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Archive for the ‘series’ Category

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.

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.

Black Mirror (2011-)

In Amazing, future, new, political, Recommendation, series on 17/02/2013 at 5:19 pm

The acclaimed dystopian tales by Charlie Brooker have come to life again as three new episodes are broadcast on Channel 4 this February 2013. It’s tricky to say something about Black Mirror as a whole because every episode takes place in a different near-future reality, with new characters and cast and a different premise every time. But the general idea is: it’s pretty amazing, go watch it now.

Black Mirror deals with phenomena that are close to our daily lives today, and mainly with the consequences of ever more elaborate and intrusive technology. Every episode could possibly come true – making Black Mirror more speculative fiction than science fiction. The immense social and personal effects of, for example, everybody having implants so they record absolutely everything they see and do, are the focal point of the stories. Plot driven stories that are character driven by narration, that’s what sets Black Mirror apart from most other speculative storytelling. Good acting helps too, by the way.

Brooker does allow for a certain dose of outrageous ideas in most episodes, making the series distinctly dystopian – a doomed vision of reality that is just as unlikely to come true as utopia. Extrapolating probable phenomena (ie keeping the dead alive through software) and making them definite shows us a worst case scenario that is still utterly credible.

Anyway, it’s very well done.  Here’s a trailer for series 1.

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 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.

 

 

 

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?

The Politician’s Wife (1995)

In political, Recommendation, Review, series on 13/10/2012 at 11:07 pm

So, not all drama made in the 1990s was mediocre, this 3 part Channel 4 diamond proves it. Also, do you remember what mobile phones looked like back then? And the hair – please can we never have the hairdos back. Please.

Frolicking aside – The Politician’s Wife is the enthralling story of Flora (Juliet Stevenson) and what happens after her conservative MP husband Duncan (Trevor Eve) becomes the focal point of a political sex scandal: apparently he was shagging a former escort (in the tempting shape of Minnie Driver). It’s a simple starting point, but don’t be fooled. Flora isn’t a simple character and Stevenson admirably makes her profound and real. What follows is lots of political intrigue and even more power play, set against the society and the politics of the time. The well written plot engages throughout, and Flora is just ordinary enough to relate to and out-of-the-ordinary enough to then baffle, then amaze.

The Politician’s Wife also digs quite deeply into the intimate workings of the Conservative Party, which if you’re anything like me, is quite interesting because I generally fail to understand the relationship between said party and actual human beings.

The Politician’s Wife is available on 4od, DVD and on YouTube in full. Sorry to say there is no trailer for it.

 

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.