Archive for the ‘war’ 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.


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.


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.


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.

Birdsong (2012)

In based on novel, BBC, new, period drama, Review, romantic, series, war on 29/01/2012 at 10:47 pm

Brand new BBC war romance – yes, another one. Birdsong is based on the acclaimed Sebastian Faulks novel by the same name and tells the story of a young man called Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and a woman he falls in love with, set against the horrors of the Great War in the trenches in France.

Many things are good about this adaptation: the acting, the writing, convincing drama. Still, I probably will have forgotten all about it very soon. My guess is that this is because it lacks significance. There’s nothing special about the romance itself, the protagonist is quite ordinary and doesn’t go through any interesting personal journey or the like, and there are countless better stories telling the horrifying reality of WWI.

This may have been very different in the novel, in which case this just isn’t a very good adaptation. In general I’d say that this is a decent production, but nothing more. If you feel like watching a good romance, go ahead. Just don’t expect to be blown away by its originality.



Just Henry (2011)

In based on novel, film, new, period drama, Recommendation, Review, war on 19/12/2011 at 9:58 pm

This brand new ITV Christmas drama makes for a very charming winter watch. Just Henry is a coming-of-age tale based on the Michelle Magorian YA novel, which in the end is about what Henry (Josh Bolt) finds out truly matters in life. You can probably guess the answer, which is also why it’s perfect for snuggling up beside the fire. Mind you, it’s in no way soppy. It’s a beautiful story played by an extremely able cast.

Henry, a teenage boy in a confounded post WWII Britain, tries to find his identity amidst his torn family. His mother (the charming and talented Elaine Cassidy) remarried a kind man because Henry’s father (Stephen Campbell Moore) supposedly died a war hero. His grandmother (Sheila Hancock) pours vermin onto the fragile new family relationship by attempting to turn the young lad against his mother and stepfather (Dean Andrews). The plot really takes off when young Henry receives his father’s war medal in the post and Henry begins asking questions about what really happened.

If you’re outside of the UK and can’t catch up on ITV: the DVD is released on Amazon. For lack of a trailer, watch the whole film directly here on ITV:

Happy midwinter festivities from The Bella Review.


The Diary of Anne Frank (2009)

In BBC, period drama, Recommendation, Review, series, war on 12/11/2011 at 6:04 pm

This girl from Amsterdam certainly lived on after her unfairly premature death, for much of what we know about what WWII was like for people in hiding in the Netherlands is determined by Anne’s diary. Her story of life in the secret Annex (famously known as Het Achterhuis in Dutch), has been dramatised quite a few times – and I believe this concise but beautifully made BBC miniseries is the best yet.

Indeed, Anne Frank wasn’t at all a pleasant teenage girl. She was self-centred (as many are at that age), spoiled and couldn’t keep a thought to herself. She was also smart, quite funny and a little too ambitious. Whether this interpretation is based on thorough research or the writer’s vivid imagination doesn’t matter much, because it makes this Anne (Ellie Kendrick) very real. Kendrick is a very talented young actress, and perfect for this part because she much resembles Anne Frank and isn’t (no offence intended) too pretty. All the other inhabitants of the Annex are superbly cast, amongst whom Felicity Jones as Anne’s ‘perfect’ big sister Margot, Lesley Sharp as the too extravagant and dominant Petronella van Dam and Tamsin Greig as the silently tormented mother Edith Frank.

Despite the issue of this series completely ignoring the famous chestnut tree that so inspired and soothed Anne from the attic window, it’s a gripping and absolutely very moving watch. I sobbed relentlessly at the end despite knowing what was going to happen – but I was ill at the time and it makes me very emotional. Do let me know if it had the same effect on you.

Lilies (2007)

In Amazing, BBC, Giggles, period drama, Recommendation, Review, series, war on 02/11/2011 at 12:25 am

A gripping, moving, original and witty telling of the lives of three Catholic Liverpool sisters, Iris, May and Ruby, as they grapple their way through the first year after the Great War on the brink of poverty. Their ‘Dadda’ was widowed early and has a hilarious temper, their brother is being haunted for supposedly having been a coward. Ruby is an avid swimmer and she is cross with the boys coming back from the front for taking away her beloved job delivering the post.

This short BBC series (8 episodes) was much acclaimed but soon forgotten, which I think is a shame. After all, it isn’t often that a period drama is cheeky but not trashy, while it seeks out surprising topics taking unpredictable turns as well as deals with the pressing matters of the time (the rise of feminism, class divisions, inequality etc).

Especially recommended if you were disappointed by the latest series of Downton Abbey, which turned into a soap for lack of depth.

Here’s the first ten minutes of  Episode One.