‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

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?

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The handmaids distinctive uniforms at a ceremony

 

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).

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‘One Killer Punch’

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.

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‘Westworld’ – On the Box

Big things were expected for Westworld, the telly reboot of the 1973 sci-fi film, and big things were achieved. It was HBO’s biggest series debut in three years. And it looks magnificent!

Westworld is a theme park – the newcomers are the players, the high-paying guests who get to live out their cowboy frontier town fantasy. Sex and violence is the top two reasons people seem to play, and sexy violence is probably competing for third place. The innocent townspeople who populate the game are extremely advanced androids (incredibly beautiful and faces full of character), who live in a Groundhog day-dream state, to please the guests and keep them entertained.

Through wholesome Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her cowboy lover Teddy (James Marsden) we briefly glimpse a clichéd romance fantasy before life quickly turns sour. It’s horrific to watch, and worse still she wakes in blissful ignorance the next day to be preyed upon all over again. Despite how real these androids seem these are just toys programmed for paying customers pleasure. We know this and yet our sympathies lie squarely with the machines from the opening moments.

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‘Murder in Successville’ – On the Box

When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter.

– Raymond Chandler

Murder in Successville‘s detective is a perfect comedy parody of Raymond Chandler’s archetype hard-boiled gumshoe Philip Marlow. Only DI Sleet has no discernible skills apart from escalating a situation out of all control and leaving his sidekick to mop up the mess.

Sleet, played by Tom Davis is a big presence on-screen – I mean, really big. Like an amiable bear in a trench coat, snarling and snapping in his raspy voice, ground down by the celeb-on-celeb crime in Successville, lonely and hard-drinking. But it’s not all noir in this improv-comedy-parody-celebity-gameshow. Set him up with the right partner and he’s cheeky, witty and very fuckable if you like that sort of thing (I do).

As you can tell this is a show that defies convention. How it got commissioned I’ve no idea. But I’m very glad it did.

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I Have Been Watching… Game of Thrones (spoiler free!)

In which guest blogger Susie Sue tells us about her love for a dark and brutal drama, and shows off her holiday snaps!

 

Last summer I was lucky enough to go to the beautiful city of Seville in southern Spain. I visited the Alcázar,  better known as the seat of House Martell.

Alcazar
Sunspear, aka Seville

I mention this mainly to show off but also because there was nearly an hour wait to get in and also airport style security when you did get through. It was that popular.

With the new season of Game of Thrones  (Sky Atlantic, 9pm Mondays – or before that if you have Sky Go or Now etc) upon us I have asked myself why – why? – is such a brutal show so appealing to me – to us? 

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‘Brendan O’Caroll: My Family At War’ – On the Box

Easter Monday isn’t just about eating another six-pack of Cream Eggs and wondering if you can make a bread and butter pudding out of stale hot cross buns. In Ireland it’s a much more important day, especially this year, the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, when 1,600 rebels took over Dublin. This was the first act of the Irish revolution.

I like to think I’m no ignoramus when it comes to world history, but this programme taught me a thing or two. Maybe I’m not entirely to blame for my lack of knowledge – growing up in England in the 80s and 90s with the backdrop of The Troubles, there may not have been much sympathy for the Irish Republic in the British national curriculum.

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‘And Then There Were None’ – On the Box

Oh my! How grizzly, how gruesome, how horrible!

I’m an Agatha Christie fan and I knew despite the veneer of respectability that she liked it dark. And bloody. And sinister. Even little old Miss Marple has a dark side. But in all that time I never realised Agatha Christie was a frustrated horror writer. This all became clear watching And Then There Were None (BBC1), a period murder mystery based on Christie’s novel of the same name. Even George R R Martin (aka the butcher of all your favourite characters) would have said “Come on now Agatha, don’t you think nine elaborate murders based on a racist nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is a bit much? Death by dipping a guy in molten gold is one thing, but this is just nasty!”

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