Tag Archives: Steven Mackintosh

Kick-ass women: Indira Varma

indira varmaThe final episode of the BBC 1 drama What Remains aired last night, and if you haven’t seen it, get yourself to iPlayer immediately. But leave the lights on.  I’m not going to post any spoilers, but what I will say is that the ending was twisted, dark and rather extreme. The final scene will haunt me for quite a while, I think.

Front and centre when any twisted, dark, extreme stuff was going on was the character of Elaine Markham, played with absolute swagger and charismatic nastiness by Indira Varma (who also appeared in Luther and has been cast in the next series of Game of Thrones). In a cast of incredible actors (Steven Mackintosh, David Threlfall etc), Varma stole every scene she was in. Elaine was, at best, bitchy, feisty, confident and sexy as hell. At worst, she was very, very bad indeed. Or, in Varma’s words, “When she’s your friend, it’s a party all the time, it’s great fun. But if she turns against you – that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Posted by PLA     (episode 1 and 2 reviewed here)

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What Remains: House of secrets

What RemainsI’m very much enjoying the BBC’s four-part drama What Remains, and not only because it has the wonderful Steven Mackintosh in it. It’s mysterious and gripping and there are great acting performances all over the place.

In last week’s opener, seven months’ pregnant Vidya and her partner Michael (Amber Rose Revah and Russell Tovey) moved into a flat in a big Victorian house, and found something nasty in the attic – the mummified corpse of the woman who used to live in the flat above them. David Threlfall’s DI Len Harper – wouldn’t you know it, on his very last day at work before retiring – is called in to have a look, but as there’s little forensic evidence to be had and no one seems to know much about the deceased, the police don’t think it’s worth following up. Len does, though, based on a bit of old-school instinct, and he carries on investigating even after he’s officially retired.

What RemainsThere are inevitable comparisons to Broadchurch in the way that the whole community (in this case, the residents of the house past and present) is under suspicion. In episode two, the finger of suspicion was pointing very firmly in the direction of stroppy Elaine Markham (Indira Varma) and her photographer girlfriend Peggy (Victoria Hamilton). There’s a feeling that Peggy feels more empathy for the dead girl than most – could it have been a crime of passion? Then there’s the mysterious schoolteacher/caretaker who lives on the ground floor. The other residents think he lives alone, but newcomer Michael knows different.

Everything is shot with a sickly, green hue and the house seems like a character itself, from the outside always shot from ground level and seeming to loom menacingly, and from inside all skewed angles, shadows, hidden corners and flaking paintwork. Flashback scenes are gradually filling in some of the background of the dead girl, Melissa. There are two episodes to go, and lots of secrets still to be exhumed.

The first two episodes are available to watch on iPlayer.

Posted by PLA

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Luther: episode 2. Oh do buck up

I did watch this immediately after the coverage of the Camerons looking unbearably smug outside No 10, so I concede I may have been in a grumpy mood, but I wasn’t impressed by this episode. Idris Elba remains as beautiful as ever, but surely the point of having a super smart detective is that they demonstrate these powers in some way?

I suppose what I want from a detective show is the same thing I want from a detective novel. A sense of how dangerous and mad the world can be (albeit it plainly fictional -I don’t want to feel anxious when I’m going about my daily business) but with everything nicely resolved by somebody who knows what’s going on better than me. I hate watching something where you know, as an audience, that something horrible is about to happen, and nobody on screen seems to. We’ve got enough of that in politics.

The Closer is an excellent example of a show that resolves things in a way that I like. The detective, beautifully played by Kyra Sedgwick, seems ditzy and vague, and often gets distracted by snack food secreted in her drawers, but she always can be relied upon to outwit everyone around her. Brains and a sound appetite. That’s what I like to see, and resolution is what I want from the drama. Life is tough. I want the world made safe in my police shows. Luther did not demonstrate enough by way of mental super powers last night, and I found myself sighing irritably, at his behaviour, and that of his estranged wife and her lover. I usually like Paul McGann, but not in this.

I ceased watching Spooks when the body count got too high, and this episode of Luther was all about the bodies piling up. Police officers in this instance. The ‘baddies’ were an abusive ex-military father and his messed up son. All very sad, but I didn’t connect with anyone, neither could I bring myself to care that much.

Steven Mackintosh stood out as by far the best, most complex and interesting character in it.

Posted by Inkface

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Luther: Baltimore’s finest drug dealer crosses the pond

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed this, but not without reservation. A few things were disconcerting. I know that the beautiful Idris Elba, who plays DCI John Luther, is British born, but I haven’t heard him speak in anything but The Wire, so however unfairly, an Estuary accent seemed to fit awkwardly, like someone in the wrong shoes. But this is the accent equivalent of jet lag – you get over it. I remember being similarly unnerved when I first heard David Tennant’s real Scottish accent.

I loved the cool opening credits, and the way, like Spooks [also written by Neil Cross], it uses the backdrop of London really well. Although, like Spooks, the settings are perhaps a little too elegant and beautiful. What made The Wire so compelling was the reverse approach- police officers trying to manage in grotty surroundings with barely a functioning manual type-writer between them.

Luther has a skilled and impressive cast, including Saskia Reeves as Luther’s boss, Steven Mackintosh as his friend and colleague, and Paul McGann as Luther’s wife’s new squeeze. I think that’s my other reservation actually. Possibly too many big-hitters that you know from other productions, which is distracting, but may settle down when everyone has bedded in a bit.

I know Elba, for example, has been in other things since The Wire, but his embodiment of the role of the complex, oh-so-bad but effortlessly cool and charismatic, Stringer Bell is so seared on my brain, it is tough to see past it.

So how about the show? It was pretty darn good. I particularly enjoyed Ruth Wilson’s portrayal of Alice, the child prodigy turned psycho murderer, who goes head-to-head in a tense and enjoyable sexual/psychological tussle with Luther.

The idea of a smart but troubled, maverick, morally ambiguous, psychologically-minded detective is not new of course. After Luther had solved the case by realising that the missing murder weapon had been stuffed inside the dead (cremated) family dog, Mr Inkface, watching with me, said “It’s Cracker”, and he’s right, but I’m not sure I mind that too much.

Posted by Inkface

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Lustbox: The very versatile Steven Mackintosh

I first noticed Steven Mackintosh in a four part BBC drama called Undercover Heart, back in 1998. He played an undercover cop who gets so involved with the case he’s working on that he risks his career, his marriage and his sanity. In a strong cast (Daniela Nardini, Lennie James), Steven Mackintosh’s performance was amazing – his character looked like an angel who’d been plunged into hell.

He’s not a very bulky bloke, but he has an amazing physicality – his characters are often at least a bit on the dark side, and he’s brilliant at understated menace and pent-up tension. He did a show-stopping turn in Prime Suspect 5, as Manc gangster The Street, all arrogant swagger and completely immoral.

Steven Mackintosh seems to be drawn towards difficult or controversial roles. He’s played a transgender person in Different for Girls, and won numerous awards for his heartbreaking portrayal of a sexually abused boy in Care. He also recently played Peter Mandelson in Mo, and a bigoted cop in Criminal Justice.

What I love most about him is his voice. You’ll have heard it hundreds of times on ads and doing voiceovers for documentaries – it’s a perfectly pleasant voice-over voice (he’s also wonderful reading audiobooks – check out his reading of The Beach). But when he’s playing a role that requires a bit of menace, that voice gets a fabulously threatening, sexy edge to it.

His next TV role is in the crime show Luther, which starts next Tuesday. I’ve already got it on series link.

Posted by PLA

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Mo: Foul mouthed and fabulous

It’s five years since Dr Marjorie ‘Mo’ Mowlam MP died of a brain tumour in her fifties, and it is only now that we’ve learned a number of truths about her life in office. She played a critical part in establishing peace in Northern Ireland, but held this key political role knowing full well that she had a malignant and inoperable brain tumour that could have affected her judgment. She lied about it to everyone including Blair. It could have led to disaster, but since it didn’t, we can now look back on her life and achievements with affection and regret that we have lost such a remarkable person.

There were two national treasures at play in this  drama:  the larger than life Mo herself and the terrific Julie Walters who plays her with typical lack of vanity, through weight gain from steriods and radiotherapy, hair loss and wearing of the wig that Mowlam so famously threw down during frustrating negotiations with Trimble and Adams. ‘This time, no cocks on the table,’ she says to them.

If we believe this drama, which was reputedly well researched, Mo Mowlam was magnificent in many ways. Funny, filthy and full of life. But as well as smoking, drinking and enjoying a great appetite for sex (‘my love life’s pornographic,’ she reports to friend) she was no saint. She must have been a nightmare sometimes for those around her, especially her long suffering doctor, who had to keep secret the truth about her malignant brain tumour. ‘I refuse to be ill now,’  she tells him.

There was some lovely writing. Mo says about John Major ‘huge cock  – bigger than Heseltine even’. I particularly enjoyed Steven Mackintosh’s oleaginous portrayal of Peter Mandelson, whom Mo refers to as a ‘silly old queen’ early on and later says to his face that he’s a ‘devious c^nt’. Her husband is played with great tenderness by David Haig, who cheers her up after radiotherapy by getting the video of Die Hard out because it’s full of ‘guns, bums and car chases – my favourite’.

It’s easy to oversimplify the life of those who died too young, to turn them into heroes. Mowlam was hugely influential at the time when New Labour were riding high. How things have changed. With the current popularity of the Labour Party at such a low ebb, it must have been tempting to write a drama about one of the biggest characters in Blair’s cabinet with rose-tinted and entirely unrealistic specs. It is very much to his credit that Neil McKay resisted this, which is what makes the programme so gripping, poignant and genuinely moving.

Posted by Inkface

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