Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Remember Marchlands, the ITV chiller set in 3 timeframes?  Well here's Lightfields, the ITV chiller set in 3 timeframes.  It's not a sequel, it's a follow-up, in the sense that 'Lewis' is a follow-up to 'Morse', which means the house is different and so are the characters but the basic setup is the same: someone dies horribly and comes back as a ghost to haunt two later groups of inhabitants.

This one has not-so-innocent teenager Lucy (Antonia Clarke) in 1944 having an affair with Dwight, the only American airman for miles (Neil Jackson).  He's the spookiest thing in it, coaxing women to take walks with him and turning up behind trees and in barns, always alone.  Unfortunately she's thumbing her nose at her new friend Eve, who met him first, and two local lads who fancied their chances.  There may be trouble ahead... which is confirmed when Vivien (Lucy Cohu, freed from her 'Ripper Street' corsets) and daughter Clare (Karla Crome, so good in 'Murder') move into Lightfields in 1975 and hear a girl laughing, see doors opening and - you get the picture.  At the end of the episode she turns up in the bedroom of the 2012 family home of Danny Webb and Sophie Thompson.  We didn't catch their names as the modern segment has had little else to offer in the way of thrills or interest so far.  The old man was around in 1944 (as Pip, Lucy's younger brother), but wistful looks and rolling eyeballs yield little in the way of thrills.

Everything is pretty well signalled.  1944 has cardigans and swing tunes, 1975 has volvos, pigtails and a disco (but no dungarees, a definite improvement on 'Marchlands') and 2012 has, well, let's just say a dreary familiarity.  Will we be watching episodes 2 - 5?  Oh probably.  Suckers for doors opening by unseen hands and cracked dusty mirrors in barns, we are!

Monday, 25 February 2013


One series ends and another begins... or in TV world, a number end and a number begin. 

'Ripper Street': Sundays won't be quite the same without an immediate antidote to the syrupy dose of 'Call the Midwife'  This wasn't the schlocky western suggested by the rowdy, fast-cut trailers, but watchable drama.  Surprise!

'Black Mirror': another post-modern, bad-boy satire with Charlie Brooker's brand of dry, cynical humour.  Where are we headed?  To hell in a virtual handcart, of-course.

'Dancing on the Edge': let's be honest, this was the biggest waste of budget, pretty costumes and performing talent in a long time.  Clearly no script editor had enough of a pair to curb Le Poliakoff's excesses.  This lumbered on from setpiece to setpiece via nothing very much, with characters mouthing portentous inanities along the lines of "Oh isn't this momentous?"  "Yes, glorious isn't it, and we're here!"  This should have had more focus and more substance, because it was about racial prejudice in the 1930s, which was not served well by this hotchpotch.  Jacqueline Bissett was in it because Poliakoff presumably wrote a part for her, and she was obviously far too polite to ask that her character actually DO something.  Nothing against slow, but this was empty as well.  No sense of tension, injustice (the hounding of Louis was frankly ludicrous) or the halcyon days of the band's first success.  Nice use of lovely old Wilton's Music Hall though.

And will this (fourth) series of 'Spiral' be the last?  We've not been bowled over by this Gallic crime passionel it must be said.  While it has some of the virtues of its Danish counterparts - complex intertwined storylines, space for character development - it is also relentlessly and fairly gratuitously unpleasant, is a little formulaic (there are only about five barrister equivalents in Paris and the same number of cops) and is starting to crack at the seams.  Josephine Karlsson's family background is being explored now, and far from the 'wrong side of the tracks' girl she was portrayed as in series one and two, she turns out to have a wealthy, if violent, Pa.  Wouldn't someone have spotted her posh accent if she'd been lying?  Or is it just that the scriptwriters forgot or couldn't be bothered with continuity?  All things considered, we'd be as happy to be shot of this sleazy lot as we would any real ones who happened to be crooked.

So now we have the spring crop of dramas to look forward to, or is that dread....

Friday, 22 February 2013

Jack Taylor

The first of three feature-length episodes, based on a series of novels about ex-Gard, now private detective, Jack Taylor (Iain Glen).  Think 'Single-Handed' with a sozzled, grizzled version of Jack (they're both called Jack!) and you're close.  Both are set in and around Galway and Connemara and involve a lone man seeking the truth and justice for the missing and murdered in an area haunted by a long and violent past.  The present's not that great either, post-economic crisis.

That's it, really.  It's nothing you haven't seen before, and aside from some quips the script is unremarkable either way.  Casting, however, is crucial.  Iain Glen is so watchable as Jack, a character who seems simultaneously at ease with yet wholly estranged from himself, that your ears will willingly block out the moments when his Irish accent goes south, or rather south-east.

Thursday, 21 February 2013


David Oyelowo has rejoined the UK Security Services, but much has changed in his absence.  Gone are the gloss, the chumminess and the dashing capers of his 'Spooks' colleagues.  Instead  he's Edward Ekubo, a lone patriot in a distinctly unglamorous office, hampered by bureaucracy, mistrusted by his superiors and less likely to wield a gun than a computer mouse in his endeavours to save the nation.

The 100-minute drama is essentially the tale of his attempts to snare a suspected terrorist, Waleed Ahmed (Arsher Ali), leading him to Cairo and some very murky moral waters indeed.

Like other current C4 dramas 'Utopia' and 'Black Mirror', this depicts a shadowy state, whose motives and methods are at least questionable (the Rimington/Manningham-Buller/'M' clone played menacingly by Monica Dolan says that they would have willingly covered up for Edward's complicity in torture if he hadn't been discovered by a blogger).  Moral dilemmas abound, performances are mesmerising - the confrontation between Waleed and Edward is as tense as the climax of a play - and the British Embassy's Tony Coveney (Stephen Campbell Moore) is the embodiment of a conscientious, constrained and ultimately compromised servant of the state.

Could this be Channel 4's renaissance for intelligent adult drama?  This was subtle and complex, with a convincing script by Guy Hibbert.  The only minor irritation was director Niall McCormick's arty inclusion of constant close-ups of Edward looking worried.  Oyelowo's acting and Hibbert's script have the done the work already, so we don't need to see every furrow on his brow.  This was only a minor quibble, though.

'Complicit' was better than its rivals across the channels, yet it was trounced in the ratings by both 'Ripper Street' and especially by 'Mr Selfridge', arguably in reverse proportion to their merits.  Apropos of moral dilemmas, our faith in majority rule has to falter at this point.... 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Randomness of Things Telly

The last few weeks have seen the announcement of a second series for 'Ripper Street', the departure of 'The Hour' after two series, the purchase of the third and final series of 'Borgen' and the release of the US remake of 'House of Cards' on Netflix.

Also quietly returning on Channel 4 was 'Black Mirror', Charlie Brooker's intelligent and inventive drama du jour, for a further three one-offs.

There are many more things in telly-land than we know of, of-course.  Perhaps 'Ripper Street' did unfeasibly well in a season of bad weather and scheduled against the soapy 'Mr Selfridge'. Perhaps Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai declined more of 'The Hour' in favour of James Bond and motherhood, respectively, but the always-fine line between art and commerce seems rather fecklessly and wantonly crossed these days.  'Borgen' is great, and the decision to end it after three series is probably the right one.  'Ripper Street' isn't as bad as we feared, but the second series of 'The Hour' was arguably much better than the first.  Democracy may mean that 7 million viewers in a multi-channel world can't be wrong, but it seems there is no such thing as a minority drama.  'The Hour' was not ostensibly a crime drama or a soap, though it contained elements of both.  Nor was it a homespun feelgood Sunday nighter like 'Call the Midwife'.  'Black Mirror' over on C4 is equally hard to define in terms of genre but is sold as Brand Brooker, whose foul-mouthed and quite nasty cynicism (gotta love him) has garnered a following on tv as well as in the Guardian.

Which takes us to 'House of Cards', being dealt a second hand, otherwise known as a reboot, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in Washington replacing the late Sir Ian Richardson and Susannah Harker in Westminster.  The new series has broken ground by being the first Netflix release and available wholly on demand, i.e. it's like getting the DVD box-set before anyone else has even seen it: yours to watch in one gargantuan bite if you so wish.  A lot has been said about the delivery of the medium in the past decade or two, and it seems like old-fashioned 'event television' inspiring 'water-cooler conversation' is, to mix metaphors, like a chronicle of a death foretold.  Is this a bad thing?  Is there value in the old way, other than that of nostalgia?  Too early to tell, and yes, once we have the answer it'll be too late to turn back.  It already is.  Surely good drama is good drama, and will be recognised as such and watched regardless of its delivery?  In an ideal world yes.  In our world of commercial yardsticks of success, who knows?  Maybe.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Dancing on the Edge

The trouble with Poliakoff dramas these days is that they're so over-hyped as 'Event Television' that they're almost bound to disappoint.  'Friends and Crocodiles', 'Joe's Palace', 'Gideon's Daughter' and 'Capturing Mary' blend into one mannered, pretentious and seemingly pointless mess which wasted hours of our lives.  Like many established talents, Poliakoff attracts starry names and seemingly no editors with the gumption to question the great man's decisions.

There are recurring obsessions in the recent work: the war, the aristocracy vs new money, photographs, secret pasts, shadowy and reclusive millionaires, the chaos and clashes of the 20th Century and a great slab of a house which often seems to put in an appearance (Mr P's own perhaps?).  It looks like most if not all of these themes will turn up in 'Dancing on the Edge', a tale of a black jazz band, a jobbing music journalist and some English gentry in a very stylish and stylised 1930s London and Home Counties.  The romances are signposted, the cliches are present and correct (the very last singer to audition blows them away...!  A Prince takes a shine to the band at a garden party!)  Of-course it all looks sumptuous, with everyone and almost everything looking glamorous and polished - if not always quite authentically 1930s - and the cast are good enough to beg forgiveness for the funereal pace, even if Joanna Vanderham doesn't quite convince as sophisticated socialite Pamela and some of the band's American accents are shaky.  Janet Montgomery, as the contrasting brunette Sarah, is meant to be bohemian but isn't very, and incidentally bears a striking resemblance to Poliakoff's last muse, Ruth Wilson. 

It's not bad overall (the going-nowhere-on-a-train interlude and the histrionics by a band member in an upmarket hotel excepted) but... we're reminded of what David Hare said about Bertolucci's epic 'The Last Emperor': "no-one says a single interesting thing."  What do you know, but the idle, decadent rich were rather liberal in their last hurrah, and paved the way for acceptance of black musicians this side of the pond!  And there were we thinking that Duke Ellington had gone down a storm with the everyday folk as well as the Windsors at the Palladium in 1933.  It's not subtle, and people ruminate endlessly as they do in all Poliakoff dramas.  "One never knows what goes on in people's private lives, does one?" etc.  This is said about John Goodman's reclusive Croesus, Mr Masterson, who has trashed a luxury suite and assaulted a young woman.

It's difficult to know whether there will be a worthwhile payoff.  'Shooting the Past' delivered, as did 'Perfect Strangers', 'She's Been Away' and the superb 'Caught on a Train', but the most recent of these was over a decade ago.  The opening scene shows musician Louis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) appearing caped and hatted out of the shadows like an extra from 'Ripper Street', on the run and calling on his music journalist friend Stanley (Matthew Goode).  The action then slips back 18 months.  We hope the next 4 hours aren't wasted.