Line Of Duty – BBC1 (2019) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

watching

line of duty

I was a bit late to the party with this, which I can now acknowledge as one of the best ever police dramas on British TV. I don’t know how the first few series passed me by and it was really only when the fourth series starring Thandie Newton started gripping the viewers of “Gogglebox” and picking up awards that I realised I had missed out on something special. Thanks to Netflix which has had all the series available to view I have caught up, bingeing on episodes (unusual for me) because I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened.

I’m glad I watched this first episode of Series 5 before Friday’s “Gogglebox” as this was heavily featured with the sofa-sitters open-mouthed at the twists, even on occasions when even I’d rumbled what was going on, they were shouting at their TVs in amazement at the proceedings.

Since the last series which first aired in March 2017 writer Jed Mercurio’s profile has really ascended due to his gripping of the nation over 6 successive weeks in the late summer with “Bodyguard”, a huge ratings hit, but this is very much his bread and butter work, a less showy, superbly plotted and scripted tense hour which is a great antidote to the general cosy feel of Sunday night TV.

Its main quality is its sheer unpredictability which over the five series has seen astounding plot developments no-one could possibly see coming, major characters bumped off and the best scripted police interviews ever. AC-12 is the department set out to investigate police corruption and its three leading lights prove a tight ensemble which is another hallmark of the show.

 

Neither Vicky McLure as Kate nor Martin Compston as Steve are especially familiar to viewers in other roles and so fit in perfectly as the young guns in the AC-12 department overseen by Adrian Dunbar as Hastings.  Compston is particularly excellent as the tenacious but increasingly world-weary Steve whose position in the Department we’ve invested in since the very beginning.

The opening twenty minutes or so are always essential in a Mercurio plot (remember the bomb  on the train in “Bodyguard”?).  It’s often a big set piece out from which ramifications continue to rumble for the whole series.  Here there is a hijacking of a lorry stuffed with drugs under police guard and one of the perpetrator’s actions towards an injured officer causes questions to be asked.  There is a leak somewhere and AC-12 are out to plug it.

Plot threads from previous series are picked up efficiently.  Member of the team and series regular Maneet was seen in a couple of compromising situations in the last series before taking early maternity leave.  Now back at work suspicions have not gone away with astounding consequences.  Almost everyone would have been caught out by at least one of the three or four major twists in this opener and it is this which is likely to keep the 7.8 million (making it the most watched TV show of the year so far and registering its highest ever viewing figures) who tuned in for the first episode on the edge of our seats on a Sunday night to find out what this superior television event has in store for us.

fivestarsLine of Duty Series 5 is shown on BBC1 on Sunday evenings at 9.00pm. The first episode was transmitted on 31st March and is currently available on the BBC I-Player.

 

Advertisements

The To Be Watched List 2 – A What I Will Be Watching Review

watchingQuestion_mark

 

 

 

Yesterday the Rugby Six Nations drew to a close with Wales victorious.  One of only two annual sporting fixtures I watch (the other being Wimbledon) this has dominated my viewing over the last few weekends meaning that the time on Saturday and Sunday I normally spend catching up with what I haven’t watched during the week has not happened and my Sky Box is beginning to groan under the weight of unwatched shows (well, it’s got up to 60% full and things start to get stressful when it creeps up more than that).  So either I’ve got to start deleting or settle down and get that percentage down.

sixnations

 So for today’s blog I thought I’d do something I did way back in  July 2017 and explore what I will be watching in order to reduce the Sky Box’s waistline rather than focus on something I have already watched.  As preparation I looked back to that previous post of nearly 20 months ago and was surprised to see that not much had changed.  The focus of that post was me falling asleep in the first episode of Series 7 of “Game Of Thrones” which I had planned to review and with Series 8 imminent here is the confession, I haven’t watched any more.  I have the whole series sitting in the Planner, including the episode which caused such a deep slumber because I will have to revisit this again right from the start to have any chance of knowing what is going on.  Hopefully, the escalation of publicity for Season 8 will prompt me to watch the previous seven episodes.

game of thrones

 

Also, I note that I was working my way through two series I had on series link and here things haven’t improved.  I might have got through series 5 of the likeable enough Sherlock Holmes reboot “Elementary” starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu but I now have ten unwatched episodes of Season 6.   The situation regarding “Hawaii 5-0” shown on Sky on Sunday evenings is even worse.  It’s a show that’s not quite limping along but almost so I am now watching it in small doses, which is probably why eighteen episodes over two series have built up.  It’s still happily recording them each Sunday but perhaps at some point soon I will need to pull the plug on this.

elementary

 

I’m a good one for watching first episodes as soon as they come out and then stalling with the rest of the series.  I haven’t yet made up my mind about W’s “Flack” a London set drama dealing with a PR company protecting the reputation of celebrities starring child Oscar winner and ex-Sookie Stackhouse from “True Blood”, Anna Paquin.  It’s one of those US/UK productions that end up seeming a little odd to viewers on both sides of the Atlantic, but I’m only a couple of episodes behind so I’ll stick with it.  I’m also not sure what to make about BBC 2’s “Motherfatherson”, surprisingly starring Richard Gere.  I’m really not sure where it is going and it wasn’t Gere who lit up the screen in the first episode  but Billy Howle as his tortured son.  The first episode ended up in a hospital scene with what looked like a brain tumour operation so I really can’t guess how the series is going to pan out.  It has the similar stylish feel of BBC1’s flawed “McMafia” but this is written by Tom Rob Smith, a British crime novelist of great repute who did excellent work penning “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” and the odd but fascinating “London Spy”, so I am certainly going to continue with this.

tomrobsmithTom Rob Smith

And then there’s “Finding Neverland: Michael Jackson And Me” which was spread out on subsequent nights into two parts by Channel 4.  I watched the first part and found it so disturbing and it gave me nightmares.  I know I should watch the second part but haven’t got round to it yet.  At this stage I really can’t put my impressions into words.  I can’t help but recall the cultural shift which happened in this country following the revelations about presenter and DJ Jimmy Savile which I struggled to sum up after reading the chilling exceptionally researched book about the man, “In Plain Sight” by  Dan Davies (2014) .  Here again, it feels like something we knew about and yet chose not to believe or ignore.  The impact of Michael Jackson on our popular culture is huge, the almost erasure of people like Savile, Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris from our cultural pasts was possible because they did not have celebrity to the magnitude of Jackson’s.  Sales of Michael Jackson’s records have grown in the UK since this programme was shown so this is a complex issue that I’m not going to be able to deal with in a paragraph, especially as I have only watched half of the television programme that has caused these developments.

 Hopefully, I will be less disturbed by two further music biographies.  “Mariah: The Diva, The Demons” was shown on Channel 5 on their Mariah Carey night before Christmas and promises to be a dramatised bio-pic focusing on 2000-20001 where Mariah bludgeoned her career to bits by performing in the movie “Glitter”, which I’ve seen and don’t think it’s as bad as it was made out to be.  It was gloriously tacky, and I’m hoping that this bio-pic will be too, but it’s also long which has put me off it up until now.

teddyTeddy Pendergrass

 I’ve been reading quite a bit about a documentary which had a limited cinema release a few week back which sounds right up my street, Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me” examines the life of the extraordinary vocalist from Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes and his subsequent solo career dogged by tragedy.  It was shown on Sky Arts last night.  I suspect here too there will be revelations I will find challenging.

dynasty1

 And once I’ve exhausted the Sky Planner there’s always Netflix , where I am still working my way through “Dynasty” where I’m about to begin Series 2.  This is a show which has got better since my review of the first episodes probably because the character of Fallon Carrington is so sparklingly played by Elizabeth Gillies and has taken a more central role as the series has progressed and “Riverdale” which has lost any sense of fun it had and become increasingly dark, but still watchable.  Also Netflix is adding episodes weekly to the latest series of “Rupaul’s Drag Race”, which hasn’t yet had the magical spark of the last season of “All Stars” and I’m also one episode in to creepy stalker drama “You”, but I suspect here I might not last the distance.

Who says there’s nothing on television nowadays?

 

Flat Pack Pop: Sweden’s Music Miracle (BBC4 2019) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

watching
flatpackpop

This week I learnt a new expression – “Jante Law”. It is a Swedish term for something which is deep within their psyche and may be something of an eye-opener to us more selfish nations. Jante Law is the putting ahead of society before the individual, which means that any boasting of achievements or jealousy of those of others risk social disapprobation. This actually explained a lot to me about Sweden’s role in popular culture- why some members of Abba at the height of their fame became reclusive, and why some still are decades later, why even the choosing of a Eurovision entrant is done so widely and methodically (rather than our pick any three songs and get the public to vote on them approach) and with reference to this documentary why we know so little of the huge role that Sweden has played in popular music history over the last 30 years, with one producer and songwriter, Max Martin, now only behind Lennon and McCartney as the most successful songwriter of all time.

flatpackpop2

Max Martin

The suitably reticent Mr Martin did not want to be interviewed for this, he wanted just his music to tell a story for him but presenter and music journalist James Ballardie found others prepared to do so to put together this story of a musical phenomenon in a fascinating one hour documentary. It is the story of how Sweden became the biggest exporter of pop music per capita of anywhere in the world.

The history does not begin with Martin but with another even more significant figure who was equally happy to be seen as just a backroom boy. This was Dag Volle, a club DJ from 1980’s Swedish clubland mecca “The Ritz” who began remixing US club hits to appeal more to Scandinavian tastes. Volle’s love for this type of music led to the name change of Denniz PoP, who after successful remixing of tracks by others sought to achieve the perfect pop record himself.

flatpackpop3

Denniz PoP

We learnt how serendipity played its part when a tape sent to him by an aspiring Swedish foursome, along the lines of Abba, got stuck in his car cassette player blasting out the same song every time he used the car. This group was Ace Of Base and the track was reworked eventually to become “All That She Wants” – a global hit which topped the UK charts and got to number 2 Stateside. Just before that PoP’s name was established on European and worldwide charts through his work with a Nigerian dentist and wannabe rapper living in Sweden, Dr Alban and his “It’s My Life” track which topped charts all over Europe and got to number 2 in the UK in 1992.

flatpackpop4

From then on things moved quickly. PoP developed a clear musical doctrine, opened Cheiron studios and enlisted a group of writers “moulded in his image” to produce the perfect pop sound. I’d found myself researching these just a couple of posts ago when I was reviewing Will Young’s debut as part of my Essential CD Collection and they were fresh in my mind when I watched this. If there was one special protégé that was Max Martin, lifted from heavy metal group “It’s Alive” whose love for more melodic sounds than he was making led to PoP seeing him as a kindred spirit.

We met other member of the team who also produced hits by the bucket-load for the company- Andres Carlsson, Stonebridge, Herbie Crichelow and jingle writer Jorgen Elofsson amongst them who shared how this magical formula worked. The fascinating thing was that the blueprint was always Abba, showing the integral part the foursome of a generation before played in all subsequent developments in Swedish pop. At the root of all of it (and also of Abba) was Swedish folk music which was simplistic and melodic.

Like Motown three decades before one of the main Cheiron principles was that it should sound good on the radio. “Production control” at the Detroit studio is now famous for its weekly meetings, tracks recorded by different artists and competitiveness between artists and producers to get their songs released but here it was taken to another level with sometimes up to a hundred versions of the same tracks flooding the Swedish clubs,  All this work was to hear what sounded good over the DJ decks and what would sound better on the radio or in an open-topped American car (rather than in a Swedish Volvo in the depths of winter). Recognising the US teen as the biggest purchaser of music PoP’s team looked to reflect American lives from a Swedish perspective. We learnt that this repackaging of ideas to produce a more effective version of the best of what is out there is also part of the Swedish make-up evident in companies such as Ikea and H&M.

flatpackpop5

The inspiration behind all Swedish Pop

But behind this global success “Jante Law” forced these writers and producers to remain as far under the radar as they could (Ace Of Base enjoyed their global success and were vilified in the Swedish press) and then tragedy intervened with another great leveller – as cancer claimed Denniz PoP at the age of 35 in 1998.

By this time globally successful artists wanted in on the act. The Backstreet Boys, N-Sync, 5ive, Westlife and Britney Spears owed much of their success to these writers. Max Martin adopted the central role and the team went from funeral to working on Backstreet Boy’s multi-million selling “Millennium” album but the central force had gone.

Eventually, the writers moved away from the studio set-up and took what they had learnt from Denniz and notched up hits, continuing to this day for the biggest artists of the world including Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, One Direction, Madonna, in fact virtually every global pop superstar. Martin has set up MXM Studios in the US and has for the past eighteen years being working with many Swedish producers as part of his team, still observing Denniz Pop’s principles and developing them into their unique formula they term “Melodic Math”.

At the end of this excellent hour we saw Max Martin being awarded the Polar Music Prize from the Swedish King, still concerned about the ramifications of Jante Law. I found the whole thing fascinating, more for what it told us about Swedes than the music which was on generous display throughout. Managing to achieve this level of success in this media-hungry day and age without many people even being aware of their existence just really grabbed my attention and got me thinking.

fivestars

 

God’s Own Country (2017) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

watching

godsown

With the wind howling around the house in full throes of a storm the other night I fancied watching something which would match the bleakness going on outside.  I have seen this film before and it left a great impression.  I bought it on DVD just before Christmas but with a cat ensconced on my lap it was easier to watch it on Netflix.  It is also on the BFI Player where I viewed it the first time and where it was one of the most streamed films of 2018.

Set during an early springtime lambing season in a farm on the Yorkshire Moors, main character John Saxby (an outstanding Josh O’Connor most recently seen as Marius in the BBC adaptation of “Les Miserables”) is getting by through getting drunk each night and spending the day hung over and uncommunicative towards grandmother played by Gemma Jones and his ailing father, played by Ian Hart, who himself is reluctant to give up the running of the farm and vents this frustration onto his son. A young Romanian is brought in to help out with the lambing and sparks ignite between him and John.

godsown2

Josh O’Connor and Alex Secareanu

This is a love story but one carried out in the bleak harshness of the environment.  The two camp out on the Fells to be near to the sheep in a section reminiscent of “Brokeback Mountain” but this is a more stronger, more convincing film.  It also feels more grounded in reality, certainly for British audiences,  than a film that  tended to overshadow it in 2017, “Call Me By Your Name“.  The reason this works so well is largely through the dynamics between the two men, John, barely able to express himself or feelings other than lust and anger yet crippled by loneliness and Gheorghe thrust into this brittle set-up and accepting of everything because it is better than he had experienced at home.  You can certainly appreciate the appeal of the migrant worker played by Alec Secareanu and the hope that he brings with him.  It’s understandable how he can enrich the lot of those around him.

godsown3

It’s pretty much a four-hander and the performances are all excellent.  As John’s father’s health deteriorates Ian Hart’s performance becomes almost painful to watch and if asked to choose a career best performance from the ex-Duchess of Duke Street Gemma Jones between this and her excellent work on BBC TV’s “Spooks” I’d have to opt for the sublime, understated portrayal here.

 

Co-stars Ian Hart and Gemma Jones

True, this film might not be for everyone.  Some of the everyday scenes of life on the farm are brutal and challenging and there’s a couple of steamy sex scenes which may shock but are well within the context of the piece as shown by its 15 Rating (if they felt in anyway gratuitous I’m sure the rating would have been upped to 18).  It’s moving, satisfying and believably scripted.  It was written and directed by Francis Lee, whose sheer belief in his debut film is evident in every shot.  However, it is the performances that will stay with me, which definitely makes this a five star film for me.

godsown7

The stars with writer/director Francis Lee

God’s Own Country won the world crime directing award at the American Sundance Festival and garned a host of nominations worldwide.  Although Josh O’ Connor was singled out most often for acting awards, each of the four performances were up for awards.  In 2018 it was nominated for 7 Baftas of which it won Best British Independent Film with Josh O’Connor beating fellow nominee Alex Secareanu as Best Actor.  It also picked up gongs at the British Independent Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Edinburgh Festival, Empire Awards, Evening Standard Awards (where it won Best Film and Best Supporting Actress for Gemma Jones) amongst others including awards which highlighted the film’s LGBT+ issues.

godsown5Critical reaction to the film

fivestars

God’s Own Country was released in 2017 and is currently available on DVD.  It is also   available on Netflix as part of the subscription and can be rented on the BFI player

 

 

 

Stevie Wonder – A Musical History (BBC4 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

watching

stevietv2

Friday night is traditionally music night on BBC4 and over the last few weeks there have been a series of “Musical Histories”. These have been genre based, this is the first one I have seen which have focused on one artist, I didn’t actually realise that this was linked in with this series until I saw the return of the dodgy retro graphics which have opened these programmes and which are reminiscent of some afternoon children’s pop show from the 1970’s. Next week it is Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music who come under the spotlight with another performer scheduled later in the year for this three part artist retrospective.

I did manage to watch three of the Musical Histories which focused on Disco and Electronica, Soul & R&B and Greatest Voices. The format was of two artists or experts from the chosen genre discussing an ultimate playlist and watching clips of their chosen tracks. Thus we had Ana Matronic and Martyn Ware on Disco, Trevor Nelson and Corinne Bailey Rae on Soul and Beverley Knight and James Morrison focusing in on voices. At times it proved to be odd television, you couldn’t help but feel it might have worked a little better on the radio as pairs, in relative states of ease and unease, discussed their choices perched on soft furnishings. The clips, although fascinating to see, seemed a little well-used, having been featured on many such music compilation shows in the past. Nevertheless, I was interested to hear what the presenters had to say and this kept me tuned in.

stevietv3Get back on that sofa James and Beverley!

Friday’s hour focused on Stevie Wonder, who I have been thinking about recently, having written a review for his “Love Songs”, one of my Essential CDs, only last week. What I hadn’t realised when I spotted this in the schedules was that it would largely be the pairings who talked about genres over the last few weeks talking about Stevie Wonder. There were a few talking heads who went it alone, including Martin Freeman, Alexander O’Neal, Norman Jay, journalist Sian Pattenden and broadcaster Emma Dabiri and these tended to be more insightful and less off the cuff than most of the duos’ comments . The most natural of these pairings were Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris but they are a couple who were used to working together (and have been married since 1993). They were featured the least. The Knight-Morrison pairing was featured the most and this at times became grating because of James’ over-eagerness to agree with everything that Beverley Knight said. This made for slightly uncomfortable viewing. BBC4 recently found a successful pairing with good chemistry between them for their series about British pop which sent Midge Ure and Kim Appleby out on a road-trip but here the couples here perched on sofas were not exactly sizzling. But format aside, it was really the music here that should do the talking.

stevietv1Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris

It did provide a good overview of Stevie’s career and stressed just what it was that made him special. Musically it went from his first Top Of The Pops appearance in 1966 with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” his initial UK hit to 80s tracks such as “I Just Called To Say I Love You” (his biggest selling single in Britain) and “Part Time Lover”. There was a mixture of TV appearances, live concert and video (Stevie was never really well served by video. Beverley Knight really nicely built up “Ribbon In The Sky” one of his lesser-known 80’s tracks yet the video shown was cringe-making in the way that American videos of the 80’s could be (Lionel’s “Hello”, anyone?) I especially liked the songs performed for a very uncool (judging by the earnest audience) German show called “Musikladen” in which a smoking 70’s Stevie performed “Superstition” and “He’s Misstra Know It All” and “Higher Ground”.

People got to mention their favourites, thus we had Alexander O Neal championing “Sir Duke , Martin Freeman “As” and Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17 the beautiful (and quite late in the canon of Wonder hits) “Overjoyed”- which is one of my all-time favourites of his. Emma Dabiri reminisced over her childhood Stevie Wonder impersonation to “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. What was brought out by the talking heads and I was pleased to note this is, as it is often forgotten, is how young Stevie was when he was churning out absolute classic tracks, just how good is voice (a great natural range without having to use falsetto) and also the importance of him as a political and social protestor.  At one point we learnt he was going to give up the music business to concentrate on social issues (what a loss that would have been). He is a man who was able to put his message in his music in a way which never diluted what he was saying but was incorporated into the exuberance of his music, tracks like “Higher Ground” “Living For The City” and the lyrically dark “Superstition” are all examples of this. In the early 80’s Stevie’s role in the campaign to get a US holiday established to commemorate Martin Luther King was instrumental and ultimately successful and couched in his million-selling “Happy Birthday” single.

steviewtv4

One thing about the clips which disappointed me came with another of my favourites “Isn’t She Lovely” which was taken from a concert clip that I had seen before. In the concert Stevie announces that the song, about the birth of his daughter Aisha, and who featured as a baby gurgling in the original track, was dedicated to one of his backing singers, that very daughter Aisha. This was a really touching moment which has stayed with me and the clip shown does feature Aisha looking understandably emotional at singing an all-time classic song which was written about her. I would have liked the talking heads to have picked up on this and mentioned it but they didn’t, which deprived the audience who hadn’t seen this clip before of a lovely story.

Despite the cheapness of the format I was once again drawn in and for a Stevie Wonder fan there was perhaps no better way to spend an hour on a Friday evening. If these Musical Histories focus in on an artist or a genre that you are interested in, or that (you younger generation out there) you are interested in finding out more about then they are certainly worth seeking out.

threestars

Stevie Wonder – A Musical History was shown on BBC4 at 10.00pm on Friday 30th November.  It is currently available to watch on the BBC I-Player

Barneys, Books And Bust-Ups (BBC4 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review

watching

barneys

It has been Man Booker announcement week. After the last couple of years of reading the shortlist, beginning as soon as the long-listed titles were chosen so I got some chance of fitting them in time before the winner’s announcement, I decided this year not to read any of them.

There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, last year’s winner “Lincoln In The Bardo” by George Saunders proved what a lottery the whole thing is (Julian Barnes has referred to the award as “Posh Bingo”). Secondly, despite reading a good chunk of eligible literary fiction during the year I hadn’t even read one title on the longlist and when the shortlist was announced I wasn’t motivated enough by the choices to put this right. I did think that after the last couple of last summer/autumns getting through the titles that it was going to become a bit of an obsessive feature in my reading year, but I haven’t missed it in the slightest this year.

That is in many ways a shame because it this Literary Prize’s 50th Anniversary and I don’t know whether the first writer from Northern Ireland to win the award, Anna Burns for “Milkman” was the most deserving winner. (I’d read one previous novel by Richard Powers but not his latest, all the rest of the authors were new to me). I didn’t even watch the announcement on TV.

I did, however, tune in to this BBC4 documentary which was shown to mark the Booker’s 50th and which concentrated more upon the Prize night and the intrigue and controversy which has dogged or (more probably) enriched its history. Apparently, “the Booker has always been a magnet for scandal “ and this hour long documentary was prepared to spill the beans.

It was a mildly diverting hour which saw such anecdotes as John Banville recalling how one short-listed year he had got so drunk that had he won the award he wouldn’t have been able to collect it (he didn’t win), Anne Enright not being able to visit the loo, judges falling out over their choices and Selina Scott floundering on a live TV presentation by not recognising the judges. More shocking than all of this was the amount of cigarette smoke wafting in the air in clips from award ceremonies of just a few years back and also the number of times we saw the same bits of footage (Yann Martel jumping to his feet in triumph on quite a few occasions, for example).

Despite it being one of the literary world’s most prestigious prizes it can be a bit of a rod for the winners’ backs. 2103 winner Eleanor Catton, the youngest recipient, confided it has taken her years to get back on track and Dotti Irving, PR for the prize, said; “Quite often writers are in the middle of their next book. They want peace and quiet for that, well, they’re not going to get peace and quiet in the wake of the Man Booker.”

Nevertheless, this is the one that everyone, whether they admit it or not, wants to win. Kingsley Amis famously claimed he didn’t until he did, then it was a different story. Some of the older clips illustrated how media-savvy the modern writer has to be compared to the intellectual ramblings of literary titans of the 70’s and 80’s a time when everything seemed very beige.

I really want the Man Booker to feel more relevant. You can find the odd gem on the shortlist but they do need to ensure that they are getting the balance between quality and readability right and I do think that the Costas, for one, are currently doing this better. However, I certainly would not turn down the opportunity to be a Man Booker judge. This year there was a different feel to the longlist with both a graphic novel and more commercial crime fiction (Belinda Bauer’s “Snap”), which could have shaken things up had it appeared on the shortlist. With Val McDermid on the judging panel I had high hopes but it was not to be.

barneys22018 judges with the shortlisted titles

Judging from the title BBC4 gave this there was an emphasis on the in-fighting in an attempt to make it all seem a little more sexy and watchable than it turned out to be. It did get me looking up how many Booker winners I have read from the last 50 years and I make it 15, which is probably more than the average reader. Will this year’s winner bring my total up to 16…..? You’ll have to watch this space…..

threestars

Barneys, Books And Bust-Ups was shown at 9pm on BBC4 on Monday 15th October. It is currently available to view on the BBC I-Player.

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

watching

crazy rich

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.

Ryde_Commodore_Cinema_2

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).

crazyrich2

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.

crazyriich3

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?!

crazyrich5

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.

crazyrich4

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

 

 

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

watching

strictly20182

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.

strictly2018

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

strictly20184

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

strictly20185

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

strictly20186

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

strictly20187

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

strictly20188

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

strictly201810

 

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

strictly20189

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
strictly201811

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

strictly201813

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

strictly201814

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

strictly201815

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

strictly201816

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

strictly201817

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.

strictly101818

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

watching

 

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).

bodyguard2

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.

bodyguard3

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.

bodyguard4

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.

vanityfair2

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.

vanityfair3

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

watching

rupaul12

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.”

Rupaul2

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.

rupaul14

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.

rupaul15

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!”

rupaul13

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.

rupaul7

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.

rupaul9

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.

rupaul8

fivestars

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