The Assassination of Gianni Versace (BBC2 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review




Back in 1997 I had two holidays in Miami Beach, staying on Ocean Drive.  The first holiday felt magical.  The place was bustling, yet felt very safe, there was a relaxed atmosphere and I remember seeing Tom Jones sat at a streetside bar with no-one taking much notice.  It seemed a place where celebrities could just blend in, there was a real live and let live atmosphere which welcomed all.  Halfway along Ocean Drive there was the house of world famous fashion designer Gianni Versace, an impressive palace of a building which amazingly opened up onto the street and where he could be spotted coming out to enjoy the atmosphere on Ocean Drive, being a regular at the shops and cafes.  I loved the place so much another holiday was booked for later on that summer.


In the meantime, on July 15th to be exact, Gianni Versace was gunned down as he was entering his property from Ocean Drive after having been to the News Café (which did great breakfasts) to buy magazines.  When we went back to Miami just a few weeks after this terrible event it felt different.  It was if some of the sparkle had gone from Ocean Drive.  It was no longer the safe, accepting place it was just a few months earlier.  BBC2 this week began showing a nine part series which examines exactly what happened a little over twenty years ago.


Ryan Murphy

I would be watching this even if I had not had this connection with Ocean Drive and the reason for this is director and executive producer Ryan Murphy.  I watched every episode of his “Glee” and his recent adaptation of the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was quality television and brought back to mind one of my all-time favourite books – “Bette And Joan: The Divine Feud” by Shaun Considine.  I am also a big fan of “American Horror Story” (although I did give up on “My Roanoke Nightmare“the series I chose to review a while back, however  I did stick with the follow-up season “Cult”).  “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is the second instalment of Murphy’s “American Crime Story” thread.  I didn’t watch the first series on the trial of O J Simpson as it didn’t really appeal.  When it started to pick up awards I did think that perhaps I had made a mistake in rejecting it.


Inside The Versace mansion

The first episode was lusciously filmed with the bright vibrant colours I remember so well from Miami Beach and glimpses inside the recreation of the glamorous Versace mansion.  Where this is obviously going to be different from the trial-based O J Simpson story is that here there would be no trial as the perpetrator ends his killing spree by suicide so, with nine episodes to fill, what we are going to have here is going to be mainly back story.

Edgar Ramirez and as Versace

Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez as Versace is the only one of the main performers that I was not familiar with.  I could see from his pictures that excellent work has been done to make him look so much like Versace.  Darren Criss was probably the main reason I stuck with “Glee” for his effervescent portrayal of Blaine Anderson, an exceptionally positive gay character.  Criss at the time said  “As an actor you play different parts and this one happens to be a gay character- and a strong one, so really I lucked out.”   Once again Criss is playing a gay character but there is little positive to say about killer Andrew Cunanan – a fantasist and compulsive liar who had wormed his way to a night at the opera with Versace seven years earlier. Criss’ portrayal is already quite chilling, the pretty boy and nerd who appeared on the Most Wanted List due to a number of slayings before he met up again with Versace at the steps of the fashion designer’s mansion.

Darren Criss – From Blaine to Cunanan

The scale of this production can be seen by the use of two household names in supporting roles.  Ricky Martin plays Versace’s boyfriend Antonio D’Amico and chosen to play the difficult to cast Donatella Versace is Penelope Cruz.  Appearance wise Cruz offers a softer Hollywood edge to Donatella but there is no doubt that she means business.  Maintaining the reputation of her brother and his brand is shown right from her first entry into the mansion after her Gianni’s death when she castigates D’Amico for speaking to the police.  I suppose that the business had to go on and what initially seems as her being heartless is perhaps put into context as she describes how the empire had developed from a small stall in Milan with one rack of clothes to the global multi-million dollar brand . One of the surprising elements, however, and, surely this must have been in the dramatization of the piece were the number of police who did not seem to know who Versace was.

Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz

I’m very interested to see how this series develops over nine episodes.   There is a temptation for the whole thing to fall into tackiness but I really do not believe this would be the case under Murphy’s guidance.  Perhaps in different hands we would get a kind of real life “Dynasty” playing out but I think Murphy is too much of a story-teller to put style over substance.  He also has a strong story-teller at the helm of this adaptation from the book by Maureen Orth (“Vulgar Favours”).  The screenplay is written by Tom Rob Smith, a British writer who made a huge impression from his debut best-selling novel “Child 44” as a purveyor of gripping crime yarns.


The most shocking moment in this first episode was not Cunanan’s shooting of the fashion designer at point blank range (also taking down a dove at the same time) but was when a middle-aged female tourist broke the police cordon and soaked a ripped out page advertising Versace into the fresh blood on the steps in her aim to get a souvenir.  Following what “celebrity” does to people would provide a fascinating sub-plot and will be essential if we are going to begin to understand what made this particular killer stalk his prey.



The Assassination Of Gianni Versace is on BBC2 on Wednesday’s at 9.00.  The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player.


Collateral (BBC2 2018) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review



Award-winning playwright David Hare’s first foray into a television drama series began this week with an impressive cast.  Sir David was knighted in 1998 for services to the theatre, namely a string of West End and Broadway successes.  He has received Oscar nominations for his work in films (including his adaptation for the excellent 2002 movie “The Hours”) and enjoyed a lengthy career in television  with films and plays which began back in 1978.  His “breakthrough” play “Slag” was first performed at The Royal Court in 1970.  What we have here is a heavyweight, influential writer but would these skills transfer to a modern-day police drama shown over a period of four weeks?  I think those members of the audience who knew of Hare’s work would have viewed this with extremely high expectations.  Those who knew he is married to French fashion designer might have expected something rather stylish along the lines of “The Night Manager” or “McMafia” but probably the majority who found themselves watching at 9pm on Monday evening were just after their dose of police procedural drama.  I’m not sure who would have ended up at the end of the first episode the most satisfied.

collateral2Carey Mulligan in “Collateral”

Central character DI Kip Glaspie is played by Carey Mulligan, who I recently watched doing impressive work in “Mudbound” (2017) and whose 2015 turn in “Suffragette” is currently languishing on my Sky Planner.  We find out that Glaspie was once a champion pole vaulter for reasons which are not clear but any potential vaulting through a suspect’s open window seems unlikely as she is also pregnant.  (I don’t think it’s that kind of production anyway, but it did suggest some thrilling action sequences in my head when another character mentioned it!)

A pizza delivery man is gunned down on the streets of London just after delivering a pizza to harassed mum (Billie Piper) who, inexplicably, ends up throwing the uneaten pizza into a corner of a room.  Piper’s character is edgy and distracted and is the ex-wife of local MP played by John Simm (who was also in equally high profile ITV drama “Trauma” this week, which I chose not to watch).  Simm’s character was fleshed out in a bedroom scene with recent girlfriend played by Kim Medcalf (a former Sam Mitchell on “Eastenders”) in  a scene which oddly seemed to suffer from some really heavy-handed dialogue in what I believe had the intention of illustrating him as a man who puts politics above people.  Also in the mix is the always value for money, Nicola Walker, fast becoming a staple of all television drama, who is playing a lesbian vicar with a secret which suggest Simm’s character is not as exactly above board as he would like to make out.


Billie Piper and John Simm

The dead pizza delivery man turns out to be an illegal immigrant living with family members in a lock-up garage which instantly adds political weight to the drama.  By the end of the episode the killer but not the motive is revealed.  With Ben Miles and Saskia Reeves also in the cast I don’t doubt that we will be seeing strong performances but on the evidence of this first episode I’m not sure if the writing feels natural enough for this kind of production.  I found the superbly written “Happy Valley” and “Scott and Bailey” coming to mind.  Here there were a few times I felt the lines jarring on me.  It might be Hare’s deliberate intention to unsettle us as this is obviously going to be much more than a tale of a killing on a South London street but it is not clear exactly where it is going yet.


Sir David Hare

I suspect that like BBC 1’s “McMafia” which shed a lot of viewers (although I stuck with it without being totally sure why) a number who watched the first episode may not be back for more despite the cast and obviously high production values.  I’ll give Episode 2 a go but most confess there was nothing in this episode which really lodged in my mind.  Often when I sit down to write a review I can get writing with what has stayed with me.  Here I had to flick through the programme again just to remind me what had gone on – and I’m not sure if that is a positive sign.


Collateral is on BBC2 on Monday’s at 9.00.  The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player.  Internationally, it has been picked up for inclusion on Netflix.

London Spy – BBC2 (2015) – A What I’ve Been Watching Review



BBC2 launched their new five part drama series this week. Starring Ben Whishaw (From “The Hour” and the current Q in the Bond Franchise) and Jim Broadbent (of too much to mention) this was an intriguing little opener. I don’t know how many times during the hour I thought to myself – “this is wasn’t what I thought it was going to be” when there would be a subtle shift and something else seemed to be happening and then it all ended with what I thought it was going to be after all.

Danny (Whishaw), on his way home from a nightclub, tense and wired, meets jogger Joe (Edward Holcroft) on a bridge probably around the Vauxhall area of London. Danny has just dispensed with his phone and appears troubled and that begins an exchange of what could be coded messages or what could be two men trying to establish whether the other might be a) gay and b) interested. When asked if he is okay Danny tells Joe,

“You don’t know me but if you did you’d know I’m always fine.”

london spy

That’s not the way things look . Is this some kind of planned rendezvous or is it the result of an unsuccessful night’s cruising in a night club? Is this some kind of espionage or a test of sexual parameters? The relationship continues along this strange route – Danny jogs in the hope of bumping into Joe, they meet up again, there’s a restrained dinner date, an awkward scene in Joe’s swishy apartment and it looks like all might be over until Joe turns up at Danny’s more down- at- heel flat. Is this the way relationships go in this day and age or is someone not putting all their cards on the table? That’s a lot of questions but then this is called “London Spy” – it should be provoking questions. Joe reveals he is actually called Alex and a sexual innocent. There’s a scene which invokes Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and a lot of odd, disconcerting camera angles as the guys try to establish their relationship. Alex claims to work in an investment bank;

“The people I work with are inscrutable”

Doesn’t sound like too many bankers I’ve ever met. He has an odd numerical screensaver and one of the two appears to be under surveillance – or is the viewer reading too much into this based on the title? Perhaps it’s going to be a series about two guys getting it on after all.


Edward Holcroft and Ben Whishaw – London Spy

Jim Broadbent further confuses the issue. Is he a besotted pal of Danny’s looking out for him, or is he and Danny up to something ? Does he seem more familiar towards Alex (formerly Joe) than their first meeting would suggest? Even a drag act is performing an incongruous, enigmatic Japanese song in the venue where this meeting takes place. This is well-written stuff. The man to take the credit for this is novelist Tom Rob Smith, whose prize-winning and popular “Child 44” is on the shelf behind the television set in my house waiting for its turn to be read. I think on the basis of this it might have moved up a few places on the waiting list. Subtexts seem to be running under every line. Smith has pulled a blinder on establishing the closeness between the types of language used in the early days of a relationship and espionage.

It had an ending I had to watch twice to work out what was going on, so far removed was it from my expectations, that I,  like some of the characters, ending up feeling confused and manipulated but totally intrigued where this is going next. It would not surprise me if it switches more to a police procedural as the last few minutes introduced Samantha Spiro (outstanding as Barbara Windsor in “Cor Blimey!” and also excellent as Vivien Friend in the much-underrated cop series “M.I.T- Murder Investigation Team”) or perhaps it is taking its inspiration from some high profile real-life recent British spy cases. But, basically, I have no idea where this one is going but after this opener I’m going to be along for the ride.


Samantha Spiro co-stars in “London Spy”


The second episode of “London Spy” is on BBC 2 on Monday 9th November at 9.00. The first episode can be found on BBC I-Player.