BBC’s Requiem… nice fringe but not scary

I usually avoid horror and decided not to watch this initially but then I thought I’d give it a go. It was okay… but that is because it actually wasn’t that scary. The best thing about it for me was the main character Matilda’s fringe and also her wardrobe… I found myself wondering where I could buy her coat. So aside the fact that it wasn’t a very scary horror I did stick with it for all six episodes and did find it compelling initially.

It begins with an older gentleman walking into his manor house and upon seeing the cellar door wide open he then decides to smash all the mirrors and then throw himself off the roof. Odd behaviour indeed. What was in the cellar? I think I almost felt that way recently when I realised I had mice living in my garage.

Then we meet the main character Matilda who aside from a striking haircut is also an up and coming cellist. Her life is then turned upside down when her Mum seemingly possessed by some other worldly demon (referenced by the creepy sounds and whispering edited in) slits her throat in front of her in a multi storey car park. Matilda then finds a box conveniently left on her mothers bed containing news clippings about a girl who went missing 23 years ago in Wales called Cerys. Matilda and her friend Hal decide to travel to Wales to find answers.

I used to live in Wales (I actually moved there from London) and it does amuse me how they do this whole ‘girl from big town goes to small town’ thing. It doesn’t do much to encourage us cityfolk to do a staycation. Along with the mist filled rolling valleys and cute welsh villages any charm or quaintness is destroyed by a rude bar maid (oblivious to the fact Wales’s economy needs tourism). In reality a bar maid or shop keeper in Wales would in reality be incredibly welcoming and talk your ear off.

Requiem had the recipe for horror with all the unsettling noises and strange going’s on with sheep bothering and haunted houses but some of it was just a bit too ridiculous and not particularly origional. The biggest plot hole for me was how the whole time I am thinking… if you think you are the missing child Cerys then why doesn’t anyone suggest a flippin’ DNA test! The final episode was deeply unsatisfying and a bit bonkers. At the end of it all I wished I hadn’t bothered.

Hard Hitting Hard Sun

The end of the world is nigh! 5 years to be precise. Sometime during 2017 storm Orphelia whipped up some saharan sand creating a red sun. I remember posting a picture of the eerie dusty orangeness on Instagram like many others and some even said “it looks like the end of the world”… the funny thing is with the current political climate (Trump and Kim Jong Un comparing nuclear button sizes) a lot of us just shrugged at that suggestion and thought “yeah… it probably is”.

The drama begins with former model Agyness Deyn being attacked by what turns out to be her mentally ill son (whom she must have had in her early teens). Her character is detective Elaine Renko. She has swapped the catwalk for the screen as a knuckle dusting, butt kicking detective who has been paired up with Detective Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess). She is secretly investigating Charlie for the murder of his former police partner. Charlie has issues of his own (as well as apparently murdering his former partner) he appears a happy family man but is having an affair with his dead ex partners wife. So already this is a bit messy… and confusing… and that is even without the fact they stumble across a government secret that the world is ending in five years.

They come across a flash drivefrom a murdered hacker with information about an impending apocalypse and then find themselves being chased by a bunch of spooks in a brilliant scene where they are cornered on a quiet residential street. They smash car windows with their retractable police batons (a great self defence tool… where can I get one?), setting off car alarms and loudly telling the residents within the homes their names and to call the police (brilliant idea… will have to remember that one if I find myself in a similar situation). Elaine Renko manages to get the ‘end of the world’ flash drive to the media in order to save their lives… for now… they only have five years remember? It’s all quite depressing in an action packed gritty kind of way.

Then the detective work starts. Basically the mainstream media running the story that there is only five years until the end of the world has led to all the crazy murdering weirdos to come out of the woodwork. Crazy and far fetched? Yes. It is all a bit ‘Luther’, and that would be because it is by Luther creator Neil Cross. I recall a while back watching on bbc iplayer a “the story so far” 30 minute mash up of Luther and it was so bonkers that I then just had to binge on the box set. Watching Idis Elba is well worth all the nightmares you get from a good Luther binge. Neil Cross has actually dreamt up the concept from a David Bowie song Five Years. So great idea and very compelling. Agyness Deyn is believably tough and gives a great performace in her first lead role. I also was impressed with the cockney accent that Irish comedian Aisling Bea has mastered in her role as Charlie’s mistress. This series will pack a hard punch, especially with it’s knuckle duster wearing detectives. The tazer, retractable batons and knuckle dusters are a good advertisment as to why the British police don’t need to be armed. Perhaps the Americans should see this? Although it’s pretty spooky… and crazy… now the murdering weirdos are out… anarchy will begin… oh err.

McMafia: series one episode two

Well… I didn’t have to wait long for episode two. I turned on the tv and there it was! This turned out to be a right globe trotting affair. Cairo, Prague, Mumbai, Moscow, Cayman Islands. I am sure many more locations will appear as the series goes on, we already visited Dubai and Tel Aviv in episode one. It’ll be funny if most is being filmed somewhere like Pinewood studios. Although aside from the diverse locations this series is more grit than glamour. The story opened up like the film Taken as we see a girl arrive in Cairo Airport following a scam job offer soon be snatched into human trafficking and by the end of the episode sold to Semiyon Kleiman. Following this girls experience is eye opening and uncomfortable to watch. The fictional Alex Godman has made the decision to take the investment from Semiyon Kleiman and so through doing so is showing us how big crime stretches across the globe like a multinational companies. Even if it is unbelievable how quickly Alex Godman has embraced this criminal world in the space of one episode James Norton gives a good performance and we are supposed to believe he is doing it to protect his family (and save his business).

So far this series is showing us a criminal underworld that is intriguing. It makes me want to read the McMafia book. Apparently the “dog show” scene was taken from the book. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction which makes me interested in reading the book and to keep on watching this series.  I’ll have to wait till Sunday now for episode three.

McMafia: Series one episode one review

McMafia… he (Alex Godman played by the lovely James Norton from Happy Valley and War and Peace) is the son of a Russian Mafia Boss that was driven out of business and Moscow by a rival. Why the “Mc”? Some unknown Scottish link? Don’t be daft… I only just got it as I typed “McMafia” in the heading of this blog. It is because a character used McDonald’s and Burger king as examples in comparing the size of businesses… but fast food this ain’t! No clowns in this drama! (so far anyway). This BBC drama is 2018’s The Night Manager (which featured Tom Hiddleston auditioning for the role of James Bond, with James Bond reimagined as a hospitality night shift worker). Perhap’s now this drama has aired its first episode James Norton will be the next front runner.

So McMafia, what is it all about? Less burgers and fries and more caviar and er Mafia, Russian Mafia to be precise. So far so good and very current as apparently Russians are the bad guys, just ask Hilary Clinton. So… Alex Godman is the son of a Russian Mafia Boss but Alex is very much British after his familys forced exile. He has lived and studied in the UK most of his life and he now works as an emerging markets fund manager, which translates as ‘banker’ for us normal folk… definately with a B. He is an upstanding citizen and refuses to use any of his Russian connections or money. Unfortunately someone circulates a rumour that is using his Russian connections and then all of a sudden his investors desert. It turn’s out his own Uncle Boris is the one behind the rumours in an attempt to lure Alex back to the family business and it all kicks off from there. His uncle Boris (I recognised as David Dencik from Top of the Lake series 2) didn’t stick around for long as he was murdered (for attempting to murder the rival boss Vadim Kalyagin who had kicked them out of Moscow all those years ago). Boris has a Israeli friend, Semiyon Kleiman, who is keen to use Alex’s firm to launder £100 million in “shipping” proceeds. Alex asks Semiyon for advice on how to keep his family safe following Boris’s murder and he advises Alex to go and speak to the rival mafia boss man Vadim Kalyagin at the Palace of Versailles (but looked to me like Waddeston Manor) who ends the episode by asking Alex if he would like to go to see one of two rooms, the room of war or the room of peace? Which one was it? Ooooh gripping stuff. He should have said “Actually… I’ve already been in both War and Peace”.

This drama is based on a book titled “McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime” which is actually a factual book and not a work of fiction. So the fictional story and characters are a way of exploring a criminal world that is real. So far the script, characters, exotic locations and intriguing storyline make me think this series will be a winner. I don’t mind subtitles and like how international this series will be. There are a lot of crime dramas, some even loosely based around real events (Narcos, Snowfall etc) and lately I’ve gotten a little tired of some of these, but McMafia I’ll stick with, for the time being.

BBC’s ‘Little Women’ adaptation ends 2017 as we enter 2018 ‘the year of the woman’

The best time of year for watching TV is Christmas. It is the only time of year I buy a Radio Times so I can best choose what will be on. I flicked through my Radio Times and picked out Little Women as one to watch this year and I was not disappointed.

I admit I have never read the book, but I do recall seeing the adaptation that featured Winona Ryder. This adaptation was well cast. The most complex character, strong willed Jo, was played by Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter) and she gives an excellent performance. Unlike the Winona Ryder film version the character of Amy being played by one actress didn’t seem strange, at the beginning she was able to seem like a little girl even though being similar size to her sisters, the actress Kathryn Newton had a baby face but mostly was able to portray her characters age just simply through great acting. Emily Watson was a strong matriarch for the family and also Michael Gambon as the wealthy neighbour Mr Laurence and Angela Lansbury as Aunt March provided great cameos.

I felt that the adaptation had a similar feel to Netflix’s ‘Anne with an E’ (Anne of Green Gables) especially with it’s title sequence, which has a modern folky feel to it, but was possibly the only thing I didn’t care for. This adaptation was full of heart and nostalgia. Some shots appear like a Christmas card, but there was a lot of substance. 2018 is to be ‘The Year of the ‘Woman’ and this old book seems to have a strong message of feminism as it portrays all these different sister’s. It is really a coming of age story and ‘growing up’ and I enjoyed the journey with this family of ‘little women’.

BBC Howards End remake: Intelligent and Current.

I remember watching the origional Howards End in 1992. It was shown at Fairfield Halls in Croydon, which is a theatre. They had decided to branch out as a cinema. They stuck a big cinema screen on the stage and I went with my parents and grandparents to watch it, I was about 12. I recall Howards End covered in blooms shot basking in a glowing orange sunset and Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter had huge hair and huge frills. This remake was very different, still obviously Edwardian but so 2017.

This four part series was less period drama fluff and more about ideas. That primarily is the reason why I liked it so much. It was relevant to today to our current issues and debates. It is about social conventions, class, the attitudes of the rich to the poor and race (Leonard Bast’s wife is black and there are other characters of colour in this remake). The three families: the wealthy Wilcox’s representing the English upper classes, the Schlegel family are the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the English upper classes and poor Mr Bast represents the aspirations of the lower classes, he is obsessed with self improvement but is never able to better himself, held back by his class and poverty.

Howards End is England. This novel was considered E M Forster’s masterpiece and it is about “who will inherit England?”. Mrs Wilcox gentle, selfless, loving and the matriach that all the other Wilcox’s obey (representing England’s past) dies early into the novel and leaves Howards End to Margaret Schlegel (of whom she had recently struck up a friendship). The Wilcox’s decide to ignore her request (after all, it was written in pencil) and throws the letter into the fire. Then it seems that fate would inflict some unfortunate consequences involving all three families and in the end the Schlegel’s do in fact inherit Howards End. If only the Wilcox’s had given it to them in the first place!

There was so much about this adaptation that I loved. I thought the casting was spot on. Instead of Vanessa Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins we have Julia Ormond and Matthew Macfadyen, a younger Wilcox matriarch and patriarch but Matthew Macfadyen had all the stuffyness and chavenistic required for his character. I was quite amused to see Tracey Ullman as Aunt Julie and did keep expecting her to do her Angela Merkel impression. I absolutely loved Hayley Atwell. I couldn’t get enough of her. She is a talent wasted on Marvel (athough I did enjoy her as Agent Carter). I wish she would come back from Hollywood to make some more period dramas for the BBC. Emma Thompson won an oscar for her role in the origional film of this and I felt Hayley Atwell’s performance was just as good. I actually like that the Schlegel sisters actually looked like sisters. Helen Schlegel played by Philippa Coultard was a breakthrough performance in my opinion. I loved the dialogue. They could have been speaking about whether we should help refugees, in their discussions about whether or not to help Mr Bast. Mr Bast’s dependance on help from the Schlegel’s illustrates the entitled ignorance that many in a better off position have of those in the poverty trap.

So all in all I felt Howards End was spot on. Intelligent and current. Five stars from me. More Hayley Atwell please.

Dive into Blue Planet 2

There is something comforting about turning on the TV on a Sunday night watching the most breathtaking natural scenes on your HD TV and listening to Sir David Attenborough’s voice as he shows you another world, your world, yet it seems like another world. These nature series are one of the BBC’s great achievements. My seven year old son cannot get enough of it. There is so much about our planet that we do not know or are only just learning about and it is presented to us spectacularly.

Each scene makes the television screen come alive with soothing blue and bright coloured ocean life as the deep seas, coral reefs and on tonights episode, green seas are explored. Each week features a first for marine film making history. This week featured an octopus showing us just how intelligent a creature it is. The octopus disguises itself by pulling shells all over it to camoflage and armour itself against a predatory tiger shark (I guess one could call it a shell suit). Then once attacked by the shark it inserts it’s tentacles into the sharks gills to cut off the sharks air supply so the shark eventually has to let go. Clever octopus! As a viewer this is nail biting stuff. I am witnessing animal behaviour before unknown let alone caught on camera.

There is always an environmental message. The damage we are doing to the planet is always evident. One feels that these David Attenborough documentaires be mandatory viewing so that we would be more inclined to look after our planet. This week the hunting almost to extinction of sea otters for their fur meant that sea urchins were able to mulch away much of the kelp forests that made up the ‘green seas’ (sea otters now being protected are able to eat the sea urchins and the kelp able to again florish). It illustrates natures natural balance. Watching this I was reminded to a time a few years back on holiday in Paxos Greece when snorkelling in shallow water I accidentally slipped and embedded sea urchin spikes in my finger. Those pesky sea urchin spikes! I was quite glad the sea otters could reap my revenge on them.

Who would have known that a patch of sea grass is 35 times more efficient at absorbing and storing carbon than the same area of rain forest?! Such a fascinating watch. The effort and expertise it takes to make these nature documentaries is all worth it.