A brief round-up of what I’ve been half-watching recently.
Dickensian (BBC1, ongoing)
What if there was an alternate universe where all of Dickens‘ name-droppable characters (Bill Sykes, Bob Cratchit, Miss Havisham, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler) interacted in a purposeless, comic book mush? You could broadcast it in half-hourly chunks, in an attempt to try to explicitly evoke the glory and grand reception of the 2005 Bleak House adaptation. And then throw that all away by not re-casting Alun Armstrong as Inspector Bucket (even though Stephen Rea is great!)
No, BBC, forget that. What if you gave us some decent bloody adaptations from Balzac‘s Human Comedy which pulled the same “living world” trick, firster, better and Frencher? Get on it please, whoever the as-yet-undisgraced DG is today. Merci!
War And Peace (BBC1, Sundays, ongoing)
Two things will put you right off this excellent miniseries of Tolstoy‘s tree stump novel. Don’t let them. First, the Daily Mail loves it, enough to feature a full-page fluffer for the adaptation on Page 3 the day after the first episode aired. Second, this eyebrow nonsense has to stop.
Not the best illustration but I had to quickly grab a screencap myself, as the promotional images all mysteriously de-emphasise the most distracting thing in the whole programme. Seriously, why not give Natasha a mullet? Honest question. Or why not have her playing with a yo-yo during particularly important moments? It would be less distracting than her eyebrows being a completely different colour to her fringe.
All that aside this is a good adaptation and well worth you watching, dear reader. I forced myself to read War And Peace as all young men with pretensions to literature must en route to Ulysses. The early part I recall enjoying and the back end was a months-long slog, made worse by the many forms of address for each character. You did not prepare me for this Mithrandir, O Pilgrim Grey!
Anyhow, two episodes in I’m find both cast and acting to be really decent. Jim Broadbent turns in a wonderful irascible “Yes, yes, yes!” performance which will break your heart. Scenes and plotlines from the book which I’d completely forgot came flooding back to me as I watched it. Apart from the really clumsy “eating off another man’s plate” infidelity-baiting scene where the metaphor is explicated for the thickies at the back there’s not a step wrong. Great stuff.
A Little Chaos (2015) (NetFlix, DVD, etc)
Terrible, terrible name. Here’s a rule: if you’ve the least pride in your work then make it memorable. This film featured none of the following: Sepultura; tainted Space Marines from a grim, dark future; Three Men In A Parenting Situation For Which Life Failed To Prepare Them. Should have been called Ladygarden Landscaping or something. Equally terrible, yet distinctive and memorable, plus it’s two words. Like “Point Break“, “The Road” or “Madness George“.
Since you probably won’t remember from the film’s name, I’ll tell you which one it is. Recall Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet doing a bunch of chummy interviews last year because he’d directed something? This is that. Winslet plays An Historical Dimmock (three words, still a better name, tres Googleable) who lends her creative and physical talents to the man charged with task of sculpting Louis XIV‘s fancy palace grounds. Things go poorly, then well, The End.
You know who’s good at acting? Kate Winslet is. She never quite disappears into a role the way you sometimes realise you’ve been watching Gary Oldman for a couple of hours and didn’t even know, but her emotional range is very broad and she’s always very believable in a part. No small talent. She’ll polish an Oscar one of these days, never you doubt!
Rickman’s charisma-in-a-wig as ever.
Into The Labyrinth (1986) (DVD/Blu-Ray bonus featurette, YouTube)
An hour-long documentary about the making of Labyrinth, contemporary to the filming of same. It opens with an examination of the Dance Magic Dance sequence which incorporates a really nice relaxed Bowie interview. The whole thing is well-worth watching for a slightly hyperactive Terry Jones (Monty Python) revealing that he pretty much made it up as he went along, although that’s not how he puts it. There’s also a glimpse into a Star Trek: The Next Generation actor’s former career and the chance to hear Jennifer Connelly repeatedly referred to as “Jenny”.
Not sure I’ve ever seen Jim Henson speaking at length either and the soft-spoken positivity I’ve heard attributed to him really came through. Seemed like an interesting, clever guy.
Content warning: if (like me) you are an avowed believer in the independent existence of Muppets you might want to skip this one. The technology and complexity of the puppetry/robotics is amazing though.
Gotham (Series 2 opener)
I only bloody missed it , didn’t I? One for catch-up.