Sunday, December 14, 2014

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 38, Blaise Cendrars

Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 38, Blaise Cendrars

Fascinating article on the art and philosophy of the French-Swiss modernist poet and novelist Blaise Cendrars.  How to live la vie artistique (with knobs on)!

Monday, December 08, 2014

TV drama that outstays its welcome - and one that hasn't

Five weeks ago I gave a cautious welcome to two promising-looking drama series on the BBC, the American-based Intruders and the French-based The Missing.  Both, I'm afraid, outstayed their welcome.  Intruders got more and more ridiculous and John Simm's accent more and more irritating.  I stayed for five episodes then deleted it from my planner.  Likewise Missing, far too long and far too elaborated.  Truth to tell, I no longer care who, why or how the brat was abducted.  Eight episodes is at least two too many to maintain interest in Nesbitt's amazing dancing haircut (time passing is marked by unflattering hairdos - the women suffer worse than the men) and the adventures of the touring French paedophile.  Ken Stott enlightened matters for a while but...

The problem is length, which ultimately kills all but the very best American dramas (the early seasons of 24 were an obvious exception, and all bar the last season of The Wire).  There just isn't that much story to eke out.  How many cinema movies manage to keep your attention for even three hours?

As if to prove the theorem, along comes Gwyneth Hughes' Remember Me, a distinctive three-part supernatural chiller for dark December Sunday nights.

I use the word 'distinctive' advisedly.  The serial has a distinctive tone, dark and oblique.  All the characters have intriguing backstories which are drip-fed to us rather than being withheld implausibly long.  The settings are fresh - an unnamed, dismal Pennine hill town and the weirdly baroque architecture of out-of-season Scarborough.  And the shocks are delivered cinema-style.  The ghost is hard and dangerous and extremely unsettling.  I also like the fact that the Asian characters are thoroughly rounded real people, the misbehaving kids especially.  The acting is excellent - Michael Palin playing ten years older than he actually is was a real coup - largely because they don't have time to get bored or fiddle with their characters.  This puts me in mind of the other besetting problem of US TV drama - the actor gets a producer credit to keep them onboard and then insists on 'developing' their character.  It ultimately killed off CSI and Claire Danes has done terrible things to her character Carrie in Homeland.  Someone kill her off, please.  And while you're at it, nail down the lid on Brody's coffin!  I have tried with Season 4, the supposed re-boot, but I can't bear it.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn TV Drama

It's been interesting.  A couple of returning favourites, some promising new series and a distinctive import from Down Under.

ITV's Scott and Bailey aired the series finale last night.  There have been developments - Rachael promoted because Janet turned it down, the boss on the sauce and about to retire - but Scott remains boring and Bailey's catastrophic lovelife has reached new heights of improbability.  However the strength of the series is that extreme crimes are treated from a woman's point of view, rather than women behaving like men which was always the curse of Prime Suspect.  The writing standard was especially high this series, largely because Amelia Bullmore did most of it.

On BBC2 Peaky Blinders is back big time.  Arthur has become insanely violent and Tommy is planning to go legit - but only after he has seized the London Underworld from the Jews (Tom Hardy, improbably enough) and the Italians (Noah Taylor).  Rarely for a returning series, season 2 is even better than season 1.  The mighty theme music - Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" - is becoming iconic and has been developed in many ways by the priceless P J Harvey.  Simply unmissable.

Also on BBC2 is Intruders from BBC America.  It's an odd concoction, with John Simm, my fellow Nelsonian, as an ex-LA detective who now writes books in Seattle and is married to Mira Sorvino who thus far hasn't troubled us much with her presence.  It is stylishly done in strong, punchy 45 minute episodes, and is utterly incomprehensible.  It's based on a novel so doubtless there will be closure and it's the paranormal end of mystery so the resolution can be as preposterous as it needs to be.  Worth watching though for the baddies, James Frain as the killer of more or less everyone and Millie Brown as the mandatory scary kid, in this case so scary she drowns the cat.

The Missing is BBC1's autumnal offering.  Tony and Emily's five-year-old son Ollie is snatched in rural France.  Eight years later Tony (James Nesbitt) is back with a tenuous clue.  Emily meanwhile has moved on and is about to get married to Mark Walsh (Jason Flemyng) who was the British police liaison in the original inquiry.  The French detective who led the hunt (Julien Baptiste, played by Tcheky Karyo) is interested, as is predatory journalist Malik Suri (Arsher Ali).  So far so good.  The story unfolds smoothly in both present time and flashback, and the snatch itself - Tony turns his back literally for a second and the boy is gone - was truly chilling.  The acting is very good.  Nesbitt has apparenty been wasting his time on The Hobbit, so I for one had forgotten how good he can be when provoked.  Karyo I haven't come across, although he is a French movie star and classical actor; it shows.  The weak link acting-wise is Frances O'Connor as mum Emily.  I can't be sure if this is her fault or just a poorly developed character.  Perhaps her time is yet to come.

And finally The Code in the foreign thriller slot on BBC4.  It's an Australian conspiracy thriller in which every current genre trope seems to have been thrown into a bag and shaken up to see what happens.  Surprisingly the outcome was very good indeed.  It starts with a couple of mixed race youngsters out for a drive in the far outback colliding with a massive truck.  The boy survives but the girl is trapped in the car - which the truck driver and those escorting him then push into a ravine so the girl dies.

We then cut to the heart of government and the world of spin doctors and internet journalists, one of whom, Ned, is the carer for his autistic brother Jesse, who in turn is on a suspended prison sentence for hacking where he didn't ought to.  Ned is slipped the name of the town in the outback where the girl died.  Jesse hacks into a major company and downloads sensitive files.  Cyber crime is alerted, they despatch Dan Wylie (who was so good in the original series of Underbelly) to bring in his partner (Paul Tassone) who has gone rogue and is up to his ears in intrigue.

It sounds absurd - it may well have been - but you couldn't take your eyes off it for a second.  Dan Spielman and Ashley Zuckerman, who played the brothers, were compelling.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Driver - new drama from BBC1

At last - at long last - original drama on the BBC that is both original and dramatic.  In the wake of all that turgid World War I guff, Danny Brocklehurst and Jim Poyser have somehow managed to get The Driver, set in present day Manchester, onto our screens.

It stars David Morrissey, as usual - but to be fair to him, he developed the project with the writers and then pitched it to the Beeb - and he is, as he so often is, very good in the lead role.

Vince McKee is a forty-something minicab driver (they keep calling him a taxi driver but he specifically isn't - in one unforgettable scene he tells two girls he can't pick them up because he's not a taxi), who is bored with life.  His old pal Colin (Ian Hart, back from the US) is released from prison and introduces Vince to The Horse (Colm Meaney).  The Horse offers Vince work on the side, shady work, which livens Vince's life up no end but will end badly.

The structure is interesting - starting with Vince accelerating away from traffic police, leading a high-speed chase through Manchester city centre, getting away because he's a minicab driver and knows the back alleys even better than the police, and then looking at what's stashed in his boot.  Then we flashback three weeks and find out how he got there.  Usually, we could expect the episode to end with all or some of the chase.  But no, that comes about three-quarters of the way through, and we end with something else going in his boot, something human.  Is it Colin's twin Craig, who has got Colin's girlfriend pregnant (another quirky twist)?  We must wait to find out next week.

All in all, a masterclass in how to revitalise an overdone genre.  Congrats to all involved.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Offbeat wartime memento

I have been searching through my family's photographic archive and came upon this - a Christmas Card from the College of the Rhine Army in Gottingen.  I suspect it's from 1946 and I vaguely remember someone saying my father had taught there in the immediate postwar years.  Unfortunately it's unused, so we get no clues from the back.  The shield at the bottom is definitely that of the town.  I suspect the top one is the Saxony shield, but I can't even tell what the middle one is, let alone what the text says.  Intriguing.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chinese Scrolls at the British Museum

It's been a largely culture-free summer so far.  I felt starved.  I went to the British Library to renew my membership and expand my mind.  It went well but I had a couple of hours before my train home.  So I wandered off.  I wondered if I could make it to the British Museum.  I have problems walking distances, any distance at all, really.  But I headed off, took my time and lots of breaks, and made it by about five.  I had no plans but as I went in the rear entrance I saw there was an exhibition of prints by Georg Baselitz and his contemporaries.  That's his drawing above, 'A New Type' (1965).  Baselitz was an East German for the first half of his career and the divided nation is reflected in his work.  I especially liked the dead or dying eagle woodcut and his oddly charming images of monsters.  There's a deformed duck that beguiles.

Then I saw, in the next gallery, Chinese scrolls.  I've been watching Andrew Graham Dixon's Art of China on BBC4.  This is exactly what I needed.  Talk about serendipity! 

In the main room there were some very fine scrolls indeed.  I especially enjoyed the one of a scholar moving house.  The comedy the artist manages to include in the expressions of his overloaded servants tickled me greatly.

But then, in the annex where they sometimes keep the precious 3rd century Atonement Scroll (and always now have a digital version you can look at) I found an image of bamboo against the moon which I'm sure was in the Dixon series (or one very much like it).  The way in which the artist, with a single flick of his brush, managed to show exactly how gentle the breeze ruffling the leaves was - superb.  I left somewhat restored.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

You, the Living (2007)

You, the Living is a wonderfully oddball surrealist film by the gentlest of oddball Swedish filmmakers, Roy Andersson.  There is no plot but a series of vignettes linked by a theme of life failing to live up to expectations.  In the scene above, for example, the bloke on the bed - a jobbing sousaphone player - is busy telling us about his failed pension schemes whilst the beautiful buxom lady in the becoming helmet builds to climax.  This has nothing whatever to do with the builder in a traffic jam who tells us about his nightmare (a botched attempt at the classic tablecloth trick sees him sent to the electric chair) or the young girl who dreams she has married the rock star who bought her a drink in a bar.  The latter occasions the most surreal moment, when she fantasies about the wedding night which takes place in a house travelling past a railway station thronged with adoring public.  Yet it all blends seamlessly thanks to the strength of Andersson's vision, the magnificent photography, gentle performances, and the Dixieland soundtrack.  I adored this film and am on the lookout for Andersson's earlier work, especially Songs from the Second Floor (2000).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Valhalla Rising (2009)

It starts - we don't know where, we don't know when - with a one-eyed warrior being taken from his cage to fight another man to the death for the amusement of his barbarian captors.  One-Eye wins - he is Mads Mikkelson, after all - and the chieftain sells him on to another bloodthirsty chief.  Being dragged along to who knows where, One-Eye escapes in spectacularly bloody fashion, taking the boy, his keeper, with him.  They come across a bunch of Christian Vikings - it turns out this is not Norway or Iceland but Sutherland and these particular Vikings are all Scottish actors.  They are going on crusade to recapture the Holy City of Jerusalem.  One-Eye and the boy tag along.  One-Eye says nothing.  The boy does his speaking for him.  The pilgrims are becalmed in a fog for ages.  They are on the brink of death when One-Eye drinks the water lapping alongside.  The others laugh - it's salt water, he'll go mad and die.  But it's fresh water.  They are on a river.  They are in sight of land.  What land, we never found out.  Who lives here we do discover, but it means nothing.  Look at them.  They could be any lost tribe.

The story is mythical, a quest.  We know what the pilgrims are after but have no clue about One-Eye.  All we discover about his past are flashes of memory in which everything is vivid red, the colour of Kensington Gore in old Hammer movies.  He says absolutely nothing.  He barely reacts.  He doesn't lose his temper, he doesn't despair.  The Scottish pilgrims are scarcely chatterboxes.  The older among them - their leader and his henchman, the wonderful Gary Lewis (best known as Billy Elliot's dad) - think deep thoughts and speak profundities.  It is above all a film about mood.  The bleak landscapes are a sodden green and muddy brown.  The land they come to, which can be seen in the photo above, looks like it might be the surface of Mars only less hospitable.  What writer-director Nicholas Winding Refn (he of Drive) does marvellous things with fog and mist and the occasional vivid blue sky.

Mikkelson does mean and moody - we all know that - but he is also convincingly violent.  The boy is beautifully played by young Maarten Stevenson.  Turns out it's the BBC part-funded the film - well done to them.  My only reservation - dreadful music.

Le Havre (2011)

Le Havre is a French film by the celebrated Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.  It's a comedy about human dignity.  Poor old Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms, above left) is an superannuated shoeshine boy, scraping by, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.  He once lived in Paris, he says; a writer, he says, but only an artistic success.  Now he lives in Le Havre with his dog Laika and his adored wife Arletty (Finnish actress Kati Outinen).  It's tough going, but he maintains his standards.

When Arletty is taken into hospital with an unspecified but incurable disease Andre fills the hole in his life with an illegal immigrant boy Idrissa (Blondin Miguel, on the right).  He first came across Idrissa hiding in the docks.  He shied away from Marcel, naturally, but Marcel left him some food and some money anyway.  Then, one night, Marcel comes home to find Idrissa sleeping in the shed with Laika.  Idrissa too is a man of principle.  He pays his debts.

It becomes Marcel's mission to get the boy to his mother in London.  The local community, who have hitherto looked on Marcel as, at best, a character, rallies round.  Little Bob even comes out of retirement for a charity gig.

(Le Havre's own Little Bob - Roberto Piazza)

But the police are looking for Idrissa.  Inspector Monet has direct orders from the M. le Prefet to make the case top priority...

The deadpan style is maintained throughout - my favourite moment, Marcel at the Immigration Centre, telling the bureaucrat in charge that he is a relative of Idrissa's relatives.  "I'm the family albino."  Wilms is superb throughout.  The face of a Caesar and the rumpled dignity of Stan Laurel.  Equal with him in plot and performance is Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Inspector Monet in his black coat, black hat, and what looked to me like a Lancia circa 1979.  The exteriors and interiors were all retro - the music too, scratchy old chansons of the thirties and forties, and Little Bob's classic Rock 'n' Roll.  The colours sang.

Brilliant movie.  I loved it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

TV drama round up

It's been a long time since I blogged about media and culture.  That's because the final year of Coalition misrule in the UK has brought a cultural desert in which no one is prepared to take any risks any more.  The theatre is to all intents and purposes a closer door to me now (the RSC wasting time and effort on Wolf Hall?  Jesus...), British cinema seems to have slipped into a coma recently, and telly is in nostalgia mode, the BBC reeling from the realisation that it's committed itself to four long years of homage to World War I, which no one now remembers and by no means everyone wants to be reminded of. The Crimson Field, a mash-up of Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey,was excruciatingly awful.

That is not to say, however, that there has been nothing worth watching.  Fargo, from America, is great fun, beautifully written and played.  Braquo is back and as bleak as ever.  Sky's revival of 24, however, set in London but still featuring Jack and Chloe, is a bit of a dud despite the clever premise of using drones.  It's only twelve-hours anyway and thus asks to be called half-baked.

Instead of Nordic Noir on BBC4 we've had Celtic Noir - Hinterland, set in Wales and partly in Welsh, was a brave attempt, beautifully shot but not very well acted, well worth another series, and Amber, from Ireland, starts next week.  Also in Ireland, but not in any way Irish, is BBC1's Quirke, based on Benjamin Black/John Banville's novels.  There's a lot of guff in the pointless press about inaudible mumbling, but it's not mumbling, it's filmic sound, meant to be heard in Dolby or surround sound.  It's well enough dramatised by Andrew Davies, and it has Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon to keep the standard of performance up.

From There to Here is an oddball offering from Peter Bowker on BBC1.  It starts with the IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester in 1996 but it's really about rebuilding family in the aftermath.  I like Philip Glenister and I lover Liz White, but I can't look at them without thinking Life on Mars.  Episode 2 is tonight and holds considerable promise.  Best of the homegrown stuff by far, though, is Happy Valley by Sally Wainwright, set in Sowerby in West Yorkshire, and starring Sarah Lancashire, the top TV actress by a mile, as the middleaged police sergeant out to get the psychopath who raped her daughter.  Fans of Last Tango in Halifax have complained about the violence.  The violence is what makes it - the drama is about violence.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Turks and Caicos

Turks and Caicos is the successor to Page Eight, the second in David Hare's Worricker Trilogy.  The third film, Salting the Battlefield, is to be shown on BBC2 next week.

It is supposed to follow almost immediately on the end of Page Eight.  We left Johnny at the airport; he got on the first plane leaving, and thus we find him in the eponymous islands.  He has been there some months, made a few friends, and had a bit of work done on his bungalow.  Then he is recognised by a loud American (Christopher Walken) and finds himself embroiled in international shenanigans.

The plot was not so good as Page Eight, the baddies nowhere near bad enough.  Yet the subtext was even richer.  These, it turns out, are the sort of people who have made zillions for the "War on Terror".  And the parallels between Hare's Prime Minister (only a fleeting glimpse, this time, of Ralph Fiennes) and our own much-loved Tony Blair were emboldened, italicised and underscored many, many times.  My favourite line was something to the effect that these days politics is just a stepping stone to a future career.  Wonderful.

The cast was pretty good, too.  Bill Nighy, deadpan and insouciant as ever; Winona Ryder, who I haven't seen for years; and an outstanding turn from Helena Bonham-Carter as Johnny's ex.

It has to be said, BBC2 is raising the bar consistently for made-for-TV drama.  Just as well, as BBC1 seems intent on lowering it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Page Eight

Before screening the second chapter in the Johnny Worricker trilogy (to be aired tomorrow night), the BBC repeated the original film, Page Eight, from 2011.

David Hare, for me, was like Stephen Poliakoff - i.e. past his best.  But clearly, like Poliakoff, he has found his second wind.  Page Eight, which he wrote and directed, was simply brilliant.  The cast, headed by Bill Nighy, were pitch perfect.  Nighy himself was superb - the utterly blank stare he gave whenever anybody asked what he did for a living, was worth watching for on its own.  Hare can direct, all right, and seems to be willing to let his actors act rather than merely enact his script, which is a sign of great maturity for a writer-director.  Even so, writing is what he does best, and the script moved like a well-oiled pocket watch.  It is essentially a spy drama - the overtones of Smiley are impossible to ignore - but it was completely current.  The British government covering up American outrages?  Surely not!

Can't wait for Turks and Caicos tomorrow night.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Photorealism - exhibition at BMAG

Running until the end of the month, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is the only UK gallery to host this retrospective, subtitled "50 years of hyperrealistic painting".  That's really the point - the most successful paintings in the genre are those that are so realistic they transcend reality.  The painting above - Untitled (4VWs) by Don Eddy (1971) - is realistic but it doesn't quite transcend, whereas the cars of Peter Maier and the motorbikes of Tom Blackwell do.  All use the genre signature of reflections, preferably reflecting nature in the gleam of unnatural chrome.

There's an in-depth appraisal of the exhibition by the artist Mashada here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

37 Days

Already wearying of the four-year war-fest on the BBC (and we haven't even got to the anniversary yet) I was in two minds about committing to Mark Hayhurst's three-part drama doc on events leading up to the declaration.  The trailer was the usual, featuring one of the usual suspects (Bill Paterson, a fine actor, but compulsory in any BBC drama doc).  But I chanced it and was gripped from the outset.  For one thing, Paterson excepted, the casting was far from predictable.  The central character was British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, played by Ian MacDiarmuid, who is hardly ever seen on TV, I don't know the actor who played Winston Churchill, Mark Lewis Jones (again, underused on TV) was Lloyd George, and the 'foreigners' were played by German and French actors.  I especially enjoyed Ludger Pistor as Chancellor Hollweg, Rainer Sellien humanised Kaiser Bill without ever losing his crazy streak, and Urs Remond was brilliant as German ambassador to London Prince Lichnowsky.  The latter was key to the human drama because he was Grey's opposite number - they were friends, both opposed to war, and 37 Days needed and got two staggeringly good performances.

Hayhurst was on top of his material, which was vast.  The writerly device of having two narrators, both young men attending on the political giants, both of whom would soon be fighting, was daring but successful.  There were some fine moments when one took over from the other, both effectively saying the same things in wildly different contexts.  None of the characters ever lapsed into stereotypes or received wisdom.  I've already mentioned the Kaiser, but Churchill of this period is often depicted as a slavering warmonger whereas Nicholas Asbury was able, with Hayhurst's dramaturgy, to keep him human and contemplative.  A superb series.  I might well buy it on DVD.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Trevor Eaton: The Chaucer Man - English and Drama blog

Trevor Eaton: The Chaucer Man - English and Drama blog

Exceptionally interesting - an impressive performance - but I'm still not entirely convinced that words which we still use today were pronounced that differently in the late Middle Ages.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Line of Duty + Inside Number 9

Jed Mercurio's moral cop drama, Line of Fire, returned with a bang on Wednesday night (BBC2).  Last year it was Lennie James; this year the cop under investigation is Keeley Hawes, who after several years of what can only be described as whiffle is now pursuing a much darker, more idiosyncratic side of her career (the hopeless druggie in The Tunnel, for example) with splendid results.  Her character, DI Denton, has somehow landed in charge of a disastrous attempt to relocate a protected witness - Denton is the only survivor except (perhaps) the witness.

AC-12 is called in.  DS Fleming (Vicky McClure) has to excuse herself because she's sleeping with the husband of the witness handler who burns to death.  So in steps DC Georgia Trotman (the luminous Jessica Raine, above).  Fleming, meanwhile, is spying on Denton.  The latter behaves somewhat oddly.  For example she visits a noisy neighbour and beats her to a pulp.  Then she calls the hospital where the witness is being kept.  DS Arnott (Martin Compston) and Trotman rush to the scene.  Trotman grapples with an intruder, then---  Let's just say, that's what I call a cliffhanger.

As if to spoil us (actually to compensate for the godawful bilge that otherwise clogs the channels) Line of Duty was followed by "A Quiet Night In", episode two of Inside Number 9, the follow-up to Psychoville by Steve Pemberton and Reece Sheersmith (half of The League of Gentlemen).  The series is six self-contained comedies linked, very loosely, by the houses all being Number 9.  The first episode, "Sardines" was very classy but "A Quiet Night In" was sheer genius.  Ostensibly a crime caper in which two halfwits try to steal a modern artwork, it was to all intents and purposes silent.  Again, I won't reveal the final twist, but the burglars (Pemberton and Sheersmith) were obviously trying to be silent as they crept about the ultra modern home - but couldn't help corresponding by text message - and the married couple whose house it was weren't talking to one another.  The man was Denis Lawson.  And who do we get to play his wife?  Who better for a silent comedy - Oona Chaplin, no less.  Both were superb.  The visual gags just kept coming.  Check out the wife in the bathroom.  I was helpless after the dog jokes.  Not only is it the best comedy of the year so far, it is a true work of art that should win a Bafta all its own, but probably won't.  Find it on iPlayer and enjoy.

Monday, February 10, 2014


BBC4's new Euro treat for Saturday nights is Salamander, from Belgium.  It doesn't come with the buzz of The Bridge but I reckon it's pretty good.  The premise is captivating - a private bank is robbed.  They take cash, they take jewellery, but mainly they take secrets from 66 specific safety deposit boxes.  The head of the bank (a compelling performance from Mike Verdrengh) decides there has been no robbery, then contacts the great and the good of Belgium to tell them what's happened.

Detective Paul Gerardi (Filip Peeters, above) is having a quiet day at home when an out-of-favour informer insists he has a hot tip about a bank robbery.  But no bank will admit to being robbed.  Gerardi can't resist investigating further.  People start dying, but the Public Prosecutor (another classy turn, this time by veteran Jo De Meyere) blocks any inquiry and soon Gerardi is on his own, wanted by his own colleagues and with the secret service in hot pursuit.

It's pretty well filmed and directed, too (check out the last scene of episode 2, when Gerardi pitches up at a monastery).  Two episodes down, ten to go.  I'm in!

Friday, February 07, 2014

The return of the Pelican

Back after thirty years!  I know it was the eighties when Thatcherite values polluted everything, but which idiot discontinued the Pelican imprint in the first place?
Read about the re-launch here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

January Blues

It's been a month since my last post.  It's not indolence or apathy, simply that culture is pretty much a dead duck round here at the moment and the media, having exhausted itself with the bilge-fest that was Christmas, has been downright bloody awful.  So here's a resume.

Sherlock came and went on BBC1.  It was controversial, not in itself a bad thing, and divided viewers into two camps: Loved It and Hated It.  I typically hedged my bets.  I violently disliked the first two of three but thought the third (which I had pledged not to watch) was captivating. 

The difference between the first two and the third was the writer.  Mark Gatiss wrote The Empty Hearse and The Sign of Three; Steven Moffatt wrote His Last Vow.  I am a huge admirer of Gatiss in pretty much everything he does - except, sadly, his scriptwriting.  He did a beautiful documentary about M R James over Christmas but his dramatization of The Tractate Middoth was clumsy, tricksy and, frankly, pants.  I often find cause to criticise Moffatt, especially his handling of Dr Who, but His Last Vow had all the glitzy signatures of Sherlock whilst maintaining a strong storyline and creating compelling new characters - specifically the evil press baron Charles Augustus Magnusson, played with clinical glee by Lars Mikkelson, star of the first and best Killing.

Speaking of drama Nordic, the final Borgen trundled to a close over the New Year.  I had long since given up.  I simply didn't care about a Coalition Government tearing itself apart.  I wish ours would get on with doing just that.  But then came The Bridge II, the highlight of my January, not only as good as its predecessor but to my mind marginally better.  We seem to have delved deeper into the character of Martin, and now he balances Saga more comfortably - in short, they are equally damaged.  Sadly The Bridge ends this coming weekend.  Replacing it will Salamander from Belgium (below).  We keep our fingers well and truly crossed.

Finally, for now, we have Hostages on C4, America's latest attempt to do a Homeland by ripping off an Israeli original.  Toni Collette plays a surgeon about to operate on the President.  Then Dylan McDermott takes her family hostage and threatens to kill them if she doesn't do the right thing and kill the President.  It's OK - better than Homeland seasons 2 & 3 - but it falls kind of flat because nobody outside America really cares what happens to George W Bush or, unfortunately, Lame Duck Obama.  You have to think that plotline had a lot more resonance in the Israeli original.  We'll find out later in the year, as I believe the original is coming in BBC4's foreign crime drama slot.