Category Archives: Ashes to Ashes

Lustbox: Keeley Hawes

Ah, Christmas. Despite my very best attempts to be a Good (Velocity) Girl this year, in return Santa’s Sack contained a broken speedometer and a chest infection. Thanks for that, Father Christmas – you really shouldn’t have! No, really. You shouldn’t have.

However, our old pal FC did at least partly redeem himself on Boxing Day, by providing your intrepid correspondent with the opportunity to drool ov- I mean ardently admire the acting performance of Keeley Hawes in the BBC remake of Upstairs Downstairs.

Upstairs? Downstairs? Anywhere you like, really...

Hawes has pretty much cornered the market in Dramas of all Periods – Our Mutual Friend, Wives and Daughters, Tipping The Velvet, Marple, Ashes to Ashes etc. Plus she’s done Shakespeare (she was a truly moving miscarrying Lady Macbeth in the ShakespeaRe-Told series on the Beeb a while back and was also very good indeed in the not-dreadfully-sympathetic role of Desdemona in ITV’s Othello) and Chaucer (again in the Beeb’s modern adaptations). And she also played probably the most sympathetic female role to date in Spooks (yes I know Ros was fab but she was also terrifying), bringing a touching vulnerability as an agent ultimately done in by having to continually choose Duty over Love. And whilst her struggle with the badly-underwritten role of Alex in Ashes to Ashes was all too plain to see in its first series, the way in which she went on to make the part into something that managed to be both strong and moving was impressive.

Having been at times written off as yet another Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson/Emilia Fox/Emily Mortimer/Keira Knightley etc English Rose, the fact that Hawes is almost continually in high-quality work such as Upstairs Downstairs surely speaks for itself. She’s not adverse to sending herself up either, as her turn in That Mitchell And Webb Look proved. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s even the face of Boots No. 7 make-up and the voice of Lara Croft. Carlsberg don’t make women, but if they did….

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Ashes to Ashes (3.8): A love letter to Gene Hunt

Two questions. One, how can a mere blog do justice to a proper thrilling TV event like the conclusion of Ashes to Ashes? And, two, did you guess correctly what was going on? Actually – make that three: Did you make it through without crying? Me, neither.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in approaching this episode with some trepidation – we Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fans have invested heavily (time, theories and emotions) over the past five years and if the writers fell at the final hurdle it wouldn’t just be disappointing now – it would devalue everything that went before (not to mention taking all the fun out of those DVD boxed sets).

I don’t know about you, but I take my hat off to Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. They crammed the episode chock full of the things we love about LoM and A2A: the great, incomparable Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister in his finest hour yet), a daft TV reference (well done whoever made the papier mache heads of Alex and Gene for that It’s a Knockout run), wonderful Huntisms, spine-tingling tension and some serious chills too. If it wasn’t enough that we’re wrapping up five years of questions (well the most important ones anyway), we get a crime of the week too.

And the truths we’ve been hankering after? Gene tells the truth about Sam in a moment you might otherwise miss – the DCI sent him to get a pint in. It brings a whole new meaning to Last Orders, doesn’t it?

The policeman who’s been haunting Alex? Poor old Gene… a green PC who thought he was Gary Cooper in High Noon and was buried in a shallow grave back in the fifties. But from the moment Gene experiences his own weird TV flashback in Keats’ office, you know your heart is really going to get broken.

Philip Glenister has been the star of the show from Day One (if you don’t believe me, read the reviews of Harvey Keitel trying to wear the Gene Genie’s cowboy boots), but, boy does he blow you away here. The look of trepidation on his face as he drives onto the farm, the terrible, un-Gene-like look on his face as Alex uncovers, first, the bones and then the awful, awful truth. The poignant story-telling in the decrepit farmhouse. Who could blame Gene for forgetting his past, and that this world is a place where coppers go to sort themselves out?

Which answers another question – Ray, Chris, Shaz – they’re all dead coppers working through their issues. But who is Jim Keats? Some sort of demon determined to wrestle some souls into hell it would seem. If there was a line where Gene explained it, we’ll have to wait for the 100-minute version of this episode on the DVD extras I guess. We can only go on the heavy symbolism (Ray, Chris and Shaz being led downstairs for their ‘transfer’) and plentiful hissing noises emanating from Daniel Mays for now. I don’t know which I found more disturbing – Keats driving the Quattro back to London or him stroking Alex in his office. Both had my flesh creeping though.

Neither matches the horror of him leaving the death tapes for Ray, Chris and Shaz though (and let’s not forget the incredible performances of Dean Andrews, Marshall Lancaster and Monserrat Lombard here) or the manic insanity as he tears down the walls of the world. For all that, I love that the team’s love and loyalty is enough to repair the world – and that Alex can restore the Gene Genie to his full powers (and in time to solve that crime of the week).

Funnily enough, for all the revelations, it was the moment that the Dutchmen ‘killed the Quattro’ that really drove home that the end was nigh. Of course, the sight of the Railway Arms – and Nelson – really started the tears falling. And as Gene’s beloved team finally move on, bickering, Alex faces her final test, Gene finally gives Keats that smack in the face and Alex at last kisses that man… well, it’s a good job the tissues were close to hand.

And then, just when you think it’s all over (in every sense), in stumbles some poor sod looking for his iPhone…

So what am I taking with me to bed now? A satisfying explanation for five years of weirdness and the stand-out performance of Philip Glenister – from the vulnerability in the farmhouse to the full-on Armed Bastard. I’m glad that the Gene Genie lives (as it were) to fight many more days – even if we won’t get to see them. Thank you Ashley, Matthew, Philip, Keeley, Dean, Monserrat and John (not forgetting the rest of the cast and crew) – you gave us something wonderful and unique. The Quattro may be dead, but Gene Hunt will live on in our hearts for many years to come.

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Ashes to Ashes (3.7): And now the end is near…

Only in Ashes to Ashes could the funeral of a white-hat character be pretty much the most cheerful moment of the episode.

When the motorised curtains fail to close around Viv’s coffin, Gene’s patience snaps and he stalks to the front of the chapel to tug them shut – and say sorry to his friend. Chris can’t help but see the funny side and stands in his pew giggling like a school boy. It doesn’t endear him to the DCI who is feeling his loss acutely.

Chris’s clumsiness at the wake has a ragged Gene snapping at him – not for the last time this episode. There are fans who weren’t impressed with Gene’s loudly proclaimed loyalty to Viv last week, perhaps they’ll be mollified by the neat little bit of backstory slipped in here – that Viv apologised to Gene when he first arrived in Fenchurch East from Manchester because all Northerners look the same to him; and that he promised to look after our Manc lion.

I’m sure it wasn’t just my heart that sank as Keats collared that roll of film from Alex – there can be no good that comes from that man. Although I’m glad to see that his taunting is water off a duck’s back to Gene now, and that Alex and Gene have the nasty piece of work a bit rattled – “Do you think this is a flirty game between you, me and Gene?” he snaps.

The rest of us are enjoying the flirty game however, as Alex ask Gene what he’s doing tonight. “Going to a revival of The Caretaker at the Royal Court,” he deadpans. When, unsurprisingly, this turns out not to be true, and Alex asks him out for dinner, the nation’s women swooned  and once again wished themselves into her red pointy shoes. Even his declaration ” Got to warn you Bolly, first date, upstairs outside only…” is sweetly endearing. But there is much to get through before we can enjoy some serious chemistry between these two.

There is poor Chris – starting to feel the pressure both from Gene and the literal disintegration of the world. Is that whistle marking the end of the game, perhaps? There is much talk of final chapters, and fighting for our lives, there is the sheer terror of Ray and Shaz as the corridor fills with unexplained noise – all ratcheting up the foreboding and tension a few more notches. Will we find out what’s in the locked red cabinets? Or are they another red herring. (Is all the red stuff a red herring ? It wouldn’t surprise me if the writers were poking a little fun at us and our many theories.)

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Ashes to Ashes (3.6): Braveheart in Paco Rabanne

With the end in sight the Ashes to Ashes team delivered a clenched fist of an episode tonight. Not even top-quality Huntisms (the rioting prisoners are “Scum de la scum – you name it, they raped it, robbed it, killed it.”; his riposte to Alex’s “I hope you’ve got a heart in there.” – “I’ve got two. Mine and some toerag’s I ate earlier.”) could pierce the darkness for more than a moment.

It was a clever move to have Viv taken hostage by the prisoners (as well as essential for the backstory to work) – he’s a sympathetic character, but one we don’t know well enough that we can second guess his reactions. So, we’re worried about him (and that football of his – I can’t help but admire the chutzpah of the writers chucking in random red herrings just to bait us – the bastards) and then there’s the mysterious Paul Thordy (the internet serves up dozens of anagrams for this – many of them faintly mucky-sounding – but none that scream out for attention. I suspect I’ve just had my chain yanked again…).

I had chills and tingles top to toe when Alex opened the cell window on Thordy (the escaped prisoner who apparently precipitated the prison riot) to be confronted by Steven Robinson doing his best Sam Tyler meets the Master impersonation… The mania was very Time Lord, but everything else – that classic Life on Mars intro (“Am I mad, in a coma….”), the intonation, the physical mannerisms, were close enough to conjure the tiniest drop of doubt. After all, we’re told Thordy is a conman and a fantasist – so he can’t be our beloved Sam, surely? When Ray and Chris go to pick him up and declare Alex would go nuts if she knew who he was, they’re alluding to the fact that Thordy was Sam’s last arrest before he died – right?

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Ashes to Ashes (3.5): Giving me the SHIVERS

Raaah… we’re back firing on all four cylinders this week. There was nothing average about last night’s episode – from Alex’s dream about the lovely Sam Tyler, to the improved quality of Gene’s one-liners (“Not going to shoot him Bols? Then let’s go and run him over…”), the look of terror on Ray’s face, Chris body-popping – when they’re good, they’re very, very good.

Life on Mars fans will remember DCI “Bastard” Litton (and Press Gang fans will remember Lee Ross). It’s a delight to watch the tension between Litton and Hunt (Alison Graham describes it beautifully as ‘like watching two polyester-clad stags’ and I just can’t do any better.) as the former turns up on the trail of Manchester comedian Frank Hardwick, accused of stealing two grand from the Police Widows’ Fund.

You can almost smell the testosterone and cheap aftershave coming off the TV screen  – despite Litton’s nasty grey ‘Next for men loafers’.

Gene, of course, quickly discerns that there’s more to this than meets the eye, and determines to ruin Litton’s day by catching Hardwick (the great Roy Hudd) and arresting him on trumped up charges for selling hardcore porn. Alex, disapproving turns up to arrest Hardwick for the theft instead and gets to meet Ben Elton. (Incidentally, I’d love to know exactly which facet of Elton’s personality or career pissed off the writer so much that not only did he get crunched by Gene, but fatally shot by our bad guy – my money’s on We Will Rock You.)

Kudos to the writers too, for demonstrating just how fine the line between Gene’s outrageous one-liners and Litton’s downright offensiveness is. How they have kept Gene from teetering over that line in all this time is frankly miraculous. I also liked the little line about troglodytes they gave to Shaz – “It means big, strong men from the north.”

More worrying is Keats’ offer to transfer Alex to Fenchurch East and Gene’s refusal to talk about what happened to Sam. I still have faith in the Gene Genie (I even have a theory for what’s going on now), but I worry that Alex will be lost by the end of episode eight if she doesn’t take the leap of faith that Gene describes to her.

Actually, I’m worried about them all now – the look of terror on Ray’s face at seeing the edge of the world reminded me of a great novel about near death experiences (Passage by Connie Willis – possibly the most frightening book I’ve ever read – highly recommended). And here’s my theory – they’re all dead already (or as near to dead as makes no difference in the case of Sam and Alex); Gene is the guardian angel of this world; and perhaps he despatched Sam because Sam was threatening the stability of the world. That they’re seeing stars could mean the world is coming apart again. Whatever the truth of this world is, I’m damn sure that is what Gene whispered in the ear of the bad man at the end of the episode.

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Ashes to Ashes (3.4): The early bird bags the bastard

It pains me to say that I found this episode of Ashes to Ashes distinctly average. Although average A2A is still a Himalayan mile better than a lot of TV drama.

The main focus was on the case of the week, and unfortunately I’d guessed that the undercover cop had gone to the dark side in the first fifteen minutes. The dark side being Terry Stafford (played by Peter Guiness, a man who is to crime drama casting supremos, what Terrence Hardiman is to children’s drama casting supremos looking for someone sinister).

Terry is nasty piece of work – just the kind of scum Gene thrives on bringing down – and he’s also a thorn in the side of DCI Wilson from a nieghbouring division.

Gene is less than chuffed to find Wilson running undercover cop Louise  Gardiner on his patch, and when Keats gives him the okay to start digging, Gene gets out his biggest shovel. (This scene really felt like Keats was the teacher asking Gene to show that he could play nicely with others.)

It’s not long before Gene blows Louise’s cover, pulls in Terry’s son Daniel (very much his father’s boy), and we all slowly crawl towards the inevitable shoot-out (with added prowling round a mannequin factory).

But as I said at the beginning, even average A2A  is worth watching. This week we discovered the truth behind the vandalism of the Blue Peter garden (remember that?). You’ve guessed it, it’s Gene ‘restraining’ a suspect.

Some of the best lines were almost thrown away. As Gene and Alex leave DCI Wilson’s office, we just catch the words, “Nice tits.” Alex asks if she really heard him say that, to which Gene replies, “The man’s a cripple – have a heart.” I enjoyed Gene’s “The early bird that bags the bastard” line too.

Jim (Keats) fixing it for Chris to keep his job (after Louise manipulated him into beating Daniel Stafford to a pulp in the cells) was nicely done too.

Personally, my favourite moment was Gene trying to rouse Alex from her chloroformed stupor. It’s a neat play on the viewer’s conflicted desire to see Gene and Alex kiss (and the knowledge that the whole thing will be ruined if they ever do). As he leans in to give her the kiss of life, having fiddled self-consciously with that skew-whiff tie of his, we cut to Alex’s vision of her self being buried alive, there’s a scream, and she comes back to consciousness with a jolt. Poor Gene.

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Ashes to Ashes (3.3): Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Normally British TV drama and a serious ‘issue’ are a bad mix. Of course, the normal rules can be pretty much suspended for Ashes to Ashes, so that even an episode taking a dark look at the realities of war doesn’t turn into a clunking great disaster.

The episode is, of course, peppered with the ongoing elements of mystery (how weird is it that Shaz is seeing stars too? Is this going to be like the end of series 4 of Doctor Who with the boundaries between worlds breaking down?) but the meat of the story is the hunt for a serial arsonist who’s at work on the eve of the 1983 General Election, and the effect it has on Ray.

Ray often feels the most caricatured of the team, but last night we really discovered his depths. When the team are called out to another arson attack (which in turn brought back memories of the fabulous London’s Burning) Ray dashes into the burning building to rescue a trapped woman. He in turn is rescued by one of the firemen and when offered the kiss of life by Chris manages to stick two fingers up at the suggestion.

The hero fireman, Andy Smith,  is a Falklands War survivor too and Ray is typically respectful of this military history. It goes without saying that he buys Andy and his fireman brother Steve, a pint or two.

Sadly it’s not long before Andy Smith is chief suspect – he has the technical expertise and motive (he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which feels a bit like calling a migraine a headache to be honest). Ray is deeply unhappy at the turn of events, and when another polling station goes up in flames, is relieved to be able to let Andy out of the cells.

All the while Jim Keats is trying to pull Ray’s strings, not to mention needling Gene and Alex unnecessarily. I know I’m not meant to like him (otherwise they wouldn’t be asking him to smile like Eugene Tooms from the X-Files), but he’s really starting to annoy me now. Nobody likes a gloater.

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