Tag Archives: TV

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 plump 12-year-old trying to be 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 (they look nothing like sisters), is probably 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.

Arya is 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.) 😉

TV REVIEW: HBO’s The Young Pope – difficult at the start, but worth sticking with

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that a lot of traffic has come from searches for The Young Pope, which is probably because I don’t have much competition.

There were previews and reviews for the first two episodes which screened at the Venice Film Festival, but after that, nada – a vow of silence. (This will likely change when it reaches its US air date on January 15.)

In the UK there hasn’t been the online discussion like with Westworld, although the Sun tabloid ran an article about Jude Law’s titular (haha) Pope grabbing the breast of Ludivine Sagnier’s character (he didn’t).

Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand the show and dropped it. I don’t want to give too much away here, but to be clear – trailers for The Young Pope may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be frustrated.

This is true especially of the early episodes. I confess I almost gave up on Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie after the third/fourth episodes. But episodes five, six and seven have been exceptional – scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance at the hands of the “diabolical” Pope Pius XIII.

Originally Lenny Belardo from New York, Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church. He decided to go rogue, much to the horror of everyone, especially the manipulative, strangely lovable Secretary of State Voiello (Silvio Orlando).

Pius XIII doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive – never seen by anyone outside his inner circle. But Pius is also possessed of compassion, as we see in his dealings with Esther (Sagnier), the seemingly-infertile wife of a Swiss Guard.

Sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag. Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors in his gold, finery and shades, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. (Hollywood Reporter called him an “icy control freak”.)

It’s a sin he banned cameras, because he’s really putting his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season.

Nonetheless, as of episode seven, Pius has made himself very unpopular with the press, with the rest of the church, a billion Catholics, other faiths…the list goes on.

His conservatism and religiosity seem to stem from his abandonment by his hippy parents, and even Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), his surrogate mother and biggest supporter, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church.

Can such a damaged man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?

The Young Pope is dreamlike, introspective and darkly funny. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.

NETFLIX REVIEW: The Crown

Netflix’s new series, The Crown, cost around 100 million dollars to make, which would cover nearly a third of the huge cost of the Buckingham Palace renovations.

It’s got great reviews, too – the series, not the impending renovations – which are proving quite controversial. (And all for a palace that according to this series, nobody wants to live in.)

Now I don’t enjoy cooing over the royals, or cooing over pretend-royals in sumptuous costumes. But I love royal history, and The Crown is well-made and absorbing. It’s an intensely, richly, cinematic imagining of Queen Elizabeth II’s life behind palace doors.

Ten episodes take us from the then Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip, right up ’til the brink of the Suez crisis of 1956. In between the historical milestones, the young royal is embroiled in family dramas, and in each chapter she will have to choose between the ones she loves, and duty.

“The fact is,” her grandmother admonishes her, “the crown must win – must always win.”

I wasn’t sure about Claire Foy as our unknowable queen, with her open face and large cornflower blue eyes. (Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out looked more the part.) But Foy is believable as a simple countrywoman, more concerned with her dogs and horses than politics or people.

Creator/writer Peter Morgan’s series is actually all about the hat, not the person wearing it. “An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination,” is how her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, describes Elizabeth during his bitchy coronation commentary. Once anointed, she is transformed, he says, into a “goddess”.

Matt Smith layers his rubbery-faced, zany energy over the mannerisms and ‘wit’ of the notoriously prickly Duke of Edinburgh. I kept expecting him to suggest a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne.

In fact, almost everyone seems far nicer than they probably were/are in real life – even Eileen Atkins as scary Queen Mary. Well,  almost everyone. There’s the fabulously brittle duo of Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor and Lia Williams (I had to check it wasn’t Game of Thrones’ Red Woman – Carice van Houten) as Wallis Simpson.

The Crown is secure enough in its power that we also spend plenty of time with the politicians. Still really needing a movie to themselves are John Lithgow as Churchill, and Stephen Dillane as the painter Graham Sutherland, hired to produce a portrait of the PM. (It ends up on a bonfire – true story, apparently).

The Crown can be artificial, as things have to be explained to the audience. Underlings tell Her Majesty: “And your father’s real name was Albert, and of course your uncle’s real name was David and your name is Elizabeth…”

It’s a bit like a popular history book come to life, and I suppose we couldn’t have expected anything more controversial in our nostalgia-obsessed times. With six more series to go, I’m waiting for someone to stop fretting over whether the Crown will endure, and instead wonder if it should.

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 wakes up in the morning and decides what to wear. He greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

In what is an inevitable dream sequence, he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

For Pius, that’s actually the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…well, he’s young (and American) 

Jude Law’s American accent and booming oratory caught me off guard (to my British tin ear he briefly sounded like Obama).

Pius, AKA Lenny Belardo, is the former Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is mighty angry at being passed over.

…but not as young as scheming cardinals might hope

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he explains to one old relic. Lenny was dropped at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, and Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him. She seems devoted to him, although heavens know why.

…he is not a nice man, probably

More a bullying, chain-smoking CEO than a man of God. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.” He viciously abuses an elderly nun (not Sister Mary) for daring to smother him in kisses.

…he’s an arch-conservative

At first nobody knows his views or tastes on anything, let alone those whose job it is to prepare his first breakfast as Pope. “Didn’t anyone tell you I don’t eat much? Hardly anything, in fact. All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

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

When he finally gives his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone.

…his marketing strategy is just divine

He wants to be the invisible Pope, he tells Cécile De France’s Vatican City marketing boss Sofia. The poor, confused woman wants to discuss a photo shoot in order to plaster Pius’s handsome face over new plates, postcards and ashtrays. 

Instead he orders her to fire the Vatican’s official photographer. He never allows his picture to be taken, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

“That’s media suicide,” she gasps.

…is he entirely of this planet?!

He apparently has a bizarre affinity with animals, as we see in the first episode with a kangaroo (don’t ask).

Later he points at the stars. “That’s where God’s house is,” he says. “Half of a duplex, with a private swimming pool.” And why oh why must he keep messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist?

…is he worth the time? 

If you ask Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando), the secretary of state, absolutely not. He’s clearly formulating a plan to take the new pontiff down, in a scheme that may involve the devout Esther (Ludivine Sagnier).

Paolo Sorrentino’s series is surreal and slow-moving. It’s TV to savour – if you can  – but not devour.

And I wonder if the initial black humour is vanishing like a puff of smoke from the chimney on the Sistine Chapel.

The Young Pope is on Sky Atlantic. 

TV REVIEW: Victoria episodes 3, 4 and 5.

Hallelujah! Hallleluujah!!

Nope, Victoria isn’t a singing competition, even if it does fit beautifully into ITV’s weekend line-up, right next to The X Factor.

But they keep playing it, so I’m going to have to learn to spell it: it’s Alleluia by Martin Phipps, with vocals by the Mediaeval Baebes (who sound like they could be straight out of Westeros by way of Frozen).

I already mentioned that Jenna Coleman’s Victoria reminds me of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones – one of the most lavish, expensively produced shows in history – and even the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic choral masterpieces.

However, the eight-part look at the early years of V’s reign has really proved to be Downton Abbey with a teen queen and the same upstairs/downstairs theme. Dramatic embellishments notwithstanding, it actually seems to do an OK job at hinting at a world of social change.

To recap: in the first episodes we saw the little monarch come to the throne following the death of her uncle William IV. A hormonal teenager, Victoria is nobody’s ideal head of state, but such are the perils of hereditary monarchy.

Gossip Girl Vicky gets the hots for her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), whom she relies on as her mentor. Historians have really recoiled at this notion of a romantic attraction between queen and PM, but writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something.

Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted the unusually intense relationship, dubbing young Vicky “Lady Melbourne”. It’s not hard to believe that a sheltered young woman would fall for a powerful, urbane older man, even if he didn’t look anything like Rufus Sewell.

But by episode three M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t marry Vicky. Poor V!

Instead, a certain German princeling arrives at court – it’s Albert, accompanied by his bad boy older brother Ernest. Albert is on a mission to sweep Victoria off her feet, but fictional Victoria isn’t impressed with the moany-looking hipster, even if he has a fab profile. (In reality she was instantly smitten.)

Poor Albert isn’t too thrilled either. He has a social conscience, while Victoria isn’t interested in the plight of her poorest subjects.

There’s also the continued presence of Lord M, suffering stoically in the corner. At one point he advises the unpopular German brothers to keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, and then later booms out “Your Serene Highnesses” when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

We are supposed to titter at Albert’s nerdiness; but he is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. As episode five arrives, it is clear that the spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. The British public were very slow to take to Albert, and audiences might struggle too, as he has thoroughly usurped the smouldering Sewell.

Queen Victoria was famously devoted to Albert (when he croaked she wore black for 40 years) but she wasn’t necessarily the mothering type. She even commented that carrying children was an “occupational hazard” for a wife. It will be interesting to see how the series portrays the next chapter in her life: Domestic tyrant, or domestic bliss?  

Victoria continues with episode six on Sunday September 25 at 9pm on ITV.