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King Charles III (2017)
An interesting "what if" play which was *very badly* let down by the dialogue
The idea of "what happens if the King won't support what the government wants to do and the King dissolves parliament" is interesting and it was explored well, even if it had overtones of Michael Dobbs' "House of Cards" trilogy and Sue Townsend's "The Queen and I".
But my overriding memory is of that cursèd and contrived blank-verse dialogue with syllables omitted: "photographs obtained by theft are daily 'splayed as front page news" and "she has ... op'ed my eyes", and bizarre word order "not just am I defender of the faith" and "write your name in ink, and un-amended let it into law" to make the thing scan. It sounded naff in Shakespeare plays and it sounds even more naff now. We do not speak like that nowadays. For me it got in the way of the story because it drew attention to itself - it was a contrived and attention-seeking gimmick. The producers should have had the courage to get the play re-written in more normal, natural rhythms of speech; the idea of using blank verse should have been strangled at birth.
The plot was good, but the play was fatally flawed by the pseudo-Shakespearean English.
My verdict: 8/10 for the plot, 0/10 for the gimmicky dialogue
Probably the most chilling, terrifying, disturbing of all the Tales
Of all the Tales of the Unexpected, this is probably the most chilling, terrifying and disturbing one.
The story opens with a news report showing the police searching for a missing girl. We see another girl, Sylvia, walking home from her piano lesson, with a man watching her. When she gets home, she sees on the news that the missing girl has been found dead on waste ground nearby it looks as if there is a murderer at work in the area. Sylvia is very apprehensive when she has to go home after the next week's lesson, especially when she sees the man again, and that apprehension turns to panic when he gets on the bus and starts chatting to her he is very amiable and very charming, but also very very creepy.
Sylvia is so afraid that when she sees an elderly lady get off the bus, she follows her so as to be safe with her, even though it is several stops before her own house. The woman takes care of Sylvia and they go back to the woman's house so she can phone the police. Then comes the twist a very memorable one that I certainly wasn't expecting. Never trust "safe" little old ladies! The look of desperation on Sylvia's face as she suddenly realises the utter hopelessness of her situation is one that stays with you for a long time.
Nowadays, with the emphasis on abduction, stalking and "don't talk to strangers", the story is even more poignant than it would have been at the time it was made.
Juliet Bravo (1980)
Well I liked it - I watched it every week
I think welshNick is rather hard on Juliet Bravo. In my view, some excellent characters were created: Inspectors Jean Darblay and Kate Longton, both striving to be so much better than the male officers around them, just so they would be perceived as being as good as their colleagues; Joe Beck, gruff, stolid but with a heart of gold especially in episode 2.13 "Catching Up" when he has to choose between doing his duty as a policeman and turning in an old mate for dangerous driving, and in episodes 5.12 "Ducks In A Row" and 5.13 "Resolution" when he is accused of involvement in a death in custody.
The very last episode 6.16 "Reason for Leaving" was intensely poignant, with its atmosphere of "it's Christmas and all's right with the world", following by its shock ending: one of the few times where Kate Longton broke down in tears and oh-so-formal Mark Perrin unbent a little and comforted her.
Yes the production values were a bit naff in places: it suffered from the standard technique, common to many late 1970s / early 1980s programmes, of combining gaudy studio interiors on video with blurred, grainy, flickery, drab film sometimes with hilarious continuity errors between the two! But I thought it was great.
I wish they'd bring it out on VHS or DVD.
The Murder Room (2004)
An excellent adaptation of the book - and a more human Dalgliesh than Roy Marsden's portrayal
As always, P D James has written a very good and intriguing story. The adaptation is faithful to the book: nothing much is added or taken out. However maybe the explanation of the murderer's motives was glossed over a little.
I actually prefer Martin Shaw rather than Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. Martin Shaw's portrayal is arguably less faithful to the character as P D James writes it, but portrays him as a more human, likable character. I always found Roy Marsden's portrayal (and his description in P D James's books) to be stern, humourless, aloof, distant and with no likable qualities or little human failings that I could identify with.
I liked the subplot about his girlfriend. It showed his vulnerability and his awkwardness with women; the letter that he wrote to her at the end (I won't spoil it by mentioning the subject) was very moving.
I agree that characters of Dalgliesh's two inspectors weren't really developed properly (they aren't in the book either). One of the slight failings of the Dalgliesh books and TV series are that the relationship between Dalgliesh and his sidekicks isn't strong enough that they can confide in each other, in the way that Morse and Lewis or Wexford and Burden do. The acid test of a "good" TV detective, aside from their deductive qualities, is whether you like them as a person and could imagine yourself discussing a case with them over a pint. With Morse, Frost or Wexford, this is easy to imagine; with Dalgliesh, especially as portrayed by Roy Marsden, I suspect that the conversation would be a bit tense and there would be lots of long silences! At least it is easier to imagine having a drink and a chat with Martin Shaw's version of Dalgliesh.
Rebus: Mortal Causes (2001)
Good - but John Hannah isn't my idea of Rebus!
This is the first episode of Rebus that I've seen: I missed the earlier ones which were shown in 2000/2001. This episode was made at the same time and was scheduled to be shown in September 2001... then 9/11 intervened and the episode was postponed and was only shown in the UK in November 2004.
"Mortal Causes" is a very good and gripping adaptation of Ian Rankin's novel, but it is spoiled a bit by the casting of John Hannah as Rebus. In the books, Rebus is described as being world-weary, probably a bit (a lot?) overweight and aged in his fifties. Unfortunately John Hannah is too lean, "smooth" and young to be a convincing Rebus. I'd opt for someone like Ken Stott (Messiah, Promoted To Glory) to play the character: he's the right age, has an authentic accent (to my untutored English ears!) and has the right, slightly dishevelled roughness to play Rebus perfectly.
Very poor - the only bad Wexford adaptation
"The Veiled One" stands out like a sore thumb from all the other adaptations of Ruth Rendell's "Inspector Wexford" books because it is spectacularly bad. This is due to unsubtle, heavy-handed direction; too many intercut scenes which lead to spaghetti-style storytelling; excessive use of dramatic music and sound effects; stilted acting and dialogue - especially the scenes with Reese and Wexford in hospital. This is the only Wexford adaptation that does not work at all for me.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Good, but not one of Hitch's best (contains spoilers)
I've not seen the 1934 original, so I can't compare this 1956 remake with the earlier version.
The tension is certainly there in true Hitchcock style, especially in the Albert Hall assassination scene, but somehow the film seems wooden and dated.
I can forgive it being dated - after all, it was made 45 years ago, and tastes and production techniques change: maybe artificial-looking back-projection really was the only way to film the scenes inside the bus and on the horse-drawn carriage straight afterwards. The London streets are far too quiet: where are the pedestrians, the traffic and the parked cars? And why do the aerial shots of the Ambrose Chapel look so obviously like a film set?
However the wooden, underplayed response of Ben and Jo McKenna to the kidnapping of their son doesn't ring true and is less excusable: where is the anguish and despair? All we get is Jo McKenna's over-the-top reaction when she finds out that Hank has been kidnapped; why does Ben McKenna not seem to be at all perturbed? Having said that, Hank McKenna must be the most insufferably precocious child, even by American standards of insufferability and precocity!
There are two plot holes which are never explained: how do the British police (Buchanan and Woburn) know that Hank has been kidnapped as soon as Ben and Jo arrive in London, since they have told no-one? And how does Jo know that someone is going to be assassinated at the Albert Hall and when it's going to take place? All she knows about the Albert Hall is that it's where she'll find Buchanan.
The most memorable character by far - and it's a truly spine-chilling performance - is that of The Assassin: Reggie Nalder is superb, especially his sinister smirk when he tells Jo about Hank in the foyer of the Albert Hall.
The film includes a couple of good lines:
- When Hank and Louis Bernard are talking about eating snails, Hank quips "If you ever get hungry, our garden back home is full of snails. We tried everything to get rid of them. We never thought of a Frenchman!"
- When the Ambassador is reprimanding the Draytons, he ironically says "You have muddled everything from the start, taking that child with you from Marrakesh. Don't you realise that Americans dislike having their children stolen?"
Having said this, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a good story, told well. It's only in comparison with Hitchcock's other films that it suffers. For a good Hitchcock film, see "North By North-West" or "Frenzy" (his best, IMHO).
A VERY poor American imitation of the excellent British series
Like many remakes (Dr Who springs to mind!) this is a VERY poor American imitation of the excellent British series. Robert Pastorelli's version of Robbie Coltrane's character "Fitz" lacks the subtlety and the lovable character weaknesses (eg gambling) that Coltrane gave him: Pastorelli's Fitz is just too perfect. The whole series lacks the magic of the British one. Verdict: 1/10 for trying (but failing!).
Brassed Off (1996)
An excellent film
This is an excellent film. Funny, witty, poignant, intensely moving and full of anger for the fate of the British mining industry. Several scenes stand out: the coal board managers arguing at their meeting, against the background of Gloria Mullins' solo of "Concierto de Aranjuez", with each crescendo of the music corresponding to each wave of anger at the meeting; Mr Chuckles' "And lo, God created the Tory party" speech at the children's party, followed by his "What's He sodding playing at?" comment about God; the miners' playing of "Danny Boy" (complete with miners' helmet-lights) outside the hospital where Danny is recovering; Danny's electrifying speech at the Albert Hall after winning the brass band contest.
The Plague Dogs (1982)
A good adaptation of an appallingly pretentious book!
The film is a rattling good yarn, full of goodies (the dogs, Alan Wood) and baddies (the scientists, Digby Driver, Annie Mossity). It's funny, it's moving, it's thought-provoking and it's allegorical.
The book has all of these things, but it's also got page upon page of Richard Adams' turgid waffle during which he addresses the reader (always a bad sign!) or the god Pan! The Tod's Geordie accent just doesn't work when it's written down (it's virtually impenetrable) whereas James Bolam's voice in the film really brings the character to life.
To Serve Them All My Days (1980)
An excellent adaptation of a much-loved book
Even before the television adaptation, "To Serve Them All My Days" was one of my favourite books - like Robert Goddard's "In Pale Batallions", it's one of those books that I keep coming back to time after time. Having been to a public school myself for four years, I can identify with many of the traditions and rituals, and the rather pathetic life both of the boarders and the staff: what was true in the 1920s at Bamfylde was largely still true in the 1970s at my school.
With a few minor exceptions, the television version does great justice to the book. John Duttine is exactly as I imagined David Powlett-Jones: diffident and shell-shocked to begin with, but gradually growing in confidence to become eventually a well-respected and much-loved teacher and headmaster. I cannot imagine anyone else except Frank Middlemass as Algy Herries - his fruity voice and bumbling manner are perfect. Charles Kay's portrayal of the soul-less, embittered killjoy Alcock is utterly menacing. And Alan MacNaughtan manages to capture the irascible and yet ultimately very pathetic nature of Howarth, the teacher who has devoted his whole life to the school.
The three women - Beth, Julia and Christine - in David's life are very different from one another. Belinda Lang is heart-meltingly gorgeous as Beth, the elfin, nineteen-year-old "catalyst in a beret" who quite literally sets her cap at David while he is on holiday in Colwyn Bay. After the tragic death of her and the twins, David has a brief affair with Julia Darbyshire (Kim Braden) who is winsome and yet strangely matter-of-fact: definitely mistress material rather than a wife in the making! Sadly, Susan Jameson's portrayal of David's third love, Christine, lacks a certain something - I am left wondering what (apart from her politics) David could find remotely attractive about her.
There are a few differences between the book and the TV adaptation. In the book, Grace, one of the twins, survives the car crash that kills her mother and sister. In the TV version, both sisters are killed. This is no great problem: I've always felt that the character of Grace was rather insipid and a bit too perfect. It would also have made for great difficulties in the filming, requiring a series of actresses to portray her as she gradually grows from a baby into a young woman.
My only regret about the TV adaptation is the ending. The final episode is rather rushed and many important scenes from the book are missing. The most notable is the poignant scene as Howarth is dying of cancer and begs David to let him die at the school rather than in hospital; in the TV version, Howarth simply dies in his sleep while watching a school cricket match. We don't see the scene where an old boy of the school recounts that many years before, after the death of his father, Howarth had offered to pay the boy's fees - a sizable portion of his own salary - because he did not want the boy's talents to go to waste. And we don't see the final scene where, during World War II, a young soldier comes to teach at the school after being invalided out the army, and David recognises all the parallels between this man's beginnings and that of himself twenty years before. He even uses the same phrases that Herries used to him. But none of this makes it to the TV adaptation, which is a great shame.
Oliver Twist (1999)
This is a truly inspired version of the classic Dickens story.
This is a truly inspired version of the classic Dickens story.
Alan Bleasdale has devised an explanation of the events which lead up to Oliver's mother arriving at the workhouse, and fleshes out minor characters such as Monks and Mrs Leeford.
Some characters stand out:
- Fagin is mesmerising when played as part-villain and part-magician: the final scenes in the condemned cell are powerful as well as surprisingly moving, even if some of Robert Lindsay's nervous tics are rather too reminiscent of his portrayal of Michael Murray in GBH!
- Michael Kitchen makes a perfect Mr Brownlow: his rather pompous Oxford-English accent is exactly as I imagined Mr Brownlow having read the novel.
- Andy Serkis is superbly cast as Bill Sikes - I cannot imagine a more terrifying and brutal portrayal.
- Marc Warren's portrayal of Monks makes this rather shadowy character come alive in a way that Dickens' description never could, even if the double-act between the domineering Mrs Leeford and the inept and epileptic Monks is comical and farcical at times.
A few minor details have been altered: the "crib at Chertsey", owned by Mrs Maylie and her daughter Rose, becomes Mr Brownlow's country residence, and Rose Maylie becomes Rose Fleming, Oliver Twist's aunt. However (in my opinion) these changes serve to bring together several unrelated threads of the novel and actually improve the story.