscreen after her revelatory tour-de-force as Shirley Bassey.  As for the story, you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be sure that greed and self-interest frequently outweigh any nobler and compassionate concerns where global corporations and elements of government are concerned.  It's just a wonder that after having been a cliche for so long, it's still in the news as well as drama, and accepted by a voting public.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Elementary


Dan and Ali are not Sky fans on principle.  Sadly that doesn't stop Dan subscribing.  Thus we had the privilege of watching the first episode of 'Elementary', which viewers would be forgiven for not knowing was a modern American take on Sherlock Holmes.

Whereas the recent BBC revival/reboot was simply an update, with the traditional stories given a clever, stylish twist, this is essentially 'CSI' with the geek in the lead.  Jonny Lee Miller is a recovering addict who has decamped from Scotland Yard to the NYPD.  Aidan Quinn is his Lestrade and Watson is a disgraced female surgeon (Lucy Liu) who has been sent by Homes Senior to be Sherlock's rehab buddy.  The plot, which raced past at such speed it's amazing any scene was in focus, involved a husband training his mentally imbalanced client to kill his wife in order to inherit her money.  Conan Doyle is not a million miles away in this respect, but in all others he's nowhere to be seen.  Holmes has sex with prostitutes, presumably because there's an assumption that American audiences can't accept a male lead who isn't interested in sex.  Watson doesn't represent the viewer as (s)he does the reader by being Holmes's questioner.  Instead she is, of-course, feisty, sassy etc. etc.  Not bad at all, but not Watson.

Likeable performances aren't enough to lift a so-so script and a production with no panache.  If you set out your stall under a brand name, you'd better make sure yours is at least a passable fake, if not the genuine article.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hatfields & McCoys




They sure were ornery back in them days, way out West.  Well, west of the UK.  To Americans it's a sort of Eastern Western.  Everyone wore brown (or maybe they were just downright dirty); the men carried guns, spat tobacco at every opportunity and cussed all the time.  The women just looked about ten years older than they were and wore cross expressions, which is hardly surprising given the stupidity of their menfolk.

This is a feud so famous that their names have passed into a colloquialism for discord, but as this TV series shows, it had its origins in nothing very much more than a difference of opinion, and continued for decades to the detriment of several members of both families, who were either killed or, in one case, kept apart from their loved one.  (Not that Johnse Hatfield was exactly faithful to Roseanna McCoy - he eventually married her cousin Nancy.  Nice.)

The production features, under all those beards, Kevin Costner, Tom Berenger and a fair few English actors, who assume Virginian/Kentucky accents with varying success.  Sarah Parish (sans beard) also appears as Hatfield's long-suffering wife and matriarch of the clan, while Mare Winningham, ex-brat packer, is her opposite number in the McCoy tribe.  It's all quite fun in a so-glad-I-didn't-live-then kind of a way, and it looks and feels suitably grimy and backwoods, but... while at bottom it's a condemnation of the futility of violence, we can't quite get beyond the feeling that it's one lot of ignorant hillbillies with grubby beards attacking another lot of ignorant hillbillies with grubby beards for no very good reason.  Well, it is a Western, so what did we expect?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hunted


The new 'Spooks'?  Well superficially it's similar, with espionage, pretty leads, and pretty spectacular fight and action sequences.  It also has similarities with 'Homeland' and 'Ashes to Ashes'.  Yes folks, our heroine has issues, and a troubled past.  She also survives two potentially fatal gunshot wounds in the first fifteen minutes.

Programmes like this are grist to our mill, fodder to our cannon and sitting ducks to our fairground rifle range.  It's surprising that commissioning editors thought this was anything but one whopping TWNH.  I admit that the average trainload on the 11.43 from Scunthorpe probably love this (and for Scunthorpe, read Anytown, UK).  It's the eternally popular po-faced, we've-only-three-minutes-to-save-the-world combination of violence, sex and unbelievable setups that forms a staple of prime-time TV these days.

Sam (Melissa George) is our first TWNH.  In her twenties, smart, adored by men, able to kick ass in a way that would trounce James Bond and fearless enough to swat a gun out of a man's hand without a second thought.  She's the smartest operative in a global, upmarket private security firm; the sort that has boardrooms with touchscreen desks and no windows.  Likely?

Most of the first episode is about her, pouting like she'd sucked her dummy well into adolescence and had only recently thrown it away.  She wants to find out who wanted to kill her and made her lose her baby.  It could be her boyfriend, who works alongside her, or did until she went AWOL for a year.  Likely?

She's back now and despite her boss looking daggers and spitting trite dialogue at her, she walks straight back into an op.  Likely?

Her second honey trap of the episode is the op that will presumably form the main plot of the series.  She's given a backstory of bereaved American mother - despite being Australian and playing Sam as English - and thrown literally into the role of saviour of her target's son.  Her target happens to be, in turn, the son of a rich gangster and they're all living in paranoid purdah in Regent's Park.  Yet, with this one staged rescue act, Sam, aka 'Miss Kent', gets an invitation to live in the hideous house with the Turner crime mob.  Likely?

Remember, though, that everyone's grey.  Sam and her team are essentially mercenaries, and we're not convinced they're worth caring about.  We're set up with all the usual hooks: will she rescue the boy?  Fall in love with his father?  Discover who set her up?  Retire into the sunset with her boyfriend?  Kill her boyfriend?  Who can she trust?  Are her boss and colleagues on the level?  Unlikely.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Best Possible Taste


Those under thirty may not remember the unique Kenny Everett with his outre brand of humour, but he was all over the schedules in the 1980s.  "All in the best possssible taste!" was his ironic catchphrase (given that he was usually dressed in drag and leather with long  bestockinged legs at the time).  His risque MO was known to have spilled over into his private life, too and this is the latest in the BBC4 line of biopics of once-mainstream media figures.

This bears the hallmarks of the BBC4 production line: good acting, sharp writing and a slightly quirky presentation.  Maurice Cole's story jumps forwards and back in time with alter-ego Kenny Everett's, err, alter-egos commenting in character on the events.  So the mime artist has a happy or sad face, the busty model lusts after his male companions, etc.  The baby, the biker Sid Snot and the cleric with the big hands will also be familiar to fans of his show, and it's surely those fans that this is aimed at.

We found it watchable enough, but don't find Kenny's brand of light entertainment scintillating, and his life story is a trawl through the emergence of popular music radio and popular gay culture with no surprises.  

Monday, 1 October 2012

Monroe


Remember this?  Nor do we, apart from a vague familiarity, but that could be from a number of other programmes about 'a brilliant, maverick... (add profession of choice)'.  Wasn't the first series in the 20th Century?  Apparently not. The eponymous  Monroe (James Nesbitt, who looks like he's visited a botox clinic and demanded to look as much like George Clooney as possible) is the brilliant, maverick surgeon with a troublesome ex-wife, children and colleagues.

This sits uneasily between not two but three stools: Casualty-style soapy patient and love lives complete with crooning soundtrack; serious drama and black comedy.  The result is an identity crisis.  Performances are slick, and the script sometimes witty, but there are the familiar moral dilemmas, gripes in the operating theatre and on the wards and from the trailer for next week, things progress pretty predictably.  As a mainstream ITV drama it's not bad, but the best moments show what a frustrating near-miss this is. 

Friday, 28 September 2012

Homefront



'Homefront' is a bit like 'Soldier Soldier' with a war on and, therefore, no soldiers to speak of.  The only bombshells dropping on the families left behind are news from the front and the sort of incestuous revelations that come from institutionalised living.  It's a soap, basically, with women getting drunk and getting by while their men are fighting in Afghanistan.

Episode one had a death (and Wootton Bassett-style funeral: not sure we'd have been keen to watch if we lived there or had lost someone close), guilt, recrimination, possible infidelity, possible pregnancy and officer/NCO tensions.  All in 50 minutes.  Nothing very incisive or groundbreaking then, and the church service scene was straight from the dafter moments of soapdom, but it's average rather than terrible.

There will be those who disagree with this portrayal of squaddies and their families, or the fact that this doesn't address the wider picture of what the British Army are doing in 21st Century Afghanistan in the first place, but it's most likely to sit quietly in the schedules for the rest of its run.  Something for the faint-hearted, perhaps.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Room at the Top


A pleasure postponed after being pulled off air at the last minute for legal reasons last year, though having just seen Matthew McNulty and Peter Wight in 'The Paradise' this was unfortunate rescheduling.  This is one drama that flies in the face of Mark Lawson's alarum over the dominance of bonnets on the air.  Joe Lampton (McNulty) for those who haven't read Braine's novel or seen the 1957 film, is a working class anti-hero on the make, railing against the stultifying social codes of post-war Britain and taking his women wherever and however he finds them.  Think 'Alfie' with anger and less swinging, or Jimmy Porter with more sex and less vitriol.  Not a bonnet in sight, and very apposite in view of the current widening of the gap between the Lamptons and their supposed betters.

Not a green teacup, a marcel wave or a fluffy jumper out of place.

The Paradise


Prepare to suspend disbelief.  Emile Zola wrote 'Lark Rise to Candleford'.  If you don't believe it, you'll have to forget that Zola wrote the novel that 'The Paradise' is based on, because Bill Gallagher wrote both and the similarities far outnumber the differences.  Even the casts have names in common.  We are sure that this wasn't given a Sunday scheduling because 'Lark Rise...' fans would get confused.

Now don't get us wrong, one half of us quite liked the story of Laura Timmins and co. as comforting Sunday night fayre, and this is shaping up nicely to be equally camp and clunking.  Young Denise (Joanna Vanderham) fetches up from an erstwhile Lark Rise, arriving doe-eyed and clueless in a bigger, brighter version of Candleford's haberdashery store, which happens to be run by a handsome devil with dimples and a moustache which ought to twirl.  She may be naive, but by golly she's a natural!

If you don't know what happens next, you need to stay in more.  There's lots of frills, gossip, and snobbery, and so far no-one except Denise is better than they ought to be.  Forget Zola, or you'll be in trouble.  Think 'Lark Rise...' with a dash of 'Downton' and smidgens of what you've heard about the origins of Selfridges, Liberty, Whiteley's, Swan and Edgar and Fortnum.  Can't see this winning Emmys, or winning a new audience for heaving corsets, but it adds a warm hazy glow to autumn evenings.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Scapegoat


Last night I dreamed I watched 'The Scapegoat' again... and woke up hoping that, should my double exist, I never meet her.  A little later than planned, we watched this one-off drama, based on a lesser-known work by Daphne du Maurier.  To get around the 1952 story showing its age, this is a sort of Jubilee tribute, set in the Coronation year and drawing parallels between the Queen who was never meant to be, and the usurper John Standing who makes a better fist of his double's life than the real Johnny Spence (both Matthew Rhys).

The Prince and Pauper storyline is a familiar one from fiction (Man in the Iron Mask) and partially in fact (the Titchborne Claimant) and is yet another programme badly trailed.  Instead of a lurid thriller, this was an old-fashioned story and while the premise is implausible, Sturridge and his cast have fashioned a decent drama from du Maurier's book.

The ending hints at its being an oblique metaphor for the abdication crisis having a happy outcome.  Even the pet goldfish is called Mrs Simpson, and dies, to be buried in a matchbox in the garden.  Which is probably a kinder slant than interpreting the moral more directly implied by a close-up of John/Johnny's eyes in the final frame: if you're doing a better job than the real thing, but the real thing wants their role back, it's allowable to dispose of them.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Leaving


It's probably hard to advertise a drama about a married woman's affair with a much younger man without making it look both cliched and seedy, and the trailers for 'Leaving' did it no favours.  Some surprise, then, that rather than leaving (sorry, irrestible pun) at the first break, this proved watchable.

Helen McCrory has surely by now assumed the role once reserved for Helen Mirren and Barbara Flynn, that of the thinking man's cupcake.  Although as Julie, she might have spared a thought for her decent and not particularly dull hubby, who had reached a similarly comfortable groove in their marriage, the circumstances of the relationship were deftly written and if the coincidental meeting at the hospital was unlikely, it was a minor flaw in an otherwise unusually sensitive production.  It's written by Tony Marchant, proving yet again that without a good script, a so-so premise goes nowhere.

Aaron (Callum Turner) falls initially for Julie's love of her job, which rekindles his jaded emotions after his girlfriend has jilted him to marry his brother.  It's an unusual definition of a role model, but McCrory is perfectly cast as a spirited, passionate woman at the height of her powers, whose strengths are overlooked or taken for granted.

Oh and nobody got killed, which is refreshing.  Fingers crossed for the entire cast surviving the next two episodes.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Bletchley Circle


If Susan Traherne, the disillusioned heroine of David Hare's 'Plenty' had only spent her war at Bletchley rather than with the SOE, she may have ended up well-adjusted enough to join her namesake (Anna Maxwell Martin) and chums in becoming a cross between Miss Marple and the Famous Five.

This was Ms Maxwell Martin's second TV outing of the week.  On Tuesday she was a compromised prison officer in a not entirely believable story from the 'Accused' series.  'The Bletchley Circle' stretched credulity far more.  It's 1952 and four plucky lasses who had helped crack codes, and therefore enemy heads, in WWII, are living unsatisfying lives on post-war rations.  So they do what any self-respecting ex-Bletchleyites would do and turn private detective.  Two of them have useless husbands, while two have jobs, and one has a couple of children, but these are no obstacles for the crime-busting brain-boxes.

Presumably this is ITV's attempt to catch the 'Call the Midwife' audience, with a circle of women in a man's world and a healthy dose of nostalgia.  The cosiness is jarred by childbirth, sex and poverty in 'Midwife', and by a serial killer here.  Yes, it's another misogynist who also happens to be a necrophiliac.  Sounds more CSI than anything by Christie or Blyton.  The clothes and hair have a similarly modern slant, with a patina of vintage chic, or drear, depending on the character.  This makes for an uncomfortable combination and inevitably the distinctly modern psychological profile approach feels wrong.

And what the hell was the scene with them using lipstick to draw a route on a map?  Dan suggests that maybe they didn't have pencils or pens in those days.  Ali thinks maybe it's making a point that these right-thinking-but-so-feminine gals would gladly sacrifice an expensive luxury like lipstick to save the world.  Or save some women anyway.  There's an unfortunate resonance with a recent EC advert to draw young girls into science, which featured sexily-clad lab assistants getting all experimental with the lipstick.  It was withdrawn within a day after a high number of complaints.

It's no disrespect to Anna MM, Julie Graham, Rachael Stirling or Sophie Rundle to say that it would take better actors to convince us.  We doubt those actors exist.  Too gory for Scooby-Doo, too cosily absurd for serious drama (more Rosemary and Thyme than... well, Midsomer Murders).  Quel dommage.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Mrs. Biggs



Britain in 1957 was so unutterably grim that dowdy bullion office worker Charmian Powell (Sheridan Smith) falls for cheeky chappy Ronnie Biggs (Daniel Mays) after a brief encounter on a train.  She learns he's a convicted criminal, works as a carpenter and lives with another woman, but still agrees to steal from her employer and run away with him.  He hits her, but still she stays.  Her dad is a bully and a bore, but the words 'frying pan' and 'fire' spring to mind.

The performances are as good as expected and the writing by Jeff Pope is competent enough but... an 80-minute episode slipped by before we even got to the so-called Great Train Robbery, and there are another four episodes, presumably of 50 minutes, to go.  We already know what happened, but do we care?  They weren't Robin Hoods, just thieves; not folk heroes, just criminals.  The drama doesn't appear to have anything interesting to say, probably because there's nothing more to be said.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A Mother's Son


What do you do if your son's schoolmate is found killed and you find a pair of stained trainers under his bed?  Assume he's the killer while saying nothing at all about it, according to the latest offering from ITV.  Only in soapland are things this absurd.  "Did you do the washing?" asks mum Rosie (Hermione Norris) in a knowing way, before scouring the web and buying hydrogen peroxide to see if it fizzed when in contact with the suspect trainers.  The boy, Jamie (Alexander Arnold) has been acting strangely, moping about, possibly peeping at his mum's boyfriend's daughter Jess (Antonia Clarke) in the shower and downloading dodgy videos onto his laptop.  And there we were thinking that was typical behaviour for a teenage boy....

It's hard not to think that a top calibre cast (Martin Clunes as Rosie's boyfriend Ben and Jake Davies as his son Rob add to the good work here) could do so much more with a script centred around how a family copes with juvenile violence and criminality than they can with a ridiculously drawn-out 'did he/didn't he' scenario.

Mum eventually confides in her ex-husband, Jamie's natural father David (Paul McGann), but not before we'd shouted ourselves hoarse: "Just ASK him, you daft woman!"  Ex-hubby asks why she hasn't mentioned it to their son.  She says he's too fragile after the divorce to handle being suspected.  Because, obviously, the only way to broach the subject would be to say: "Did you kill that girl?!"  No wonder DC Upton (Nicola Walker) and the victim's mother Kay (Annabelle Apsion) look dazed and confused.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Good Cop


This new BBC1 prime-time four-parter had what is now standard lurid trailer treatment, with quick cuts of violence, anger, despair and love.  We tend to watch things despite trailers these days, not because of them, since similar ad offerings can result in anything from great (Line of Duty) to unwatchable (we'll be circumspect) tv.

The good cop of the title is John Paul Rocksavage (Warren Brown), who looks after his dad but once upon a time wasn't a great boyfriend to Cass (Aisling Loftus).  It opens with his having literal blood on his hands and in possession of a gun, and we then revisit his last eighteen hours.  Unsurprisingly he's had the Mother of all bad days.  By the closing credits, his partner and a lowlife called Noel Finch (the currently ubiquitous Stephen Graham) are both dead and he faces a three-way cat and mouse game with vicious criminals and DCI Costello (Mark Womack).

Gripping yes, but within the bounds of TWH?  We're not so sure.  The villains in question - sneering, brutal and downright nasty, so no grey areas here - appear being rowdy and offensive to a waitress in a restaurant, and then causing a disturbance in a rundown house complete with prostitutes.  Their motivation for ambushing and beating a policeman to death isn't clear, and as a criminal you would surely have one?  These are not teenagers high on drugs, and anyone more sober or experienced would be unlikely to target a uniformed officer, knowing that the penalty would be severe.  Then there are the coincidences: Rocksavage's three encounters with Finch and co. and his finding the bereaved mother he'd been called to earlier at the hospital in a city the size of Liverpool are just a little far-fetched.  Maybe there's some murky design going on here, and this one episode is good enough to keep the viewer watching until all is made clear, but hopefully there will be no more unlikely scenarios.  Wouldn't the scene of crime be manned day and night, for example?  It enables a crucial plot point and there's a throwaway line later about there 'not being a spare uniform' to secure the scene, but it felt like a TWNH nevertheless.

We hope the remainder of the series entertains, and asks pertinent questions about the nature of justice today, either of which requires believable characters in believable situations.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Murder


Good things can come in small packages.  The formulaic procedural may suffer from being squashed into an hour or less, but this was taut, spare and intense.  No cops deliberating over paper-cupped coffee and donuts; no question of suicide or accidental death and no strangers lurking in the shadows.  Instead, two suspects, one of whom is the victim's sister, and a mere handful of others involved in the case, talk directly to camera from Day 1 to Day 115 of a murder inquiry and trial, and finally we are taken back to Day 0.

There are enough revelations about the characters and events in question to make this something like viewing the heavily-edited highlights of police interviews and court proceedings.  Lines and images are repeated to almost poetic effect.  The sad truth is something the viewer is privileged to learn while the jury, the police and the public are not.  So, far from being a TWNH, it's very much like real cases, where the truth evades and only ambiguities, complex emotions and chaotic lives remain.

Joe Dempsie and Karla Crome should be headed for BAFTAs.  Could we not only see more of them, but also more of these risk-taking dramas please?  BBC2 clearly considered it a risk; with no established names to promote it they puffed it as '... from the director of 'The Killing''.  No disrespect to Birger Larsen, whose work on both this and the Danish series is wonderful, but Robert Jones's script and all the performances were good enough to stand out without a peg.  We'd watch something of this standard with only untried talent attached: isn't that what commissioners are paid for?

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Last Weekend



It's something of a handicap when your main characters are MAMCBs - middle-aged, middle-class bores.  OK, Ollie and Daisy are upper-middle (Rupert PJ and Genevieve O'Reilly) and Ian and Em (Shaun Evans and Claire Keelan) are teachers who drive a battered little car and are less RP, but it's a minor distinction.  This is basically a midlife crisis-cum-keeping up with the Jones's drama, and the 'psychological thriller' element seems so far to be wholly down to two immature and fairly unpleasant men who pretend they are friends.

Ian narrates straight to camera from long after the events of the August Bank Holiday, and is untrustworthy from the start.  Unreliable narrators can be a treat, but there's a fine line: too obviously unreliable from the start and you lose the audience.  Ian comes across as a scally in an anorak, who fantasises about his 'friend's wife before sleeping with his own wife.  Em is in fact the only vaguely sympathetic character so far, but even she has been saddled with the tired old cliche of desperately wanting a baby.  We're watching to see who ends up in the coffin, hoping it might possibly be all the main cast.

Parade's End


Ford Madox Ford's is a big tome and deserves a five-hour adaptation, with a good script and the best actors.  This is about as good on all counts as money can buy, and echoes the successful adaptation of Waugh's 'Sword of Honour', similarly about a decent man in an unhappy marriage who goes to war.

The only TWNH was that a member of the audience would fall asleep, but we're sorry to say that one of us did.  Why?  Well the sex was boring, as Sylvia (Rebecca Hall redefines 'shallow' in a great performance) would say.  The unpardonable lapse, though, was during a set-piece scene of a lunch.  It looked beautiful, and featured wonderful actors delivering witty lines impeccably, but overall it was underwhelming and slightly self-conscious.  No doubt things will improve when we reach the Great War (unlike 'Downton Abbey', but this is in a different league altogether) and it isn't as though it lacks pace, but the episode was concerned only with repressive, class-ridden pre-WWI society and felt very much like a light drawing-room comedy.  All the better to contrast with the grim conflict approaching and the post-war disillusion, but that is where the episodic structure reveals its flaws.

Those with more patience and energy, and fans of drawing-room comedies, will enjoy it all.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Best of Men and Bert & Dickie

  



Bert and Dickie plus oars





Ludwig and Wynn plus hospital equipment







Comparisons are inevitable.  Two 90-minute Beeb dramas about the last time London hosted the games, sorry - The Games, one focused on the Olympics double sculls and one on the birth of the Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville hospital.  In tone, not much else differed, since they were both solidly-scripted and well cast biopics, essentially.  Which isn't to say that we quite managed to forget Mr Smith tripping round the universe in the tardis, nor Mr Brydon tripping round the UK with Mr CooganThat this didn't detract from viewing pleasure was thanks to the other cast members, particularly Sam Hoare, Douglas Hodge and Anastasia Hille in 'Bert and Dickie' and Eddie Marsan and George MacKay in 'Best of Men'.

Of the two, though, the latter, shown last night *, had the bigger story to tell, with German-Jewish refugee Ludwig Guttmann pioneering a change in medical attitudes towards patients with spinal injuries in WWII.  Guttmann, as played by Eddie Marsan, is one of the lesser-known heroes of the 20th Century, a man who kept his principles while his country abandoned them, and relocated to a country fighting for freedom (even if rubber bedpans were just as scarce).  The journeys of his patients as they regained their independence, courage and zest for life were perhaps no more unpredictable than that of Bushnell and Burnell as they battled to form a team and win gold, but both were well told and positive, both for aspiring Olympian and Paralympian superstars and mere mortals who play and watch sport... on TV.

* coincidentally within two days of the death of Lord Alf Morris, whose campaign for disability legislation changed the lives of millions. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Accused - spoilers!



This was the first episode in the second series of the 'Accused' strand.  We weren't too impressed by the first series: it was one of the reasons we started this site.  There were too many cases where characters did illogical things - the 'that would never happen' moments that we hate.

This was far better than most of the earlier episodes.  The story concerned Simon, a slightly wimpy teacher, who only really became himself when dressed as Tracie Tremarco.  As Tracie he met Tony, an outwardly geezerish bloke, who was a very repressed gay man.  Both of the leading actors were terrific - Sean Bean was brilliant as both the sharp-tongued Tracie and the English teacher Simon, and Stephen Graham was also very good as the slightly unsure Tony.  Sean Bean has to be up for a BAFTA for his role.  Not to denigrate his achievements in 'Sharpe' and 'Game of Thrones' to name but two, but this is such a departure from those characters and yet after a minute or two we were rooting for Simon/Tracie.  It's probably the best performance he's ever given.

However we did have a few issues with the story.

  • Was it likely that Tracie would get dolled up to go out and sit in a confrontational boozer, given that there were gay clubs in the town?  If (s)he wanted to find a nominally straight man, wouldn't she be better off on the internet?
  • Was it likely that Tony wouldn't recognise Tracie as Simon when they were in the same pub, given they'd slept together?  Albeit while drunk, as far as Simon was concerned.
  • Was it possible that the judge would let Simon appear as Tracie in court (& who bought the new clothes?  The ones he'd been wearing when arrested would have been ruined.)

We don't know enough to comment on Tracy's 'gentleman caller' romantic life, but that seemed a bit TWNH too.

Overall though, we forgave these bits because the performances and the characters were so good.  

One final point about the format.  There are two similar single drama threads on the BBC, this and The Street.  This could probably have worked in both (and in fact Stephen Graham had been a reluctant boyfriend in The Street last year).  Let's hope that they don't give us stories that have a murder shoe-horned in, to make it into the 'Accused' slot.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Thirteen Steps Down


We'd like to say TWNH - that a disturbed young man would never become obsessed by JR Christie to the point where he believes himself haunted and kills a (rather rude) woman which bodes ill for the other object of his obsession, a young model.  We can't of-course pin a TWNH here, however absurd-sounding.  What's less likely is that a young man would have a Cliff Richard record waiting on his stereo, but madness provides any and every excuse on TV.

Ruth Rendell, queen of the 90s murder-mystery and psychodrama, has here penned another nasty and sordid tale of people on the margins who need help but get sex and murder instead.  The problem with adapting her novels into 100-minute teleplays is that she treads a fine line between a familiar world and a fantasy one, even before dead serial killers put in an appearance.  Her anti-hero is called Mix Cellini (Luke Treadaway) and he has a job fixing gym machines that allows him complete autonomy and sex with bored housewives.  He lives in a big, creepy old house with a waspish landlady (Geraldine James) who happens to have had a close brush with Christie in her youth.  Then there's his crush on a supermodel who happens to live nearby, and a girl who sleeps with him on a first date after he's spoken admiringly of a man who killed and then raped a series of women.  Not impossible, then, but unlikely taken altogether, and far more convincing with the time and care of good prose - a slow immersion in a fictional world rather than a hasty onscreen dunking.

So, will Mix kill Nerissa (Elarica Gallacher) before his landlady and her formidable friends (Gemma Jones and Anna Calder-Marshall) find out what he's up to?  It's watchable, but not one of Rendell's best.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Hollow Crown


The Extremely Light Crown would be a more fitting title.  From the way it's picked up one-handed, rolled around and generally bandied about, it must be made of sprayed aluminium.  Great for the actors, but not so wonderful for the kings, we would think, especially not Richard, whose girlish vanity undid him in the first of these Shakespearean history play adaptations.

We've seen them all before, but are not scholars of the texts, so the fact that they've been chopped up and about for the screen didn't bother us in the way it might, conceivably, to purists.  To us, they were outstanding.  The visuals were gorgeous, from lighting and costume to the choice of interior and exterior locations (though wouldn't the castles have been a bit less bare?).  Actors must have been fighting each other as fiercely as they do onscreen to be cast.  Accusations that the BBC is behind the times can be quashed here and now: yes, this is what they do best, but they have taken this seriously enough to trounce their own previous productions of these plays.  They are as freed from the stage as it's possible for Shakespeare to be, and the text rings out as clearly as the lyrical, metred lines allow.

Fabulous.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Blackout - spoilers



In the first of a three-part drama, Daniel Demoys (Christopher Eccleston) is an alcoholic, sex-addicted councillor of an unnamed city where it's always raining.  City Hall is some vast monolithic nightmare.  His daughter dances at a school performance with smudge-dark eyes and they live in a house that even Dracula might want to brighten up a bit.  You'd be forgiven for thinking this was Gotham City and that Eccleston might be wavering between donning a bat mask or a too-large painted grin.

He meets a businessman in a dark alley, at night, in the eternal rain, and it's obvious he's bent as the proverbial nine-bob.  They argue, there's violence.  Cut to Daniel waking up to find out his wife has reached the end of her patience, his kids are frightened of him and the businessman he fought with is comatose in a hospital.  He goes to his estranged sisters, who happens to be a solicitor, for help.  She's a crusader, but even she doesn't want to know what her brother's been up to.  Until, that is, he takes a bullet for a young black man who's her client, and a witness in a controversial trial.  She enlists a political fixer who pushes Daniel to stand for the mayoral elections.  Daniel says no, no again, then yes, warning his potential voters that he's a bad boy.  As if to prove it, the comatose businessman dies, leaving a daughter who thinks Daniel is a hero for his very public act of good.  The loose thread who could undo him, however, is really the prostitute he'd had in the back of a downmarket bar, who witnessed the fight with the businessman and was caught on cctv running away.  She has an ex still obsessed with her who has a career as... you've guessed it, a cop.

Could turn out to be wonderful, but probably won't.  (What's the betting that the prostitute gets killed and it could be Daniel or the ex?)  Nonetheless, we'll be tuning in for the second episode, for the performances if nothing else.  Olivia Cooke as Daniel's teenaged daughter is particularly affecting.  It's just a shame that they have to make a fairly TWNH storyline even less believable by having Daniel recover from a serious shooting in no time flat, to the point where he's wandering around the hospital - in ITU of all places - lying on his injured side and allowing his wife to lean on his injured shoulder.  Maybe he is a superhero/supervillain after all.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Line of Duty




Having made no effort to catch Jed Mercurio’s previous antiseptic offerings ‘Bodies’ and ‘Cardiac Arrest’, we came to this with only the hope of something less self-conscious than ‘The Shadow Line’ and less run-of-the-mill than almost every other cop show.

The first of five episodes set up some nice ambiguities.  If none of the characters are hugely sympathetic, so far, then they’re not outright bad-guy villains either, just people making choices according to circumstance.  Wonderful Lennie James is DCI Tony Gates, whose soaring crime clear-up rate brings him under suspicion of cherry-picking easy-win cases.  DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), whose moral compass points so truly to north he probably can’t sit down, is assigned to Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) to investigate.  DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) meanwhile has succeeded in joining Gates’s team undercover.  Whether guilty or innocent of the above, Gates is compromised: he has a wife (Kate Ashfield) and children, as well as a mistress (Gina McKee) who has dragged him into covering up her involvement in a hit-and-run that may have been deliberate.

Nothing to dislike so far.  (Neil Morrissey as a sleazy cop may just be inspired casting.)  The style is background to the script and action, for once, and it’s a promising premise to look at the system of modern policing as something that allows or even encourages foul play.



Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Silk


Best described as 'solid'.  One of those not-great-not-terrible legal dramas with a better cast than it deserves.  Really don't understand the praise this has garnered, although the second series which finishes tonight has been better than the first.  The omission of the irritating pupils was a good move, ditto the single-career-woman-in-mid-life-pregnancy story.


More moral dilemmas with slightly less predictable turnouts and this would be a cut above.  And perhaps less of the insufferable Clive's bedroom antics.

Mad Men Series 5 - some spoilers




Mad Men - five series down, two to go.  Instead of reviewing storylines, we thought it was probably easier to see how each of the characters had developed over the course of this series.  

Don - As the lynchpin of the show Don has had a good series.  Free from Betty, he's been reasonably happy with - aka faithful to - Megan, and it's all been pretty much believable.  The only negatives are the occasional visions, which seem to be out of sync with the more-or-less natural tone of the rest of the show.  Less of those please!

Roger - Also a good series.  As a functioning alcoholic (with seemingly everlasting finances) we can buy him experimenting with LSD and realising his latest marriage was a leap in the dark that hasn't worked out.

Bert - Bert hasn't appeared much, but he's also been true to his character.   He told Don to 'get back to work' after lots of Megan distractions, and in fact he'd have done that earlier.

Lane - The series has a habit of making the male characters sleazy if it doesn't know what to do with them.  (See below!)  This series we got Sleazy Lane at the beginning, but then better storylines developed.  Halfway through we felt sorry for Jared Harris, arguably the best actor in the show, getting such a poor deal, but he had some great scenes later on.  RIP.

Pete - Sleazy Pete! Pete is a great character, and very believable as a young, thrusting ad man, but the show doesn't really know what do do with him outside work.  Hence Sleazy Pete.

Peggy - Finally she got another job.  As with Pete, they really don't know what to do with Peggy outside (& maybe inside) the office.  Ali has had a gripe with this since MM began.  Why should the nominally go-ahead character have such uninspiring stories?  Because most of the writers are male and don't know what to do with her, or understand her?  Could Peggy either go or have some kind of proper, full series story arc?

Megan - It (kind of) came good in the end, but Megan has the potential to turn into another Betty dramatically, in that she'll drag the show down whenever she appears.

Joan - We wondered midway through, but Joan ended up with the sort of full series story arc that Peggy needs.  She also arguably had the best single episode story too (the pitch) and we'd put money on her becoming an even more important character in the remaining series.

Fabulous cast, strong and intelligent writing.  Bring on Series 6!


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

True Love





'Mad Men' is the honourable exception to our Sky avoidance.  Or more accurately, it's the only thing non-terrestrial and non-freeview that we bother to tune in for or tape.  Hence the recent silence, since it's the only channel featuring anything that hasn't been shown 58 times already.  With the summer lull upon us, the schedules are full of cheap stuff, like dud Jubilee coverage and Olympics promos.  We were hoping for a pleasant diversion in bite-sized chunks, set in the faded, tawdry splendour of MargateThe trailer promised much, not least a starry cast, and on this at least it's delivered.

Admittedly, we are only one down with four still to go, but on the strength of the first story, featuring David Tennant, Joanne Froggatt and Vicky McClure, it's going to be a struggle.  Hurrah for scriptwriters.  Hurrah for Mike Leigh for coaxing decent dialogue via workshopping and improvisation.  Either would have been welcome here, but instead we got actors with rabbit-in-headlights expressions, obviously uncomfortable at being given banal storylines and having to come up with lines on the spot.  Needless to say, they conveyed love by saying "I love you" and "I love you too", and on unexpectedly bumping into an old acquaintance they say, "Well this is..." and "Yeah, yeah, it's...yeah."  It was like watching well-known actors appearing in something like TOWIE.  What's worse, the advance publicity suggests that the next four episodes will be essentially the same story (person either bereft or in relationship fancies alternative) with slightly tweaked scenarios.  Sad to say, but there were also some likely TWNH moments: would Serena really fly over from Canada to look up old flame Nick, rather than attempting, initially, to find and friend him on Facebook?  Would Nick be so hung up on her that he jumps straight into an affair that he hides from his wife but no-one else?  Would said wife be so quick to forgive him?

Good on the actors for being game, and all that, and good old Margate for being a better backdrop than most would credit, but slight stories and even slighter lines make an extremely underwhelming watch.