Thursday, 26 December 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley

Fan-fic!  Don't you just love it?  Well apparently about half of us do and the other half would rather re-read the originals or, heaven forfend, something entirely new.  This is the adaptation of PD James's criminal spin on Jane Austen, pun intended.  It seems unlikely that Baroness James woke up one morning possessed with the need to pen a crime thriller set in the fictional world of the Darcys, Bennetts et al, but stranger things happen in the world of business-driven arts these days.  (We heard about an agent who requested a crime writer to 'set something in the trenches' with 2014 in mind, and when said writer suggested writing something about Dr Watson - yes, he of Holmes - almost had his arm bitten off in the agent's eagerness to snap up a likely bestseller.)  'Death Comes to Pemberley' sold well, despite a mixed reception, and was an inevitable adaptation for television, with almost as inevitable a slot at Christmas.

As a Dickens/Eliot/Bronte substitute drama, it has a cast of similar calibre and there are enough familiar pointers to reassure lovers of 'Pride and Prejudice'.  It's a handsomely mounted production (though we note Elizabeth, chateleine of Pemberley, did seem to spend a lot of time in the same dress) but the murder-mystery was an odd addendum to the light but incisive wit of the original.  Death also came rather slowly to Pemberley after all, it was a good half an hour before a murder was established.  We'll keep watching tomorrow and Saturday, though unless the murderer is someone unknown, there aren't too many possible suspects.

So now that Death has come to Pemberley, and we've been Lost in Austen, could the time now have arrived (please!) where new adaptations of other classics, or even new writing, appear onscreen?  Those who want fan fiction can find endless interpretations of endless classic stories for free on the internet, albeit of variable quality.  Seeing a costly, well-written production that tweaks a familiar setting and characters is somehow like warmed-up leftovers: never as good as the original serving.

The Tractate Middoth

Montague Rhodes James must be one of the most terrifying men who ever lived.  He looked mild enough and was a scholar at Cambridge, but depending on your inclination he would probably be the very first or very last choice to be stranded in a lonely old house with on a stormy night.  Or any night.  Or even any time at all.  Penned over a hundred years ago, his stories still send shudders down the spine, freeze the blood and generally get under the skin.  To anyone who has read or seen 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad', weighing down the sheets on an unused twin bed will seem a perfectly sound act, likewise shunning a pair of binoculars unless the exact provenance is known after 'A View from a Hill'.  To say Mark Gatiss is one of his keenest fans is an understatement, and lucky Mr G had the largesse of BBC2 on Christmas night to indulge his fascination.

This was lucky for us, too.  We can't help thinking that a venegeful demon or two would liven up 'Downton Abbey' no end, but meanwhile, we switched over gratefully and settled down with some pud to watch 'The Tractate Middoth'.  We found ourselves in familiar James territory: a dusty old library, arcane texts and men with dubious motives.  As befits a Christmas tale, it was greed that proved the undoing of at least one character, John Eldred (John Castle, another actor of whom we see too little) and possibly of his successor Mrs. Simpson (Louise Jameson).  James's stories always tease with ambiguity.  While there are descriptive passages of what the protagonist/victim suffers, we're left wondering what exactly it is that has been unleashed on them.  This clever absence of explanation leaves us unsure of how to avoid the same fate (though avoiding spiders wherever possible would seem a good start).

Gatiss is a godsend as a genuinely inventive writer who presumably enjoys writing for TV.  Are others with his talent champing at the bit?  We guess not, or not visibly to producers, who have at times denied us Christmas ghost stories altogether.  Perhaps the only, smallest of quibbles with the adaptation was the explicit visibility of the malevolence that haunts the pages of the book to such ill effect.  This was also in evidence in 'Crooked House' a few years ago, which until the flashing light sequence towards the end had proved the best Jamesian tale we had seen by another author.  (Jeremy Dyson's 'The Haunted Book' has a similar seen-in-strobe effect in one story).  Less is more when it comes to fear... but we're aware that it's a matter of personal taste, and that it's hard to convey visually what James manages so well in print.

At just over 30 minutes, a great little Christmas treat.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Great Train Robbery

There must be some correlation between a society's sophistication and its obsession with deviance and were we to look, probably a few hundred PhD theses filed away on the subject.  In the wake of the recent 'Mrs. Biggs' comes 'The Great Train Robbery' about the antics of Buster, Biggs and the rest of the criminal gang in 1963.  (Not to be confused with the 19th Century attempt on a train that was turned into a novel and then a rather camp film by Michael Crichton in the 1970s, nor the 1903 Western.)  Not that it isn't an interesting tale, but the endless fascination induces the same queasiness as those other much-dramatised mid-20th Century cases, the Kray twins and Lord Lucan.  Somehow the violence becomes a by-product.

Does this new production avoid that trap?  Not entirely.  For every shot of sweaty men in dingy rooms in vests, there's a scene of the all-male gang in balaclavas and bowler hats; while they may have spent much time in greasy spoons, what's depicted is a nightclub scene with the gang as erstwhile Goodfellas, and while we're on comparisons, the stylised title sequence bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the late, lamented 'The Hour,

The based-on-truth story is almost undeserving of the script and cast, with Luke Evans as gang leader Reynolds and Neil Maskell as Buster Edwards fleshing out the moral ambiguity and Jack Roth unnerving as Charlie Wilson.

"Mickey Mouse!" spits Buster at a bewildered ex-train driver who asks his name, "and the pleasure's all yours."  This 90 minutes (of 180) was the criminals' tale, astonishingly aptly broadcast on the day when the real Ronnie Biggs breathed his last.  It was entertainingly tense, despite the outcome being known, presumably, by the majority of the audience.  There was no attempt to give the Reynolds gang hearts of gold or good intentions, but the line about not taking guns rings hollow in the wake of the train driver's fate.  These were men who took pride in their criminal 'careers', prepared to use violence to get rich without honest work and, far from meticulously planning to the last detail, they left too much to chance to get away with it.  In the days of DNA and other advanced forensic evidence, they'd have been lucky to get to Reigate, let alone Rio.

Maybe that's a more palatable explanation for Britain's fascination with them: from the Gunpowder Plot to the Dunkerque evacuation, it's not exactly victories we seem to love to celebrate, but near-misses.

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Lucky Lord Lucan won over £20,000 in one night at the tables in Le Touquet, in the days when you could easily buy a couple of 3-bed semis for that sum.  Had he also been Logical Lord Lucan he would have walked away and never entered any place of gambling again.  He was, however, a gambling addict, a bored husband and, by Jeff Pope's account (based on John Pearson's book 'The Gamblers') a bit of a waste of space.  In short, if you think the British aristocracy are, or even were, a bunch of loveable eccentrics, or bores a la 'Downton Abbey', then you won't enjoy ITV's dramatization of this case, arguably of Britain's most famous missing criminal.

John Bingham, Earl Lucan (Rory Kinnear, superb) is a deeply unhappy 'professional gambler' who spends his time at the tables of John Aspinall's Clermont Club in Berkeley Square.  To most of us under 50, Aspinall is synonymous with zoo-keeping, which is ironic considering his belief in animal instincts and his wilful interpretation of Darwinian theory.  Here played by a cast-against-type Christopher Eccleston, his chief assets in life are his easy-seeming charm and his hosting abilities, which he uses to lure the scion of England's landed families into gambling away their inheritances.  Along with his waning wealth, Lucan is tired of his marriage to Veronica (Catherine McCormack, whom we don't see enough of these days) but determined not to lose custody of his children.  Unfortunately for him, he confides in Aspers, who advises using any means necessary to get what he wants.  When Lucan's original plan to accuse his wife of insanity backfires, his pathetic self-pity turns to anger for which the children's nanny, Sandra Rivett (Leanne Best) will ultimately pay.

Lady Lucan and the children are very much alive (and unsurprisingly did not collaborate in the making of the drama) but Lucan's disappearance after that November night in 1974 has made him into an enigma.  Unproven sightings are many and varied, as are claims that he is definitely dead, and next week's conclusion to this re-telling may not convince us either way, but this is a very watchable, well-cast and acted production.  It's a shame that the subject matter leaves a sour taste in the mouth.  No doubt the idea wasn't to glamorise people who were only extraordinary for their (largely unearned) wealth and possibly their viciousness, but there's no satisfaction in realising that who and not what you know is still the way things work, and that there is still a sense of entitlement from those at the top, with a widening gap between them and those at the bottom.

Friday, 29 November 2013


The trouble with Cold War spy thrillers is that the genre is a minefield of cliches.  Mr. Le Carre has a lot to answer for.  Paula Milne has adapted Alan Judd's novel of the same name into a 90-minute prime-time BBC2 thriller which throws Judd's hero Charles Thoroughgood (based on Judd himself, perhaps?  He shares his army and diplomatic background.) in at the deep end of MI6 during the dark days of 1970s Britain.  He's given the task of 'turning' his old Oxford friend, Russian diplomat Viktor Koslov (Andrew Scott, aka Moriarty), only to find on making contact that Viktor has a card up his own sleeve which calls Charles's bluff in a very personal way.

For fans of 1970s nostalgia there are the cars, the blackouts and the abominable fashions and hairstyles (but only, we note, sported by peripheral characters: MI6 weren't so undercover that they grew their hair or wore kipper ties, clearly) and there's also the inevitable love interest, in the form of unhappily married fellow spy Anna March (Romola Garai who, let's face it, adds class to everything she appears in).

Exploring his own father's alleged betrayal, his feelings for Anna and his assignment with Viktor via the latter's prostitute lover Eva (Olivia Grant, slightly miscast as a 24-year-old), Charles ploughs a leisurely furrow accompanied by a jerkily zooming camera which had the effect of distracting from the dialogue.  Is this lack of subtlety in filming in vogue?  We hope it passes.  Luckily for him and us, Charles has solid support from Simon Russell Beale as senior operative Hookey.  SRB does not grace our small screens often, and his every appearance is a memorable event.  When he is allied to Geraldine James as stalwart Martha, there's no switching off.

Perfectly good of its kind, but not landmark television in the way of, say, 'Tinker Tailor...' or 'Smiley...'.  Perhaps it's the fact that the novel was published in 2012 and this was made in the same year.  Le Carre's stories were, after all, just about contemporary to the Cold War, albeit at a late stage, and there was, if not a grubbiness, then at least a seediness to proceedings.  In the UK we are used to equating the 1970s with the down-at-heel, which is maybe why James Bond didn't work so well in that decade (and he was mostly abroad, and let's not mention Roger Moore).  Glamour, so long associated with espionage, was largely absent from the average Briton's shores, having fled with the 60s and only returning, to a degree, with the garish 80s.  Somehow these pretty young things in their stylish clothes with their cool attitudes seem at odds with both the era and the rather workaday image we now have of the security services.  Beautifully moody shots of rainy alleys and gloomy seasides add style, but not substance.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Escape Artist

Remember that ITV drama by Anthony Horowitz about a brilliant barrister whose world gets turned upside-down?  No, neither do we, really, except a vague memory of it being ludicrously far-fetched.  Here's the BBC version, with Man of the Hour David Tennant as Will Burton, the barrister who has everything (lovely wife, cute kid, conscience, gorgeous home in the city, gorgeous home in the country, undisputed top spot at the Bar etc. etc.) but whose life unravels after he successfully defends a client accused of an horrific and violent murder... and refuses to shake his hand.

There's a never-ending list of cliches: Toby Kebbell's psycho Liam Foyle has turned his house into an aviary and has a nice line in mercurial charm and snarling temper; he turns up at the window on a dark night while Mrs. Burton (Ashley Jensen) is wallowing in a candlelit bath; the judge is almost tangibly anti-Will, but is forced to shelve the case thanks to his prejudice; fellow barrister Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo) is so ambitious it blinds her to the dangers of Mr. Foyle.

It's entertaining enough in a schlocky kind of a way, but undeserving of the talents of its cast.  We're expected to believe that nice barristers visit primary schools to talk about their work and that they are shocked to the core by child crime, violent internet porn and necrophilia.  If lawyers thought the world was a gentle place, they'd be in another job, and if clients took revenge like this one, it'd be a far less popular profession.  Hmm, maybe this drama will have a positive impact after all.

Saturday, 12 October 2013


One of those stalwart series the Beeb does so well, 'Truckers' takes a dash of 'Clocking Off' and a pinch of 'Common as Muck' (by the same writer, William Ivory) and with a reasonable script and good actors, makes a Thursday night worth fiddling with the recorder/box/iPlayer to catch.  It's not going to be among the annals of the greatest TV series of all time, but on ITV at the same time is 'Breathless'.  Need we say more? 

Masters of Sex

A dramatized account of the work of Dr William Masters, who with his assistant Virginia Johnson began to study human sexual response and dysfunction in the late 1950s.  Its sleazy pun of a title belies its class, with a hair-trigger script that can at times rival 'Mad Men' and the kind of performance from Michael Sheen that makes him equally as convincing playing Caligula, Tony Blair and Brian Clough... though maybe that isn't such a leap after all.

Will it sustain a season's worth and then some?  We have our doubts, but in the spirit of carpe diem, we'll watch while the going is good.


So this is Britain's answer to 'Mad Men'?  In that case we really are a fifth-rate, insignificant island off the corner of Europe.  Dan and I are not among those who think that MM is the best thing ever to have hit the screens, but it's pretty darned good, mostly, and in comparison to this it's searingly brilliant.  Lest anyone be confused here, this has only a kitsch title sequence and coiffed hair in common with Draper and co.  In every other sense, this is more akin to that pinnacle of UK prime-time, 'The Royal': smarmy surgeons, doe-eyed nurses, neurotic wives and a Best of the 60s soundtrack.  The saucy doctor's sideline in illegal abortions feels borrowed from 'Call the Midwife', and the presence of Davenport, Little, Parish and Glen merely reminds you how good they can be elsewhere.

It doesn't score highly on the factual front either.  Nurses in the 1960s weren't allowed out of hospital grounds in uniform, but 'Breathless' has them kitted out at home and in public.  Is this a budget restriction or lazy research?  It may seem a small point, but it's easy enough to ask any veteran nurse and we need look no further for one of the causes of those 'inexplicable' infections on the wards.

If Britain had an answer to the Madison Avenue antics of Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce...) it was shaping up to be 'The Hour'.  If this goes on beyond one series, we'll be Breathless... with indignation.

Monday, 30 September 2013

By Any Means

To call this drama original would be stretching it somewhat.  Ever heard of a crack unit of crime-fighters who work 'in the shadows'?  Yes, we've heard it all before too, several times, and with varying success.

Taking its title, rather improbably, from Jean Paul Sartre (by way of Malcolm X) the team works outside the law, as a squad of fixers who can get the right thing done when the baddie seems to either have a cast iron alibi, or a good enough legal team who can keep him out of the clutches of the law.

Two episodes in, and it's very formulaic.  Helen Barlow (Gina McKee) briefs Jack Quinn (Warren Brown) on a miscarriage of justice, and asks him to sort it out (a bit like in Charlie's Angels).  Jack goes back to the team, and they decide how they are going to proceed, each using their special skills (a bit like in Pimp My Ride).  The plan progresses with a few slip ups until the crook has been tricked into incriminating himself, and is caught (a bit like in Scooby Doo).

It's perfectly watchable, within these constraints, but maybe the most interesting thing is that IMDB says that it's filmed in Birmingham, given the number of shots of classic London landmarks like The Gherkin.  The director's shown real skill and imagination in weaving these in - if only there was the same s&i shown in the script.  

I'm not sure how confident the BBC is in this.  It's been scheduled against Downton, when the Spooks slot on Monday evening would have been a better idea,  so maybe the writing's on the wall for it already.  

One final point: we want more John Henshaw!  Give him more to do - IMDB says he's only in two series of this - and craft a series (drama or comedy) around him.  He's the next David Jason and the next Bryan Cranston rolled into one.  Why can no one else see this?

John Henshaw - the next David Jason *and* the next Bryan Cranston

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Peaky Blinders *spoilers*

Well spotted that the smooth-looking Cillian Murphy doesn't feature in the above line-up.  This 'based on true events' series follows on from the gangs-are-sexy ethos that inspired 'Gangs of New York' in the cinema and more recently 'Ripper Street' on TV.  Well, they do say the police is the biggest national gang in any country....

The first problem is the accent.  To viewers who are Brummies, the actors make a decent stab at best, and at worst, stabbing would probably be less painful.  To non-Brummie viewers, it's almost incomprehensible and sounds like they're taking the p***.

Then, what is this trend for interpreting late 19th and early 20th Century England in terms of the Wild West?  Lawless elements and beleaguered policeman who cross the line are hardly the same as frontier towns under threat from bounty hunters and Indians.  So, twanging guitars and a modern thumping beat for good measure seem out of place.  The streets are suitably filthy, but the inhabitants have a neat dividing line between the extras, who are also filthy, and the main characters - Peakies, police and pretty young women - who are smart and clean.  There's also something in the hairstyles and clothes that is more 2013 than 1919.  Yes, we know it's a drama, but it seems patronizing, or cowardly, or perhaps just lazy, to assume that the audience wants something that places a drama set in 1919 firmly in the here-and-now.

The other thing that makes this contemporary is its inclusion of Chinese and Italian communities, and a black preacher.  They were about in Birmingham to be sure (as the Irish characters say) but whether they are all relevant to the plot or just window dressing is anyone's guess.

Nonetheless, this first episode sets the scene nicely enough.  WWI veteran Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) has ambitions for his family and his gang while senior copper Sam Neill arrives in the city determined to stop them in their tracks.  Strong roles for women, with Helen McCrory a brilliant-as-steel matriarch Aunt Polly, but the wilful Ada (Sophie Rundle) and especially the undercover cop Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), who is set up as a love interest for Tommy in the corniest way possible, seem like characters from a modern soap rather than the inter-war midlands.   Oh and Andy Nyman is a convincing younger Churchill and deserves a mention for his one scene.

Overall, handsomely mounted and enough of interest to keep watching, but suspect this is style over substance.

The Wipers Times

Typically British, we struggled with the nuances of foreign languages.  Ypres?  What sort of nonsensical word is that?  Wipers will do.  This 90-minuter co-penned by Ian Hislop about two of his favourite subjects - WWI and satire - is a nicely-focused piece about a newspaper printed at the front on a salvaged printer (which seems to work better than any modern domestic counterpart, even after a direct hit) for the troops in the trenches.  The content is brought to life in sketches acted by the soldiers which surprisingly doesn't slow the narrative.  Its tight focus precludes much of the grim business of war, but the writers take knowledge of the conflict as a given, in much the same way as their WWI counterparts did.  Which is rare and nice.

We didn't know about the Wipers, and aren't entirely ignorant of the Great War, so this was another rare thing: a genuinely educational drama.  Clearly the paper became a lifeline for many of its readers and most of all for its writers, who combated the ongoing insanity that surrounded them with humour.

Friday, 13 September 2013


If dystopian narratives are your thing, then this one-off drama is for you.  The title gives it away: the UK suffers a week-long failure of the national grid and here for your delectation is what would happen.  Well, it's a version of what might happen, which is dark in the extreme.  The mobile phone/digicam footage supposedly collaged from those who experience this chaos works well, and the footage is all too believable thanks to judicious use of real news clips of violent protests, traffic tailbacks and the 2011 riots.  Our hesitation in recommending is for the utter nihilism portrayed.  Would things be rosy?  Almost certainly not, but there would doubtless be a great many people who stayed at home, coped on rations and helped their neighbours.  No sign of that here.  And that contrasts with the copout about the cause of the disruption, attributed to 'cyber-hackers' who somehow blow the whole country's power.  We can believe that backup measures aren't what they should or could be, but a seven-day outage is more likely to be caused by a lack of fuel.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Guilty

Aliens browsing our TV archives in the future will probably deduce that child abduction and murder was extremely common in the early 21st Century.  In the wake of 'May Day' and 'Broadchurch', not to mention 'The Killing', to name but three recent examples, comes this, a three-part ITV drama with Tamsin Greig as DCI Maggie Brand, investigating the discovery of little Callum Reid's body, five years after his disappearance.  It's another skeletons-in-the-community story, this time a smart riverside estate, which switches between 2008 and now.  Mother Claire (Katherine Kelly) copes with an errant husband and a reluctant stepson while the DCI is herself a mother of a troubled young son.  Then there's the object of Mr. Reid's interest - and seemingly every other male on the block - blonde and flirtatious neighbour Teresa, and the suspicious au-pair Nina and her unpleasant boyfriend.

To say this is cliched is pointless.  A murdered child is likely to engender similar reactions in any situation, and while truth may be stranger than fiction, something wide of the mark in a drama is just going to be unbelievable.  Hence, the grieving mother, the sexual secrets, the setting up of many suspects etc.  It's mostly well done, such as the opening sequence of Callum in 2008 and the 2013 call to the helpline for the missing child, which establishes the premise in seconds without having to tell us anything.  Then there are the inevitable lazy moments.  A BBQ in 2008 features music that was probably in a compilation 'Hits of 2008'.  We've said this before, but does nobody in TV dramas listen to anything but current pop?  And while we're on the subject of soundtrack, the sad piano refrain denoting Claire's memories as she wanders around his empty bedroom crying is unnecessary.  What else would she be but grieving?

Other than portraying us a nation and perhaps a world of selfish adults, unfit to be around our children, the gist of all these dramas seems to be that small communities of any kind should be avoided at any cost.

Monday, 26 August 2013

What Remains

If you are feeling a gaping hole where a depressing drama should be after the end of 'Southcliffe', look no further than 'What Remains', BBC1's new four-part offering for Sunday nights.  Len Harper (David Threlfall, occasionally sporting Frank Gallagher's mumble), is that most-dramatised of detectives, the lonely cop facing an imminent, empty retirement.  Then he gets called to an old house, divided into flats, in which a mummified body has been found in the attic.

We can't accuse this of lacking realism: the house and its basement flat owner bear more than a passing resemblance to the case of Joanna Yeates, while the scenario of a resident in a block dying and going unnoticed for years is spookily similar to the tragic end of Joyce Vincent.  Basgallop weaves together these two premises in a suspenseful hour that introduces the late Melissa Young (Jessica Gunning, a staple of 'Law & Order: UK' and a standout in 'White Heat') and her unfriendly neighbours in the gloomy house.  Incredulity aside about the assumption that she'd just left - it could happen and did to Joyce V - it did seem odd that the heavily pregnant Ms Khan would shin up a ladder into the loft, or opt to stay in her new flat which had a very unsavoury leak in the ceiling.  And the line about the smell being hardly noticeable wasn't very convincing either.

Shaping up to be gripping, even if the thought that we are all so easily forgotten is a depressing one and says nothing positive about our fellows.

Sunday, 4 August 2013


A four-parter from Channel 4 already being compared to ITV's recent 'Broadchurch', this has a reporter returning to his fictional home town of Southcliffe to investigate a rampage killing.  The first episode has focused almost entirely on Stephen (Sean Harris, who must be wary of typecasting after this and playing killer Ian Brady) in the days leading up to the gun spree.  David (Rory Kinnear) is a jaded reporter who grew up in the town and is about to return for the worst of reasons.  This doesn't break the mould in terms of the killer's profile: we so far have enough of a glimpse of his painful past and his lonely present to recognise a lost soul, and we even see a bruising encounter with recent Afghanistan-returnee Chris (Joe Dempsie) and his ex-SAS uncle which seems to prove the final straw.

Dark and tense, the only minor irritations were David's to-camera journo-speak about England's 'everytown' and the frequent ad breaks. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Mill

Yes, as in 'trouble at', although apparently based on real-life incidents.  Not satisfied with making us miserable in 'The Village', the TV schedulers have decided we need a bigger dose of dour and dirty everyday folk in days of yore.  Fans of 'The Paradise' and 'Mr Selfridge' need not tune in, and fans of 'Downton Abbey' had better stay away too.

Ah, those were the days.  Britain at the head of an empire, the richest country in the world by far, none of this workers rights rubbish - they worked twelve-hour days for a pittance and a handful of porridge or they starved in the streets.  Welfare?  The cause of all ills.  Get the masses to work so they know that their place is to serve their betters.  Then we can bring industry back to Britain, once again the workshop of the world... - what?  Inhumane?  Plenty of kids in the Third World work that way today don't they?  There are plenty of charities and philanthropists to help, and then talent will out.  Any little entrepreneurs among the workers can climb the ladder if they want it badly enough.  If they fail, it's their own fault.

This is costume drama a la Ken Loach, which could almost be a schools history series.  Dark is this mill (Quarry Bank) and satanic, in the form of overlooker (no pun intended, 'Shining' fans) Crout (Craig Parkinson, who must have bagged Central Casting's no. 1 spot for villains) who treats his favourite girls to a bit of a grope in the privy.  As one of them says, he's a well-known "beard-splitter".  Life were romantic in them days.

The merchant, mill-owning Gregs are busy fighting the proposed Ten-Hour Bill and advancing the machinery, while the young workers are supervised by a Squeers-like pair.  Yes, all cliches, but none the less true for that.  Whether this four-parter works out as a drama rather than a history lesson is yet to be seen, though feisty Esther looks set to give her masters pause for thought, or even a pain in the rear.  Ah yes, those were the days alright.  Decent working conditions were at least in the ascendant and coming closer, rather than being eroded.  Go Esther, and we hope you're not turning in your grave.

Burton and Taylor

We tried, but we just couldn't do it.  No offence to Dominic West or Helena Bonham-Carter, but they're just not Burton and Taylor.  Who's in the pic above?  Mr West and Ms Bonham-Carter.  There's no getting over it.  The originals' extravagant personas were all their own, and their relationship, while it had many public facets, was after all a private affair (marriage-divorce-marriage).  Who's in the pic below?  Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  

Thursday, 25 July 2013


It's an apt title.  The opening credits rap out loudly over scenes of some unappealing-looking young men acting shiftily (not another self-consciously stylish gangster show: hate) but this quickly gives way to the plot, with the cataclysmic act happening within the first ten minutes (not signposted, almost understated: love), building characters within the context of this event (with some changes in viewers' understanding of the situation along the way: love) but failing to avoid certain family-gangster cliches (like the prodigal boy and the girl he left behind, who has moved on, but whom he still loves: hate) and ending with a strangely uneven anti-climax to a will-they-won't-they scenario (will-they-won't-they kill someone they've dragged into the woods, that is: indifference, ultimately).

Three parts left to go, and it's tantalising enough to tune in next week, or even set to record for the joy of watching performers like Aidan Gillan and Ruth Negga.  Let's hope it evens out, avoids any further cliches (or resolves them in original ways) and relies on its writing and acting rather than slathered rap or stylish tricks.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


This review is later than planned because 'Run' is stripped across four consecutive nights on Channel 4 at 10pm, which is after all what recording devices are for, no?  I suppose watching it live is wonderful for anyone whose memory is more like a goldfish than an elephant, but for many of us it's just impossible.  So there, TV schedulers.

Anyway, to the drama itself.  Olivia Colman is the estranged partner of an abusive man and the mother of two troubled and troublesome teenaged sons.  She lives on an estate with walkways and underpasses and works in a dead-end job.  It might be 'Shameless' without the laughs except that the family dynamics and the plot take some very dark turns indeed.  Less shameless than unflinching, and a very believable exploration of lives behind cases on the news and in court.  It's not an enjoyable watch, or a comfortable one, with our put-upon mum smoking like the proverbial chimney and drinking tins of cheap lager every five minutes, but the writing is raw, and Colman's performance is one of her finest.  You want good things to happen, even while you know they are unlikely.  Roll on eps. 2-4.  Parliament should be made to watch before ever again uttering words about Broken Britain and cuts as though they knew what that means for millions.

Update, having watched the remaining episodes.  They didn't disappoint, so a big hello to the two writers, from whom we hope to have more.  And we liked Lennie James before but now we love him.  We defy anyone who has a heart not to have it wrung out by his rehab dad, even if they hate drugs and love their cars - can't say more without spoilers.  Fabulous.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Top of the Lake

Jane Campion's six-part series for television makes it UK debut on BBC2.  Set in New Zealand's beautiful South Island, detective Robin (Elizabeth Moss, spreading her wings from 'Mad Men's Peggy and the London stage) returns from Sydney to visit her ailing mother and is drawn into the strange life of young girl Tui (Jacqueline Joe), twelve and pregnant, and by the end of the episode missing.  Fellow American, and Campion veteran Holly Hunter, appears as GJ, a spiritual guru for troubled women who sets up camp in some shipping containers on a site known as Paradise.  Tui's wayward father Matt (Peter Mullan, whom we could watch forever and a day) has staked a claim on the same land, and is so narked with the land agent that he takes cruel revenge.

Gripping so far, with the only odd note the stupidly neurotic women who form Holly Hunter's tribe.  It's been described as similar in tone to 'Twin Peaks' but happily there are no dream sequences, dwarves etc. so far.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The White Queen

Another Philippa Gregorisation of history, this time the Wars of the Roses.  Lots of pretty costumes, clunky armour, pretty actors and clunky dialogue, not necessarily in that order.  On a scale of the actual past to 'The Tudors', this ranks roughly halfway, so the liberties are a bit more subtle than a late-life Henry VIII played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers clad in something more Calvin Klein than codpiece.

The first hour was a rollicking romance with boy-band-alike Edward IV falling in lust with Lizzie Woodville to the point of proposing to her rather than the politically astute match of a French princess.  That's about it for plot.  There's a lot of the requisite exposition to characters who already know what's going on of the "You do remember he killed your husband, don't you?" variety and some Merlinesque witchery which has Lizzie with second sight, but otherwise it's Sunday night fun with plenty of filth except where it should be, i.e. on the people, whose costumes have clearly enjoyed a non-biological 30 degree wash and a ceramic-plate iron.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Returned

British horror, like British crime, has an honourable tradition, but recent offerings have been stodgy and disappointing and other countries have produced far better examples of the genres.  This French tale has people who supposedly died in a bus crash returning from the dead after years, without having aged at all.  A truly spooky premise and one that we wonder how they can possibly deliver on without resorting to 'Twin Peaks' style flights of fancy.  So far, though, it's more reminiscent of 'Solaris'.  Relatives are overjoyed, or puzzled, driven insane, or terrified at having loved ones they thought dead return to life as though nothing had happened.  Unsurprisingly.

There are no zombies: they all look healthy, and no vampyric tendencies, just extraordinary hunger.  The mountain village is quiet, with a dodgy electricity supply and an air of loss and menace.  What are their secrets?  Doubtless the living have as many as the 'dead', and so far the only violence to materialise has been very human.  The most intriguing and adult horror, with a dash of black humour, in a long time.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Americans

Every now and again something comes to television trailing such banners of 'Unmissable!' glory that we approach them with trepidation and even dread.  How can they possibly live up to the hype?  This one is based on a true situation - the discovery of KGB operatives undercover in America in the 1980s - but no-one looking at the publicity could imagine that faithfulness to the truth was paramount here.  Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell have the Hollywood touch that their real-life counterparts lacked and, presumably, wouldn't have wanted anyway.

As usual, the nods to the early 1980s setting are confined to those considered stylish in the 21st Century.  Don't expect shaggy hair or wide lapels, when you can signal with so much more pizzazz by sports cars, Fleetwood Mac and earlyish Genesis.  Then there are the dodgy 1960s flashbacks with no-one looking any younger, and speaking with cod-Russian accents.  The plot throws up nothing unfamiliar so far: the long-term undercover couple have all-American kids; they are chasing a defector; she is the loyal KGB officer whereas he is tempted by the good life, but their love is ignited by his defence of her; the new neighbour happens to be an FBI espionage agent... and on and on.

So, the new 'Homeland' it isn't.  If you like old-fashioned spy dramas, with everyone suspecting everyone else, and someone around every corner with a gun, then this is decent enough and paced well enough to hold the interest.  There's also an interesting cameo by Richard Thomas, a.k.a. John-Boy Walton.  Interesting, that is, because this is set just after his heyday in 'The Waltons', which got us thinking about America's current penchant for dramas of paranoia.  As a past and arguably resolved war, this is a safe watch about a former enemy within.  So what television was most of America watching during this past paranoid era, with Reagan in the White House in 1981?  In the top 30 of the season, according to Nielson ratings, were: Happy Days, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Dukes of Hazard, Dallas, Dynasty, Magnum PI and The Little House on the Prairie.  No wonder the KGB spies were so keen on their jobs.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


"Call the District Nurse" obviously doesn't have the urgency that "Midwife" conveys.  Older viewers may remember Nerys Hughes cycling around villages in her nurse's uniform and mothering her patients.  This has Eve Myles as a slightly mad modern version.  No bicycle for her: she screams along to banging tunes in her smart car, has a healthy relationship with a live-in boyfriend and dances around her house whenever she gets the opportunity.  At work, she maintains a good relationship with bitchy and cynical colleagues and does her very best for her clients.  This week saw her trying and failing to keep an elderly dementia patient at home with his long-suffering daughter, and supporting a pregnant mother with a sick child and a husband fighting abroad.

Likeable so far, in cast and script, with a good balance of light humour and the serious everyday, and a very good lead performance indeed by Ms Myles.  It's a shame her character, the titular Frankie Maddox, is rather too dedicated to be believable.

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Fall

Let's forget that Gillian Anderson is an impossibly glamorous Met detective and Jamie Dornan was a pretty-boy model.  Let's imagine that they look like your average Met detective and serial killer, say.  Disbelief suspended?  Good, ok, now we can get to the drama.

Detective Super (Super Detective?) Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is drafted into Belfast from the Met to review the investigation  of a murder which has gone nowhere.  She quickly finds a link to another murder (professional women, strangled in their homes, posed, long dark hair) and we know she's not wrong.  Married marriage counsellor and father of two Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) has an unhealthy obsession with smart professional brunettes and their underwear drawers.

This is nasty, nasty stuff.  There is no onscreen violence until the last moments, but the whole hour drips with menace and the threat of pain.  It also avoids easy distinctions - the teenaged babysitter comes onto the father of her charges, not realising of-course that she embodies his fetishistic fantasies, and Stella spots a cute colleague and casually tells him her hotel room number in front of witnesses.  There could be a PhD thesis on the anti-marriage themes running through this, and while we want to see if and how the chase is concluded, and what is uncovered in the process, it's liable to cause nightmares for every one of its five weeks.  Real crime is probably this cold, with flawed cops chasing disturbed criminals, but whether it is or should be stomached in the form of drama remains to be seen.

P.S. Ali must even remonstrate with her heroine Alison Graham over this.  'She Who Can Do No Wrong' said in this week's Radio Times (sceptics take note: the same issue in which Eddie Izzard said he would run for London Mayor) that 'The Fall' was nasty, and it is.  She then went on to say that this was intelligent adult drama because the victims were given an onscreen life, rather than being an anonymous corpse.  She cites CSI as an offender in this respect.  But... often there is a backstory in CSI, albeit in a brief pre-credit scene or in flashback, and in 'The Fall'?  We don't even see the woman whose murder brings Stella to Belfast, and there are a mere couple of scenes with the next victim.

A few weeks ago, SWCDNW penned a moving tribute to a school friend who had been a victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.  In it she decried cheap drama-documentaries that sensationalised violent crime for the titillation of a voyeuristic audience.  Hear hear.  Programmes like 'Five Daughters' are the ones that break the mould, that humanize the horror, without diluting the devastating consequences for those close to the victim.  'The Fall' may prove to feature the latest victim's sister etc. in subsequent episodes, but the focus is clearly on the cat-and-mouse game between the cop and the killer.  The investigation is bound to throw up the usual serial-killer cliches, which are more the hallmarks of Hollywood nasties or formulaic dramas than anything intelligent and truthful.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Before saying anything about this as a stand-alone work of fiction, a word about artistic bankruptcy.  Paddy Considine and Olivia Colman are probably capable of convincing an audience of absolutely anything and actors, like the rest of us, have to pay the bills, but... this has been commissioned on the success of the TV adaptation of Kate Summerscale's non-fiction book.  A real, and horrible crime of child murder in 1860 was explored in the 2008/9 book which had stellar sales after Richard & Judy recommended it to a television audience.  Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that it was made into a drama which - in our humble opinions - managed to blunt the force and erase the subtlety of the case, as represented in Summerscale's book.

So now, Whicher is back as a sort of private gumshoe in Victorian England, handling an entirely fictional case.  The real Whicher retired into obscurity, but hey, who cares about facts?  Any researcher into 19th Century crime will know that there were enough real horrors to obviate the need for fiction, but we continue to be bludgeoned by clumsy plots and fictional characters assuming the identities of people who had lives and have descendants.  It's all about the brand, and Brand Whicher has outstripped reality, as well as the author who brought it to prominence (Summerscale's subsequent book "Mrs Robinson's Disgrace" was a very modest success by comparison).

This is more 'Whicher Street' than anything rooted in the real history of the Metropolitan Detective.  Whicher here is given an honourable grief (like Ripper's Inspecter Reid, the loss of a child) to account for his obsessive behaviour and is also given the usual hero-in-adversity situation courtesy of his no longer being an officer of the law.  There's even some bromance with his old friend DCI Dolly Williamson (William Beck) and supposed new friend Inspector George Lock (Shaun Dingwall).  This could have been a chance for original costume drama to be a cut above the soapy 'Downton Abbey' but sadly it's let down by a plodding (pardon the pun) script.  There are several "But that's not how it happened!" and "I didn't kill her!" exclamations; Whicher enters an asylum via a Trojan coach and there's an obvious suspect due to hang but whom Whicher, of-course, suspects is innocent.

We'd worked out whodunnit by 9.10pm and we're sure a good portion of the audience got there before us.  Despite his Suspicions, it took Whicher a tad longer.  Clearly the costume department have read the letters of Lady Lytton, who insisted that the more hirsute a man in the facial department, the more he had to hide.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Murder on the Home Front

Molly Lefebure spent part of her war taking secretarial notes for a pathologist and later wrote up  her experiences as memoirs.  'Murder on the Home Front' is based on those memoirs, but presumably very loosely if the first episode is anything to go by.  Perhaps we get the media we deserve, and the writers and producers are right to assume that no audience is going to wait for anything so boring as a set-up.  Molly meets her pathologist and begins working for him with a ridiculously short and casual introduction, and is joined by a female photographer.  Why feminism sprang up mightily in the 60s with all this emancipation is anybody's guess.  The cops allow Lennox (Patrick Kennedy) to accompany them everywhere and investigate for them, using forensic methods that wouldn't become commonplace until forty years later.  It's sort of like a cross between 'Silent Witness' and 'Foyle's War' and the plot, involving a serial killer of 'good-time girls' is as riddled with holes as your average block of Emmental.

Halfway through, we have four suspects, one of whom is now dead and another arrested.  The body count for the hour was four, which knocks even the bloodiest episode of 'Midsomer Murders' into a cocked hat.  There's a war on, but here that's just a convenient cover for corpses.  With a script veering between the perfunctory and the comedic, this has a very uneven tone, and deals rather nastily with its mostly female bodies.  It bears the embarrassing hallmarks of last year's 'Bletchley Circle', so let's hope they find a more convincing denouement, or Lefebure's War will be a very short one indeed.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Life of Crime

It's 1985 and in case you don't know it, rookie cop Denise Woods (Hayley Atwell) is bopping along to the likes of Culture Club.  You could be forgiven for thinking we'd gone further back in time to the original 'Life on Mars' era of the 1970s with all the references to a Doris and a tea-maker.  Entertaining and with a good cast, the plot was nonetheless as unbelievable as the curly wigs.  This uses the 1985 riot in Brixton (yes, there was one) to give Denise a chance to plant evidence on someone she's convinced has murdered a young girl.  Her pass is still checked on the gate, and the station is guarded against the rioters well enough to banish thoughts of 'Terminator' or 'Pelham 123', yet no-one is guarding the evidence store, allowing plucky, suspended Denise to frame the man she believes responsible for a crime and reviving her own career.

Do cops plant evidence, for reasons good or bad?  Probably.  But we doubt it's that easy.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Politician's Husband

Remember Trevor Eve and Juliet Stevenson battling it out over his wandering eye for Minnie Driver?  We'll let you off if not, since it was a long time ago and was only watchable for the titular wife's steely, heartbroken revenge on the man she'd trusted.

Late in the day, Paula Milne has penned a sort of companion piece to the original, although it starts with the better premise of political skullduggery rather than an old-fashioned sex scandal. Whereas the original had an immediately sympathetic character, however, we are introduced to  'political golden couple' Aidan Hoynes and Freya Gardner (David Tennant and Emily Watson) in the middle of their attempted takeover of power.  It proves unsuccessful, largely thanks to the betrayal of best friend Bruce (Brutus?) Babbish (Ed Stoppard).

The drama opens with a pretentious Latin quote about the corruption of the best being the worst, so presumably we are meant to feel that Aidan is a tragically undermined would-be hero, but regardless of your stance on immigration, there is little evidence to back this up.  He sits bored and listless while his constituents relate their problems and is happy to deny to the public that his resignation is anything more than an act of principle.  The Macbeths had at least a prediction of certain success to excuse them - political murder being almost as bad as the physical for ambition-driven ministers - but what appears as the bud of an excuse in Macbeth - a lost child - is full-blown here.  Aidan's patient dad (Jack Shepherd) spells it out for us, and directly to his son, that he threw himself into the "cesspit" of Westminster because his son was diagnosed with Asperger's.  Oh and there's the crack in his bedroom ceiling he spends his nights staring at, so we can only assume he hasn't claimed for extravagant redecoration on expenses....

We are meant to believe that Freya is the pawn of both her husband, to whom she has always taken a back seat, and Bruce, who persuades the PM to appoint her to the DWP as a final snub to his defeated rival.  Freya, however, is already getting a taste for No.10, where she seems strangely to be completely unfamiliar with her surroundings, and she too publicly betrays her husband in a highly unlikely interview by that well-known political bloodhound, Kirsty Wark.  Jeremy Paxman must have had a prior engagement, and by allowing herself to be pinioned on a subject relevant to her personal life, rather than her job, Freya shows herself no able politician.

Clearly this is headed in the multiple-betrayal, "we ruined our family" direction, but do we care?  This portrays the so-called corridors of power as riven with individuals who wouldn't know the Seven Principles of Public Life if they came and threw 2009 Chateau Neuf du Pape all over them.  Uncannily accurate yes, but crucially unengaging of our sympathies.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Arne Dahl

We know that there are people out there who could happily spend their lives on an Ikea sofa reading Mankell and other Scandi books when not watching Scandi noir on TV.  We are not those people.  You can have too much of a good thing, right?  So when this came along for the BBC4 Saturday Night Audience and we were told it was about a serial killer of financiers, we wondered if the whole series might not be just a Scandi Ingmar Bergman-style debate on the ethics of leaving the killer at large.

But no.  It's a crime drama along the lines of other Scandi crime dramas.  Need we say more?  Well produced with a smattering of dark humour and some scenes of spattery blood.  Oh and a female boss, but lately we in the UK have been having those frequently too.  Pick up those swedish meatballs, some Danish lager and enjoy.


At least one of us really wanted to watch this, but... Kelsey Grammar IS Frasier Crane.  He was not, for example, George Washington and despite in the picture above looking like a homicidal zombie, we can't believe he's a Machiavellian leader with a secret terminal disease.

So we haven't watched, despite the good reviews.  Maybe the DVD box set will be on our Christmas wish lists....  Maybe.

"Goodnight Seattle, we love you!"

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Ice-Cream Girls

Another ITV mini-series based on a popular novel, this one by Dorothy Koomson.  We're sure there are PhD theses to be written on why so many novels and TV dramas seem to be based on 'a terrible secret from the past that threatens the present...' etc.  This one concerns Poppy (Jodhi May) newly released from prison after a seventeen-year sentence for murder and hunting for Serena (Lorraine Burroughs) whom she blames for her conviction.  Watchable enough, with performances we suspect are better than the material.  In a year or so this will probably blur with all the other ITV mini-series based on popular novels about a terrible secret from the past that threatens the present....

A word about the scheduling....  Its Friday night slot indicates it's either firmly aimed at parents and sensible-slipper types or that TV schedulers finally understand that not everyone loves being in bars so crowded you have to hug your drink or risk losing it in the crowd.  Friday is the new Sunday?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Village *spoilers*

We applaud the ambition and scope of this drama, we really do, but... does anyone remember the 'trouble at'mill' comedy 'Brass'?  The contrast between the Big House and the Village Oiks was real enough in life, but after the comic absurdities of the Hardacre family, writers would do well to avoid anything within a sniff of a cliche.  This has cliches aplenty, and yes, TWNHs aplenty too.

John Middleton (John Simm) even drinks the dirty floor scrubbing water and sucks the brush, so desperate is he for the beer it contains.  What makes it comical is that he is clean and reasonably dressed rather than a ragged beggar.  Presumably his farm is running itself while he trips off to the Big House.  His big secret is that he slept with his sister-in-law, made her pregnant and then rejected her so she committed suicide.  For this, the village have never forgiven him, even though his wife has.  Hence his farming totally alone with no help, and seemingly no crops or animals....  His selfishness knows no bounds however as he attempts to hang himself despite his responsibility to his wife and children.  These were the days before welfare, after all - viewers take note, 'tis probably the future too.  All ends well here though, as he is rescued by his long-suffering wife and younger son before his latest child is born, remarkably clean and open-eyed, soon after.

Meanwhile, up at'Big House, Caroline Allingham (Emily Beecham) is hamstrung as the fey, bonkers rich girl who has seduced Bert and also got pregnant, and digs up her dead dog to put in her bed.  The family are so horrified at the pregnancy (and presumably the dog) that they call for a detective from Chesterfield to investigate who preceded the dog's corpse on her pillow.  Rather unusual for the rich to invite in the plods to sort out their dirty laundry, but clearly the police had nothing better to do, and were well paid enough to wear smart grey suits.  Joe Armstrong as Detective Bairstow is lumbered with a part that seems written for an older man (yes, one does imagine his real-life dad) and some rather heavy-handed dialogue about class.

Then there's another scene in the convenient women's bath house which would appear to have piped water, and only be for the women, while their menfolk use a tin tub by the fire and even the rich Allinghams make the same provision (albeit with a 'waterman', who was Joe Middleton).  Which brings to mind Joe's job in service.  He took it despite his dad running a farm on his own, and his role as 'waterman' seemed to include roaming the estate with a gun.  Presumably it stopped short of impregnating the daughter of the house?

The scarred master, whom everyone turns away from (leprosy? burns? syphilis?) we have yet to hear about, but 1914, while relatively primitive-seeming to us, wasn't 1714 and he wasn't a feudal lord.

Vicar's daughter Martha Lane continues to turn up everywhere looking pert and indignant, and in case you can't spot her, she's usually wearing the only bright red coat in the village, or The Village.  She's still sweet on absent Joe, even though she suspects he may be the father of Caroline's child.  Everyone else, of-course, suspects his dad John and much like the mob in 'Straw Dogs' they turn out with scythes and pitchforks.  That's villages for you, or The Village anyway: it was never like this in Lark Rise or Candleford.

Young Bert, whose old self holds the narrative thread, has the sort of Oliver Twist, stage-school doe eyes that make you think you've seen him somewhere before.  He's obvious fodder for both the sadistic school master with a thing for corporal punishment and the other jolly nice school master who wants to nurture him.  If he, John Simm or Maxine Peake were less capable actors, this would be a laugh a minute, and thus probably more suitable for a Sunday night.  As it is, we want to like it, but the much-cited use of 'Jerusalem' in 1914, two years before it was written, seems like the least of its inaccuracies.

What's Wrong With Jonathan Creek - Spoilers

We've now had 28 episodes over 16 years, but to this reviewer (Dan) it seems like Jonathan Creek is several years away from when it was good.

The format is still good - the idea of a magician's assistant solving baffling crimes as 'howdunnits' rather than 'whodunnits' has lots going for it.

The casting is still good.  Alan Davies is really likeable, and the guests and cameos do a reliably good job.

The chemistry is still good - the interplay with Sheridan Smith is as fun as it was with Caroline Quentin.

The problem is, I think, with the puzzles.  It's probably human nature to reminisce about how much better old plots were, but in this case it's surely true.  The solutions to the older cases were just more elegant and rewarding, for example the (spoilers!) duplicate room in No Trace of Tracy (Series 1) or the church clock that was giving the time as am rather than pm in The Miracle of Crooked Lane (Series 3).  Oh - and that bit where Caroline Quentin showed us how you hack into phones at least ten years before Leveson.

You need to suspend disbelief a bit for Creek, but the most recent episode The Clue of the Savant's Thumb had so many TWNH moments that it just got frustrating.  (Again, Spoilers!)  For example we were expected to believe that someone could cut their own head off with a chainsaw that had been sabotaged, and then his son in law would move the body back to the house and construct a scarecrow in a locked room, to fool his wife (& then put the body in the freezer to preserve it)...  Plus there were so many red herrings (hands gripping through a picture, statue dropping from a great height) that it was natural to want the old Creek back.

I much prefer the British system of TV where one writer writes, but surely this is evidence that David Renwick has run out of ideas.  There must be lots of other writers (or magicians) who can think up puzzles to match those of the earlier series.  Get some of them in to devise the key elements, then hand over to Renwick to write the dialogue and fit it all together.  Make the shows 50 minutes again too - the longer length just leads to them being flabbier with more red herrings, surely.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Village

Peter Moffat gave us 'Criminal Justice' (good) and 'Silk' (formulaic soap set in well-trodden ground of legal chambers) so our approach to this was neutral.  Episode one of six - or possibly forty-two, if successful - introduces Bert now, as a very old man, reminiscing about his life in a Derbyshire village.  In 1914 he's a boy of twelve with a violent alcoholic father (John Simm) and a downtrodden mother (Maxine Peake), an older brother about to go to war and his first crush on a suffragist rector's daughter who's just arrived in the village.

'Downton Abbey' it's not, to dispel any notions of 'BBC's answer to...', but it's also not shaping up to be a British version of the German classic, 'Heimat'.  Life in the village is grim for young Bert.  When not getting bullied at home he's getting literally rapped over the knuckles at school, for being left-handed.  His older brother Joe fares little better in his job at the Big House, where he has every class-difference stereotype hurled at his amiable head.  Moffat seems to suffer from the same inability to write convincing upper-class characters as afflicts Mike Leigh.  There is a dinner-table discussion of women's rights that is reminiscent of Poliakoff at his recent worst.  Martha, the new arrival in the village, seems to be everything to everyone, and Bert spies on her in a village bath house which provides a handy gossiping ground for the women.  (Were they only allowed an hour in it per week?  Otherwise, their convergence must be due to female intuition.)

The village goes to war at the end of the episode, so let's hope it continues to not be the BBC's answer to 'Downton Abbey' in war cliches, at least....

Saturday, 30 March 2013


An adaptation of Kate Mosse's bestseller and one of a rash of swords and sorcery epics around.  Presumably TV and film producers spotted that Harry Potter was equally popular with adults and decided to make adultified (i.e. added sex, violence and swearing) versions so that grown-ups needn't be ashamed of watching and could be more satisfied to boot.  Except... there's a patina of childish mush about most of them that leaves us cold.  Maybe they're just not our cup of tea, and if teenagers come to this and are inspired to read about real history, or classics like the Tolkiens etc. great.  Those older should know better, though, surely, than to passively imbibe the likes of everything from 'The Tudors' to 'Game of Thrones' (OK, one is pure fantasy, the other is... pure fantasy, but - we'll stop there) and think them entertaining?

We did try with this one, truly we did, but the dialogue was turgid, the wigs were bad and the clothes seemingly borrowed from 'Robin Hood', 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Merlin'.  The off-switch beckoned.  Maybe it would have fared better on a night with the full complement of hours, rather than the hour-stealing commencement of British Summertime (whatever and whenever that proves to be) but that's damning with the faintest praise.  We're sure fans of any of the programmes mentioned above will find it passable at least, but we couldn't have cared less whether present and past collided or whether they missed each other by miles.