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


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?