Tag Archives: phil davis

Silk: Bigwigs and gangsters

Sad that the marvellous first series of Homeland had come to an end, the only two shows I’ve been regularly tuning into recently are The Bridge and the exceptionally superb Simon Amstell vehicle, Grandma’s House.

I needed something else to distract me from the rigours of everyday life. Then along came the second series of Silk. I’m a sucker for legal dramas, and I’ll watch anything with Phil Davis. Then I saw Frances Barber on Saturday Kitchen Live saying she’d be in the new series. Love that woman.

The three characters at the heart of Silk are Martha Costello (now QC, played by Maxine Peake), fellow barrister, Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones, not QC, and not happy about playing second fiddle) and Senior Clerk at the Shoe Lane Chambers, Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke, last seen, by me, on Celebrity MasterChef). Continue reading

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Hacks: Watch All About It

Another New Year’s Day, another New Year’s Headache. And that was just from watching Sherlock. Thankfully, Channel Four are, as ever, on hand to provide something a bit less cerebral but even more fun.

Michael Kitchen as Stanhope Feast

Welcome to Hacks, telly’s first proper (fictional) pop at the phone hacking scandal that turned last year entirely upside down (thus making it 1105, by my reckoning) (sorry). The newspaper in question is the fictional Sunday Comet (motto – “Let The Truth Be Heard”) owned by the fictional Australian media magnate Stanhope Feast (Michael Kitchen, being good value as always) and watched over by the fictional new Prime Minister David Bullingdon (Alexander Armstrong being, well, Alexander Armstrong) but like all of these spoof docudrama things, it’s pretty damn obvious what’s actually what.

Pretty Damn Obvious is probably a fair description of Hacks. Its trajectory almost exactly mirrors real life events. And therein lies the problem – as Peter Kay found when he tried to satirise Reality TV with Britain’s Got The Pop Factor etc etc, it is impossible to spoof something that is already absurd. Hacks doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know and haven’t already thought.

Having said this, it’s still good, if somewhat cartoonish, fun. It’s written by Guy Jenkin of Drop The Dead Donkey and Outnumbered fame and the dialogue is predictably as superb in parts. In fact, it makes up a large part of my notes. “I’ve seen more of Ashley’s cock than Cheryl has – we’ve had to install more memory to cope with it”, “I won’t have a word said against the Royals – they always die on Saturdays so we can break the story on a Sunday”, “Our Weather Forecast is too depressing; I want less rain”, the newspaper headline that reads “BBC Bosses Gave Cake To Terrorists”; it’s pretty much spot on throughout. It even stops to make a few pithy observations on the way – my personal favourite being “they are ashamed they were scared of us so now they’re going to destroy us”. My favourite line, however, concerns the sacking of Mystic Marilyn. I won’t spoil it for you here, but suffice to say it sums up the programme nicely – glaringly obvious but still strangely hilarious. Continue reading

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Joy of Sets: North Square

Ally McWho?

I’ve been watching Home Alone (1990) with my son, and it’s striking how you have to remind yourself that a world of ubiquitous mobile phone usage is relatively new. The plot would fall at the first hurdle if Kevin could have called his (frankly criminally careless) folks on one. I’m also enjoying revisiting Frasier (1993-2004), which is still sharp as a tack and well worth returning to, but Niles’ vast, clunky cellphone with an aerial sticking out of it clearly dates series 2.

And I’ve been re-watching the excellent 2000 legal drama, North Square. The characters do use mobile phones a little, and for exchanges of critical information at times, but you can see that the culture of using them is still in its infancy. Plus the phones are of the boxy Nokia variety we all once used. I could imagine that, if they ever make a second series, the magnificent Machiavellian senior clerk Peter McLeish would be plotting evil schemes and controlling the world with an iPhone. The other thing that’s really noticeable about North Square, and what dates it in an interesting way, is that there is A LOT of smoking inside bars and conference rooms, especially by McLeish.

I believe North Square is coming out on DVD sometime in 2012, but for the moment, the whole terrifically gripping ten episodes can be  watched on 4OD and I’d really recommend it. It’s written with great wit and class by Peter Moffat (who also wrote Silk in 2011, another barrister orientated series starring Maxine Peake). Continue reading

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Case Histories: Whipsmart crime with a sexy twist

A friend gave me Kate Atkinson’s upmarket, super smart ‘crime’ novel when I was having nightmares about completing my case histories at the end of a counselling diploma, because the title was so pertinent. Case Histories became my favourite book since In the Fifth at Malory Towers and I’ve re-read it five times already, as well as gobbling up all of the subsequent novels in the ‘crime’ series. They are all tricksy, gripping and beautifully written, but my favourite character is the sweet-natured, slightly hopeless, messed up but deeply attractive Jackson Brodie.

So could I bear a TV adaptation? Would it mess with the Brodie in my head? Well yes it does, kind of. But that’s ok. I rate Jason Isaacs, AKA Lucius Malfoy, as being up there with Alan Rickman in terms of someone who makes pure evil appear entirely appealing.

In the books, Kate Atkinson superbly carves out a very clever, choppy set of narratives, which is why the novels bear repeat reading, and this complexity is hard to replicate on-screen. But they’ve done a decent job of it nonetheless. I’m not going into plot detail, except to say Brodie is a soft-hearted private detective who finds it hard to say no to damsels in distress, even vitriolic, racist old biddies who have lost their cats. He is haunted by a childhood tragedy involving his sister, and gets drawn to a number of cases involving women, including one where two sisters ask him to look into the mysterious disappearance of their younger sibling decades before.

What’s to enjoy:

  • They’ve chosen to give it a backdrop of Edinburgh, and this is shot beautifully
  • Brodie has superb taste in music, encompassing the likes of Alison Krauss and Nanci Griffith, tracks from whom are played throughout
  • Phil Davis is in it. Genius
  • Natasha Little is very good too
  • Once you get past the spectre of Jason Isaacs as the splendidly evil Lucius Malfoy, you can enjoy him being a good guy. He does a lot of running around attractive Edinburgh locations (see first point) and gets all sweaty. Nuff said.
  • There are more superb novels for the creators of this to draw on when they’ve finished making Case Histories. Rivalling Jackson Brodie as a top character is the truly delightful messed-up detective, Louise Munroe, who we meet in the next novel.
  • Overall, it’s top telly
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Sherlock: Holmes Sweet Holmes

I enjoyed this modern update on the character that proved as resistant to being killed off as Rasputin, dogging creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the point of believing in *fairies just to get away from him. I’m not familiar with the actor playing Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, (not Holmes, please note) in this new Steven Moffat series. But, by George, he’s rather splendid in it, as well as sporting a fine moniker.

Martin Freeman does an excellent job in the sidekick role of Dr Watson, AKA John, here an Afghan army war vet (with a stick, a la Hugh Laurie in House). Despite the modernisation of the story, there are nonetheless quite a few insider gags for Doyle fans to enjoy, including:

  • Holmes’ use of multiple nicotine patches instead of pipes during tricky cases
  • Rupert Graves as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade making reference to Holmes’ cocaine habit
  • a running gag about whether or not ‘Sherlock’ and ‘John’ are actually a couple

Rather surreally, we have Una Stubbs playing housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Also, one of my all time favourite actors, Phil Davis, makes a welcome appearance as a bitter cabbie offering a ‘Russian roulette’ choice of bitter pills to people at gunpoint, resulting in the serial ‘suicides’ which make up the case.

Is it all a bit too knowing and clever-clever for its own good? I don’t think so. I liked the way London was used as a location, in a slightly Monopoly-esque way. I thought it was well acted and wittily scripted. I think this may be a winner, and I’ll be tuning in again.

* I confess I may be taking biographical liberties here

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