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ALL 4 DRAMA RESIDENCY – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: THE ACCIDENT (2019), CHIMERICA (2019), KIRI (2018), NATIONAL TREASURE (2016) and more…

ALL 4 – DRAMA REVIEWS

So, I don’t get paid for doing this. I do it because I enjoy watching films and television and writing about them. It helps me to review stuff critically from both a creative perspective and absorb knowledge for when I make my own low budget films. Also, it’s something to do isn’t it; a hobby and means to immerse oneself in something that interests me. Lastly, one also learns much from the hours of viewing, especially if the narratives are grounded in reality, representations of history and social issues.

CHANNEL 4 has always been at the forefront of producing intelligent drama television built to inform, entertain and provoke thought. Their streaming platform called ALL 4 is a great place to catch up with Channel 4’s product and I have already reviewed many of their shows here on this site. Having said that, I thought I should put an even bigger effort to catch up with some of their dramas. After all, ALL 4 is — aside from watching a few adverts — is absolutely FREE! I’m glad I did because they have quality production values and are very powerful, skilfully tackling social themes and historical events. So, here are some quick reviews of Channel 4 television dramas both recent and not so recent with the usual marks out of eleven.



THE ACCIDENT (2019) – Mark: 9 out of 11

What I found from my All 4 residency was that many of the shows were written by Jack Thorne. He is a clever writer with a keen eye and ear for drama relating to everyday people’s lives. The Accident (2019) is set in Wales and concerns a small community whose lives are ripped apart by an explosion at a construction site. Many children are killed, but given they were trespassing the blame initially falls on both them and building company. The ensemble cast lead by Sarah Lancashire and Joanna Scanlan are uniformly excellent, as the impactful drama echoes actual events such as Aberfan and Grenfell Tower disasters.


CHIMERICA (2019) – Mark: 8 out of 11

Based on Lucy Kirkwood’s play of the same name and set during the 2016 American Presidency election, this political drama sees Alessandro Nivola’s once-lauded photographer attempt to locate the “Tank Man” from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Part-redemption and part-historical expose, the writing is excellent as Cherry Jones and F. Murray Abraham easily steal the acting plaudits. I was more interested in the plight of Zhang Lin’s (Terry Chen) China-set parallel storyline than the photographer’s, but, overall, I was drawn into detective plot and human conflict throughout.



THE DEVIL’S WHORE (2008) – Mark: 9 out of 11

The wonderfully titled The Devil’s Whore (2008), features a fine cast of actors including: John Simm, Peter Capaldi, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. The drama focusses on the historical era of Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, filtered through the eyes of Riseborough’s strong, yet scandalised heroine, Angelica Fanshawe. Peter Flannery’s excellent script is full of violence, political and religious intrigue and works well as both a work of entertainment and chronicle of key characters from the bloody English Civil War!


I AM. . . (2019) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

Dominic Savage is a skilful and experienced filmmaker, who recently made the semi-improvised feature, The Escape (2017). It focussed on unhappy mother portrayed by Gemma Arterton, and while an interesting character study, it ultimately felt a little flat dramatically. Using the same improvisatory and documentary style with the anthology triptych, I Am. . . (2019), Savage casts Vicky McClure, Samantha Morton and Gemma Chan in three separate stories of women in various states of domestic plight. All of the narratives are brilliantly acted and directed, focussing on coercive relationships, gaslighting debt escalation and painful maternal inertia respectively, all delivered with tremendous emotional power.



FALLING APART (2002) – Mark: 8.5 out of 11

Mark Strong and Hermione Norris excel is this shocking drama about domestic violence. Seemingly the perfect couple, Pete and Clare fall in love and marry, only for Pete’s aggressive tendencies to come to the fore soon after the honeymoon period. Clare forgives Pete and blames work and herself and then finally thinks he may have a problem. An honest and bleak look at love gone wrong, there are many scenes that make one flinch and feel bad for those women trapped in similar situations.


KIRI (2018) – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

Sarah Lancashire is exceptional as the social worker hung out to dry when a fostered child, Kiri, is killed after a family visit to her paternal grandparents. Jack Thorne writes a subtle and compelling script which explores issues relating to: adoption, social care, race, class, and child murder. As well as Lancashire, Lucian Msamati, Paapa Essiedu, Wunmu Mosaku, Lia Williams and Sue Johnston give exceptional performances. Finally, what begins as a murder mystery drama unfolds into something far more complex, with an ending that leaves you stunned with its brave, narrative risk-taking.



NATIONAL TREASURE (2016) – Mark: 9 out of 11

Not to be confused with the Nicolas Cage film series, this searing drama, written by Jack Thorne again, springboards off the recent #MeToo and Operation Yewtree news events. Robbie Coltrane takes the lead as Paul Finchley, a once successful comedian of the 1980s and 1990s, now hosting a television quiz show, while his wife is portrayed by the exceptional Julie Walters. Finchley’s life and career is turned upside down when he is accused of rape and sexual assault, something he vehemently denies. The drama unfolds in an engrossing fashion as we flash back and forth between Finchley’s present day and past history. Again, a potentially sensationalist subject matter is dealt with mesmeric power, as it all culminates in a tense and emotional court case.


ON THE EDGE (2018) – Mark: 8 out of 11

Excellent set of short anthology dramas which focus on various issues affecting mostly younger people in Britain today. Issues explored include: knife crime, body shaming, race, neurodiversity, date rape, depression and social work. All are extremely well acted and directed, giving excellent examples of diverse drama Channel 4 excels at.

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

Directed by: Tom Harper

Produced by: Todd Liebermann, David Hoberman, Tom Harper

Written by: Jack Thorne – based on the book Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay, Tim McInnerny, Anne Reid, Phoebe Fox, Robert Glenister etc.

Cinematography: George Steel

***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***



Obviously, with all the cinemas quite rightly shut, one now has to look about the streaming platforms for films missed when first released. While not a massive cinema release, The Aeronauts (2019) was a big budget Amazon original production, thus fits the bill perfectly. Based on true events set in London, circa 1860’s, this period adventure drama focusses on intrepid pilot, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and budding meteorologist, James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), as they attempt to conquer the sky and elements in a hot air balloon. Their overall aim is to fly a balloon higher than it ever has, while Glaisher attempts to make scientific progress in regard to predicting the weather. It doesn’t sound that interesting when you put it like that, but how wrong was I?

Now, I am not a fan of adventurers or flying or heights. Therefore, The Aeronauts (2019), did not really interest me as a film narrative. However, I am glad I watched it, as it proved one’s prejudices against themes or subject matter can be short-sighted. Indeed, Jack Thorne’s intelligent script and Tom Harper’s cute direction really pull you into this high-flying and breath-taking drama. While the special effects are amazing, as you are given all manner of exciting and dangerous moments for the lead characters, the real power lies in the empathetic and heartening characterisations. Moreover, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne give tremendously warm and energetic performances. Both their protagonists not only battle against the dangers in the balloon, but also against fierce patriarchal and scientific hierarchal rivals on the land. Lastly, in Amelia Wren’s case, she fights against deeply painful emotions relating to grief and sacrifice too.

Jack Thorne’s script frames events from the spectacular launch of the giant balloon, and the air journey itself provides the spine of the story. Throughout though, the film flashes back and forth between the voyage and Amelia and James’ past. At times I felt the flashbacks hindered the momentum of the adventure, but I recognised they were essential in order provide history and texture. Nonetheless, the amazing skyline vistas and horizons are impressively rendered by the special effects’ personnel. Also, the suspense is palpable as Amelia and James’s lives are threatened constantly by the unpredictable weather conditions. Jones and Redmayne’s on-screen chemistry is especially good as they initially argue, before finding common ground and mutual respect. Jones herself gives a very magnetic performance full of vulnerability and strength. While Amelia Wren is a fictional character compared with James Glaisher, she remains a powerful one. Ultimately, The Aeronauts (2019), is a classic adventure story with a grounding in scientific discovery, but above all else, contains exciting spectacle and a very moving emotional core.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard

Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**



With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.

That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.



Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.

But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).

Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

Created and written by: Craig Mazin

Executive Producers: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone

Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg

Directed by: Johann Renck

Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan etc.

Composer: Hildure Guonadottir

Cinematography: Jakob Ihre

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The horror. The human error. The inhumane error. The terror. Meltdown during a safety test. Flaws in the system as ghosts envelop the machine. Science in a brave new world invents progress with which we venture into, only to find we are murdering ourselves.

The terrifying events which took place are chartered with grey, brutalist accuracy. Regular Soviet families live in proximity to a ticking time bomb; believing they are protected by the State. The State trusts the science. The science trusts men to follow nuclear procedures to the letter. But what of pride? What of targets? What price the desire to obsess and force a flawed system?

On that fateful day on 26th April 1986, the nuclear time-bomb exploded. Initially, it was believed it could be contained. The Soviet machine could handle the fallout. Heat. Water. Steam. Graphite. Fire. All conspire to create one of the biggest disasters ever perpetrated against nature.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is well documented but for years the alleged truth was covered up. Death toll rose but official statistics stayed low. Naked miners, radiation sickness, blood, pus and falling hair. Style and look was natural and under-stated. Verisimilitude only heightening the horror.

Johann Renck directs with steely commitment from an incredible Craig Mazin screenplay. Jared Harris, Stellen Stensgaard, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson lead a stirling cast of formidable character actors. The attention to detail in the HBO production is second-to-none. Thankfully the vicarious fear is palpable and I am able to view such events in the comfort of my own home.

We did this to ourselves but it could have been worse. When will humanity learn that we will bring about our own judgement on Earth. The Scientists led by Valery Legazov and composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, fought at length to contain and prevent this ever happening again. Who really believes it won’t? There are approximately four hundred and fifty nuclear power plants in the world. The threat hangs over humanity like a cancer.

I was at school in April 1986. Just sixteen years old. I saw events on the news. Historical dramas such as Chernobyl make real the fear that was there at the time. The site is still poisoned. The exclusion zone remains two-thousand and six-hundred square metres; uninhabitable for twenty thousand year, according to an online source. This event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.

1986. Former Soviet Union. Ukraine. Pripyat. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Disaster. Recovery. Suppression. Lies. Liquidation. Death. Suicide. Exclusion.

The horror. The horror.

Mark: 10 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 3 REVIEW: ROSA (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 3 REVIEW: ROSA (2018)

Directed by: Mark Tonderai

Written by: Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): BBC, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Vinette Robinson, Joshua Bowman

Music: Segun Akinola

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

We now have the new Doctor, Companions, TARDIS and showrunner up and running. Therefore the new series of Doctor Who will sink or swim going forth based on the quality of the writing. Rosa written by acclaimed author Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall was an excellent episode which expertly combined socio-political, historical and science-fiction situations.

Malorie Blackman is an experienced writer with many books published;  and has written for Doctor Who before, providing one of the stories to the enjoyable Twelve Doctors: Twelve Stories audiobook I listened to this year. Rosa finds the TARDIS bringing the Doctor and pals back or forward to 1955, Alabama. There they find a nefarious character determined to change the course of history by stopping Rosa Parks’ legendary protest against segregation.

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Doctor Who has always used historical figures within their narratives including: Charles Dickens, Richard the Lionheart, Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare to name a few. It harks back to the remit of the first Doctor’s era of desiring to educate and entertain; Rosa most certainly did that. It was also very moving as well as informative. Not only did it successfully give the audience a history lesson, it illustrated the vital importance of peaceful protest to achieve change. Moreover, it really pulled the companions, Ryan and Yasmin especially, into the emotion of the narrative as they suffer first hand racism from the ignorant people of Montgomery.

Overall, the episode zipped along and while the plotting had some wonky moments – mobile phones and Elvis, really!? – it contained some cracking gags; one zinger about artist Banksy was especially memorable. Also, Jodie Whittaker is finally settling into the role of the Doctor. She is a seriously good dramatic actor and I was pleased there were moments when the pace slowed to allow her work to breathe. In providing educational, historical and emotional resonance, Rosa, was an archetypal Doctor Who episode full of intelligent and poignant scenes. It also contained the scary idea that racism and prejudice are still present in the future!  Thankfully though, the Doctor and her companions, are here to help legends such as Rosa Parks to thwart it.

Mark: 9 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Georgina Lowe

Written by: Mike Leigh

Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie,  James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.

Music by: Gary Yershon

Cinematography: Dick Pope

Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

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Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.

The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.

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The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society?  Well, not in 1819.

With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.

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The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.

The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.

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Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018