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....