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Archive for the ‘period drama’ Category

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.

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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.

Mr Selfridge (2013)

In feel good, new, period drama, Rant, Review, romantic, series on 14/01/2013 at 7:06 pm

ITV attempted to create lots of flurry around its latest grand period production in an attempt to recreate the rather more accidental success of Downton Abbey. Mr Selfridge however, is destined to fail due to some spectacularly horrendous acting by protagonist Jeremy Piven as Harry Selfridge, tedious dialogue and an utterly predictable plot.

The drama tells the story of how Harry Selfridge was a visionary noveau capitalist in his time and how his ideas flourished despite being radical and unconventional. Interesting in itself, were it not that the BBC did exactly the same thing (minus the real name) in The Paradise. Even the main characters and how they fit in the story are a crafty copy: Mr Selfridge has exactly the same ideas, doubts and charisma as John Moray in The Paradise, only being more annoying due to the empty dialogue and bad acting. There is the ‘simple’ shop girl with unlikely talents and the same character traits. There’s the story of a wife and a new charming outsider. It’s mostly fluff and flirtation, but no mystery or any sort of magic.

The London setting is lovely though, and the rest of the cast is very capable (a.o. Zoë Tapper, Samuel West, Pippa Haywood) , making Mr Selfridge just about watchable – but nothing more.

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 Making of a Lady (2012)

In based on novel, Classic Story, Crime, film, period drama, Recommendation, romantic on 18/12/2012 at 11:27 pm

Here’s a nice little Christmas treat from ITV. The title of this story is a bit deceptive: think less satin sashes, more creaky old house and macabre stuff. It starts with a poor girl who marries into aristocracy, but unlike in most historical dramas of this sort, that’s not the problem. The Making of a Lady, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Making of a Marchioness, subtly turns thrilling and unsettling for reasons I won’t disclose because that would spoil it all.

This tale’s simple premise unwraps nicely and it’s very well made and entertaining. It’s more a thriller than anything else: not much dealing with the topics of the time or anything too complex. It keeps things quite close to home and hearth, but I think it deserves praise for this: it’s the story on its own that carries so well, it doesn’t even need any heightened class tensions or politics to make it more interesting. An overall great cast is complemented by Joanna Lumley‘s debut as the grumpy rich auntie, and she does it splendidly.

The Making of a Lady is on ITV player for UK viewers. A trailer will be available soon I’m sure.

Downton Abbey (2010-2012-)

In feel good, Giggles, period drama, Review, romantic, series, war on 06/11/2012 at 9:33 pm

The upstairs/downstairs of Downton Abbey has become so immensely popular at home and abroad that it hardly needs any more praise. And I’m not quite sure I’m giving it any.

In the first two seasons I wasn’t sure it was more than a well acted and scripted period soap. It was all a bit obvious: rich aristocratic family tries to come to terms with changing times. Class barriers are carefully prodded, tradition is not always chief and women are doing things they wouldn’t before. There was a tiresome seemingly never ending non-romance upstairs, and some tastier entanglements downstairs. Oh, and there was a war on, the Great one.

Clearly, I was amused, but not impressed, or moved really. When ITV’s Downton returned for a third season in 2012, I with the rest of the nation, watched it on Sunday evenings because it’s exactly the sort of thing you want to see on a Sunday evening. I’m not sure what changed exactly, much of the supposed intrigue was still a bit formulaic, and the characters have been so stubbornly steadfast throughout that they almost become caricatures of themselves, and yet, every episode was great entertainment. And yes, I did cry a couple of times this season. It’s a warm blanket sort of entertainment, one that puts you at ease with everything.

Its appeal probably lies exactly in terribly strong characters that behave a certain way, like good comedy heroes do, too. Granny Grantham does make me laugh a lot and she is an vibrant source of fabulous quotes. That, its careful tension with the changing surroundings and a truly superb cast probably make it pardonable that it’s a wee bit soapy while sold as drama. What do you think?

Parade’s End (2012)

In based on novel, BBC, new, period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series, war on 27/09/2012 at 7:49 pm

In case you hadn’t heard yet, the Beeb just did a little bit of what’s the Beeb’s terribly good at: make a superb historical drama. It stars brilliant actors, mainly Rebecca Hall and Benedict Cumberbatch, and involves the Great War, Tories and Suffragettes.

Neither the horrors of the war or the politics of the time make this 5 part drama worth watching for me. They are valuable ingredients, but not what make Parade’s End original, and maybe even remarkable. I have no idea if the novel of the same title by Ford Madox Ford features equally compelling protagonists – judging by this raving review the book is very much worth the read – but oh, they are compelling alright. Sylvia (Hall) and Christopher (Cumberbatch) are an unlikely couple strapped together by a racy moment of passion. Christopher in every sense represents conservatism: he is a brilliant man with stern values and morals. He sticks to his principles, which are built on morals. He is too ‘good’ for his own good. His unlucky wife Sylvia is the opposite. She represents everything he’s afraid of: she celebrates unbridled charm, wit and passion. She is easily bored, prone to sarcasm and hungry for love. Her husband’s love. Her provocations and tricks to gain his affections, however, push him away. The two grow distant, but long for each other. Christopher falls for a neat young girl who, even though she has terribly modern views being a Suffragette, awakens a passion that his wife seems to have killed in him. And thus the story continues.

Christopher and Sylvia are the estranged couple nobody wants to become. They torment each other throughout, and I was left desperately wanting them to cut their charades, to end their parades, and bloody get on with it and love each other. This is personal, and my favouring Sylvia’s capricious character over the in my view yawn-inducing Suffragette Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) probably says more about me than about this story. That’s why I think it’s an engaging and persuasive watch.

 

Cracks (2009)

In Amazing, based on novel, film, period drama, Recommendation on 14/04/2012 at 2:19 pm

A brilliant psychological thriller based on the novel by Sheila Kohler, set in the claustrophobic yet intimate surroundings of a 1930s British all girls boarding school. Eva Green stars and sparkles as the girls’ inspirational and enigmatic diving teacher Miss G – but the intimate relationship between her and the girls is disrupted when Spanish girl Fiamma (María Valverde) from a far less shielded background joins them. Di (Juno Temple) finds in her position as Miss G’s favourite rivalled by Fiamma and the events that follow make Cracks a deeply unsettling but truly exceptionally told story.

The Devil’s Whore (2008)

In period drama, political, Recommendation, Review, romantic, series, war on 17/03/2012 at 10:21 pm

A Channel 4 miniseries told from the perspective of the fictional Angelica Fanshawe (Andrea Risenborough) during the turbulent years of Oliver Cromwell’s wars and reign (1642-1660). Even though this period in British history is far too interesting to use as a background situation, that is exactly what happens. Nevertheless, the drama is quite stunning and it’s a beautifully made, highly engaging four-part historical drama.

There’s some amazing acting going on here, the most interesting character being Edward Sexby (John Simm: Life on Mars, Exile), here more lonesome mercenary than the Leveller he was known to be, who silently falls in love with Angelica when she is about to marry for the first time at seventeen. He remains near to her, never interfering or admitting why he does it and he goes more or less unnoticed for years. Meanwhile, protagonist Angelica loses her best friend by marrying him and struggles to be the submissive wife society wants her to be.

This is also the general theme of the drama, and it was slightly criticised for making Angelica too modern. Despite any questions about how a woman in her position may or may not have felt, acted and loved, her character is very credible. The series gets its name from Angelica supposedly rejecting God when she is a child, and the Devil is a recurring figure in her adult life. She is accused of being a prostitute or otherwise immoral throughout – not a spectacular part of the plot – but it does create lots of tension.

The starry cast of this production further includes Michael Fassbender as Thomas Rainsborough – an influential Leveller and in this series Angelica’s second husband – Dominic West (The Hour) as Oliver Cromwell,  the much praised performance of Peter Capaldi as Charles I and Maxine Peak (Silkand Tom Goodman-Hill as Elizabeth and John Lilburne, a famous Leveller and Quaker.

The personal relationships between the historical figures have been fumbled with a little, but the general historical lines remain intact. As a dramatical effort this miniseries succeeds, but as a story based on facts it lacks substance, mainly in the political sense. Oliver Cromwell is shown to be only ruthless, which he was, to be sure – but we also know that his efforts were a continuous internal struggle. He desperately wanted Parliamentary rule, and justified the bloodshed he caused with a belief in the greater good for all. When his Parliament made a right corrupt mess of it all and Cromwell became Lord Protector, he did so with anguish. In The Devil’s Whore, Cromwell is only too keen to rule himself as King, and I think that’s a bit off. Otherwise, The Devil’s Whore is a worthy contribution to the broad array of British historical television dramas.

A link to a clip for lack of an embeddable trailer.