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