Monday, 27 August 2012


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.