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.
If you’ve not yet heard anything about the The Handmaid’s Tale, let me give you a hand getting out from under that rock where you’ve been hiding. This is an MGM production being show on Hulu in America. They seem to be a good 7 episodes ahead of us. Sadly, even in 2017, sometimes America is ahead of us in tv land. It’s great to have synchronised start dates, but it’s still not the norm. Avoiding spoilers for this much talked-about show is going to be a killer.
A few weeks after starting in the USA this 10 part drama series has been picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, which, as the young, intelligent, and left-leaning political channel is a really good fit for their brand and a bit of a coup. The series is based on a novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood and despite its startlingly relevant content was actually written in 1985. So this dystopian future Atwood envisaged is 30 years closer than we’d have hoped for, and none of her themes are any less relevant or possibilities presented any less realistic. In interviews Atwood says that none of these war crimes in the fictional Republic of Gilead are entirely made up – all have happened somewhere on the globe. This really is extremely dark stuff. Do we as the audience have the stamina to get through it?
The series opening is distressing, as our heroine Offred is violently parted from her husband and daughter, but it’s not a tense escape. We know she’ll get caught. The rippling tension comes from her social position at her new posting with the Commander (Joseph Feinnes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
This spring ITV and BBC1 are both banking on strong comebacks from Broadchurch and Line of Duty – two behemoths of British drama. Standards are high and expectations even higher – let’s check in with them both…
ITV’s Broadchurch was roundly panned for a patchy second series where the writers tried to do two stories at once and did them both badly. The courtroom scenes were embarrassingly poor with very little in the way of reality, or even a coherent story. Strangely a solicitor friend of mine enjoyed it, but maybe she’s not looking for gritty realism after a full day defending people in the dock. Her giving it the benefit of the doubt was extremely generous; she was very much in the minority. Series 2 had terrible ratings and people gave up on it in droves (including Mr H who doesn’t have time for bad tv). It should serve as a warning to all broadcasters eager for a hit – one good series is always better than undermining it with a poor return.
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.