Monday, 30 November 2015


Capital is BBC 1's 3-part dramatisation of John Lanchester's credit-crunch novel, set in an affluent Clapham (South London) street.  The crux of the book, and the serialisation, is that many different aspects of life can exist in a single street, from wealthy bankers to cornershop owners, from Eastern European builders to African traffic wardens - though the latter works in the street rather than lives there.

A problem with all books like this is that they are prone to using well-worn stereotypes - see also Amanda Craig's Hearts & Minds, and Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December - and this is even more likely to happen on the screen because you don't have the depth of a book, or the luxury of descriptive narrative.  On screen, the story unfolds with residents receiving postcards, sometimes photographs of themselves going about their business, with the ominous statement, "We want what you have".  What they all have, of-course, from the banker to elderly Petunia (Gemma Jones) who moved in as a bride forty years ago, is prime London real estate where prices are rising virtually by the day.  The likes of Petunia, who moved into an unimposing terrace, would no longer be able to afford to move here.

Capital has been updated from 2008 to 2015, because essentially nothing has changed in banking and property prices, which removes the need to try to do 2008 details, but instead concentrate on the story.  The other major change is the omission of the African footballer character and his dad - apparently some of the dad's lines have been given to other characters.

We enjoyed it more than we thought we would.  Performances are generally very good, although we disagreed about the casting of Toby Jones as the banker.  For Dan he was well cast against type (very different from Lance in The Detectorists, for example) and believable as a brainy but essentially lucky and over-privileged banker.  It's nowhere near as good as 'Marvellous', Jones's last work with Peter Bowker, but it's good.  The banker going broke story has been done lots of times before - for example Sherman McCoy explaining why he's going broke on £2m a year in the 1980s in 'Bonfire of the Vanities', but we liked Jones performance.

We need a great 'house prices' drama, and we need a great 'London as a melting pot' drama, and this was neither, but it's well written and well directed, so we'll stick with it to the end.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Frankenstein Chronicles

A similar concept to the current retake on 'Jekyll', this is a chase around after the jolly scientist who stitches body parts together and reanimates them, only shown later and, rather bafflingly, on ITV Encore.  More names than you can shake a stick at here, with Sean Bean playing decent, syphilitic river cop John Marlott, who senses that something other than macabre needlework is going on.  The course of his investigation leads him to body-dealing hospital porter Pritty (Charlie Creed-Miles), his big boss Peel (Tom Ward, here exchanging his pathologist's apron with Samuel West), patrician politicians (Elliot Cowan and Ed Stoppard) and even authors William Blake (Steven Berkoff) and Frankenstein's own creator Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell-Martin).  Oh and let's not forget the magnificent carcass of a pig that he throws into the Thames to test the tides.

This was quite fun and focused less on the gore and shocks of 'Jekyll' than the lacks and longings that would lead someone in early Industrial England to create a composite creature out of dead children.  Marlott has his own Big Sadness that he carries around with him and that we know will be exacerbated by both his mercury pills and his determination to find the truth behind the strange goings-on.  Bean is likeable in the lead role, almost a worn-down, less celebrated version of his Sharpe character grown older.  Why Encore, though, when an ITV audience would enjoy this in a 9pm slot?

The Last Panthers

In a tense opening scene, a well-executed diamond heist is underway.  Disregarding the alarm they know will be pressed, the gang pour pink paint over the manager with the combination to the safe (Pink Panthers!) and make it out in the allotted time.  Instead of the usual foot-to-the-floor getaway car, they pound the pavements, having hamstrung the police vehicles with a ring of fire.  Then things start to go a bit wrong, for the gang and for the drama.

It takes them an age to discard their conspicuous white boiler suits, leading one of them to accidentally shoot a child while aiming fire at police.  He then rather unbelievably escapes across a piece of open ground, when a few seconds earlier several policemen, presumably armed since they are in Marseilles, were in hot pursuit.  Though the gang evade capture, their buyer/fence doesn't want to be implicated in a murder and they are forced to try to sell the goods elsewhere.  This turns out to be somewhere in the vicinity of Belgrade, in a shanty town that even hardened criminals would probably eschew in favour of a prison cell.  That they make it out of here alive is thanks to Milan (Goran Bogdan) who has a panther tattooed on his chest, a man who used to be known as 'Animal' and who is about to find that criminal fraternity is a myth.

While this is going on, diamond heist specialist Naomi (Samantha Morton) and her insurance boss Tom who, as played by John Hurt, is surely well past retirement, arrive to check out the scene of the crime and trace the diamonds, quickly clashing with the irritated cops, led by Khalil (Tahar Rahim) who are themselves investigating.  Tom and Naomi soon follow the trail to Belgrade, which is the cue for her flashbacks to the Balkans conflict in what are very cliched and badly-done CGI clips of her in uniform.  By the end of the episode, she too has only narrowly escaped with her life.

We differed in opinion a bit on this one, with Dan liking it more than Ali, but then he is more of a fan of those violent 1970s French heist thrillers, and more recent ones like 'A Prophet'.  This owes something to them, and thankfully uses subtitles rather than English actors speaking in accents, but the tone is somewhat uneven, and whether there is action enough for all the episodes without spilling over into total implausibility, we shall have to wait and see.  Plus, it must be said, we have nothing against beards per se, but one hirsute man is rather too much like another to immediately identify our cops and robbers, so a shave or two wouldn't go amiss.

Monday, 9 November 2015

London Spy

Honestly, you wait years for Mr Whishaw to appear in a spy drama and two come along at once.  He's currently reprising his role as Q in cinema's latest Bond film, and here he is as a far less geeky Danny, a vulnerable young man in London working in an Amazon-style warehouse.  After a chance meeting, he falls in love with Alex, a mysterious and inhibited young man who says he works for an investment bank, but just as they begin to envisage a future together, Alex disappears.

Exquisite and painful.  The cast, including Jim Broadbent as Danny's friend Scottie, don't put a foot wrong.  It doesn't appear, from this episode, that the homosexuality is a theme at all; these are two young men in love, one of whom has an impossible secret.  It's left to Scottie, a Whitehall mandarin with secrets of his own, to suggest that the man the police are calling Alastair worked for MI6.  By this time, Danny has made a gruesome discovery of his own, that has similarities to the real-life case of the man found in a holdall.  As gripping for its heartfelt portrayal of love as for its murky depiction of espionage, we genuinely can't wait to see what Danny finds out.