Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Dylan Thomas: a poet in New York

Tom Hollander is a genius.  He bears no more than a passing resemblance to poet Dylan Thomas, and to most viewers is more familiar in a dog collar as 'Rev', but within fifteen minutes is utterly convincing and, more, sympathetic as the gifted, spoiled, self-pitying alcoholic.  This takes his Big Apple trip in 1953 which proves to be his last, and interweaves just enough of his prime moments in life to give a real sense of the intense feelings that drove him to sublime heights of verse and terrible lows at the bottom of several bottles.  When it comes to drink and women, he just can't seem to help himself, and his fame and charm give him abundant access to both, much to the anger of his wife in Laugharne, Caitlin, and his mistress in New York.  This recreates early '50s NY on probably a fraction of 'Mad Men's budget and while some of the accents stray eastwards of the Atlantic and even of Wales, this remains a beguiling 80 minutes, and a fitting tribute to a flawed, fabulously gifted man who died at only 39.

Monday, 26 May 2014

From There to Here

Daniel (Philip Glenister) tries to reconcile his wayward brother Robbo (Steven Mackintosh) with their dad Samuel (Bernard Hill) over a drink in a central Mancunian pub.  Unfortunately for him, the truce fails and they are sitting feet away from the IRA bomb on the day it exploded in 1996.  Nobody dies, of-course, but it proves a catalyst in all their lives.  Before the end of the episode (one of three) Sam has had a stroke, Robbo has come up with not one but two insane plans to clear his debt and Daniel has begun an affair with the pub cleaner, whom he rescued from the wreckage.

This has nice moments but is mostly either predictable or unbelievable.  The use of northern staples the Stone Roses and the Smiths on the soundtrack is lazy and responsible Daniel's sudden need to escape from his close (adoptive) family into the arms of a stranger just doesn't ring true.  So far, this is largely a waste of a good cast, in-particularly Steven Mackintosh, who turns in an ill-advised imitation of the drug dealer in 'Withnail & I'.  If you like Madchester, and these are typical residents, you may like it a little less after watching this.

Sunday, 25 May 2014


John Banville's crime series hero could have been written for the lugubrious features of Gabriel Byrne.  We're in familiar territory, but noir with a capital N and handsomely mounted.  50s Dublin and 50s Boston probably never looked this good but who cares when it's 90 minutes of pure escapism and Byrne's craggy features?

Quirke is a man of mystery and lots of alcohol.  In common with his fellow crime protagonists he has no discernible first name, comes from shady origins and has suffered loss and loneliness.  He has enough of the Marlowesque about him to enliven proceedings, however, and this first of three feature-length tales starts very close to home, with Quirke's complicated family.  He finds his adoptive brother in his path lab late one night, forging a death certificate of a young woman, and this leads to a chain of violence and disclosure of old family secrets involving hidden identities and the brutal treatment of young, pregnant women.  From these basic ingredients, Banville's story weaves a mesmerising spell.  If the next two are as good as this, Quirke must be here to stay.

The Duchess of Malfi

As a piece of televised theatre this works far better than it ought to, considering the production is filmed in the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe in candlelight.  Gemma Arterton's Duchess perhaps lacks the gravitas of previous incumbents of the role, but is as young and vivacious as her character was written and the humour in the earlier acts is to the fore.

Webster's play is one of the best Jacobean revenge tragedies - which means one of the bloodiest - and encompasses passion, incest, madness and murderous violence.  The language is easier than Shakespeare for a 21st Century audience to understand and the theme of women's oppression as valid now as it was then.  Described as 'a theatrical event', it brings the play alive for a far wider audience than could cram into the theatre on the South Bank, and will no doubt be a good secondary experience of theatre for pupils stuyding for GCSEs and A-Levels.  Is it as good an experience as being in a theatre and seeing it live?  No, and could never be, but it's a brave attempt to recreate the original conditions for the audience, and has made us want to visit the Playhouse.

Thursday, 1 May 2014


Airing in the 'foreign drama' slot at 9pm on BBC4 is new bilingual Welsh crime drama 'Hinterland'.  It seems we're so hungry for vicarious crimes which are always solved (if not prosecuted) that we want endless variations; your techs can be Roman, Victorian or mid-20th Century; based in Glasgow, Connemara, Shetland or now... Aberystwyth.  This latest offering has the same sea'n'sky scenery, lowering clouds and sleazy seafronts that lend tales of gore some dramatic background, and it also has brooding lead Richard Harrington as Menzies, posted somewhat unwillingly, it's hinted, to an unexciting beat which quickly proves him wrong, yielding a tale of old tragedies and fresh killings.

It's certainly moody and atmospheric, but like many in the genre, the plotline seems to come second.  Our hero leaps around Devil's Bridge in the pouring rain chasing after a corpse, happening to spot a tiny necklace and crucifix pendant (what else) on a rocky ledge.  In the rain?  He must have x-ray vision and amazing grips on his shoes (we have been, we have slipped, and we stuck to the paths).  His team's investigation - oh yes and there's a nerdy junior, two squabbling women and a remote boss, while we're on the subject: a hardly unfamiliar combination - leads to a failing hotel which was once a children's home.  The top floor hasn't yet been renovated, and probably never will be, but while it may be empty and eerie, how likely is it that there would be case files, furniture, toys and even old cine-film of the former occupants?  This echoes a recent episode of 'Endeavour' which was also gloriously spooky, but had an unlikely attic of a girl's school still stuffed full of family relics from a century earlier.

The terrible revelations in the news over recent years about institutional abuse in children's care homes has inspired a number of crime dramas, to the point where it's already becoming a cliche, and while this was a sad tale, there were early clues to the culprit, who had a baby nobody saw or heard and a neat home.  There was also a schizophrenic old woman who had run the children's home in a sadistic manner (all in the name of Almighty G) but loved at least one boy as a son.

Not bad but not brilliant either.