Tag Archives: BBC TV

FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

FX TV REVIEW: FOSSE / VERDON (2019)

Developed by Steven Levenson and Thomas Kailbased on Fosse by Sam Wasson

Executive Producers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Joel Fields, Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Stelzner, Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams

Producers: Erica Kay, Kate Sullivan, Brad Carpenter

Directors: Thomas Kail, Adam Bernstein, Jessica Yu, Minkie Spiro etc.

Writers: Steven Levenson, Thomas Kail, Deborah Cahn, Tracey Scott Wilson, Charlotte Stouldt, Ike Holter, Joel Fields

Main Cast: Sam Rockwell, Michelle Williams, Norbert Leo Butz, Margaret Qualley, Nate Corddry, Paul Reiser, Jake Lacy, Susan Misner, Peter Scolari, Kelli Barrett, Evan Handler and many more.

Original Network: FX – UK Network: BBC

No. of Episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’m not a massive fan of musical shows or films as a genre. However, when the subject material or narrative connects with me, or the craft of song and dance transcends the form I will enjoy them. Thus, musicals I have seen and enjoyed on stage in the last few years include the brilliant Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Company. On the other hand, I could not stand Hamilton, despite the incredible talent involved in the production. Ironically, Hamilton director, Thomas Kail, is a major driving force behind this adaptation of Sam Wasson’s book about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.

On the cinema screen the likes of: The Wizard of Oz (1939), Singing in the Rain (1952), Grease (1978), Moulin Rouge (2001), Chicago (2002), are just a few great examples of the genre I liked. But, the best and most exceptional musical I have seen in terms of form, style and subject matter is the Bob Fosse directed, Cabaret (1972). It’s not just a great musical, but it’s also a incredible piece of cinema. It oozes dark class in the musical set-pieces, ambiguous and fractured characterisation, sleazy sexuality and the thematic political subtext of pre-World War II Germany.

The making of Cabaret (1972) is one of the many creative events featured in Fosse/Verdon (2019). As the title suggests, it is an extensive biographical television drama about legendary director and choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and the genius dancer, Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Both their artistic and personal lives were entwined from the time they met on the Broadway musical Damn Yankees in 1955, to the moment of his death in 1987.

If you’re interested in musicals and the work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. We get extensive rehearsal, on stage, on screen and edit room scenes showing Fosse and Verdon’s creative process. Songs and dance numbers from Cabaret, Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Pippin, Chicago and many more, feature heavily in the play and fantastic soundtrack. Further, both Fosse and Verdon, were dancers from a very young age and we therefore get scenes from their formative years paying their dues in dives and flop-houses.

We also get the heavy drama of Fosse and Verdon’s marriage battles. The former being a pill-popping workaholic and womaniser was the biggest issue in their relationship. His constant affairs and narcissistic tantrums took their toll eventually. Indeed, Fosse, while an amazing creative force, is quite despicable in his lecherous use of the casting couch and exploitation of his position and power. Perhaps, even more could have been done to critique his negative acts, especially in light of the #MeToo gender issues relevant today. However, there is no aggressive damnation of his actions, but rather agnostic reflection and acceptance that this was prevalent masculine behaviour for the era.

Sam Rockwell as Fosse is outstanding. He conveys the sadness of a junkie, haunted by a dysfunctional and abusive childhood. Yet, where his work is concerned his energy and obsession is non-stop and formidable. This, in no small part, is down to his constant amphetamine abuse; something which would lead to mental and physical health issues. Similarly, Michelle Williams is incredible as Gwen Verdon. She inhabits this classy performer with an energy and drive, but also a fighting spirit when clashing with Fosse creatively and matrimonially. She is more his match than his muse though. Indeed, Verdon, is his equal and deserves to share many of his plaudits and awards. They ultimately would push each other to greater heights and achievements.

The supporting cast, including the magnetic Margaret Qualley as dancer, Anne Reiking, and Norbert Leo Butz portraying writer, Paddy Chayefsky are excellent. Also, the talent and look of the era is convincingly evoked on and off the stage. The cavalcade of dance numbers are superbly mounted and the editing perfectly reflects the fractured nature of the characters’ show business lives. Lastly, the jigsaw structure, which zigs and zags from the characters’ past to Fosse’s final days, charting triumph and adversity, complements the complexity of the characters.

Thus, overall, this works as an honest analysis of a flawed genius and his equally talented dance and life partner. It is highly recommended for those drawn to the darker side of creative artistry and personal relationships. But the question remains: should the work of Fosse be re-evaluated, especially in light of his extremely sexual and sexist behaviour? Is there a statute of limitation for genius and all that jazz? The Primetime Emmy awards panel do not seem concerned given Fosse/Verdon (2019) has received seven major nominations at time of writing. All of which it stands a great chance of winning!

Mark: 9 out of 11

IN PRAISE OF BBC’S LINE OF DUTY + SEASON 5 – TV REVIEW

BBC’S LINE OF DUTY & SEASON 5 REVIEW

Created and Written by Jed Mercurio

Directors (Season 5): John Strickland and Sue Tully

Cast (Season 5): Taj Atwal, Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Stephen Graham, Anna Maxwell Martin, Vicky McClure, Rochenda Sandall, Polly Walker etc.

I was slightly late to the Line of Duty corrupt police drama party. Thankfully, I caught up with it by watching the first four seasons on Netflix. The fifth season has just completed a run over the last six weeks on BBC1 and thoroughly thrilling it was too. Creator and writer Mercurio is a bulletproof show-runner; a genre writer with a proven hit rate whose work almost always brings commercial, critical and audience success.

Having achieved early TV writing acclaim with dark medical comedy, Cardiac Arrest (1994-1996), Mercurio’s subsequent drama Bodies (2004 – 2005) was another critical hit. Latterly, Bodyguard (2018) and Line of Duty (2012 – present) have also proved highly successful. Undeniably, Line of Duty is a massive hit for the BBC. It has received awards and nominations from: the Royal TV Society, the Writers’ Guild and BAFTA. Moreover, it was also voted in the top BBC shows of all time. Therefore, after the success of Season 4 on BBC1, Season 5 was awaited with great anticipation.

THE LANGUAGE OF LINE OF DUTY

If you haven’t seen Line of Duty then it is highly recommended as quality genre storytelling. Over five seasons it has received much media attention and a strong fan following. It’s also fun looking out for the tropes, genre expections and language built into the classic cop drama. So, a game of Line of Duty bingo would certainly include:

  • AC12’s lead characters: DS Steve Arnott, DI Kate Fleming and Superintendent Ted Hastings will be committed to nicking bent coppers.
  • Massive and unexpected plot twists.
  • Untimely deaths of major characters.
  • Police Officers being bigger criminals than actual crooks.
  • The main antagonist will likely be revealed early on to the audience like an episode of Columbo.
  • Brilliantly written and lengthy police interview scenes often dominate whole episodes.
  • The main antagonist can at any time be superseded by a bigger antagonist like an episode of ‘24‘.
  • Main antagonists will be played by well known actors such as: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and Thandie Newton.
  • Minor sub-plots will often blow up into being the main plot.
  • Red herrings galore with misdirection and cliff-hanger writing tricks becoming legion.
  • Line of Duty language and catchphrases have become culturally familiar including: “Fella”; “Mother of God”; “Bent Coppers”; and my favourite: “DCI. . . has the right to be questioned by an officer at least one rank senior.”
  • Fantastic hard-boiled one-liners and dialogue that Raymond Chandler would be proud of.

I could go on but I can highly recommend all five seasons of the show. While it exists within the police drama genre the lead characters are well written. Not simply basic binary heroes, they are complicated humans, yet highly determined and professional. The plots are serpentine and often become very complex, threatening to swallow their own tail at times. Nonetheless, if Alfred Hitchcock created a long running crime drama then Line of Duty would be it.

LINE OF DUTY – SEASON 5 REVIEW (WITH MINOR SPOILERS)

Season 5 began with an all action and breathless opening couple of episodes. Yet, by the end it transformed into a claustrophobic, theatrical and tense police interview showdown. While Season 4 found Thandie Newton desperately trying to evade capture using her intelligence and guile, Season 5 was more explosive. Opening with a pulsating robbery, with an OCG (Organised Crime Group), raiding a police vehicle convoy carrying confiscated drugs and weapons; AC12 were soon hunting armed robbers and investigating the death of several Police Officers.

The head of the crime gang is, or so we think, John Clayton. He is portrayed by fine character actor, Stephen Graham. It soon turns out Clayton is not what he seems and is playing a very dangerous game as an undercover cop. But, is Clayton still undercover or has he gone rogue? Clayton’s gang are not to be crossed and their boss is an anonymous high-ranking corrupt Police Officer referred to only as ‘H’. They communicate via computer text software, thus creating a fog of invisibility and suspicion.

As the various plot strands ravel and unravel further robberies and murders occur, with Mercurio creating a series of tense stand-offs and action set-pieces. The stakes get higher and higher until our very own Ted Hastings becomes number one suspect in the chase for ‘H’. Adrian Dunbar as Hastings is especially brilliant in this season. His character finds his whole life and history turned upside down and in freefall. I mean, could this beloved character be the arch-nemesis? The conflict created by Mercurio is totally absorbing until the very final reveal.

Overall, one could argue that Season 5 goes too far to attempt to out do the previous seasons. However, I loved both the complexity and familiarity of what I was watching. The action, suspense, twists, doubt, shocks and ‘whodunit’ plot were played to perfection. We also got a bit of characterisation amidst the heavy plotting as we found out about: Hastings’ history in Northern Ireland; Fleming’s family issues; and the impact of Arnott’s spinal injury (from a violent attack in Season 4). We also got some new characters such as the formidable DCS Carmichael featuring a stand-out performance from Anna Maxwell Martin.

Ultimately, this is a cops and robbers show which plays the numbers very well. Furthermore, like a game of bingo you never know the order the numbers will come out, who’ll win or lose and whether the game is, in fact, rigged so no one really profits in the end.

Mark: 9 out of 11

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Written by: Russell T Davies – Based on A Very English Scandal by John Preston

Starring: Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Monica Dolan, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison, Eve Myles, Patricia Hodge etc.

Composer(s): Murray Gold

Production Company: BBC

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’ve never been a fan of politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps I shouldn’t blight a whole raft of people who may, in their hearts, believe they are trying to do well for their country.  But, I just cannot help feeling there is something not quite right with someone who wants to be in control or lead or rule. I’m of the view that power does corrupt the individual and even though they may begin with great altruistic tendencies they will, ultimately, be poisoned by the job. Or worse than that they have sociopathic tendencies and the prestige of being voted in will feed their greed and lust for control. How does one explain the amount of wars and conflicts there are? Humanity is greatly flawed and the leaders of the so-called free world are more flawed than most.

But, what alternative is there to the capitalist system we have?  Running a country and leading millions of various people must be tough; and difficult decisions must be made everyday. Many have tried the commune lifestyle and socialism has also led, in the Soviet Union and China for example, and, to dictatorial regimes replete with fear, repression and murder. Not that the West hasn’t had its fair share of Dictators and sociopathic leaders. General Franco in Spain is one such fascistic leader and our own Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher,  hiding within the illusion of democracy, crushed Union leaders, working class lives and whole industrial communities. As such, crooked and nefarious politicians are often a staple of film and television shows. A case in point is the BBC’s recent adaptation of John Preston’s book, A Very English Scandal.

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This strange true life tale focussed on the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his relationship with a troubled young man called Norman Scott. What first starts off as an illicit but touching love story soon becomes a desperate, twisted and darkly amusing black comedy of insane proportions.  First off, Thorpe and Scott are portrayed with absolute brilliance by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Both sterling film actors they bring gravitas, sparkling chemistry and humour to their respective roles; while Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough, Eve Myles and Patricia Hodge also excel in supporting roles. Furthermore, acclaimed director Stephen Frears ties the strands of Russell T. Davies brilliant script, expertly switching between comedy and heightened drama, without losing tonal control.

Set against the backdrop of English Parliament and the United Kingdom’s homophobic laws which outlawed gay sex, Jeremy Thorpe, is presented as an honourable man at first. He champions workers’ rights and lambasts the policy of Apartheid in the House of Commons. He has to hide his homosexuality though due to the oppressive legal system and the fact that, as a politician in the public eye, this would seriously harm his ambition to become Prime Minister. When he meets Ben Whishaw’s highly strung stable lad he immediately falls for him and they begin a secret affair. The relationship goes wrong and Thorpe moves on to become the leader of his political party, but an ever increasingly unstable Scott, just won’t go away. That’s when things begin to go awry for Thorpe. Scott won’t take a pay-off and Thorpe won’t give him the National Insurance Card, Scott hilariously demands.

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So, like Henry II demanding, “Someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”, he allegedly, as per the script, takes a more sinister route. I won’t spoil it but the events which are presented are both funny and shocking and have to be witnessed to be believed. The privileged Jeremy Thorpe, garners some empathy due to having to hide his sexuality, however, his subsequent decisions to shut Scott down, as presented in this fascinating tale, are shown to be the actions of a spoilt, desperate and sad man wielding power over someone less fortunate. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but as shown in A Very English Scandal it also leads to incredible poor decisions by individuals from the ruling classes. Indeed, the main reason I dislike and distrust politicians in general is they can and should afford to be better behaved and more compassionate than those they lead.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)