View Post

First Look at Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy

The Girls creator/star has been awfully quiet of late, but returns with this adaptation of Karen Cushman's debut YA novel, a coming of age story set in 1290 Medieval England and starring Hot Priest himself, Andrew Scott, along with Billie Piper, Joe Alwyn, Ralph Ineson and Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones) in the titular role.
View Post

Conversations with Friends

Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

In this nuanced coming-of-age drama, Dublin college students Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane) collide with successful established writer Melissa (Jemima Kirke) during an amateur poetry night. Seduced by her enigmatic charm, Frances and Bobbi are quickly drawn into Melissa’s world, and the ensuing entanglement between the students, their alluring new acquaintance, and her soft-spoken, far more reserved husband Nick (Joe Alwyn) blurs lines between friendship, sex, and infatuation.

Based on the debut novel of Irish author Sally Rooney (Normal People), the story encapsulates the intricacies of intimacy, navigating those first adult relationships that can feel so fleeting yet leave a mark on you for the rest of your life. Screenwriter Alice Birch reworks Rooney’s words (as she did with Normal People) into something a little less internalised and more suited to the screen, offering an honest portrayal of a relationship between two characters whose leading trait is an inability to verbalise outside of their art — a dynamic that plays well on the page, but no doubt a significant challenge to translate for series.

In her first onscreen role, Oliver carries much of the emotional weight. Frances is an introverted character who struggles to communicate outside of her poetry, often dragged along by the tide of her confident, charismatic best friend/ex-lover Bobbi. Both Oliver and Lane give strong performances, the former toeing the line between awkward and endearing in a way that makes the chemistry between Frances and Alwyn’s Nick not just believable but palpable.

As Frances and Nick connect over their inability to forge connections, their most open and honest conversations are their tastefully shot if frequently occurring sex scenes. Meanwhile, Bobbi and Melissa dance around each other off-screen. The lack of screentime afforded to Kirke and Lane in the first six episodes of the series is truly a shame, what little interaction we do see between them entertains in a way Alwyn and Oliver’s slow-building and stilted romance never quite manages to capture.

The glacial pacing of the series may prove to be a struggle for some viewers, but ultimately Conversations with Friends is an intriguing exploration of ever-changing levels of intimacy — understated, introspective, yet engaging enough to make it worth the wait.

View Post

The Wilds Season 2

Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

After ending on a cliffhanger in December 2020 and leaving a slew of unanswered questions, The Wilds fans will finally have the answers they’ve been craving in this long-awaited second instalment of the series.

Season One left us with the revelation that our core group of girls weren’t the only survivors who’d gone through hell for the “Dawn of Eve” experiment — somewhere out there was a control group made up entirely of boys.

Having invested the entire first season in getting to know and love Toni, Shelby, Fatin, Dot, and the girls, the introduction of a second group taking up precious screentime is a risky venture for the showrunners. Doubling the character count seems like a clever way to avoid having to divulge too many secrets at once, instead splitting the story between uncovering the mysteries the girls have stumbled upon while also starting from scratch and introducing each of the boys using the same flashback/flashforward scenarios we saw in Season One.

Ultimately, this new expanding world just creates an unwieldy dynamic, which when paired with the shorter run time of the season leaves us desperate for resolution, with even more questions in the end than answers.

Thanks to solid performances from the cast, we do manage to connect with the newcomers. The chemistry between the girls and guys varies drastically, creating a captivating clash between watching the growing bond between the family of girls as relationships develop and friendships are tested, while the boys are still trying to figure out how to fit together in this strange new world they’ve been thrown into.

In turns thrilling, tense, and vulnerable, the show isn’t afraid to tackle darker themes, dealing with race, homophobia, sexual assault, and abuse alongside lighter, more uplifting moments of friendship, faith and found family.

It’s a rapid-paced race for answers, in many ways still as gripping and emotionally fraught as its predecessor, but hopefully a third season will find more even ground, learning to share the narrative between established characters and the newcomers without feeling like the girls had move aside in order to make room for the boys.

View Post

Ten Percent

Acting, behind the scenes, Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Taking workplace comedy to a whole new level, Ten Percent explores the day-to-day workings of the showbusiness industry, where the lives of the agents behind the scenes are all equally, if not more bizarre, than those of the celebrities they’re trying to corral.

Based on the 2015 series Call My Agent!, the show takes an original French premise and repackages it with a British accent, putting enough of a unique spin on the concept and characters along the way that devoted fans of the original series won’t feel as if they’re watching a pale imitation.

The turbulent world of this London talent agency juggles a slew of big-name celebrities alongside their own interpersonal drama, scrambling to keep the talent happy while never losing focus on what is the ultimate drive of the story—the tightknit family of misfits that make up the Nightingale Hart Agency.

The celebrities aren’t shy about playing exaggerated versions of themselves, but the biggest laughs come from the harried team of agents dealing with impossible situations, more often than not made increasingly worse by their own absurd hijinks.

Receptionist Zoe (Fola Evans-Akingbola) spends her days fielding phone calls and making tea for anxious celebrities, all the while longing to be an actress herself. Fresh faced new assistant Misha (Hiftu Quasem) is desperate to prove herself, while at the same time doing everything she can to hide a secret that could shake the Nightingale Hart team to its core; and Jonathan (Jack Davenport), son of co-founder Richard Nightingale (Jim Broadbent), is just trying to keep his head above water.

Above all, it’s a love letter to films, to theatre, and to the eccentrics who make up the industry, with cameos from a truly impressive line-up of UK stars including Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West, and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor to name just a few.

View Post

A Very British Scandal

Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

In 1963, the Edinburgh court of session was the scene of a groundbreaking trial.

Argyll vs Argyll was the culmination of years of vicious acrimony, betrayals, phone tapping and secrets that was the wreckage of the 16-year relationship between Ian Campbell and Margaret (née Wigham), the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.

Claire Foy brings the character of Margaret to the screen in this latest Amazon Prime miniseries A Very British Scandal. The intensity that captured audiences with her depiction of young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown and that other fated queen, Ann Boleyn, in Wolf Hall keeps us the riveted to Margaret’s colourful and complex life.

There’s no suspense around the ending because it’s all in the history books, and contemporary tabloids.

We are thrown into the middle of the couple’s battle right from the start when Ian (Paul Bettany) offers to settle out of court, to avoid the horrors of litigation and public scandal.

‘Hadn’t you better take your seat?’ Margaret almost spits the words, and we immediately wonder what caused her to become so implacable. That’s the question, not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’, and we are hooked to go back in time and discover what led to this moment.

Cut to 16 years earlier and there’s a sexy, sophisticated meeting and pickup on a train to Scotland. The characters are confident, attractive and upper class, obviously made for each other, on the surface at least. Margaret is the object of Ian’s pursuit. Foy especially, plays the scene impeccably, helped by the terrific costume, vivid, pretty and tough with the slash of red lipstick and cigarette.

The newspapers are filled with her recent divorce.

‘I’d never let you out of my sight’, says Ian.

Bettany’s characterisation is layered, tragic from war trauma. With a drink problem and two divorces under his belt, he’s hardly a safe bet.

‘I’ll be a perfect gentleman’, he says when she’s about to refuse his invitation to visit his home.

‘In that case I’ll stay at home’.

In that line, delivered tongue in cheek but without a trace of coyness, we see that he has met his match.

The Brits do these period dramas brilliantly, and this one has an especially crisp pace and tightly wound plot.

The series follows on the success of A Very English Scandal, another Amazon Prime offering with Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant. British has plenty of the same sophistication though with perhaps a little less heart.

Sarah Phelps is the creator and writer. She has a resume of tight, strong TV dramas under her belt, including the series Dublin Murders and Ordeal by Innocence.

Anne Sewitsky is a Norwegian director who didn’t flinch from a strong characterisation of a woman with great appetites who wouldn’t play by the rules in feature Sonja The White Swan.

Their combined styles pack a punch as we follow the Argylls from wedding to scandal.

Back to that fateful train journey… on arrival in Scotland, Margaret is captivated by the ancestral pile of Inveraray Castle, willing to prop up Ian’s struggling finances, and the couple tie the knot.

The action cuts between London and Scotland where we see a glimpse of Margaret’s life as a society woman. That life includes sex with other men. The brief but evocative and mutely lit party scenes are a great backdrop as we enjoy a voyeuristic look at the rich, titled, and entitled aristocracy, and as the marriage unravels, we wonder how much damage can people do to each other.

There are more layers and clues, like a scene with Margaret’s awful mother that triggers her stammer.

Writer and director should be congratulated on the wonderful motif of Margaret’s desk. It’s secret drawers and keys, hidden letters and photographs are a powerful metaphor for the Duchess’s sometimes deadly complexity. She has a lot to contend with.

Ian’s children and the presence of their mother Louise (played with raw cynicism by Sophia Myles) plus his PTSD from the war, means that as a new wife Margaret has inherited more ghosts than Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Not the least of these is housekeeper Yvonne, still loyal to the ex and seeing through Margaret at every turn.

Yvonne tries to pull Margaret into line, Ian takes her money then wants to move on to another benefactor. It’s a gender role reversal where he is pimping himself out to snare a wealthy match, so often the cliched domain of women.

In an interview with Screen Rant, Bettany said he’d “played good guys for a long run so it was nice to go back and be mean again.”

While Foy steals most of the scenes with her Scarlett O’Hara resilience, Bettany comes into his own as Ian unravels into alcoholism and vicious retribution at her infidelity.

There are beautifully placed key scenes where Margaret is under pressure and criticism from other women. One is a ladies’ powder room where she is warned off by wife number one. Another is an envious society hostess sneering at Margaret’s sexually liberated activities.

The scenes are pivotal and character defining. Margaret won’t be put off and is far from being cowed.

‘I like sex and I’m good at it’, she states, unapologetic.

In the end this is what the court case and trial by judge and public is based on. A sexually active woman is regarded as ‘deviant’ by the Judge, a Jesuit and friend of Ian’s.

‘I drink the usual amount’, Ian feels entitled to say in court, after we have witnessed him in the worst stages of alcoholism. ‘My wife is unfaithful’, is all he needs to add, reflecting the unbending double standards of the time. Apparently, Ian and his doctor had conspired to put the duchess in a lunatic asylum — a bid which was foiled by Margaret’s own doctor.

The case was notorious as being the first time a woman was publicly shamed by the UK media. Footage of the Duchess herself at the conclusion is startling after watching the story, and gives a hint of her steely strength.

Foy told Vanity Fair about walking a thin line from playing the impeccable manners of that ultimate aristocrat Elizabeth II, but drew on the disconnect between Margaret’s very racy private life and her persona.

“She’s very proper and very put together. She’s not what you think the archetypal promiscuous woman is supposed to be like,” says Foy. “It’s quite difficult to try and translate that to a modern audience — that was her interior life in a way.”

View Post

All the Old Knives

Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

CIA operatives and ex-lovers Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) sit down to dinner together at a seaside restaurant, hoping to reconnect after years apart. Over a lavish meal, Henry’s inquiries veer from the personal to the professional, and the quiet catch-up swerves into interrogation territory as Henry searches for explanations to his unanswered questions regarding a disastrous plane hijacking that they worked together eight years ago.

Trying to connect the pieces of a case that never sat quite right, Henry and Celia embark on a twisting tale of spy-vs-spy, where each new answer leads to more questions, and years of trading in secrets and lies makes it impossible to know who to trust.

Writer Olen Steinhauer (The Tourist) adapts his own novel of the same name for the screen, taking a non-linear route to divulge the many secrets that his characters have been keeping. The main story is told in flashbacks, which leads to a slow and messy beginning. As each new layer is revealed across the dinner table, however, what began as a disorienting and somewhat dull blow-by-blow of events quickly becomes a tense, smart and increasingly absorbing tale of intrigue and betrayal.

A far cry from the James Bond-esque brand of spy films, All the Old Knives’ tension comes from an atmosphere of mounting unease rather than explosions or gunfights. Director Janus Metz Pedersen (True Detective) together with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (A Quiet Place) create a suspenseful and emotionally intense environment out of what is ultimately a static setting; the use of extreme close-ups managing to highlight both the intimacy between the leads and the increasing claustrophobia of the situation.

All the elements of a thriller are present and accounted for — mystery, romance, betrayal — but by restricting the espionage entirely to flashbacks while the real-time story unfolds between the main course and dessert, the film hinges on the connection between the two leads sitting across from one another at the dinner table. Thankfully Pine and Newton share a captivating chemistry, and their interactions are enjoyable enough to keep the slow unfolding of the plot from dragging too heavily.

View Post

Trailer: Ten Percent

A British take on the incredibly successful French comedy series Call My Agent!, this one features the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, David Oyelowo, Dominic West, Kelly Macdonald, Himesh Patel and Clemence Poesy playing versions of themselves, and Jack Devonport and Jim Broadbent in the main cast.
View Post

Teaser Trailer: Outer Range

Josh Brolin stars in this stylish Western series with supernatural elements, which looks truly wack. Cast also includes Lili Taylor, Imogen Poots and Will Patton, with episodes directed by Amy Seimetz! Twin Peaks meets Yellowstone? Cannot wait.