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!
A quick word about Chinese Burn, a new BBC3 comedy from the Comedy Slices series; what, back in the day, we’d call a pilot. This is a flatshare comedy about three Asian girls trying to navigate London life. This mainly consists of getting drunk, getting fired, getting into fights and keeping their slightly dodgy activities quiet from their parents back home. All the while they’re raging against stereotypes – “sweet, innocent, submissive Chinese girls. Conservative and virginal – good at maths, ping pong and looking after men. Screw that!” As a white girl from the ‘burbs I have much to learn about the Asian cultural stereotypes, but I can tell you straight-off if it’s funny.
It’s really short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, but a lot is packed into this episode. Elizabeth (played by co-writer Shin-Fei Chen) is the failed Chinese daughter, filled with guilt for telling her family she’s a sommelier in a Michelin starred restaurant when she really spends her days in a degrading mascot suit hawking bubble tea, and trying to keep away from her grubby little boss who has a (tiny) boner for her. She’s delightfully self-destructive, a lot like Abbi in Broad City, frustrated and embarrassed at every turn. Those girls would get on so well – Elizabeth would bring the wine and Abbi and Ilana the weed. What a party!
Spoiler warning: this is a full review of Apple Tree Yard so if you’re spoiler conscious, please look away now!
Apple Tree Yard is an eye-catching thriller, adapted from the novel of the same name by Louise Doughty about Dr Yvonne Carmichael (award-winning Emily Watson) and dashing Mark Costley (Ben Chaplin). The pair meet by chance at the Houses of Parliament. She’s there to give a talk on her work in genetics. Why he’s there is never really explained. He bats his eyelashes at her and invites her to tour the secret chapel. That’s the magic words as within about 5 minutes of meeting they’re having sex! This is the very definition of a whirlwind romance.
This secret romance is a big deal to Yvonne. It’s all a bit grimy and sordid, but very exciting. She falls head over heels for a man she knows nothing about. It’s sort of a way to get her own back on her dodgy husband Gary (played by Mark Bonnar, an actor who seems to be inliterallyeverything), but mainly to feel like an interesting and attractive middle-aged woman. I’d argue it’s the affair, not her Mr X as a person, that makes her feel good. It’s what it represents – the fight against aging and slowing down the inevitable invisibility as a desirable sexual woman. All this comes hot on the heels of her about to become a grandmother, and that’s surely no accident.
Life can change in the blink of an eye. This Channel 4 documentary about horrifying assaults makes this clear from the start. Straight away it was immediately gripping, in the style of mega-hit Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. We instantly sympathise with this baby-faced boy called Ben, talking to the camera about going to a party and snogging a girl. It’s a teenage romance. Then a drunken fight breaks out and it all turns sour. Ben describes the fight and how he was involved albeit unwillingly, defending the honour of his friend. “I’m not a violent person,” says Ben. We nod. Look at his face. How could we believe anything else? Then another face appears, another young man who was there at the party, and says no, that’s not what happened. Ben hit George with such force that he died. CCTV backs this up. Our view flips 180 degrees. What an ingenious way to start.
It’s been a loooong week. But yay, the weekend is finally here and it’s nearly Saturday night. Going out? Gonna party hard? Getting so drunk you mistake your shoe for you phone? Nope, not me. I’m staying in and celebrating – it’s a strange sort of birthday party. And I’d be very surprised if the birthday boy turned up.
The BBC and Royal Shakespeare Company are getting together to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with his dramatic best bits and song, dance and comedy celebrating his legacy. It’s a star studded event featuring such big names as Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Joseph Fiennes, Ian McKellan, Tim Minchin, Helen Mirren, the cast of Horrible Histories, English National Opera and Birmingham Royal Ballet (to name but a few) hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate. A little something there for everyone, wouldn’t you say?
Why the exclamation point? I don’t know. But if anyone deserves a little dramatic emphasis and poetic licence I think it’s probably the Bard himself. This event had been plugged for ages as a live event in Stratford (with a complicated ballot for tickets) and a live cinematic event, with cinemas across the country getting involved and charging a pretty penny for the experience, so I’m delighted to find out it’s on BBC2 tonight at 8:30pm. Culture on the cheap! I’m a happy little groundling.