Category Archives: TV

Christmas 1988. The Story Continues

Unbelievably, it’s taken me almost exactly twelve months since watching Shane Meadows’ “This Is England ’86” to get around to viewing the third instalment in the series, 2011’s “This Is England ’88”. Set during Christmas 1988 this, naturally, made perfect viewing for a hot and sunny July afternoon!BOBBY DVD

Charlotte Tyree & Thomas Turgoose
Charlotte Tyree & Thomas Turgoose

Shaun (Thomas Turgoose – “The Hatching”, “Eden Lake”) is now at drama school but struggling for confidence, feeling that he has no talent. His relationship with Smell (Rosamund Hanson – “Switch”, “Life’s Too Short” is feeling the strain, especially when Shaun begins to get close to his Christmas play co-star Fay (Charlotte Tyree – “First Love Last Love”).

Vicky McClure
Vicky McClure

Lol (Vicky McClure – “Line Of Duty”, “Broadchurch”) is having a very hard time in life. Still haunted by the horrible events at the end of “This Is England ’86” and finding being a single mother to her daughter very demanding and tiring.

Joseph Gilgun & Stacey Sampson
Joseph Gilgun & Stacey Sampson

Lol’s ex Woody (Joseph Gilgun – “The Last Witch Hunter”, “The Infiltrator”, meanwhile, has a new girlfriend in Jennifer (Stacey Sampson – “Doctors”, “Holby City”) and is offered a promotion at work. As part of his rebuilding of his personal life Woody has put some distance between himself and his former friends.

Andrew Shim
Andrew Shim

It transpires that Woody was unaware of Lol’s brief affair with Milky (Andrew Shim – “Anti-Social”, “Airborne) until Lol’s daughter – the result of that affair – was born, so feelings are still very raw.

Over the course of three days (23 – 25 December) events unfold that leave Shaun devastated but also sees a reunion of sorts for Woody and Lol…

Joseph Gilgun & Vicky McClure
Joseph Gilgun & Vicky McClure

I have mentioned previously that watching this series is a case of “following these characters on a journey – taking in adolescence, sexuality, bullying, dysfunctional families and friendships – through part of their lives that was portrayed with a sense of realism that made this a fantastic viewing experience” and that remains true of “…’88” but in this instance it is the characters played by Gilgun and McClure that really take centre stage and the performances of both are persuasive and moving. Another excellent chapter in the story…this-is-england-88-poster

Over The Wall. Under The Gun

My wife and I have just finished watching the recent eight-part German TV series penned by American writer Anna Winger (author of novel “This Must Be The Place”), titled “Deutschland ’83”.

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Jonas Nay
Jonas Nay

Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay – “Summer Solstice”, “We Are Young, We Are Strong”) is a border guard in communist East Germany in 1983, where he lives with his mother Ingrid Rauch (Carina N. Wiese – “The Book Thief”, “Alarm Für Cobra 11”) and dates local girl Annett Schneider (Sonja Gerhardt – “Sin & Illy Still Alive”,  “Stuttgart Homicide”).

Carina N. Wiese & Sonja Gerhardt
Carina N. Wiese & Sonja Gerhardt

The Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA), part of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) in East Germany, are tasked by Russian president Yuri Andropov and the Kremlin with finding out what plans the U.S. has for their new Pershing II missiles that are being located in West Germany.

Sylvester Groth & Maria Schrader
Sylvester Groth & Maria Schrader

Martin is asked by his aunt Lenora Rauch (Maria Schrader – “Lose My Self”, “In Darkness”) and her boss Walter Schweppenstette (Sylvester Groth – “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Reader”) to go to West Germany undercover, using the codename Kolibri, to work for General Wolfgang Edel (Ulrich Noethen – “Downfall”, “Broken Glass Park” who is liaising with N.A.T.O. on the deployment of the missiles.

Ulrich Noethen
Ulrich Noethen

Unwilling to go, Martin finds himself drugged and spirited away to West Germany where he comes round to find he now has little choice other than to assume the identity of Moritz Stamm and become General Edel’s new aide-de-camp and report back to the HVA.

The situation is fraught with complications and dangers, not least the ever-escalating belief in the East that the U.S. is about to launch a nuclear strike against the U.S.S.R. from West Germany.

Ludwig Trepte
Ludwig Trepte

Along the way we meet a variety of characters who become important to the story in different ways including Martin / Moritz’s colleague (and son of the General) Alex Edel (Ludwig Trepte – “Out Of Hand”, “1864”), the General’s wayward daughter Yvonne Edel (Lisa Tomaschewsky – “The Girl With Nine Wigs”, “Hut In The Woods”) and Professor Tobias Tischbier (Alexander Beyer – “The Fifth Estate”, “Goodbye Lenin!”) who also works for the HVA.

Lisa Tomaschewsky
Lisa Tomaschewsky

Set against the real-life events leading to the nearest escalation to nuclear war in recent memory, lots of stock footage of news reports from the time, with a great eye for detail in the differences in culture and society between the East and the West, and with great use of hit singles from the era, we found this to be both entertaining and gripping.

Alexander Beyer
Alexander Beyer

It almost beggars belief that the world’s super powers could come so close to mutually assured destruction. And even though there may be some dramatic license taken – indeed this C.I.A. report seems to indicate that things were not a serious as the programme suggests – it makes for powerful viewing.

The series didn’t do as well in Germany as hoped, apparently, but has been pretty well received elsewhere, leading to the possibility of a follow-up series “Deutschland ’86” and even making it a trilogy with “Deutschland ’89”, the year the Berlin Wall was re-opened after twenty-eight years. I would certainly tune in, should that turn out to be the case. Great stuff…Deutschland83_H48002_151214

England Is Born

My wife and I have just finished watching “The Last Kingdom”, the BBC’s adaptation of the Bernard Cornwell novels “The Last Kingdom” and “The Pale Horseman” – the first two in the author’s Saxon Stories series.

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Hopefully the TV series was successful enough that the BBC will want to carry on and adapt the rest of the books too – there are, to date, nine novels in the Saxon Stories (also known as the Warrior Chronicles).

Bernard Cornwell - The Last Kingdom
Bernard Cornwell – The Last Kingdom

The synopsis for the first book reads as follows : “Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumberland. Orphaned at ten, he is captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the only English kingdom to survive the Danish assault.

The struggle between the English and the Danes and the strife between Christianity and paganism is the background to Uhtred’s growing up. Marriage ties him to the Saxon cause but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of the Danish invasion, he is driven the face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea. There, he discovers his true allegiance”

Bernard Cornwell - The Pale Horseman
Bernard Cornwell – The Pale Horseman

Book two, meanwhile, has this synopsis : “As the last unvanquished piece of England, Wessex is eyed hungrily by the fearsome Viking conquerors. Uhtred, a dispossessed young nobleman, is tied to the imperiled land by birth and marriage but was raised by the Danish invaders—and he questions where his allegiance must lie.

But blood is his destiny, and when the overwhelming Viking horde attacks out of a wintry darkness, Uhtred must put aside all hatred and distrust and stand beside his embattled country’s staunch defender—the fugitive King Alfred.”

Matthew Macfadyen
Matthew Macfadyen

An eight part series, the action begins in AD866 with the Lord of Bebbanburg (now called Bamburgh) in Northumbria, Ealdorman Uhtred (Matthew Macfadyen – “Spooks”, “Ripper Street”) looking to avenge the death of his eldest son, also called Uhtred. His second son Osbert, aged ten, now renamed Uhtred.

Peter Gantzler
Peter Gantzler

The Ealdorman enters into battle against the invading Danes at Eoferwic (now called York) but is killed during the battle. The ten year old Uhtred attempts to attack the Danes and is captured by Earl Ragnar the Fearless (Peter Gantzler – “A-klassen”, “Danny’s Doomsday”) who decides to adopt Uhtred into his household, along with a young Saxon girl named Brida.

Joseph Millson
Joseph Millson

During this time Uhtred’s uncle, Alferic (Joseph Millson – “I Give It A Year”, “Casino Royale”), claims the title of Ealdorman, along with Bebbanburg, for himself despite Uhtred being the true heir.

Alexander Dreymon & Emily Cox
Alexander Dreymon & Emily Cox

As Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon – “Blood Ransom”, “Resistance”) grows up with the Danes and learns their ways he grows close to Brida (Emily Cox – “The Silent Mountain”, “Futuro Beach”) and becomes like a son to Earl Ragnar – viewing Ragnar’s son, Ragnar Ragnarsson (Tobias Santelmann – “Hercules”, “The Acquitted”) as his brother.

Tobias Santelmann
Tobias Santelmann

When Earl Ragnar is killed Uhtred and Brida head off to Danish-held East Anglia only to find that Uhtred is being blamed for Ragnar’s death, and so soon find themselves moving on to Wintancaester (now called Winchester), the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex.

Ian Hart
Ian Hart

Once there they meet Father Beocca (Ian Hart – “Finding Neverland”, “Best”), a priest who knew Uhtred as a child in Northumberland, who is now in the service of King Aethelred.

David Dawson
David Dawson

King Aethelred is mortally injured in battle, and his very religious, and seemingly rather fragile, brother Alfred (David Dawson – “Ripper Street”, “Banished”) takes on the throne.

Thomas W. Gabrielsson & Rune Temte
Thomas W. Gabrielsson & Rune Temte

In his ultimate quest to reclaim his title and land back in Bebbanburg, and despite being labelled Uhtred the Godless, Uhtred finds himself working for the new Christian King Arthur against the Dane warlords Guthrum (Thomas W. Gabrielsson – “The Killing”, “A Royal Affair”) and Ubba (Rune Temte – “Hotel Caesar”, “Ulykken”).

Brian Vernel
Brian Vernel

Various other characters are added to the mix including Odda the Younger (Brian Vernel – “Let Us Prey”, “Offender”) who opposes Uhtred at every opportunity and who clearly has designs on Mildrith (Amy Wren – “Silk”, “uwantme2killhim?”) Uhtred’s pious Christian wife.

Amy Wren
Amy Wren

Others include Skorpa (Jonas Malmsjö – “Real Humans”, “Psalm 21”) a vicious Dane warrior, Leofric (Adrian Bower – “Mount Pleasant”, “Teachers”) a Saxon friend of Uhtred’s, Aethelwold (Harry McEntire – “Tower Block”, “Unconditional”) the son of the late King Aethelred, and Iseult (Charlie Murphy – “’71”, “Love/Hate”) a pagan Queen.

Jonas Malmsjö
Jonas Malmsjö

Some of these characters are based on genuine historical figures, some are based on the author’s own ancestors and others are from Cornwell’s imagination. This goes for the events contained within the tale too.

Adrian Bower
Adrian Bower

What is important though isn’t how true it all is but how entertaining it is. Well, quite simple it’s very entertaining! Condensing two full-blown novels into a little under eight hours of television drama is no mean feat, particularly as Cornwell’s books are usually pretty lengthy (there were around 800 pages to cover here), so there are obviously many things that didn’t make it to the screen.

Harry McEntire
Harry McEntire

What did make it to the screen, however, is a thoroughly engrossing saga. Lots of violence, as you would expect from such a brutal era, though not overdone, and what I presume to be a fairly accurate representation of the conditions folk lived in during that era of history.

Charlie Murphy
Charlie Murphy

Alongside the battle for supremacy waged between the Danes and the Saxons is the battle between paganism and Christianity on these shores. Ultimately we know who the biggest winner was in that particular battle but I did rather enjoy some of the scenes that came as a result of this particular struggle.

Jason Flemyng
Jason Flemyng

One such scene sees King Edmund (Jason Flemyng – “Gemma Bovery”, “Welcome To The Punch”) trying to convert the invading Danes to Christianity in return for him remaining King in name only. The Danes decide to test his claim that his Christian god, as the only true god, would protect him and do so with an onslaught of arrows despite Edmund trying to back out at the last minute! – which showed a nice touch of humour that was present in various places throughout the series.

Alexander Dreymon & David Dawson
Alexander Dreymon & David Dawson

Performance-wise I was really impressed with Dawson’s King Alfred, which was full of nuance, but clearly that star of the show was Dreymon as Uhtred.

Alexander Dreymon
Alexander Dreymon

My wife and I were unable to agree whether Dreymon was responsible for voicing Uhtred’s recap of the series so far at the start of each episode. I’m sure it was him but she is equally sure it was someone else trying to sound like him.

Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell

I am usually of the opinion that film or TV based on pre-existing novels are inferior to the source material and, in all honesty, that remains true here. That said, this was a high quality drama series in it’s own right and I do hope that the BBC continue with future adaptations of Cornwell’s series.

Visually, the show looks great, with not too much CGI evident making the whole thing feel more real than it might otherwise. Overall, fans of “Vikings” or “Game Of Thrones” should find much to enjoy here with the added bonus of some genuine history thrown in.

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Midwinter Of The Spirit

Recently my wife and I watched a three-part ITV adaptation of Phil Rickman‘s second Merrily Watkins novel “Midwinter Of The Spirit”.

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I believe that the TV people chose this book to start a potential series with as it was the book in which Merrily first got involved in exorcism – or deliverance as it’s termed here – giving opportunity for a nice paranormal drama.

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Phil Rickman – Midwinter Of The Spirit

The synopsis for the novel reads as follows : “They’ll follow you home… breathe down your phone at night… a prime target for every psychotic grinder of the dark satanic mills that ever sacrificed a chicken…’

Diocesan Exorcist: a job viewed by the Church of England with such extreme suspicion that they changed the name.

It’s Deliverance Consultant now. Still, it seems, no job for a woman. But when the Bishop offers it to Merrily Watkins, parish priest and single mum, she’s in no position to refuse.

It starts badly for Merrily and gets no easier. As an early winter slices through the old city of Hereford, a body is found in the River Wye, an ancient church is desecrated and signs of evil appear in the cathedral itself, where the tomb of a medieval saint lies in pieces.”

Now, I believe that I have previously mentioned that I have yet to read the early books in the series so I cannot directly compare the source novel with the TV version. I can, however, comment on the TV series as a standalone piece of work and also my observations with regards to characters that I do know through the books in the series that I have read.

Simon Trinder & Kate Dickie
Simon Trinder & Kate Dickie

The series opens with a dead man, wearing a crown of barbed-wire, strung up in a crucifixion pose in trees in rural Herefordshire. Police detective DS Francis Bliss (Simon Trinder – “Anton Chekhov’s The Duel”) is investigating with his boss DCI Annie Howe (Kate Dickie – “Red Road”, “Filth”) and they decide to ask advice from a religious expert – enter Merrily Watkins.

Anna Maxwell Martin & David Threlfall
Anna Maxwell Martin & David Threlfall

Merrily (Anna Maxwell Martin – “Philomena”, “Becoming Jane”) is on a course to become a deliverance specialist for the church, seemingly much to the displeasure of her tutor Huw Owen (David Threlfall – “Hot Fuzz”, “Shameless”). Before long the pair are immersed in the mystery as the dead man turns out to have been a Satanist and various other dubious characters make their appearances.

Sally Messham & Leila Mimmack
Sally Messham & Leila Mimmack

Meanwhile, Merrily’s troubled teenage daughter Jane (Sally Messham) is befriended by fellow teen Rowenna Napier (Leila Mimmack – “Son Of God”, “High-Rise”), who has troubles of her own. So much so that she has a social worker, Lol Robinson (Ben Bailey Smith – “Hunted”, “Law & Order UK”) assigned to look after her case.

Anna Maxwell Martin
Anna Maxwell Martin

OK, so as a piece of TV I felt that it worked fairly well. My wife, who hadn’t read any of the books had a hard time keeping up with who was who and what their connections to each other were, so I suppose a knowledge of the main characters from having read some of the books was an advantage for me – but many viewers may have felt as my wife did. She did also find the character of Merrily to be irritating with her dithering whilst I thought that was somewhat in keeping with the character I had encountered in Rickman’s books.

Ben Bailey Smith
Ben Bailey Smith

I can’t say that any of those characters looked much like the ones I had developed in my head while reading – I imagine that this is a familiar sensation for anyone seeing a literary character they know making the transition to the screen. I must say though, and I know I’m far from alone in this, that I felt changing the character of Lol from a white folk musician to a black social worker was taking things too far from the source material.

So, despite not having read the specific book, I am confident that the novel is more than likely far superior to the TV adaptation. That said, I did enjoy the programme for what it was and probably would have even more if I could have completely overlooked the obvious character differences…Midwinter-of-the-Spirit-tx-2

Summer 1986. The Next Instalment

It’s taken longer than I realised, but I have finally got around to watching Shane Meadows’ 2010 TV miniseries follow-up to “This Is England”. Originally broadcast on Channel 4 in 2010, it’s a four-part series entitled “This Is England ’86”.

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Thomas Turgoose
Thomas Turgoose

Co-written by Meadows and Jack Thorne (“Skins”, “Shameless”) the story picks up three years after the events of the first film and finds Shaun (Thomas Turgoose – “The Hatching”, “Eden Lake”) sitting his final exam at secondary school.

Joseph Gilgun & Vicky McClure
Joseph Gilgun & Vicky McClure

Elsewhere, meanwhile, it is the day of Woody (Joseph Gilgun “Pride, “Lockout”) – and Lol’s (Vicky McClure – “Convenience”, “Svengali”) registry office wedding.

Perry Benson
Perry Benson

Events at the wedding take a bad turn when Woody seems to have doubts and then Meggy (Perry Benson – “Outside Bet”, “Anuvahood”) suffers a heart attack and gets locked in the toilets during the ceremony, leading the gang to abandon the wedding and decamp to the hospital.

Perry Fitzpatrick
Perry Fitzpatrick

Shaun is bullied by Flip (Perry Fitzpatrick – “The Caravan”) to insult Gemma (Georgia May Foote – “Coronation Street”) so that Flip can be her knight in shining armour, resulting in Shaun being beaten and also needing to visit the hospital, where he meets up again with Smell (Rosamund Hanson – “We Are The Freaks”).

Georgia May Foote
Georgia May Foote

Before long Shaun’s mother has persuaded him to get a job working for Mr. Sandhu (Kriss Dosanjh – “Dirty Pretty Things”) renting out videos in his local shop, whilst Shaun has also finally reunited with Woody and the rest of the gang.

Andrew Ellis
Andrew Ellis

There some real humour at play here, particularly surrounding Gadget (Andrew Ellis – “Demons Never Die”) and his relationship with registry office receptionist Trudy (Hannah Walters – “Whitechapel”) as well as Shaun’s dealings with Flip.

Joseph Gilgun & Andrew Shim
Joseph Gilgun & Andrew Shim

Really, however, the central characters of this entry into the “This Is England” story are Woody, Lol, Milky (Andrew Shim – “Dead Man’s Shoes”, “Once Upon A Time In The Midlands”).

Johnny Harris
Johnny Harris

This central three find that their relationships are all changed by the return of Lol’s absent father Mick (Johnny Harris – “Black Death”).

Stephen Graham
Stephen Graham

Add to this the return of Combo (Stephen Graham – “Snatch”, “Blood”) and some harrowing events leading up to a finale played out against the backdrop of the infamous “hand of God” match between England and Argentina…

There weren’t many well known actors in this miniseries, but the performances really were excellent all round. Some of the scenes here, in different hands, could have been used to glamorise or sensationalize certain things. However, there’s no doubt that both my wife and I felt, just as with the first film, we were following these characters on a journey – taking in adolescence, sexuality, bullying, dysfunctional families and friendships – through part of their lives that was portrayed with a sense of realism that made this a fantastic viewing experience…

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