Crazy Rich Asians (2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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In my review of Kevin Kwan’s debut novel posted this week I said I thought it was ;

“an obvious choice for a film adaptation if Kwan’s balance between the slight plot, winning characterisation with great cameo parts and sheer opulence is maintained.” 

Yesterday I took my chance to find out.  I rarely go to the cinema, probably once a year is a reasonable estimate, despite me having the two-for-one-deal for Tuesdays and Wednesdays from those pesky meerkats.  We have two cinemas on the Isle Of Wight, one the multi-plex Cineworld in Newport where I can use my two-for-one vouchers and The Commodore in Ryde which is continuing to battle alongside the big chains with its staff of what seemed like yesterday one person and cheap entry prices.  I paid £4.50 a ticket for the afternoon showing of “Crazy Rich Asians”, which makes it comparable with the two-for-one at the other cinema which was showing the same film but at a less convenient time.

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The Commodore, Ryde -a cinema from another era! (Free bingo available)

There were just four of us in the auditorium to witness Kwan’s novel come alive on the screen, which might have been the smallest audience I have been in ever.  (The other couple did not even sit next to another but had a couple of seats between them which meant when they talked they had to do so across a bigger space, reminding me of one of the main reasons I don’t go to the cinema that often- the other main reason being the film trailers for forthcoming productions which end up showing so much of the film that when you watch it on DVD some six months later you end up believing that you’ve seen it before).

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I did enjoy the film but the richness that I wrote about in Kwan’s cataloguing of the wealth is largely lost in making a fairly standard rom-com.  What I really liked about the book was that it dealt with a level of richness that was beyond the norm, so much so that it became unobtrusive, the Youngs were so wealthy that normally wealthy people did not know who they were.  When Rachel Chu visited her college friend’s opulent mansion in the book her family did not know of the Youngs nor of the grandmother’s vast estate that was situated in their neighbourhood.  In the film they knew all about the Youngs.  I was looking forward to seeing this extra level of wealth portrayed but obviously it couldn’t be conveyed successfully, so we got a super-wealthy family rather than a super-super wealthy and throughout I felt that the richness was toned down.

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The book offered a wealth that we had never seen before in its description of the stag and bachelorette parties and the wedding that provides the main focus.  In the film these came across as less splendid, even a touch tacky.  The only thing I’d never seen before was the bride and attendants wading through a water-filled aisle.  Who wants that?!

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Stars Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding

Other than that niggle (quite sizeable as it was my fascination about this that made me want to go and see the film) it more or less had everything I was looking for.  There was a playing down of some of the characters – the subplot of Astrid and her husband’s philandering was much pared down and you did not get that same great sense of family and the inter-relations between the characters.  One character who had their part beefed up was Rachel’s friend Peik Lin played by American rapper Awkwafina.  She, together with her trashily rich dysfunctional family stole the show as far as I was concerned.  They lit up every scene they were in.  Constance Wu was spot-on as Rachel Chu.  She brought a maturity to the part (Wu is 36) that lifted it above many rom-com heroines.  I had never seen her before but Time magazine have her listed in their current 100 Most influential people in the world list, so a great choice to play Rachel.  British-Malaysian actor Henry Golding was also spot on to play Nick Young and his dazzling handsomeness shone through even in a cinema of four people.  Although how Rachel did not know he was from at least a well-off family with such a posh British accent was a little mystifying.

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Awkwafina, Constance Wu and Nico Santos 

Kwan’s vision of the film has hopefully been rendered successfully with its all-Asian cast.  He reputedly optioned the film rights for $1 with the proviso that he remained in creative control after a suggestion to turn Rachel into a white American rather than Chinese-born American.  The whole thing is light and frothy, with a plot as slight as the novel but like the book it managed to win me over.  In the book v film argument I would say that this time it is the book that has the edge.
fourstars

 

 

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Strictly Come Dancing 2018 – BBC1 – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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It’s back! Here comes the first TV show to be reviewed on this site twice.  Last year I wrote about The Movie Special, which I think was Episode 3 and complained that the series opener had “seemed to go on forever and was just a conveyor belt of people you either vaguely knew or hadn’t heard of.” 

Well, it was a fairly miserable Saturday night weather-wise last night so I, probably alongside most of the rest of the UK settled down for how long was it140 minutes !!! of the BBC’s (glitterball) jewel in the crown.

If last year I thought the contestants were not well known this year they are even less recognisable to the average television viewer.  There was almost a palpable despondency in the nation as contestants were named over consecutive days in a ploy to get our interest but which for many compounded their confusion.  What has happened to the big name contestants of yesteryear?  Or was that in fact just like long hot British summers of the past (not counting this year of course when we really had one)  something  that we all claim to remember but which never happened.  Certainly if you look down the cast lists of the first couple of series there are names you will struggle to recall.  Also, with the proliferation of easy-money celebrity reality shows perhaps on “Strictly” they have to work just too darn hard for their money.

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The show began with the professionals competing with water spouts on a mash-up of what we know now as the Moulin Rouge version of Elton’s “Your Song” peppered with some operatic voices.  This began outside at (I think) Somerset House and by “the magic of television” (and a Strictly Come Dancing staple) was transformed mid-way through into the studio.

With a long evening ahead of me (and a long week behind me which could have caused Saturday night fatigue- a posh way of saying falling asleep on the sofa) I  decided to be my own judge and give scores to the celebrities and their first offerings.  So here is my very own Strictly Score Card in ascending order.

strictly20183Something you won’t see in Week 1

Susannah Constantine & Anton – Week one and Anton has decided once again to play up the comedy in this samba.  The “visual trick” of appearing as if she was wearing a voluminous dress didn’t work as we could see instantly see she was just standing behind it.  Anton camped it up to the hilt but couldn’t hide the fact Susannah was being dragged around.  The weakest dance by some way but viewers vote for the pair at the bottom of the leaderboard and especially for Anton so we can expect more of this for some weeks to come.  My score 2.    Judges score 12

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Seann Walsh & Katya – Seann is a comedian but I have not seen him before.  Tangoed to Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback” and was all the things Craig Revel-Horwood hates, stompy with splayed hands and overly aggressive.  Head judge Shirley Ballas suggested he “tidy himself up a bit” which seemed a bit off.  Two or three off the bottom of the judges’ leaderboard   is always a dangerous place to be when they start factoring in viewers’ votes so Seann will need to up his game a little next time if he isn’t going to be first off.  My score 4.  Judges score 18

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Katie Piper & Gorka – Waltzed to Adele’s “When We Were Young” and was a bit jiggly and stumbly.  In the bottom two of the judges score but I think she will garner a lot of public votes (as will Gorka).  My score 4.  Judges score 17

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Lee Ryan & Nadia – “Blue’s” Lee Ryan is always a little unpredictable on this kind of show.  He’s done a lot of reality TV in the past and you’re never sure what you are going to get or if he will last the course.  He’s taken a long time to do Strictly seeing as bandmate Simon Webbe did it quite a few years ago.  He also tends to muck things up when they seem to be going well, which may win the audience over.  I thought his waltz to the Eagles seemed quite safe and wasn’t that good but the judges were more enthusiastic.  My score 4.  Judges score  22

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Kate Silverton & Aljaz– Certainly won’t be going anytime soon as this combination will be popular with the voting public.  News and current affairs people always tend to last longer than their abilities suggest as viewers like seeing them let their hair down and Aljaz is one of the most popular of the professionals.  This cha cha cha to “Kiss” took a little while to get going but there’s potential there.  My score 5. Judges score 20

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Vick Hope & Graziano – With this pairing of probably the least well known of the celebrities and a new male dancer they really had to come up with the goods to put them on the map.  The choice of a potentially audience-pleasing jive might have been a little too much too soon but I actually thought she did quite well.  My score was as high as Bruno’s, the others marked lower putting her very much in the danger zone.  I would imagine that a slightly less demanding and frantic dance will lift her out of this next week, so perhaps lucky that we are not just voting on Week 1.  My score  6. Judges score 18

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Lauren Steadman & AJ – Winning a gold medal in Australia just before training will certainly endear her to the voting public.  Their waltz had nice spins but otherwise felt safe.  Judges liked it more than I did. Got the first mention of the Dame Darcy Bussell staple “a strong core”.  What has AJ done to his hair?  My score 6. Judges score  25

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Ashley Roberts & Pasha – Judges put this Viennese Waltz jointly on the top of the leaderboard.  Ashley will really have to prove herself to the British public with a dance background which led to a stint of judging on ITV’s “Dancing On Ice”.  We have fallen in love with her once before on “I’m A Celebrity” but she is really going to have to ensure she is quite high up the leaderboard week after week.  American competitors tend to go “before their time” on this show.  Came up with the truism of the week when she said of her dance “It’s just steps but it’s so hard.”  I like Ashley but I never totally rate the sheer twirliness of the Viennese Waltz so that might be why my score was lower than the judges.  Got the first “Gorge-ous” from Craig.  My score 6.  Judges score 29
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Graham Swann & Oti – Not being a cricket fan I’d never even seen this competitor before  the launch show and he didn’t look like he would be up to much.  There is the thing that cricketers do well on this show and have won twice and get good audience support but I was expecting “Dad dancing”.  To pair him with Oti was genius as each season she proves herself to be a great teacher and choreographer and this once again showed in an enthusiastic samba to cricketing theme “Soul Limbo”.  My score 6.  Judges score 22strictly201812

Stacey Dooley & Kevin – I wouldn’t have known who Stacey was had I not seen a clip of her “Armageddon” documentary on “Gogglebox” the night before.  Did a crowd-pleasing quickstep with Kevin.  My score 6. Judges score 24

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Joe Sugg & Diane – Youtuber Joe looked absolutely petrified every time you saw him in the background behind Claudia so wasn’t expecting much yet he turned out a much better than anticipated jive with lots of good kicks.  My Score 6.  Judges score 27

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Dr Raj Singh & Janette –  A man who is going to be working long shifts in a real (not television) hospital during the week doing his day job and the odd spot on morning TV and fitting his training in around this.  You might as well give him the glitterball now and let’s move on to having Christmas.  The public will love him.  His cha cha cha to Whitney’s “How Will I Know” was overly gimmicky which was unnecessary as he was dancing really quite well.  Earned him the Dame Darcy Bussell difficult sentence of the week award (there’s always at least one) when she praised him on his smile; “Don’t wipe that ever off”.  I think we knew what she meant.  My Score-6. Judges score- 27

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Danny John-Jules & Amy – I love the theme to “Top Cat” which they turned out a very proficient foxtrot to.  Opened the show so deep in most viewers distant memories.  He’s going to be a strong contender and an obvious all-rounder.  Don’t know much about him, never watched “Red Dwarf” but surely there’s considerable dance background there.  Seemed very balletic.   My score  7.  Judges Score  27

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Faye Tozer & Giovanni – A predictably confident, long-legged cha cha which I really enjoyed but after over two hours of this I was decidedly wilted.  Chosen to close the show so obviously had impressed in rehearsals and put jointly on top by the judges.  My score  7. Judges score-29

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Charles Venn & Karen – Don’t watch “Casualty” so had never seen this actor before the launch show.  I think his cha cha cha to “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” was decidedly undermarked as it was dripping in style- although was it the red suit that distracted me.  Only Bruno marked it as high as I did and Shirley said it was too disco.  Perhaps that’s why I thought it just edged ahead as my favourite of the night.  Certainly one to watch.  I was a big Ore Oduba fan from the start a couple of years ago.  He had the same sort of easy style  and he really grew into the show. I think Charles could do the same here.  Don’t forget last year’s winner Joe McIntyre also came from the BBC hospital wards of “Holby City”.  My Score 7.  Judges score 25.

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So no clear favourite after just one dance but as always I am going to be with this show for the duration.  When the cast were announced I wondered if I might give it a miss this year.  I did a one-man protest over the moving of Bake Off to Channel 4 last year and refused to watch and then wavered and had to watch the first four episodes one after another on Catch-up.  I watched the launch show but it still hadn’t totally convinced me (too set-up even for a show that pretends it’s Sunday when it’s Saturday night).  This first episode has brought me well back into the Strictly fold.  There’s going to be a whole lot of dancing to watch this autumn.

fourstars(but will proabably go back up to 5 when it stops being so longgggg!)

Strictly Come Dancing is on Saturday evenings on BBC1.  The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player catch up service.

 

The Bodyguard (BBC1 2018) Vs. Vanity Fair (ITV 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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The evenings are only just drawing in and the battle for weekend ratings have started.  In a couple of weeks we’ll see the Clash of The Titans when Saturday night juggernauts “X Factor” and “Strictly Come Dancing” (I’m not counting last night’s non-essential “pairing” show) come face to face in what will no doubt be a very one-sided affair but much is also being made of these two newcomers on Sunday evening schedules in which a clear winner also appears to be emerging, both critically and ratings-wise.

“The Bodyguard” had a one week head start and decided to go consecutive nights for the first two episodes to draw us in, “Vanity Fair” did the same a week later, a strategy which no doubt we’ll be seeing more and more.  “The Bodyguard” had much of its audience hooked within the first fifteen minutes with a breath-sapping bomb on a train scenario.  Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere must have been depleted as the viewing population drew in a breath and held it.  (Yes, I know it’s biologically more complex than that but I’m making a point).

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I had very high hopes for writer Jed Mercurio’s latest series as I have only recently got round to watching (on Netflix) his “Line Of Duty” and have spent the last few months bingeing on this extraordinary police drama.  I’ve watched three series but haven’t seen the one everyone really talks about starring Thandie Newton (that isn’t on “Netflix” but  remain hopeful that it will appear), so no spoilers please.

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What makes “Line Of Duty” such gripping television is its sheer unpredictability.  It is unusual to watch TV in this day and age with no idea as to the direction it will go and Mercurio has certainly achieved this again with “The Bodyguard”.  Each of the three episodes I’ve seen so far will have rooted audiences to their seats by its dramatic shifts.  (That barometer of public taste “Gogglebox” returned this week and one of the highlights of opener was the looks of complete disbelief on assorted faces as episode three revealed its twist).  Keeley Hawes who became the ultimate victim in “Line Of Duty” despite being a tough and uncompromising character may very well be revisiting these traits as Home Secretary Julia Montague with her Thatcherish sharp edge yet the very human weakness for the man detailed to protect her.  And Richard Madden’s turn might just make Sunday night viewers forget that Aiden Turner’s “Poldark” and Tom Hiddleston’s “Night Manager” ever existed.  I know some opted to give this a miss fearing a re-tread of Costner and Whitney scenarios but the relationship, although central, is just one small facet of this television diamond.  There is so much going on and whilst we know what is happening when it happens (unlike many TV dramas with a political slant) we have no idea as to the direction this will go in and that makes for essential television.

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So, how can we compare this to “Vanity Fair”? They are polar opposites yet their scheduling and their respective channel’s confidence in them is demanding comparisons be made.  With “Vanity Fair” of course we know the direction it is headed from its existence as a novel and the number of previous adaptations.  I love the book although I haven’t read it in a long time.  It seems that every time I plan to re-read another version comes along making it seem less of a priority.  Here I think the show has been a victim of its pre-transmission publicity which suggested something youthful, vibrant and edgy.  Younger actors have been cast in main parts and we were told to expect modern music.  I have so far been aware of Madonna’s “Material Girl” at one point which seemed too obvious a choice and somewhat clunky in its scene.  I was expecting this version, created by Gwyneth Hughes to up the cool factor in much the same way Baz Luhrmann did for Leonardo DiCaprio in old Will Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” back in 1996.

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I don’t think this has happened.  It hasn’t sparkled in anything like the way I was expecting.  I did enjoy the opener more and yet the scenes in Vauxhall Gardens which had the potential to display the series’ wares felt surprisingly low-budget for a channel hoping to push this as the new “Downton Abbey”.  Some of the casting doesn’t feel quite right.  I’m not totally at ease with the younger male characters, especially Dobbin nor Martin Clunes as Sir Pitt Crawley.  I do like Olivia Cooke who is playing Becky Sharp but she seems to be playing her as more opportunistic than manipulative and I’m not sensing the joy that was in the best portrayal I’ve seen by Reese Witherspoon in the 2004 film version where Julian Fellowes’ screenplay aimed for a more sympathetic character but Reese didn’t lost the glint which is so essential.  This version also has a great set of portrayals from the likes of James Purefoy, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Rhys Ifan as the stolid Dobbin.

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By Episode 2 I was wilting, Frances De La Tour’s arrival boded well but I was still wondering whether I’d actually last the course of five more episodes.  Perhaps I should just re-read the book for my dose of Thackeray.

It seemed as if Sunday nights were going to be superb for television with the launch of these two highly-anticipated shows.  One is certainly proving this, the other is showing room for improvement.

Here are my ratings for the first three episodes of  “The Bodyguard” and first two for “Vanity Fair”

fivestars   (The Bodguard)

threestars (Vanity Fair)

Both Vanity Fair and The Bodyguard are shown at 9pm on Sunday evenings.  Catch up editions are available on the ITV hub (VF) and BBC I-Player (Bodyguard)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rupaul’s Drag Race: All Stars (Sky Box Sets) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Ah, Rupaul!  The main reason I set up a Netflix subscription was because they had a run of seasons of Drag Race which had been shown only sporadically on UK main platform TV.  (Okay, I’ll included two other reasons, “The Crown” and “Riverdale“).  This gave me a chance to glut one one of the best TV competitions ever- the search for “America’s Next Drag Superstar.”

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We really had to ration this as it is such addictive viewing but have now caught up.  It has a large US audience and wins awards.  In the UK it has a smaller devoted audience, devoted to finding it in the schedules, There are countless blogs and fansites which concentrate on this show.  For those without Netflix I understand that Season 10 has begun tucked away on Comedy Central, a channel I can’t say I’d ever watched.

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I also discovered that Comedy Central had shown Season 3 of the All-Star spin-off show where a selection of those who did not quite make it to become “America’s Next Drag Superstar” are given another chance.  I had been looking out for this, had thought it would be shown on VH1 or Netflix or Amazon Prime and was really disappointed not to discover who had shown it until after it had finished.

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Rupaul with guest judge Lady GaGa, 

However, the other day I stumbled on it listed as a Sky Box Set.  My Sky Variety package did not allow me to watch Box Sets but after one of those inexplicable phone conversations with the company I ended up with their Entertainment package and Sky Box Sets for considerably less than I had been paying.  Looking at the Box Set listings (life’s too short for most of them and a lot end up with you having to fork out more money at the Sky Store) this may well be one of the only series I will be watching in this way.  So, “KEEP IT ON THERE, SKY, UNTIL I’VE FINISHED!”

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The All Star Season 3 contestants before they had all been revealed

It actually won’t take long because although I’m trying to ration myself to one episode a day (I’ve watched two so far) with the summer weather taking a break I might find myself sneaking the odd extra in to an evening’s viewing.

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The warm heart of this programme is Rupaul, with a 30+ year career in which he does not seem to have aged one iota.  Perhaps best known over here for his pairing with Elton John in the revamp of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” which made #7 in 1994 he is the judge, mentor, support, inspiration, mother hen (I can go on..) Some of the contestants have faced much conflict in their lives and  their encounters with Rupaul can only strengthen them.  All contestants are welcomed into the ever-expanding family (in the way that the UK version of “Strictly Come Dancing” does this to some extent but here this is far more pronounced with real pride of being an alumni of the show).  I do not think it is possible to overestimate the role of Rupaul in the development of LGBT+ issues and attitudes on American television.  He is as important as Oprah is for the way she has represented African-American women on TV.  Last year Time Magazine had Rupaul listed as one of the most influential people in the world.  And much of this has been achieved through this long-running entertainment reality show which goes from strength to strength.

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Season 9 contestants

This is a show rooted in both reality (and sheer likeability of its participants) and illusion.  There are often extraordinary transformations – American drag being more rooted in illusion than British drag where the focus tends to be more on character) or as Rupaul has it, “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.”  This is going to be a late summer treat.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to do much online research for this in case I inadvertently things I do not yet wish to know so no season spoilers please.  I’m hunkering down to really enjoy this drag race’s ride.

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I’m watching Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars as part of Sky Box Sets.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (BBC 2 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I’m still not totally sure what to make of this Australian six parter which began this week on BBC2. Based on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay “Picnic At Hanging Rock” found more fame in the UK via the 1971 film version directed by Peter Weir with its out-of-kilter slightly trippy feel which is considered a significant moment in the development of Australian cinema.

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Lindsay’s book has grown in reputation especially in her homeland where it has become pretty much a standard text in the school curriculum. On its publication the author was keen to fudge the lines between fiction and fact implying it was based upon a real-life incident. This has added to the reputation and mystique of the work. I saw the film many years ago on television, probably when I was about the age of the schoolgirls in the tale. I remember it being odder than I was expecting it to be and that I enjoyed it. I’ve never read the book and am not sure whether Lindsay herself incorporated this almost hallucinogenic feel into her writing (published in 1967 so possible as this would fit into the feel of the times, although the author herself was 71 by then so maybe not). The trippy feel is certainly incorporated into the TV adaptation.

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The reason I chose to watch this was for its lead, Natalie Dormer, who has excelled in the past in history-based series. I will always remember her as Anne Boleyn in the delightfully demented “The Tudors” but she was also very strong as Lady Worsley in the BBC one-off “The Scandalous Lady W” (2015). She made her mark world-wide in “Game Of Thrones” as Margaery Tyrell who had a memorably short-lived marriage to the noxious young King Joffrey and she’s also been very good in contemporary pieces such as “Elementary” and “Silks”. There’s always great strength in her characters who often do not suffer fools gladly and there’s sometimes an ambiguous darker edge so she is a perfect choice to play the enigmatic British headmistress Hester Appleyard.

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The plot hinges on an event on February 14th 1900 when a number of schoolgirls from Appleyard’s school disappear on a picnic at Mount Diogenes. School trip risk assessments did not exist in turn of the century Australia as evidenced by the choice of location for a day out amongst venomous snakes, poisonous ants and a brooding, precarious rock formation. On this opener we begin with Natalie Dormer’s character viewing the property she intends to convert into the school in a scene which clearly indicates she is not who she is attempting to convey. We move in time to the school which has been set up, in Hester’s words, in “the arse end of the world” and onto preparations for the picnic culminating in this episode with the disappearance. It actually all moved faster than I was expecting it to in this first episode. The oddness of the piece was perpetuated by some jerky filming, tilted angles and odd viewpoints which took a few seconds to right themselves. This gave it, at best a slightly feverish feel but there were occasions when it felt like an 80’s pop promo.

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What was effective was the soundtrack composed by Cezary Skubiszewski which was anachronistic for turn of the twentieth century but atmospheric particularly in a scene when Miss Appleyard is handed some evidence of her hidden past by one of the girls amidst a pulsing, tense rhythm track.

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There’s undoubtedly going to be a significant focus on the development of the girl’s sexuality. We saw this is in a scene where one of the girls (and the headmistress) got the better of a lusty young chap; a naïve girl unaware of the changes of puberty and a frenzied exchange of Valentine cards amongst the pupils and staff members which showed the school to be a hotbed of emotions on the morn of the picnic, a scene whose change of pace felt unusual amongst the distanced, cool feel of the piece which largely emanates from Natalie Dormer’s performance. Miss Appleyard tells one of the girls; “The dark gets in you. You can’t just say I’ve had enough now. It gets everywhere”. I think this darkness will continue to infiltrate over the next five episodes. She also said “Infection spreads” which might very well be a theme for the piece.

Produced by the Australian Fremantle company using a mainly female team led by director Larysa Kondracki it feels like a piece with high production values which certainly looks good but I’m not sure whether the source material will have enough to sustain me in this six hour treatment. I’m going to stick with it for the time being though.

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The Picnic At Hanging Rock is shown on Wednesday nights at 9.00pm on BBC2. The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player.

A Year To Fall In Love (Channel 4-2018)- A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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With sport dominating the early summer TV schedules those of us who are looking for an alternative are being pushed towards the search for love.  Or that is what it feels like in my house where I’m still needing my nightly fix of Love Island and on Tuesday night Channel 4 unleashed “A Year To Fall In Love”.  This documentary show features the video diaries of 20 people over a year as they attempt to find “the one”.  This appealed because I thought it was going to be pacey – 20 people, one year all in the space of an hour.  I thought this might curb Channel 4’s love of the “recap” as there just wouldn’t be time.  In the TV schedules this programme did look like it was going to be a one-off rather than a series.  At the closing credits (when we’d seen less than 20 people) I discovered this was just a taster for the rest of the series which would be tucked away on the All-4 catch up service rather on Channel 4 itself.  Feeling just a little duped a visit to All-4 revealed 6 online episodes.  I’m not too sure why C4 would shunt this over onto the online platform, other than suggesting that it’s not the social-experiment-for-our-times I’d anticipated but something more along the lines of summer-time filler.

yeartofall2Freddy has a year to fall in love

The most fascinating aspects of this programme were the statistics. Nearly 40% of people now meet their partners online which has changed the whole rationale of the way in which people select and relate to a partner.  Online the choice can be overwhelming bringing the user into contact with people that they would never meet in their everyday social and professional life but this selection process does bring about anxiety, inability to make a decision and commit to it and a fear of being “ghosted”- a term I’d never heard before watching this.  The pitfalls of choosing online were clearly brought home in this.  The most important way to make an impression is therefore the profile photo.  Also, apparently the average relationship lasts for three months so for most it’s not too long before the whole process has to begin again.

yeartofall3Nick has a year to fall in love

On this first episode we met performance artist (?) Freddy who asked out a girl who had known as a friend for some time; husband-hunting Sophie who was on the look-out for a wealthy man who wears a big watch (?!); Nick who was struggling with the etiquette of online dating: Niki, who was keeping her girl/boy options open whose first weeks of recording her quest seemed to show progressively dodgy choices to the point where she was scared to answer her phone and Brighton resident Xander negotiating gay dating apps.  There were considerable ups and downs for all proving once again the road to love is far from smooth.

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Niki has a year to fall in love

However, the format of the programme was such that I found myself not too bothered as to whether their searches would be successful and whereas I might watch further episodes to find out more if it had a weekly time-spot on Channel 4 going onto All-4 for box-set viewing is probably something I will not bother with.  Most of us still have that mind-set that online viewing shows cannot be as good as main channel picks and because this means I am questioning C4’s commitment to this project maybe it’s not for me.  I’ll stick with “Love Island” (and I couldn’t imagine me writing that a couple of months ago!)

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The first episode of “A Year To Fall in Love” was shown at 10pm on Tuesday 19th June and is available like the rest of the series on All-4 catch-up/online service.

Love Island (ITV2-2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I have resisted this so far.  Now on its 4th season on ITV2 this became a particularly big talking-point last summer, gained a lot of popularity through word of mouth and won awards including a TV Bafta for best Reality Show.  On second thoughts, I haven’t totally resisted it as the idea behind this programme had a previous lease of life in a celebrity version back in 2005 on the main ITV channel.  I did watch a couple of episodes of this and can recall Brendan Cole and one third of Atomic Kitten participating but it was fairly ghastly.  So this is a programme which bucks the trend with beginning with a celebrity version and evolving into a non-celebrity rather than the industry standard of the other way round.

loveisland2Caroline Flack

This series relaunched in 2015 in a bright, brash non-celebrity format, helmed by Caroline Flack (who isn’t in it much).  Before this series started it was getting headlines due to the involvement of daughter of EastEnders lead and distant descendant of royalty, “hard man” Danny Dyer.  I thought on Monday I’d just watch the first episode to see what the fuss was all about and I have stuck with it each night since.  It is very much a tweaking of the Big Brother format and really after one week of this I cannot see the point in tuning into the non-celebrity Big Brother ever again.  Here the participants seem less in your face and show-offy, there’s considerable more sunshine in the Majorcan villa than on a studio lot in Elstree to brighten up our duller summer days and the focus of this programme is to fall in love rather than just survive the machinations of the Big Brother producers.

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We’ve certainly seen a quest for love umpteen times before from “Blind Date”, “First Dates” to substandard fare like “The Bachelor” (anyone else remember rugby star Gavin Henson having to work his way through a bevy of girls in a similar villa to find out who he fancied most in a TV show that veered from misjudged to completely unwatchable).  The minor TV stations have schedules full of (mainly) imported find-love formats of questionable quality.  So why has this one won awards and become a hit to the extent where it is now a major focus in Summer TV programming and for which, so I’ve been told, more young people applied to compete than applied for Oxford/Cambridge university entrance this year.  Is this the end of civilisation as we know it?

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Largely, I’d say no and I think because these characters need to stay on very good terms with at least one other member of the opposite sex to be in with a stab at the prize and as the aim is to “find love” they are presenting a more likeable face than we see on “Big Brother” and its ilk.  There has been the odd meltdown (he fancies me/I don’t know if he fancies me/ he’s told me he’s no longer interested/I fancy him) but it’s all been a lot less tawdry than I was expecting.  It almost feels like secondary school again (admittedly with more flesh showing) where witnessing a couple kissing could be a major conversation topic for days.  And I was at secondary school in the 1970’s- a far more innocent time!

loveisland5Line ’em up.  Who fancies this one?

Of course, every thing is manipulated to test the bonds of coupledom.  Forced to pair up in a fairly excruciating cattle market type sequence in the first episode, most seemed  happy with their initial choices (a link-up between West End performer Samira and A&E doctor Alex who has looked like a rabbit caught in headlights throughout and who seems so out of his element it is as if he took a wrong turning from Operating Theatre 2 and has gone through some Space and Time portal which has transported him to a sun-soaked villa forced to wear a microphone lead wrapped too high around his midriff seemed questionable) but the show was quick to throw an early spanner into the works and it was this which had me hooked. An extra man was introduced  and in 24 hours had to steal a girl from any other of the couples.

loveisland7Doctor on call Alex

The fact that this man was Adam, a Geordie physical trainer, so handsome and buffed that the other men complained “he did not even look real” and that every girl seemed willing to ditch their first pairing for him was the first indication that this show (is it scripted? Don’t know, don’t really care)  had something deep psychologically going on which would sustain us for the summer.

loveisland6Is this man even real?

By the end of the first week we’d lost one girl, banished from the island due to a sneaky mid-week introduction of two girls which rapidly changed dynamics and it looks like there will be enough twists in the plot to keep this multiple boys meet multiple girls format fresh.  It’s all far less sordid than I was expecting and I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or not.  I think civilisation is safe once again, for the time being and hopefully the participants will not be saddling themselves with the same level of debt as if they’d gone the Oxbridge route.  Here comes Summer!

I’m just torn between threestars and   fourstarsI’ll have to update this after a couple of weeks.

Update:  It’s two weeks on and I’m still watching.  I’m upping the star rating to fourstars

“Love Island” is shown nightly on ITV 2 at 9pm.  Previous episodes are available on ITV catch-up services and for those for whom this is not enough I have noticed that Netflix has recently added earlier series to their output.

A Very English Scandal (BBC1 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Last Sunday BBC1 unveiled what may be its most entertaining and surprising Drama series of the year.  Surprising for a number of reasons, one being that I would imagine (I haven’t done a great deal of research on the background because I do not want to find out too much about what will happen) that a number of the key players in this distinctly squalid tale will still be alive.  Surprising also because it features a tour de force performance from an actor who we might have believed had his best performances behind him.

scandal3The real Jeremy Thorpe

In this truly English tale Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe went to trial in the 1970’s over his involvement in a plot to murder a younger man he had a sexual relationship with some years earlier.  I can remember the trial because my parents would look forward to the News At Ten reports as the salacious events unfolded around this leading MP and a man I remember was referred to as “male model” Norman Scott.  I was not quite of the age to fully understand what was going on but tried to piece it all together from the news reports.  I remember being surprised that someone could earn a living as a “male model” and also that one of the phrases which emerged from the trial “Bite the pillow, Bunny” was used as an insult in the school playground for a while, even if not fully understood.  It all felt a little grubby even then and in the intervening years it feels like something too implausible to be true for those too young to remember and largely forgotten by many people who were around at the time.

Scandal 2Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw with Mrs Tish the dog

But here it is all on BBC1, starring a career-revitalised Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe and Ben Whishaw (last appearance on this site following his role in “London Spy“).  There’s great credentials here.  The source material is a book with the same title by John Preston and has been adapted by the screen by one of our modern great television writers, Russell T. Davies, a man with challenging, great and highly influential work to his name (“Queer As Folk”, “Cucumber”, “Torchwood”- all of which had a role in changing perceptions away from the repressed closeted world depicted here), although he is probably best known for the reboot of “Dr Who”.  It is directed by Stephen Frears, responsible for some great movies, two of which (“My Beautiful Launderette” and “Prick Up Your Ears”) were also landmark films in representing the lives of gay men on screen.  Here Davies and Frears tackle an earlier era of illegal acts and blackmail and public ruin and they are a perfect choice for the material.

scandal4Russell T. Davies

You might need to get “Paddington 2” out of your mind first as that movie’s baddie Grant here reunites with the voice of the Peruvian bear, Ben Whishaw, in a completely different way!  Both actors are attacking their role with relish, especially Grant, better looking than Thorpe, who is absolutely mesmerising in most scenes he is in.  I’ve never really seen him as a particularly good physical actor before but the moment he virtually skips down staircases in the House Of Commons he gives an excellent example of sheer anticipation of meeting again the young man he’d leered at and given his card to in a barn at a friend’s house over a year before.

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Later, when Thorpe had Norman ensconced in a bedroom at his mother’s house we had a ghastly seduction scene in which Grant was marvellous.  This scene became a central focus of the court case and was perfectly nuanced and fully deserved its revisit on this week’s “Gogglebox” when we saw the viewers open-mouthed at Thorpe’s behaviour. Giles said of Hugh Grant “I think he’s loving being outrageous…..He’s morphed into Jeremy Thorpe“, the always perceptive Basset said “This is how every British politician would be in this situation!”

The first episode built up to Thorpe’s declaration that Norman needed to be bumped off (over a £30 blackmail bid), a jaw-dropping moment for those viewers not familiar with the case and a perfect moment to end this first hour of high quality TV drama.  I would imagine that the tone will shift over the next two episodes as we focus on the conspiracy and the subsequent court case but I am confident that these are likely to contain some of the best writing, acting and direction we will see on our TV screens this year.

fivestarsA Very English Scandal is shown on Sundays at 9pm on BBC1.  The first episode is currently available on the BBC I- Player

 

 

 

Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge (BBC2 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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I have a limited idea as to who Tom Kerridge is.  Initially, I did think he was on the last series of “Strictly Come Dancing” but that turned out to be another follically-challenged chef, Simon Rimmer. I did watch one episode of his “Lose Weight For Good” which has spawned one of the biggest selling books so far this year but decided as a television format it didn’t have much originality  and there is a limit to the number of new year-new start-new you programmes you can watch whilst dealing with January blues.  I preferred to stick with the diet-testing Channel 4 Show “How To Lose Weight Well” probably because I like Dr Xand Van Tulleken.

 I don’t often watch tv featuring chefs (other than Mary Berry who is more a national institution than chef) but Tom Kerridge is obviously an important enough figure in the world of TV cooking to put his name in the title in this new format which had two of its eight episodes shown on consecutive nights on BBC2 this week.

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 It wasn’t the named presenter but the format which drew me in.  It is only indirectly a cooking show as the food preparation has largely been all done by the time we meet the contestants but it is about passion.  Artisan food producers (of which there are a growing number) bring their products to a farm shop in the Yorkshire Dales to compete against three others to entice shoppers into buying their products and being in with the chance of being judged the best in terms of sales, taste and business viability by judges artisan expert Alison Swan Parente  and  entrepreneur and founder of Mowgli Street Food restaurants  Nisha Katona (no relation to Kerry).      

topoftheshop3Tom Kerridge with judges

 What I like about this format is that being judged here are people who have already put their lives on the line and are so committed to their project that they are selling on some scale, either locally or on-line and are ready to spread their belief to a much wider audience.  In the first episode we had preserves and the competitors were members of a family who made a runner bean chutney from the beans in their garden, an apple and chilli jelly made from the by-products of cider-making, a handmade peanut butter and a passed down the generations recipe from the Philippines of a papaya pickle.  My mouth was watering throughout.

topoftheshop2Who will buy our runner bean chutney?

 It watered even more in the second episode where the focus was on cheese and there were a couple of goats cheeses (including one from a man who had just one goat with obvious issues of business viability there- a local environment officer who produced the spiced cheese in his shed) an apple-smoked cheddar produced at the weekend initially as a hobby and a Welsh cheddar.  The competitors set up their stalls in the shop and midway through use their produce in a recipe which is sold in the tearoom of the farm shop.  These people are dedicated and so enthusiastic about their product that is hard not to be drawn in and there wasn’t one of the competitors in the first two episodes that didn’t deserve to do well.

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The cheesemakers with the judges

 The star of the show for me, however, is the farm shop itself.  It looks a lovely place and I would love to have such a venue walking distance from my home.  The people in that Yorkshire Dales village are extremely lucky and I hope they are doing everything they can to ensure that a place like that continues to thrive.  I live in an area which attracts tourists and has a strong farming pedigree but there is nothing anywhere near as good as the farm shop/tea room with its real community feel shown on the programme. 

topoftheshop6Inside the farm shop

 There’s a lot of elements to be considered which makes the programme more fascinating than watching an episode of “Masterchef” (which I have never done).  Pricing for one (there was some very expensive peanut butter which could have potentially restricted sales) and as the winners from each category meet up in a final I’m sure the business elements will become even more of a focus.  In fact, I might have liked a little more idea as to how the judges came to their decisions about the winners, I’m not arguing about the decisions they have made thus far but wonder how much they have taken all their criteria into consideration.

 There’s one thing I’m not happy about.  Why do we have to see scenes from both the episode we about to watch and the rest of the series before the opening credits?  This drives me absolutely nuts, as does the “Next Episode” preview at the end.  Do any viewers actually like these?     I know anyone watching TV with me is likely to become exasperated by me reversing and forwarding to get to the moment where the episode I have chosen to watch actually starts.  I might like the odd reminder as to what happened in the last episode if I am watching a Drama series but I don’t need to know what is coming up.  I think I should make a note about the programme-makers who don’t do this and praise them to the skies rather than continually grumble about the majority that do.

 Anyway, with this series we have a likeable format with devoted competitors with a proven commitment other than just wanting to be on telly.  I’m certainly going to be sticking with it and, even though it’s been pretty unheralded this far (and on consecutive nights – grr!) this actually could be the “Bake Off” replacement hit that the BBC are looking for.

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 The first two episodes of Top Of The Shop With Tom Kerridge were shown on Tues and Weds 17/18 April on BBC 2 at 8.00pm.  They are currently available to watch on the BBC I-Player.

Last Laugh In Vegas (ITV 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

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Reality shows provide work for past-their-best celebrities.  Fact.  There’s a whole posse of them (including Debbie McGee, Christopher Biggins, Wayne Sleep etc etc), well known names from 30+ years ago who are happy to go into jungles, sit on boats, travel to retirement places, learn to dance etc etc etc to boost their pensions.  But ITV’s “Last Laugh In Vegas” a five parter which started this week has a slightly different premise.  Here, the celebrities are, for the most part, from an even earlier era of heyday, from 40-50 years ago and they will not be attempting to learn new skills but will be doing what they did then but this time for a new audience.  It’s bringing British variety to a Las Vegas crowd used to megastars and state- of -the- art dazzling technology.  How can it possibly work?

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Well….even though I can find car-crash television as compulsive as the next person I’m hoping here that ITV haven’t set up this group of long-ago-more-famous-than-they-are-now celebrities for a fall.  To prevent this, they have brought in someone who is going to help them with their acts which would be more at home on old re-runs of  “The Good Old Days” than working amongst the razzle dazzle of Vegas.  And at this stage, I’m not convinced by this help.  I was vaguely disturbed that the person chosen looked like a white Michael Jackson tribute act, a Vegas performer by the name of Frank Marino.  We were told that Marino is a top comedian which just in itself reinforces the differences between live US and UK comedy and brings home the vast gulf between him and Bernie Clifton, the man who has pretending to ride an ostrich for his laughs for over half a century.  In fact, a modicum of research reveals Marino is best known as a drag act, something ITV is obviously keeping up their sleeves for a later episode.

vegas3Frank Marino – (I think this was a few years ago………)

 Much obviously depends on the people chosen for this Vegas show.  The obvious headliners would seem to be Cannon and Ball, but their brand of Northern humour and rapid wordplay seems more likely to bemuse an international audience.  There’s Su Pollard (was “Hi Di Hi” as well known worldwide as “Are You Being Served which turned its cast into household names in America?) who has chosen to sing, which wasn’t actually the best idea even in 1986 when she had an inexplicably big British hit (the #2 “Starting Over”).  Also attempting to revitalise their music careers are a frail looking Kenny Lynch (7 Top 40 hits 1960-65), a vulnerable Anita Harris (3 Top 40 hits 1967-68) and the supremely confident Jess Conrad (just 1 Top 40 hit back in 1961).  Admittedly, all three of these were British film and TV regulars throughout the 60’s and 70’s- old troopers who just kept going after their hits dried up.  The baby of this musical bunch is 64 year old Bobby Crush, thrust into stardom as a teenager by Hughie Green’s “Opportunity Knocks” for his piano-playing and his David Cassidy-on-a-budget looks.  Comedy is represented by the aforementioned Messrs. Clifton, Cannon and Ball together with “star of TV’s “The Comedians”” Mick Miller whose “trademark” long hair of his bald patch Marino is keen to cut.

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 Bernie Clifton and ostrich

The whole thing was tinged with sadness as their big opportunity became shadowed by squabbles over bedrooms, over billing and dawning realisation that they may be getting in over their depth.  There is probably a reason why most of them never played American in their glory days.  And yet, I am willing them to shine.

vegas5This is how I will always remember Anita Harris – from “Carry On Doctor” with Sid James

 Towards the end of this first offering they watched  a show-reel of their acts in their younger days in what was an affecting few minutes of television.  Thus Su Pollard watched herself impersonate Gracie Fields on a Royal Variety Show (how lost this would be on a Vegas audience), Anita Harris performed in her slinky, sophisticated style, the comics were shown being funny and Mr Conrad and Lynch looked dapper and Bernie Clifton rode around faster on his ostrich.  The passage of time and the trials of being in the public eye, to some extent, for decades, showed on their faces but none more than on a tearful Bobby Crush, who was watching once again the unhappy young man, struggling to cope with sudden fame and sexuality, grinning at the camera as the show went on regardless.

 Bobby Crush – then and now

And this show will go on regardless over the next five week and I suspect ITV will be providing us with more tears through the laughter as well as quite a few more moments I’ll be peering through my fingers to watch. 

The whole idea might seem somewhat cruel and heartless but I’d like these unlikely Vegas stars to hit the jackpot so I’m going to continue to watch.

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Last Laugh In Vegas is being shown on Tuesdays at 9.00 pm on ITV1.  The first episode is available on the ITV Player