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46 reviews in total 
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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Series One GREAT. Series Two LESS SO., 26 July 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nothing particularly unique, fresh or new happens in The Grand, but it succeeds because it constantly surprises and turns expectations on their heads. Russell T Davies, that genius writer, is always good at catching the viewer out, and the show's greatest successes are delivered by deft overturning of what we think is going to happen next.

Casting Susan Hampshire as a prostitute? Straightaway, that's brilliant. I expected the whole series to involve Miss Harkness at risk of being caught out, struggling to keep one step ahead of propriety ... but in Russell T Davies's hands, all of that is blown away. By episode three, her trade is an open secret. This is why RTD is one of Britain's most successful TV writers, and I am not.

Series One thrives on the aspiring, go-getting maid Monica. Several gobsmacking twists on the trot lead Monica's story to an appalling conclusion: gang rape, murder in self defence, execution. Well done, Mr Davies.

It all falls apart in series two. Head transplants are always tricky to pull off in ongoing TV series, but The Grand fails in giving two key characters head AND personality transplants. The impossibly handsome, tormented Stephen becomes ten years younger and infinitely wetter. Outspoken, bitter Ruth becomes a shivering, febrile mess. These two changes are a huge failing and, with the Bannerman family granny forgotten between series, and with John and Sarah Bannerman (the irreplaceable Julia St John) written out after a couple of episodes, major driving forces are lost. Series two is very different from series one, and much weaker. Sure, there are still great episodes (Monica's revenge, Clive's dilemma), but these individual story lines are divorced from the main ongoing stories.

As is the way of these things, the Below Stairs characters are always the most interesting. While the Above Stairs characters worry about business deals and all of that old nonsense, there is a real sense that life below stairs is tough, cruel, bitter and horrible.

The Grand, at its best, really is "grand". Cliché-busting, surprising, and full of memorable characters and situations. The problem with the majority of series two is that those memorable characters aren't quite as memorable as they used to be, which handicaps the story from the very beginning.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Weird and, sometimes, wonderful, 11 February 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

All kinds of people pass through Ann and Erik Shepherd's bar, in the first series, and all bring their stories with them. A real "Tales of the Unexepected" atmosphere kept me on my toes through the first series. Weird hints to Ann's secret identity; sinister suggestions that Erik may be capable of terrible things; people coming to the island with personal problems that soon catch up with them.

The problem is that some of it is very long winded and waffly, and a couple of the first series' episodes are very missable. When it's at its best (the episode A Touch of Home), The Lotus Eaters is top-quality British drama. There are some episodes that just don't bother to bring tension, excitement and drama to the situation, and are plain boring.

The final couple of scenes of A Touch of Home are unbeatable, and completely blew me away. The Present Mrs Clive and A Tiger in Bristol Street all have twists in the tail, and are thoroughly rewarding for that. The Climbing Wave, ending series one, brings everything together nicely and is full of surprises.

Series two is not nearly as good. All that waffle about spies and double agents goes on far too long, and the mysteries and shocks of series one are not replicated. Some episodes (notably Beside A Crooked Stile) are too preoccupied with intrusively flashy direction and editing, which becomes annoying after a while. Ann's dream sequence utterly defies understanding and just serves to annoy.

Wanda Ventham gives as strong a performance as you would expect from her, while Ian Hendry is cursed with a horrible cardigan and strange motivation. There are some scenes when Erik's behaviour seems totally unfathomable and illogical. Some great guest performances (Maurice Denham is fun, and Sylvia Coleridge will make your hair stand on end), but some stodgy scripts and an occasionally pretentious approach to storytelling. Very hit-and-miss, but the "hits" are certainly worth it.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Preposterously Addictive, 6 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Utterly ludicrous in every way, Howards Way feels like it has been beamed in from another planet, not from twenty years in the past. It's always held up as the ultimate example of British aspiration in the 80s: powerdressing, shoulderpads, big hair, big cars, mobile phones, powerboats, money money money. The world seen in Howards Way is completely unlike anything of my experience that it seems alien.

"Find out who's behind that Guernsey holding company. I'm worried we're vulnerable to a takeover bid". "Who's fronting that nominee company?". "You're a paper millionaire now you've gone public". "We must have a majority holding in the Placenta Corporation". "I'll put it to the board of Diagonal Holdings". Utterly meaningless and baffling. Every character tries to take over everyone else's company, and the business dealings are totally opaque and difficult to follow. I have no idea who owned which company at any given time, and all the obvious drama inherent in the boardroom discussions might have been in another language. Maybe this is how life really was in the 80s.

With everyone commissioning everyone else to build them a world-class boat, before going out for a luncheon appointment with The Bank, Howards Way repeats the same series of story lines over and over again. Every year, every character has business dealings in some exotic clime or other, and half the cast decamp for a sunnier location. The Bermuda stuff in the last series is very strange. Malta, Gibraltar, France and Guernsey poke their heads up from time to time.

The characters have a real life to them, though, and his is where the show really succeeds. Old fashioned Jack Rolfe (It's my bloody yard!) and staunch Tom Howard (We need to move into the 1980s, Jack!) lead the drama to begin with.

Jan Howard becomes a businesswoman overnight, then a world-class dress designer overnight. The younger generation have standard-issue sexual crises, but the one to keep an eye on is Abby. Mousy little tie-dyed teenager she may be to begin with, but the change that happens as the series moves along, leading to gobsmacking changes in series six, are very memorable. Boo-hiss Charles Frere turns out to have a heart of gold (though you'll have to wait a while to see). His battles with his dad, boggle-eyed old bounder Sir Edward, are enormous fun. Then there's Sir John, who is everyone's bank manager and blabs everyone's details to Sir Edward before beetling off to patronise awful shiny-suited Ken Masters by calling him "Kenneth". Avril is a vision of commonsense and rises above all of the double dealings around her (at least, I assume she does, as I understand very little of what anyone is talking about in those boardroom scenes).

No-one is madder than Polly. A bored trophy wife, she's rather sympathetic from time to time. She fails to understand why Jan is upset when Polly sets up another company using Jan's name, and then starts trying to expand to America. The writers must have had a brainstorm that day. Actually, there may be someone madder than Polly. Sarah Foster is utterly barking.

Also, keep an eye open for wooden Kate Harvey. At the very end of the series, she's seen shuffling some papers and explains she is planning her campaign to be elected to the local council. An episode later, someone asks if she'll be late for her committee meeting. Utterly preposterous.

Look out for some wonderful guest stars and guest characters: Catherine Schell, Pamela Salem, Michael Cochrane, a young Anthony Head, boo-hiss Francesca Gonshaw, a gozzy-eyed animal rights baddie, Stephen Grief as his standard-issue "oily foreigner" character. So much of Howards Way is familiar, it fits like a glove.

It's the characters with integrity that stand out. The only working class person allowed dialogue is Bill From The Mermaid Yard, who steals every scene he is in just by not having to talk about share prices. Gerald Urquhart's old school tie hoves into view every now and then; he is utterly competent, likable and honest. The fact that he is gay is conveniently forgotten after some quite strong and dramatic scenes in which AIDS is skirted around and then finally mentioned, and he cops off with Kate O'Mara.

"Hello Ken / How did you know I was there? Have you got eyes in the back of your head? / No, I'm standing downwind of your aftershave". Oh, Kate O'Mara.

Can it get any better? Illogical, insensible, pompous, baffling, contradictory, naff, glam, witty, addictive, dated ... I cannot recommend Howards Way highly enough.

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
So camp!, 9 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The camp, outrageous, over-the-top stories of two women whose hatred of each other is so all-consuming that their friends and neighbours become spectators and pawns in a never-ending game of jealousy and oneupmanship. Absolute bliss, with guaranteed huge laughs throughout.

Plummy-voiced, with marching, over-confident body language, Prunella Scales is a hoot as Miss Mapp, determined to protect her role as Queen of the village. Her rival, regal and sly Lucia, constantly pulls the rug from beneath her feet; Geraldine McEwan, with her swooping voice and glorious wardrobe, gives such an arch performance that she can almost be forgiven her association with Miss Marple. Almost.

Denis Lill steals every scene as the drunken, lascivious Major. Constantly in a rage, stashing whisky out of sight of the servants and shouting his orders in Hindustani, he gives a brilliant performance. Nigel Hawthorne, as Lucia's partner-in-crime Georgie, brings a wonderfully camp and fey quality, completing his embroidery and ensuring his toupee is on straight. The atmosphere of fun is helped by dialogue such as "I have always said fingerbowls are entitled to doilies". Glorious.

This is one of those series in which every character brings their own quality of fun: the twitchy Mr Wyse; the Padre whose accent changes dependent on where he has been holidaying; Quaint Irene whose love for Lucia borders on the sexual; Diva's frustration with Mapp bubbling over into peevish sniping; Mrs Wyse ensuring that everyone knows she has an MBE ("the servants leave it lying around, you know"); the level-headed and professional servants, struggling to deal with the whims of their employers ...

Almost cartoonish in its portrayal of ridiculous and childish schemes, this has many comparisons with Fry and Laurie's Jeeves & Wooster series. Whether washed out to sea using a table as a boat, arranging a séance for a pet budgie or feigning illness in order to avoid being found out as a non-Italian speaker, Mapp & Lucia's boastful schemes are sharp, witty and wonderfully played. Such a treat.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Addictive, but deeply silly, 18 January 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Required family viewing, back in the early 90s, the DVDs of this classic series are utterly addictive; however, watching the episodes back-to-back reveals whacking great plot holes, and plenty of story lines that are dropped, forgotten and never mentioned again.

Bea and Evie Eliott are magnificently played by Stella Gonet and Louise Lombard, with a sterling cast around them. The costumes are glorious, as you;d expect; however, there are some occasions when it would have been great to have seen a little more of them. The 1920s atmos is very believable and evocative.

As the series wore on, I found Miss Evie to be rather unsympathetic. Falling in love with every unsuitable, rake, cad, bounder and married man who would even cast a glance at her, Miss Evie somehow ends up proposing marriage to someone who seems little more than a professional freeloader. Worse, the proposal comes just minutes after he has drunkenly torn her dress. Far from being a series full of empowering roles for women, The House of Eliott shows Miss Evie to be in dire need of a man in her life, and frequently ignoring her professional responsibilities in order to achieve this.

Miss Bea's relationship with Jack goes through endless ups-and-downs, and there are some episodes where I found myself timing their scenes together to work out an average of how long they could be on screen without shouting. Miss Bea is more likable than Miss Evie, but prone to being a bit controlling.

In the workroom, characters such as Joseph, Tilly, Madge, Agnes and Betty provide plenty of Chirpy Cockernee Fun. Interestingly, the third and final series concentrates on the personal lives of the staff far more than the first two series had done. The story of Tilly and Norman's baby is quite absorbing, along with Madge's domestic problems and Agnes's urge to sing in music hall. All of this is rather more interesting than the same-old-same-old that the Eliotts seem to be going through: more marital strife to Miss Bea, and more random copping off for Miss Evie. There is so much going on in the third series that too much is left unresolved. To be honest, I would much rather have done without some of the dreary romantic stuff with Miss Evie and Daniel, in order to explore Madge and Charles's relationship, or see a bit more of Katya.

All along the way, there are plenty of moustache-twirling baddies desperate to derail the plucky heroines' attempts at business. From series one's is-he or isn't-he step brother, through boo-hiss Mr Saroyan in series two, and Grace Keeble in series three (not a baddie, really, just driven to frustration and resentment by Miss Evie's appalling behaviour), it's all enormous fun to watch.

Endless Countesses, Duchesses and the like; plenty of comedy French designers; lots of scandal; terrible employment practices ... The House of Eliott has it all. Everything feels rushed and hurried, nothing has long-lasting repercussions, stories and characters are cast aside and forgotten as if they never existed.

This series left me yelling at the TV in frustration and annoyance from time to time, but is never less than enjoyable. It's all so daft that French and Saunders really didn't need to put much effort into their legendary, priceless parody, The House of Idiot.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Regal, 19 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The story of the English Civil War told through the eyes of one family.

The Parliamanetarians (aka Roundheads), led by General Oliver Cromwell, overthrow the Royalists (aka Cavaliers), led by King Charles I. Charles is executed, and England becomes a Puritan state until Cromwell's death. With no strong leadership, the Royalists are able to reassert themselves, leading to Charles's son (King Chalres II) assuming the throne.

The Royalist Lacey family, in their castle at Arnescote, is divided when eldest daughter Anne marries a leading Parliamentarian. Before long, Sir Martin Lacey (Julian Glover) is dead; the family's slow self-destruction mirrors that of the country as a whole.

Glorious scripts and dialogue. Beautiful locations, sets and costumes. Some outstanding performances and some memorable characters among the family and the servants. The great Peter Jeffrey makes Cromwell rather sympathetic, when he eventually appears. King Charles I's trial is taken from the original transcripts, and is utterly powerful and gripping. There are memorable scenes and characters galore: the siege of Arnescote at the end of the first series; the spiteful priest of the second series; John Fletcher's bluff, confident father; duplicitous cousin Susan. Battles, spying, swordfights, seedy London backstreets ... this is the stuff of great British telly.

A special mention is reserved for one of the best character actresses of all time, Eileen Way, who plays the kitchen crone-in-residence, Minty, and for Rosalie Crutchley as the tower of strength housekeeper Goodwife Margaret.

The standout episode, for me, is the witchfinder episode from series two. Utterly harrowing, as poor kitchengirl Rachel finds herself the victim of circumstance and gossip. Debbie Goodman's performance stayed with me for days afterwards, and it's a real shame that IMDb suggests she didn't do anything more. If you read this, Debbie, thanks for a startling piece of TV.

The only disappointment in the whole of By the Sword Divided is that the music composers were obviously working on the BBC's Miss Marple at the same time as this!

6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Genius ... or Tedious?, 19 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An amazing, sprawling epic, touching on some of the most powerful issues that mankind can ever face ... or ... lots of people standing around talking about crop rotation.

Survivors is the most variable TV show I have ever seen. It is either gripping, or tiresome. Its three seasons seem to have little in common with each other, and the series gradually runs out of steam (ironic, as it ends with the re-invention of the steam engine!).

The first series is the best. Beginning with the shock of The Death, and society falling apart, it moves on to deal with scavenging, trading, disease, and how to cope without electricity or medicine. Some brilliant images of deserted streets. Memorable characters, such as Emma Cohen and Tom Price, will not be bettered as the series moves on. Some stand-out episodes, including the capital punishment story everyone always remembers, make up for some of the more ordinary tales which seem to involve two groups of people waving guns at each other for 45 minutes.

With series two, Abby Grant has moved on, and nearly all the likable characters are killed off in a fire. Now in a new, less tight-knit community, the stories are more varied in quality and some quite unsympathetic.

Mina is very likable, but is thought to be a witch. It's this kind of story that reminds us how easy it is to become primitive all over again. The community gains a doctor, and the London-based two parter breaks the series' mould effectively.

It all falls apart at the end of series two when leader Greg heads off to Norway in a hot air balloon. This is the first nail in the coffin of the series.

Series three is very hard going. Having spent so long building up the new community in series two, this is barely seen and all but forgotten. The doctor is never even mentioned again. Jenny moans a lot about missing either (a) home, (b) kids, or (c) Greg. In some scenes, she moans about all three, becoming an unlikeable whining machine. Charlie rants on about forming communities and rebuilding society to anyone who will listen, almost prompting me to reach for the mute button. Hubert gets drunk and falls over (he occasionally proves himself useful by shooting people).

Charlie, Jenny and Hubert trot from one place to the next, avoiding wild dogs, trying to find Greg. It all seems a bit aimless. There's a brilliant and terrifying episode about rabies, but the third series is mostly very yawn-making. Greg seems to be setting up some kind of military rule towards the end of the series, though Heaven only knows how Norweigian Anna is involved.

The final episodes, aiming to switch on hydro-electric power-stations, makes interesting viewing, if only because they're talking about valves instead of crops, for a change. Moving from one location to the next, occasionally picking up and dropping off new faces, gives the third series far less emotional involvement than that in earlier episodes. It's a real effort to sit through some of it.

At its worst, Survivors bored me and frustrated me as characters behaved illogically and provoked arguments for no reason. At its best, it's shocking, thought-provoking and terrifying. In the first two years, the best far outweighs the worst. Towards the end, I was losing patience and sympathy. Worth a watch for the scale of its ideas if nothing else.

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Most Odd, 28 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

British Lion made some great films: Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man leap to mind immediately. Great cult films that pack a real punch, dealing with weird subject matter and huge twisting plots.

Endless Night was made by British Lion at around the same time as these better-known films; accordingly, it's the least Agatha Christie-ish Agatha Christie you'll ever see.

A definite tinge of Hitchcock in some sequences, and Bernard Hermann's weird, eerie music helps. There are some nice, eerie, disjointed flashbacks and some strange and sinister dreamy sequences.

Hayley Mills gives life to a bland character, lumbered with an iffy accent and someone else's singing voice. Britt Ekland is luminous and lusty as ever. Hywel Bennett is really rather suave, in his own way. The house, Gypsy's Acre, is a real Bond Villain's Lair: a monstrosity of hidden swimming pools and groovy furniture. The foul creation of a seedy Swedish architect. Despite this, Hywel and Hayley seem happy ... until Britt moves in with them.

The storytelling gets a bit unclear at the end, where it is clearly stated that one character did not exist and is merely specifically employed to scare and unsettle people. Poison is the cause of death of a character, but not mentioned by the coroner. As a result of this, I found the last ten minutes of the film rather baffling. It seemed that the film's desperation to be strange and creepy led it to contradict itself. Or maybe I missed the point?

Guaranteed 100% Miss Marple Free, there's glamour and sinister overtones, taking the film into totally new territory for Agatha Christie.

Miss Marie Lloyd (2007) (TV)
8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Interesting, 13 May 2007

A great performance from Jessie Wallace. Convincingly ageing from teens to fifties, and convincingly descending into desperation, loneliness and booze. I'm note sure whether or not she was really singing, but that's not a major quibble.

Whenever I watch a film about a real person, I wonder which bits were real, which made up, and which are dramatic licence. Clearly, Marie's best friend and dresser is a fictional character, existing just to give her someone to talk to. The narrator was totally unnecessary, contrived and, after a while, annoying.

Intriguing period detail, and plenty of excitement in the hustle-and-bustle backstage in the music halls. The idea of Marie as a "pop diva" is an intriguing one, and there are real parallels between her and some of today's female celebs. Her politicism, leading a strike, made an interesting counterpoint to the standard relationship-trauma that films like this will always emphasise.

Having researched Marie (ie: looked her up on Wikipedia), I find that she actually married Bernard (not made clear in the film); they caused a scandal in America when trying to visit the country as an unmarried couple.

The film had the inevitable focus on tragic lovelife and abuse menfolk, but the strength of Marie Lloyd's personality, and her trailblazing role in the public eye, are never forgotten. Sometimes overlooked, but never forgotten.

12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Warm. Spiky. Lovely., 7 May 2007

COnstantly surprising, this is one of the BBC's unsung gems.

Dylan Moran and Charlotte Coleman have such chemistry, there is no doubting the warmth of Ian and Lisa's love for each other. They're a perfect couple in many ways: she's level-headed and sensible, but sees their country life as bliss; he's sarcastic and thoughtless, seeing their life as a provincial nightmare. They are both right, and both wrong. The support they give each other, and the tenderness of some of their scenes, are quite touching and emotional; very unlike any other sitcom. Of course, knowing the series was cut short by Charlotte Coleman's terrible death makes it even more poignant.

Every attempt Ian makes to fit in, half-hearted though it may be, is destined to fail. Frank Finlay is frightening as Lisa's "lord of the manor" father, bringing real menace and threat to his scenes. With Lisa's icy mother and violent brother adding colour, the only normal one of the bunch is Lisa's sister, Helen, played with restraint and lack of cuteness by The Vicar of Dibley's Emma Chambers.

There are some huge laughs along the way: Marc Warren as a comedian Ian ships in for a village fundraiser, who ruins the night and trashes the stage; Ian's stint managing Helen's shop; Ian's "rural fire stations" calendar; the restrained anger of Clive Merrison's headmaster; Ian giving up booze.

At heart, this is a very dark, bleak series. The harmonica music enhances the isolated rural atmosphere, and there are some shots of the countryside that make the village seem totally alone. The shining light of this forgotten little outpost is the warmth of Ian and Lisa's love. Such a shame that this was cut short.

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