Posts Tagged ‘television’

More of a telly post than a filmy one- again, but it is all long form, screen-based popculture and I’m trying to differentiate The Noctuary from SL. More on Downton Abbey soon to come over there.

My AS Film Studies tutor always tried to impress upon us that each film is a ‘CULTURAL ARTEFACT’, every celluloid submission reflects and represents the society and era in which it is made- even if the content is ostensibly concerned with a near or distant past, future or part of the world. This is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but the evidence suggested that there was more than a grain of applicable theory in it. To use an inept metaphor. His favourite example was how Hitchcock’s adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps spoke of pre-war anxieties about fascist Europe.

I mention this because, subsequent to having this idea ingrained in my critical mind, I have been pondering the significance of the rash of backwards-looking British dramas of late. With the new series of ITV’s cracking rendering of early-century manners and mores upon us, now in the midst of the Great War, what are we trying to say to ourselves?Cast of ITV's Downton Abbey

With The Hour [which I entirely failed to watch, despite downloading all the episodes from iPlayer], the Beeb’s misfired 60s kitsch-and-conspiracy series, opening up dramatic lines of enquiry into our increasingly activist Cold War media, (to poor viewing figures and decidedly ambivalent critical response), it seems that period of our past isn’t salient to the collective conscious at present. America’s continual nostalgic love affair with the 50s and early 60, so well served by the much-vaunted Mad Men, continues apace though; The Playboy Club amongst others garnering a high profile, with its promise of more glossy, stylish misogyny and unfettered Capitalism.

Colin Forth in The King's SpeechThe nation capturing if uninspired The King’s Speech and Auntie’s attempted revival of Upstairs Downstairs [To continue without the venerable Eileen Atkins, alas] dealt with the ailing Upper Class’ internal malaise and uncomfortable proximity to fascism and even Nazism. The Hour’s Romola Garai (no stranger to period projects) also starred a couple of years ago in appeasement thriller Glorious 39 with strangely beautiful Eddie Redmayne [Andrew Garfield-alike and shrewd chooser of roles. I’d love to see those two play brothers with Harry Treadaway.] SpThe Night Watch BBCeaking of Treadaway, he gave a lovely turn in the woefully insubstantial The Night Watch last month. With such sound and complex source material and a reliable history of success for Sarah Waters adaptations, The Beeb really could have thrown some cash at this- or at least afforded a more appropriate runtime. The format of the novel very clearly lends itself to three hour long episodes. As it was, we were simply left with a nuance-free précis, albeit an impeccably cast one. With the exception, that is, of leading lady Anna Maxwell-Martin, entirely misplaced as Kay.

Wartime tales of ordinary Brits are so commonplace as to be virtually irrelevant to a discussion about fictional reflections of current concerns [I mean never, ever forget, but it is really time we got over it], but recent offerings The Night Watch and 2009’s (also exquisitely cast but narratively insufficient adaptation) Small Island have at least proffered a perspective from typically under-represented subcultures beguiled and let down by the promise of social progression that wove itself through the war effort.

The  Night Watch- Duncan and Fraser

With austerity, rioting, a callous and oblivious Tory government, endemic social stratification and a demonised and disenfranchised youth in mass unemployment, a slew of films and programmes full of 60s activism, 70s social seesawing and general strikes and 80s boom and crippling bust seem inevitable; those times are far back enough now to be scrutinised, rather than skimmed for mere nostalgia- and there are clearly lessons we’ve failed to learn.

Back to the Abbey (never seen monk mind you- don’t think wet cousin Matthew counts) and it seems women really ran the households in those days and Society, for the most part. With our emancipation has come a loss of gumption, an inability to guide the affairs of man; what with them now being our affairs I suppose. There has been an alarming backslide amongst women of my generation, afraid of being labelled ‘Feminists’, wanting our modern men to be macho and commanding, asking our fathers for our hands in marriage, before said fathers ‘give’ aforementioned daughters ‘away’ at the altar. I can’t even begin to express my despair and disgust at educated, socially advantaged young women in a progressive First World country, demanding to be made chattels and passed from the possession of whatever man happened to impregnate her mother into the ownership of anyone else who happens to own a penis. Never mind what’s in it for you ladies.

Harking back to my opening comments on cultural artefacts, I couldn’t say whether the series seeks to chastise modern women for wasting their emancipation or celebrate the fact that we no longer need to subvert established power structures. This is clearly a time for introspection, I feel. The tenth anniversary of the 11th September and all that ensued is inevitably instigating that, but more recent events should be a more potent catalyst to take a long hard look at our national character and the values we uphold. On the heels of Boardwalk Empire making its way across the Atlantic, followed by Mildred Pierce, perhaps this isn’t a strictly British (or rather, English) phase of reflection, though self-analysis isn’t really the US way. I don’t really know what we’re trying to say to ourselves yet, only time will tell.

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Andrew Garfield as Jack in Boy AITV repeated their 2009 drama Unforgiven last night in advance of the Hollywood remake with Mrs. Brad Pitt herself in the lead role, so it seemed time to bring this post off the back burner. When I started writing it Jon Venables had yet again been in the news, still generating vitriolic hatred on the message boards. With a public e-petition calling on Parliament to debate reintroduction of the death penalty, a frank and thorough examination of justice and what it means to be a civilised society is clearly urgently needed. If recent events have demonstrated anything, it’s that we have let go of our values. As the men and women who fought the war, physically or tactically, the ones who can remember what we lost and the hundreds of thousands who sacrificed their lives, pass away in greater numbers every year, the British sense of justice and the essential characteristic of valuing human life above all else is being diluted and dissoluted. [Technically not a word, I know. Sx] I’d been holding back on the article because I have two examples of the following and was holding out for a third, for a pair does not a trend make. Nevertheless:

Channel 4’s adaptation of Boy A and ITV’s Unforgiven are thematically similar in their contemporary examination of people released from high security prisons after serving a long sentence from a young age. Both deal with the consequences of a youth spent in incarceration and reveal the facts of the original crime episodically across the runtime.

What caught my attention about these programmes was the lone ranger role forced upon the protagonists and the stark juxtaposition between what had been taken from them and what the public still expected. Both dramas force the viewer to question the nature of justice in a free and fair society. (more…)

Well I’ve been a long time away, but I saw something last night that spurred me to get back on the blogging wagon. It was this here. This Is England ’86. How very exciting for us all. (For UK readers only I suspect- sorry international blogees.) This Is England 86 promo still

It is a four part co-production from C4 and FilmFour which will be airing on our tellyboxes this Autumn. Starring the original cinematic cast, co-written (with Jack Thorne of Skins fame) and co-directed by the man Meadows himself, scored by my favourite contemporary composer Ludovico Einaudi and purportedly bearing “many resonances to now[:] recession, lack of jobs, sense of the world at a turning point.” This has win written all over it. Sadly original cast member and Skins alumni Jack O’Connell does not appear to be reprising his role of Pukey Nicholls. Alas

This announcement set me on concurrent trains of thought. The first is how I’ve only recently realised that ‘miniseries’ is just a ‘mini’ series, not, as I have always mistakenly believed, a discrete term (pronounced minniz-areez) which relates to a two, three or four part adaptation,  usually of a literary work of some standing. As, with the Beeb especially, this is generally the case with regards their miniseries, I hope I may be forgiven the belated etymological comprehension.

Second, and far more pertinent, was a speculation that in the wake of the gutting announcement that our shambles of a Con-Dem coalition have axed our vital and prosperous national Film Council, with £4bn of our GDP and 35,000 jobs going with it, not to mention tourism revenues, perhaps our homegrown heavyweight talents may start turning more towards the small screen, as is the vogue Stateside. Of course Hollywood has always been a dual medium industry, but the big screen big hitters have had no need for serial work in the past. However, with the likes of Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick, Mary-Louise Parker, Anna Paquin, Alec Baldwin et al clocking up their network hours (or is it cable? I don’t really care) the stigma of trading down is dissipating.

The only incidence I could think of where a major big screen director, from the indier side of the tracks, took up a directing gig for more than a guest episode on an established series was David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks and high hopes as I may be allowing myself to have, I suspect TIE 86 won’t quite be a Brit equivalent of that unparalleled powerhouse. There was Hitchcock’s programme, but that isn’t really applicable here.

So my point is, although all this was commissioned betwixt recession and the cultural effluent of the unelected affluent hitting our collective public fan of entertainment, mayhap the bloody Tories are unwittingly heralding in a new age of highly produced made for TV drama, which alongside the nouvelle sim-com, is a budget-efficient way of cranking out cracking telly on a low-risk scale. If our silver screen heroes have no publicly-funded outlet, will this be where they turn? Better that than they all fuck off across the pond anyway. Especially for the blondes. That isn’t bigotry on my part- it’s worldliness. Time and again Hollywood have shown they do not like their young Brit women blonde. Bad luck Lisa Faulkner, Lucy Davis et al.  Ashley Jensen seems to be the only one to buck the trend, but only by sticking to telly and churning out the kooky 30-something best friend schtick. A fair haired Briton will never a leading lady make. Unless she’s Helen Mirren, who few of us may hope to emulate. Whatever happened to Lisa Faulkner? I just hope Laura Aikman hasn’t gone the same way. Stay here Laura! My tellybox needs you in it!

Remain vigilant for forthcoming assessment of TIE 86 as and when it appears, and probably analysis of the criticism and response too. Apologies for the shameful lapse in posts. I promise I’ll make it up to you! As well as the shiny posts and page promised below, I have a new column planned for you (that’s a regular feature post in amongst self-indulgent musings etc).

I love you bloggees [One ‘g’? Two? I’m undecided. Answers on a postcard], in my apathetic, disaffected youth-of-today kind of way. Just to prove it- here’s a kitten. I fucking love kittens.

Solo x