Sunday 28 July 2013

The Mill

Yes, as in 'trouble at', although apparently based on real-life incidents.  Not satisfied with making us miserable in 'The Village', the TV schedulers have decided we need a bigger dose of dour and dirty everyday folk in days of yore.  Fans of 'The Paradise' and 'Mr Selfridge' need not tune in, and fans of 'Downton Abbey' had better stay away too.

Ah, those were the days.  Britain at the head of an empire, the richest country in the world by far, none of this workers rights rubbish - they worked twelve-hour days for a pittance and a handful of porridge or they starved in the streets.  Welfare?  The cause of all ills.  Get the masses to work so they know that their place is to serve their betters.  Then we can bring industry back to Britain, once again the workshop of the world... - what?  Inhumane?  Plenty of kids in the Third World work that way today don't they?  There are plenty of charities and philanthropists to help, and then talent will out.  Any little entrepreneurs among the workers can climb the ladder if they want it badly enough.  If they fail, it's their own fault.

This is costume drama a la Ken Loach, which could almost be a schools history series.  Dark is this mill (Quarry Bank) and satanic, in the form of overlooker (no pun intended, 'Shining' fans) Crout (Craig Parkinson, who must have bagged Central Casting's no. 1 spot for villains) who treats his favourite girls to a bit of a grope in the privy.  As one of them says, he's a well-known "beard-splitter".  Life were romantic in them days.

The merchant, mill-owning Gregs are busy fighting the proposed Ten-Hour Bill and advancing the machinery, while the young workers are supervised by a Squeers-like pair.  Yes, all cliches, but none the less true for that.  Whether this four-parter works out as a drama rather than a history lesson is yet to be seen, though feisty Esther looks set to give her masters pause for thought, or even a pain in the rear.  Ah yes, those were the days alright.  Decent working conditions were at least in the ascendant and coming closer, rather than being eroded.  Go Esther, and we hope you're not turning in your grave.

Burton and Taylor

We tried, but we just couldn't do it.  No offence to Dominic West or Helena Bonham-Carter, but they're just not Burton and Taylor.  Who's in the pic above?  Mr West and Ms Bonham-Carter.  There's no getting over it.  The originals' extravagant personas were all their own, and their relationship, while it had many public facets, was after all a private affair (marriage-divorce-marriage).  Who's in the pic below?  Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  

Thursday 25 July 2013


It's an apt title.  The opening credits rap out loudly over scenes of some unappealing-looking young men acting shiftily (not another self-consciously stylish gangster show: hate) but this quickly gives way to the plot, with the cataclysmic act happening within the first ten minutes (not signposted, almost understated: love), building characters within the context of this event (with some changes in viewers' understanding of the situation along the way: love) but failing to avoid certain family-gangster cliches (like the prodigal boy and the girl he left behind, who has moved on, but whom he still loves: hate) and ending with a strangely uneven anti-climax to a will-they-won't-they scenario (will-they-won't-they kill someone they've dragged into the woods, that is: indifference, ultimately).

Three parts left to go, and it's tantalising enough to tune in next week, or even set to record for the joy of watching performers like Aidan Gillan and Ruth Negga.  Let's hope it evens out, avoids any further cliches (or resolves them in original ways) and relies on its writing and acting rather than slathered rap or stylish tricks.

Wednesday 17 July 2013


This review is later than planned because 'Run' is stripped across four consecutive nights on Channel 4 at 10pm, which is after all what recording devices are for, no?  I suppose watching it live is wonderful for anyone whose memory is more like a goldfish than an elephant, but for many of us it's just impossible.  So there, TV schedulers.

Anyway, to the drama itself.  Olivia Colman is the estranged partner of an abusive man and the mother of two troubled and troublesome teenaged sons.  She lives on an estate with walkways and underpasses and works in a dead-end job.  It might be 'Shameless' without the laughs except that the family dynamics and the plot take some very dark turns indeed.  Less shameless than unflinching, and a very believable exploration of lives behind cases on the news and in court.  It's not an enjoyable watch, or a comfortable one, with our put-upon mum smoking like the proverbial chimney and drinking tins of cheap lager every five minutes, but the writing is raw, and Colman's performance is one of her finest.  You want good things to happen, even while you know they are unlikely.  Roll on eps. 2-4.  Parliament should be made to watch before ever again uttering words about Broken Britain and cuts as though they knew what that means for millions.

Update, having watched the remaining episodes.  They didn't disappoint, so a big hello to the two writers, from whom we hope to have more.  And we liked Lennie James before but now we love him.  We defy anyone who has a heart not to have it wrung out by his rehab dad, even if they hate drugs and love their cars - can't say more without spoilers.  Fabulous.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Top of the Lake

Jane Campion's six-part series for television makes it UK debut on BBC2.  Set in New Zealand's beautiful South Island, detective Robin (Elizabeth Moss, spreading her wings from 'Mad Men's Peggy and the London stage) returns from Sydney to visit her ailing mother and is drawn into the strange life of young girl Tui (Jacqueline Joe), twelve and pregnant, and by the end of the episode missing.  Fellow American, and Campion veteran Holly Hunter, appears as GJ, a spiritual guru for troubled women who sets up camp in some shipping containers on a site known as Paradise.  Tui's wayward father Matt (Peter Mullan, whom we could watch forever and a day) has staked a claim on the same land, and is so narked with the land agent that he takes cruel revenge.

Gripping so far, with the only odd note the stupidly neurotic women who form Holly Hunter's tribe.  It's been described as similar in tone to 'Twin Peaks' but happily there are no dream sequences, dwarves etc. so far.