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Summer of Rockets (2019– )
Poliakoff pulls it off, mostly
24 May 2019
Mr P has toned down his usual artificiality, created a time and place that more or less convinces and put together an exciting plot with a real dénouement. He deserves kudos for managing all this after many years of not doing so. Perhaps all the BBC money they have thrown in his direction has started to pay off at last. Toby Stephens is excellent, as is Keeley Hawes (as usual). Everyone else is good too and little Toby Woolf is a delight. There are faults. Yes, there is a coherent dénouement but it's not without clichés (one particularly egregious one involving guns) and some sickly sweetness. Adrian Edmondson's TV shows are embarrassingly unfunny. The subplots, while interesting, are in fact superfluous. There is the one about the missing son, which is included, I guess,to give Keeley Hawes and Clare Bloom things to do. The daughter's daft scenes at Buckingham Palace and the expensive ball with hordes of debs are also of only tangential relevance.
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Hidden (2018– )
Dragged out
30 July 2018
The best bit for me, as a linguist, was the fact that some of it was in Welsh (not that I know any) and it reminded me a bit of the Scandi series it was emulating. However it went on for far too many episodes. After about half way it could have been wound up quickly at any point. I lost track and interest in the council estate plot, which could have been left out in my opinion. There was also recourse to daft police incompetence to help protract matters.
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Northern Soul (2014)
Good, but with defects
18 May 2018
One of the best things about this film is that it perfectly captures the "style" and the feel of (part of the) life in the north of England. It has its defects, though. Others have noted the perhaps overdone emphasis on drugs. It all gets a bit too highly coloured for the sake of drama. The film needed more of the positive sides of the culture: the music and the dancing. The main defect, though, is that the main character, John, is a bit dull, played by an actor who is about ten years too old for the part - and often looks every minute of it - and whose accent is not 100% convincing. His mate, Matt, is much better.
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Dunkirk (2017)
16 January 2018
I expected to love this. But I didn't. I'm no expert, but even I could see a lot of obvious faults. I'm not just talking about things like modern buildings (which are very evident), but the lack of atmosphere. At the start of the film, the beach is crowded, quite rightly - but after that, it's pretty empty when we see it. Where are the heaps of ruined vehicles, etc? All dead bodies are completely intact. There's no blood at all. The Germans are never called the Germans ("the enemy"). How are we supposed to believe that over 300,000 got back to England? Apart from the near empty beaches, we almost only see people NOT making it home. As for the "little ships", apart from the Mark Rylance once, thirty or so of them arrive all together as a neat flotilla to cheer up Kenneth Branagh. And how long does a Spitfire take to come down after it runs out of fuel?
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Valkyrien (2017– )
Excellent roller-coaster
16 August 2017
This is a great series. OK, the medical stuff isn't in the least bit realistic and the developments happen much too quickly - but, hey, it's a thriller. It rattles along and it's thrilling.

Best of all, though, is the fact that there are such good characters and such good acting. A standout is Pal Sverre Hagen, who is excellent as the very unusual Leif. The comic relief from the disaster-prone Teo, also very well acted, really made me laugh.
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Comrade Detective (2017– )
One good idea, lots of bad ones.
5 August 2017
Somebody had an intriguing idea for a fun series: Cold War nostalgia, a bit like "The Americans" or "Deutschland 83", but more comedic. What came out is a mess. (1) It's supposed to be a Romanian series from 1983, but is totally unconvincing as such. A communist TV series would not include swearing, blood and gore (of which there is a gratuitously large amount) or rampant crime and corruption in the police. Also the visual style is not that of eastern European TV or film in the 1980s. (2) If it's meant to be a comedy, it isn't anything like funny enough. "Top Secret" (made in 1984, from the "Airplane" stable) could get away with making a joke of the oppression in East Germany, because it was completely wacky. This show is too close to reality to succeed as a comedy - even if it had enough jokes. (3) Romania in the Ceausescu era was no comedy at all. For example, in its supposed role as a communist production, this show mocks religion and believers, which is a very bad move in this case. Romania treated religious believers with unimaginable cruelty (Look up Richard Wurmbrand on Wikipedia). (4) The show, again purporting to be a communist production, puts forward cogent criticisms of the shallow and exploitative culture and politics of America and the west. Yet the show itself is a prime example of all this. (5) Whatever were the Romanian actors thinking of when they agreed to take part in this? I couldn't help feeling again and again that they were being exploited and debased.
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The Loch (2017)
Farrago of nonsense
18 July 2017
This is utter trash, but I found it strangely enjoyable. We're into "so bad it's good" territory. The story is all over the place and the plot doesn't make sense. The dénouement is carefully explained, but this only goes to show up the deficiencies. I won't go into this further, so as not to give spoilers, except to say that a key character has previously shown no sign of his true nature and background.

They should have done this as a black comedy drama. Wait a minute - perhaps they did...
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Eyewitness (2014– )
Good, except too long and implausible
7 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed the series - mostly.

The atmosphere and the initial premise were done well, but it all went on too long (they could have cut a couple of the middle episodes without much adverse effect).

The last episode was crazy, with plenty of daft stuff, e.g. your foster son is clearly desperate and determined to go out into a dangerous situation. You forbid this strongly - but do nothing whatever to enforce your ruling. Next morning he's gone. Oh dear, what a surprise! Apparently people can be revived after numerous minutes trapped under water and after being shot so badly that blood is pumping out of their mouth.

The boys' acting was ho hum. The blond one merely sulked angrily all the way through. Yawn. The other one was better and sometimes managed to suggest a younger teenager, mainly when he was with other teenagers, but a lot of the time he seemed much too calm, self-possessed and just plain adult.
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Endeavour: Harvest (2017)
Season 4, Episode 4
Lost its way
30 January 2017
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.
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Good (2008)
No sense of time or culture
24 January 2017
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?
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Close to the Enemy (2016– )
What hold has Poliakoff got over the BBC?
18 November 2016
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.
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A bit lame
24 July 2016
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)?
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Legacy (2013 TV Movie)
13 August 2014
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?
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Wooden but interesting period piece
10 August 2014
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.
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War made soapy
7 May 2014
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?
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Hinterland (2013– )
How disappointing
6 May 2014
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.
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37 Days (2014– )
Gets better in part 3
9 March 2014
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.
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Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
Season 3, Episode 2
Jumping the shark
5 January 2014
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.
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31 December 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.
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Agatha Christie's Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Season 6, Episode 3
Miss Marple, please leave the stage!
29 December 2013
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.
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By Any Means (2013)
How could they?
23 September 2013
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.
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Murder on the Home Front (2013 TV Movie)
Unoriginal and a bit wooden
11 May 2013
"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?
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Endeavour: Fugue (2013)
Season 1, Episode 2
Wonderful episode
24 April 2013
Endeavour is shaping up to beat the original episodes of Morse. This one has a story ideally tailored to Morse with crossword clues and opera. This might seem hackneyed but it works very well and is satisfying and clear. The scenes filmed on the roofs at Trinity College are exciting. Best of all is the father-son relationship that is growing up between Morse and Thursday. It is genuinely touching, particularly at the close of the episode, before the famous theme music comes in. Shaun Evans is excellent in the role of Morse, even though his appearance, voice and general demeanour make it impossible to imagine him ever turning into anything resembling John Thaw.

(Questionable aspects of the show are the extremely clichéd you're-off- the-case boss, played by Anton Lesser, and the friendly and helpful Constable Strange, who it's hard to imagine becoming the you're-off-the-case-matey boss of Morse's later years. Also, would a music lover like Morse slam down the lid of his record player while it was playing an expensive LP? However, these are minor quibbles.)

It's great. Watch it.
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Another spooky room in a creepy mansion, part 2
4 April 2013
On Creek's last outing in 2009 I wrote a review with the above title (minus 'part 2'). Here we are yet again - only this time there are two mansions. We don't expect realism from the series, of course, but I think it used to make sense, more or less, within its own weird universe. That's been ditched here, and it's merely a farrago of tosh.

However, it has its charms. There are lots of clever touches and some good jokes. (For some reason I laughed for ages at 'more Titian'.) If you are watching a recording, pause it so that you can read the book titles when they appear.

This episode also has excellent guest stars, all of whom play up exactly as they should.

All in all, it's nonsense, but lots of fun and worth watching.
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Thought provoking and well done
25 March 2013
This is a very impressive film, partly because of the powerful performance by Lothaire Bluteau, who combines authority and vulnerability in his portrayal of both Daniel and Jesus, but also because of the original way the film creatively reworks the story of Jesus, and especially his passion. There is a lot to think about and it is a film to watch more than once, I think.

There are just one or two wonky features: the equation of the established church with the pharisees is a bit clichéd and simplistic, and the stuff about new archaeological discoveries and Jesus being the son of a Roman soldier is a load of piffle, but I suppose the writer wanted a dramatic excuse for the changes in the script of the traditional passion play.

All in all, it's excellent and I heartily recommend it.
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