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alfa-16

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36 reviews in total 
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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Delightful observational comedy. More please!, 28 May 2016
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the real life story of a nanny in early 80's gentrified Camden.

Was the recent past so different? Yes Central London was that grubby, pubs were that bad, butchers were that rude and yes, you could live that close to Euston Road and park anywhere back then. And people did hire nannies without qualifications.

Love, Nina reminds the viewer of its roots with short readings from Nina's letters home, then carefully weaves from them a slow moving, steadily developing group of characters in an unusual community. It's sad that Alan Bennet (the basis for the Malcolm Tanner character) wanted to disassociate himself but you can still hear echoes of Barnsley in the background. The script is excellent, sharp, realistic and the humour is well augmented by great performances from the support with outstanding comic work by the two leads. HBC is a well-known stalwart, gifted with excellent timing but Faye Marsay, recently great in Pride but underused in Game of Thrones, is the standout here, adding a great deal of visual comedy as she reads the world about her and works out whether to stick or twist, fit in or stand out, adjust or stand firm.

She signs off each episode, like signing off a letter, with a 1 second glance to camera, neither knowing nor coquettish. These short but riveting moments encapsulate the charm and intelligence of the whole project. A neat and difficult trick. With an interesting twist in the final episode.

Five minutes before the series ends, Bonham Carter's character has to deal with Marsay's character's resignation after a series of minor disasters. HBC delivers a roller coaster speech, half strong rebuke, half recognition of the genuine love between the nanny and the children. She finishes with "Is it your exam tomorrow? Good Luck. Be less crap". The skill and craft she invests in these ten words is a great example of what has made this series such a pleasure. Because the whole series is full of examples of how much great acting can contribute to a witty, well-written script. Even the child actors were natural and up to the challenge.

Whilst I didn't much like the actress/nanny in Episode 4, who seemed to have blown in from another show, breaking the family dynamic rather badly, she wasn't there long and everything else was a delight.

27 out of 60 people found the following review useful:
Austen meets the Poirot Christmas Special, 27 December 2013
8/10

Firstly, I hate fanfic. My teeth start grinding after a few paragraphs, even when it's written by PD James.

Secondly, if you're going to do anything with P&P you have to judge your two main casting decisions with a perfection required almost nowhere else. We all know Elizabeth and Darcy so well. So the producers of two productions which have dared to go off piste, Lost in Austen and this one, must have thought long and hard. Gemma Arterton did extremely well in Lost in Austen, a blend of period drama, summer RomCom and Dr Who, and Anna Maxwell Martin, as you might expect, is simply perfect here, in Austen meets the Poirot Christmas Special.

Anna gives us the mature Elizabeth, holding court at her more informal Pemberley, with an older Darcy who has recovered all his manly confidence in personal relationships and yet is even more deeply smitten. They have a son and are clearly wonderful parents. Both characters have changed in exactly the way Austen predicted in her last chapter. Elizabeth has risen in status and now wears the authority of Mistress of Pemberley, rationally softened, like its master. They are unusually sparkly together and very reminiscent of the Netherfield scenes. This is principally down to the extremely good performances from two actors and an their understanding of their characters which goes way beyond the script.

The whole cast is outstanding, the best in a period drama since Emma09 and the mystery is satisfyingly interesting. There's lots of clever 'dialogue' with the original and arch references to earlier productions (it's the 95 Pemberley).

What's not to like?

Can't wait for the next instalment, as Pemberley itself is challenged and their relationship is tested. I do hope the Bingleys, Caroline at least, turn up soon.

Of course, it isn't Austen. If it hurts to think that it is, then imagine it as a 100-year prequel to Downton Abbey, 10 times better acted and 50 times better written.

The Lady Vanishes (2013) (TV)
24 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
A neat pairing with the 1938 Hitchcock Masterpiece, 30 March 2013

For comparison, I have always hankered after another, more faithful adaptation of Strangers on a Train. The Highsmith original is on a completely different psychological plane to Hitchcock's superb adaptation, which plays with the banality of evil theme but adds ticking, suspenseful timebombs and a hero who may have moments of weakness but triumphs in the end.

The 2013 version of The Lady Vanishes will have to do instead. It is NOT a remake nor a version of nor even based on the Hitchcock film. Far from it. Bemoaning the absence of Charters and Caldicott misses the point entirely. This film is a much straighter adaptation of Hitchcock's original source material, The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.

Even if this new production were rubbish, as a close adaptation of the original source, it would still offer worthwhile study by providing an illustration of how much craft the master added to create one of the best films of the 1930's. Let's face it, no one has read the novel. Hitch turns an essay in nervousness about more trouble in the Balkans into an appeasement era allegory of the difficulty of shaking people out of an apathetic response to tyranny and the virtues of resistance, all dressed in beautifully tailored cinematic clothes that will last forever.

Diarmuid Lawrence's The Lady Vanishes, however, is very far from rubbish. It has a powerful, beautifully judged central performance from an actress who, unlike Cybill Shepherd in what WAS a remake in 1979, is in the same class as Margaret Lockwood.

In the initial scenes she is part of a group of what the newspapers called Bright Young Things but Evelyn Waugh called Vile Bodies. She is able to stand out from her awful, shallow friends, however, with suggestions of an open mind and a wider view of the world. Without falling into clichés, Middleton distances herself in an afternoon and evening of misbehaviour then separates herself entirely by staying behind when her friends leave.

This turns out to be an empty gesture. After a failed attempt at adventure, she immediately returns to type missing her friends, refusing offers of company, throwing money around at the locals and falling back into the character of a rude, spoilt mademoiselle, shorn of her comforts.

This sets up the irony of her behaviour on the train when she finally discovers what it is that is truly different about her. However now, for a variety of reasons, people who can see the difference can't acknowledge it and people who can't see the difference misinterpret her. The only person who has understood her correctly has vanished. Lawrence's version holds on to this subtle psychological setup much longer than Hitchcock's. Those who think she's hysterical plot to sedate her. Those who know she isn't, hide themselves.

Middleton's work is a real treat. The rest of the cast may not have enough to work with (one of the reasons why Hitchcock conducted a major rewrite). And instead of a graceful denouement, the action does rather hit the buffers at the end of the line. Very nice lwork in the last scene, though, more reminiscent of North by North West.

However, despite a few shortcomings, this is a neat piece of period drama in its own right and casts a bright and valuable sidelight on Hitchcock's work as an adapter.

No one should put off by misguided criticism that it fails to live up to Lockwood and Redgrave. Unlike the 1979 rehash, it has earned its place on the shelf next to the Hitchcock version of the same novel.

42 out of 55 people found the following review useful:
First-class drama, outstanding, unusual, rewarding., 19 September 2012

Not since A Dance to the Music of Time has such a stellar cast been allied to such an artful and unusual script.

Ford Madox Ford is not a popular novelist. His work often approaches its subjects on an elliptical curve, his principal characters are seldom in the mainstream of society, forming odd relationships, requiring his audience to assimilate their understanding of them over the course of a whole work rather than categorise from their experience (or jump to conclusions based on genre). This explains why we don't see his work adapted very often. Or even at all.

Susanna White and Tom Stoppard have both grasped the nettle of demonstrating this sideways approach, though I'm not sure quite so many kaleidoscopic shots were necessary to drive the point home. Benedict Cumberbatch joins in, underlining his character's isolation with some rather off-putting facial gestures. Ronald Hines played Tietjens in the now lost 1960's adaptation and casting to type may have worked better than struggling with toning down the matinée idol status Cumberbatch has acquired since hitting Sherlock Holmes out of the park. Maybe if he and Stephen Graham had swapped roles the other characters might have found it easier to deal with Tietjens' self-enforced oddity but that may have impaired Ford's central point, beautifully delivered as the the climax to Episode 4.

But acting idiosyncrasies cannot mask the quality of the fabulous script or the overall adaptation which has a towering performance from Rebecca Hall and glittering additions from Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Miranda Richardson, Roger Allam, Ann-Marie Duff and beautiful, note-perfect newcomer Adele Clemens.

With so much glossy soap about, it is extremely refreshing to have high quality, thought-provoking, challenging drama this good whatever the lead chooses to do with his jaw muscles.

A keeper.

21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
The Plantagenet Supremacy - superb climax to an excellent series of productions, 23 July 2012

Well, you have to see this.

Even if you don't watch the three prequels, The Plantagenet Identity, The Plantagenet Legacy and the Plantagenet Ascendancy (RII, HiVi & HIVii).

It's classic Shakespearean filmmaking with a superb cast, mostly excellent direction, great cinematography and an absolutely outstanding central performance from Hiddlestone, which finally stepped out of the shadows of those of his famous predecessors as the play reached its climax. And there are other actors turning in their film-career best here too, Anton Lesser and Melanie Thierry for example.

All in all, the best Shakespeare the BBC has ever done. Hiddlestone may take the laurels for his three performances as Hal, the not-so-callow, not-so-innocent teenage chrysalis who turns into a malevolent Machiavellian butterfly but Whishaw's utterly brilliant Richard II is a very good reason to start the cycle from the beginning, as intended.

The quartet of plays builds on the Shakespearean tradition of adapting for cinema while retaining as much as possible of Shakespeare's imaginative manifesto as we have it in the play's Prologue, demanding imaginative effort of the part of the viewer rather than supplying every conceivable horse and nail.

The drama is built with a theatrical approach to casting and mise-en-scene, resisting (mostly) the temptation to colour the action with simulated CGI reality. Shot entirely in the UK, the outdoor locations are always beautifully chosen but never needlessly populated with thousands of digital soldiers. There are CGI glimpses of mediaeval England and French armies here and there but they never dominate the theatrical requirement to distinguish drama from scene-setting. Olivier's version started in the theatre and then cut away, wider and wider until the famous charge and the immense Agincourt scenes. Here, the camera stays focused on the main players throughout and even the famous 'band of brothers' speech, though spoken on an outdoor battlefield, manages to retain a theatrical intimacy.

Hats off to the BBC who, whatever I or anyone else says about them, can still deliver when it matters.

27 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely Outstanding - an embarrassment of riches, 15 July 2012
10/10

As it should be. Made by the BBC as a showcase for British Drama.

If this series of made for TV plays is the only 'legacy' of the London Olympics, I will neither be surprised nor unhappy.

Each has, so far, raised the bar in its own way with stunning filming and unforgettable performances. Here, in Henry IV Parts i and ii, the landscape is normally dominated by Falstaff and the Eastcheap tavern crew. Falstaff is Shakespeare's Everyman and his audience's favourite creation and Simon Russell Beale was born to play him. His Falstaff has a knowing awareness of the dimensions of his vice and the ever-present sinister proximity of Nemesis but he doesn't fall short of the full measure of Rabelasian exuberance and good humour and has the common sense to keep his self pity private. Inspired casting amongst the rest of the crew sees faultless performances from Julie Walters, David Dawson and Tom Georgeson and gives us another glimpse at the astonishing range and talent of Maxine Peake. Paul Ritter has a mountain to climb, after Robert Stephens' Pistol in Branagh's Henry V and may not manage it but the remainder of Team Falstaff rise to the occasion brilliantly.

However, Richard Eyre (and Rupert Goolden with Richard II) have followed Branagh's example with extravagantly detailed and wonderful realised minor characters, metronomically striking the right note again and again.

Irons has never turned in a better performance as guilt, tragedy and sickness wear out the life in his Bolingbroke, Tom Hiddleston also turns in a career-best as the archetypal unmanageable teenager and Hotspur and his wonderful Katharine are perfect in their representation of the northern version of the Plantagenet Generation Gap. Criticism of their lack of 'grandeur' seems to miss the point, I think. Hotspur and Katharine are more than one kind of rebel and their impatience with Welsh hospitality and the world in general is beautifully played here.

All in all, you can't do better and the DVD's, when they come out, should be in every collection. I know I'll be watching parts of this series over and over again.

27 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Almost perfect, 10 July 2012

The best Shakespeare on film since McKellen's Richard III.

Unfairly unloved, perhaps because of the unfamiliar politics in it opening scenes, Richard II is Shakespeare's watershed. It has much in it which would have been familiar to the Elizabethan theatre goer-but also contains mountains of innovation, such as Richard's soliloquy after his confinement, which look forward to Hamlet and beyond. This is the play where iambic pentameter really broke free of its rhyming chains and although not everyone can place it correctly, Richard II contains some of Shakespeare's finest poetry.

And what a fantastic Richard we have in Ben Whishaw, delivering the personal tragedy and the political betrayal with the combination of power and finesse that the role demands but rarely receives. Even Ian McKellen, in his landmark production for the BBC in the 80's, didn't catch the sheer majesty of Richard's defiant surrender at Flint castle.

The entire cast is outstanding and the producers did well to enlist two great female actresses for the parts of Isabella and the Duchess of York, retaining the bulk of parts that are often cut to shreds. More of Isabella's lines would have helped Clemence Poesy make her Queen memorable but no one will forget Lindsay Duncan's rescue of her son.

However, Rory Kinnear takes second honours, providing an utterly mesmerising foil for Whishaw's Richard and the electricity crackles between them as the fantastic deposition scenes hit the summits of dramatic power. You won't see better. There isn't better.

Beautifully shot and engineered, there isn't a scene that doesn't look stunning, a word that cannot be clearly understood or a plot line that cannot be easily followed. The sheer mastery of the play's intensely psychological portrait of kingship and power is made easily accessible to newcomers to Shakespearean drama and language.

Utterly brilliant. Well done everyone involved.

"Sherlock" (2010)
150 out of 176 people found the following review useful:
A Study in Picture Gallery Red, 26 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What we have here is a very interestingly rendered modern version of Holmes' first appearance, A Study in Scarlet, in which he meets Watson, they take the rooms in Baker Street and successfully investigate a series of murders.

The story is rarely adapted for two reasons.

The first is that the murders don't make sense without the dull, rambling back story which no one wants to dramatise. The Valley of Fear has hardly ever been dramatised for the same reason.

The second is that this is Conan Doyle's first attempt and he introduced significant character changes to both Holmes and Watson in the short stories. Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet, is rather more deranged, more like Cumberbatch's Holmes than Brett's, much more an aggressive, painful thorn in the side of the police rather than the unseen assistant of later stories.

So people who haven't read the book or have only seen Holmes on screen need to give this a bit of time. 21C technology aside, it's actually quite a faithful adaptation, even though they ditched the back story and gave the murderer another, more credible motive.

Knowledge of the original isn't at all necessary, but it does change the viewpoint. While some were congratulating themselves on beating Holmes to the punch in spotting the profession of the murderer, readers of the original were being conned into believing that his next victim was going to be the American he was driving (the victims in the original are all American). In the original, the word 'Rache' appears at the crime scene, also in an empty house in Lauriston Gardens, written in blood. The police jump to the conclusion that the victim was trying to write the word 'Rachel'. Holmes knows that 'Rache' is German for revenge. Moffat turns it neatly and humorously around. In the original it's a red herring, in the new version, it's a vital clue. These riffs on the original abound and are almost always imaginative and amusing and often more than that. Mycroft as Sherlock's Big Brother, for example.

Moffat and Gatiss treat the characters with all the loving respect that an author could wish for and serve up an adaptation which re-imagines everything that Conan Doyle put into his plots and yet delivers something very close to to their original purpose and effect. Holmes and Watson are products of their time, as they should be, but they are recognisably the descendants and inheritors of the originals. The baby is still gurgling happily in the bathwater.

There's a lot more here than initially meets the eye and I have a sneaky feeling it'll get better.

If it does, it's going to be very, very good indeed.

"Emma" (2009)
75 out of 93 people found the following review useful:
Finally, an Emma that will stand the test of time, 24 December 2009

There is a clichéd version of Period and Regency characters which grew up in the 1920's and 1930's fostered by UK and US film studios with straight backs, ironed crinolines, stiff upper lips and emotionally strangled dialogue from which a number of recent adaptations have dared to depart.

Sometimes, as in the case of 1999 Mansfield Park, adapters and cast have departed for the hills and created something so far off Austen's wavelength that it might be a prequel for the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise. Enjoyable perhaps. But not MP.

That's not what we have here. What we have here is something that is entirely on Austen's wavelength, with characters behaving as her characters would and saying the sorts of things her characters say. Something which is faithful to the purpose and meaning of the book, which aims to get the characters Jane Austen wrote onto the screen where we can see, recognise and enjoy them. This series is triumphantly successful at doing just that, partly owing to the care that has been taken with the script and partly due to the outstanding performances of the leads.

It built on a wonderfully realistic foundation of what love, loss and family all mean. If it did, perhaps, labour the point a bit at the beginning, there were superb contrasts between where Emma's life was full and empty. Her lack of self knowledge, her yearning for companions and challenges worthy of her sense and intelligence clearly illustrated the traps she made for herself.

And whilst we follow the progression of their relationship from Knightley's point of view more than the book warrants, Emma's bursting discovery of her love for him is actually dramatised here just as Austen wrote it, not watered down by injections of artificial chemistry between the lead actors.

I think there are lots of people who could turn out an Emma adaptation like the two films from the 90's. This version set itself the much harder task of adapting the book (as Clueless did) rather than just animating selected bits and stringing them together. And it succeeds. The reason Garai's Emma is different to all the others is that Garai is playing the character Jane Austen wrote and Sandy Welch, as she did with Jane Eyre, got her onto the screen by dramatically recreating her rather than transposing her dialogue into a screenplay.

There are, of course, unnecessary departures from the canon. Perhaps it is highly unlikely that Emma would have allowed Knightley to kiss her within sight of the house, or that Knightley would have forgotten himself that far either. However, were they sure of being unobserved, I think Emma and Frank would have been perfectly capable of shocking even modern dowagers with a passion that is written carefully into the novel but seldom gets up onto the screen. If I was servant at Hartfield, I'd be very careful to make them aware of my presence outside the bedroom door before taking their morning tea in.

I had my reservations about this adaptation at first but having watched it more times than I now care to admit, I cannot now name a better Austen adaptation. I think the unusual start was a gamble designed to illustrate the insecurity of early 19C family life to newcomers and wilfully detach dedicated Austen fans from their comfort zone from the opening seconds, both of which worked triumphantly. It instantly drew parallels between the lives of Emma, Jane and Frank (and, more subtly, Harriet) which are at the core of the book and completely absent from any other adaptation. A very, very clever trick for which some purists have yet to forgive her. Not this one, however. Once you have adjusted your goggles, this adaptation hits new heights for the whole genre and becomes an unalloyed pleasure.

It's beautifully shot, all the characterisations are incredibly detailed, even minor characters like John Knightley and Mrs Goddard are fully realised and Garai and Miller hit their top notes reliably again and again.

I'm sure Austen would love it.

"Emma" (1972)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Exasperating script and dreadful acting, 11 February 2009

This is what period adaptations used to be like in the Dark Ages.

I checked this out in preparation for the eagerly awaited Sandy-Welch-plotted version due from the BBC later this year.

Ouch! This version takes frightening liberties with the script, not only by creating all the narrative events of the novel in new dialogue between the main characters but inventing new and alarming chapters in the drama, not all of which are at all helpful and some of which are downright indigestible. The dialogue runs on and on at 100 mph, no breath for a pause, no respect whatsoever for Austen's original language, and worse, no sign of its author getting anywhere near Austen's wavelength. Mr Woodhouse, for example, trolls about at a large party at Hartfield (26!!) snatching plates of food out of his guests hand and behaves so like a nutter that it seems quite appropriate for Knightley to rudely ignore him as he stomps off after the row with Emma about Robert Martin.

Dorin Godwin is not nearly talented enough to produce a multi-faceted Emma and the rest of the cast are dull, mechanical and under-rehearsed. I was so put off I had to stop before getting as far as the party at Randalls. I simply couldn't take any more.


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