Tag Archives: TV Drama

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

Directed by Maria Schrader

Written by: Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, Daniel Hendler

Based on: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman

Cast: Shira Haas, Amit Rahav, Jeff Wilbusch, Alex Reid, Aaron Altaras, Ronit Asheri, Dina Doron, Gera Sandler, and more.

Original Network: Netflix

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



When one watches a memoir based on true events such as Netflix’s Unorthodox (2020), you realise how lucky you are in regard to the freedom you have. This isn’t about an individual going through social lockdown for good reason, but someone who is trapped by their strict religious and family traditions. Such traditions in themselves could be deemed acceptable as we must respect different ways of living. However, what if that person wants to leave their life and is not allowed? This is called incarceration of the soul and body. This is wrong. People must be allowed to choose their own way in life and not be tethered by dogma or ideology. I repeat, I respect people’s belief systems, but not if it has a negative effect on that person.

Based on Deborah Feldman’s bestselling autobiography, Unorthodox, is an impressive four-part drama which focusses on Esty Shapiro, portrayed with provocative emotion and vulnerability by Shira Haas. Esty is an unhappy Jewish woman, who finds herself trapped in a traditional ultra-Orthodox marriage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She is denied many things such as a control, position, voice, personality, expression and her love of music. The compelling episodes go back and forth in time between the build up to her marriage to inexperienced, Yanky (Amit Rahav), and Esty’s escape to Berlin, where she explores the world outside her religion for the first time.

While Yanky is shown to be kindly, he is committed, some may say brainwashed, to his faith. Therefore, the marriage process is one of suppression and control. Every moment of Esty’s life is plotted, from the shaving of her hair prior to the wedding, and after, the days they are meant to have sex. The intercourse, however, proves anxious for the young couple. Rather embarrassingly though, this private matter becomes a huge issue with other family members. Privacy, it seems, is secondary as Esty is treated no better than a brood mare. Even after she escapes to Berlin, Esty is pursued by her husband and brutish cousin, Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch). Sadly, there seems to be more control in the Hasidic community than love. Of course, this is a representation of Deborah Feldman’s experience, thus, I cannot begin to understand the nature of the Hasidic Jewish community in full. For many it is probably a safe space and designed to protect individuals from the often rotten world outside. Faith and family can be great protectors, however, in this story, for one person, that life became a living hell.

In the character of Esty we are introduced to a fascinating world, and her riveting struggle to become an individual rather than follow patriarchal doctrine. While the narrative takes a slight left turn in the final episode, I can heartily recommend this mini-series. Lastly, I cannot judge if the representation of the Samtar movement is realistic, yet the setting, costumes and culture feels authentic. The actors speak, on the main, Yiddish, and in Shira Haas’s commanding performance Unorthodox we get a very realistic encapsulation of a desire to escape oppression. Haas may be diminutive in size, but her rendition of Esty Shapiro is mighty in heart and soul.

Mark: 9 out of 11


AMAZON TV REVIEW – THE ACT (2019) – another shocking American drama based on true events!

AMAZON TV REVIEW – THE ACT (2019)

Created by: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean

Writers: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean, Dan Dietz, Robin Veitch, Lisa Long, Heather Marion

Directors: Laure DeClermont-Tonnerre, Adam Arkin, Christina Choe, Steven Piet, Hannah Fidell, etc.

Cast: Joey King, Patricia Arquette, Chloe Sevigny, AnnaSophia Robb, Calum Worthy, Dean Norris, Denitra Isler, Margo Martindale etc.

Original Network: Hulu (US) – Starz/Amazon (UK)

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***


Film & Television Photographer Brownie Harris

The capacity for human beings to lie and fake and forge simply knows no bounds. Clearly lying is bad, as it disintegrates trust in families, relationships and society in general. We should all strive for truth. But before one judges and jumps to conclusions there can be mitigating circumstances for lies. It could be a good lie. A lie that protects someone from the horrors of reality or a bad situation. It could be a falsehood which is worth denying in order to circumnavigate a tricky moment. This last example is a subjective decision though. But what if you’re not in your right mind? What if you have a mental illness? Does this forgive the darkest lies you tell or present? No, but it does explain why you’ve told such untruths.

Hulu’s exceptional true-life drama, The Act (2019), centres on a character who is both a liar and mentally disturbed. You would not know from the outside but Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) was a very troubled person. A seemingly loving single mother to a teenage daughter, Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), Dee Dee unfortunately has to cope with Gypsy’s myriad of medical issues which leave her in a wheelchair and unable to feed herself. But Gypsy is actually incredibly healthy. Her mother has in fact been drugging and faking and benefiting financially from harming her daughter for years. Clingy, controlling and manipulative of her daughter’s every movement, routine and personal interactions, Dee Dee never wants her daughter to grow up. She wants a permanently powerless child and vicariously feeds off all the sympathy this brings. Yet Gypsy is growing up and she wants to do her own thing. Her body is changing and so are her desires. Something had to give.

Over eight brilliantly written and directed episodes, The Act (2019), unfolds as a powerful human tragedy. The story begins in 2015 with a serious crime; someone has been hurt. It then flashes back to when Dee Dee and Gypsy moved from hurricane hit New Orleans to Springfield, Missouri in 2008. Moving consummately back and forth in time the structure builds the drama very well. I genuinely couldn’t believe that someone would do that to their own child. Then, just when you think the story cannot twist any further the events take an even stranger and darker fall. Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette won an Emmy for her performance as the tragic faker, Dee Dee. Arquette inhabits the skin of this unhinged mother chillingly. But she’s not a scary monster, more one that subtly gets right under the skin. Joey King as Gypsy is equally brilliant as the co-dependent daughter, ultimately driven to extreme and shocking behaviour by her mother’s lies and twisted vision of love.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.

Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn

Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.

No. of Episodes 8

Network release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


Image result for the stranger netflix poster

Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.

In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.

At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.

Mark: 8 out of 11



NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS: UNBELIEVABLE (2019) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS

Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews of Unbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



UNBELIEVABLE (2019)

Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.

Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.

Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.



Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.

The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.

The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.

Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.

Mark: 9 out of 11



WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Directed by: Ava Duvernay

Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury

Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams



If Unbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations, When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”

The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.

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. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.

Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.

Mark: 10 out of 11


AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA UPDATE – REVIEWS INCLUDE: DARK (2019) – S2, EUPHORIA (2019), THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) & THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – S3 ETC.

AUTUMN 2019 TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Having finished watching all six seasons of the absolutely amazing series The Americans (2013 – 2018) at the end of the summer, I thought it prudent to try and catch up with some of the other television shows I’d missed or had on my planner.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that television, especially many of the shows from Showtime, HBO and Netflix, are reaching and surpassing cinematic quality. The budgets, writing, production values and casts are incredible. It’s been like this for a while, and long may it continue I say.

So, here are a collection of the excellent TV shows I have completed watching in the last month or so, with the usual marks out of 11.

**SPOILER FREE**



CITY ON A HILL (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

This crime drama set in 1990’s Boston is essentially a combination of The Wire meets Ben Affleck’s cracking film, The Town (2010). Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge lead the cast in this always watchable story of cops and robbers. Bacon is especially excellent as the anti-heroic FBI agent, Jackie Rohr. Good performances, violent action and earthy Bostonian dialogue inflect this genre piece, which blurs the lines between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Mark: 8 out of 11



A CONFESSION (2019) – ITV

Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Siobhan Finneran are all uniformly excellent in this true crime drama. Set in Wiltshire, it follows Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher (Freeman), as his investigative team search for a missing young woman. What follows is a series of compelling events which grip you throughout. Seasoned scriptwriter Jeff Pope delivers a meticulously researched screenplay that explores the emotional impact of criminal behaviour, and how police procedure effects justice for victims and their families.

Mark: 8 out of 11



DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

What can I say about Dark (2019) – Season 2? Well, for starters it is easily one of the best television dramas I have seen in a long time. It’s edgy, nightmarish, confusing, twisted and to be honest, virtually unreviewable. I say that because I don’t want to give away any spoilers but, trust me, if you like emotionally, structurally and artistically complex plots involving multiple characters, locations and timelines then this German thriller is for you. It had me 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 by the audacity of the writing and looping madness on show.

Mark: 10 out of 11



EUPHORIA (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

Having recently watched Sam Levinson uneven but stylish low-budget crime drama, Assassination Nation (2018), I thought I’d give this big budget HBO U.S. drama a watch. The ensemble cast of mainly young actors are led brilliantly by the ultra-talented Zendaya. She portrays just-out-of-rehab, Rue, who battles drug addiction on a daily basis. Her new best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) also has issues to deal relating to identity, sex and love. In fact, pretty much all the characters are fucked up somehow in this giddy, glossy, sexy, dirty and often shockingly dark profile of high school existence.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HULU / CHANNEL 4

Season 3 of the iconic Margaret Atwood literary adaptation, continues to play strongly with the emotions, the nerves and the heartstrings. Centred around the dictatorial and fascistic Republic of Gilead, the plight of oppressed woman such as June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) and other ‘Handmaid’s’ is a grim mix of tense drama and suffocating horror. Having said that, misery has never looked so beautifully shot as Moss’ performance and the cinematography are both exquisitely framed. The narrative is slightly slow in delivery, yet as June finds strength in rebellion and civil disobedience, you’re never too far from startling turns of violence and empowerment within the narrative.

Mark: 9 out of 11



THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

I don’t tend to watch the news as it’s all quite depressing. However, I was drawn to this drama about Fox News and its’ leader, Roger Ailes, because it features a great cast. They include, an unrecognizable Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Sienna Miller and Seth MacFarlane. The narrative covers Ailes starting Fox News for Rupert Murdoch in 1996, and subsequent global news events from then to the present. Crowe revels in his role as the monstrous Ailes, who advocates making Fox the number one news outlet on TV, by pushing his own agendas amidst sensational news storytelling. I have seen a few negative reviews for this show, but I really enjoyed it. As a profile of a big, corporate predator who preyed on those around him, it was both sickening and enthralling at the same time.

Mark: 9 out of 11




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 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