Tag Archives: bbc

TV Review: Prisoners’ Wives

12 Feb


Image: BBC

After watching the first hour of the BBC’s new six-part drama series, I was left fundamentally confused. Admittedly, first episodes rarely show any series in the best light, but with this one I wasn’t even sure as to what genre it was supposed to be.

The basic premise is fairly simple: girl living in middle-class paradise, world falls apart when husband is is arrested for a crime that he (as far as she knows) didn’t commit, meets lots of eccentric characters whilst visiting said husband in prison. But will it go on to unravel the mystery of the husband’s crime, or is it just to consist of rather soppy character studies of the wives? From the watery drama which the first instalment delivered, it’s looking like the latter.

I didn’t exactly warm to the main characters either. Emma Rigby does the sweet and innocent act well enough as Gemma, but I quickly grew tired of her constant snivelling and all-round lack of intelligence, which didn’t help me empathise with her plight. Husband Steve does at least have the benefit of being played by Jonas Armstrong (also known as Robin Hood) but he says little and spends most of his time staring moodily into the middle distance, giving me little to go on as to figuring out his character.

It’s the other characters which actually make this worth watching, particularly Francesca (Polly Walker), who practically embodies the phrase ‘fur coat and no knickers’ but is good-hearted with it, driving Gemma home from prison visits and helping her with bathroom emergencies (when she isn’t seeing how much havoc she can wreak during visiting hours, that is). I am also intrigued about Lou (Natalie Gavin), who deals drugs by night, but does everything she can to make life good for son Mason (Oliver Hannam) during the day, including telling him that his dad is away building a top-secret football stadium. It’s these characters, who for the most part remain in the background, who make me think that there may still be hope for this series.

Not too much hope though, as a handful of interesting characters can only carry a dismal plot-line so far. It may not be good for a series to give away too much too early, but Prisoners’ Wives gives away very little at all which leaves me wondering if I will be bothering to switch on again.

TV Review: Tracy Beaker Returns (Series 3)

6 Feb


Image: BBC

I may be slightly older than the target audience for this particular show, but when it comes to Tracy Beaker (or indeed anything and anyone created by Jacqueline Wilson), it seems that I’ll never grow up. And with gems like this being produced for children, why should big kids like me miss out?

Tracy Beaker Returns is a spin-off of the BBC series The Story of Tracy Beaker, which in turn is based on the phenomenally successful books by Jacqueline Wilson. It follows spunky ex-care kid Tracy Beaker (Dani Harmer), now working in the same care home where she grew up.  Although only Harmer and Connor Byrne (who plays care worker Mike Milligan) remain from the original series, it still retains its spirit as well as its setting, in The Dumping Ground.

It is mostly a rather romanticised view of care which is presented in the series, with the children playing happily together and getting up to mischief, but the show also touches upon some of the more serious issues of life in care, packaging these messages in a format appropriate for children. Some of the problems which they have to deal with will resonate with children in all situations too, such as the latest episode, Eggs, in which the children have to prove that they can be responsible.

The script is excellent, as is the acting, with incredible performances from the young cast. Each child has their own distinct personality, from Harry (Philip Graham Scott), who spends most of his time talking to his toy giraffe Jeff, to Elektra (Jessica Revell), a feisty teen who gets herself into much more grown-up scrapes. I am sure that almost anyone watching the programme will find one child who they can relate to, one who they would want to have as their friend, and one who they love to hate. This, for me, is the mark of good characterisation.

So don’t dismiss Tracy Beaker Returns as being “just for children”. It’s funny, inspiring, heart-warming (and, at times, heart-breaking) and if you’re missing out on it just because you think you’re too old, then shame on you!

TV Review: We’ll Take Manhattan

1 Feb


Image: BBC

“I’ve never even been on an aeroplane before…”

“It’s like a 29 bus with wings! C’mon now!”

This is our introduction to photographer David Bailey and his lover and favourite model Jean Shrimpton in BBC4’s standalone drama We’ll Take Manhattan, and it speaks volumes about what is to come. We have already been informed that in 1962 “no-one expected to be famous who was not born rich and titled. And there was no such thing as youth culture. But then David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton went to New York”, setting the scene for a tale of social divides being overcome. But it is not only a tale with a moral (and one that the present day fashion industry could learn from, at that), but one beautifully told and shot, with the hazy lighting which is part and parcel of any programme set more than ten years in the past, and the acting interspersed with photographic stills, tying in with the theme.

Bailey, played by Aneurin Barnard, switches from charming and cocky to sullen and brooding in an instant, frequently clashing heads with Lady Clare Rendlesham (Helen McCrory) over every aspect of their New York Vogue shoot. She wants traditional photographs in the style of Cecil Beaton set against New York’s famously stunning backdrops, while he wants to shoot his model peering through fences and leaning against signposts. Jean Shrimpton (Karen Gillan, of Doctor Who fame) is delightfully awkward, never quite letting go of her country girl roots despite Bailey taking her under his wing (and indeed into his bed). The New York scenes (which make up the bulk of the ninety minute long drama) are also enhanced by the acting of Joseph May as Larry Schwartz, eager to help in any way possible but caught in the crossfire between Bailey and Lady Rendlesham. There are also stunning performances by some of the more minor actors, such as Robert Glenister as Jean’s overbearing father, and Anna Chancellor as Lucie Clayton, her agent.

Although it resolves the climactic tension a little too easily for my mind, perhaps struggling to fit within its ninety minute time frame, We’ll Take Manhattan was nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable watch. And for those who are interested in youth culture, modelling, and fashion, this is undeniably a must-see.

We’ll Take Manhattan is available on BBC iPlayer until Thursday 2nd February.

TV Review: The Gruffalo’s Child

31 Dec

Image: BBC

The short film which I’m reviewing today has a slightly younger target audience than my usual subjects, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the best things that I watched all Christmas. I could say something pithy about my inner child here, but actually I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s narrated by Helena Bonham Carter (say what you like, in my eyes the woman can do no wrong!).

The Gruffalo’s Child is based on the picture book by Julia Donaldson and is the sequel to her bestselling book turned short film The Gruffalo. For those who haven’t seen that, watch it before reading: it’s wonderful, and the sequel won’t make much sense without having seen it! And the all-star cast, including Rob Brydon as Snake, Robbie Coltrane as the eponymous Gruffalo and James Cordon as the quick-witted hero Mouse, returns for the sequel, joined by Shirley Henderson as the Gruffalo’s Child.

At the beginning of the film, the Gruffalo tells his daughter the story of the Big Bad Mouse, making it clear that he has lived in fear of the tiny creature since the end of the original. But his child, less fearful and more sceptical than her father (and perhaps believing the story to be no more than a cautionary tale to keep her out of the woods), sets off to find this terrifying creature, meeting our old friends Snake, Owl and Fox along the way. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say this: Mouse proves to be just as adept at thinking on his feet as in the original, with hilarious results.

Created for children though it may be, the charming illustrations and delightful rhymes of The Gruffalo’s Child is a treat for people of all ages. (And there was me thinking that I could finish this review without being pithy!)

The Gruffalo’s Child can be viewed on BBC iPlayer until 7:54PM on Friday 6th January.

TV Review: Great Expectations Part One (BBC)

28 Dec

Image: The Telegraph

In my review of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, I mentioned my hatred for Great Expectations. This hatred developed when I studied the novel during my GCSEs, and after a term of reading and re-reading the same four passages, I was certain that I never wanted to see or hear anything about it ever again. But the BBC’s new adaptation of it, the first part of which aired last night, may just have managed to change my mind.

Part of the reason for my change of heart was the sheer beauty of this adaptation. Well, I say beauty. In reality, it was beautiful in a gloomy, terrifying, utterly Dickensian kind of way, which is what made it so perfect. Despite having seen every adaptation known to man of the other texts which I studied at GCSE, I have never seen a televised version of Great Expectations before, and thus I cannot compare it to its numerous predecessors. Nor can I say how it compared to the images which appeared in my head when I read the novel, for if these ever existed, I blocked them out, along with my memories of most of the plot. What I can say is that the atmosphere created was perfect for the scenes which played out on my television screen.

The one image which I did have before turning on the television tonight was of Miss Havisham. However, although I do of course remember her from the novel, I have a horrible feeling that the image in my head comes straight from The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And, I have to say, Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham was nothing like that image. Given that my Miss Havisham was a slightly comic figure though (which only increases my suspicion about where I might have extracted her from), I think that this was probably for the best. Anderson depicted the tragedy of Miss Havisham beautifully, as well as the childlike elements of the character, and the scenes at Satis House were undoubtedly the finest moments of the hour.

There are also excellent performances by Oscar Kennedy as the younger Pip and Douglas Booth as the elder, Shaun Dooley as Joe Gargery, Claire Rushbrook as Mrs Joe, Izzy Meikle-Small and Vanessa Kirby as the younger and elder Estellas, and Ray Winstone as the Abel Magwitch (finally in a role in which his irrepressible Cockney accent is appropriate). Once again BBC, you have succeeded in coercing me back into loving Dickens – I can’t wait to watch the next two installments!

Parts Two and Three of Great Expectations will be shown on BBC One at 9PM on December 28th and 29th, or all three can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.