Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Broadchurch Series 3, Episode 8 by Chris Chibnall (2017)

A lot was riding on this final instalment of Broadchurch Season 3, from resolving the particular storyline at hand - the assault on Trish Winterman, the investigation into which has dominated the series since its opening story - to giving a satisfying sense of finality to the overall arc of the programme as a whole, from its very first episode in 2013 to Monday evening earlier this week. 

Wisely, showrunner Chris Chibnall chooses to spend more time on the former than the latter, ensuring that he spends more time tying up the loose ends of this particular case than in indulging in too much "one last farewell" type stuff that might've risked seeing the series finale get too bloated for its own good. There's a bit of that, inevitably, but for the most part he shows an admirable restraint here: look at that moment at the very end, where surely every viewer was willing Miller and Hardy to go to the pub together, into the proverbial sunset. But Chibnall keeps things grounded, realistic, and true to both their characters. Very nice work.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Broadchurch Series 3, Episode 7 by Chris Chibnall (2017)

The fact that Mark Latimer turns out to be alive after all, after the high drama ending of last week... isn't actually a disappointment, somewhat to my surprise. 

Plenty of suicide plans don't come off, for one thing, so there is a certain bathetic realism to it in that respect, but perhaps more importantly the Latimer storyline is much more interesting with a bitter, disappointed, broken Mark who thinks he is so terrible at life that he can't even kill himself properly than if we go back through the familiar motions of grief we've already seen them go through. The latter would be both too well-trodden ground in this particular series, but also a potentially too sizeable development this late in the game, as it could threaten to overshadow the ongoing investigation into the question of who attacked Trish.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The National Theatre's 2017 production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" (1601-2): A Review

This is probably the best production of Twelfth Night I have ever seen. Given that that list includes productions starring Derek Jacobi, Stephen Fry, Ron Cook, Mark Rylance, Indira Varma, Nigel Hawthorne, Imelda Staunton, Ben Kingsley, Richard E. Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, etc., etc., then you know, hopefully, that I do not say that lightly. I should be clear that I have enjoyed most of the other productions very much - the 1990s film version is highly recommended - and Derek Jacobi's performance as Malvolio was an absolute gold standard, the One To Beat, as it were. And yet... and yet... I don't think any of the other productions I've seen quite seized the play by its balls, rewove it into delightfully new patterns and shapes and made me utterly reinterpret things - but the production currently running at the National Theatre starring Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, Phoebe Fox as Olivia and Tamara Lawrence as Viola did all this and more.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Broadchurch Series 3, Episode 6 by Chris Chibnall (2017)

This week’s Broadchurch episode, the strongest so far, is all about people trying to escape the prisons they carry with them – and often finding that they can’t.

While Lenny Henry’s Ed Burnett spends the majority of the episode under police custody, brooding in an actual cell or a police interrogation room, and Joe Miller seeks to build a new life for himself in Liverpool to escape from his past, we also see quite how much Mark Latimer is unable to move on from the imprisonment that is his grief over his boy’s death… and how, eventually, he finds peace. The episode’s closing moments, which see Andrew Buchan putting in some of his best work as Mark, are terrifically written, shot and acted, bringing the story of the Latimers that stretches right back to the first season’s first episode to an awful climax right back on the same cliff where it all began – even down to the same camerawork.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Toby Whithouse's "Being Human" (2009-2013): A retrospective

One of the SF/fantasy success stories of the 2010s, Being Human ran on BBC3 for five seasons between 2009 and 2013, gaining a large and devoted fanbase in the process. Its cast ranged from the already well-established (star turns from Mark Williams, Julian Barratt, Jason Watkins, and the like) to up-and-comers who went on to even greater things – such as Aidan Turner (who dazzled viewers as Kíli in the Hobbit film series, Ross Poldark in Poldark and Philip Lombard in And Then There Were None) and Lenora Crichlow (who was handed one of telly’s most sickening twists in the Black Mirror episode White Bear). The show was created by Toby Whithouse, formerly of medical drama No Angels but best known for his six – soon to be seven – episodes of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who, and who returns to the stage later this month in his own one-man play about capital punishment. 
The core premise of Being Human was straightforward: a flat-share sitcom mashed up with the supernatural horror genre that was exploding in popularity among young adults circa 2009. Or, to put it another way: “it’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but everyone’s in their twenties instead of at school”. The Fresh Meat to Buffy’s Inbetweeners, if you like. 

Broadchurch Series 3, Episode 5 by Chris Chibnall (2017)

At the end of last week’s episode, viewers saw Laura Benson (Kelly Gough) coming forward to inform the police that she was assaulted two years ago in a similar manner to Trish. Gough does a good job over the course of her brief screen-time; her role in this story was never going to be as traumatic or as powerful as Trish’s, and Chibnall takes us through it perhaps a little too quickly, but the recount of her own attack is delivered well nonetheless, and, as we have all learned long ago by now, what Olivia Colman can’t convey with her understanding, sympathetic eyes isn’t worth conveying.

As ever, Broadchurch condemns the tabloid media but champions local coppers: “I read the papers,” says Laura. “I know how women like me get treated.” “Not by us,” Hardy tells her. Her role in the drama ends on a pleasingly unfinished note – asking the difficult question whether she tells her new husband about her experience or not, a question Hardy and Miller cannot answer. Beth’s superior, Dawn (Sunetra Sarker), then turns up with evidence of a third attack, eleven months ago, which also went unreported at the time. Though at first it seems as though these developments might help the investigation, for now they only seem to broaden the net – illustrating a wider, more systemic problem about the frequency of unreported rapes and the difficulties involved in being brave enough to come forward.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Royal Opera House's 2017 production of Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" (1904): A Review

Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" is - according to the Operabase rankings - the sixth most popular opera in the world. The Italian composer's reworking of the story, which concerns a tragic and short-lived marriage between an impressionable young Japanese girl and a US naval officer stationed in Nagasaki, debuted in Milan in 1904, to mostly negative reviews (like a lot of achievements now regarded as classics). Puccini took the criticism extremely personally, and allegedly didn't leave his house for 2 weeks; it would also be several years before he wrote his next opera, 1910's "La fanciulla del West". But he did at least devote his time to revising "Madama Butterfly" - streamlining it, making it more accessible and giving his audience only the bare essentials. What remains is - as much as one can say this about an opera with three acts, lasting two and a half hours - a lean, tautly focussed work, with minimal digression or interruption. The action is all of a piece; there are no subplots. The setting remains the same throughout, and is itself a very confined space: a single room in an apartment in Nagasaki. The storyline is almost childishly easy to follow... which is perhaps why it is so devastatingly effective. The Royal Opera House's 2017 production, starring Ermonela Jaho as the eponymous Madame Butterfly, Cio-cio-San, displays this almost ruthless sense of focus to its fullest extent, leaving the audience in a state of almost overwhelming emotional intensity.