Saturday 30 March 2013


An adaptation of Kate Mosse's bestseller and one of a rash of swords and sorcery epics around.  Presumably TV and film producers spotted that Harry Potter was equally popular with adults and decided to make adultified (i.e. added sex, violence and swearing) versions so that grown-ups needn't be ashamed of watching and could be more satisfied to boot.  Except... there's a patina of childish mush about most of them that leaves us cold.  Maybe they're just not our cup of tea, and if teenagers come to this and are inspired to read about real history, or classics like the Tolkiens etc. great.  Those older should know better, though, surely, than to passively imbibe the likes of everything from 'The Tudors' to 'Game of Thrones' (OK, one is pure fantasy, the other is... pure fantasy, but - we'll stop there) and think them entertaining?

We did try with this one, truly we did, but the dialogue was turgid, the wigs were bad and the clothes seemingly borrowed from 'Robin Hood', 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Merlin'.  The off-switch beckoned.  Maybe it would have fared better on a night with the full complement of hours, rather than the hour-stealing commencement of British Summertime (whatever and whenever that proves to be) but that's damning with the faintest praise.  We're sure fans of any of the programmes mentioned above will find it passable at least, but we couldn't have cared less whether present and past collided or whether they missed each other by miles.

Our Girl

Imagine 'Private Benjamin' crossed with 'An Officer and a Gentleman' and you're close.  It's hard to see this as a drama rather than a piece of jingoism for the British Army.  We aren't 'Enders fans but we saw Lacey Turner in 'True Love' and she was good, as she is here, and just as well because this would have been unwatchable otherwise.  She's Molly Dawes, from Stratford (not the one Upon Avon, as she points out), a mouthy member of a clan reminiscent of the Gallaghers on 'Shameless's Chatsworth Estate.  After a particularly unrewarding night out she jettisons her rowdy clan and her smooth-talking conman boyfriend and joins the army.  She finds it hard, especially as she's swiftly identified as the troublesome recruit.  Slowly she adjusts, resolves to make it and... you see where this is going.  No real surprises.  Everyone in the army is essentially comradely and a believer in tough love.  Everyone outside it is a waster or a loser.  Whether or not she gets blown to bits in her subsequent tour out in Afghanistan, it's all been worth it because she's made something of herself.  Cue credits.

Ms Turner, we repeat, is very good - if unstretched -  as are the rest of the cast, but as a recruiting ad for the army it backfires somewhat.  If you're sporty and you like being shouted at all day, plus you like a feeling of belonging (to a family, say, or a cult, either will do...) oh and being shot at, join up now.  Be warned, though, you'll be in company who don't understand terms like 'sorting the wheat from the chaff' and have no idea that there were such things as rats and gas in the WWI trenches.  If that were the real state of the army we'd have been invaded far more recently than 1066.

Wodehouse in Exile

Was Wodehouse in exile?  We like Jeeves and Wooster, but we didn't know much about their author, PG Wodehouse.  This is another of those superb 90-minute bio-dramas that BBC4 does so well.  Tim Piggott-Smith gives a nuanced performance as the innocent, gullible writer who finds himself a propaganda puppet of the Nazis during WWII.  Zoe Wanamaker is equally affecting as his more worldly wife, with Julian Rhind-Tutt and Flora Montgomery in strong support as Malcolm Muggeridge (then a Major with British Intelligence) and Wodehouse's adopted daughter Leonora.  It's a sad story and one as much about the madness and indecency of war as about one decent man's fate.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

The Lady Vanishes... In the Flesh...

... and reappears as a zombie?  Now that might be a drama worth watching.  Have to be honest, this lady vanished long before the ending, and never even made it to the start of 'In the Flesh'.

The BBC remake/update claims to have been based closely on the book, 'The Wheel Spins' rather than Hitchcock's film version, so why keep the film's title if not to (falsely) lure fans of the film?  Pedantic gripes aside, this was a perfectly watchable, serviceable escapist drama which was apparently bumped from the Christmas schedules.  Maybe there were legal reasons, but any others were sheer madness since this is perfect post-pud entertainment.  Having it as a stand-alone in the March Sunday evening slot cruelly exposes the pointlessness of either a remake of the film or another adaptation of the novel.

The central premise is a tad confused (so they all lied conveniently for different reasons?) and rather distractingly every single character was a 'face'.  Is it us or is Tom Hughes the new Jonathan Rhys-Myers?  This is not a compliment.  If he is a better actor, he needs to appear in something worthwhile, fast.

And one look at the photo from 'In the Flesh' explains why neither of us sat down with a cushion and a cuppa to watch it.  BBC3 may have turned up something classy in 'Being Human' but there's just something about zombies....  It is a prejudice on our part, we admit, so maybe in the middle of the night, feeling a bit like the undead, we will take the leap.  Meanwhile there are zombies of the everyday variety all around, as anyone who commutes will tell you.

Tuesday 12 March 2013


Shetland.  It's almost Scandi but not quite.  The title of the source novel, 'Red Bones', obviously didn't sell it to an audience for whom crime drama these days is all 'location, location, location'.  ITV's 'Vera' is also penned by Ann Cleeves, but Tyneside - also the setting for the 'Gently' books - hasn't the natural advantages of Sweden ('Wallander'), Connemara ('Single-Handed', 'Jack Taylor') or, errr, 'Midsomer...'?

Like detective Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall in huggable jumpers), we'd prefer the Islands to remain places of negligible crime rates and no retail chains, so this is an unwelcome exposure, but ah, those bleak, windswept hills and craggy brows - the latter belonging to every islander over the age of 30.  If this wasn't quite Scandi, it wasn't quite US crime drama either, and none the worse for it.  Current British efforts to emulate foreign success, such as 'Mayday' and 'Broadchurch', seem like strung-out scenarios rather than slow-burn thrillers.  Scandis can get it right ('The Killing' series one) or wrong ('The Bridge') and ditto the Americans ('Homeland' series one and two, respectively) but getting it wrong means either yawningly long or absurd developments.  'Mayday' somehow managed both.

'Shetland' had enough going on to build interest and sustain two hours.  We questioned developments but didn't find the TWNHs that usually pepper these dramas like stray shot from a murderer's rampage (see 'Vera').  It even made the Vikings look... well, like a sort of homely, northern, weapon-wielding version of Morris Men.  If this feels more like a re-enactment in more ways than one, that's because it is: yet another crime drama with a nice backdrop without any  claim to breaking the mould.  There are three more Shetland novels at the moment, which equates to six hours of feet-up crime drama.  Anymore for anymore?

Thursday 7 March 2013

Mayday Mayday! *spoilers*

Sometimes no amount of wanting to like something will reprieve a damning verdict.  This was quite simply as big a waste of time as 'Dancing on the Edge'.

You may not have a very high opinion of your local cops, but d'you think they believe in witchcraft?  No, neither do we.  That's not to say there's no such thing as witches (nor to say that there is), but this would have us buy Peter McDonald's Alan blaming local blonde teenager Hattie for his impotence with his wife.  Seth, the nominal village idiot (we would say "person with learning difficulties" but there's no attempt to avoid cliches here, so we won't) tells Alan that Hattie is a witch, and how to counteract her spells, so he kidnaps her and strangles her when she tries to escape.  When his wife realises what he's done, she proves herself even more barking than her husband by framing her ex-boyfriend to "keep the family together".  Because, obviously, you would want a man who no longer fancied you and killed the childlike object of his lust.  What a guy!  Not that the other male suspects came out of it any better.  Everett (Aidan Gillen) was a self-confessed "shit" and Malcolm (Peter Firth, more lugubrious by the hour) watched the murder without doing anything to help.  Malcolm's wife fares little better, mashing up her husband's ashes and feeding him to the dog.  Almost anyone other than Lesley Manville would have lost our sympathy altogether.  Plus, what happened to Hattie's dad, last seen beating the innards out of Seth in the woods?

If it was trying to emulate 'The Killing' and other Danish dramas, it failed.  The offbeat supernatural theme was handled less convincingly than in 'Midsomer Murders', which this resembled more than anything else.  It was slow, and the characters behaved like the puppets of writers wanting a tense plot at the expense of real people with real emotions.  We can't help but feel that it may have been submitted as a 'Midsomer...' script but turned down as being too unbelievable.  This idea may have worked set in 17th Century Pendle, or even 19th Century rural Ireland (viz. the Cleary case) but we can only think that those who commissioned this were... under some kind of a spell?

Tuesday 5 March 2013


Another murder-mystery-thriller?  Yep.  This one at least doesn't throw up a gallery of weirdo suspects, like its opposite number on the BBC, and it appears to be moving faster, although it has eight episodes so there's plenty of opportunity to drop the pace.

Hope not, it's a great cast and the inevitable secrets that bubble up are at least not signposted in a size even the short-sighted can easily see.  Nonetheless, at the risk of being descended on by a posse of Tennant fans, we have to say that he didn't really look convincing in the police appeal at the end of the episode.  He doesn't look like any detective we've seen speaking on the television news, and he certainly didn't sound like one, promising the killer that they would be caught no matter what.  That's what's known as setting yourself up to fail, and even an archetypal PC Plod would surely avoid that old chestnut.

Monday 4 March 2013

Mayday Episode 2

We should state right now that Ali loves watching Aidan Gillen and Peter McDonald so much she could watch paintings of them dry, and that the mere lift or lowering of an eyebrow by Sophie Okonedo could induce laughter or a deluge of tears.

But this is the most unbelievable village in England.  Everyone suspects everyone else or is very obviously hiding something.  We're not saying the opposite is true, but honestly, if you lived in this village, you'd move away double-quick.  There are weirdos in the woods, where the police don't seem all that keen to go, judging by the hounds-pack from the village who hunt for the girl.  Two women now seriously suspect their husbands and one son suspects his dad, despite no body having been found.  And Lesley Manville's dog looks more like hubby Peter Firth than her.  What's going on?

Still more 'Midsomer' than 'Murder' alas, which begs the question of whether it needs five hours at funereal pace rather than three livelier episodes.

Sunday 3 March 2013


Screened over five days and likened to 'The Killing' (but by whom, we don't know) this had us thinking it was 'Midsomer Murders' at first.  Every drama featuring an English village tradition has this curse, thanks to ITV....  The May Queen goes missing on her way to the parade and secrets start popping up like weeds after rain.  This takes care to set up suspects from the start: one character chain-smokes and keeps away from his wife; another - a cop - has blood on his clothes and gets tetchy when his wife finds him having a shower and yet a third hides something in a bag in a cupboard and locks it up.  As usual, a dog makes a find in the woods, but it's a sort of Well Dressing in the woods rather than a body.  And as usual all the men seem to know that the supposedly innocent 14-year-old Hattie Sutton is anything but.

It's a bit odd that the men of the village form a search party and head straight to the woods, rather than following her supposed route by bicycle through the village, and unaccompanied by any police.  There are a number of characters, whose relationships aren't yet clear (who's the guy on the screen?) so the next-day screenings are a good idea.

So far this feels like an uneasy mix of 'Midsomer' and Jez Butterworth's play of mythic truths 'Jerusalem'.  We hope it coalesces into something more gripping than a standard whodunnit.

Saturday 2 March 2013

Mary and Martha

Oh Richard, Richard, Richard.  We'd rather you were penning 'Blackadder 13' or animating the rubbery faces of Cameron et al in a revived 'Spitting Image'.  It's not that malaria isn't a worthy topic, or that we've anything against you, the BBC, Ms Blethyn, Ms Swank or the rest of the cast and crew, it's just... most dramas say something, or try to, but there's a difference between that and Telegraphing a Worthy Message by way of a frankly cliched and sentimental script.  We haven't spontaneously "bleughed" at a drama like this since - well, since 'Call the Midwife' probably, but before that we must have been in our early teens.

And on top of the nausea, there was the wholly unlikely scenario of 'nice, middle-class ladies' embarking on a sort of genteel version of Erin Brokovich's campaign to change things from the top, thanks to Swank's well-connected (James Woods!) dad.

So what are we ordinary mortals to do?  Follow the girls and throw it all up to parade with placards at Westminster?  Or follow them to Africa, adding to the general shortages but making ourselves feel better?  Maybe just re-allocate our dwindling pension pots to a medical charity?  Well, we will if Mr Curtis and co. will.  Yes?  No?

Statistics were thrown at us that are meant to shock: malaria kills more people a year than died in various wars combined etc.  Well here are more: malaria, along with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, receives more funding than the group of infections known as the Neglected Tropical Diseases, but the latter group affects as many people in developing countries as malaria.  Like malaria, many of them could be prevented and/or cured, and like malaria, they may not always kill but severely maim and injure the afflicted.  Cue Bill Gates and various other  charities who aim to eradicate/exterminate/generally end these horrors - hurrah!  And they're not making preachy dramas to make their point - double hurrah!