Monday 17 June 2013

The White Queen

Another Philippa Gregorisation of history, this time the Wars of the Roses.  Lots of pretty costumes, clunky armour, pretty actors and clunky dialogue, not necessarily in that order.  On a scale of the actual past to 'The Tudors', this ranks roughly halfway, so the liberties are a bit more subtle than a late-life Henry VIII played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers clad in something more Calvin Klein than codpiece.

The first hour was a rollicking romance with boy-band-alike Edward IV falling in lust with Lizzie Woodville to the point of proposing to her rather than the politically astute match of a French princess.  That's about it for plot.  There's a lot of the requisite exposition to characters who already know what's going on of the "You do remember he killed your husband, don't you?" variety and some Merlinesque witchery which has Lizzie with second sight, but otherwise it's Sunday night fun with plenty of filth except where it should be, i.e. on the people, whose costumes have clearly enjoyed a non-biological 30 degree wash and a ceramic-plate iron.

Thursday 13 June 2013

The Returned

British horror, like British crime, has an honourable tradition, but recent offerings have been stodgy and disappointing and other countries have produced far better examples of the genres.  This French tale has people who supposedly died in a bus crash returning from the dead after years, without having aged at all.  A truly spooky premise and one that we wonder how they can possibly deliver on without resorting to 'Twin Peaks' style flights of fancy.  So far, though, it's more reminiscent of 'Solaris'.  Relatives are overjoyed, or puzzled, driven insane, or terrified at having loved ones they thought dead return to life as though nothing had happened.  Unsurprisingly.

There are no zombies: they all look healthy, and no vampyric tendencies, just extraordinary hunger.  The mountain village is quiet, with a dodgy electricity supply and an air of loss and menace.  What are their secrets?  Doubtless the living have as many as the 'dead', and so far the only violence to materialise has been very human.  The most intriguing and adult horror, with a dash of black humour, in a long time.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

The Americans

Every now and again something comes to television trailing such banners of 'Unmissable!' glory that we approach them with trepidation and even dread.  How can they possibly live up to the hype?  This one is based on a true situation - the discovery of KGB operatives undercover in America in the 1980s - but no-one looking at the publicity could imagine that faithfulness to the truth was paramount here.  Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell have the Hollywood touch that their real-life counterparts lacked and, presumably, wouldn't have wanted anyway.

As usual, the nods to the early 1980s setting are confined to those considered stylish in the 21st Century.  Don't expect shaggy hair or wide lapels, when you can signal with so much more pizzazz by sports cars, Fleetwood Mac and earlyish Genesis.  Then there are the dodgy 1960s flashbacks with no-one looking any younger, and speaking with cod-Russian accents.  The plot throws up nothing unfamiliar so far: the long-term undercover couple have all-American kids; they are chasing a defector; she is the loyal KGB officer whereas he is tempted by the good life, but their love is ignited by his defence of her; the new neighbour happens to be an FBI espionage agent... and on and on.

So, the new 'Homeland' it isn't.  If you like old-fashioned spy dramas, with everyone suspecting everyone else, and someone around every corner with a gun, then this is decent enough and paced well enough to hold the interest.  There's also an interesting cameo by Richard Thomas, a.k.a. John-Boy Walton.  Interesting, that is, because this is set just after his heyday in 'The Waltons', which got us thinking about America's current penchant for dramas of paranoia.  As a past and arguably resolved war, this is a safe watch about a former enemy within.  So what television was most of America watching during this past paranoid era, with Reagan in the White House in 1981?  In the top 30 of the season, according to Nielson ratings, were: Happy Days, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Dukes of Hazard, Dallas, Dynasty, Magnum PI and The Little House on the Prairie.  No wonder the KGB spies were so keen on their jobs.