Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Pinkertons

A series based on the real-life cases of the Pinkertons' National Detective Agency sounds like a good idea.  Allan Pinkerton, here played by our own Angus MacFadyen, founded the first major detective firm in America, joined after the American Civil War by his rough and ready son William (Jacob Blair) and Kate Warne (Martha MacIsaac) as the first female detective, whose modern ways incline towards what we would term forensics.

A good premise alone does not a good series make, however.  It needs decent writing, a fair cast and reasonable production values.  This lacks two, and the third is compromised by the lack of the rest.  This is Canadian, and we have to say that if Canada feels superior to its southern neighbour, it's not justified by the television they sell to us.  You might expect Canada to try producing the likes of 'Mad Men', 'The Wire' and 'Breaking Bad', but this feels more like 'Bonanza' or 'The High Chaparral' with slightly less slush and more brutality.  With a banal script and looking bizarrely like it was filmed on a hand-held camcorder by a tourist at a wild west show, the fascination was in watching the actors battle to gain even an ounce of verisimilitude.  MacFadyen, who has presence and delivered some good performances in his back catalogue, sounds like he is putting on an accent even though Scottish is presumably second if not first nature.

Anachronisms are inevitable, no matter how small and despite all efforts at attention to detail, but the 'CSI 19th Century' franchise is much better served by 'Ripper Street', in the form of Captain Jackson, and even by Canada's own 'Murdoch Mysteries', which at least has charm and a modicum of tension, even if the female pathologist clearly races back and forth a hundred years between each episode.  This Pinkertons tale of bushwhackers was curiously bloodless, and the buddy banter failed to establish any rapport between the characters.  Crime and the Old West, on this occasion, are not a great combination.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Scandalous Lady W

Seymour Fleming (Natalie Dormer), young, beautiful and rich, is courted by Sir Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans) and marries him, only to discover that his pleasures are voyeuristic, and her fortune, in 1780s Britain, now forfeit to him.  She elopes with a neighbour, Captain George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), having already borne his child, but her husband sues for damages in the court that would cripple the pair financially.  As a defence, Seymour decides to publicise her enforced extra-marital liaisons, and enlists her former lovers to testify, proving that all her affairs were at her husband's behest.

A fairly clean saucy romp in all respects, there is never any suggestion of 18th Century filth beyond Richard's libido and a brief mention of venereal disease.  Despite 27 lovers, young Seymour wanted only to be cherished by her husband and, later, Bisset instead, and was thwarted in both instances.  Based on historian Hallie Rubenhold's book, 'Lady Worsley's Whim', this suffers, like most dramatic adaptations of biographical works, from a simplification of the known facts and a subjective presentation based mostly on speculation.  The real-life Seymour was rather less attached to her children and ended her days married to a much younger man, but the drama stopped neatly at the moment when she was exiled to France, alone.  Far be it from us to besmirch a lady's reputation, especially when it's an undeniable truth that women were ill-used and lacked basic legal rights in the 18th Century, and continue to be judged in a manner different to that of men for promiscuous behaviour.  Nonetheless, does this do women any favours by presenting her as rather a suffering saint at the hands of cretinous and spineless men?

A fun watch, though not particularly illuminating as to what went so wrong with the menage a trois, this is mostly worth watching as a starting point for those interested in the Georgians (read the book for detail) and for the attractive leads wearing gorgeous costumes.  In reality their looks and clothes would have been somewhat compromised by dirt and disease, regardless of their wealth and status.  Television, like the past, is definitely a foreign country.