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ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS”

ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS. . . “

I have been continuing my cultural trawl through the online streaming platform ALL 4, which, if you didn’t know, screens television films and programmes from Channel 4’s roster, past and present. My next port of call was re-watching the twenty-three comedy films – ranging from thirty to six minutes – written and directed by the anarchic comedy collective called The Comic Strip.

The Comic Strip were pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980’s alternative comedy scene. Much like punk rock did for music, alternative comedy sought to satirise and lampoon the status quo, railing against the capitalist, sexist and homophobic right wing politics of the day. This energetic and crazy comedy troupe consisted of now established comedic and acting luminaries such as: Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall (R.I.P), Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen, and Alexei Sayle etc.



Peter Richardson booked and opened the first The Comic Strip show at the Revuebar’s Boulevard Theatre on October 7th 1980. Soon the company had television executives clamouring for these anti-establishment comedic talents. The BBC would soon get Mayall, Planer, Edmondson and Richardson signed up for the anarchic student comedy The Young Ones, and the rest, they say, is comedy history. Richardson would drop out of the classic BBC comedy show, but signed a deal with Channel 4 to write, produce and direct a series of films called The Comic Strip Presents. . .

Channel 4 was a perfect platform for the The Comic Strip as they were a brand new channel whose remit was to provide an alternative creative output to the more traditional British TV channels. Thus, on the launch night of Channel 4 in November 1982, their very first comedy film was released called Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982). Immediately, it caused controversy as the show mercilessly satirised Enid Blyton’s wholesome “Famous Five” with a scurrilous deconstruction of middle-class values. The first series consisted of six short half-hour films and were so successful they would run for another five seasons, plus many comedy specials and feature films too.



The Comic Strip Presents. . . above all else is extremely funny and took many risks in its productions, even to the extent that some episodes verge on avant garde incomprehensibility. The following episodes, however, perfectly marry that punk and anarchic spirit with reasonable narrative and genre cohesion. Well, I say that because I grew up with watching these legendary and always quotable comedy programmes.

To an outsider watching the first time round they may find them, like comedy masterpieces such as Monty Python, Spike Milligan, The Young Ones, The League of Gentleman and The Mighty Boosh, too surreal for their taste. But compared to some of today’s television they can seem quite tame and even dated. Having said that, at the time many of these shows were considered cutting-edge and even “dangerous”, shaking up the conservative complacency with satirical swipes, slapstick parodies, nihilistic irony and genre pastiche.

ALL 4/Channel 4, currently hold twenty-three episodes and I re-watched them all before writing this article. Please be aware that I am aware that there are a number of episodes produced for the BBC before The Comic Strip Presents. . . went back to Channel 4. But it’s at its’ original channel that I am focusing on today. Overall, for me, The Comic Strip Presents. . . is part of my cultural DNA and something I shall always treasure. The opening intro-ident with the bomb falling into the countryside and “Quando, Quando, Quando” playing is as iconic as it comes. Anyway, enough of the talking bollocks, here are some of their programmes I recommend you watch immediately!



BAD NEWS TOUR (1983) / MORE BAD NEWS (1988)

Two riotously funny fly-on-the-wall mockumentaries about the infamous British rock band, Bad News!


DIRTY MOVIE (1984)

Rik Mayall features as a slimy cinema-owner who wants to watch a porno in his cinema, in this silly, post-modern slapstick classic.


EDDIE MONSOON – A LIFE? (1984)

Adrian Edmondson stars as suicidal TV producer Eddie Monsoon, facing both financial and mental ruin.


THE BULLSHITTERS (1984)

British TV action show The Professionals is mercilessly lampooned with Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as tough-guy cops, Bonehead and Foyle.


THE STRIKE (1988)

Brilliant comedy which satirises the Hollywood adaptation of the British Miner’s Strike; starring Al Pacino (Peter Richardson) as Arthur Scargill!


MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR (1988)

Genuinely one of the funniest comedy films ever made, with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Dreamytime Escorts! Together they have to “take out” Nicholas Parsons and cause mayhem in the process.


FOUR MEN IN A CAR (1998) / FOUR MEN IN A PLANE (2000)

Hilarious comedies about four salesmen out on the road who argue and conflict all the time. In each episode they manage to get themselves stranded on the motorway and in a barren desert.


ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.

I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.

The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.

The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.

Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.

As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.

Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: END OF THE F***KING WORLD (2017)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: END OF THE F***KING WORLD (2017)

Directed by: Jonathan Entwhistle, Lucy Tcherniak

Producer: Kate Ogborn

Written by: Charlie Covell (based on comic novella by Charles Forsman)

Cast: Alex Lawther, Jessica Barden, Gemma Whelan, Wunmi Mosaku, Steve Oram, Christine Bottomley, Navin Chowdhry etc.

Original Network: Channel 4

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


This Channel Four comedy-drama can be found on both ALL 4 and Netflix. It is certainly recommended for those who like their comedy darker than an Arctic winter’s day. It concerns a teenager called James (Alex Lawther) who believes he’s a psychopath, who decides to go from killing animals to people. Enter Jessica Barden’s equally maladjusted Alyssa, and we get eight episodes of acidic, violent, rites-of-passage and anti-romantic mischief.

The first episode is arguably the strongest as it starts with a breakneck pace establishing James character history and how he meets Alyssa. They are both very nihilistic and unlikable but that’s the point. The series is an anathema to the conventional feel-good Hollywood sitcoms and comedy films. This is violent and nasty with lost kids ignored or endangered by the adults around them. Indeed, aside from Gemma Whelan’s likeable police officer there aren’t many characters to empathise with here.


It is a testament to the fine acting by rising stars Lawther and Barden that the show held my interest over the eight short episodes. As the two anti-heroes go on the run across country I was reminded of the Tarantino scripted films True Romance (1993) and Natural Born Killers (1994), but filmed in Surrey. Of course, End of the F***king World (2017) doesn’t benefit from Tarantino’s wicked dialogue, however, it compels with a journey into some very twisted places.

Nominated for a BAFTA for Best Drama Series, I didn’t enjoy as much as some reviewers and critics did. I think this is mainly due to the fact it doesn’t really have much to say other than life is shit. Also, the characters don’t particularly learn anything, change or have a particularly intriguing philosophy. Moreover, their story begins and ends in abject nihilism with little hope for a brighter future. Don’t get me wrong, I love dark comedies and dramas, but this was relentlessly depressing and probably would have been better as a punchier ninety-minute film rather than a series. Overall, though the smart script and malignant characters had a dark magnetism. That and the excellent performances make it worth a watching if you’re feeling in a “I-hate-the-world” kind of mood.

Mark: 8 out of 11


ALL 4 FILM REVIEW – LONGFORD (2006)

ALL 4 FILM REVIEW – LONGFORD (2006)

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Producer: Helen Flint

Written by: Peter Morgan

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis, Lindsay Duncan, Robert Pugh etc.

Original Network: Channel 4

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Continuing my look back on the films and shows on ALL 4, this drama is really Premier League television filmmaking of the highest quality. Written by esteemed screenwriter, Peter Morgan and directed by celebrated director of Oscar winner, The King’s Speech (2010), Tom Hooper, Longford (2006), features fine acting from Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis and Lindsay Duncan.

A much respected but also much maligned character around the House of Lords and Parliament in Westminster, Lord Longford, or Frank as he preferred to be known, came from a very privileged background. However, in various post-war political positions he campaigned vehemently for the underclasses, especially where the prison system was concerned. A complex but kind man he had no issue switching allegiances of politics or faith during his lifetime if he felt it was the right thing to do.

The story begins in the late 1960s with Longford celebrating his programme for rehabilitating ex-convicts. When he receives a letter from infamous child killer Myra Hindley, he takes up her case. Now, I remember Lord Longford when I was growing up and the furore over his constant attempts to grant Hindley parole was often in the news. I’m still struck by what a massive naive and stubborn heart he had. The public outrage was constant, but Longford never gave up this campaign.

Myra Hindley and Ian Brady killed five children between 1963 and 1965 and were described as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity.” This character study shows Longford battling his doubts over Hindley and Jim Broadbent’s performance is so compelling. You feel empathy and horror at his decision to represent Hindley, portrayed with nervy guile by Samantha Morton. The scenes between the two are a masterclass in acting with Morton conveying pitiful vulnerability to draw the Longford in. I personally felt Hindley was manipulating Longford but due, in part to her religious conversion, he chooses to ignore such thoughts.

Andy Serkis’ performance as Ian Brady, on the other hand, is one of pure, unadulterated evil. He warns Longford he is being played for a fool, but this only confirms Longford’s belief that Brady controlled Hindley during the murders. Brady’s character is only in a couple of scenes but his cold Scottish brogue chills the heart like an Arctic wind. Obviously, Serkis has gone onto bigger things, but I don’t think he has ever given a more memorable performance.

Overall, this is an exceptional film about the sad aftermath of one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Britain. Longford, while admirable in his philosophy, proves the adage, there’s no fool like an old fool. Peter Morgan’s script is just brilliant at catching the emotions of the characters, as Hooper’s direction draws formidable performances from a fine cast. The nation was right to be outraged at Longford’s actions, but this film illustrates his motivations in a highly compelling way.

Mark: 9 out of 11