Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sebastian Barry wins Walter Scott

To no one's great surprise, Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side has been awarded the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction published in 2011.  I was interested to discover that the prize is directly sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, rather than some portable phone company or hedge fund, and that their definition of a historical novel is one set sixty or more years ago.  Useful info.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jet Black TV Crime Drama - Braquo 2 and Line of Duty

As one unbelievably noir series ends another one begins.  Earlier this week I caught up with the final episode of Braquo Saison 2 on FX and plunged head-first into the murky world of Line of Duty on BBC2.


Because it's on FX, Braquo has never received the mainstream attention lavished on BBC4's Nordic imports or the French SpiralBraquo is every bit their equal.  Season 1 was incredibly dark.  Could they go darker for Season 2?  Surely not?  Oh yes they can, with knobs on.

Season 2 starts in the very second Season 1 ended.  Eddy's team is disgraced, demoted and generally humiliated; Caplan himself is in the slammer.  Then a team of renegade soldiers from France's shameful Angolan involvement hijack a monster haul of gold from the Eastern European Mafia and Eddy is offered a lifeline to redemption.

If you think Jean-Hughes Anglade as Caplan looks hard (above), check out Colonel Gautier and his oppo (below):



For Season 2 Olivier Marchal, creator and writer of Season 1, brought in Abdel Raouf Dafri, writer of Mesrine and Un Prophete.  Boy, did that pay off.  The out-of-the-blue final twist of Season 2 was worth his fee in itself and set us up perfectly for Season 3, which also has Dafri and Anglade back in harness.

Can't wait.


Line of Duty begins with a disastrous armed police raid on a dingy London flat in which an innocent man is mistakenly shot and killed whilst, literally, holding the baby.  Only Steve Arnott refuses to take part in the official police cover-up and for his pains is dumped in the hated Anti-Corruption Unit headed by the zealous Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar, as good as I've seen him this side of the Millennium).  Arnott's first target is DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) whose elite unit turns in unfeasibly high clear-up rates via a process known as laddering with which I was previously unfamiliar.

Jed Mercurio, one of TV's best writers, is also the producer on Line of Duty.  The actual producer, not the vanity Executive Producer.  Thus we are not treated to flashy cutting and long, langorous exteriors by some adman turned director who wants to break into movies.  Thus we are permitted time to develop complex storylines and to enjoy fine actors practising their craft.  I've already praised Dunbar; James is truly extraordinary, Gina McKee both seductive and spellbinding, and Vicky McClure is just as good here as she was in the various This is England projects.  Paul Higgins - Malcolm Tucker's less affable sidekick in The Thick of It - is brilliant cast against type as Gates' fast-tracked bean-counting boss and we all know the legendary Neil Morrissey is here for much more than comic relief.

Instantly hooked.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Roger Wood's Biblioblog: Morality Play - Barry Unsworth


Shameful though it is, it took Unsworth's recent death (see below) to remind me to check out his work. I scanned through the list and this one leapt out at me. It's medieval, which I like, and it's about drama, just like my PhD. I acquired a copy, jumped in - and was immediately blown away with how well Unsworth writes. He doesn't lay on the history research with the proverbial trowel, yet there are things here even I didn't know about. Did medieval players really have a lexicon of hand gestures with which to express emotion? I genuinely don't know but if they didn't they should have and it sounds absolutely convincing in this text. It is also a murder mystery with a paedophile serial killer on the loose in County Durham. But that's not what Morality Play is about. Unsurprisingly, it's about morality and the moral code of the age, which is obviously different to ours.

Most of all, though, this is high literature, plainly but beautifully written with the editorial control of a true master. It might only be 188 pages long but there is no way this novel is slight.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peter Duggan's wonderful Artoons

A Tweet from Guardian Art & Design (@Gdnartanddesign) led me to this wickedly pretension-busting series.  The one above is the latest, which I loved because I have something of an obsession with the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (Carola Hicks' book is currently on my bedside table).  The Jarman/Caravaggio one is very funny, too.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Barry Unsworth


From Martin Childs' Independent obituary of Booker Prize winner Barry Unsworth, who died last Tuesday:

"In an interview with The Independent about Sacred Hunger, two years after Margaret Thatcher had left office, Unsworth made the connection anout his allegorical stories explicit.  'As I wrote I began to see more strongly that there were inescapable analogies,' Unsworth explained.  'You couldn't really live through the Eighties without feeling how crass and distasteful some of the economic doctrines were.  The slave trade is a perfect model for that kind of total devotion to the profit motive without reckoning the human consequences.'"

Unsworth was a world citizen who died in Perugia, but he was born in a County Durham mining village in 1930.  You can tell.


Sacred Hunger won the Booker back in 1992.  It was the last joint winner, with Ondaatje's The English Patient.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

June 2012 - Art History News - by Bendor Grosvenor

June 2012 - Art History News - by Bendor Grosvenor


Fascinating discovery of celebrated 18th century international transvestite, the Chevalier d'Eon, who evidently got less convincing as he grew older.  Discovered by Philip Mould and purchased by the National Gallery.  Now on display, this has to be a must-see the next time I'm in London.