‘Gomorrah’ – Series 1

Welcome to Italy, Naples to be exact. Only these intimidating inner-city destinations won’t be on any tourist trail. If you end up in these locations you holiday stroll has taken the worst of wrong turns. Welcome to Gomorrah.

Gomorrah is based on the non-fiction investigative book — 2006’s Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano, a journalist who got such a close and detailed look at Naples mafia he is now living in hiding. Gomorrah is the highest-rated show to ever air on the Italian network Sky Italia, far outstripping American imports such as Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards. There’s a strong familial resemblance to The Wire, as this captivating Italian series is also an immersive look at street-level crime, gang organisation and shocking scenes of unflinching violence.

Naples is a colorful city but those colours are washed-out neon, like looking at life through a fishbowl. In similar way to Braquo this is firmly set in the grimy underbelly of the city, filled with leather jacket wearing hard men. This is the territory of the mafia; running drugs, buying crooked cops and dishing out violence to all who cross them. And we meet them at a paranoid time – there’s problems with extra cops, neighbourhood watch and journalists crawling around the blocks. Everything is changing.

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‘Acquitted’ – Walter Presents

It’s been a long while since I started a new Scandi thriller. I’ve been struggling with some pretty serious health problems. Turns out concentrating on anything when you’re really ill is extremely bloody difficult. I guess it’s why mindless daytime tv does so well. And concentrating on high-quality drama with subtitles is completely out of the question. My top tip for sickies is fairly short YouTube content, but avoid ones that make you laugh too hard, so you don’t bust any stitches, or ones about eating nasty things, so you don’t start puking again.

But the wonderful Walter Presents peaked my interest in Norwegian drama series Acquitted. Aksel Nilsen is a very successful Kuala Lumpur based businessman who returns home to little Lifjord after 20 years away to finally confront his unhappy past. Aksel is pouty and good looking, extremely well-groomed and manicured to a shine. In his beautiful bespoke suits he looks like a Ken doll crossed with a perfume advert (pour homme, pour femme, pour Norway). He’s done alright for himself in KL, with a corner office, a beautiful successful wife and a bolshy teenage son. His colleagues all have perfect English spoken in English accents; Nicolai Cleve Broch as Aksel does very well, but it’s his swearing that lets him down. He gets a call for help from Lifjord’s major employer, drops everything and chases off to the other side of the globe to try and save the town.

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‘Black Lake’ – BBC4

There’s a new Swedish thriller in the all-important Saturday night BBC4 slot which launched our national obsession with all things dark and Scandi, but this is Scandi with a twist, as, if you’ll pardon the pun, all the detective stuff has been done to death. This is Black Lake originally released as Svartsjön in Sweden and Denmark in October 2016. We’re in creepy territory from the start with the classic X-Files text wipe and tappity-tap keyboard noise. We see confused events in a cellar in 1996, just enough to pique our interest, but in no way giving us any plot points, other than it all looks pretty scary.

So 20 years later we have a bunch of wealthy-looking young people in very nice 4x4s drive off into the mountains for a ski trip. Johan (Filip Berg) is thinking of buying this abandoned ski lodge and running it as a business. His gang of mates are his guinea pigs to check it out and see if it’s worth buying. These kids are not short of cash and this is reflected  in the opening sequences. It looks like an expensive car advert, with staggeringly beautiful cinematic wide shots of the perfect christmas card landscape.

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‘Public Enemy’

Sky Atlantic are really stepping up when it comes to interesting Euro imports, and really competing with the big boys Walter Presents on Channel 4 and good old BBC4. Midnight Sun from Sweden was seriously amazing. Their latest offering is a dark drama that was hugely successful in its home territory of Belgium, and it soon becomes clear why.  When a convicted child killer Guy Beranger (Angelo Bison) is released from prison on probation, the monks of Vielsart Abbey offer him sanctuary in a small village in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Creepy Guy is placed under the protection of a young Federal Police inspector, Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud), who is herself haunted by nightmares of childhood trauma. Despite clearly not being mentally fit enough for this duty young Chloé is to be his babysitter.

Creepy Guy was convicted of five murders in 1990s. These were extremely high profile killings, mainly it seems of children, and he’s not been forgotten. On the way into the up into the forest we’re greeted with angry protests from Vielsart villagers and quite a few of the abbey monks. Father Abbot is on side, all about the Christian charity and forgiveness. Even among his own brothers he’s not made a popular decision. Will he be ousted because of this or will he teach his brothers that forgiveness isn’t easy but is always necessary?

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‘Joanna Lumley’s India’

Another jaunty ITV travelogue for those of us going no futher than the park this summer presented by Joanna Lumley (don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got, I’m still J-Lum from the block), grande dame of the small screen and the lady who the word mellifluous was coined for. This is a three part whistle-stop documentary on ITV and J-Lum (I’m going to use it until it catches on) is keen to play up the family connection. She was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, in the last days of the Raj and her family ties go back several generations. One might think she’s rather brave trading on being directly related to the old colonial empire. Thinking about it, that apostrophe in the title might be a little insensitive.

But don’t worry – this is not a programme designed for much thought or reflection. “Gosh!” and “Fabulous!” she enthuses every few minutes about everything. To her credit it certainly doesn’t seem forced and her sparky interest is very infectious. She talks with her hands in rhapsodies about everything – Morgana Robinson’s impression of her on The Agency is entirely accurate. Amusingly the Radio Times insists she’s toned it down a bit this time!

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‘The Art of Japanese Life’

A long time ago, in a country far far away, I had a Japanese roommate. Manabu was lovely, a total gentleman, but not very chatty. I blame the language barrier, or maybe we just didn’t have that much in common. Eventually we bonded over injuries (his sporting, mine alcohol-related), microwave breakfast burritos (he loathed them, I loved them) and our two crazy little island homes. Comparing the UK and Japan is not as odd as it first sounds. Culturally and geographically we have a lot of shared aspects. We’re wilful independent island nations, who revere our daring histories of medieval knights and samurai warriors. Other countries are somewhat nervous around us as if you give us a flag and a gun we tend to get a little carried away and decide to go off and be a colonial invading force. Small countries, big ideas. Despite our macho military history, our national characters are reserved and polite, and we like to know our place in the social hierarchy. We’re the worlds best queuers!

Art historian Dr James Fox seems the similarities in our two nations, although sadly in this series on aesthetics and art in Japanese life, we are yet to hear his opinion on the breakfast burrito. This BAFTA nominated broadcaster has a day job in Cambridge University’s Art Department and first came to my attention presenting Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? on BBC4 in September 2016.

He’s an engaging, enthusiastic, and quite cheeky presenter. His trademark seems to be a sharp black suit and tie, ever ready for a funeral or a cocktail party. He’s really good at breaking down complex ideas about art, religion and society. These big ideas are discussed in simple terms. His passion for the subject shines through. And, pleasingly, as you’d expect from a BBC4 art show, this whole episode is beautifully shot and framed.

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‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’

Another sumptuous drama here on a subscriber service. It’s almost like this is where the big bucks reside in these digital days. Z: The Beginning of Everything is the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, Mrs F Scott Fitzgerald to you dear. It’s based on Therese Anne Fowler’s book which Christina Ricci read and wanted to audition for. It turns out no one was making it, so she decided to do it herself. Ricci says that Zelda had suffered bad press over the years, with the focus firmly set on her genius husband. Ricci was sick of her being overlooked and sets out to flip that script.

Ricci with her soulful doe eyes and her fierce blonde bob is Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, a brilliant, beautiful and talented Southern belle, the original flapper and an icon of the Jazz Age in the flamboyant 1920s. Zelda is young and bored to death in her little quaint country town of Montgomery, Alabama. Having never been to the American south it looks lovely to me – all wide tree-lined avenues, sugary iced tea and cotillion balls at the country club.

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