Tag Archives: HBO

HBO REVIEW: Catherine the Great, an epic open romance

In Catherine the Great, HBO and Sky’s new four-parter, nearly everyone talks like they’re starring in The Crown (Jason Clarke does his own thing – more on him later). Luckily the big fur hats let you know you’re in RUSSIA.

With Helen Mirren playing Catherine, the series aims to provide a balanced image, celebrating her as a socially enlightened female ruler in a man’s world, while not shying away from the fact she ruled with an iron fist.

Politics and empire-building are just a backdrop, though. The true heart of the piece is slowly revealed to be the passionate, complicated bond between Catherine and her military leader Potemkin (Clarke), whose existing letters to each other show a loving, open relationship, and an almost modern way of working together.

In the series, Catherine has usurped her husband and their son. Amid tension with her military co-conspirators – including her estranged lover Orlov – she glimpses the swaggering Potemkin. Catherine likes hunky (younger) men, but she’s running a country, so she gets her lady-in-waiting to test his er, political prowess. 

By hour two, we’re two years into the Russo-Turkish war, and Potemkin has been away covering himself in glory, rising through the ranks. Catherine impulsively orders his return, only to ghost him. They try to make one another jealous, before having an awkward chat about their exes.

It’s true Catherine had multiple lovers, and her sexual liberation gave rise to fake news. Even now, urban legends persist – including the notorious slur involving a horse. Despite the recent press hype, Catherine and Potemkin’s onscreen romance is only steamy in the sense that they (eventually) kiss in a bathhouse.

They settle into domestic bliss, but, rather like the ‘action man’ Prince Phillip portrayed by The Crown, a (literally) thrusting Potemkin becomes petulant and bored. He wants to Make Russia Great, annex the Crimea, and shag half the population while doing so.

As Potemkin, Clarke goes from a clean-cut Aussie Don Cossack, to sounding and looking like the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

Poor Catherine can’t live with him, but she can’t live without him. Mirren pines for him and distracts herself with toy boys – some actually procured by Potemkin, who has the comical nerve to be jealous.

We’re reminded she’s a brilliant woman, and a patron of the arts, but she mostly indulges in sex, paranoia, and bickering with her son and her council. It rather presents a sad case of living long enough to see yourself become the villain, tossing the Voltaire on a bonfire.

Its difficulty is having three decades of history, and only four hours. There needs to be a focus, and the series loses sight of it. Only a pivotal final scene goes a long way to redeeming Catherine the Great as a bittersweet mini-epic about one of history’s greatest love affairs. 

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones season 7 is short and full of terrors

At the start of season seven I wrote a grumpy post about how much I didn’t love Game of Thrones. Once they used up Grim’s good books (the first three!) from the Ice and Fire series, and then outpaced the novels entirely, the HBO show went downhill.

Of course, I carried on watching for the sheer spectacle. It’s fun to read the theories and get into the post-episode breakdowns. Plus (with a few glaring exceptions) it’s a fine cast, and easy to invest in the characters (knowing full well they’ll get killed off when you do).

I like to muse over which character I’d be if Westeros were real, although I’d probably be stone cold dead. I’d try to live by the sea, eking out my days and avoiding trouble – basically the same as my life here on Earth really.

The Red Priestess gig looks good. They never seem to feel the cold, and Stannis’ erstwhile sorceress possesses the hocus-pocus to look fab at 400 years old.

I’d love to be that arch and dramatic, but I’m more of a Gilly, the girl who thought being a Wildling made her “sound a bit dangerous.” She’s currently in the Citadel with Sam, who has turned out to be a total wildcard.

gilly

Knocking spots off that Targaryen girl: Hannah Murray as the absent Gilly. Credit HBO

Jon, meanwhile, is busy stomping around Dragonstone for his precious obsidian. (He got Davos to make those cave drawings, right?)

I hope Tyrion gets behind Jon, and I hope Jon & Dany don’t happen. Kit needs something to act opposite, and Jon, like Robb, needs to avoid exotic bimbos and marry a nice Westerosi girl. Meera Reed is available…

Because Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now, and people are gunning for Sansa to claim the North. Really? So far, Sansa has excelled at two things: being brutalized and running a castle. She was born to be a good highborn wife and run the domestic sphere – not command men or be a politician.

High on my Thrones wish list is seeing Jaime get together with Brienne, assuming she’ll still have him after he got sucker-punched by an old lady. I suppose the Kingslayer is a catch, although I wouldn’t want Cersei’s cast-offs. Ugh.

I think in the books he was well shot of her by now. Maybe the Drogon near-miss and the dip in a lake will bring him to his senses, finally.

It’s winter for our heroes, but summer for us fans. Years of trudging through the seasons have led to this payoff –  dragons over Westeros, Stark reunions and the unveiling of secret Targaryens.

And yup, we’ve already hit this season’s halfway point, for it is short and full of terrors…(Come back Melisandre!)

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones is back…

IMG_20170717_180832-01Are you glad it’s back? And by ‘it’ I mean the TV phenomenon that’s as big as Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings?

I’m not a constant admirer of the Game of Thrones juggernaut anymore. Characters get arranged into starting positions for epic showdowns, rinse and repeat. This season has seven episodes, and “Dragonstone” probably won’t be the only hour devoted to groundwork and prepping the set pieces.

We had Sam in the library, and Sam emptying bedpans. We had Emilia “I Can. And I Will” Clarke strutting around her ancestral home like a dumpy 12-year-old emulating a haughty catwalk queen. (And I’m not sure the show has enough time to explore the attraction dangling between her eunuch warrior and her handmaiden…)

Like Dany, Sansa is coming into her own, as the Lady of Winterfell. Soft-hearted Sansa now feeds her husbands to hungry hounds, and while I’m all for character growth, not every female character has to be a Strong Woman, and Strong Women don’t have to commit grisly murders to be powerful.

Perhaps they don’t know what to do with Sansa – the whole rushed, overripe Ramsay plot was not her book story – and Sophie isn’t a believable enough actress to play a ruthless killer AKA junior Cersei. Thanks to her dreary line readings and whiny nasal voice, I use Sansa scenes for any unpleasant chores, like putting the recycling out.

But Sansa, like sister Arya (who couldn’t look less like Sophie Turner), are a) fan favourites, and/or b) are part of George R.R. Martin’s endgame, and can’t be bumped off.

Maisie is a good little actress, but she seems super-aware that there’s a huge audience who love Arya and who think a bloodthirsty (female) child assassin is cool, and maybe this awareness is sometimes ever so slightly to the detriment of her performance.

She’s on her way to King’s Landing, where Bad Uncle Euron is trying to woo Evil Queen Cersei and come between her and Jaime, who have reached that stage where they’re more brother/sister, than red hot lovebirds…oh yeah.

There were things I liked, I promise, I’m not as grumpy as Sandor Clegane, who is still with the Brotherhood and in delightfully surly form, shaming Thoros’ topknot hairdo. (He’ll be coming for Jon’s man bun next.) The Hound is seeing visions in the flame, and it sounds like those screeching ice men are going to overcome the Wall by just….walking around it?

Really? Give fans their answers already!

(OK maybe I am as grumpy as the Hound after all.) 😉

the young pope

TV REVIEW: What do we know about Jude Law in The Young Pope? Who is Lenny Belardo?

The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII dreams he’s emerging from a pyramid of sleeping human babies. He awakens, decides what to wear, greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Presenting as a statesman with oratorical skill to rival President Obama (he sounds like him at one point; Jude Law does a great American accent) he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

Of course it’s all still part of his dream, although for Pius, it’s truly the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…he’s young (and American) 

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he says.

His real name is Lenny Belardo, and he was left at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, where Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him.

He rose to be Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is angry at being passed over for Pope himself. We learn Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church.

…he’s gone rogue, and is actually an arch-conservative

…At first nobody knows Pius’ thoughts on anything, right down to his breakfast choices. “All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

Would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”

When he finally does give his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone. He doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive, the Invisible Pope, unseen by anyone outside his inner circle.

He fires the Vatican’s official photographer, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

Needless to say he’s going to make himself very unpopular with the press, the church, a billion or so Catholics, all other faiths…etc.

…sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag.

Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors with his shades on, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.”

And he really puts his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.

…is he worth the time? 

Trailers may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be disappointed.

Surreal moments come as thick and fast as Sistine Chapel smoke. There’s the already infamous kangaroo, and Pius messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist.

At times it feels like the series toys with the viewer – could he be an alien? The Antichrist? Nope and nope, I’d guess.

Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie. But episodes five, six and seven are some of the best television I’ve seen, as scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance.

As even Pius’s surrogate mother and biggest supporter, Sister Mary, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church, can a man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?