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Princes in the Tower (2005)
Margaret Beaufort as a witch? Much drama but little history.
As a dramatic piece well performed and acted. The disgusting food was somewhat overdone- they did have professional chefs etc in 1498. The problem with revisionist history of these princes, you have to make someone else the villain- in this case Margaret Beaufort and her third husband, Lord Stafford. For the plot to have historic authenticity it would have required Thomas More (who was no stooge to Henry VIIth) the French and Spanish ambassadors (enemies), John Argentine, Provost of Cambridge at the time, all to collude. Whatever Henry VIIth did to be portrayed as a sniveling mummy's boy, obsessed with having his stars and his excrement read before he does a thing, heaven only knows. The obloquy Henry suffered was mainly because he made the rich, including Thomas More's father, pay their taxes which they hadn't for 100 years in some cases. Contra factual history but good drama.
Missing Heiress - missing plot?
A full and varied cast, a Victorian melodrama, a dastardly villain, what could go wrong? A semi-detached plot. The writer seems to have a detective story of his/her own that they wish to put on television. Unfortunately, on attaching it crudely to this Sherlock Holmes story, without rhyme or reason the result is a great bloated pudding of a melodrama. Even Jeremy Brett, providing broad slices of ham acting, cannot save this. Choppy direction and lots of short, dramatic 'takes' create a sinister atmosphere, but so does a fire in a cornfield. The result appears for most of the programme to be two period dramas spliced together in error. Most of Sherlock Holmes' part could have been left on the cutting room floor and condensed to a walk-on. The real Sherlock Holmes adventure doesn't begin until 50 minutes into the film. Presumably T R Bowen has read somewhere about Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism. Perhaps a couple of pages of the biography got stuck together - as the rationalist, Holmes, would never have indulged in setting store by visions 20 years separate the Doyle of spiritualist 'research' and Shelock Holmes. Crude references to Victorian romantic paintings merely add a hotch-potch feeling as do the frequent 'Victorian' street scenes (taken from spare footage of a production of Oliver, mixed up on the same cutting-room floor). What a disaster for an otherwise acceptable series!
Christie the greatest victim in this one!
This is so remote from Agatha Christie's original that it almost amounts to a caricature - if only it was that good! Part of the problem is one that dogs the whole series, that there is desperation to stuff the cast with celebrities, even if they have little experience of dramatic acting. Second, there is a determination to include so called 'issues' such as drug addiction, soap opera style romantics - one dimensional; relationships which are driven by plot rather than character. Then there is the overblown hysterical screeching which these people believe to be serious dramatic presentation. One difficulty for all adapters of the stories is that, whatever the quality of Christie's plotting, it works within its own world. They are locked into their period and the qualities and issues this writer has tried to foist onto them are completely anachronistic. The 'big movie' music and setting does not work- this is small village stuff. The attempt at film noire shows the limitations of the director- nothing builds or develops, the narrative thread is broken into twenty second bites which just come out as confused. this director should stick to small commercials. Last, but not least, Christie is tongue-in-cheek about her plots and they are always laced with irony and dark humour. In some of her novels she even introduces a novelist who is a send-up of herself. (Ariadne Oliver). This production has completely lost track of Christie's well developed humour and replaced it with crude and amateur posturing!
Atomic Twister (2002)
Adding water to the pool so the producers could take a bath!
I thought it might be from the 'Airplane' stable and expected Leslie Nielson to suddenly appear to check out the reactor with his stethoscope. Admittedly, it was made for TV so we don't expect Hitchcock or Spielberg, nor do we expect quality performances but this film was sunk by cliché, incoherent direction, wooden acting and afternoon soap-opera production values. At every crisis, when we are told everything will go critical in three minutes, we are diverted to another lengthy scene with sloppy, sentimental kids and policemen overcoming their past personality disorders, termagant truckers and 'authority' being challenged. The three minutes must have been up twelve times and counting in the second reel - but this director managed to remove any potential for tension by flabby timing, irrelevant digressions and unintentional humour arising, I suspect, out of a complete lack of empathy with the subject. The cast run about like hysterical hens - even Homer Simpson makes a more convincing safety officer - the technology is plain daft - the dialogue and action is drenched in the sort of syrupy saccharine emotion which seems to dominate the American film industry - and, of course they all 'lurve' each other at the end- The house collapses but the corpse's makeup is intact and the little boy finds his crash helmet before he takes his bicycle out on the freeway! One of the cast prays at the end and so, I suspect, does the producer!
The Shadow of the Tower (1972)
Neglected and never repeated
Henry Tudor was second only to his Granddaughter, Elizabeth I as a successful monarch. Unfortunately, his latter years were bitter and overshadowed by illness. Further, his son, the future Henry VIII lived in his shadow and did much to outdo and erase his father's legacy. He was also cast by wishful thinkers as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower because they want to re-invent the worthless Richard III. The problem for the BBC when they wanted to complete their coverage of the Tudors, following The Six Wives and Elizabeth R series, is that Henry VIIIth claimed many of his father's achievements as his own and did much to bury the personal history. Thus, the writers of this series had little material to flesh out Tudor's rise from obscurity to creation of a dynasty, defeating his enemies and becoming a millionaire. So, notwithstanding a good cast and, potentially, a much more exciting story, the project was dogged by wordy and worthy scripts making an under-performing prequel to the bloodier dramas. This story needs a remake! A valiant effort at portraying the least bloodthirsty of the Tudors, but somewhat bloodless!
Where Was Spring? (1969)
unfortunately forgotten two handers from the age of satire (slight spoiler)
A shade of the 'Footlights Review' this series of sketches written and performed by Eleanor Bron and John Fortune coolly dissected political and social topics in the style still seen in Fortune's 'Bird and Fortune' sketches. Bron went on to give some memorable performances in films and, latterly, cameo roles such as Patsy's mother in Ab Fab. I haven't seen this series on tape or DVD so it may have been wiped: worth watching if found if only for Fortune's Single-Handed Yachtsman arriving in Portsmouth Harbour to find that his girlfriend has stowed away throughout the journey - or the original of the sketch where an old crone moans about her hard life scrubbing night and day and then reveals the step she's scrubbing belongs to her millionaire son.
The wit of spoken word and situation survive the awful music
I wonder if it would be possible to re-edit this comic gem to eliminate the dreadful backing song(s). Its a play in which the absurdity of conventional attitudes is lampooned and the stirling performances by Milo O'Shea and Attenborough carry it off in the larger style required for big screen. It may mystify those hooked on two modern types of comedy film: those which mock the people who don't conform and those which don't ever rise beyond crude vaudeville. Loot sympathises with those who defy and subvert social codes. It has more in common with the intelligent humour of Harold and Maude or The Producers than with the raucous Eddie Murphy / Chevvy Chase shout-fests. Of course, its difficult. The hard of thinking may have to replay some of the one liners to appreciate the ironies - the targets are attitudes rather than personal blemishes. This is not the world of Joan Rivers either - there is no bitchy 'humour' Orton, while deliberately offending against 'good taste' never sets his sights on anything quite so grubby. The cast are all likable but absurd. Even in Orton's more bitchy plays like 'What the Butler Saw' he doesn't aim at vindictiveness - its the institution he undermines. Loot is satire, not sarcasm. The well paced direction and the crisp, non-self-indulgent acting make this a forgotten treat which should be revived, as it has been for such diverse actors as Leonard Rossiter and Kenneth Williams on stage within living memory.
One Foot in the Grave (1990)
Surreal without special effects
This series is surreal in ways which would be instantly recognizably to Jaques Tati or Laurel and Hardy. In fact, every day situations are stretched just a little bit further and you have something which strays from conventional sit-com. The reality is that unplanned retirement does make people fill in their time with pointless activities and obsessive behaviour. Victor Meldrew's relationship with the world has been fractured and, suddenly, he's out of step with everything. Gadgets defeat him, people and their activities bemuse or disgust him. There is a certain predictability just as there is with the humour of Tony Hancock whom Victor closely resembles. But Victor is more three dimensional than Hancock: he has real disappointments, the fact that he is childless, old-age hasn't brought him respect, even from his wife. Even at his last gasp there is muddle and laughter. In fact, much of the humour is very black and some of our laughter is a way of dealing with shock- Grandpa Meldrew's skull, Margaret's mother's death and the episode where Victor thinks Margaret has died - then the nurse thumps the heart monitor back to life after he has reviewed their very human life in flashback and laughter follows. This is not Terry and June or the Honeymooners, it is a post Monty Python and Fawlty Towers version of the sitcom - it resembles the old type very superficially but, despite some extravagance of plotting it is much closer to reality and, like much sophisticated humour, involves a certain amount of pain and embarrassment for its wit. There are variations on trouser-dropping farce and misunderstood comments overheard - but here it is the character which drives the comedy, not the plot. There is enough in it for the belly laugh but there is also the humour of a Jane Austen, pointing up and dealing with the absurdities of the human condition!
Oliver Twist (1999)
Will we ever see a real Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist is a journalist's novel. The principal character has only one real purpose- as a foil for a range of villainous or inadequate or officious or bungling adults. He barely utters a thousand words in the novel, in the film he is never silent. In this version, the novel has not merely been arranged - it has been totally re-written by someone who has completely missed Dicken's intention: to show us the effects of utilitarian government in late Georgian society. Instead of using the huge range of ideas and the profound commentary- a story which contains enough for several films, the writer rifles the ideas and tries to modernise the language, at once destroying the authority of Dickens' voice and destroying some of his most memorable effects. Dickens is not so far away from us that his language needs translation and most people are literate enough to follow his ideas and arguments. The issues of the novel are as relevant today as they were then - the abuses of authority, attitudes to the destitute, exploitation of the young. Instead, Brownlow shares his sitting room with his housekeeper and asks for 'a large brandy' as though in a saloon rather than his home - this is just sheer ignorance. Fagin is politically corrected - a circus conjurer rather than Dickens' child exploiter and murderer by proxy. Fagin is based on a real person. A real moderniser might have wanted to develop those aspects of Ikey Solomons that Dickens couldn't put in print in 1836. Meanwhile, the novel is trimmed so that characters who are dead before the novel opens are brought incompetently to life and occupy large chunks of time. There is soap-opera violence instead of the real thuggery of public hangings and casual murder. Unlike David Lean, this team seem to be unable to capture Dickens' burning indignation, his contempt for self-serving officialdom. The glaring parallel between the effects of the 'respectable gentlemen' of 'the board' and of the 'merry old gentleman', Fagin on unprotected and unwanted children is missed.
This film has no more relevance to Dickens work than the Lionel Bart musical - an excellent cast and a lot of money completely wasted!
An Ideal Husband (1999)
Another 'modernisation' goes wrong.
One of the principal sources of humour in Wilde's plays comes from pricking at the inflated egos, pious humbug and ignorance of the upper classes. There is always a Wildean character to reverse a clicheed expression or invert conventional 'wisdom.' Unfortunately, by stripping most of his characters of their stiff formality and rigid social code, the writer and director have removed the butt of the joke and Wilde's comments on absurdity are left without a punchline. The attempt to work in anachronistic social relevance leaves us with a set of feeble characters who fall in love with each other for no obvious reason. Because Wilde's language has been sterilised the actors have to use mugging to express the personalities Wilde created. Result, a charmless and dated 'political' drama as credible as a Jeffery Archer novel. Gertrude is insecure and fretful where she should be smug and priggish- Mabel is arch where she should be caustic- Poor Oscar - gets no 'Oscar'!