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Archive for the ‘BBC’ Category

Turks & Caicos (2014)

In Action, Amazing, BBC, Crime, film, Law, new, political, Recommendation, Review, Spy on 22/03/2014 at 11:00 am

A great BBC Original spy thriller-drama with a cast so starry it’s hard to believe it’s only a telly production. Former MI5 agent Johnny/Tom Eliot (Bill Nighy) is trying to stay out of trouble on Turks & Caicos – a tropical tax haven – but fails miserably when he gets entangled in a CIA efforts lead by Curtis Pelissier (Christopher Walken) to catch some big-arse crooks. We’ve seen Nighy in many roles like this, but it’s hard to object as he does such a lovely job at being the well-mannered, understated and well-tailored Englishman.

When he fled from HM’s SS, he left behind the love of his life and also former spy Margot (Helena Bonham-Carter) – but his plight is bound to bring them back together. Meanwhile, Melanie (Winona Ryder) is in with the bad boys but the question is whether she wants to be. She’s all grown up, fragile, broken and seductive all at once. Back in the UK, Margot gets closer to Stirling Rogers (Rupert Graves, Sherlock) who is too rich and powerful not to be involved somehow, and also plays tennis with the PM, Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes), which gives rise to the question of his involvement in illegal financial thievery.

All the plots, schemes, power play and politics are made more interesting by the central notion of this story: humanity. Not once does this film degrade itself to plot-driven cops&robbers trickery. The island’s police force, Johnny, Margot and Johnny’s love, Melanie’s MO – they all boil down to a sense of ‘as long as there’s people like them in the world, we might be alright’.

Also, writer and director David Hare (The Reader, The Hours) made a film that blatantly says: tax havens are corrupt, dangerous, criminal snake-pits that use our tax payers’ money to enrich themselves and politicians involved. And it’s about time.

NB: No trailer available yet – here’s one for Original British Drama featuring some tasters.

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The Escape Artist (2013)

In BBC, Crime, Law, new, Recommendation, Review, series on 19/11/2013 at 5:04 pm

A modern three part justice/crime tale starring the effervescently great David Tennant as a star London barrister. He gets a complete psychopath off the hook for a murder charge and then  his life changes dramatically. I won’t spoil it – but I will say the plot has quite a classic twist, which works in its benefit.

Escape Artist is indeed well worth the watch because it is a story well made and told. But it’s not ground breaking or revolutionary in any sense and unfortunately, you’re likely to forget about it.

However much I appreciate the quality of these BBC drama series, it does make me wonder if our collectively owned broadcaster is trying hard enough to deliver spectacular drama. I feel this is reaffirming, but not artistically anywhere good enough to meet our high standards.

Peaky Blinders (2013)

In Amazing, BBC, Crime, new, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series, war on 21/10/2013 at 2:00 pm

We’re in Birmingham in the early 1920s, just after the Great War. It’s dirty, it’s poor, the boys have come back from the trenches – the lucky ones, and of course the weather is suitably grim. There’s a violent bunch with razors sewn into their flat caps (used to slash people’s eyes and faces) called the Peaky Blinders who rule the town – in a Mafia kind of way. Other enemies of justice include the IRA and communists.

The Peaky Blinders are led by the captivating Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) – hardened and still tortured by the war, proud, silent, clever, handsome and more things that will make you fall in love with this bad guy hero. The antagonist is the supposed good guy CI Campbell (Sam Neill), a disagreeable Irish policeman; stubborn, rigid, set in his ways and devastatingly lonely in the end. Then there’s a pearl of perfect understatement called Grace (Annabelle Wallis), the Irish girl who makes Shelby/Murphy shine even more. Not  to forget the indestructible aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) who could probably lead an army and nurse a dozen children all at once.

This latest Beeb series is indeed stunning, suspenseful, a bit polished but not careful and absolutely original. As for historical significance – the real Peaky Blinders’ history in a bit vague and convoluted, but the sentiments of the era – about heroism vs cowardice, the role of women, communism, loyalty etc. –  are well represented, which is exactly the role fiction should play.

There’s a couple of cock-ups as well – hey, nothing’s perfect – the casting of Winston Churchill is ridiculous and the accents are a bit sloppy. It also leans on its protagonist quite heavily, but I dare say that’s hardly a bad thing.

The Wipers Times (2013)

In BBC, film, Giggles, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review on 18/09/2013 at 10:34 am

Inappropriate jokes can save lives, metaphorically and sometimes literally.

The Wipers Times was a satirical paper printed in the Belgian town Ypres (pronounced wipers, obviously) by British soldiers in the trenches during the Great War. When Fred Roberts (Ben Chaplin) and his 24th division stumble upon an old printing press, starting their own paper is an outlandish idea – but then, not much is making sense any more anyway. None of them are writers or journalists, but they are more than a bit clever with words, and oh do they make them sing.

There’s nothing at all funny about the endless, desperate, muddy and bloody Great War, and that’s why the distractions of the Wipers Times were vital. Ian Hislop, editor of today’s favourite satirical rag Private Eye, and Nick Newman did an amazing job writing this for the BBC, and all the cast, but especially Ben Chaplin and Julian Rhind-Tutt, were incredibly human and lovely to watch despite the misery taking place around them.

The Wipers Times is an entertaining, very funny, heartwarming, educational and well balanced bit of historical drama.

In the Flesh (2013)

In BBC, Horror, Recommendation, series, supernatural on 27/04/2013 at 2:03 pm

The dead have gone walkabout again on BBC Three, but different. The story of In the Flesh is as follows: there’s been a wave of the dead rising, turning dead and buried people into zombies. Then a ‘cure’ was found: a way to make the dead think, feel and behave like humans again. The story begins when ‘PDS sufferers’ (partially deceased syndrome) are reintroduced into society, four years after ‘the rising’.

In the meantime, militant civilian armies have learnt to protect their communities from the flesh munching dead, and when protagonist Kieren returns to his family, packing contact lenses and make-up, he finds his kid sister (now 18) is one of the most militant in his home town.

The three-part miniseries is refreshing for its new take on the whole zombie apocalypse trend, introducing interesting moral conflicts. The militant anti-PDS crowd are small minded bigots waving guns around, or are they? Can formerly dangerous undead be turned back into humans, despite the flashbacks and their dependency on medication? Is there a point to life if you don’t age and can’t eat or drink? And there’s Kieren, who topped himself in his late teens – he didn’t even want to be alive, so how is going to cope with being only half alive?

It’s also tense, intriguing and well made and acted, so very much worth the watch. Oh, and as with everything BBC Three, yes there is a moral to the story, not that it messes with the drama at all. I think you can guess what it is.

The Paradise (2012)

In based on novel, BBC, period drama, Recommendation, Review, romantic on 07/01/2013 at 11:55 am

A tale of capitalism, ambition and also love. John Moray (Emun Elliot) – the embodiment of new capitalism as it awoke in the 1870s – has opened a fancy department store for ladies wear, The Paradise, in North East England, suggested to be one of the country’s first ever. He is a charming self-made man with vibrant modern ideas (i.e. getting people to buy things they want rather than need). Denise Lovett (Joanna Vanderham) is a dressmaker’s daughter who ‘crosses over’ to work in The Paradise, and she is more entrepreneurial than any of the other staff, quickly igniting jealousy amongst them and catching the keen eye of Mr Moray. Meanwhile, Moray has a troubled past that haunts him in several ways, and Lady Katherine Glendenning (Elaine Cassidy) is determined to win his heart and his hand in marriage.

Intrigue and plot ensue as old values are set against new ones. Local traders are threatened by The Paradise as the gentry start choosing department store wear over tailored dresses, the mysterious death of Moray’s first wife plays up, and existential issues of ambition versus love all surface as the series progresses.  BBC’s The Paradise is a very entertaining and well told tale of our modern history, all wrapped up in sashes and ribbons. As we are today questioning our consumerism and capitalist morals, this series is an apt way of rediscovering how it all began.

Restless (2012)

In based on novel, BBC, Crime, new, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, Spy, war on 29/12/2012 at 2:13 pm

Spies, I do love spy stories. WWII ones best. And Restless, adapted from the William Boyd novel by William Boyd himself, is a great two-part Christmas treat.

The story starts in the 1970s when seemingly ordinary and seemingly English mum Sally (Charlotte Rampling) reveals her secret past and identity to her daughter Ruth (Michelle Dockery) because she believes someone is trying to kill her. We then go back to where it all started: Paris in the 1930s and on until Sally’s spy story ends during the war, catching up with ongoings in ‘present day’ 1970s in the meantime. Double period drama, and the 1940s definitely wins ten times over on aesthetics.

Young Sally, or Eva, or whatever other assumed name she had when working for the British security services, is enchantingly played by Hayley Atwell. Her boss Lucas Romer (Rufus Sewel) is intriguing, seductive, dangerous and comforting all in one – and the story in the past unfolding simultaneously with the present keeps you interested in both throughout. There are some glitches in the plot, for example: if someone wanted and old woman dead, why didn’t they just go ahead and kill her? There are more little things that just don’t add up and it does stand out in a spy drama. But then, the story of the young Eva/Sally is otherwise so engaging that it’s easily forgiven.

 

 

The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)

In BBC, Crime, new, out of this world, Recommendation, Review, series, supernatural, war on 04/12/2012 at 7:53 pm

There’s nothing like a big old house that used to be an orphanage as a backdrop for a spooky story. It’s a bit of a cliché, admittedly, but then this 3-part BBC mini do is so tense, intriguing and well acted that it overpowers its obvious setting.

Eve and Gabe Caleigh (Suranne Jones and Tom Ellis) are a happy, busy urban couple with three kids. One day, Eve briefly dozes off at the playground and her young son Cal goes missing. A year later they move to the remote Crickley Hall, where Gabe hopes his wife might be able to start letting go of their son. But, Eve has a sort of telepathic connection with Cal, and she can hear his voice inside the heavily haunted house.

Crickley Hall was a small orphanage during WWII, and all the children supposedly drowned in a flood. However, there’s a complex mystery to be unravelled, especially since Mr Cribben (Douglas Henshall) is spooking about with his cane, terrorising the ghosts of the children as well as all the living people in the house.

The plot is complex, running between present (missing son and family dynamics), past (what really happened to the children?) and past meets present (survivors who get involved). It’s not predictable and avoids sappiness and melodrama, even though the heavy emotions involved easily provoke both. A good watch. Not if spooks spook you out, though. It’s not terrifying, but very intense and absolutely quite spooky.

 

Hunted (2012)

In BBC, Crime, new, Rant, Review, series, Spy on 25/11/2012 at 11:56 pm

The BBC has set its standards high when it comes to present-day spy thrillers thanks to a successful decade of Spooks. When Hunted was announced – supposedly by the makers of Spooks – no doubt many of us were anticipating something good. And no doubt, we’re all disappointed.

Hunted tells the story of a young woman spy, Sam Hunter (Melissa George) and her perilous quest to find out who wants her dead. She works for a private agency and neither she nor her colleagues know why or for whom they put their lives on the line daily. They don’t know if they’re killing goodies or baddies. In my view, that’s about as wobbly a plot as anyone can come up with.  Some morals are written in towards the end, but the mere idea that the protagonist, who we’re meant to believe is fighting for justice, doesn’t care about the rest of the world makes her a fundamentally flawed character.

This 8-part drama also has generous blobs of dialogue that are so appalling I feel sorry for the actors made to say the lines. The bit where some dialogue is supposed to be Dutch is, erm, well, hardly recognisable as said language, and the characterisation is overall weak and obvious when it comes to the smaller supporting parts, and melodramatic when it comes to the protagonist (do we really need to see her terrible childhood nightmares in every episode? Does she really always sleep on the floor because of what happened to her mother 20 years ago?). To top all this off – the final episode builds up to this great unwrapping of secrets – and then they don’t unwrap at all and bits are left dangling.

So far I’ve said nothing good about Hunted, yet I’ve watched all of it. Most of what kept me hanging on was the power play within the enemy Jack Turner’s house (very convincingly played by Patrick Malahide), and the tension throughout to see whether Sam would get away with whatever hazardous venture she was undertaking. And it all looks very cool, in a fast-paced spy kind of way.

Hunted was neither written nor directed by the people who made Spooks, so I think we can safely say it has little to nothing to do with it. As for Auntie Beeb, I hope they do better next time they put our money into such a costly production.

 

 

 

Perfect Sense (2011)

In BBC, film, future, Review, romantic on 12/11/2012 at 5:29 pm

A dystopian drama starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. To me, that sounds like a proper treat.

Perfect Sense is a story built around a truly terrifying idea: an unstoppable virus that slowly takes away all human senses. It starts with smell. Chef Michael (McGregor) and epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green) are both affected, yet they fall in love. And this is, unfortunately, all there is to the story. What follows is more of the same.

No dystopian story is compelling enough on its own: it needs to tell us about life and society today, using a ‘what if’ premise as a metaphor, such as a terrible epidemic of some sort. This story is paradoxically too pompous as well as too thin. The former because a virus taking all our senses is too incredible and too hopeless. There is no story left to tell. There is nothing to resolve, nothing to learn, nothing to enjoy or be sad about. The latter because, although Green and McGregor are as captivating as ever, the characterisation – or the personal drama – is to flimsy to actually stir any emotions. It is quite a shame to waste two great actors on mediocre writing.

This mediocre writing is also very apparent through the over-abundant use of a narrative voice-over. Not that I’m ever not annoyed by voice overs, but this one is particularly irritating as it almost flaunts the filmmaker’s lack of skill in telling the story with actual film. Oh, and then there’s the score. I would compliment director David Mackenzie on avoiding melodrama, if he hadn’t thrown in such a shiteload of appalling melodramatic violin goo.

I’m really sorry there aren’t nicer things I can say about this film. If you’re intrigued by the topic, I suggest you read Saramago’s Blindness. A very beautiful novel about an epidemic that makes the world’s population blind. It’s astonishingly realistic, touching, disgusting and compelling.