‘Sacred Games’ – Netflix

The hero of Netflix’s first Indian drama is Sartaj Singh (played by Saif Ali Khan) who cuts a rather lonely figure. He’s a honest and honorable detective who refuses to be intimidated by his corrupt colleagues in Mumbai’s police force. Probably because he refuses to tow the line he’s never landed a big case. He’s trapped in a corrupt system with no way out. In good cop show style, he’s unhappily divorced, scarred, gaining weight and taking medication for anxiety. No wonder as he’s under immense pressure from his station chief to lie under oath about a unarmed teenager shot down right in front of him.

This seems like more than enough to be dealing with, but no. Right from the outset Sacred Games is a game to be played by two. His opponent is Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a notorious gangster and a fugitive in hiding for 15 years. He makes contact with Sartaj out of the blue seemingly to spill his guts about his extraordinary life.  He also has a cryptic warning. Mubai’s time is numbered – there’s 25 days until the whole city is destroyed. Is he threatening the city both men say they love or is he tipping Sartaj off in the hope of saving them all? His personal god complex is clear; his first words to Sartaj are “Do you believe in God?”, but after all he’s been through he thinks he might really be immortal. And the way the show sets him up, he really could be.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 3

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 3. Catch up with episode 1  and episode 2. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule!

Episode 3 was a classic where not very much happens. Characters willfully impede the investigation and every plot point feels like a dead end, until a frantic final three minutes which leaves you shaking your head and softly repeating the word “What?” to yourself over and over.

Our heros

“I’m not well” says Saga in typical matter-of-fact style. If only it was always so easy to acknowledge your own mental health problems and ask for help. She then lists a devastating catalogue of personal disasters. “We’ve got a bit to work with” says the unflappable therapist, surely in the running for Understatement of the Year 2018.  We hope with help Saga will turn the corner and apply her logical, analytical brain to her own situation, but Mummy is messing with her delicate mental state from beyond the grave – having her lawyer send childhood mementos to Saga’s workplace. Don’t open the box Saga! It’ll be about as much fun as Brad Pitt’s surprise gift in Seven.

The Danish sister from episode two,  christened by the internet Öliver and Dødger, were such a perfect fit for a hole we’re desperate to be filled. Like a Choir of (Young) Believers the internet sang out in one voice “They could be Henrik’s daughters!” And he gets them home a lot faster than I’d have ever imagined, but now in context of their old bedroom he would recognise them, right? He seems to be the only person not swept up in the idea that they’re his long lost children. But one night at Henrik’s Hotel turns into two as these resourceful Tracy Beakers refuse to be sent off to any dumping ground.

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Eurovision 2018 – the Grand Final

Well I told you it’d be a vintage year and well worth tuning in for, but I did not expect that. What a night! Let’s try to put some of the craziness in context. I’m not even sure where to begin.

So Eurovision 2018 gave us a huge variety of music with many genres represented. In my lifetime I never thought I’d see anyone stage dive at Eurovision! The way the initial jury voting went the field wide open with any of 6 or 7 songs that could have won. There was pop, metal, dance, ballads, opera and loads of different languages on show, mainly by people who all looked the same. So much for diversity, but baby steps. We also had four female presenters, none of them particularly gifted in comedy or the essential schmoozy green-room chat, but fully female-fronted is a big deal. This was especially obvious as creep after creep giving the jury votes commented on their appearance, hilariously the Portuguese man was the absolute worst. He made my ovaries cringe and shrivel up inside me. Ick.

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‘The Team’

People have been getting very excited about this new euro drama, picked up by MHz Choice in America, Walter Presents of Channel 4 and out now on DVD in the UK. It’s designed very much with the new and surprisingly ravenous appetite for Euro drama in mind, bringing us together like happy clappy Eurovision. It’s supported by about 9 production companies and the ‘with thanks’ list is in big letters at the very start, and is very long. It’s an entire European industrial zone.

The Team of the title is the Europol network, bringing detectives together from Denmark, Belgium, Germany. The lead is Harald Bjorn, played by Lars Mikkelsen who is familiar to viewers as mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann in The Killing, and a sinister villain in a pretty poor Sherlock episode.

Right-wing losers the UK Independence Party don’t like it, which is reason enough for me to give it a try. Also, who knew UKIP had a culture spokesman? You would have thought they were very anti-culture, what with so many foreigners mixed up in it. Wasn’t culture  invented in ancient Greece? It’s enough to make a racist shudder.

Well The Team ought to suit those who distrust foreigners; when it comes to language skills it’s not exactly taxing. It’s entry-level subtitles with plenty of spoken English to break up all that reading. Everyone we come across, from brothels to board rooms, speaks an enviable variety of European languages.

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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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‘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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‘I Know Who You Are’ – Episodes 1&2

I Know Who You Are is a Spanish language thriller, unusual for BBC4  who seem to cover Scandinavia and France with their Saturday night detective drama slot. This was a hugely popular series with fans and critics. So just what is all the fuss about?

The first shot is almost zombie film imagery – a lone survivor of some nameless horror stumbling along the highway. This is Juan Elias (Francesc Garrido),a notorious and brutal lawyer, academic and general legal eagle. He’s the husband to a high court judge with all the right connections, and dad to two kids. Elias (confusingly everyone calls him by his middle name) finds all this out at the same speed as the viewer. He has what seems to be almost total amnesia after a car accident. Only he wasn’t alone in the car. His niece Ana has gone missing and there’s forensic evidence linking her to the crash. She’s missing and he hasn’t a clue what’s happened, or so he says.

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