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The Palace (2008)
Britain's "West Wing"
From the pre-title sequence to the opening titles themselves, one's first impression of "The Palace" is that it is a series modelled on "The West Wing".
Like the aforementioned US political drama, "The Palace" follows the day-to-day lives of a fictional head of state and his staff, but while The West Wing gives almost equal status to each member of its ensemble cast, The Palace is focused, primarily on the show's main character, King Richard and the exploits of his close family.
The first episode has clearly set the benchmark for the rest of the series; a series which promises to afford us all a glimpse at an alternative monarchy, which in the case of "The Palace" is personified by a young, charismatic and lad-about-town King, who has been thrust into the glare of the world's press, without warning.
ITV1 certainly has the pedigree to produce a series of this calibre, if its recent success with "The Queen" (2006) is anything to judge by and while the series does not allude to portraying real events, certainly promises to be as equally gripping.
Casino Royale (2006)
Best Bond film of all time
Daniel Craig's debut as James Bond is absolutely stunning. Gone are the seemingly involuntary raised eyebrows, the often silly gadgets, the continued sexual harassment of a female civil servant (Miss Moneypenny) and in their place are a well-crafted highly original story, with more twists and turns than the street map of London and central performances worthy of, at the very least, an Academy Award nomination.
Focussing, entirely on James Bond's early days as an MI6 double-0 agent, Eon Productions; the makers of the Bond films since 1962, have completely re-invented the Bond film formula, by dispensing of superfluous action and unnecessary sexual exploits and instead creating a film with poise, intelligence and reality.
With Casino Royale, the audience are asked to forget the Bond films which preceded it, as if one is pressing a "reset" button, much in the same vein as Christopher Nolan's 2005 "Batman Begins".
This film is, without doubt, "James Bond Begins". Judi Dench (a national treasure of Britain) here plays M, with irrascibility and genuine disdain for Bond's methods, instead of being his surrogate mother as evidenced in "Tomorrow Never Dies" and Pierce Brosnan's subsequent "efforts".
Daniel Craig's Bond is, for the first time, a human being who bleeds.
While "Die Another Day" touched on the possibility that Bond is able to be captured and tortured; Casino Royale goes the whole-hog by having Bond not only experiencing a near-fatal cardiac arrest, but barely surviving a horrific car crash, which causes him to become captured and in a break with traditional Bond films, he his stripped naked and horrifically tortured.
All the neigh-sayers who rubbished Daniel Craig's casting as Bond must surely be eating their own words; as this brilliant young actor, from the Wirral, firmly establishes himself as the premier Bond and not a convenient replacement for Sean Connery, as was the case with Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan.
Craig's Bond is true to Ian Fleming's creation.
Of significant note are the characters of Vesper Lynd (played with gutso and originality by Eva Green) and the film's central villain; Le Chiffre (again, played with stereo-type smashing originality), by Mads Mikkelsen.
Vesper Lynd is not just another Bond "girl". Every leading lady, in the Bond films, since 1995 has described themselves in interviews as "far different from the hysterical blonde bimbo", but have always failed to live up to this statement in their performance.
Eva Green gives us a truly multi-layered character who suffers emotional trauma when witnessing Bond's brutal and prolonged killing of two African guerillas. Her character is genuinely in love with Bond; a sentiment which is clearly and believably reciprocated.
Le Chiffre, played with chilling accuracy by the aforementioned Mads Mikkelsen is, for the first time in Bond villain history, an entirely three-dimensional character, with the same flaws as any other person. This villain has asthma, not the consequential by-product of Nazi genetic interference (as was the case with "A View To A Kill"'s Max Zorin). He is genuinely fearful of his life (there are no Jaws or Tee-Hee caricature henchmen here to save the villain's day) as evidenced by the scene when he and his girlfriend are threatened in their hotel room by the again, aforementioned African guerillas; who's money Le Chiffre had lost, to Bond, while laundering it at the poker table.
You must approach this film, as I did, not having watched any of the other Bond films for several months. If you do not, there is the danger that you may be expecting more of the same. You will be disappointed, but can seek solace in the fact that Casino Royale, is without any doubt, the best Bond film of all time and that Daniel Craig IS miles better than Connery.