An Englishman in New York (ITV1)

The made-for-television movie ‘An Englishman in New York’ premièred this evening on ITV1 at 9pm. Very, very good indeed. Probably the best quality drama I’ve seen this Christmas (there has been a lot of dross on, unsurprisingly).

John Hurt in the leading role of Crisp was exceptional. Cynthia Nixon (who plays Miranda in Sex & The City) was also in it.

An Englishman who found fame late in life, he eschewed England and its backward judgemental society to make his home in New York.

Born Denis Charles Pratt, he was an English writer and raconteur. He became a gay icon in the 1970s after publication of his memoir, The Naked Civil Servant, brought to the attention of the general public his defiant exhibitionism and longstanding refusal to remain in the closet. (Source: Wikipedia).

Lauded in some quarters as the herald of the gay rights movement – but by others – even within the gay community – he was demonised for both perpetuating negative stereotypes of gay people whilst simultaneously being homophobic and unsympathetic. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, commenting in The Telegraph, has been especially critical of Crisp who he himself once met:

“For gay men, he was a terrible role model and certainly never used his celebrity status positively. He disgracefully dismissed Aids as a ‘fad.’ He said gay men were incapable of love and said that they had ‘feminine minds’ which made him a misogynist as well as a homophobe.”

While Tatchell considered Hurt’s performance as Crisp to have been “stunning,” he didn’t see why his life should be celebrated. “Along with Larry Grayson and John Inman, he confirmed rather than challenged prejudices.” Source: Telegraph.

The Guardian has a very interesting article on the film and on Crisp himself.

Review: Wallander (Episode 1 – Sidetracked – BBC1)

I am not, as a rule, a fan of crime dramas – but this was good.

It is a very dark Scandinavian thriller and felt – probably because it was set in Sweden – quite unlike the multitude of British equivalents. It’s based on the crime thriller by Swedish author Henning Mankell.

The storyline was dark, opening with detective Kurt Wallander (played by Kenneth Branagh) approaching a young and terrified woman in a rape field. She pours petrol over herself and sets herself on fire.

The main plot involves a series of murders – the victims being ‘scalped’. Very dark stuff as a web of prostitution, child abuse and government and police corruption are revealed.

The best bit was the cinematography itself – it had that vivid 1970s Fujifilm feel to it. Very intense colour rendition which really did add something – the blues and greens especially. Also, it’s set in southern Sweden (though it’s in English) and all the signs and visual text are in Swedish. That alone made it feel very different to a standard UK crime thriller.

Sweden just feels… quite different to the UK. Having been there myself for the first time earlier this year (to a conference) – it does having something about it I can’t quite put my finger on. I’d like to go back, for sure. There is a starkness about it (a bit like Scotland) that does pull you in.

Most of all this reminded me of the movie Se7en which was very dark and haunting – and which I always found gripping.

I’ll certainly be watching again next week. Decent 1.5 hour chunk of TV for a Saturday evening (there are three in total).

A good review of it on Times Online. More about Mankell, the author, also on Times.

Overview of Wallander on the BBC

TV, movie, book, theatre, art reviews

Survivors (BBC1)

Anyone else watching Survivors and if so, do you think it’s any good?

I can’t make up my mind. I feel I’ve invested 2.5 hours of my time in it (over 2 episodes) so I ought to follow it to the end. I remember being very disappointed by that other (similar) drama that was on a while ago with a related plot (though that was pre-apocalypse; this is post).

Survivors is OK so far. I wouldn’t review it as yet as only 2 out of 6 episodes have so far aired. It’s watchable but the clichéd characters don’t do a huge amount for me. Abby, the ‘mother and home-maker’, is about as clichéd as they come. Matriarchal, only sees the good in people, is a fighter, etc, etc. I found her acting in the last episode pretty unconvincing (she’s trying to find the man who may lead her to her son).

As dramas go it’s too mainstream for me (in its rendering). However, I do like the storyline (because it’s basically a modern day Lord of the Flies) but am just not convinced by the acting. It’s the people you’d expect to see in Casualty or Hollyoaks suddenly cast in a Heroes-esque drama and for me that doesn’t work.

Anyway, this is a remake of the 1970s version which was carried over 30 episodes or something. I do wonder if that was better and also the book.

Imagine being the only survivor of a disease that kills every member of your family, that kills lovers, strangers, friends, nearly everyone you’ve ever met.

You are among the lonely few to live and now you must start over in a strange new world where everything that was once safe and familiar is now strange and dangerous.

Set in the present day, Survivors focuses on the world in the aftermath of a devastating virus which wipes out most of the world’s population. What would we do? How would any of us cope in a brave new world where all traditional 21st Century comforts – electricity, clean running water, advanced technology – have disappeared?

These are the questions faced by the bewildered but resilient group of survivors at the centre of the drama. It is an opportunity for new beginnings, but with no society, no police and no law and order, they now face terrible dangers – not just the daily struggle for food and water but also the deadly threat from other survivors.

“Survivors is about what it means to be human,” explains writer and executive producer Adrian Hodges. “It asks questions about our nature and confronts us with our deepest fears. When everything else is stripped away, would we band together and find the best in ourselves, or would we fall apart and retreat into barbarism and savagery? Survivors is about adventure, fear, love, loyalty and friendship. But above all, it’s about new hope.”

Survivors, by Adrian Hodges is a re-imagining of the classic 1970s BBC drama series which was based on the novel by Terry Nation. It launched in April 1975 and ran for 38 episodes over three series.
Source: BBC Survivors website

Review: In Love with Barbara (BBC4)

I watched this last night, having recorded it the other week. It’s a BBC4 drama on the life of the late Dame Barbara Cartland, the prolific (and flamboyant) UK author who would write 723 books with estimated worldwide sales of one billion copies.

The drama flipped between her early life, growing up in the 30s, and her ‘mature’ life in the 1970s, at the height of her fame, when she forged an unlikely close relationship with Lord Louis Mountbatten (cousin to the Queen).

I didn’t know much about her, never having read her books. She wasn’t a prude but didn’t write about carnal relationships, instead her entire oeuvre remained highly formulaic – dashing young man sweeps beautiful young woman off her feet and they live happily ever after. I think people like that, which is probably why she sold so many books translated into 38 languages.

Her life wasn’t easy. She lost her beloved brother Ronald (whom she’d help get elected to parliament) as well as her other brother, in WWII. She also lost ‘Dickie’ (Lord Mountbatten) who was killed by the IRA in the late 70s. Her first husband was an alcoholic whom she divorced and her second husband, having been injured at Paschendale, was not the dashing romantic man she craved. Her daughter from her first marriage – Raine – would marry into the Spencer family, becoming Princess Diana’s stepmother.

An enjoyable drama that was well cast, especially the mature Dame Barbara played by Anne Reid (pictured).

You can read some funny quotes of hers here (she was a staunch champion of family values and a believer that the role of women was to tender to the whim of their menfolk, look pretty, etc).

The dramas on the BBC4 are consistently good. BBC4 is the ‘thinking person’s channel’ and I don’t care how pretentious that sounds. It is something of a bastion in the sea of dumbed-down bilge that proliferates across much of our TV channels – notably BBC1 and ITV.

Anyway, other notable – and very good – similar dramas that I’ve seen over the last year or so (either on BBC4 or occasionally on BBC2) include:

Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa

I think this was probably the best of all the ones I’ve seen. Desperately poignant, at turns tragic, but offering a real insight into Kenneth Williams as a person ‘off screen’. He could never really accept his sexuality which really did torture him. He was intensely close to his mother his whole life, too. Brilliantly acted by Michael Sheen who would go on to win the 2006 Royal Television Society best actor award. More info. You can rent it or buy it on DVD if you haven’t seen it and I’d definitely recommend it.

Fear of Fanny

About the celebrated British television chef (in the era before the likes of Nigella). Enjoyable. A difficult woman trapped in a bygone era to some extent. She was a dragon and a battleaxe, but had a vulnerable side too; it was very watchable. I spose she was a bit of a latter day Gordon Ramsay (though probably preferable, seeing as I can’t stand him as he represents all that I can’t abide in ‘celebrity’). More info.

Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story

This was on just the other week and was a fascinating insight into Mary Whitehouse – stalwart of family values, principally in connection with the ‘increasingly immoral’ stuff the BBC was showing on television.  Julie Walters gave an excellent performance and Whitehouse’s stubborn, determined, naive yet unstinting crusade was wonderfully recreated. More info. I quite liked part of The Independent’s write-up of it:

“Mary Whitehouse” has become, over the years, less a person than a figure of speech, a shorthand for suburban prudery. This programme made her flesh and blood again. Sometimes it went a bit too far – did we need to witness Whitehouse connubial congress? Or Mary sitting on the lav? No – but seeing the hurt in her eyes when she watched her husband mocked on the television programme Swizzlewick was a powerful moment. Source.

Tonight, in contrast to the Barbara Cartland drama last week (books written about spiritual love) – BBC4 is premiering Consuming Passions: 100 Years of Mills and Boon which from the trailers looks to be very good. I’ll be watching it.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the popular romance publishing phenomenon Mills and Boon, a colourful and camp drama which charts the witty and moving stories of three very different women affected by the brand’s success: co-founder Charles Boon’s wife Mary, daydreaming 1970s writer Janet and modern day literature lecturer Kirstie.

Whilst I have limited sympathy with the BBC over the recent Jonathan Ross / Russell Brand debacle, I still think – and have probably always thought – that their drama and the quality of their programming is absoultely top notch for the most part. Having lived abroad and seen just how dire the television is in some other English speaking countries can be (and in fairness, EU countries also) – we don’t do too badly.