This Country BBC’s mockumentary my favourite thing on TV right now

When something reflects a place and a feeling that is familiar you can’t help but be sucked in. That is how I felt about This Country, a BBC mockumentary that recently picked up three RTS Programme Awards (for best scripted comedy, best comedy writer and best comedy performance). I’ll admit the first episode is possibly my least favourite, where the village has a scarecrow competition, but this series is a grower and I became to love it.

The comedy’s main characters are Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, two cousins that are bored unemployed 20-somethings in a tiny Cotswold village. Kerry is a different kind of character for TV. Completely asexual, her character reminded me slightly of Kathy Burke. She is always wearing a Swindon Town football shirt, or as her cousin Kurtan describes her wardrobe: “an explosion in an unofficial merchandise factory” (as he points out her shirt has four lions on it, instead of three).  Kerry is played by Daisy May Cooper and Kurtan is in real life her twin brother. Daisy May studied drama at RADA, but hated it. She and her brother dreamt up the idea of the series while she was studying in London reminiscing about people they knew from home, which turns out, is Cirencester. Her brother wasn’t initially going to play Kurtan who in real life was working as a model after quitting university, but no one else could do the accent.

The village is full of these ‘characters’ they recall from home. One episode they walk around the village celebrating that “Mr Perkins is dead!”, it turns out Mr Perkins is the name of an actual teacher they hated in school, and they didn’t bother changing the name. Suffice to say their old school are not impressed despite the shows success. Kerry’s mother is never seen in the comedy, you just hear her shouting (voiced by Daisy May, who has a sore throat for ages afterwards). Kerry’s father (aka the local ‘peeper’) and Kerry have a unrequited relationship. Kerry’s father is played by Daisy May and Charlie Cooper’s (Kurtan) real life Dad, and their Uncle also features as a local character.

The setting of this comedy is not far from where I live… which is why I say it reflects a place and feeling that is familiar… but it could in fact be reflecting any British village in the country. It is full of the idiosyncracies you get living in a small village. It is gentle yet rich in humour. Some moments that stand out to me are Kurtan celebrating when he finds out he got a place at Swindon College to study Health and Social Care. The tent moment in one episode (I don’t want to spoil it… it is that funny). There are many genius moments of hilarity I can’t recommend this enough.

 

The Silent Child

The little girl that is the leading actress in this short drama attends school just near my home. In fact my son was in her year group (before he changed schools… for a reason unrelated). I remember when he started I asked if he would be in the same class as her as I knew then he would then get to learn sign language. They have many deaf children attend the school and many of the hearing children learn sign language.  I remember attending a meeting for new parents and seeing Maisie with her parents and there being an interpreter signing everything the teachers said. When I came to see them perform the nativity all the children signed as they sang the songs. I was impressed.

The Silent Child was well deserving of it’s Oscar. It is a powerful short that highlights the challenges a deaf child has living in a modern world. The little girl called Libby doesn’t know how to sign and is encouraged to lip read, but lives in a home where everyone is older than her and they are all leading busy lives. The Mum calls out to her “goodbye” as she is leaving not even thinking that as her daughter is upstairs and cannot see her, she doesn’t know what her mother has said. People are looking at smart phones and rushing around. There is a scene where Libby is sat at the dinner table with everyone talking and the sound is cut and you see the scene through her silent experience.

A social worker comes to the home to help prepare Libby for school and teaches her sign language. She sees for herself that the family are not supportive of her and don’t try to communicate effectively with her. She also learns that they have low expectations of what she will amount to and even that she is illigitimate, which may explain how they treat her. It is a deeply sad story, and one that takes place in a wealthy home, not even in a case of poverty or neglect.

The film won the oscar for best live action short. Rachel Shenton who made The Silent Child was only 12 when her father lost his hearing from chemotherapy, she learnt BSL and got involved in the deaf community. The screenplay was her first ever screen play and it was directed by her Fiancee. Both had met while acting in Hollyoaks. They funded the film through bake sales! Rachel’s Oscar acceptance speech was powerful. She signed her speech and said how there are deaf children all over the world that are unable to communicate, living in silence.

I highly recommend giving this 20 minute film a watch. It pulls at the heart strings and gives great awareness to the deaf community.

Netflix’s Annihilation

So… my husband showed me the trailer and I didn’t fancy watching this as it looked a bit scary and weird… so he went and watched it at a friends house. He enjoyed it so much that he couldn’t wait for me to watch it as it is a thinker… and he wanted to discuss it with me.

Apparently the film maker was worried that some elements of this film may be too intelligent for the average movie-goer… how rude! It is refreshing to not be patronised as a viewer for a change. I think there is a lot of more interesting variety and intelligent things to watch on our screens these days and I welcome all of it.

As for this film, I didn’t fancy it initially because it looked scary and I am not a huge fan of sci fi. However… as my husband rightly thought, it is a thinker and after just watching it I needed to put down my thoughts.

You really have to concentrate on this and not miss anything. Natalie Portman’s character Lena is an academic biologist and a former soldier, her husband has been been missing for a year presumed dead. He mysteriously reappears. He suddenly becomes gravely ill and both he and Lena are taken to a top secret area where she learns what type of mission he was on. Lena learns that a meteor hit a lighthouse and since then an area they call “the shimmer” that surrounds where the meteor hit people have gone into and none have come out… that is until her husband reappeared. The area known as “the shimmer” is growing. So instead of sending in soldiers as they have done previously, they are about to send in a group of academics, whom all happen to be female (this is The Year of The Woman after all).

So Lena and gang go into The Shimmer which resembles a lush jungle with a tinge of fairy liquid where there are mutated animals and plants. It looks beautiful but is eerie and deadly. This film reminded me somewhat of Alien, where there is a strong female lead (Sigourney Weaver) going into the unknown although instead of aliens the alien is everything, the cells, the dna of everything is mutated and alien.

This is a film that creates more questions than it does answers and allows the viewer to make up their own thoughts and conclusions. Some of the film appears unlike any other film and the scenes inside the black cave resembles a Bjork video, being a Bjork fan I really enjoyed seeing something so creative and origional, I was almost expecting Bjork or her music to appear. I also loved the scene of Natalie Portman and her double, it was unusual and captivating.

So some of it was unnerving to me, which is intentional but on the whole it is not a horror, it is origional and already my husband and I have discussed several theories and thoughts of what we just saw. Looking online there are already fan theories, which means it has got everyone talking.

Derry Girls… hilarious Irish comedy

I visited Ireland as a teenager in the 90’s around the time Derry Girl’s is set. Setting a comedy amongst some of Ireland’s darkest days may not seem like a good idea on paper but is in fact genius as the Irish are a nation of comedians. You only had to have watched the O’Donovan brothers television interview following their silver medal win at the 2016 Rio Olympics to witness the insane wit and hilarity of the Irish humour (check it out on youtube if you haven’t seen it). The O’Donovan brothers are not even comedians (of which Ireland exports plenty… David O’Doherty, Dara O’Brien and my favourite Aisling Bea) yet even normal Irish folk have a natural endearing humour.

Nostalgia is a big thing right now and there are plenty of shows depicting a time we identify with. It sort of gives a warm feeling that resembles a big hug as we reminsce. I remember touring around Ireland for two weeks in my Dad’s Landrover as he played Clannad non stop. Now whenever I think of Ireland I hear Clannad. We started in the south at Cork and drove up all around the west coast to Northern Ireland where we then got a ferry to Scotland before driving back down to London. I recall when we were in Northern Ireland seeing the obvious difference between the Catholic areas and the Protestant, where notably the pavement was painted red, white and blue and Union Flags hung from flag poles mounted on the sides of buildings.

Derry girls is set in a Catholic neighbourhood. Whereas we often recall Northern Ireland in the 90’s as quite a harsh masculine environment, this series featured it’s main characters as women. That is, if you don’t count James. James is introduced as “I got me an English”, he is the English cousin of Michelle. They are all horrible to him because of course, he is English. In fact he has to attend their Catholic girls school because he would be bullied attending the local boys school. The first and only boy to attend their school.

Meledramatic main character Erin Quinn does have some odd facial expressions that took a little getting used to, but without her quirky expressions she would in reality just be pretty. The series begins with a voice over of her diary, which you then realise is being read aloud by her (equally quirky but in other ways) cousin. The comedy is fast and thick from the get go. I had to concentrate to ensure I got all the gags. All the characters combined make a great ensemble. Each episode see’s them get into different hilarious situations, all with the backdrop of ‘The Troubles’, which in the first episode is their bus being diverted as the bridge is closed due to bomb scare. I remember waking up in a B&B whilst in Northern Ireland and looking out of the window and seeing British Soliders walking in a line in the field opposite. I remember seeing police stations like fortresses surrounded by walls made from corregated iron with barbed wire all over and numerous CCTV cameras atop. This series encapsulates the feeling of that time.

As the episodes go on I could see some scenes echoed other comedies, for example the step aerobics performance seemed quite Napoleon Dynamite. The end of the series had a sombre feeling, as the family watched TV reports of a fatal bombing. This scene reminded me of the Black Adder episode set during World War One, at the end when they go over the top. The bomb scares, British soldiers and orange marches you can make light of but ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was a difficult time. With BREXIT and the Irish border currently being a hot topic it seems many have forgotten exactly how bad things were. I was on a school trip at the Docklands in London hours before it was blown up by the IRA, the police developed our photographs to see if they could find any evidence in them. Although it was a long time ago, I remember these events and I know that peace in Ireland cannot be taken for granted.

Overall I really enjoyed watching The Derry Girls. Lately since the recent death of Dolores, The Cranberries lead singer I had dug out my old ‘No Need to Argue’ CD, which you just have to sing along with in an Irish accent. So I am loving all things Irish right now, and I cannot wait to watch the next series. I heard that Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud may feature? If you haven’t seen Derry Girls yet it is available to watch on 4od.

The second half of the Brits 2018

Okay so obviously I don’t just watch box sets. I do watch ‘other’ stuff… but don’t blog about it all (a Newsnight or Question Time blog would be pretty boring and depressing). However I caught the end of the Brits last night and thought I would put my opinions out there.

I turned on the tv just as posh comedian Jack Whitehall introduced Kendrick Lamar. What happened next was rather odd. There was a rapper on top of a clear box that contained a car. Then there was an intro… and then nothing… just Kendrick Lamar still… is he asleep? The camera shot changed… intro again… Kendrick still… it became apparent that something had gone wrong. There is nothing as entertaining as a live show gone wrong to get one’s attention. When it did get going a quote flashed up saying something like “this is satire” or something… and I thought it is definately something beginning with “s”. Most of the performance was muted by ITV and they smashed up the lamborghini… I mean most of the millenials watching this will struggle to afford a deposit for a house… looks a bit wasteful but whatever takes his fancy… although it was mostly just windscreen damage… an advert for Autoglass? I do love a bit of gone wrong live tv though. Remember Madonna’s cape? Jarvis Cocker mooning Michael Jackson?

Jack Whitehall was an entertaining host poking fun at the whole thing. Rita Ora’s stylist stuck her and her dancers in some white overalls making them look like forensic scientists. Then when she dueted with Liam Payne she had whipped off the overalls to reveal smalls that looked like my Gran’s underwear. She maintained a safe distance from him as Cheryl (whatever her name is now) was in the crowd.

Stormzy by name, Stormzy by nature, ended the show singing in the rain with a balaclava clad gospel choir behind him (I didn’t know the IRA had a gospel choir?). His album Gang Sign’s and Prayer sounds like an oxymoron but he was a great end to the show. His rap asked Prime Minister Theresa May for the money for the Grenfell Tower victims and he also took a swipe at the Daily Mail. His performance was energetic and he showed how he has made a Grime album the number one album in the UK.

All very entertaining to watch but I do feel a bit old watching it and being like, “who is that?”. I keep thinking Kendrick Lamar is related to a Kardashian for some reason? Maybe because his first name begins with a K. I can’t say I’ll buy any of his music… now that I haven’t heard it being performed on the Brits.

I saw a little of the after party program. These are always a bit boring to watch. You are always thinking… show us the real after party. It would be fun to watch some drunk celebrity shenanigans. As entertaining as car crash award ceremonies.

 

 

BBC’s Collateral Episode 1 & 2

Halfway through David Hare’s conspiracy drama and Law & Order this ain’t. More than a detective show, this to me, seems like some kind of social commentary. Whoever thought to cast hollywood actress Carey Mulligan in the lead role as Kip is just simply genius. She isn’t the first choice that would pop into my head as a female detective (and former Olympic pole vaulter… bit random that one… she also mentioned she was a teacher previously… obviously someone that likes a career change) but her oscar nominated hollywood heavyweight abilities are laid bare for us to see on the small screen. Billie Piper also is giving the best performance I have seen her give to date as the ex wife of an MP.

So basically a Syrian refugee Pizza delivery boy (Abdullah) is shot dead outside some posh flats after delivering pizza to Billie Piper (which she just threw in the corner… pizza delivery costs a fortune, I couldn’t help but think how wasteful! It actually made me want to order a pizza). Carey Mulligan is the detective investigating. Then the social commentary starts as all involved are interlinked in one way or another. We have immigation (Abdullah is a Syrian refugee living in a garage with his two sister’s… although later we learn he isn’t Syrian). LGBT (the girlfriend of the local female Priest witnesses the murder, she is also in the UK illegally). Drugs (the pizza restaurant is delivering more than just pizza). Politics (David Mars played by John Simm) is an opposition MP that covers the constituency where the murder takes place, he is also friends with the Priest and unwittingly signed the visa that allowed her illegal immigrant girlfriend to stay in the country. In the first episode he seemed to be dating a journalist who wrote him a letter about their relationship… which I thought a bit odd (they’d only been on a couple of dates), he is also the ex husband of Billie Piper’s character.

The themes continue. We know who the murderer is… #metoo… she is part of the military. She is being sexually harrassed by a colleague and suffering from PTSD. The relevance and state-of-the-nation references are constant. Carey Mulligan needing to make an appointment to interview Abdullah’s sisters who have been whisked off to a detention centre jokes it “is just in case she has a hidden panorama camera?”. She also makes jokes about the minimum wage and comments on how Abdullah and his sisters risked their lives to travel to the UK to “live in a garage”.

I found it refreshing to see how Carey Mulligan is clearly pregnant while playing this role, yet there is no mention of her pregnancy or her huffing and puffing due to pregnancy. While I was pregnant with my first son I worked at a huge government agency and I had one colleague signed off with stress, another signed off having a back operation and another signed off with a heart problem. I pretty much ran the whole contract on my own. A working pregnant woman is just a working woman, it is nice to see this on screen.

I am enjoying this so far. Well acted, intelligent and unpredictable, I look forward to the next two episodes.

Game of Thrones Series 1-7

Okay so I am quite late in getting into Game of Thrones (mostly because I don’t have Sky TV), but with the winter nights being so dark and long and being struck down with flu my husband and I decided to make the most of it by cuddling up on the sofa (on a seemingly appropriate fur throw) and had these past few weeks the binge of all binges. Each evening once the kids were asleep we would immerse ourselves in the world of Westoros and Essos. The Game of Thrones world is now so familiar to me as a fictional world it could be Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

I read once a while ago that Game of Thrones was like modern Shakespeare. The emergence of television series overtaking film for entertainment is that with these long television series you have the chance to spend more time telling a story. Great complex characters can exist as opposed to someone being either the villain or the hero. In Game of Thrones there are plenty of complex characters (excellently acted) and a vast world to explore. Based on the ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ novels by George R R Martin it is a medieval fantasy epic.

We finished the final episode of series 7 last night and I am sad that I now have to wait a full year to see the final series. Also there being only seven episodes in series 7 was slightly disappointing. One particular episode ‘Beyond the Wall’ where Jon Snow & co went on a mission to get a wight had a number of plot holes and seemed to move the story along rather quickly whereas more episodes and a less ridiculous timings in the plot may have been better, but with each episode costing literally millions I can understand why they decided to condense it, especially as the story comes to a climax filming wars etc is costly and logistically more challenging. However, I am still a fan and seeing the white walker dragon destroy the wall at the end of the series was pretty amazing and terrifying. Apparently series 8 will only have 6 episodes, but I hear they may be feature length. I really cannot wait to be emersed in the Game of Thrones world to see how they conclude the series. I’m going to avoid looking up too much about it online as I don’t want to come across any leaks or spoilers. I look forward to relaxing on my fur throw in 2019 now that “winter is here”.