TV Review – SHERWOOD (2022)

SHERWOOD (2022, UK, 6 x 60m, 15) ****
Crime, Mystery
dist. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (UK); pr co. House Productions; d. Lewis Arnold, Ben A. Williams w. James Graham; exec pr. Lewis Arnold, James Graham, Juliette Howell, Ben Irving, Tessa Ross, Harriet Spencer; pr. Rebecca Hodgson; ph. Sam Care, Simon Archer (Colour | 2.00:1); m sup. Catherine Grieves; ed. Sacha Szwarc, Sam White; ad. Stephanie Nicolle.
cast: David Morrissey (DCS Ian St Clair), Lesley Manville (Julie Jackson), Robert Glenister (DI Kevin Salisbury), Kevin Doyle (Fred Rowley), Claire Rushbrook (Cathy Rowley), Lorraine Ashbourne (Daphne Sparrow), Terence Maynard (DS Cleaver), Perry Fitzpatrick (Rory Sparrow), Andrea Lowe (DI Taylor), Philip Jackson (Mickey Sparrow), Clare Holman (Helen St Clair), Adam Hugill (Scott Rowley), Adeel Akhtar (Andy Fisher), Bally Gill (Neel Fisher), Nadine Marshall (Jenny Harris), Bill Jones (Ronan Sparrow), Harpal Hayer (PC Arjun Patel), Chloe Harris (PC Kirsty Dove), Safia Oakley-Green (Cinderella Jackson), Don Gilet (Jacob Harris), Mark Addy (Ron St Clair), Alun Armstrong (Gary Jackson), Stephen Tompkinson (Warnock), Lindsay Duncan (Jennifer Hale).
In this moody crime drama, seemingly patterned after the highly popular BROADCHURCH, two shocking murders shatter an already fractured community, leading to one of the largest manhunts in British history while threatening to inflame historic divisions sparked during the Miners’ Strike three decades before. Intercutting the two time periods enables writer Graham to set the character background and the story involves a large cast of highly accomplished actors. The performances of the ensemble cast are uniformly excellent The result is a largely absorbing drama that only wanders through its later episodes as establishing backstory for many of the characters takes precedence. The mystery element switches between the search for the murderer of Armstrong’s former NUM member to that of a police spy who has, unknown to the rest of the community, remained there. There are also personal dramas for most of the lead characters to deal with – notably the antagonism between detectives Morrissey and Glenister. The portrayal of a community divided by ongoing grudges carried over from the miner’s strike of 1984 is painstakingly detailed, but the finale which gathers all those characters together to have their say feels a little staged and manufactured but serves to hammer home the points.

TV Review – IRONSIDE (1967)

IRONSIDE (TV) (1967, USA, 98m, PG) ***
Crime, Drama, Mystery
dist. National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (USA), BBC (UK); pr co. Harbour Productions Unlimited / Universal Television; d. James Goldstone; w. Don Mankiewicz (based on a story by Collier Young); pr. Collier Young; ph. John F. Warren (Technicolor | 1.33:1); m. Quincy Jones; ed. Edward W. Williams; ad. Loyd S. Papez.
cast: Raymond Burr (Robert Ironside), Geraldine Brooks (Honor Thompson), Wally Cox (Scoutmaster), Kim Darby (Ellen Wells), David Sheiner (Doctor), Lilia Skala (Sister Agatha), Gene Lyons (Commissioner Dennis Randall), Don Galloway (Det. Sgt. Ed Brown), Barbara Anderson (Eve Whitfield), Don Mitchell (Mark Sanger), Joel Fabiani (Dr. Schley), Ayllene Gibbons (Baby Peggy Marvel), Terrence O’Flaherty (Announcer), Eddie Firestone (Wheels Montana), Tony Dante (Pressman Bar), Nicholas Colasanto (Mr. Matling (uncredited)), Antonio Fargas (T.D. Harris (uncredited)), Stuart Margolin (News Show Staff (uncredited)), Tiny Tim (Art House Performer (uncredited)), Grace Lee Whitney (Stripper (uncredited)).
Pilot movie for the TV series which ran for eight seasons from 1967 to 1975. Character actor and former Perry Mason star Raymond Burr gives an imposing performance as the San Francisco Chief of Detectives paralysed by a gunshot wound. He is then given the role of consultant to the police commissioner with his own small team and his first remit is to track down the person who shot him. Goldstone directs the story a little frenetically, with fast cuts and tight shots, and the tone shifts jarringly from time to time. The 1960s vibe is very much in evidence, notably in the segment exploring the arts scene, in which Tiny Tim has a truly bizarre cameo. The lack of location shooting (the shots of San Francisco are limited to stock footage) gives the film a studio set base that narrows its scope. The mystery elements are also perfunctory. Where the film scores is in the characterisation of Ironside and his team (Galloway, Anderson and Mitchell), all of whom would return for the full series. The theme music and score is by Quincy Jones.
EN: Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama (Raymond Burr); Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama (Don Mankiewicz).

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2022, UK, 47m, 12) **½
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
dist. BBC; pr co. BBC Studios; d. Haolu Wang; w. Ella Road, Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson; ph. Mark Waters (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Tom White; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Ifan Lewis; cos. Ray Holman; vfx. DNEG, sp fx. Real SFX.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Marlowe Chan-Reeves (Ying Ki), Crystal Yu (Madame Ching), Craige Els (Marsissus), Arthur Lee (Ji-Hun), David Tse (Ying Wai), Simon Carew (Sea Devil), Jon Davey (Sea Devil), Chester Durrant (Sea Devil), Mickey Lewis (Sea Devil).
The Easter Special and penultimate outing for Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor is yet another frenetic and haphazard episode. The Doctor, Yaz (Gill) and Dan (Bishop) travel to 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Yu) and a monstrous force, which she unwittingly unleashes. The production looks glossy and the effects work is good, but here again, the script tries to cram in too much plot and action leaving little room for breath or dramatic build-up. There is also the constant background (and not so background) music that often drowns out the dialogue in the sound mix. Whilst it is good to see the Sea Devils make an appearance, they lack the menace they had in their debut back in Jon Pertwee’s tenure. There is still much to like in the performances of Gill and Bishop, whilst Whitaker’s energy only partially offsets her lack of gravitas.

TV Review – THE IPCRESS FILE (2022)

THE IPCRESS FILE (2022, UK, 6 x 45m, 15) **½
Drama, Thriller
dist. ITV (UK); pr co. Altitude Television/Turbine Studios; d. James Watkins; w. John Hodge (based on the novel by Len Deighton); exec pr. Will Clarke, John Hodge, Sanford Lieberson, Andy Mayson, Steven Saltzman, Hilary Saltzman, James Watkins; pr. Paul Ritchie; ph. Tim Maurice-Jones (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Tom Hodge; ed. Karl Rhys; pd. James Price; ad. Holly Morpeth, Ivan Veljaca.
cast: Joe Cole (Harry Palmer), Lucy Boynton (Jean Courtney), Tom Hollander (Major Dalby), Ashley Thomas (Paul Maddox), Paul Higgins (Minister), David Dencik (Col. Gregor Stok), Joshua James (Chico), Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (General Cathcart), Anastasia Hille (Alice), Brian Ferguson (Ian Randall), Matthew Steer (Professor Dawson), Nora-Jane Noone (Dr. Karen Newton), Corey Johnson (Capt. Skip Henderson), Irfan Shamji (Carswell), Anna Geislerová (Dr. Polina Lavotchkin), Urs Rechn (Housemartin), Paul Bazely (Morris), Marko Braic (Murray), Tamla Kari (Deborah), Mark Quartley (Pete), Alexandra Moen (Mrs. Dalby).
An ambitious, stylish, but often impenetrable adaptation of Len Deighton’s 1962 debut novel sees Joe Cole take on the iconic role of ex-smuggler Harry Palmer (played in the 1965 big-screen version by Michael Caine), who is turned into a reluctant spy at the centre of an undercover mission as the Cold War rages around him. When an important British nuclear scientist goes missing, Palmer’s links to the missing man send him on a dangerous mission around the world in a race against time to prevent vital information from falling into the wrong hands and triggering a global catastrophe. The rich period detail is perhaps at times overplayed – Boynton looks like she has wandered in from a Mary Quant photoshoot in every scene she is in – and Watkins’ penchant for using angular framing becomes disorientating and distracting through its persistence. Cole is excellent as Palmer, stamping his own quirky personality on the role, whilst referencing Caine’s iconic look. Where the production falls down is in the muddy complexity of the plot, which is difficult to follow. Individual scenes stand out but as a whole, the series demands a lot of its audience to sustain its interest and comprehension over 6 episodes. In Deighton’s books, Harry Palmer is not named. The character name used in the original movie is carried over here.

TV Review – TRIGGER POINT (2022)

TRIGGER POINT (2022, UK, 6 x 45m, 15) ***½
Action, Crime
dist. ITV Studios; pr co. HTM Productions; d. Gilles Bannier, Jennie Darnell; w. Daniel Brierley; pr. Julia Stannard; exec pr. Jed Mercurio, Mark Redhead, Jessica Sharkey; ph. Nick Gillespie (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Chris Roe; ed. David I’Anson, Peggy Koretzky; pd. Anna Pritchard; ad. Tom Atkins; sp fx. Ryan Crew.
cast: Vicky McClure (Lana Washington), Adrian Lester (Joel Nutkins), Tom Stokes (Pete), Gavin Sibson (PS Costa), Cal MacAninch (Inspector Lee Robins), Gwynfor Jones (PS Brown), Mark Stanley (DI Thom Youngblood), Manjinder Virk (DI Samira Desai), Eric Shango (Danny), Ralph Ineson (Commander Bregman), Warren Brown (Karl Maguire), Kerry Godliman (Sonia Reeves), Nabil Elouahabi (Hassan Rahim), Nadine Marshall (DSU Marianne Hamilton), Kris Hitchen (John Hudson), Ewan Mitchell (Billy Washington), Michael Akinsulire (PS Carney), Lucy Russell (Moira Bloxham), Salima Saxton (Ayesha Campbell-Khan), Rick Warden (Andy Phelan), Kevin Eldon (Jeff Washington), Tamzin Griffin (Val Washington), Neil Stoddart (Nick Roberts), Camilla Power (Agatha Jack), Jennifer Castle (Jocasta Wellings), Mo Idriss (Ali Hussein).
An absorbing, if not altogether convincing, race-against-time thriller that sees McClure as Lana Washington, an experienced bomb disposal officer working for the Metropolitan Police. A terrorist bombing campaign is threatening London and it is up to the Met’s Bomb Disposal Squad to deal with the situation. As the campaign continues Lana begins to believe that the team may be the bomber’s real target. The production succeeds due to tight direction and McClure’s convincing central performance. The tension is sustained throughout and the episodes zip by. Whilst the plot stretches credulity and the mystery twist elements are not overly taxing, McClure is so good you are carried along. The sound mix, though, is often distracting in that it frequently leaves you struggling to hear the dialogue, but otherwise technical attributes are solid. The show has been renewed for a second series.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 49-60m) ***
BBC One
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Chapters: 1. The Halloween Apocalypse ***; 2. War of the Sontarans ***; 3. Once, Upon Time **; 4. Village of the Angels *****; 5. Survivors of the Flux ***; 6. The Vanquishers **
Exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson (1, 2, 4), Pete Levy (3, 5, 6); w. Chris Chibnall, Maxine Alderton (4); d. Jamie Magnus Stone (1, 2, 4), Azhur Saleem (3, 5, 6); ph. Robin Whenary (1, 2, 4), Phil Wood (3, 5, 6); m. Segun Akinola; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; cos. Ray Holman.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent), Craige Els (Karvanista), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Nadia Albina (Diane), Jo Martin (Fugitive Doctor), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck / Skaak / Sontaran Commander Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Svild).
Ambitious and epic in scope this thirteenth series of the revived Doctor Who was also complex, confusing and populated by too many characters. In Flux, the Doctor and her companions navigate a Universe-ending anomaly called the “Flux”, while dealing with enemies and secrets from the Doctor’s past. The story is told in six inter-linking chapters. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. The chapters that could, with some slight tweaks, serve as standalone episodes – the almost traditional “War of the Sontarans” and the deliciously creepy “Village of the Angels” (superbly directed by Stone)  – are the ones that work best. As for the rest we had the enjoyable but overly frenetic scene-setting opener “The Halloween Apocalypse”, the baffling and confusing “Once, Upon Time”, the slightly less baffling “Survivors of the Flux” and the largely unsatisfying conclusion “The Vanquishers”, which left as many unanswered questions as answered ones. The production was certainly the most extravagant ever attempted by the series – crossing various timelines on Earth and locations across (and outside) the Universe. Each of these settings was superbly realised by excellent visuals and great CGI and the series has never looked better. The technical team can hold their heads high. The lead performances were, overall, good. Whittaker has settled into her Doctor well and at times showed the gravitas that had been missing in the previous two seasons. Gill had much more to do, and Yasmin became a stronger and more pro-active character. Bishop provided some good laughs and was likeable as was Els’ dog-like Karvanista. McNally was also extremely likeable as Professor Jericho and he played the role with conviction. Parkinson’s Grand Serpent was enigmatic and the Sontarans have never looked better. The side story concerning Anderson and Graham’s characters, however, felt phoney and could easily have been excised. Where the story was really lacking, once again, was in the writing. Chibnall has had problems throughout his run in creating engaging drama and logical plots. That malaise continued here despite the additional space. Instead of letting the story breathe, he decided to fill it chock full of confusing exposition and too many peripheral characters. The best stories of the previous two seasons had been those from other writers and the best story of this series included the considerable contribution of Maxine Alderton – the others were all written by Chibnall. Playing loose with the show’s mythos through adding more back story to the Doctor with the use of Flynn (as the Doctor’s “mother”); the re-appearance of Martin as another incarnation of the Doctor; and the mysterious Swarm and Azure holding the Doctor’s memories in Gallifreyan watch. But none of this is resolved in the finale with the Doctor fractured across three timelines. Chibnall may well address these loose threads through the specials to follow, but the immediate problem is the story concluded with the big questions remaining unanswered and it asks a lot of casual viewers to stick with it. When Russell T. Davies finally takes back the reins in 2023 my biggest hope is he takes the programme back to its core roots with more straightforward and engaging plots that use temporal physics as a travelling device rather than a central plot premise. History has shown that the episodes which play with temporal themes and settings are those that tend to satisfy the least. For now, we are left with a third successive frustrating series, albeit an improvement on the previous two, and the prospect of a New Year’s special which once again will put time at the centre of its plotline.

TV Review – MAN IN A SUITCASE: MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967)

MAN IN A SUITCASE
MAN FROM THE DEAD (1967, UK, Colour, 49m) ***
Incorporated Television Company (ITC)
Crime, Drama
pr. Sidney Cole; d. Pat Jackson; w. Stanley R. Greenberg (series created by Richard Harris and Dennis Spooner); ph. Lionel Banes; md. Albert Elms; theme m. Ron Grainer; ed. John Glen; pd. William Kellner.
Cast: Richard Bradford (McGill), John Barrie (Harry Thyssen), Lionel Murton (Coughlin), Angela Browne (Rachel Thyssen), Stuart Damon (Williams), Fabia Drake (Receptionist), Timothy Bateson (Pfeiffer), Dandy Nichols (Landlady), David Nettheim (Leader), Gerry Wain (Cap), Arthur Howell (Moustache), Clifford Earl (Policeman), Fred Haggerty (Agent).
One of many ITC productions in the 1960s, this benefited from Bradford’s method approach to the lead character McGill and a desire to capture a realistic level of toughness. The series premise is set up in this debut episode (broadcast sixth in sequence) Rachel Thyssen (Browne), McGill’s ex-girlfriend, spots her father Harry (Barrie), who supposedly drowned years ago. Harry was McGill’s boss in American intelligence from where McGill was forced to resign, having been scapegoated when a scientist under observation, defected to Russia. McGill had believed Harry dead, but he is undercover as a double agent. McGill needs his help to clear his name, but the Russians are also taking an interest in him. The elements are well handled and there is greater use of London locations, including a memorable action finale filmed at White City Stadium (renamed Regal City Stadium).

TV Review – THE LARKINS (2021)

THE LARKINS (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 46m) ***
Objective Fiction / Genial Productions / Objective Media Group Scotland / Independent Television (ITV)
Comedy, Drama
Exec pr. Sophie Clarke-Jervoise, Ben Farrell, Charlotte Lewis, Simon Nye, Toby Stevens, Bradley Walsh; pr. Serena Cullen; d. Andy De Emmony; w. Simon Nye, Abigail Wilson (based on the novel “Darling Buds of May” by H.E. Bates); ph. Darran Bragg; m. Nick Green; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Lucy Spink; ad. Polly Stevens; cos. June Nevin.
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Pop Larkin), Joanna Scanlan (Ma Larkin), Sabrina Bartlett (Mariette Larkin), Tok Stephen (Cedric ‘Charley’ Charlton), Davina Coleman (Zinnia Larkin), Rosie Coleman (Petunia Larkin), Liam Middleton (Montgomery Larkin), Lydia Page (Primrose Larkin), Lola Shepelev (Victoria Larkin), Amelia Bullmore (Miss Edith Pilchester), Peter Davison (Vicar), Stephen Hagan (Tom Fisher), Francesca Wilson Waterworth (Libby Fothergill), Kriss Dosanjh (The Brigadier), Tony Gardner (Alec Norman), Seeta Indrani (Miss Chand), Natalie Mitson (Pauline Jackson), Barney Walsh (PC Harness), Timmika Ramsay (Poll Saunders), Selina Griffiths (Norma Norman), Wil Johnson (Old Reg), Robert Bathurst (Johnny Delamere), Angela Bai (Aunt Fan), Victoria Grove (Lil), Georgie Glen (Lady Bluff-Gore), Nicholas Le Prevost (Sir George Bluff-Gore).
Charming, if loose, adaptation of Bates’ beloved novel, It follows the warm-hearted, wheeler-dealing adventures of the iconic Larkin family in the idyllic Kent countryside pales next to the classic 1991-3 series THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY but still delivers enough sunny charm to remain entertaining. Walsh and Scanlan are well cast as the charismatic Pop and Ma and help give the production its energy. Picture postcard locations and colourful photography also add to the heartwarming mood. Some will baulk at anachronisms, such as the diverse casting, but this helps introduce the material to a wider audience. Amongst the supporting cast, Davison has fun as the unconventional vicar and Stephen is loveable as Charley.

TV review – CLOSE TO ME (2021)

CLOSE TO ME (TV) (2021, UK/Sweden/Mexico, Colour, 6 x 45-48m) **
Dopamine / Nordic Entertainment Group / The Development Partnership
Drama
Exec pr. Gina Carter, Dave Clarke, Ed Clarke, Josephine Genetay, Connie Nielsen, Robert Taylor; pr. Alison Sterling; d. Michael Samuels: w. Angela Pell (based on the novel by Amanda Reynolds); ph. Sergio Delgado; ed. Tania Reddin.
Cast: Connie Nielsen (Jo Harding), Christopher Eccleston (Rob Harding), Susan Lynch (Cathy), Leanne Best (Anna), Tom Taylor (Finn), Nick Blood (Thomas), Rosy McEwen (Sash Harding), Henning Jensen (Frederik), Ray Fearon (Nick), Lorraine Burroughs (Helen), Mads Madsen (Young Frederik), Jamie Flatters (Owen), Kate O’Flynn (Rose), Zoe Croft (Ella), Emilia Lazenby (Young Jo (Age 7)), Sidsel Rostrup (Susanne), Rosa Niemann (Young Jo), Ellie Haddington (Wendy), Joe Tucker (Jerry), Sandra Huggett (Michelle).
Angst-ridden and overlong drama in which Nielsen plays a woman who has a perfect life with her partner until a fall erases an entire year from her memory. As she struggles to piece events together, Jo discovers that her life was in fact far from perfect. It is difficult to invest in or care about such self-consumed characters, despite the valiant efforts of Nielsen and Eccleston in particular. The plot is initially intriguing but soon wears thin as it becomes stretched over six episodes – repeating scenes ad-infinitum as Nielsen tries to find and join the missing pieces of her life together. Brooding dialogue and moody long shots of barren landscapes echo the Scandinavian noir this series aspires to be. The main problem is with the script (or the source material), which requires you to go along with an increasingly manufactured premise. The result is a drama as soulless as the house the couple occupy.