Friday 25 March 2016

Blue Eyes

More 4's latest Friday foreign drama takes up where 'Spin' left off.  Paris is replaced by Stockholm but the skullduggery, betrayal and downright dirty politics are all present and (in)correct.  Disgraced former Chief of Staff Elin (Louise Peterhoff) is waitressing when she is re-recruited.  The previous occupant has supposedly gone on sick leave but we know that Sarah was tailed and that her abandoned car is in the woods.  She was last seen pleading with Annika, a middle-aged mum who supports the far right.  When Annika is threatened, things start to look conspiratorial.  And intriguing.  And generally like a timely and engrossing drama.  Hurrah.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

The A Word

Joe is five, and spends most of his time belting out his dad's favourite music while listening to the songs on his headphones.  He doesn't get invited to his classmates' parties.  His mum and dad reluctantly consult doctors as to whether their son is somewhere on the spectrum of the 'A' word.

We seem to recall a similarly-themed one-off drama on ITV a few years ago with Keeley Hawes and Ben Miles as worried parents of a young boy.  As there, the wider family get involved (the boy's brewer uncle and his adulterous doctor wife, the un-pc granddad played by a surely-too-young Christopher Eccleston) and there's clearly a rocky road ahead.  It's watchable, has great performances and beautiful Cumbrian scenery, but at the moment it feels a little by-numbers and predictable.  It's true we've been spoiled with the likes of the second series of 'Happy Valley' - better than the first - and the upcoming third series of 'Line of Duty', but we're not yet sure what this will have to offer to offer above and beyond another exploration of autism.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Follow the Money

The latest Saturday night Scandi offering from BBC4 is 'Follow the Money', which is less a noir than a conspiracy thriller.  The Corporates Dun Bad again, and this being the 21st Century and Denmark, the Bad Corporates are in supposedly sustainable, clean, renewable, green energy.  The adjectives may seem superfluous, but apparently they don't all mean the same thing, and they are anything but clean in the hands of Sanders, whose company Energreen has a wind turbine empire staffed by itinerant workers too scared to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. 

Meanwhile nice cop Mads is on the case of one of them who turns up dead, and his efforts to convince his father to talk result in the father's death too.  Luckily, a colleague in the fraud squad turns up to rescue him from the gloom and guilt - and the similar feelings engendered by his wife's MS - and they embark on an investigation which encompasses Sanders' ambitious new head lawyer and, we suspect, will eventually engulf the mechanics with criminal sidelines.

This is shaping up well, albeit not along unexpected lines.  We're hoping for some moral grey areas writ large over the next month.

Wednesday 16 March 2016


Vinyl is the new glossy HBO series about the music industry in New York in the 1970s, produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, and currently showing in the UK on Sky Atlantic.

The 1970s was a very interesting time in music.  You had the big beasts like Led Zeppelin and The Eagles still selling shed loads, you had lots of classic pop, big disco hits and the nascent twin forces of punk and hip hop starting to bubble up. 

You'd think that Jagger and Scorsese, having lived through and been involved in this era would know a good few stories and be able to bring this to life (just change the names and some details and it's not libelous...), but apparently not, and this is sadly pretty dull as a result.

Characters seem pretty much straight out of central casting, with a drug-taking maverick as the record company boss, a pretty secretary trying to break through the glass ceiling, rock stars sleeping with groupies and so on.  'Real people' appear in each episode - Robert Plant, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper - but they're more an annoying wink at the camera than there for any reason.  Scorsese's brought some of his tropes to the party - an accidental murder, gangsters and so on, and Jagger's brought his son James, who plays the leader of the punk band, but seems much too well-fed and clean to be authentic. 

We'll keep watching as it's now half way through, but if there is a second series can it be closer to what we all hoped it would be like?

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Doctor Thorne

Who better to adapt one of Trollope's gossipy, class-fixated 19th Century tomes than Downton's Julian Fellowes?  This in fact occupies the same 9pm, Sunday-night ITV slot lately vacated by the Crawleys, so don't expect a risk-taking, rule-breaking adaptation.  Instead we get a decent cast and a handsomely-mounted hour introducing us to the eponymous Dr Thorne (Tom Hollander - confusingly the camp, bitchy Corkoran over on BBC1 at the same time) and his illegitimate niece Mary, who is in love with the handsome young squire at the big house.  He returns that love, but alas has no money and must marry it.  Could there be a chance that Mary's unacknowledged other uncle will bestow a fortune on her...?  Fans of Trollope's novels will be either delighted or disappointed in the adaptation, but for the rest of us all that can be said is that it competently covers familiar ground.

Saturday 5 March 2016


A dishevelled-looking young woman runs along a suburban street and into a phone box.  She says she is Ivy Moxam, kidnapped from the street thirteen years ago as a thirteen-year-old girl and missing ever since.

Aired originally on BBC3, the youth-oriented channel that has recently moved online, this taps into today's bogeyman, namely the patient, organised and utterly deranged keeper of girls in cellars.  Similar ground was covered in the 2010 novel 'Room' which is now a film too.  This takes a decent stab at portraying the unimaginable post-nightmare readjustment, with Ivy (Jodie Comer) displaying bewilderment, relief and sorrow while trying to come to terms with what has happened to her.

The enormous impact of her emergence after such a long absence on her family and friends is also made apparent, and convincingly played, but the show is really Jodie Comer's as the girl who has lost her anonymity along with everything else.  The writing pays attention to detail, with Ivy more than a one-dimensional victim - she has a believable manipulative streak, contradictions in her behaviour and story and a possible case of Stockholm syndrome.  Her sister's doubt of her identity is quickly ruled out by DNA, but this doesn't lessen the mystery of what has happened to her, how it has changed her or indeed her personality before her disappearance (she was playing truant on the day she was abducted).  The identity of her captor is quickly established, but he is on the run, and apparently worked at Ivy's school.  A timely reminder that the sensational stories in the news are far from ending with a reunion.

Churchill's Secret

'Elderly man isn't all that well' isn't really a revelation, but when the man in question is Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Michael Gambon), symbol of British Bull-doggedness in WWII, the news is not to be bandied about.  Loyal members of his cabinet want the PM's stroke kept under wraps, lest there's an unseemly scramble for power in the absence of both Churchill and likely successor Anthony Eden (Alex Jennings), who was having gall bladder surgery abroad.  Mrs. Churchill, the redoubtable-in-her-own-right Clementine (Lindsay Duncan), wants Winston away from the temptations of Westminster and brings him back home to the Kent countryside home of Chartwell.  To nurse him, they contract Nurse Millie Appleyard (Romola Garai) but their peace is short-lived when the in-fighting Tories - plus ca change! - and the equally quarrelsome younger Churchills flock to Winston's bedside.

One of those 'rather nice' dramas that will go down well in America, this is a bit of a curio.  The storyline runs in a similar way to 'The Madness of George III': statesman brought low, struggles of his family and the succession, slow recovery, lessons learned etc.  It's beautifully filmed, some of it at Chartwell itself, now a National Trust gem, and is directed solidly by Charles Sturridge.  Overall though, it's rather a byway in the great man's life, and not that one that really altered the course of his remaining decade or so.  The addition of a fictional character to nurse him, who of-course happens to be from a Labour family, seems an unnecessary addition to proceedings, and merely a cypher in whom Clemmie can confide about the grief of losing her young daughter Marigold some thirty years earlier.  Things only really spring to life when the children arrive and, facing their father's death, are candid about the drawbacks of growing up with parents who were almost always otherwise engaged.

Wednesday 2 March 2016


If you think the word 'banker' begins with a 'w' and studiously avoid anywhere at the weekend likely to be filled with boozed-up men, this is for you.  A bunch of deeply unlikeable characters go on what else but a stag-hunting weekend in the Highlands.  The weather is terrible, but turns out to be the least of their troubles when weird things start to happen.

Ian (Jim Howick) is the brother of the bride and odd man out, bullied by the supposed alpha males he may soon see a lot more of.  The others' treatment of the mild-mannered man is enough to alienate us, and while reviews have stressed growing sympathy with the staggers, the first episode didn't raise more than a grimace when a man's dismembered legs were found in a clearing.  Subtle this isn't, in terms of humour or grotesquerie.  There's a link in the imagination between black comedy and sophistication and Reece Shearsmith, here an early casualty, is a master of those with the 'Inside No.9' series written with Steve Pemberton.  This doesn't quite hit that high, and in fact often resembles a lame episode of 'Lost' with few redeeming characters.  By the end of the hour we couldn't help wishing that whoever is after them would just hurry up and finish them all off for the sake of everyone who knew them.