‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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‘Roast Battle’ – Comedy Central

Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.

I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.

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‘Witnesses’ – Series 2

As you may have noticed I’m still waiting on the next big Euro drama to cross my path. All the Scandi stuff recently has me feeling a bit flat, with fairly promising starts leading to confused middles and ‘meh’ endings. It’s fine to have a beautiful backdrop of lakes and mountains, but you need to populate it with original characters leading interesting lives. The story needs to be multi-layered, but not too complicated; zoning out and playing with your phone is the absolute death knell for a subtitled drama. Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have clear motivations that we can relate to.

So with a Gallic shrug it might well be time to bid au revoir to the northernmost corners of Europe and see what France might have to offer; after all, the daddy of the noir resurgence in the past decade has been the Emmy award-winning and much loved Spiral. The most memorable dramas I’ve watched recently have been French, or part French; the balls-out action heros in Braquo, stylish super spies in The Bureau and the best character in Midnight Sun was the deeply troubled French detective.

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‘Kiri’ – Channel 4

It’s always exciting to see Sarah Lancashire back on TV. I’ve been a big fan for a little while, since Happy Valley really, and drama lovers will agree that she’s a big draw for a new series. Writer Jack Thorne has another ripped-from-the-headlines story for us and hopes are high as he wrote National Treasure broadcast in 2016 which won the best mini-series BAFTA. That was about historic cases of sexual abuse, drawing on various high-profile scandals involving celebrities. This is about vulnerable children under the care of social services and calls to mind some recent real-life cases.

Sarah Lancashire plays Miriam Grayson, a Bristolian social worker who decides to offer unsupervised visits between 9-year-old Kiri and her grandparents. Kiri is a young black girl about to be adopted by a middle-class white family and social services agree she ought to know “where she came from”, and have a chance to develop links with appropriate members of her birth family. While Kiri is on her visit, she goes missing, apparently abducted by her ex-con birth father Nathaniel. This is all made clear in the first 30 minutes, so knowing the laws of TV drama, this means literally anything could have happened to her.

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‘Hard Sun’ Episodes 1 & 2 – BBC1

After the mauling that The Guardian gave BBC1’s new cop show/ sci-fi drama you’d be forgiven for thinking the BBC were presenting a badly-written festive pantomime like A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong . This was the tone of the preview published at 11am yesterday. The actual 4 star review landed a few hours later calling it gutsy and ambitious. Same newspaper, very different opinion. Great work guys – don’t make up your mind about something, teach the controversy.

So safe to say this end-of-the-world drama written by Neil Cross of Luther fame is polarising opinions. Twitter seemed suitably impressed and a lot of people were very happy to realise the series was all set ready to binge on iPlayer. We put the second episode on straight away but now I’m not sure how much more of it I want to see.

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‘McMafia’ – BBC1

Having heard a few conflicting reports about the Beeb’s new gangster drama McMafia I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was one of those shows where I think I’ll give it 10 minutes and if it’s rubbish I’ll turn it off. Especially given as it was on New Years Day and I knew it was set in the world of international finance, I wondered if my hungover brain would be able to follow the plot. But, while I could never be described as a mathematical wizz, I’ve got some grounding in telly finance at least, having watched and enjoyed Billions on Sky1. If I could hang on in there for Wall Street insider trading, how much more difficult could the European version be? The spreadsheets in the credits are anything but enticing, but, thankfully, James Norton is.

Turns out, it was fine. We’re introduced to Norton as Alex Godman, a City fund manager raised in England but part of a rich and influential Russian family. His super-wealthy parents escaped the current Russian regime, and it seems like his Dad is an oligarch at odds with Putin (although the President is no mentioned by name). Going back would be impossible, and probably extremely dangerous, so Dad is severely depressed and pines for Moscow while his glamorous Mum worries about his state of mind.

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