‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

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‘Broken’

Broken is the beautiful, heart wrenching new 6-part drama series from award-winning English screenwriter and producer Jimmy McGovern, the champion of working class heroes. We are in familiar territory here – kitchen sink dramas and the seemingly small but overpowering tragedies of everyday life.

The big draw for drama fans is Sean Bean in the central role as Catholic priest Father Michael Kerrigan, a kind man, driven by his vocation to work hard for his community. Immediately we see that he’s haunted by an abusive past, rare in tv land where we frequently see priests as abusers, not victims. Bean played cross-dressing teacher Simon Gaskell in McGovern’s excellent drama, Accused an astounding role that he rightly won an International Emmy for. McGovern said in a Radio Times interview that he never considered anyone else for the lead role in Broken: “I always go back to Sean – I just think he’s world class,” he said. “People know he’s good, but I know he’s great.” Typically, Bean is stoic in the face of tragedy. He’s funny too – a bleak, black humour runs through this episode. On screen he is low-key with no histrionics. Appropriately, he doesn’t lose his head.

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‘Witness for the Prosecution’

After last year’s Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, hopes were set high for short story turned into two-part drama special Witness for the Prosecution, but this was quite a different beast. No mansions, no dinner guests being offed one-by-one, no detective twirling his enviable moustaches and not a normal Christie ending. Much interfering had been done, and there wasn’t much in the way of original Christie to be seen.

We’re transported to the roaring twenties and Kim Cattrall is Ms French, a wealthy widow living it up and having a fine time with her fancy man Leonard Vole much to the disgust of her loudly disapproving maid Janet. These days Emily French would be mocked as a cougar, a woman of a certain age who is attracted to younger men and has the nerve to go after them. These prejudices are certainly represented and Emily knows her actions make her unpopular and looked-down on in high society, but she doesn’t really care. Money is a pretty good insulator against what people think of you. Cattrall, famous for a strikingly similar character in Sex and the City, is essentially playing Samantha 70 years earlier.

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I Have Been Watching … Cathy Come Home.

Guest blogger SusieSue is inconvenienced, but a tv classic helps her remember how fortunate she really is…

May I digress slightly… my office is my kitchen. My kitchen is under my bathroom. My bathroom is being re-fitted. My office TV is below said bathroom. Consequently, the signal to said office TV has been at best, disrupted. Although I have been oop north for the most part of last week (I want to live in York now, btw) to escape the fact my house looks like a small branch of Wickes.

So I’ve turned to BBC iPlayer. The renowned and iconic Cathy Come Home re-aired on BBC4 on Sunday 31st July. It was first shown mere weeks before my birth, in late 1966. I have heard of it, but never seen it until now.

Directed by Ken Loach, this is the story of a young couple, full of love and hope and enjoying everything we take for granted now in family life, in their modern home with their children. Cathy (Carol White) and Reg (Ray Brooks) are amazing in this. But then Reg is injured at work. He loses his job. The bailiffs come and they trail from place to place until the family is torn apart.

There’s no happy ending here. It’s become a part of social history; proof that television and the arts really do matter.

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‘Gladiators’ – Nostalgia Trip

In wich guest blogger Jontosaurus has something to admit…

Jet was well fit. That is how I’m going to start my article – with a whole-hearted confession that yes, I did find her to be the best of all of the female Gladiators. I was probably too young to really understand what to do with my youthful hormones but I understood that Jet was young, attractive and ever so flexible. That was enough for me.

jet
Jet: the object of many boys youthful hormones!

But I digress- it’s that time again where I delve into the annals of television history with very little protective gear and emerge with another artifact from television’s glorious past. It’s another nostalgia trip and, as you’ve probably worked out for my ever so subtle introduction, it’s the time for Gladiators to be put under the microscope. The show actually earned itself a reboot on Sky in the not too distant past.

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