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Endeavour: Harvest (2017)
Lost its way
This was a great series at one time. However, it hit a low with this episode. The previous reviewer mentioned Midsomer Murders and rightly so. In fact, many a detective series has had an episode in a village with pagan customs. That Endeavour had to stoop to this is a sign that ideas are running out.
And what about the power station? Automation must have been extraordinarily well advanced in the 1960s, since this plant is able to operate with one gatekeeper and two scientists.
I couldn't understand what Morse did at the climax, but never mind.
The Joan Thursday subplot is soapy, drags on and and is seemingly not very relevant, but at times it is more interesting than the mystery in hand.
No sense of time or culture
The over-long haircuts of the men, the unkempt hairstyles of some of the women, the non-period clothes, the lack of formal manners... Not for a second could I believe this was Germany in the 1930s.
To make matters worse there is the casual manner of speech and the lack of any attempt to pronounce German names in anything like the correct pronunciation.
Example: a young female student with her hair hanging down to her shoulders any old how, with the demeanour of a student of the 21st century, comes to Viggo Mortensen's office door, looks inside and introduces herself in a very nonchalant manner, "I'm Anne..." Even in the Germany of today this would inappropriate, let alone in pre-war days.
What was the writer thinking? What was the director thinking?
Close to the Enemy (2016)
What hold has Poliakoff got over the BBC?
Why does the BBC keep pouring out cash whenever Poliakoff writes a new series? In recent years there has been the awful Glorious 39 and the daft Dancing on the Edge, both of which were set in the thirties. They were marked by a lack of realism on more than one level. This would be fine if they substituted something else, such as comedy. As it is, they are just naff.
Now we are in an unconvincing version of the 1940s. Others have commented on the awful dialogue (which presumably is meant to be a clever conceit?), the stereotypical characters and the plot, which on past form, won't be satisfactorily resolved. Poliakoff seems to be particularly weak on finishing them.
In this serial, which I'm writing about after two episodes, there are, so far, some interesting elements and characters, despite the stereotyping, and I'll have to wait and see what the dénouement is like.
Jim Sturgess is not good in this. Why does he have a fake accent resembling Alan Whicker? He's supposed to be a superbrain, but comes over as a bit of a dope.
The Secret Agent (2016)
A bit lame
It's a strange and unconvincing story, but it has its points of interest, as it deals with the murky late Victorian world of mysterious anarchists.
Unfortunately, this BBC version is not very well done. The main problem is that it is too slow and does not flow.
Stephen Graham has a difficult part as Inspector Heat, whose doings and motivations are often obscure. Why he further encumbers this with a heavy Scouse accent is one of the mysteries of the series (I know he's from Liverpool, but he's good at accents).
As for Vicky McClure, what is her accent? It's unrelated to the speech of the rest of her screen family and also seems anachronistic to me (too many glottal stops and -d- for -t- in places). Is it that she is just using her own accent (and does she perhaps do so in every part she gets)?
It's boring. The plot is unconvincing and doesn't really make sense. The characters are either clichés or lacklustre (or both). Charlie Cox is amiable, but is that enough? Andrew Scott has an accent like none you've ever heard before. It's Russian as generated by Stephen Hawking's voice simulator. At one point Cox's character visits a golf course and finds a suitcase full of nuclear blueprints buried (at most) three inches down in the sand of a bunker. (It had been too difficult for Andrew Scott's character to find.) Right there he takes out the secret plans and starts reading them.
It's supposed to be 1974 - but which season(s)? The power cuts were all in the early, wintry parts of the year, yet here several months go by and quite early on there is a scene in a summer corn field. Nevertheless the power cuts go on. No one seems at all bothered by them, perhaps partly because hardly any one is there. The film takes place in a depopulated England where there are also only about four cars. The production budget must have been minuscule. (Note to producers: If you have a tiny budget, please restrict any Cold War thrillers to those taking place entirely in interrogation rooms and nuclear bunkers.)
On a minor note: why show clear establishing shots of Deal in Kent and then pretend it's located next door to Sizewell in Suffolk?
We Dive at Dawn (1943)
Wooden but interesting period piece
The main interest here is the period detail. Those who make films today set in the 1940s ought to have a look and listen - then they might not make some of the mistakes of language and tone that are so common.
However, we have to face the fact that this film is a cheap flag waver. The first third drags as we go through some unconvincing stories about the home lives of the sailors, mostly done in the "chirpy working class" mode that the British entertainment industry favoured at the time. The main story is far-fetched and the Danish village is made of the cheapest painted cardboard.
During the war it was obviously important not to scare the families on the home front too much, with the result that there is little real sense of danger on the sub and hardly any casualties. In contrast, think of "Das Boot" with everyone bathed in sweat, cooped up in claustrophobic conditions, breathing foul air and scared out of their wits. It's not like that here. Despite the food and fuel running out and depth charges going off all around, everyone is pretty much calmness personified.
On a positive note, the Germans are real ones and speak correct German, which was good going for a wartime film.
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (2013)
War made soapy
It's well made and acted and there are some dramatic battle sequences, that even top Band of Brothers in giving a believable sense of combat in the Second World War.
However, it's corny. The "five friends" (Die fünf Freunde) are put together so as to tick boxes (1. upright 2. sensitive 3. naive 4. frivolous 5. Jewish) and the box-ticking continues in many parts of the production. (It's ironical that Die fünf Freunde is the name of Enid Blyton's Famous Five in the German translations of her children's books.)
I say "soapy", because there are so many ridiculous coincidences in the story - everyone is close together, despite the vastness of the territory, and keeps meeting up.
On a minor note: why does the Jewish guy spend the early sequences going around in Berlin dressed virtually as a Rabbi (and with anachronistic designer stubble)? Was he trying to attract the attention of the authorities?
Others have noted much more serious historical faults, and I won't go into those here.
They spent a lot of money on this and it apparently went through many re-writes. Couldn't they have done better?
I had high hopes of this. It has music like "The Bridge", moody landscape shots and (occasional) subtitles. To that extent it mimics the excellent series from Scandinavia.
Unfortunately it is also slow and boring. The main character, Mathias, is a conventional dry stick with a permanently glum face, supported by willing, but very ordinary, sidekicks. Where are Sara and Saga - or their equivalents? Where are the exciting plot lines? Where is the slightest touch of humour?
There are also goofs, particularly in the examination of crime scenes. For example, why put on overshoes if you are going to tramp around in them outdoors before entering the building where the corpse is?
Back to the drawing-board, BBC.
37 Days (2014)
Gets better in part 3
It was a tough task to make an interesting drama out of 37 days of meetings. This series make has a reasonable go at dealing with it by using the artifice of two fictional clerks, one in London and one in Berlin. There were problems, however.
One was the dialogue, which did not always catch the correct tone. It was sometimes too familiar and lacked diplomatic etiquette. On one occasion, an ambassador just leaves a fairly amicable meeting with Sir Edward Grey (the best acting performance) without any word of farewell - he simply walks out.
Another problem was a lot of hammy acting on the German side (even though I accept that the real-life Kaiser was indeed hammy). The German actors were also hampered by having to speak English. I think subtitles would have been not only more authentic, but also better for the tone of the piece. To make matters worse, the Germans had to clomp about in heavy boots on uncarpeted floors. Since there was an awful lot of roaming around while talking (unusual in real-life meetings), this made a distracting clatter. Perhaps the sound recording department was at fault here.
In general, budget problems undermined the production. The only signs of Germany were stock establishing shots of the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. Otherwise, Germany was represented by very obviously British buildings. One of the "German" cars prominently displayed its AA membership badge. The scenes of tiny groups of soldiers on the German borders were laughable and should have been left out.
Despite these flaws, I stuck with it, as I am interested in the history of the period. It became much better in the third and final part as war neared and the scenes in the cabinet room were tense and poignant.
Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
Jumping the shark
This was, until this episode, a great series. The previous story, in which Sherlock returns "from the dead", was clever and entertaining - even if the drama was subsidiary to the comedy.
However, this episode was embarrassing. Sherlock turned into something very like Dr Who as played by Matt Smith - except even more manic and flippant. When was Sherlock Holmes ever a joker? However you update him, this can't be right.
What's worse, it was sentimental. It was mawkish in the manner of the Waltons. I won't go further into Sherlock's cringe-worthy best man speech, as I don't want to give spoilers.
Jumping the shark? They've vaulted the blue whale.