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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.
Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)
I am sorry to disagree with the many fans of this. The dialogue is terribly anachronistic and a million miles from the style of Jane Austen. "Let's not overreact" from Darcy, for example, and worst of all from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the world's most supercilious and conservative woman of her age, who says to Lizzie, "We need to talk". Need I say more?
I'm not an expert on legal procedures through the ages, but I strongly suspect that the court scenes were anachronistic, too. Others can probably give better information on this.
Also, I noticed very little chemistry between the Darcys, despite what some have claimed.
Miss Marple, please leave the stage!
It was a terrible idea to bring Miss Marple into Endless Night, especially as it was done here. Apparently she went to stay with Wendy Craig's character for many, many months, including going with her on a trip to Rome, where by a massive coincidence she meets up again with the chauffeur with whom she had struck up an unlikely conversation in the street back in England. Later on, Miss Marple starts wandering in and out of the new house whenever she feels like it, including putting herself in ridiculous danger. I can't say more without spoilers.
I also can't say much about the ruining of the plot. The book is a good one and written in an unusual style for Agatha Christie. It has a surprise ending - which is mangled right out of existence here.
The acting is so so. Tom Hughes, who has the main part, mainly sleepwalks through it. In real life he is not only an actor but a model, and that aspect is very much to the fore here.
Read the book, and perhaps see the 1972 version with Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills. It's much better than this one.
By Any Means (2013)
How could they?
If you thought the BBC had been wrecking its own reputation enough recently, with its scandals at the top, it has now decided to have a go at its good name as a provider of Sunday night dramas. This series is dross - so bad it's almost good. Almost. With a few tweaks (removing the references to sex) it might be all right for Saturday early evening, when Dr Who is off the air, because children often like comics.
The premise is trashy and the details are clichéd. In the opening episode, Keith Allen reprises his old OTT Sheriff of Nottingham role, the comic baddie. If only he'd had moustaches, he would have been able to twirl them.
The BBC still has the wrong bosses. Give another tranche the customary payoff.
Murder on the Home Front (2013)
Unoriginal and a bit wooden
"I know - let's cross Foyle's War with Silent Witness. It can't fail!" That's the crass idea behind this - the only idea behind it. Patrick Kennedy even looks like Michael Kitchen's younger brother and his character has a similar phlegmatic approach to crime solving. What a pity Tamzin Merchant is not a patch on Honeysuckle Weeks.
It might just have worked if it hadn't been so creakily wooden, if the fake bomb sites hadn't had obvious cardboard bits, if the CGI had been a bit more convincing and if they hadn't resorted to gratuitous gore - but I suppose they had to put that in as part of their homage to Silent Witness.
It might yet find its feet, but it's a poor testimony to the creativity of British TV. Scandinavia and the USA are bursting with good ideas. What went wrong in the UK?