Tag Archives: BBC

FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith!

BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)

No. of Episodes: 6

***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***



Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.

Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.


EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER

Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD

Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani

This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.

Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead

One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.

Mark: 9 out of 9



EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD

Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton

Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT

Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith

This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!

THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!

Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018

  • Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
  • Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
  • Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
  • Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
  • The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
  • Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
  • Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
  • Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
  • Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
  • A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC

Image result for patrick melrose

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019

Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:


CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”


DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”


ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.” 


FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC

“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”


FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC

“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”


GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”


IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX

“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode, I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”


MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season of to end.”


SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”


UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX

“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”


THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4

“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”


WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX

“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.” 


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #18 – KEN LOACH

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #18 – KEN LOACH


I haven’t done one of these articles for a while, but in light of the Conservative Party victory in the General Election the other day, I thought it interesting to lean toward a more political filmmaker for my latest post. Thus, I once again pick five highly recommended films by one of my favourite cinema creatives. Today, I look at the work of Ken Loach.

Loach is now, at time of writing, eighty-three year’s old, and has just released a new film called Sorry We Missed You (2019). At the cinema alone he has singularly directed twenty-five films, plus been involved with many television productions too. His ‘Wednesday Play’ Cathy Come Home (1966), was voted in the top ten best British television programmes of all time at the turn of the millennium. It was so powerful in its depiction of a struggling homeless character, the issues were raised in Parliament at the time. His work continues to address socio-political issues even now and has often provoked controversy.

Loach works generally in the dramatic or social realist genre. However, his raw, almost documentary style, which centres on working or characters from the under-classes, does have much comedy going through it too. Structurally his films build empathy with his characters in a generally linear fashion; slices of life which more often than not result in tragedy. While the landscapes he displays are quite depressing, his characters aren’t victims though. They are always strong and passionate and striving for the best outcome. However, poor life choices, poverty, bureaucracy, gangsters, criminality, addiction, military, and unfair government laws and procedures provide fierce obstacles.

Some have accused Loach of, over the years, being a ‘Champagne Socialist’, comfortably attacking the ruling classes from a position of privilege. He’s also been accused of vicariously holidaying in the land of the under-privileged, for what gain I’m unsure of. Personally, I am always compelled by Loach’s cinema, the issues raised and the characters he presents. He is a true humanist director and storyteller, who has made some consistently brilliant films. Whether you agree with his politics or views, he is at least attempting to reflect the injustices in the world and the underdogs within in it. Here are five films which capture this perfectly.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



KES (1969)

Based on Barry Hines’ novel, Kes is one of the finest British films ever. It concerns the everyday existence of Billy Casper (David Bradley) and his attempts to survive the harsh realities of Northern life in Barnsley. Billy struggles at school, but finds salvation when he adopts and trains a young kestrel. Kes represents a microcosm of working-class life where the kids are either damned or sent down the pit to work. Simultaneously warm, harsh, bitter, funny and tragic, Kes is a memorable early work from Ken Loach and deserves revisiting over and over again.



MY NAME IS JOE (1998)

Anchored by an incredible leading performance from Peter Mullen, My Name is Joe, centres on Joe Kavanagh and his attempts to stay sober. Joe has been a destructive alcoholic for some years and uses AA to control his drinking. The narrative drive comes from Joe’s attempt to assist recovering drug addict, Liam (David McKay), plus Joe’s blossoming romance with a local health worker, Sarah (Louise Goodall). It’s a raw rendition of Scottish working-class life with romance and tragedy lying side-by-side in a moving portrait of addiction, love and life’s everyday struggles.



THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY (2006)

Incredibly controversial when released, Loach’s war drama is set in 1920’s, Cork, Ireland. It centres on the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the British army, as civil war broke out prior to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The lead protagonists are two brothers portrayed by Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney. As the war and violence heightens the two brothers, their families and their compatriots are devastated by harsh British rule. Loach was described as “anti-English and traitorous” by the English press and Conservative politicians, when the film was released. However, irrespective of your politics, it is a stunningly human work of cinema; both shocking and heart-wrenching in equal measures.



LOOKING FOR ERIC (2009)

Films about football (soccer in the U.S.A) and footballers can be very tricky to get right as the game itself arguably works better as a live spectacle, rather than at the cinema. However, Loach scored a big win with this really moving story about a lowly postman, Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), who is struggling with family, love and work pressures. Depressed and almost suicidal, Eric finds unlikely help in the magical appearance of Manchester United football legend, Eric Cantona. Sprinkling the kitchen sink realism with fantasy is a departure for Loach, and Paul Laverty’s wonderful script brilliantly espouses the need for teamwork, fraternity and community within its touching narrative.



I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)

Having worked for the Benefits Agency a few decades ago, I have some understanding of social security and government assistance schemes. Via the titular character of Daniel Blake (the brilliant Davey Johns), Loach savagely criticises Conservative austerity measures. The systematic turning of the screw has seen many British people have their benefits stopped because of somewhat Kafkaesque measures. Of course, the system should work to stop people abusing it, but many deserving people suffered too. This is demonstrated here in this heartfelt drama of one man, who having suffered a heart attack, battles for his pride and future.



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

BBC / HBO TV REVIEW – GENTLEMAN JACK (2019)

BBC / HBO TV REVIEW – GENTLEMAN JACK (2019)

Created and Written by Sally Wainwright – based on The Diaries of Anne Lister

Director(s): Sally Wainwright, Sarah Harding, Jennifer Perrott

Producer(s): Sally Wainwright, Faith Penhale, Laura Lankester, Phil Collinson

Main Cast: Suranne Jones, Sophie Rundle, Joe Armstrong, Gemma Whelan, Gemma Jones, Tom Lewis, Timothy West, Shaun Dooley, Vincent Franklin, Rosie Cavaliero, Lydia Lawton, Amelia Bullimore etc.

No. of episodes: 8

Original Network: BBC / HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The BBC has a long history of producing classic period dramas and they have had much success with them. Likewise, HBO have an almost flawless record of producing great TV drama. Gentleman Jack caught my eye as it starred the ever impressive Suranne Jones in the lead role of Anne Lister. The titular character was a prominent industrialist and landowner in 1800s, Halifax, Yorkshire. Lister was full of energy, courage and determination as she fought the dominant patriarchal values of the day. As well as battling the men on the business plain, she also caused scandal with her preference for same-sex relationships. Much of this was documented in her extensive ‘secret’ diaries and came to light in their full explicit glory when they were de-coded some years later.

Adapted by Sally Wainwright, a very experienced writer and director, the eight episodes begins at a giddy pace. Lister has returned from abroad to her estate at Shibden Hall, after the breakdown of her most recent relationship. She wastes no time getting back into the swing of running the show and attempting to raise capital for a venture into the coal industry. Lister dotes on her Aunt and Uncle, but clashes with her more conventional sister, Marian (Gemma Whelan).

Marian disapproves of her sister’s robust, androgynous style and unsaid desire for female “companionship”. Amidst the cutthroat business conflicts with her rivals and tenants, Lister then finds a new romance with neighbour Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle). Ann Walker though is younger, delicate and somewhat inexperienced; thus, the path of love is very precarious.

The character of Anne Lister as presented by Suranne Jones is a fantastic watch. She strides around from location to location energetically controlling her estate and making plans. She clashes and stands her ground with the men of the drama, proving herself to be more than their equal. Gemma Whelan, as Marian, is also brilliant. Whelan steals many a scene with an exasperated look, sarcastic smile and witty quip. It’s a testament to her acting range she can inhabit such a bright character after the darkness shown in her role of Yara in Game of Thrones.

The actor with the most difficult role is Sophie Rundle. At times her character is so confused, mentally and emotionally, that she is hard to warm to. I personally wondered, apart from her wealth and sickly nature, what Lister was attracted to. I think there was probably sexual attraction but also a desire to protect this delicate flower. Nonetheless, the opposite nature of Lister and Walker’s personalities created intriguing and touching romantic situations.

The story had been told before in a film called The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010), directed by James Kent and starring Maxine Peake. I did not see that particular drama but as this latest adaptation is a co-production between the BBC and HBO, the values of the production are of course exemplary. The costumes, camerawork, style, musical score and pace create a very engaging tele-visual experience. Sally Wainwright deserves credit for adapting the diaries and creating compelling drama, romance and some darker events along the way.

I would say that perhaps the various narrative strands could have been resolved within six episodes, rather than eight. Plus, there was, on occasion, a use of Anne Lister directly addressing the audience which became jarring at times. I mean, there did not seem to be much context to the use of this stylistic device. Nonetheless, these are minor issues which did not stop me enjoying the show. Indeed, with a brilliant cast, writing and direction throughout I would highly recommend this excellent TV programme.

Mark: 9 out 11

CLASSIC BBC TV REVIEW – BODIES (2004 – 2005)

CLASSIC BBC TV REVIEW – BODIES (2004 – 2005)

Created by: Jed Mercurio

Writers: Jed Mercurio, Rachel Anthony, Richard Zajdlic

Directors: Jed Mercurio, John Strickland, Richard Laxton, Jon East, Iain B. Macdonald, Douglas Mackinnon,

Cast: Max Beesley. Patrick Baladi, Neve McIntosh, Keith Allen, Susan Lynch, Tamzin Malleson, Preeya Kalidas, Simon Lowe, Hattie Morahan, Vicky Hall, Nicholas Palliser etc.

No. of Episodes – 17 (over two seasons and one-off special)

Original Network: BBC (can now be viewed on BBC IPlayer)

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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 next 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. While I tend to avoid medical and police procedural dramas as a mild rule, due to the overly-saturation of such programmes on television, Mercurio’s work always draws me in. Thus, I decided to re-watch Bodies (2004 – 2005) on the BBC IPlayer and I’m both glad I did and didn’t to be honest.

I’m glad I watched it because it contains some of the most tense drama you can ever experience. I wish I hadn’t because it contains some of the most visceral medical operations and birthing situations you could ever witness. In fact, all Peckinpah, Carpenter and Tarantino films combined contain less blood than Bodies. Indeed, the ultra-realism of the gynaecological operations on show should contain a health warning of their own. No surprise the make-up and prosthetic effects team on the programme won many awards.

Based on Mercurio’s book of the same name, the narrative is inspired by his experiences working in the National Health Service. An ensemble cast impresses, but the lead protagonist is specialist registrar, Rob Lake (Max Beesley). He is a skilled Doctor who joins the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward at fictional South Central Infirmary. Rob isn’t particularly likeable and Beesley is directed to portray him as a serious and surly Northern bloke. While still learning his trade he is an excellent surgeon though, with a keen sense of what is right.

The first series of six episodes is incredibly tightly wound and suspenseful because Lake finds himself in a number of medical and moral dilemmas. This is due to his clashes with his boss, Dr Roger Hurley (Patrick Baladi), who is prone to making severe errors during medical procedures. Consequently, during these pulsating scenes of medical trauma my heart was not so much in my mouth but on the floor. Having scooped and swallowed it back up, the fast pace of first season soon delivers further nerve shredding life and death situations.

Season Two is not quite as brilliant as Season One. While containing more incredibly vivid moments of birthing madness, it is over-stretched by an extended ten episode run. Plot-wise it carries on in a similar vein with Lake, Hurley and the toxic masculinity of Dr Tony Whitman (Keith Allen), all clashing within the hospital wings and operation rooms. Their conflicts endanger patients lives as they continually venture into dangerous games of one-upmanship. Added to the deadly apothecary are the politics on the ward, gender, sexual and class. Moreover, there’s the over-arching bureaucracy and target-led NHS managers poking their statistics in. These budget-scrabbling pen-pushers arguably kill more patients than the warring Doctors, mainly due to their incessant bean-counting, biscuit-eating and public relation drives.

Overall, while I have made this sound like a heavy drama or horror genre programme, it is in fact also darkly funny. Mercurio has a knack of taking the most grim circumstances and injecting doses of sardonic humour throughout. There is also gallons of blood and a lot of sex too; probably too much in the first season. But, I get that the theme of the human body was being explored very thoroughly, in more ways than one. Am I the only person who is not a fan of overt sex scenes in films or on television, even if they are in context?

Be warned, if you are scared of hospitals, or operations or about to have a child — DO NOT EVER WATCH THIS SHOW! It is brilliantly scripted and acted, but it will give you nightmares. I mean the Doctors, Nurses and medical staff of the NHS do an incredible job saving lives, so this show should not be a reflection of actual health care in the United Kingdom. If it is though, the phrase: “Trust me, I’m a Doctor” is never as scary as it is in Bodies.

Mark: 9 out of 11

GHOSTS (2019) – BBC TV REVIEW

GHOSTS (2019) – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and written by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard & Ben Willibond

Directed by: Tom Kingsley

Producer: Matthew Mulot

Starring: Lolly Adefope, Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Laurence Rickard, Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Ben Willibond, Katy Wix etc.

Original Network: Six Episodes on BBC1

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

After the horror viewing that was Chernobyl (2019), police corruption in Line of Duty (2019), and general death and drama of Game of Thrones (2019), I decided I needed a bit of a laugh. So, I watched six lovely episodes of the hilarious BBC comedy show called Ghosts (2019). Not to say there isn’t death in the show; after all it is about ghosts! But it’s a fantasy comedy that is so likeable and full of daft characters that you cannot help but feel your spirits lifted after watching it.

The story concerns a late twenty-something couple, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who, like many people in the city are financially stretched and looking for somewhere to live. With property prices high and a severe lack of wealth, all they can afford is the equivalent to an urban rabbit hutch. Then, suddenly, Alison inherits a gigantic house in the country from a forgotten Aunt and fortune seems to shine on them. But it’s not all it is cracked up to be. The house is a crumbling mess of a |”money pit”; plus they have some spectral “guests” who do not want them there.

Ghosts – Picture Shows: Lady Button (MARTHA HOWE-DOUGLAS), The Captain (BEN WILLBOND), Julian (SIMON FARNABY), Kitty (LOLLY ADEFOPE), Mary (KATY WIX), Thomas Thorne (MAT BAYNTON) – (C) Button Hall Productions – Photographer: Mark Johnson

Joining the very likable couple is a tremendous ensemble of gifted comedy actors who portray multiple characters, notably the ghosts who died and are consequently trapped on the property. The sheer number of characters means they all vie for laughs; however, the writing is witty and fast-paced with a succession of verbal, physical and slapstick humour. There are some particularly inventive running gags and I especially loved the ghosts from the plague pit in the basement, who happen to be plumbing experts due to close proximity to the boiler. Other characters veer toward stereotypes, notably Simon Farnaby’s sleazy, trouser-less MP, yet, the brilliant comedic performances breathe energy and life into the all the ghostly incarnations.

Comedic ghost stories are hardly the most original template. Indeed, I grew up watching and enjoying the very silly Rentaghost (1976 – 1984). Plus, films such as: Blithe Spirit (1945), Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988), all use the supernatural within humorous scenarios. So, if you want similar entertainment I’m NOT afraid to say in terms of the head-spinning rate of gags and funny situations, Ghosts, is frighteningly good.

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

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Directed by: Harry Bradbeer

Producers: Lydia Hampson, Sarah Hammond

Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Brett Gelman, Hugh Skinner, Bill Paterson, Jamie Demetriou, Jenny Rainsford, Hugh Dennis etc.

Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge

Cinematography: Tony Miller, Laurie Rose

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This melancholic, painful and chaotic home for middle-class grotesques and excruciatingly awkward comedy situations involving, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s barely-surviving-human being-the-titular-‘Fleabag’, shouldn’t really work as entertainment. Yet, it does because of: brilliant writing, dark, honest humour, existential depth, almost-cinematic production values; genuine star quality from Waller-Bridge; and a cast on top of their game.

First-world-very-white yet universal human problems are legion in two seasons of twelve breathless episodes. We join our nameless anti-hero scraping through life in the midst of doubling grief, following the recent deaths of her mother and close friend/business partner. No doubt the chattering twenty-something classes are full with “I’m just like Fleabag!” recognition. Nonetheless, there’s something to enjoy for those who love to experience raw, human frailty on screen too.

‘Fleabag’ fights flailing moods, business and family issues in contemporary status-symbol London. Using sex to block out her pain in the first season, ‘Arsehole Guy’ and ‘Bus Rodent’ are two such crutch-like paramours who, along with on-off-ex-boyfriend, Harry, are given the physical and emotional run-around. In the less bawdy second season she falls for an uber-cool Catholic Priest (Andrew Scott). Thus, the lashings of sex from the first season gives way to more interesting abstinence and romantic torture for ‘Fleabag’.

With her best mate dead from a tragic accident ‘Fleabag’s’ sword and shield against life is gone and attempts at bridge-building with her family are fraught with strained agony. Her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), is tighter than a snare drum, existing solely on neurosis and a never-ending workaholic mission drive. The scenes between ‘Fleabag’ and her sister range from touching to hilarious to fractious dread. Meanwhile, their beta-male Father (Bill Paterson), is also grieving and a full-on emotional trainwreck. He finds himself a rabbit-in-the-headlights of Olivia Colman’s ‘Godmother’; a genius at passive aggressivity and unlikely arch-villain, quietly stealing the father away from his daughters.

Many hilarious and painful scenes play out around dinner tables, art exhibitions, parties, funerals, seminars, retreats and weddings. ‘Fleabag’ vainly attempts normality but understandbly fails. In addition to her family she also conflicts with other characters, notably Claire’s horrendous-alcoholic-overgrown-man-child-husband, Martin. I was genuinely shouting bile at the TV screen every time I saw him. Thankfully, Fleabag also features fine supporting roles from more likeable characters portrayed by the ultra-talented Fiona Shaw, Kristin Scott-Thomas and aforementioned Andrew Scott.

From Hancock to Steptoe and Son to Fawlty Towers to Blackadder to The Office to Spaced and to the most recent Gervais show After Life, British comedy has been replete with idiosyncratic and anti-heroic characters we root for. Indeed, it takes special writing and performances to get such shades of grey to work on stage and screen. Overall, Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedy and dramatic gold from them. Formally, she smashes the fourth wall with Brechtian direct address, welcoming us into her tumultuous reality, speaking to us and asking us to laugh and cry and love and hate and do what humans do: somehow just get through the day.

Season 1 – Mark: 9 out of 11

Season 2 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11