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Anachronistic, slow, generally bad
Jonah H-K... how does he get parts? Here he is, playing an extremely similar role to the one he had in World on Fire, i.e. a wet young upper-class Englishman in the 1920s-1940s. In neither role does he have a feeling for the period or an appropriate accent. Even if he were better, the script would still be anachronistic anyway. And Agatha herself is boring. It's also very slow. After a while I gave up and switched off.
Willkommen bei den Honeckers (2017)
Great for fans of Goodbye Lenin
The other reviewers (two at the time of writing) seem to have agonised a lot over the moral issues about journalists intruding on people's lives. I didn't. In fact I really liked the film, which is light-hearted and not to be taken over seriously. (I say that as someone who has lived in eastern Germany and takes the deaths at the Wall, etc, very seriously indeed.) The film might have been subtitled "Goodbye Lenin II", as there are a lot of similarities. As far as the intrusion on the Honeckers is concerned, I wasn't too bothered, as they deserved a lot worse than to be be briefly disturbed and deceived in what looks like rather a comfortable exile. The two of them had done far, far worse things to a large number of other people, all the while failing to show any awareness of, let alone repentance for, their terrible crimes. Yes, it's true that Johann chickens out of really confronting Honecker for the sake of photos to further his own career. Max Bretschneider is excellent in the part of Johann and the actors playing the Honeckers are great too, despite the male actor not looking much like him. What I liked less was the clichéd sub-plot with the girfriend and her family. Someone at the production company thought that a dose of love interest was called for and then decided to top that by giving the girlfriend a brother killed by Honecker's regime. A bit crass.
World on Fire (2019)
Judging from the first episode, the Second World War is all about a young man torn between two girlfriends. Yes, right. Jonah Hauer-King plays that young man, but does not embody the demeanour or, especially, the mode of speech of the time. He speaks a student's London dialect of today, replete with glottal stops. A few moments viewing of any British film made in the 30s would have provided suitable models. It's not the only anachronism. Helen Hunt, playing the American journalist, presumably stipulated in her contract that she would not wear anything close to 1930s' makeup, hairstyle or clothing. (In fact she looks oddly like Penelope Keith in her prime.) She sends a radio report from Berlin back to the States, but afterwards asks her German neighbour if she heard the broadcast. I'm still wondering how that was supposed to have functioned. Perhaps it worked like the 1930s phone system, using which Jonah HK is able to chat to his mother on a crystal clear line from Poland back to England, just as war has broken out in September 1939. I'm almost surprised the script didn't have him using an iPhone for the purpose. This is sloppy stuff.
Red Joan (2018)
Judy Dench hardly need be in this - the present day stuff could easily be cut without much loss. The ending with her lawyer son is cringeworthy. What should be key aspects of the story, i.e. Joan's motivation, the political background, the dangers she ran in spying - are given superficial treatment in order to make room for a very conventional love story about Joan and her boyfriends. The scientific aspects are treated in a childish manner. ("You might try a centrifuge," says Joan. "Say that bit again!" says Max). The newsreels and radio reports are horribly phony. "Mr Truman says a second atom bomb has been dropped on Nagasaki. 74,000 people were killed." Umm, how could anyone know at that moment how many had been killed? I could go on, but I won't, because there's an elephant in the room that needs to be mentioned and it's Tom Hughes' laughable performance as Leo. "Act like everyone's clichéd notion of a hot-headed young Russian revolutionary, Tom!" Trevor Nunn seems to have said to him, though it's hard to believe. "That's good, Tom, but ramp up the pantomime foreign accent and give us all a good laugh!"
Summer of Rockets (2019)
Poliakoff pulls it off, mostly
Mr P has toned down his usual artificiality, created a time and place that more or less convinces and put together an exciting plot with a real dénouement. He deserves kudos for managing all this after many years of not doing so. Perhaps all the BBC money they have thrown in his direction has started to pay off at last. Toby Stephens is excellent, as is Keeley Hawes (as usual). Everyone else is good too and little Toby Woolf is a delight. There are faults. Yes, there is a coherent dénouement but it's not without clichés (one particularly egregious one involving guns) and some sickly sweetness. Adrian Edmondson's TV shows are embarrassingly unfunny. The subplots, while interesting, are in fact superfluous. There is the one about the missing son, which is included, I guess,to give Keeley Hawes and Clare Bloom things to do. The daughter's daft scenes at Buckingham Palace and the expensive ball with hordes of debs are also of only tangential relevance.
The best bit for me, as a linguist, was the fact that some of it was in Welsh (not that I know any) and it reminded me a bit of the Scandi series it was emulating. However it went on for far too many episodes. After about half way it could have been wound up quickly at any point. I lost track and interest in the council estate plot, which could have been left out in my opinion. There was also recourse to daft police incompetence to help protract matters.
Northern Soul (2014)
Good, but with defects
One of the best things about this film is that it perfectly captures the "style" and the feel of (part of the) life in the north of England. It has its defects, though. Others have noted the perhaps overdone emphasis on drugs. It all gets a bit too highly coloured for the sake of drama. The film needed more of the positive sides of the culture: the music and the dancing. The main defect, though, is that the main character, John, is a bit dull, played by an actor who is about ten years too old for the part - and often looks every minute of it - and whose accent is not 100% convincing. His mate, Matt, is much better.
I expected to love this. But I didn't. I'm no expert, but even I could see a lot of obvious faults. I'm not just talking about things like modern buildings (which are very evident), but the lack of atmosphere. At the start of the film, the beach is crowded, quite rightly - but after that, it's pretty empty when we see it. Where are the heaps of ruined vehicles, etc? All dead bodies are completely intact. There's no blood at all. The Germans are never called the Germans ("the enemy"). How are we supposed to believe that over 300,000 got back to England? Apart from the near empty beaches, we almost only see people NOT making it home. As for the "little ships", apart from the Mark Rylance once, thirty or so of them arrive all together as a neat flotilla to cheer up Kenneth Branagh. And how long does a Spitfire take to come down after it runs out of fuel?
This is a great series. OK, the medical stuff isn't in the least bit realistic and the developments happen much too quickly - but, hey, it's a thriller. It rattles along and it's thrilling.
Best of all, though, is the fact that there are such good characters and such good acting. A standout is Pal Sverre Hagen, who is excellent as the very unusual Leif. The comic relief from the disaster-prone Teo, also very well acted, really made me laugh.
Comrade Detective (2017)
One good idea, lots of bad ones.
Somebody had an intriguing idea for a fun series: Cold War nostalgia, a bit like "The Americans" or "Deutschland 83", but more comedic. What came out is a mess. (1) It's supposed to be a Romanian series from 1983, but is totally unconvincing as such. A communist TV series would not include swearing, blood and gore (of which there is a gratuitously large amount) or rampant crime and corruption in the police. Also the visual style is not that of eastern European TV or film in the 1980s. (2) If it's meant to be a comedy, it isn't anything like funny enough. "Top Secret" (made in 1984, from the "Airplane" stable) could get away with making a joke of the oppression in East Germany, because it was completely wacky. This show is too close to reality to succeed as a comedy - even if it had enough jokes. (3) Romania in the Ceausescu era was no comedy at all. For example, in its supposed role as a communist production, this show mocks religion and believers, which is a very bad move in this case. Romania treated religious believers with unimaginable cruelty (Look up Richard Wurmbrand on Wikipedia). (4) The show, again purporting to be a communist production, puts forward cogent criticisms of the shallow and exploitative culture and politics of America and the west. Yet the show itself is a prime example of all this. (5) Whatever were the Romanian actors thinking of when they agreed to take part in this? I couldn't help feeling again and again that they were being exploited and debased.
The Loch (2017)
Farrago of nonsense
This is utter trash, but I found it strangely enjoyable. We're into "so bad it's good" territory. The story is all over the place and the plot doesn't make sense. The dénouement is carefully explained, but this only goes to show up the deficiencies. I won't go into this further, so as not to give spoilers, except to say that a key character has previously shown no sign of his true nature and background.
They should have done this as a black comedy drama. Wait a minute - perhaps they did...
Good, except too long and implausible
I enjoyed the series - mostly.
The atmosphere and the initial premise were done well, but it all went on too long (they could have cut a couple of the middle episodes without much adverse effect).
The last episode was crazy, with plenty of daft stuff, e.g. your foster son is clearly desperate and determined to go out into a dangerous situation. You forbid this strongly - but do nothing whatever to enforce your ruling. Next morning he's gone. Oh dear, what a surprise! Apparently people can be revived after numerous minutes trapped under water and after being shot so badly that blood is pumping out of their mouth.
The boys' acting was ho hum. The blond one merely sulked angrily all the way through. Yawn. The other one was better and sometimes managed to suggest a younger teenager, mainly when he was with other teenagers, but a lot of the time he seemed much too calm, self-possessed and just plain adult.
Endeavour: Harvest (2017)
Lost its way
This was a great series at one time. However, it hit a low with this episode. The previous reviewer mentioned Midsomer Murders and rightly so. In fact, many a detective series has had an episode in a village with pagan customs. That Endeavour had to stoop to this is a sign that ideas are running out.
And what about the power station? Automation must have been extraordinarily well advanced in the 1960s, since this plant is able to operate with one gatekeeper and two scientists.
I couldn't understand what Morse did at the climax, but never mind.
The Joan Thursday subplot is soapy, drags on and and is seemingly not very relevant, but at times it is more interesting than the mystery in hand.
No sense of time or culture
The over-long haircuts of the men, the unkempt hairstyles of some of the women, the non-period clothes, the lack of formal manners... Not for a second could I believe this was Germany in the 1930s.
To make matters worse there is the casual manner of speech and the lack of any attempt to pronounce German names in anything like the correct pronunciation.
Example: a young female student with her hair hanging down to her shoulders any old how, with the demeanour of a student of the 21st century, comes to Viggo Mortensen's office door, looks inside and introduces herself in a very nonchalant manner, "I'm Anne..." Even in the Germany of today this would inappropriate, let alone in pre-war days.
What was the writer thinking? What was the director thinking?
Close to the Enemy (2016)
What hold has Poliakoff got over the BBC?
Why does the BBC keep pouring out cash whenever Poliakoff writes a new series? In recent years there has been the awful Glorious 39 and the daft Dancing on the Edge, both of which were set in the thirties. They were marked by a lack of realism on more than one level. This would be fine if they substituted something else, such as comedy. As it is, they are just naff.
Now we are in an unconvincing version of the 1940s. Others have commented on the awful dialogue (which presumably is meant to be a clever conceit?), the stereotypical characters and the plot, which on past form, won't be satisfactorily resolved. Poliakoff seems to be particularly weak on finishing them.
In this serial, which I'm writing about after two episodes, there are, so far, some interesting elements and characters, despite the stereotyping, and I'll have to wait and see what the dénouement is like.
Jim Sturgess is not good in this. Why does he have a fake accent resembling Alan Whicker? He's supposed to be a superbrain, but comes over as a bit of a dope.
The Secret Agent (2016)
A bit lame
It's a strange and unconvincing story, but it has its points of interest, as it deals with the murky late Victorian world of mysterious anarchists.
Unfortunately, this BBC version is not very well done. The main problem is that it is too slow and does not flow.
Stephen Graham has a difficult part as Inspector Heat, whose doings and motivations are often obscure. Why he further encumbers this with a heavy Scouse accent is one of the mysteries of the series (I know he's from Liverpool, but he's good at accents).
As for Vicky McClure, what is her accent? It's unrelated to the speech of the rest of her screen family and also seems anachronistic to me (too many glottal stops and -d- for -t- in places). Is it that she is just using her own accent (and does she perhaps do so in every part she gets)?
It's boring. The plot is unconvincing and doesn't really make sense. The characters are either clichés or lacklustre (or both). Charlie Cox is amiable, but is that enough? Andrew Scott has an accent like none you've ever heard before. It's Russian as generated by Stephen Hawking's voice simulator. At one point Cox's character visits a golf course and finds a suitcase full of nuclear blueprints buried (at most) three inches down in the sand of a bunker. (It had been too difficult for Andrew Scott's character to find.) Right there he takes out the secret plans and starts reading them.
It's supposed to be 1974 - but which season(s)? The power cuts were all in the early, wintry parts of the year, yet here several months go by and quite early on there is a scene in a summer corn field. Nevertheless the power cuts go on. No one seems at all bothered by them, perhaps partly because hardly any one is there. The film takes place in a depopulated England where there are also only about four cars. The production budget must have been minuscule. (Note to producers: If you have a tiny budget, please restrict any Cold War thrillers to those taking place entirely in interrogation rooms and nuclear bunkers.)
On a minor note: why show clear establishing shots of Deal in Kent and then pretend it's located next door to Sizewell in Suffolk?
We Dive at Dawn (1943)
Wooden but interesting period piece
The main interest here is the period detail. Those who make films today set in the 1940s ought to have a look and listen - then they might not make some of the mistakes of language and tone that are so common.
However, we have to face the fact that this film is a cheap flag waver. The first third drags as we go through some unconvincing stories about the home lives of the sailors, mostly done in the "chirpy working class" mode that the British entertainment industry favoured at the time. The main story is far-fetched and the Danish village is made of the cheapest painted cardboard.
During the war it was obviously important not to scare the families on the home front too much, with the result that there is little real sense of danger on the sub and hardly any casualties. In contrast, think of "Das Boot" with everyone bathed in sweat, cooped up in claustrophobic conditions, breathing foul air and scared out of their wits. It's not like that here. Despite the food and fuel running out and depth charges going off all around, everyone is pretty much calmness personified.
On a positive note, the Germans are real ones and speak correct German, which was good going for a wartime film.
Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter (2013)
War made soapy
It's well made and acted and there are some dramatic battle sequences, that even top Band of Brothers in giving a believable sense of combat in the Second World War.
However, it's corny. The "five friends" (Die fünf Freunde) are put together so as to tick boxes (1. upright 2. sensitive 3. naive 4. frivolous 5. Jewish) and the box-ticking continues in many parts of the production. (It's ironical that Die fünf Freunde is the name of Enid Blyton's Famous Five in the German translations of her children's books.)
I say "soapy", because there are so many ridiculous coincidences in the story - everyone is close together, despite the vastness of the territory, and keeps meeting up.
On a minor note: why does the Jewish guy spend the early sequences going around in Berlin dressed virtually as a Rabbi (and with anachronistic designer stubble)? Was he trying to attract the attention of the authorities?
Others have noted much more serious historical faults, and I won't go into those here.
They spent a lot of money on this and it apparently went through many re-writes. Couldn't they have done better?
I had high hopes of this. It has music like "The Bridge", moody landscape shots and (occasional) subtitles. To that extent it mimics the excellent series from Scandinavia.
Unfortunately it is also slow and boring. The main character, Mathias, is a conventional dry stick with a permanently glum face, supported by willing, but very ordinary, sidekicks. Where are Sara and Saga - or their equivalents? Where are the exciting plot lines? Where is the slightest touch of humour?
There are also goofs, particularly in the examination of crime scenes. For example, why put on overshoes if you are going to tramp around in them outdoors before entering the building where the corpse is?
Back to the drawing-board, BBC.
37 Days (2014)
Gets better in part 3
It was a tough task to make an interesting drama out of 37 days of meetings. This series make has a reasonable go at dealing with it by using the artifice of two fictional clerks, one in London and one in Berlin. There were problems, however.
One was the dialogue, which did not always catch the correct tone. It was sometimes too familiar and lacked diplomatic etiquette. On one occasion, an ambassador just leaves a fairly amicable meeting with Sir Edward Grey (the best acting performance) without any word of farewell - he simply walks out.
Another problem was a lot of hammy acting on the German side (even though I accept that the real-life Kaiser was indeed hammy). The German actors were also hampered by having to speak English. I think subtitles would have been not only more authentic, but also better for the tone of the piece. To make matters worse, the Germans had to clomp about in heavy boots on uncarpeted floors. Since there was an awful lot of roaming around while talking (unusual in real-life meetings), this made a distracting clatter. Perhaps the sound recording department was at fault here.
In general, budget problems undermined the production. The only signs of Germany were stock establishing shots of the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. Otherwise, Germany was represented by very obviously British buildings. One of the "German" cars prominently displayed its AA membership badge. The scenes of tiny groups of soldiers on the German borders were laughable and should have been left out.
Despite these flaws, I stuck with it, as I am interested in the history of the period. It became much better in the third and final part as war neared and the scenes in the cabinet room were tense and poignant.
Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
Jumping the shark
This was, until this episode, a great series. The previous story, in which Sherlock returns "from the dead", was clever and entertaining - even if the drama was subsidiary to the comedy.
However, this episode was embarrassing. Sherlock turned into something very like Dr Who as played by Matt Smith - except even more manic and flippant. When was Sherlock Holmes ever a joker? However you update him, this can't be right.
What's worse, it was sentimental. It was mawkish in the manner of the Waltons. I won't go further into Sherlock's cringe-worthy best man speech, as I don't want to give spoilers.
Jumping the shark? They've vaulted the blue whale.
Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)
I am sorry to disagree with the many fans of this. The dialogue is terribly anachronistic and a million miles from the style of Jane Austen. "Let's not overreact" from Darcy, for example, and worst of all from Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the world's most supercilious and conservative woman of her age, who says to Lizzie, "We need to talk". Need I say more?
I'm not an expert on legal procedures through the ages, but I strongly suspect that the court scenes were anachronistic, too. Others can probably give better information on this.
Also, I noticed very little chemistry between the Darcys, despite what some have claimed.
Miss Marple, please leave the stage!
It was a terrible idea to bring Miss Marple into Endless Night, especially as it was done here. Apparently she went to stay with Wendy Craig's character for many, many months, including going with her on a trip to Rome, where by a massive coincidence she meets up again with the chauffeur with whom she had struck up an unlikely conversation in the street back in England. Later on, Miss Marple starts wandering in and out of the new house whenever she feels like it, including putting herself in ridiculous danger. I can't say more without spoilers.
I also can't say much about the ruining of the plot. The book is a good one and written in an unusual style for Agatha Christie. It has a surprise ending - which is mangled right out of existence here.
The acting is so so. Tom Hughes, who has the main part, mainly sleepwalks through it. In real life he is not only an actor but a model, and that aspect is very much to the fore here.
Read the book, and perhaps see the 1972 version with Hywel Bennett and Hayley Mills. It's much better than this one.
By Any Means (2013)
How could they?
If you thought the BBC had been wrecking its own reputation enough recently, with its scandals at the top, it has now decided to have a go at its good name as a provider of Sunday night dramas. This series is dross - so bad it's almost good. Almost. With a few tweaks (removing the references to sex) it might be all right for Saturday early evening, when Dr Who is off the air, because children often like comics.
The premise is trashy and the details are clichéd. In the opening episode, Keith Allen reprises his old OTT Sheriff of Nottingham role, the comic baddie. If only he'd had moustaches, he would have been able to twirl them.
The BBC still has the wrong bosses. Give another tranche the customary payoff.