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Days That Shook the World (2003)
Overall an excellent series
The other comments on this series only cover the 'Hiroshima' episode. In fact the series covers a large number of Historic 'days' including the Wright Brothers' Flight, the Assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln, the Death of Primncess Diana and the declaration of the state of Israel. The original series had hour long episodes with two thematically-related 'days' (e.g. the Wright Brothers and the First Moon Landing'. Later on there were half-hour episodes on single days and a few hour-long specials (on e.g. the 1967 Middle East War and the 1918 Armistice.). The overall standard of the series is high and I use many of them in my High School teaching. In this regard I would rate the best as : the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Murder of the Romanovs and Kristallnacht. Other excellent episodes, not so immediately useful for my teaching, include the death of Diana, the Moon landing and the resignation of President Nixon. Unfortunately some of the episodes clearly suffer from budgetary constraints. The St Valentine's Day Massacre episode appears to have been filmed in mid-Summer, while the Theft of The Crown Jewels features only half a dozen actors. A couple of potentially good episodes are spoiled by poor casting. I know that it's not always possible to get good lookalikes for Historic figures but they couldn't have chosen actors less like their real-life counterparts to play Nehru, Jinnah and Mountbatten in the Indian Independence episode. Jinnah, for example, a slight, elderly and dying man is played by a young, tall and well-built actor in very unconvincing 'old' makeup. These quibbles aside I would recommend the series, available in the UK in a boxed DVD set, to teachers and anyone interested in how History happened.
Worthy project bizarrely miscast
I'm afraid that I couldn't get past the miscasting of Bob ('Gor Blimey, Guvnor') Hoskins as Churchill and Michael Caine as Stalin. As soon as they appeared the whole credibility of the movie went out of the window for me, I'm afraid. It's one thing to have star names but when their presence distracts attention from the dramatic production itself, you are in trouble. Bob Hoskins has many qualities, but giving a convincing portrayal of Churchill isn't one of them. He looks woeful beside Albert Finney's performance in the HBO/BBC 'The Gathering Storm' or Simon Russell Beale (albeit too young) in the BBC mini-series 'Dunkirk'. Anyone interested in the events portrayed in 'When Lions Roared' should see the superb BBC/US co-production 'World War II: Behind Closed Doors' (2008)instead. This features archive footage, interviews with participants and convincing dramatized reconstructions to tell the story.
Well-acted but too many sub-plots
This series showed up on a the Sci-Fi channel in the UK, but I watched it after a recommendation in a newspaper listing. I thought the characterisation and acting was in the main superb, on a par with any US or British series being made at the moment. Like another reviewer I thought that the main flaw was that they tried to cram too many plot lines into the series. When my wife and I saw episode I , we thought that it was a mini-series about a bioterrorist attack. However, just when they cranked up the tension on that story it ended abruptly and they started on another. This threw us completely and we almost stopped watching. I'm glad we didn't , because the real interest of the series is in the characterisation, as well as some of the story ideas. But there are just too many of them, and some simply peter out. This may be realistic but it makes the show disjointed and sometimes difficult to follow. Also, it may be a sign of age but could I suggest that the producers turn down the background music which often drowns out important dialogue.
Coronation Street (1960)
Worrying slide into pantomime
Coronation Street has always had the edge over Eastenders in terms of its ability to marry comedy and tragedy, often in the same storyline. With Eastenders apparently in terminal decline, Corrie seemingly had the world at its feet, but there have been signs in recent months that the writers have seriously lost the plot. After the rather wonderful guest appearance by Sir Ian McKellen, which included his inspired exit scene, the producers seem to have opted for a series of increasingly bizarre and pantomime like comedy sub-plots. The Street has always had its share of broad, northern characters, but the latest introductions tend to be one-dimensional Dickensian grotesques, like the gurning Cilla, the roly-poly baker Diggory Compton and the so-camp-he's-off-the-scale Shaun. Hopefully these will develop depth as they progress as for example the character of Les Battersby has done over the years, but there seem to be too many of these cartoon-like characters at the moment. The nadir of this recent trend came with the ridiculously contrived fight between Fred Elliot's son Ashley and the son of a rival butcher, who turned out to be Ashley's doppleganger even down to his strangulated voice. Inevitably the boxing match between them was overshadowed by a full-scale comedy brawl involving the supporters of the two men which would not have been out of place in a Laurel and Hardy film or an episode of the Benny Hill show. There is danger of a serious mismatch between the serious plot lines, like the plight of agoraphobic Shelley and the slapstick elsewhere.
Last of the Summer Wine (1973)
Is it still on?
Like many people I occasionally turn on the TV on a Sunday evening and come face to face with Last of the Summer Wine. With a shock I realise that I am not watching an episode from years ago but part of a new series of the show. Not that it makes much difference because all episodes of the programme are essentially identical. The writer Roy Clarke deserves some sort of award for endlessly recycling the same material and persuading the BBC to film it. He did a good job of this on 'Open all Hours' with Ronnie Barker , which ran for a few series but he's been doing it with LOTSW for 32 incredible years. The show now provides a cosy pension for much-loved British character actors like Jean Alexander and (incredibly) Burt Kwouk, Kato in the 'Pink Panther' films. Of course nearly all the original cast are dead and many of their replacements too. I always felt that Sunday evenings were morbid but there is no better reminder of mortality than the sight of Bill 'Compo' Owen's son, who I remember as a juvenile lead in a kids' TV show 'Freewheelers', appearing in the show as an old man himself.
The Bill (1984)
The Bill RIP
I wrote a review a couple of years ago regretting the direction the programme had taken. I note that several other readers have also commented on The Bill's headlong descent into pantomime soap-opera. I cannot believe that many of the show's long-time fans (which included the eminent historian Andrew Roberts) now bother to watch. Very occasionally I steel myself to tune in for part of an episode but end up watching through my fingers. My most recent visits coincided with the police station being blown up for the second time in five years, the exposure of yet another psychopathic deranged serial-killer police officer, Superintentent Okaro's entire family being wiped out and the poor man going doolally and a regular character being held hostage for the umpteenth time. Not to mention yet another series regular being involved in a relationship with a criminal and struggling with divided loyalties. Enough already! Let Sun Hill join Dock Green and Newtown in that great police beat in the sky.
The Gathering Storm (2002)
Finney and Redgarve are superb-some minor quibbles about the story
I enjoyed this very much, although I had certain quibbles. Finney is excellent and you forget that you are watching an actor. It could be argued that he portrays Churchill as an older man than he actually was in the 1930's when he was in his early 60's. The Finney Churchill is more like the late-war Winston, approaching 70. Derek Jacobi is miscast as Baldwin, who was a much more avuncular character, at least in his public persona. He is also not physically bulky enough. Poor old Neville Chamberlain is airbrushed out altogether and the film skates straight over the 1938 Munich Crisis, the apogee of Appeasement and deprived Churchill of some of his best lines, e.g. 'We have suffered an unmitigated defeat. On the other hand Vanessa Redgrave was superb as Clemmie and when Churchill returned to the Admiralty in triumph I shed an unashamed tear.