Saturday, September 22, 2012

Parade's End/Good Cop/Lilyhammer

The first tranch of big new autumn dramas on the BBC is coming to its end.  Parade's End concluded last night with the best episode of a serial that became better with every episode.  Thinking about it - and certainly in last night's episode - this was because it became increasingly focused on the three principals, Christopher, Sylvia and Valentine.

In fact, the historical context which had so hobbled the first two episodes became increasingly broadbrush as it became more important.  I have no idea which battle Christopher was blown up in and it absolutely doesn't matter.  Perhaps this is the essence of what Stoppard brought to his dramatisation.  The focus on character also ensured the director had fewer opportunities to remind us of her presence - only one awful prismatic effect last night, hammering home the eternal triangle dilemma in case we hadn't figured it out for herself.  The director will win prizes because the industry loves that sort of thing.  So will Tom and rightly so.  But I hope none of the leading actors are overlooked come gong time.  All three have staked claims for stardom.  Likewise some of the supporting cast have seized their chance to develop the second half of their careers - Miranda Richardson and Janet McTeer especially.  And I have never seen Roger Allam, an actor I admire greatly, give a better performance.

Flawed but brilliant - a game-changer in the overcrowded field of Edwardian toff drama and a fine reminder of what the BBC does best.

The Good Cop should also have concluded this week but the final climactic episode was pulled because of sensitivities surrounding the brutal assassination of two female police officers in Manchester.  Understandable - probably inevitable - but not good news for the producers.  Given the hoo-hah about the case, and the launch of major new shows next week, it might be some time before the finale gets seen, by which time it will have lost all its impetus.  A shame, pure bad luck.  This was another series that lived up to its promise.

Meanwhile, over on BBC4, we have Lilyhammer.  Steven Van Zandt as Frankie the Fixer Tagliano who choses relocation to Lillehammer - because he liked the look of the place from watching the Winter Olympics on TV - when he enters the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Lilyhammer (no idea why it's not Lillehammer) is interesting in so many ways.  It's a Norwegian idea, created by Anne Bjornstad and Eilif Skodvin, albeit Little Stevie also gets a writing credit, presumably for Frankie's mobster dialogue, and premiered first on Norwegian TV.  It is also the first original series from Netflix, the internet streaming company who will shortly be reviving Arrested Development.

The show's good fun - not The Sopranos but a fish-out-of-water comedy drama with strong performances from Van Zandt and his Norwegian supporting cast.  We all knew the Norwegians could be noir but who knew they could also be funny in two languages?

I love the way BBC4 is opening out the TV drama world.  More strength to their elbow.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Bletchley Circle

ITV's latest nostalgia-driven detective drama is The Bletchley Circle (Thursday 9pm).  It's a neat idea - a group of women who broke German codes during the war, reunite nine years later to find a serial killer operating on London's long-since smashed up overground rail system.

It has a cast to die for, including Julie Graham, Rachel Stirling and Anna Maxwell Martin, and a smart grown-up script by Guy Burt.  It's a single story over three hour-long episodes, which is something of a creative haul, so I hope Burt can maintain the standard he's set himself.

Meanwhile, at the same time over on BBC1, Good Cop has developed into a standout series.  There's one over-arching storyline, of course, but different B-stories every week.  For a nervous moment last night I thought Episode 3 was going to end the same way the previous two had.  But it didn't, quite, and that was a very clever twist.  Sue Tully improved the directing standards greatly, too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Booker Prize Shortlist

The excitement builds.  Where once there were twelve, only six remain.  Back on July 26 I predicted the survivors would be Hilary Mantel, Deborah Levy, Rachel Joyce, Michael Frayn, Jeet Thayil and Ned Beauman.  Well I was half right...

The last writers standing are:

I don't think Mantel will win with the follow-up to the last winner-but-one.  I have a sneaking fancy for Self.  We'll find out on October 16.

Ford Madox Ford

For those, as I am, still glued to BBC2's dramatisation of Parade's End (I thought the 3rd episode was very nearly flawless - if only the director could resist those hard-of-thinking flashbacks), the New Statesman has an excellent article about author Ford by his biographer Max Saunders.  Find it here.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Parade's End - ep 2

The BBC2 autumn blockbuster, which is apparently doing very well in its Friday night slot, settled into its groove this week.  Only two miniscule flashbacks to interrupt the novelistic flow, one pointless and already forgotten, the other (the almost kiss in the fog) beautiful and moving.

But this is fundamentally an acting show.  Cumberbatch maintained his standard but it was Rebecca Hall's turn to shine gloriously this week as the wife who cannot understand why her husband won't sleep with her.  Adelaide Clemens was marvellous again and had a brilliant three-handed scene with Anne Marie Duff and Rufus Sewell - the obscenity spouting vicar has managed to get through the Bishop's visit without disgracing himself, but the moment the Bish is out the door he rips off his wife's devil-spawned brassiere.  Actually the scene with the Bish was just as good - the manic gleam in Sewell's eye when the Bish mentioned his 'organ' was priceless.

I don't know why the slashing of the Rokeby Venus had to be shoehorned in ... for context perhaps, in case we had forgotten what happened in 1914?  But the shot of Stephen Graham's character getting a gong from HRH more than compensated.

Good Cop

Good Cop is BBC1's latest cop show with a twist.  It's a good twist - other cops have drink, drugs or marital problems, some are on the take, but John Paul Rocksavage (ludicrous name to handicap your protagonist with) has killed a crim (the always brilliant Stephen Graham, on especially good form here) and, worse, another psycho hoodlum (Stephen Walters) seems to know.

There was a lot of pre-comment in the higher grade press that it was just another cop show.  Admittedly it stars Warren Brown, as do most other BBC policiers, and it has godawful advert-style direction (Sam Miller), but actually I think writer Stephen Butchard has come up with a concept that has legs.  I will certainly be watching ep 2 because I genuinely want to know what happens next.

It was good to see Mark Womack, albeit doing his usual shtick, and the legendary Michael Angelis as JP's dad (disappointinly a mere Robert Rocksavage).