Strike: The Silkworm

An irreverent look at this case which today is about the murder of a novelist and the intrigues of the book publishing world. In other words Rowling, by the second book, was out of ideas and wrote what she knew – just like Stephen King does by having all his protagonists be writers of one flavour or another. Written by J. K. Rwoling under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith i.e. the pseudonym everyone tends to forget to use when referring to the author of the C.B. Strike series of crime fiction novels.

So is this a veiled jab at people Rowling herself, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith though everyone knows it’s her, encountered in her career? We can only wonder.

Long story short this case is ‘wanker writer got killed for being a complete wanker and everyone around him in the publishing world was somewhere on the sliding scale of wankerdom themselves’. There are no likeable characters – pitiable ones yes – but no likeable ones. Except Strike and even then that’s more because he’s the leading man and isn’t an arsehole to anyone intentionally unless they ‘deserve it’ in Rowling’s mind.

[Editorial note: Did you see this broadcast on the BBC on the 10th and 17th August 2017? Did you see this elsewhere when it was first aired? Guess what – I typed notes the hour after the broadcast and only now got around to tidying them up so if this is in any way mildly inaccurate… roll with it please for humour’s sake.]

Part 1 (Episode 3 of the short series).

Today Robin happily risks her future marriage as she still has dreams of being a private dick… although as we will see the dickishness of last time wasn’t an isolated event and she only escalates further down the rabbit hole of being a Mary Sue.

We open with a mystery woman reading an article in a magazine, cutting it out and pinning it to her chest then putting her head in the oven to commit suicide. What’s that? ‘It sounds exactly like how Sylvia Plath killed herself’ I hear you mention? Yes, yes it does doesn’t it? Rowling is going meta-intertextual on us. Be in awe of her post-modernist genius! And I’ll ruin the little mystery of this stinger by telling you now that the mystery woman wrote a book which was parodied by a more successful author, Owen Quine, and this drove her to suicide. Or did it? Yes, yes it did – there was a corpse found in the kitchen. But did Quine author the parody? That’s the subplot of this murder investigation and the key to solving it. Thus Quine becomes the ‘main case’ murder victim and the woman’s husband a, if not the main, murder suspect. The adaption clearly wanted to get your attention but you don’t get context for this scene until far, far, later.

At the core of this investigation is the anonymous distribution of Quine’s Bombyx Mori a controversial manuscript in which its protagonist, ‘Bombyx’, is a writer who is repeatedly abused, tormented and ultimately eaten alive by the people in his life whilst going to extraordinary lengths to capture and preserve his talent for their own selfish gains. Bombyx is Owen Quine and all the caricatures in the book are the people around him in the literary world he hated and felt were feeding off his success. Yeah, no, this couldn’t possibly be Rowling venting a little whatsoever…

Did you think there would be different introduction music for each case? Well apparently not. I mean they paid for one song. What do you think they’re made of money? That in adapting a sure-fire ratings winner being shown on the BBC they could afford to take that extra step so it’s the start of a separate case and not ‘episode 3’ of an ongoing series? (Who do you think they are? Netflix?) But surely you realise that’s how TV adaptions of ongoing crime novel series are! Can you name the different cases of Morse? No. Anything by Agatha Christie doesn’t count as you tend to learn those by social osmosis so ‘case theme tunes’ are pointless.

[instrumental] Me and you… you and me… we’re in this together… we definitely don’t have sexual tension and will end up together, by the end, though it all, you clearly don’t love your fiancé, and I’m clearly single… you and me… me and you… solving cases, knowing one day you’ll steal my clients, if our relationship breaks down, once you’re qualified as a private detective… [fade out]

Next Strike is with his ex and she asks how he can still love her. But it was a dream. It’s always a dream. He’s a disgruntled protagonist. His lot in life is not to be happy. Ever. Just like real people but only more so.

He’s in a cramped loft/attic conversion bedroom. Robin pops in to wake him up… so he’s living in her attic? I mean the rooms never given context so… um,yes? And yet her fiancé has never met him… Or it’s a side room of the office… but that’s not as amusing to imagine and if it was he didn’t use it during the Cuckoo case.

This is followed by a mystery man walking through an office to meet another mystery man. Who are they? You won’t have a clue when we get to the next scene so it’s all smoke and mirrors which is meaningless as you’ll have forgotten what they said in a few minutes. It was Daniel Chard, the president of Roper Chard (played by Tim McInnerny a.k.a. Percy off Blackadder who everyone forgets because Hugh Laurie replaced his ‘role’ on the series as being the nice but dim upper class figures) and the publisher but good luck remembering their names. Daniel Chard says he, the other man in the office, Quine’s alcoholic editor, Jerry Waldegrave wrote the letter. Ooh intrigue. And yes I’ve had to go look up the names as all at once the ‘literary world’ characters are interchangeable looking and yet each has a very different position within it though really they could all have their dialogue said by the wrong person and you wouldn’t notice except Elizabeth whose clearly bitterness and miasma of cigarette smoke makes her distinct.

Back with Strike he has a pushy client called Mr Baker complaining. Once he’s gone Strike calls him a tosser and tells him to settle the bill of services he’s accrued. Yes that character’s name I remembered and yet any names from now on have had the help of Wikipedia to confirm. Next the dead author’s wife, Leonora Quine, comes and needs his services.

Unlike a film noir detective she ain’t a leggy dame whose legs go on and on for miles and won’t quit running through the gritty detective’s mind ‘cuz them’s ain’t just legs them’s gams!’ Nope she’s a housewife, maybe even a just barely allowable ‘TV ugly’ looking woman as they’ve made the actress look as plain as possible in bagging clothing, unflattering glasses and such to the point you wonder if Rowling spent a page or two languishing over a detailed description of how normal she looked in contrast to all the glamorous people from the Cuckoo case. ‘Look I can write normal, working class, people too!’ she declares to the one person on an obscure internet forum (or Twitter) she chanced upon in the early hours of the morning. Even if she does write them as if they have severe emotional problems or one track minds she can write them… sort of… but they need some single characteristic to make them vile to the reader’s refined middle-class sensibilities. COUGHtheblowjobwomanwhohelpedStrikeoutlasttimeCOUGH.

Leonora, which is a fancy name for such a ‘look how boringly normal she is’ character to be honest, said her husband went to a retreat called Bigly Hall and has been away ten days.

Strike phones the retreat pretending he is doing so on grounds he is giving Owen a medical report. Owen isn’t there. Strike, who seems fed up of having work, says he won’t charge and see her out though she protests. Who needs an income? Robin tells him who she was, who Owen Quine is… blah blah blah you know the usual ‘Rowling thinks female heroines are walking databases’ stereotype though in Robyn’s case she is using an online search engine (not at all Google of course otherwise they might have to pay some form of royalties) and looking at an encyclopedia entry (not at all Wikipedia for the same reason… in fact she might be reading the wiki page for the Strike TV series… and reading spoilers on some pages so she’s one step ahead of the game).

Then they go for drinks. Because that’s what people do after work as far as TV land is concerned. No one is ever tired, hungry or has responsibilities in day-to-day life… I’ve seen it done on Casualty and Holby City too to name one other ‘drama series’ that has this sort of mentality. Work is life. Work will set you free. Welcome the freedom of death. In the meantime get drunk in the evening to numb the existential angst of the middle class malaise.

But they take the case as Leonora insists upon it. Robin is pushed back twice to no avail. The police won’t help so Strike HAS to help. Because he has the protagonist disease which affects him like a very specific form of OCD where he is compelled to help people in need…

Thus literary agent Elizabeth Tassel appears on the scene at the pub, but not the same pub as during the Cuckoo case, and we get her life story all in one go though no one asked for it. We get her life story every time she is on-screen. Why do we learn so much about her and her hatred of the industry she works in? Have you guessed yet? No… well okay we can wait a little longer as this is only the first strike over the head we’ve got so far.

She is a failed writer who became a literary agent. She lives and works on the fringe of the London literary community, which she deeply resents, and expresses by bullying her staff. She smokes a lot and has a dog that’s very ill. She’s a bit of a bitch so is immediately unlikable anyway. Also she is smoking in a public space which you would think would have a member of staff telling her to stop, her giving a ‘witty’ putdown and then the staff member saying ‘No… really… you need to put that out according to the British law because you can go do one if you think we’re going to get fined because of you’.

She can help. But she won’t help. Does she have a reason? Hmm do you think there’s a reason she won’t help? Is she perhaps contrasting someone from the first case who was too helpful?


She claims she fired Owen as he wrote a thinly disguised attack on the people around him which made the manuscript unpublishable. Strike notices an old black and white photo of her and other authors. Why it’s not in colour as most if not all cameras by that point were colour ones would have been I don’t know… just that convention dictates ‘old photos must be sepia or monochrome’ in TV land. Which means anyone who possesses a monochrome photo is doomed to suffering by default as if it instantly becomes a cursed object.

Owen taught a creative writing course. He considered Liz a hinderance. Then she mentions her dog’s poo is like rocks. DOGGIE DUN A POO POO! DATZ FUNNY!

She asks a waiter for green tea. He asks if it’s for the dog. No, she replies sharply, it’s for her – for her throat. Well yeah if you’re going to wave your dog about in a restaurant and ask for a drink while doing so the staff are going to leap to conclusions inevitably. You see a lot of odd people in the service industry just by sheer force of numbers you come into contact with so this kind of request is expected. Also green tea isn’t going to solve that throat cancer you’ll be getting one day since you smoke like an industrial era chimney Liz…

Back in the office Robin is ‘working’ by watching an interview of Owen’s on ‘Not-YouTube’ and remarks to Strike that Quine wasn’t a fan of short sentences. [Unlike Rowling who is criticising some unknown writer it can be assumed… part of me secretly wishes it was David Foster Wallace – someone who is dead and whose legacy is secured as one of the truly great writers while for all her money she will never be held in anywhere near the same esteem as him… and at least it would explain the treatment of the dog by the end if you know how fond Wallace was of dogs…].

Strike takes this moment to do a job evaluation and have a slight heart to heart with her. He tells Robin she is worth more than he is paying her and that they’re in debt again. How?

Okay… more importantly:

  1. How many employers have ever said such a thing to an employee? Only one’s who want something. And by something I mean unpaid work or beginning a tryst via flattery.

  2. How the hell is he in debt again when he has to turn away business he is so overwhelmed with people seeking his help?! It’s never explained.

So the editor (or someone else) is at Quine’s house unseen by the audience. He leaves and Leonora says he smelt of wine. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s a red herring. The guy likes a drink and spilt some on himself… not that the story ever clears that up.

Meanwhile Robin is in a bookshop. Why? Because the theme of this investigation is literature… um… that’s it. Rowling’s the only author who could write about a book shop and make it seem as interesting as IKEA’s ‘zone of boxed flatpacks’ next to the checkouts. Robin doesn’t discover anything.

Liz visits Robert…

Um… okay… at this point I should note a lot of the book characters got cut out and I think some must have been amalgamated. The adaption has a guy called Robert but that’s not on the Wikipedia page. Anyway the woman in the stinger who committed suicide was his wife.

So word is he has read Quine’s manuscript of Bombyx Mori. Then its noted her dog is shitting on the lavender in his garden. IT’S FUNNY CUZ DA DOGGIE DUNNA ANOTHER POO POO AND SHE DON’T CARE LOLZ! ROFLCOPTER! … and in other words the mentality of the following level of humour regarding repition of a simple joke:

but in fact it’s not just humour but a clue as to… if you haven’t figured out yet I won’t tell you. Someone’s a bad egg and we all know animal cruelty is ‘Bad Person behaviour 101’.

Strike is with Leonora and Liz visits him. Leonora thinks Owen was, as usual, sleeping around, shagging around (wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we)… whatever you want to call it he wasn’t faithful because apparently writers get fangirls willing to sleep with them all the time. (So… meta-narrative time: Did Rowling get a lot of offers from her fans?) Which is a good time to mention Stephen King’s novel Misery…

for no reason except, you know, I just want you to remember there’s a dark side to fandom… it’s not all fans wanting to crawl up inside you like eels.

some want to cause harm due to obsession. Moving on.

So walking down the road Strike sees a newspaper kiosk. Shocking! Who knew those still existed in this day and age?

But that wasn’t the focus. He sees his ex, Charlotte, has done a photo shoot with her new husband for the May cover of a gossip magazine. ‘Hello’, ‘Now’… you know the sort. The ones you see ancient editions of in the waiting rooms of doctor and dentist surgeries… So old that you have ‘these two celebs got together, then under a mouldy children’s book the ‘they’ve had kids’ edition and in someone else’s hands across the room the ‘they’ve had a divorce’ edition sometimes all three published during the same year. Well it seems his ex met and got engaged in what seemed a matter of days or a fortnight during the last case so to be honest he should be happy he got rid of her.

On a side note: if she isn’t the victim of one of the later novels I will be surprised. Either that or she turns out to be the murderer – thus further enforcing the ‘it’s Strike and Robin’s destinies to be together forever [in accordance with authorial mandate]’ storyline Rowling keeps dropping hints about. Saying that Robin’s fiance is also high on the list of likely ‘series long’ characters up for a ‘dull shock’ murder of a long time cast member. Put money on it. It’s certain to be one of them if not both.

Next we see a woman burning pages in an outdoor fire. This is Katherine or Pippa… or an amalgamation of the two. She isn’t that important really.

At the pub Strike finally meets Robin’s fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. Get it? Cunliffe because, as heavy-handed as her caricaturisation is of him Rowling couldn’t get away with calling him the four letter word outright.

So Matt asks if Strike plays rugby and then talks about rugby a lot. Because he is a man and men play rugby. Rugger bugger. Strike jokes he used to be his highschool champ. (Wait… did England have high schools before recently? It’s a very American term for secondary school a.k.a. Comprehensive for the approximate age of the character). I guess Robin never mentioned the leg issue as the joke falls flat. Unless Strike was being serious in which case add it to the pile of ‘I can’t write characters who are not the very best in every single thing they do’ which, for Strike alone includes him being in the military police, the son of a rock star, Robin being… Robin and so on.

Robin and Matt have been together 9 years. I take it that’s meant to suggest that they never married because they didn’t feel like making that step rather than because they couldn’t afford to. They’re to wed in eight weeks. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT DESTINIED TO BE! BECAUSE OMG, WTF, STRIKExROBIN IS THE OP! LIKE STRIN / ROKE SHIPPING! SO ROKE! CORMORANxROBIN = CORBIN… (um, wait… like the current Labour political party leader’s surname but ‘I’ instead of ‘y’… that’s a little cunning a political leanings suggestion hidden in there). STRIKE IS SO HER TYPE! STRIKE NEEDS A WOMAN LIKE HER TO FIX HIM! Etc, etc…

Matt jokes she was the only half fit girl with brains at school/university. Because yeah that’s how you write guys in relationships… I mean I hear that sort of joke made but under no context is it funny. Rowling has serious issues and is venting about someone she knew. Rowling just wants to make sure that at no point will we consider him even a flawed human being – he’s an obstacle to be overcome for Strike and Robin to be together. It’s not even subtle. I can only imagine he might get the old ‘redemption in death’ treatment somewhere down the line if he’s lucky. Matt also speaks derisively about detective work… because [rinse and repeat earlier ‘non-case related antagonism’ comments].

Strike goes to the bar to get a drink and offers to buy them a round. While he’s away, in what seems to be a distance of about 6 metres, Matt criticises him. Robin is sad as she could move up the ladder… really? How about ‘Matt shut up he’s stood right there’ or ‘shut up he’s a decent bloke’ or… not being a single-minded, career focused, selfish cow? She and Matt deserve each other. Matt doesn’t want Strike at the wedding. So either the adaption really failed to get across the animosity here or it’s poor heavy handed writing. Any way you look at it Matt is a pantomime villain in the level of complexity given to his character. A few months earlier in the Tom Hardy series Taboo they had a character who every time he came on-screen used racial slurs on the main character for being mixed race and it’s about the same level of writing albeit against a disabled man rather than a mixed race man.

Strike looks at the wedding invite he’s been given. He recalls Charlotte and her claim she was pregnant once when he broke up with her. Was she? Wasn’t she? We never know as she is an almost never seen satellite character.

The next day Strike mockingly calls Robin by her middle name. She tells him it was because she was conceived in Venice. Why do people get told such things? ‘Oh such fond memories of your dad and I rutting like wild rabbits while in Tuscany’. No, no one wants to know that sort of thing – especially not Tim Upagainstthebikeshedbehindthechippy’ Bristols, Gordon ‘slagheap’ Wells or Julie ‘Cockett’ Mouth…

Someone keeps a blog. Strike, when asked by Robin, is polite and says Matt seemed like a nice bloke.

Robin finds Katherine, a.k.a miss page burner.

They go visit her and she says she though she and Owen were friends until she read the book. Yeah she’s just a narrative device so not even worth flippant commentary…

Back at the office they find out Owen co-owned a house with Joe North, an American writer (with an All-American name) friend of Quine and Fancourt. He died of AIDS while writing about his experiences living with the disease. After lying abandoned for twenty years, the house where North died became the scene of Quine’s murder. I had to look that up as the information is thrown at you so fast and matter of factly you’ll miss it. It doesn’t have any great bearing on events but it is odd finding what bits they feel the need to tell you about and which bits they omit or skim over quickly.

Leonora gives them keys to the house. It’s never brought up who else has keys to the house and it’s one of the things they never bring up again despite that being something you would want to know about considering the circumstances while eliminating lines of enquiry. Leonora mentions she also has a copy of Bombyx Mori as it was left anonymously on the doorstep. It’s noted that this is odd considering a copy would be in the house already, as this is Owen’s home, and Owen kept numerous filing boxes filled with ideas for various books so Leonora would definitely have a copy of the manuscript somewhere in the house already. Owen and Leonora have a daughter named Orlando. To me Orlando is a male name, e.g. Orlando Bloom, but maybe it’s genderless and so fine – albeit it’s no doubt another ‘commemorating where we had sex’ name by the parents… She has down’s syndrome. She is the only person who doesn’t have a character based on them in Bombyx Mori implying she was the only person he truly cared for. So.. you know… even a nasty bastard can have redeeming qualities. That or he didn’t even consider her to have agency and thus was more a pet than child. But they dodgy that implication. [Although, arguably the ‘real’ writer of those controversial bits of Bombyx just didn’t know of the girl or chose not to write of her.]

Orlando likes to draw and steal things. She misses her dad and it’s not clear if she understands he is dead.

Strike introduces himself and notes he is named after an Irish giant. I can’t help but remember the whole Viktor Crumb thing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Rowling felt the need to correct people’s’ pronunciation of the name Hermione. It was fine then since it was a book series aimed primarily at children, with a far more limited range of dictional variants to call upon, but here she is definitely speaking down to the audience ‘look at the references I’m making – I’m so smart and have such a wide breadth of knowledge you can’t keep up so I need to put it in simple terms for you’. No… it’s just Cormoran is a rare name outside of Irish circles. I mean just because you choose rare names for characters that doesn’t make your writing better. If I called a character Islwyn ap Morgannwg that doesn’t mean my audience are stupid because they don’t know ap Morgannwg means ‘of Glamorgan’ but just because they’re unfamiliar with the cultural reference. The fact she has explained Robin’s middle name and Strike’s first name screams that she is trying too hard and just feels the overwhelming need to speak down to her audience.

Also Matt doesn’t care for Cormoran’s name. Because Matt is a bad man. Have you realised that yet or does he need to go into the town square and kill some puppies Caligula style before you’ll accept it? Rowling doesn’t think you do yet.

Strike reads the manuscript. On the screen grim imagery flashes depicting the Marquis de Sade style scenes of the book. Well it’s more de Sade crossed with Clive Barker and a side of Bret Easton Ellis I guess. So instead he watches the football. Because he’s a bloke and football is the default for relaxing television what with the inevitable screaming at the TV when your team isn’t doing well. Football for the common man, rugby for the elite – unless your Welsh in which cae rugby is treated like a religion. Hence it’s another Strike/Matt contrast. The next day he asks Robin to read the book.

Meanwhile he goes to the co-owned house which he finds is in ruins internally.

Here he finds the mutilated corpse of Owen Quine disembowelled and arranged like the cocoon a butterfly or moth has emerged from.

He photos it… because that’s another habit of his besides going to the pub for a pint and watching football. Because that’s what men do – just like women drink wine, are eternally fascinated by shoes, enjoy afternoon teas and watch soap operas in Rowlingland. This is Rowling’s standard of writing nuanced caricaturisation. Broad enough people can identify with it as it’s so blandly unimaginative you would forget the characters five minutes later if her name wasn’t plastered all over it.

He then phones Robin to tell her Owen is dead. It’s grim. Imagine one of the crime scenes from the film Se7en. Robin comes over and looks too. She, unused to crime scene viscera, has no reaction to it which is a bit psychotic really. In fact it’s incredibly suspicious. I secretly hope she turns out to be a villain later in the series. She shows Strike the book and he reads the ending of it. It’s exactly like the crime scene before them as it involves people tearing out Owen’s innards.

Matt calls Robin. His mother is dead. She had a stroke. Robin leaves to be at his side. Strike asks her to relay that he’s sorry for Matt’s loss.

Later Strike is chatting to Detective Steve at Richard’s house and the forensics is too difficult to process due to the use of acid which has all but stopped them using that for evidence. All they know is that there was a woman with a duffel bag seen coming to the property and leaving there.

POP QUIZ: How many female characters, assuming it wasn’t a transsexuals or transvestite, have we seen so far? Who can we eliminate from the inquiry? So is the murderer:

  • The bitter and twisted Elizabeth (with her dog whose got bowel issues mentioned whenever she appears CUZ DAT FUNNY… though it isn’t really).

  • The worried wife (who, if she did it, will have done exactly the same as the previous case’s murderer having needlessly brought Strike’s attention to the case and would have got away with it otherwise… just like a Scooby Doo villain).

  • The downs syndrome daughter (who loves her dad thus would be setting depictions of disabled people back about 50 years as ‘dangers to society’ who can’t be trusted to not act violently if left unsupervised and should be locked away in asylums so society may forget about them as was the case back then alongside single mothers, politically disagreeable elements, artistic sorts and anyone else who just ‘wasn’t our sort’ to ‘normal’ middle class people).

  • The disenfranchised student/friend/lover (who got the book after the fact to give her motive for the murder).

  • The rejected male to female transsexual lover (who is actually missing from the TV adaption hence why you thought I was being pedantic when mentioning transsexuals earlier).

  • Or it could be a man mistaken for a woman. It could be. It isn’t… But it could be.

It’s brought up that Leonora was a fan of Owen’s writing and was a butcher’s daughter in Hay-on-Wye before their marriage. So:

  1. Hay-on-Wye is a town of bookshops in Wales. She couldn’t come from somewhere more likely – No, it had to be from the town of books because this story’s theme is literature. Funny that really as she isn’t Welsh sounding but then there are so many wannabe Bohemian English people in that town it is technically an English town in Wales.

  2. There’s a hint of elitism here as this is revealed as if it’s something that should cause shock in the reader not seen since the Victorian sensationalist novels. How could a common butcher’s daughter be married to a successful author? It’s presented like there is some other aspect to it we are not told of. I assume in the book there’s some mention Owen knocked her up while at the annual literature festival in town and felt pressured into making an honest woman of her and the result of their union was their daughter. But the TV adaption skips that completely unless it was said so quickly in passing I missed it.

Strike says he knows the killer read the book. So we can remove a few of the remaining suspects can’t we? Apparently Owen and Leonora had an argument out on the street but Strike thinks Leonora wouldn’t have the ingenuity to commit the killing. Why is not explained. Working class people are cattle who can’t do something as elaborate as this sort of revenge murder. That’s the underlying message again from Rowling. Leonora throughout the case is presented as someone who is barely capable of coherent thought let alone being proactive in matters. She is presented almost as in need of care as much as her daughter if I’m honest as the show does everything in its power to demean her.

If you ever saw Harry Enfield’s depiction of the working class throughout his various sketch shows I feel this is very much in that ilk except it’s at the expense of the subject and not at the prejudice elitist arrogance of the ones observing.

Meanwhile Matt and Robin are in tears in their bedroom. He’s crying for his loss. Robin is crying she isn’t out and about playing detective as Strike’s sidekick.

Strike interviews Leonora but he can’t help her with the case. Police found photos. They take Lenora away into custody as the prime suspect. She screams out, Orlando becomes distressed, and Leonora is dragged away in tears. Leonora fears for her daughter as it’s only ever been her and Owen caring for their daughter. Except there is someone. Who they are isn’t known as they’re played by an extra whose presumably from social services. In fact that raises far more questions than it should but we never spend even a second on it.

In the next scene its morning and Robin makes Matt breakfast. He asks her to get the day off work. She tells him she will ask. Strike emails her at 5AM about the case. He then calls her and asks how Matt is doing. Because Strike’s a decent human being who wants to get on with both of them. He even tells Robin, unprompted, to take as much time as she likes. However, offended, she counters that they’ve already had clients complain because they’re behind schedule with their ongoing investigations. Um… no. Stay with your man in his hour of need Robin. Honestly Strike can’t win. He is considerate of a guy whose constantly belligerent to him, Robin is openly aiming to become a detective and likely take his client base from him after he’s paid for her training (which is what she wants to happen). He would be better off going back to doing it all by himself really. (and he kind of does later on in a later case but that’s a story for another time…).

So this is part one of this case’s ‘moments we are not meant to dislike Robin though we clearly will’. I mean seriously. I know there are people who justify themselves saying ‘oh I needed to get out of there! They were being so miserable.’ Well yes that’s what grieving is unsurprisingly. If he was like that six months down the line fine but Matt just lost his mother so I think he’s allowed a free pass for the moment to grieve. Rowling really just has some odd perspectives on things like this. Yes Matt is a thoroughly unlikable guy but to have Robin make excuses to leave him grieve alone is cruel. We get it. She really wants to be a detective and is single-minded in that pursuit but you can’t brush off this sort of behaviour time after time throughout the stories.

Strike has a meeting arranged with a man in Devon and Robin insists she will drive them there (in a hire car). And she does. As if you can just walk up and get a hire car instantly. Strike says why Devon. Robin remarks at least it’s not Cornwall. What, did Rowling have a bad experience in Cornwall too? That’s a bit out of left field save that it’s a further drive. She really is venting through this book it feels and the adaptions not being able to cover everything though no doubt some stuffs been left out.

They arrive at Daniel Chard’s country house with modern internal décor and are asked to take their shoes off before entering. Then Daniel, who has injuries to his hands from broken glass, says actually Strike doesn’t need to due to his leg. Daniel gets his… Thai?… servant to make coffee.

Daniel only wishes to speak to Strike so Robin goes to the kitchen. Sidekicks in the kitchen then. Send the woman to the kitchen… Rowling the feminist adhering to traditional gender role room allocation in a house.

Daniel reveals that Owen had an accomplice. He knows because there are things in the book which Owen couldn’t have known about. There is a reward of £10,000. This reward is never brought up again nor if Strike gets it when he dicovers the other author at the end. Daniel asks Strike if he’s read the book and confides it has things about him and Andrew in it.

Andrew’s wife was the suicide at the beginning. Liz says they were close. She considered Owen a genius and she had a crush on Andrew. Info dump…

Robin goes to the toilet. Manny, the Thai servant/boyfriend, blurts out he didn’t push Daniel down the stairs but in fact he fell down them by himself. This is never expanded on. In the book it was implied Daniel was gay. Well the TV series turned that up to eleven then… it’s implied there was a lover’s quarrel prior to Strike and Robin arriving. Not much to add… they just kind of leave it there as something they added but never developed. It therefore reminded me of a scene from Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Bruno unintentionally due to how petite the guy was. The one with the fire extinguisher. Go look it up. No in fact here’s a clip. It might even be the same actor for all I know…

Daniel adds Strike, and after a moment at Strike’s insistence, Robin on the guest party list so they can meet people involved in the events. That’s convenient of course but at least somewhat believable in contrast to the last case where they just seemed to walk in everywhere with little resistance.

Later Robin and Strike meet in a cafe and recount, in public, the key points of the case. Just to make sure the audience have kept up. I expect in a later book, if they do these in public cafes, for a suspect to sit in there and overhear what they’ve found out and used it to their advantage since this is so foolish. Ignoring too their poor manners in public but speaking so loud in a small cafe too.

Robin suddenly comes out and wants to know what Strike wants – as if he owes her something apparently. He says he wanted to train her he can’t consciously do so if she’s marrying someone who hates the work. He needs a person who can do the hours and tells Robin it’s the reason he and Charlotte broke up. He would pay for a partner to go on a training course but not an assistant. Then jokes, to try to lighten the mood now he’s said this, by asking for a bite of Robin’s sandwich. Robin says it’s not a good sandwich. GET IT? SHE’S SAYING SHE’S DAMAGED GOODS SUBTEXTUALLY… also no employer has offered training without some sort of price to be paid and Robin has done nothing but badger him about becoming a detective as if he owes it to her from the moment she first entered his office as an agency paid office temp helping put his paperwork in order.

Later they’re on a country lane, in the hire car, where there is a build up of traffic as a vehicle has broken down and it’s created a bottleneck. That it didn’t completely stop the traffic was a miracle from my experience where many country lanes are barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone have enough you can create a bottle neck where there is still movement. But then I know what I’m talking about here in Wales unlike a writer who is secluded in her mansion who had a somewhat comfortable, urban focused, life beforehand.

So what does Robin do? Wait and go past the traffic issue in a few minutes like a normal person being safe on the road? No. Of course not. She reverses, drives into a field and pulls off some off-road motor rally driving stunts drifting around gates and such. Strike is of course nervous as she is doing this with the mad, glassy-eyed, smile of a sociopath mowing down pedestrians.

They get past the block in the road… all 20 metres of it down the road though Robin seemed to drive about four times that distance through the fields and probably could have made their trip that much shorter by not doubling back.

So.. yeah. Those fields are private property of the farms and she just caused what could legally be deemed property damage. They were not on a tight schedule or anything either to thinly justify this little action sequence. She just felt like it and thus did it because she got frustrated for a few minutes having to deal with the reality of traversing rural roads. Prime detective material there… no wonder Strike wanted to train her.

Strike asks what she was doing. She tells him she did an advanced driving course. She says this smugly implying ‘see I can do anything’ as if driving in a field is the same as deducing the facts of a criminal case , potentially, having an innocent person prosecuted if you’ve got your facts wrong. But let’s face it Robin is becoming a textbook case study example of sociopathic tendencies. She didn’t get what she wanted so she intimidated Strike through reckless behaviour. You can argue it was ‘girl power’ showing him she was capable but he had good reason not to arbitrarily turn to his office administrator and ask ‘why don’t you become a detective?’

Strike has a voice message on his phone. He should also have his last will and testament after Robin’s actions today if he’s sensible. Andrew says he won’t read the book and he didn’t like Owen.

Leonora is taken into prison from the house and for no real reason they have her daughter on the doorstep there to further distress the girl. Classy. I half wonder if this was some criticism of the social services depicting them negatively in the book because Rowling once, and just once, had some trouble with them before Harry Potter took off.

Robin drives to the train station, jumps out and runs to the train to go back to Matt.

Oh great. Yes, let’s pretend like you care now. She even sits in the first class carriage to make sure she doesn’t associate with the common people. In fact she comes across like the subject of Pulp’s song now I think of it. She wants the detective life but doesn’t seem to appreciate what it entails.

And in the meantime she leaves Strike stranded in the ‘loading/unloading bay’ in the car… that’s not even a joke. I’m not sure he even knows what is going on for a moment as she ditches him so suddenly.

He offers a passing Irish girl £20 if she will drive him home. That doesn’t look dodgy at all… but what else can he do? There’s a whole mini-adventure here we never see occur on-screen.

Then he gets a call about Leonora telling him she’s been taken to prison.


But no really how did he get home? What was the Irish girl’s reaction? What happened after? Questions that will never be answered.

Part 2 (Episode 4 of the series).

Fun fact: I lost most of my original notes on this episode – hence the long delay after it’s broadcast to the point the next case ‘Career of Evil’ has already aired the first half – so this is mostly working off an edited compilation of scenes uploaded by Katerina Varela. Give her page and videos some support on YouTube please as they’re a great help thouh they omit anything not featuring Strike and Robin.

Robin watches an interview of Owen again. His first wife committed suicide. Nothing comes of this oddly. Maybe it was discussed more in the book.

Strike is in a mystery location. Robin calls him and asks ‘are you awake?’ when he answers. Well I don’t know if ‘sleep phone-answering’ is the 21st century version of sleepwalking but I would hesitate it’s a yes – unless his phone was stolen… They discuss the wife and she offhandedly thanks him for letting her stay a little longer with her grieving fiance… but quickly goes back to discussing the case so clearing it was just an empty courtesy and she wasn’t grateful really…

Next thing you know Strike is walking down the stairs to his office and Robin is there. He says it’s Sunday. She knows. She says ‘I think we should start taking a closer look at Andrew Fancourt, don’t you?’ which of course is a loaded question. She is dictating that they should. Honestly could she be any more thirsty to become a detective… she says she’s got his address and ‘let’s go’.


  • Robin reads a section. Strike says Leonora is innocent. He even goes as far as to bet his good leg on it. If he lost the bet this would become a British remake of Ironside…

  • At the prison Strike has his female lawyer friend (who we’ve never heard of before) represent Leonora. The dilapidated house couldn’t be sold and the items used in the murder had been bought with the Quine family credit card. Her husband spoke to her of the novel. Strike warns her that could be used against her. Yes apparently it’s Strike who needs to say that and not the legally trained person he brought along. Is she just arm candy for him or as a blunt diagesis narrative excuse to explain how he got access to Leonora in the prison?
  • Leonora is angry Strike didn’t keep her out of prison. She just wants to see her daughter again.
  • He later has lunch with his half-brother in a bar. The actor, if he isn’t Tom Burke’s real life brother, looks a lot like him. They have the ‘we are related but not close though we like each other’ sort of dialogue you can expect of characters who will become more relevant later in the series once Rowling has a use for them (as murder suspects/victims most likely). The brother flirts with the waitress at this exclusive place and gets the information Strike needs as they catch up with each other.
  • We cut to Robin running in the countryside as if there’s nothing else happening in life at the moment. No doubt it’s excused as a bit of trendy mindfulness – which right now is a bit selfish really for her to be doing. Matt, still holed up at home, answers her phone when it rings. So Robin, who so desperately wants to get back on the case left her phone behind? I’ve seen plenty of runners have their phones on an armband so this seems coincidental. This convenience allows him to discover she hired a car for ‘being Strike’s taxi’. She could afford to do that but not stay and help him arrange his mother’s funeral he decides. In fairness he has a very good point as she put career (or more exactly her desire for a career she is unqualified for as of yet despite throwing it in her employers face constantly) ahead of emotional support for someone she is engaged to and you would assume loves though we are shown no signs of it. Are there any negative consequences for Robin’s decisions ever? No. No, there are not. Because Robin is perfect and untarnished in the mind of the writer.
  • Back at the prison Strike and his friend are leaving and she warns him to have no relapses regarding Charlotte. He laughs it off but indeed both wordlessly know it isn’t that easy for him. Even tertiary characters are more emotionally developed than some of the main cast… Now her use to get Strike access to Leonora is over she disappears from the story never to be seen again.
  • Strike goes to see Richard. a.k.a. Mr police detective. Strike can’t believe Leonora is stupid enough to buy a disguise. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or further needless debasement of the Leonora character. Which writer’s partner wound Rowling up the wrong way at a few dinner parties for this level of venomous writing exactly?
  • Back with Robin she and Matt are lying in bed and there is clear tension between the two. He was there for her when she needed it but clearly she can’t be there for him. (spoilers: eventually in the series it’s revealed she was raped. Hence her over compensating and need to be proactive). He tells her he doesn’t want Strike at the wedding because he wouldn’t give her a day off for personal reasons like bereavement. You can understand his view with the limited information he has but of course we’ve seen Strike be nothing but kind and actually offer all the time off she needed. Robin is manipulating both of them and there are no real consequences to her. However she admits it was her choice as she wanted to be an investigator. She justifies it saying she was doing a Psychology degree and… blah blah justifying her selfish actions. She says she ‘doesn’t want to do this’ and they make up instantly. No consequences and she gets to dictate terms and the conditions of their relationship. No wonder he’s such a passive-aggressive ass everytime we see him as it’s the probably only way he can do anything albeit out of frustration.
  • Strike goes and has dinner with friends. Who are they? We don’t know but apparently it needed to be made clear he wasn’t a loner because ‘eww loners are icky and up to no good’ societal clichés. Disposable characterless friends are better than being alone. Even if they are cardboardcutouts from a stock photograph. (Look at how things ended for one of the characters from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series to get an expansion on the concept). The lawyer friend says she hasn’t met Orlando, Owen’s down’s syndrome suffering daughter, yet.
  • At some point Robin goes to the Quine house to meet Orlando and… well long story short Orlando likes to ‘steal’ things and hide them in her bag. Robin offers an exchange but ultimately steals the contents of the bag. In the bag was Owen’s copy of Bombyx Mori. Robin leaves quickly as she has made Orlando incredibly distressed in a flood of tears. Nothing ever comes of this and in fact in the conclusion Orlando even gives Robin a friendly wave. Because Robin can never do wrong…

Strike finds Robin in the office on a Sunday. He says she doesn’t have to be there but she insists. So she shut her grieving fiancé down when he calls her out on her behaviour and she gets to go play detective too? Protagonist centred morality…

Robin says they should go see the house. Thus they go to snoop around someone’s house. And, lo, did Robin say until Cormoran ‘let us venture forth unto the garden’s of burial’ and lo it was so… for her’s was the way and the just as according to the creator…

They approach a garden gate and Robin asks Strike to give her a leg up. Strike doesn’t make a pun about his leg but instead looks over the garden gate himself by doing a pull up. Hench blud, mah boy is hench yeah? Look at him raising himself up like it ain’t no ting. Well no he huffs and puffs a bit but the TV version is in far better condition than his book counterpart. He sees it’s a cemented over patio so burial would have been impossible. When he drops down, instead of slowly lowing himself, he hurts his stump inevitably. [Also there was a sickening crunch which definitely didn’t sound healthy so… maybe got to the hospital’s A&E while your out and about?] He mutters shit and doubles over in agony. Robin calmly asks ‘are you alright?’ Why yes because that’s what people do when they’re in good health doubling over mutting shit and rubbing parts of their body… But then she tells him to lean on her which after initially refusing he accepts and he apologises about it. Commandery… and by that I mean it plays into Robin’s YOU NEED ME! View that she is more than capable of doing his job for him…

Thus they go to the pub. For the pub’s alcohol shall numb all pains of both the flesh and spirit… plus they’ve nothing better to be doing...

Robin notes it’s Strike’s birthday. For lo Robin is not only perfect in action but also knowledge. She even knows Strike’s passport number. Thus she gives him a gift which consists of a number of Cornish food and drink items. She asks how it is and he replies it tastes of Cornwall. (it’s his hometown or something to that effect so… nostalgia). They discuss the case – again in a public space. Strike keeps talking of the guts, how the police investigators were not brought in on it and that Fancourt writes the sort of stuff suggesting this so they should find him tomorrow. Robin asks if his leg will be fine for that and he says ‘yeah, it’ll be fine’… which she doesn’t believe it seems.

The next day he hobbles into the office using a crutch and Robin offers to tail Farcourt but Strike tells her she hasn’t been trained but she insists she wants to do it. Also she informs him Liz has agreed to talk to him about Fancourt too over lunch ‘which will be okay, you’ll be sitting down’. Yeah go on Robin kick him while he’s down. That’ll motivate him to get you trained!

Then she shows Strike the parody of the ‘Sylvia Plath style suicide’ woman’s novel written by Quine. The woman being Fancourt’s wife. The parody was taped to her grave… with what? Duct tape? Seriously in British weather that thing would have blown half way across town in reality. They think either he’s being taunted or blackmailed. Strike compliments her work. She downplays it regarding how she messed up and he walked right past her. Then Strike says maybe some training will help.

Next think they’re at a swanky penthouse suite, him in classic black shirt and tie while she has a figure hugging black dress on. Daniel Chard invited them Strike tells the doormen… who are stood in the middle of the apartment making you wonder how secure it really is. Robin scoffs ‘plus one, he’s not keen on me is he?’ Well you’re there so… it’s not like he refused your presence…

They go out on the balcony. Strike mocks that ‘nevermind declining booksales everyone I’ve met so far in publishing either has a drink in their hand or arranging to meet for lunch’. Rowling can’t help be salty towards the industry that fed her and put her kids through school apparently. Then Robin quips ‘It’s not a bad life is it?’ so Rowling can have her cake and eat it…

They wander around for a while then Strike lights a cigarette and asks when Matthew is back to which Robin replies he’s back already. Strike gives Robin his coat as it’s cold.

Chard taps a wine glass to call everyone’s attention as he is about to give a speech. Do people still do that? It feels pretentious but it works. He speech is basically ‘publishing has rapidly changed but on things remained true: work with great writers and your readers will come. After 20 years elsewhere Fancourt is returning to this publishing house’. So yes Rowling blowing smoke up her own trumpet there ever so subtly saying ‘I’m one of the greats after one book series and a few spin offs’. Yes you can no doubt quote Baum, C.S. Lewis and other ‘one series’ children’s writers but it still stands they did other stuff too. In Rowling’s case this is it… and it was under a pseudonym until the publishers wanted a boost in sales.

Fancourt thanks them all and that it feels like a homecoming (which if you know the Greek mythos origins of that phrase is actually always a bad thing). He waxes lyrical about writing for Chard then Roper and how they were good days alongside saying how he was an angry young man now he’s an angry old man. Everyone does that ‘middle-class polite’ chortles laugh. Then he finishes saying he looks ‘forward to raging for you’. And they applaud as he leaves. Strike leaves thus leaving an opening for Fancourt to approach Robin… because hey he’s a villain and not a single man of mild success who thinks maybe he can use the boost to his confidence to chat up a woman… nope this is villanous despicable behaviour… He noticed she is taking a while to pick a drink and offers suggestions. Sex on the beach? A long, slow, screw up against the wall? No not really… He says the champagne won’t kill her as he picked it out. She flirtingly smiles and says that’s what she’ll have then and he orders two. Then he asks if she’s read anything good lately in what is, in the context, a very cheesy chat up line. She says Bombyx Mori. He calls it a poison pen letter and asks what she thinks of his depiction. She asks if he has read it but he says people have told him of it. He considered Owen a very minor writer with a very large ego and that their conversation would have pleased him enormously. She asks if she can introduce him to someone and brings him over to Strike. Fancourt immediately addresses him as the one-legged detective… which let’s face it is exactly what people called Strike before these BBC adaptions as it’s his U.S.P. compared to Hercule ‘the moustache’ Poirot, Sherlock ‘you know my name’ Holmes, C. Auguste ‘murder at the Rue Morgue’ Dupin, Robert T. ‘in a wheelchair’ Ironside, Endevour ‘shot of whiskey til I die’ Morse, Theofilides ‘I got a lollipop with your name on it’ Kojak, ‘Frank’ [no official first name]‘ah one more thing’ Columbo , the various Swedish detective of recent, Miss Jane ‘little old nosey women busy body’ Marple, John ‘I’ma LUNDUNAAAA’ Luther, Erast ‘different style every case’ Fandorin and so on.

He tells Strike he’s read about him. Strike wants to talk about Owen Quine’s death. Fancourt compliments him on his choice of bait. They talk of how he was co-owner of the house the corpse was found in. He says he’s not been there in ten years at which point Robin chips in saying he inherited it from a friend who died the same year as his wife. She says she’s sorry for his loss at which he spits he didn’t lose her as he tripped over her corpse in the kitchen. Strike asks if he ever confronted Quine about the parody which he says he didn’t but was certain he wrote it. (Yes because a writing style is like a finger print you couldn’t possibly copy someone’s style could you? Seriously… the logic here even if it’s for egotistical writers is incredibly flawed to the point the resolution wouldn’t hold in court save the culprit began running away like an idiot giving away their guilt). Fancourt changes the subject to Strike being a footnote who pops up whenever the topic of his ex’s marriage comes up in magazines. Strike considers it high praise. Fancourt asks him if he’s attracted to trouble women or they become troubled because of him… but then thinks maybe he should ask Robin instead. Robin says they just work together. GET IT? GET IT? ROWLING WANTS YOU TO WANT THE MAIN DUO TOGETHER! GO WRITE A FANFIC OR DRAW SOME FAN ART! NO IMAGINATION? IT’S OKAY AS YOU CAN JUST DRAW THE ACTORS INSTEAD! Strike wonders why Quine would use Bombyx Mori to deny writing the parody if he did. Fancourt says his wife thought if she married a writer it would change how people saw her but when it failed she tried being a writer herself. He thinks Quine saw himself reflected in her. ‘Most writers are not very imaginative Mr Strike, they end up writing about themselves.’ At this point I laughed for a while thinking of the irony of the line…

He felt Quine was a failed writer struggling to gain some status through writing but was in his shadow. He tells Strike to take care, shakes his hand says ‘respect’ and leaves. Middle aged man talking like he’s from the streets yeah? Strike and Robin look at each other. The patented ‘what a wanker’ look.

The next day the pair are walking down a road to a house with a tree growing up it’s front. A man, the editor Waldegrave, answers the door and shakes their hands as he invites them in, offers them coffee. The whole nine yards. Strike thanks him for seeing them. The man says ‘anything for Owen, ha, bastard’. The guy had been at the party the previous night but disappeared after Fancourt’s speech… well yeah not much point hanging around really. Though part of me thinks Strike probably was too busy staring into the distance in his little ‘BOOM GOTCHA’ trap corner of the penthouse roof area rather than watching where the guy went.

Strike asks what he thinks of Fancourt. ‘Terrific writer, absolute shit of a human being’. He asks if they’ve read Bombyx. Strike confirms they both have though the guy wonders if they know what it’s all about. Robin interjects she didn’t recognise him in it. The guy says he was the cutter because… put your junior detective hats on for this revelation… he was the editor! Quine had used a rumour that Fancourt had fathered his daughter as part of the storyline of the cutter in Bombyx.

Strike says it must have hurt to which the editor replies ‘if you want life long camaraderie join the army; if you want peers to glory in your failure, work with novelists. No loyalty. Of course it hurt me.’ At which point he decides to have a drink as he’s got little to be sober for this afternoon and invites them to join him. Strike accepts a perolo and Robin wonders why. ‘It’ll help him feel we are on his side… and I like perolo’ he mutters to her metres away from the editor. People in the Strike universe are deaf to any noise more than three metres away from then it seems. Chatting of Liz the editor says even on a good day she can be an utter bitch and toasts to new-found cadre. After this he recounts some interesting information.

Liz made a pass at Andrew Fancourt after Ellie, the oven wife, died and Andrew saw it as a badge of honour that he couldn’t get it up for her. He mutters ‘prick’ under his breath and Strike admits he hadn’t been told that story by her. He continues that injured pride is exactly why she went with Quine over Andrew. Strike asks if Fancourt had a motive to kill Quine. The editor cites the claim in Bomyx that Fancourt wrote the parody of his wife’s work himself thus leading to her death. Strike asks if it could be true. The editor wonders as he’s very good at writing it. ‘It’s the kind of viciousness from somewhere even if it’s disguised. A writer can give himself away like that. In variably puts himself in the text more than he knows.’ Strike remarks Chard had a theory about that in regards of Bombyx. The editor confides that Chard didn’t like what Quine said about him. Strike says Chard though the manuscript could have had more than one contributor. The editor finds that an interesting thought and gives Strike a draft of the novel. He says there are many parts which feel like classic Quine with shock horror stuff but there are other parts where… DUN DUN DURR is some use of semicolons which in 20 years the editor never saw him use them once. WELL THAT’S CONCRETE EVIDENCE! (Oh, wait… no it is apprently. Really? Yes…). In the Bombyx manuscript there are several. ‘That is not something a writer embraces late in his career’. Strike thanks him assuring him he’s been very helpful. Robin sits with her mouth open aghast like a blow up doll. That was a weird moment… also it implies she hasn’t a clue as to how it proves the manuscript wasn’t Quine’s effort alone. Good detective skills…

Thus Strike announces he is off to Fulham.

But it’s time for the ‘detective explains their deduction’ scene at the denouement. Strike is in his office’s reception moving a chair to the desk to sit by Robin. Many pieces don’t fit together but this might be the thing that explains it.

  • Silkworms are boiled but in Bombyx it’s cut open. The book features the hero burned by a liquid and the murder site had acid. Katherine kent was expecting a very different book.
  • Waldergrave (aka the editor) and Chard detected foreign influence in the text (RUSSIAN HACKERS!) thus Strike deduces they repeatedly hear the same thing: Something is not quite right with Bombyx Mori.

THEY NEED A LITERARY ANALYST… wherever you go to hire one of those on the fly to compare the writing styles. Robin says she’ll get on that like it’s nothing.

  • The only person they know who spoke to Quine about the book was Liz so Strike is going to go to lunch with her again. ‘Needs must’… which I’m sure is a ‘you fat bastard’ type joke in the book no doubt as he is said to be so unfit but in the TV adaption they’ve only got Tom Burke who, at worst, you would say has a rounded face…

Next thing Strike is at the window reading a sliver of paper noting it has no baroque archetypes before he and Robin dramatically walk out the office into reception. It’s quite silly when you notice the Dutch angle and rising musical chord used as if something incredibly dramatic is about to occur only for it to be the literary analyst. Young and handsome of course as we can’t have any normal people on-screen unless they’re baddies or figures of ridicule. He congratulates them on getting it and Robin says Oxford often ask for it as it has Fancourt’s earliest published story in it. Long story short favouring certain irregular punctuation and such marks out who wrote it due to Quine never using the Oxford comma. Strike asks if it’s proof?

One word: No…

But it does suggest whoever wrote the parody piece also wrote Bombyx Mori. Which… let’s be honest is exactly where the pair were before hiring this expert. Though he does add it probably was the same person who wrote the short story as well.

Strike remarks it’s a sophisticated revenge ‘the story of your grudge in the form of a secret parody of Quine himself’. Robin adds that it leaves all the people around Quine hating him. But Strike feels it’s too complicated. Well they’re all conceited and ‘better than thou’ faux intellectuals so it probably isn’t to be honest. I mean… Finnegan’s Wake if nothing else proves how conceited writer’s can be about their genius and how easily people go along with it…

Strike makes a call to his detective buddy asking he trust him he needs to get a search warrant.

Strike and Robin walk down a road dramatically. She asks if he’s sure about this and he says absolutely. At the private dining club Robin comments it’s like a Bobyx reunion. The music is tense so you know this will be the ‘ah, it was old groundskeeper Willy all along… I would have got away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids’ scene.

Strike asks Chard and Fancourt if they have a moment to discuss something concerning Bombyx Mori. The three men head away from the table. Strike tells Fancourt he read the parody of his wife’s novel. He notes how spiteful it was. At this moment Liz begins to wander over. Strike says both Bombyx and the parody were written by the same person BUT Owen Quine was not the author. DUN DUN DURR (for those who didn’t figure it out much earlier when we had only been hit over the head 3 times instead of 12 with that possibility). Liz excuses herself saying she couldn’t help herself when hearing the name of that ‘wretched book’ raised and not ‘apologise’ to them both. Strike says good evening to her. Quine had written ‘a’ Bombyx Mori and intended to publish it but not ‘the’ version everyone else had read. The original ‘buries a few old sparring partners’ but his anecdote about Mr Fancourt’s limp dick isn’t in the original text they were given.

But then who would have known of it? Was it the editor or….

Everyone turns silently to Liz… who immediately tries to do a runner because that’s what everyone stupidly does when found out in these things so there’s a bit of action and tension to end on an adrenaline high.

Strike can’t chase her due to his leg so he calls to Robin. Liz smashes a vase into Robin’s face like this is an action movie but she continues to give chase a second after Strike checks on her. Outside Liz does a spot on impression of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 as she runs down the road. She nearly gets knocked over as she crosses the street. Apparently for a heavy smoker in her late 50s or so Liz is easily out running healthy, keen exerciser, Robin easily. Let’s say it’s because Robin has heels on otherwise it feels a little ridiculous…

Strike slowly follows and Robin tackles Liz to the ground but not without a tussle and some cat fighting. At this exact moment the police sirens wail and they arrive to take Liz away. Because they can’t announce their arrival until someone else has pinned the culprit down. Have to consider those health and safety and the possibilities of insurance payouts…

The next day and life moves on at the office. Strike calls Robin into his office. He says it might be good news so she should call them a cab… why he doesn’t just do it himself after finishing the call he’s on I don’t know but she has to earn her pay somehow.

Then outside in the sunlight the camera pans and we see Mrs Quine released from prison who trundles up to them like a child gleeful at seeing them… for you see the working class are not like Robin and Strike They are a lower order of intelligence equitable to a grapefruit and thus are like primary school children even after long having children and such. It is for the higher order to have dominion over these Luddites and ensure they are put to good use. That’s the tone of the Leonora character and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that in the book she actually is developmentally challenged considering how she is depicted here…

Liz is in prison on suicide watch. Strike tells Leonora they found the real copy of the book in her house. Chard wants to read it with a view to publishing it and ‘it might even sell a few copies’ he adds. Robin gives him a look and he mouths ‘what?’ as he doesn’t realise how rude it sounded. Ho. ho, ho silly emotionally dense man – don’t you know it’s a woman’s world…

Leonora runs up the steps and joyously reunites with her Down’s Syndrome daughter. A carer… social worker… old woman who is never introduced… looks on happily. The daughter, Orlando, waves at Robin (as if she’s forgotten how she was tricked into giving away her treasure from her bag, and all ends happily. Strike and Robin get back in the black cab and next thing they’re discussing the detective just being glad the right person got locked up. Here we are told they checked Liz’s freezer and that she had been feeding Quine’s guts to her dog… hence all it’s digestion and defecation issues it had. DID YOU GET THE CLUE OR THINK ANIMAL SUFFERING WASN’T A MASSIVE GLOWING RED NEON SIGN OF EVIL? Robin remarks it’s disgusting. Not hoping the dog is okay or if it’s alive but just ‘disgusting’. Strike asks about Matthew and she scoffs about seeing him worse after a rugby match and says she is going to get the tube. She remembers to mention his ex sent in some photos and he laughs she isn’t his problem anymore. He tells Robin he has something for her and pulls and envelope out of his coat. He is paying for her to go on a surveillance training course. Or more exactly ‘you find it, I’ll pay for it’… which on the grand scheme of gift giving is a bit crap. She might find the most expensive course going. ‘So partners yeah?’ he smiles. She shakes his hand and he kisses it. I half expected a ‘M’lady’ and a fedora to fall out his pocket… and he goes upstairs while she walks smiling down the road. Again Robin gets everything she wants.

The End.


So this time around it’s the second person Strike meets regarding the case that turns out to be the killer. Taking Cuckoo into account that leads me to deduce that in the third case it will be the third person Strike meets who will be the killer in that story.

This book, in a meta-narrative sense, will no doubt be revealed one say as Rowling’s thinly veiled attack on people she doesn’t like in her own literary career and feels are leaching off her. Whether done knowingly or unconsciously will have to be seen.

Robin again is a thoroughly unlikable individual. It’s one thing to bluntly tell your boss you expected to ‘climb the ladder’ though being an administrative assistant and being an investigator are incredibly different skill sets even if you seem to think being an Oxford psychology degree drop out somehow qualifies you by default. Yet throughout the story she keeps on trying to persuade Strike to allow it.

Then she repeatedly leaves her grieving fiancé to go off on what comes across like adventure to her and not work. He might be an arse but that’s vile behaviour.

Hires a car and goes off-road with it. Not to mention she just so happened to take an advanced driving course as if that’s just something you do off the cuff.

The ‘ha ha I’ve got what I want’ trade with Orlando seems… cruel isn’t even the word. Did she take the necklace back as well?

There is just nothing redeeming about her as a character so far in these stories. What challenges does she actually face during these events? That Strike won’t make her a detective when she isn’t qualified? That her fiancé, who admittedly is unremittedly unpleasant to the point not once have we seen why she likes him save it was convenient, is going through the natural process of grieving and needs her to be there for him like… oh you know… a life partner he’s going to marry?! But she wants to go play detective. That a person with severe learning difficulties has incriminating evidence that can solve the case? No matter what scenario she is in she is in control and it’s incredibly difficult to identify with her. Yes I know that it’s eventually revealed she was the victim of rape so her need to be ‘always prepared’ so she never feels vulnerable again could be justified but not to this extent. It’s gone past self empowerment and falling into the abyss of Mary Sue. She has no flaws and thus suffers the Superman syndrome where there is nothing for her to overcome with any difficulty. Solving the problems in this case is as difficult as… well as you reading this right now.

As an example of how her character’s development so far in the series has come across: You needed to learn to read English but once that hurdle has been crossed here you are relaxing reading this like it’s nothing. Meanwhile there’s someone who can’t read English but can translate it and get the gist to find out what is being said and then there are people with dyslexia. This is how I feel any challenges are represented in the Strike novel series. Robin does things like it’s nothing, Strike has to interpret the clues he finds to work things out and the rest of the characters seem to be completely incapable of even comprehending the events of the murder (which is more an issue with the negative portrayal of the police, who’ve blamed the wrong person in both cases so far based on little to no conclusive evidence, than other figures in the story).

So let’s look at another aspect. Robin manipulates a mentally disabled young woman intentionally causing her distress. It’s hard not to read into that since Robin seems like such a glorified self insert. Does Rowling have issues with disabled or ‘deviating from the norm’ people? I mean let’s look at the end of harry potter.

  • Peter Pettigrew – (hand missing) – dead
  • Lupin – (werewolf i.e. infectious disease) – dead
  • Mad Eye Moody – (missing an eye and limbs) – dead
  • Voldermort – (orphan of a broken home and mental illness re: psychopath/sociopath) – dead
  • Severus Snape – ( bad upbringing and a Mudblood i.e. mixed race) – dead
  • Dumbledore – (undisclosed at the time homosexual) – dead

You could extend it to a number of the dead characters really…

Okay the last few are not disabilities but those communities do face persecution to varying degrees even nowadays. ‘Oh but lot’s of people are dead by the end’ you cry… yes but a few of these are ‘list of the dead’ deaths and not given details or any dignity considering how invested people became with the characters over the course of the series while the ‘villainous’ ones above are made to suffer for the most part or a great amount of time is spent noting how deviant they are compared to the social norm. Rowling has an issue with working class people and generally anyone who doesn’t agree with her sensibilities it seems and thus they get reduced to caricatures who are somewhat lesser than the figures she wants you to identify with.

It was an amusing case but the whole ‘you could never replicate another person’s writing style’ seemed a weak keystone piece of evidence to hinge the case on. It suggests the culprit was negligent and that’s disappointing. Most of all it’s hard to ignore the sense that this is Rowling’s own ‘Bombyx Mori’ criticising people she knows in the industry.

Please give Katerina Varela’s YouTube channel a look as it is thanks to her the videos of all the key scenes of the case are all here for your viewing pleasure.


BBC Adaption Review – Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Overall the tone is awkward. It’s not dark enough to take seriously and so you start seeing all the narrative conveniences. The original book was apparently filled with dark humour and swearing but it seems both have been toned down for a general audience for fear children might see this due to Harry Potter. People, as a contrivance to push the narrative forward with little challenge, just seem to give Strike information with little if any justification – many breaching the confidentiality of information act time and time again. The characters in this challenge of deductive reasoning be they red herrings, antagonistic persons or actual criminals are all but given pantomime level depictions in terms of their overt antagonism.

Our leading man is an Oxford drop out ex-military police investigation branch member which is as Marty Stu a characterisation as you can do short of saying he’s a blood relative of Sherlock Holmes for a detective story. But he has a prosthesis. That’s his one permanent flaw. Everything else can be changed. He is the wish fulfilment figure for women who wish to ‘fix’ the men they’re involved with. Robin finds him down and out but through her presence he gradually becomes a better man if not detective.

Robin is… bland? I want to say bland but it’s more true to say she is a character who has no real issues (although I know how her major traumatic ‘character development’ revealled later in the series which… suffice to say it was hinted at but it’s still the most blatant ‘if you don’t sympathise with this character and fogive all her sins instantly after knowing this you’re a monster’ tactic possible). She is there as an audience surrogate but doesn’t seem to have much development beyond some quite generic ‘recognises the value in this gruff but talented man’ aspects and an innate ability to gossip and lie using a bad Liverpool accents on the phone. Her fiancé is portrayed as a bit of an arse in order to make Strike seem better by comparison and attept to force us to sympathise with her if nothing else. She has a job offered by Strike yet applies for another job and is offered it (arguably Strike’s job was temporary and she needed something more secure but the series never gives this point it’s due), gets given a dressas a ‘bonus’ for her help (which is a bit sexist ironically considering how far Rowling goes out of her way to declare herself a feminist) but overall she just seems to be another narrative device with little charm.

Their names are a little on the nose too.

Comoran, while being the name of an Irish folklore giant, is also one letter off cormorant (hilariously closely connected to a bird known as a shag in what has to be some of the most juvenile ‘pretending to be mature’ naming possible by an author I’ve ever seen) are described by the RSPB as

“A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Regarded by some as black, sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers and they have been persecuted in the past.”

… so basically the film noir detective of the bird world.

While cute little robins are described as:

“sing[ing] nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights.

… Robin. Batman. Sidekick. Also small but ready for a fight. Even Rowling had Strike acknowledge it in the book.

So our leading man is old school, a little pompous seeming and previously persecuted (and also he strikes!) while his sidekick is small but pluckyour grizzled male lead and his plucky, red head, young side kick and probable future love interest.

Show Premise

Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street, is wounded both physically and psychologically. His unique insight and his background as a Special Investigation Branch Investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases, which have eluded the police.

… Or, as with a lot of pulp fiction writing, ‘the police solved the case with the evidence at hand BUT THEY WERE WRONG watch as our intrepid, Ayn Randian wet dream of a protagonist,hero through brute force, social connections, illegal methods and sheer ‘right place at the right time’ luck achieves the impossible and reveals the truth! Women want him, men want to be him.

As mentioned everyone seems to have, even if only for a moment before dropping out, attended Oxford or Cambridge. The dual purpose being that Rowling is writing to reflect her audience because, it seems to her, only the most educated people apparently read books (apart from, of course, everyone who bought her books who didn’t attend one or the other of those institutions thus making her a worldwide best selling author rather than a literary curio) or these sort of things only occur to ‘the beautiful people’ and social elite whose lives are just so much more interesting than we common folk.

Often you would see that happen with Agatha Christie too but in fairness she was churning so many books out she needed to have as many instantly recognised short hands, e.g. people who go to Oxford or Cambridge are highly intelligent, wordly, knowledgeable and therefore would deduce with some evidence the facts of a crime, as many different locations as possible for variety to appeal (don’t like country estates? How about a village? The seaside? How about aboard moving trains?) and thus it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ since such culturally elite people were financially capable and prone to exotic foreign travel which still wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays so addeed to the writing’s appeal. It aso reflected the end of the Imperial era’s mindset of venturing into the world and conquering the local troubles – which in this genre’s case is usually a murder or theft. However Rowling is writing that era’s detective story in the modern age and it is an awkward fit resulting in, ironically, a far narrower world in direct contrast to the same figures about a century ago.

In case you’re wondering the second book involves the murder of an author so she fell into that classic ‘write what you know’ author specific trap that early in the series! Stephen King would be proud.

Not one risky step whatsoever is taken in telling the story. If asked ‘please give me the most stereotypical detective story possible’ no longer will we turn to Agatha Christie, who more or less defined the genre single-handedly so originated what others would copy until it became a cliche, but we will turn to Rowling… oh I mean ‘Galbraith’ though we all know it’s her. If you are from Britain and remember when the news covered that it had been revealed she had been writing under a pseudonym then it was this particular book that was being referred to. I guess, as far as the publishers were concerned, it wasn’t selling well enough for such a high value author so they needed to ‘leak’ her name to boost sales.

You can have cliché characters, I mean 90% of literary detectives from the past few decades could fit into the depiction of Strike, apart from his leg, and you wouldn’t notice. Grizzled, likes a drink, ‘seen things’ in combat/police work and generally dislikes humanity except when women throw themselves at them for a quickie. One day someone will write a cross over where one detective replaces the other and no one notices until they actually see their face.

I think my main issue with this adaption, on the assumption the book covers these things, is we get small, but sequence destroying, skips in events. For example does Strike ever lock his office’s entrance? It must be on a latch as every walks in and out of it freely and occasionally people are sat in there waiting though both Strike and Robin hadn’t been in since yesterday. It’s a narrative device we often unconsciously witness. As an example: if you see a character pick up a key the audience acknowledge this and therfore you can skip to them opening the door and without  literally depicting them put the key in the lock – but here we don’t even have the ‘key’ mentioned in passing let alone seen sometimes before seeing the results. In the context of this series it seems everyone immediately gives Strike their life story and not barrier stops him except for tension (e.g. the safe opening). Nor, if I’m honest, do there seem to be any repercussions to certain actions. Does no one wonder where Lula’s will came from when Strike hands it over? Do we really think it would be as easy as Strike pretending to be taking a phone call to walk right into the studio of Guy Some? The police detective seems to just give Strike case information freely without quit pro quo. Strike pays off a criminal to steal the Satnav from the car and it’s never mentioned otherwise.

Everything slots too easily into to place to the point there is no risk nor resistance to Strike uncovering the truth – he even gives chase through a crowded market with little issue though he has an apparently ill fitting prosthesis! It all just comes too easily. If solving the mystery, as with Agatha Christie, isn’t the focus then give us more nuanced character development not just characters who are deemed highly intelligent because you name drop Oxford and Cambridge, are not morally good or physically capable just because they served in the army (was the criminal suggested to be ex-military? If so the depiction of ex-service men as either hero or villain is damning and isn’t a positive considering how many in real life find themselves incapable of re-adapting to civilian life thus falling between the cracks if they’ve no support) and not strangely flawless just because they’re female.

Apart from Rochelle, who seems more a figure of pity, all the women seem successful intelligent and only have faults because of the men they’re involved with. It’s a strangely anti-feminist (e.g. ‘here’s a dress as a bonus’, engagement issues being the main issue for Robin and Strike’s ex seems to instantly not just get re-engaged but marrying someone else in what seems to be a very brief time period), yet simultaneously misandranistic, tone posing as feminist as Rowling has with women where they’re both depicted as perfect, highly intelligent, beings surpassing their male counterparts with ease in every way but at the same time completely reliant upon them though every man has so critical flaw making them anything but sympathetic save for Strike as the leading man whose only permanent ‘flaw’ is a physical one. Most of the male characters are depicted as unrepentant in their antisocial behaviour and yet our leading man Strike, to a limited degree since this is the first book in an assured series (which other authors cannot reply on happening so their characters will evolve over a book), has some small progression from a misanthrope drunkard to a man slowly overcoming his limitations and finding worth in his life. Which is implied to be thanks to our heroine and her plucky attitude entering his life and not his own personal development having closure on what seemed a mutually destructive relationship with his ex. He just hadn’t met the right woman yet to make him a better man. The closest we got to a negative depiction of a woman was Strike’s ex who, after apparently having a very troubled relationship with him which they repeatedly tried to repair, quickly moved on though it’s presented as hypergamy. Oh and the ‘blow job for a fiver’ woman who just seemed, in the context of the series, to be a repugnant caricature of working class people or those on benefits – which Rowling famously once was before the first Harry Potter book got published and found it’s audience. It’s the sort of depiction of the less well off you only see in works of the pre-Victorian literature unless it’s by someone like Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths or Dorota Masłowska and others where it’s used for social commentary to discuss why these people ended up like this and with their often jaded worldviews.

You don’t get that with Rowling. Bad guys are bad guys. Men are flawed and most can’t be redeemed. Women are perfect except when they rely on men. Men need a woman’s intervention to change. Working class people are very likely criminal scum unless they’re too stupid to be. Basically J K Rowling would like to be the 21st century Agatha Christie but hasn’t accounted, realistically, for shifts in both literature and society.


Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

An irreverent look at the first three episodes of the series which cover the first book in the series.


A quick introduction to our protagonists

Cormoran Strike

His name alludes to the bird cormorant however it’s actually the name of a giant in Cornish folklore, especially Jack the Giant-Killer. Strike is a very blunt indication to the audience of his manner. Considering the sort of names detectives have there’s no pont mocking how on the nose it is…

Has social connections currency (rock star father, supportive sister)

but is still down on his luck (has debts due to loans)

but even then can afford to bribe working class people.

Has fighting and investigation experience (Afghanistan veteran. Former military police.)

Limitations: A fake leg hence he isn’t fit for the army nor the police but has the skills hence he became a private detectives and moral convictions so he’s not a drug smuggler capable of knowing how to avoid detection.


Robin Venetia Ellacott


Office temp.

The first time she met Strike he nearly bumped into her sending her falling down the stairs but then he saved her by grabbing her by the breast. This is never made an issue of and you half wonder if they’ll mention it at some point down the road.

Offered a job by Strike but the teaser for episode two suggests she already has a job interview elsewhere. Commitment issues then…

Inquisitive/breaches confidentiality (looks up data on Strike in depth though somehow has never heard of him despite his father being well known).

Engaged to be married so not a romance option… yet.

Given an expensive dress as a gift at the end. Because that’s what employers do of course.

Limitations: Commitment issues. Ginger. Her middle name is Venetia. She is a sidekick named Robin helping a detective who wears a lot of dark clothing. Even Strike remarks on it in the novel. Wink, wink audience I’m not a lazy writer it’s all meta-narrative intertextuality. I didn’t even bother to change the spelling to something like Robyn.

Verdict: Robin is a self insert fantasy version of Rowling and the sort of man she would like to do the dirty with. Taming him like Kathy tried to tame Heathcliff except Robin is going to be successful.


The Case of the Clandestine Cuckoo’s Call

Episode 1

An introduction to the by the book cliches so we need never cover character development ever again. Ever. Even after the next ten or so books that Rowling has announced she has planned for Cormoran and Robyn to trundle through with their gradually building, unresolved, sexual tension.

A model leaves a party and returns home and changes into more comfortable clothes. Next thing we know she falls to her death from her balcony and lies dead in the street as the snow continues to slowly fall.

Three months later and it’s been ruled a tragic suicide… but is it? BUT IS IT?!

No, obviously, otherwise the rest of this show would have a very original ending for a detective series where Strike admits actually the police got it right. And Robin would be jobless but that’s besides the point. You tuned in to see a murder be solved not see the trials and tribulations of an office temp.

We begin when Robin, a plucky young point of view character, enters the scene.

She arrives at the office where someone angrily walks out.

We meet the dishevelled detective. Cormoran Strike. He has problems. He has a past.

The office is in disarray.

He is bleeding after a fight with his disgruntled ex-fiancée, Charlotte Campbell, who is exiting the scene. Also she plays no other role in the show except to cause Strike to go out and get drunk at one point so he and Robin can bond. So forget her name. In fact forget the name of everyone but Strike and Robin as they’re all cardboard cut outs you’ve seen time and time again in other crime dramas. Even in adaptions of Sherlocke Holmes no one notices if you omit Lestrade and Mycroft. Same thing for these books so I won’t bother with names for the most part.

As he chases Charlotte he accidentally bumps Robin who nearly falls down the stairs to her death. Except he grabs her breast. Heroic. How many women’s lives have been lost because a man feared to grab a woman by her chest when no other part of the body was in reach? We will never know…

He offers her the temp job. Maybe because he needs the help. Maybe to avoid an accusation of sexual harrassment. We will never know…

He heads out to go drink alcohol. Also to do research in places of group meeting. i.e. the pub.

Robin looks through his papers and looks him up online. Because you look up your employer after accepting a job obviously – and at work so you don’t waste personal time.

A squirely man, generically named John, comes to meet Strike and says his older brother, Charlie (who didn’t bite his brother’s finger), played football with Strike when little. Strike doesn’t remember him though he remembers Charlie. Ooh isn’t he blunt? Isn’t he honest? Already someones knees are trembling!

An investigative police detective offers him the police’s findings when meeting in a cafe. No pretext why… which is no doubt illegal. But that’s how it goes down in the dark underbelly of… wherever the hell this is set in London. Near a posh bit though meaning his office isn’t just run down but actively depreciating the value of properties around him due to how it looks. Really into that shabby chic look. Even has a completely random pipework piece of art on the wall to give it a more grungy look.

He goes to the apartment of the victim and the doorman lets him in to look around and there’s even a well timed coincidental meeting with the neighbours and their driver. Don’t worry the driver is irrelevant after a single conversation.

Strike goes to meet someone but UH OH it’s the uncle, Tony, warning him off the case! The uncle refers to his nephew John. Stop the investigation he warns Strike. John’s so jittery they’ve had to get a shake plate to counteract it as he’s doing structural damage to the law firms offices. He’s doing it at such a frequency he’s phasing through the walls now.

Then Strike walks down a street where out of the blue a working class woman offers him a blow job for money. Because that’s exactly what all working class women do with their day when you are a multi-millionaire author living in a mansion even though you yourself were on benefits once and should know better than describe them like that. He refuses but when he can’t instantly be given the information he wants from a drop in drugs rehabilitation medical clinic he pays the woman to create a distraction so he can trespass into the office, photo documents and contact the suspect.

He meets the suspect, Rochelle Lulla’s homeless friend she met at the drug rehabilitation centre, in a cafe but she runs away. However she only runs around one or two corners so even with the fake leg he keeps up with some effort.

During all this his leg gives him trouble going up stairs, and generally, seems to be an ill fit for him which he should get replaced. But after this episode it never bothers him again… in fact for a guy with a prosthetic he is rather sprightly… almost as if they never told the actor to be conscious that the rle required it whenever they did a full body shot…

The episode ends with him finding the homeless friend in a council flat lying dead in an overflowing, and steaming, bathtub. He tries to do CPR having first wasted time shouting her name in an over dramatic manner. Will she survive? This is the end of an episode and she isn’t Robin so obviously it’s no.

Also this show has really outdone itself. ‘Black guy dies first’ was in effect but also that women get it worse so the first two people to die are both black women… At this rate the door man needs to watch his back.

Episode 2

The homeless friend is dead. Life goes on. Apparently Strike is an Oxford dropout because we can’t trust anyone but a Oxbridge candidate to be capable of solving mysteries. Of course he is because ‘just’ being a former member of the military police wasn’t enough. He has a normal, if somewhat neurotically normal, sister who offers him a bed, which he refuses, and becomes instantly chummy with Robin as if they just instantly click. Meanwhile Strike goes to interview the dead girl’s mother and Lula’s boyfriend who wears a wolf mask because… that’s how Rowling sees the fashion industry? The model there strikes up a conversation with Strike. She was a Cambridge candidate… because we can’t have anyone who isn’t in the top 5% of society with money be a character it seems even for minor figures. She knew his friend and his father – but she assures him she hasn’t slept with them. Oh, okay, thanks… I mean did he need to know about that. Can you guess what happens? A detective meets a beautiful woman… come on… you don’t even need three guesses… that’s right they have sex because he is just that irresistible. She even likes the artificial leg. Then leaves him sleep in at her apartment as she goes off for a morning shoot. Because every detective is a lion sleeping on the rock in the midday sun.

After returning to the officer Robin tells him she didn’t gossip with his sister as if she did him a favour. She also tells him, after his given her a job that she’s got an interview for a HR job elsewhere and has written it in the work diary. I mean she is a temp so okay of course she has to apply elsewhere but to write it in the work’s diary is psychotic as if she thinks that’s normal and not throwing her current employment in his face. Strike visits the downstairs neighbours of Lula. Of course the wife is using the in door swimming pool because hey what well off past middle age woman doesn’t get introduced doing this activity? Oh also she wants grime like Strike. Because he’s a walking sex machine no woman can resist. He’s John Shaft – can you dig it? The doorman also uses that pool apparently we learn later. Robin goes to her interview, gives an incredibly vague answer and on the same day is offered the job… because that’s how life happens for some people apparently? I mean yes if you’re an internal applicant since you’re in the building but she is a temp from an agency presumably unknown to the company she just applied to.

Lula’s boyfriend is already in Strike’s office though the door was, presumably, locked. It’s never mentioned why he came in here and waited save we are meant to always detest him and suspect he did it. His characterisation is done so heavy handedly he risks going into a pantomime routine at any moment. Every scene he is in he is needlessly antagonistic to the point the only way he could realistically be like that is if he was permanently in withdrawal and mentally ill. But it’s never explained so ‘he’s just a nasty piece of work’ is all we can surmise. Also that he’s such a red herring that him actually being involved in Lula’s murder would have been a double fake out reveal.

So Strike figures out the neighbour wife was stuck out on the balcony because her husband is an abuser. We never have any interaction with the husband so we just have to accept this version of events. Women are always victims and men always broken in some way. So then we cut to Strike and the police detective discussing Rochelle’s (the dead friend) death. In a cafe. In the middle of the day. Apparently that doesn’t break any sort of courtesy rule let alone law leading to his immediate firing and likely sentencing for what might amount to an effort to pervert the course of justice if he’s unlucky. Nope – the metropolitan police are the reference library service of crime and you don’t even have to file a freedom of information act request to get extensive details from them.

Sometimes it seems like Strike assumes things and it happens to be true. A better writer might go with that and prove sometimes, even with his extensive training, he can be wrong by doing things by instinct.

So Strike talks again to the overly helpful doorman. Apparently the doorman uses the indoor pool. They seem to make a bit of a big deal about the fact he was away from his station for 15 to 20 minutes while going to swim. Personally I think he would be there longer if he did more than 2 or 3 lengths. Also, and more realistically, there are times when he would be away from the desk when he goes to the toilet. There seems to be some confusion between what a doorman does and what a guard dog does. He isn’t chained to the entrance. So the doorman gives Strike the CCTV recording of the night when Lula was killed. I guess as a pay off for not revealing he abandoned his post but still this is all a bit too easy…

Vashti comes up as a place where Lula tried on clothes on the day of her death.

Leather gloves come into the equation as they were a gift from Guy Some to Lula but the boyfriend also had a pair (why he has a pair of these unreleased fashion items is only, at most, brushed over next episode as Guy gives people stuff).

Strike finds clues like it’s going out of style. Oh wait no. They’re just being handed to him on a silver platter.

At the office Robin answers the phone and Strike’s ex is on the other end. He speaks to his ex and she has already, in what must be the space of a week at most, found a new man and is going to marry him. Hypergamy? Fear of becoming an old maid? We never know. She was a plot device to make us sympathise with Strike.

He says he’s going out for a while so Robin can shut up shop by herself.

She, for no real reason, goes looking for him and finds him in the pub from before. He is of course steaming drunk. However, unrealistically, he’s also terribly PC telling Robin she’s a good person and other such platitudes. The closest he gets to trouble is calling another man ‘beardy’ though of course he has something more than a 5 o’clock shadow himself.

So she takes him back ‘home’ to the office with a carton of chips.

He watches the CCTV on his laptop and announces ‘Got you’… because ‘oi beardy’ and wondering if he was about to get his clock cleaned would have been too funny a cliffhanger.

Oh and at some point he had taken his leg off and instead of putting it back on urinated in an empty cup and, when Robin offers the next morning to clear it away unaware what it contains, he quickly refuses and throws it out the window. If someone doesn’t find a clip of someone getting water thrown on their head out of the blue and made an edited together YouTube video of it then this is wasted potential. Also the uncle is having a fling with the abused downstairs neighbour wife (so maybe they get a happy end after the series though nothing is mentioned in the third episode).

Episode 3

We start immediately in a flashback of Sergeant Strike’s army days as part of a convoy of vehicles. A truck is blocking the path and he notices a guy use a mobile to phone someone. As the convoy is about to pass Strike calls out ‘wait!’ There’s an explosion. Next thing a boy, who was stood with the phone man at the side of the road, points an automatic handgun at Strike, looks at his missing leg and smiles before winking and walking away. The camera pans out and we see Strike lying on the ground with his leg missing surrounded by the corpses of his comrades.

He vomits upon waking. We cut to Robin, pristine walking down the road and arriving at Vashti’s to try on clothes and lure the shop assistant into gossiping about Lula’s last day alive when she visited there. Robin says Strike is her brother and when he turns up and gives his usual gruff offhanded assessment, after giving a a look up and down before revealing himself, that her dress is ‘nice’ and nothing more the shop assistant comments that her brother is like that too. With a little better execution this would have been an amusing scene but it loss a bit of potential in adaption.

Strike is still a bit hung over. Robin tells him what she learned about an abscent shop assistant having tapes a conversation with Lula where she divulges about being excited about meeting someone.

So it’s time to tick off another lead and they visit Guy Some at his studios which are filled with models and such. At reception Strike, unbelievably, pretends to be on the phone and walks by trying to blag his way in. Maybe it was meant as comedy or seriously – it’s hard to tell with this series. To be honest it should have been written a bit more as a comedy as it is so cliché. If it had been this series would be much better.

Guy stops them and calls them out on what they’re doing but allows them in. They go sit in his office and apparently his real name is Kevin. Again I’m not sure if this is meant to be funny or not. In fact he’s a little racist towards white people but nothing much seems to get made of it nor is it really commented on. Apparently that’s preferable to his story about how his father beat him when he wore a dress when little. They see the unreleased gloves and other bits which were given to Lula as a present. I think at this point Guy says he gave them to the boyfriend to so he’s off the hook finally.

So onto the next scene. They return to Lula’s apartment as if it’s got a revolving door. Strike bought flowers for no real reason besides a pointless face hiding moment. Why even return there really except to notice changes with are inevitable since it’s being cleared for the next tenant. They find a library card so Robin will go to the library tomorrow and do some research. Sure… I mean that was in your job description wasn’t it? He gives the flowers to Robin and this leads to her in the next scene having a minor conflict with her fiancé. He is talking of the future but she doesn’t know what she wants.

Meanwhile Strike is down the pub drinking and smoking.

The next day he goes to visit Lula’s adoptive mother. She insists on watching old movies which have a password on them for no good reason. The password is Leopard_1942. She says that’s the year she was born. Because you need to know she is old… no not just ‘of a more advanced age than myself’ no I mean the message is she is OLD O L D – the sort of old that children refer to when they speak about anyone who isn’t a child. Lula’s adoptive white mother is super old. So old. Practically dust already. Except… you know… there are still people that age alive and well so making such a grandstand of it is a bit convoluted but they treat her like she is over a hundred years old the way she behaves. The excuse of course being she is being heavily drugged medicinally so she is a bit out of it though it’s never specified in the adaption what the issue is save being terminally ‘old’. Strike bought some macaroons along to sweeten her up. She’s on a sort of drip feed medicine or dialysis machine so I don’t that’s wise.

So the nervous brother, John, appears. He tells Strike that Lula had been trying to find her birth father. I think it’s mentioned her birth mother was already dead.

Meanwhile Robin goes to the library and uses Lula’s card to see what books she checked out. Maybe things have changed since I last used mine but I’m pretty sure what she does using a computer there to see what ‘she’ last looked at doesn’t exist in real life. At the very least having access to digital copies of research papers… and if they were digital why would they need to be checked out when multiple electronic copies can be looked at simultaneously?

Strike returns to Vashti the next day and finds the other shop assitant there. He tells her recording conversations is illegal and demands a copy of it. So that’s some blackmailing going on there then…

Next Strike and Robin are sat where else but the pub.

Lula’s birth father was a Ghanaian academic but has died since. She shows Strike a photo of Lula’s birth father and birth brother. Strike recognises the belt of the brother’s military uniform instantly. He deduces she must have been going to meet her birth brother not their father. Well yes with the father being dead that would be the obvious answer unless this takes a turn for the occult.

Coincidentally the birth brother, Jonah, is still in the country and meets Strike at the embassy or military base. Her birth brother blames himself for her death as he couldn’t bring himself to meet her. Their father didn’t even know he had a daughter. He resented she was so well off while their birth mother suffered as Lula refused to aid her find her two missing sons before she died as she always sold her story to the press as she was so poor. Apparently Lula had informed him she was leaving everything she had to him and had wanted to piss off her adoptive uncle.

Later Strike encounters the uncle who immediately says he will have to add stalking to his charges against Strike for harassment. Strike says he paid the concierge to have an alibi though the uncle insists, from the very start, he had Lula’s best interests at heart.

Strike goes to a pool hall and enlists the aid of a down on his luck ex-soldier turned full time crook. He asks him to get someone to steal a particular sat-nav but not the car it’s in.

Robin turns the HR job offer down as she wants to be part of Strike’s line of work instead. She then goes home and has an argument with her fiancé. Out of the blue he makes a comment to the effect she will go sleep with Strike. He claims it’s a joke but there seems to be some previous event we, as the audience, are never told about which might tarnish our opinion of Robin. It’s a heavy handed scene to make us dislike him though we know so little about him. See ths guy? ‘I think he’s a wanker and you need to agree’ style writing.

Strike talks to the detective on the case and surmises that the killer will kill again if he needs to. Playa gonna play, killa gonna kill. At this point I do wonder if any women were ever under consideration apart from Rochelle. It’s a bit awkward the one working class character in the series to have relevance to the case was a former drug addict portrayed negatively (alongside miss ‘wanna blowjob’) while figures like Evan Duffield, Lula’s on and off boyfriend and depicted as nasty despite the drug use. The lower orders are animals who cannot control themselves apparently.

Back at the Creswel house the mother is drugged up and can”t remember anything about whether her son was there or not on the night. She then out of the blue comments on how her husbands friends were ‘queer’ and had good taste choosing John…

… um wait. Are we being told John a.k.a. Nervous brother was sexually abused by friends of the family? Or is she just severely homophobic (so we are back to the ‘so old…. she’s like a dinosaur’ image the show is portraying)? It’s a very out of place sudden moment.

Strike says he needs to use the toilet but really he’s going to go snooping around the house. There is usually a nurse present in the house so you would assume she was around but… I guess she was ‘using the indoor pool’ so she is out of the way without explanation.

The uncle arrives knowing Strike is there. How? Who knows but the pressure is on. Strike is in Lula’s old room, which he recognised by the red mittens her adoptive mother mentioned a few times, except actually it’s John’s room. He cracks the safe just in time to pretend to come out of the toilet and announce to the stunned uncle that he should give it a few minutes. Apparently the house had a few toilets which while possible would have been checked in minutes by someone determined to do so like the uncle just now.

Nonetheless Strike escapes with the documents. Next stop is the pool hall to pay off his criminal contact who laments that his ‘boy’ was very sad to have to leave the car where it was. Also he’s given a broken bike bell the robber also took for no real reason except I guess it was shiny and adds to a plot that never really gets developed during this adaption.

Back at the office Robin tells Strike she didn’t accept the HR job. He informs her that he probably won’t be able to keep her on once this job is done. She finishes for the day and… goes down the pub to cry and drown her sorrows. That must be one hell of a pub seat as it’s always the exact same pub and table they sit at.

Strike reviews the evidence. He has what is best described as a ‘recently on _____’ like episode recap of all the moments of the show so far in hopes the audience will instantly piece it all together. It’s trying to do the BBC Sherlock thing but on the cheap. It’s a bit embarrassing. Apparently when he said he ‘had you’ at the end of last episode he meant ‘I’ve a clue to follow’ rather than he identified the culprit.

John, with a bottle of wine, arrives to congratulate him on finding Jonah, the blood brother, to be punished for Lula’s death. Remember John, the adoptive brother, hired Strike to prove her death wasn’t a suicide, as the police concluded, but a murder.

But here is the denouement! He reveals the killer! He worked it out using the evidence suddenly… and because it’s coming to the end and someone has to be the culprit!

It was…

It was…

John! The guy who hired him!

Dun dun durr…

Strike had lured him out of the house via Robin setting up a false meeting and went and got the will. (Which I’m sure is illegal).

Strike tells him the following:

Tony, the uncle not the tiger, knew he killed her but couldn’t admit it to himself. How does Strike know this? It’s never really explained…

He lays out how Jon had the opportunity what with his mother being too drugged to know if he was home or not (oh also he lives at home with his mother – what a loser! I mean even if she is terminally ill let’s judge all people in a similar situation as weirdos right? Right? Because that’s what comfortably well off writer’s seem to be doing right now and ignoring the current housing economy and outdated things like family love), got the gloves at the flat to cover his finger prints (which is sheer coincidence) and framed Jonah for the murder (again how did he know Jonah was going to turn up? Another coincidence!) allowing him to remain appearing innocent. EXCEPT IT WAS PRESSUMED A SUICIDE SO HE WAS IN THE CLEAR IF HE HADN’T RANDOMLY DECIDED TO GET STRIKE INVOLVED. I have to assume he couldn’t find the will… but he had it already! There must be some other convoluted reason which the adaption glosses over.

He also knows he killed Charlie, john’s brother and Strike’s best friend when they were little, because he has the broken bell John kept in his car and the day Charlie died was the code to the safe in his room. The latter would be a memorable date and as for the bell it could have been recovered from the quarry Charlie fell into and John kept it in memory of his brother but… no it’s easier to suggest her took it from the crime scene when little as if to say he’s been a killer all his life. Some people are just born evil apparently and not because of circumstances moulding them COUGH-Voldemort and Snape-COUGH

The stolen will proves John is guilty. Maybe it wasn’t Lula’s old room but John’s so why did he have the mittens? A trophy? Maybe he wanted to be Lula. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s a repressed transexual. Maybe he’s bisexual. Maybe it’s Maybelline. The show throws out the hints but never confirms it just like Rowling’s other works. Dumbledore was gay – the evidence was there in the series you just never put two and two together but Rowling can’t connect the dots for you otherwise she misses out on that lucrative super-conservative market of readers. And if you don’t notice it you’re a homophobe!

It’s obvious that John loved his adopted brother but when Strike took his attention away John couldn’t deal with it and committed an act of passion! And then Lula was with her drugged up boyfriend he knew he could be better for her but she rejected him and it was another crime of passion!

… and that’s what happens when you over read into things boys and girls.

Anyway so the will proves he killed everyone. Lula, Charlie – even Rochelle who ‘knew too much’ and phoned him to tell him about Strike and ended up paying with her life for it as she was deemed unreliable too (if John had a major issue with drug use, whether due to daily seeing what it did to his mother or otherwise, in the books it clumsily included here).

Strike declares that money was a secondary motive to John. The primary one was envy. Why? Because John kept Charlie’s bicycle bell. John’s mother liked to categorise her children: the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one – but John was always second in his mother’s eyes. (So add implied Oedipus complex too while we are giving him every issue under the sun to demonise him as bluntly as possible).

The leather gloves were the fatal mistake. They are porous. Criminals sweat and so John sweated over everything despite thinking he avoided leaving evidence. How Strike knows this and that John didn’t wipe every surface as well as wear the gloves is beyond me though it makes logical sense. It comes across more as a bluff than astute knowledge unfortunately. I mean skin flakes and hairs would also be left behind inevitably to be picked up by a thorough investigation. At least this has up to date, if glossed over, modern forensics being mentioned.

Strike says criminals sweat – and John is sweating.

So do people who exercise… Getting thin to manipulate people. Building muscle to strong arm people. It’s all there. People who sweat are all criminals. And if you don’t exercise but are sat in a very warm room the police are already onto you too. In Summer everyones a crook.

So that is the ‘playground taunt’ necessary to start the inevitable attempted murder fight. John breaks the bottle over Strike’s head. Then they tussle. Then the bottle is broken and being lowered onto Strike’s neck as he resists. They throw each other about a bit and break the frosted glass of the the door.

Then Robin appears and hits John with a fire extinguisher through the broken window. However, now having the advantage, Strike begins to repeatedly punch the unconscious John repeatedly in the face until Robin tells him to stop. There are no consequences to Strike’s assault. Act of passion and all that.

Time passes.

Time passes.

So John’s mother is also dead now. Thus all the Cresswell family members are dead save the uncle. He maybe be an adulterer but it’s with a woman in an abusive marriage which makes it okay (apparently). He says he will honour Lula’s will. He says he didn’t know what happened with Charlie and wanted to protect the family. (I have no idea why Lula didn’t like him actually though that seemed to play a part throughout it all with everyone assuming there was animosity between them). Also he will pay Strike what John owed him. Which wouldn’t happen in a noir story – the detective would just be thankful he got out alive.

At Strike’s office Robin answers the phone which won’t stop ringing constantly. Hey guess what Strike bought her ‘a bonus’. It’s the green dress she tried on at Vashti’s. She reminds him she knows how much it costs. He assures her it’s fine as they’ve plenty of work so he can afford to give her a permanent job as he was able to pay off all his debts.

For the final shot he walks out side, lights a cigarette and walks down the road in slow motion.

The End.

Fun fact: I looked up things and the downstairs neighbour’s wife is the sister of the partner in the uncle’s law firm. So everyone is connected however if it was mentioned in the show it is a very blink and you miss it moment. Hence why they were having an affair. Also Guy Some called Lula cuckoo so that’s where the title comes from. She didn’t call anyone though at the time of her death so… yeah. ‘It’s just a cool sounding title’… There are a lot of small elements you would have to be intensely focused on listening and absorbing in a short period of time but the overall tone and pacing of the show suggests it’s more easy going that it is. In fact there is a lot the adaption glossed over to the point a few minor characters got cut.

The collections of scenes from the episodes were compiled by Katerina Varela so please go visit her YouTube page and show her some support.

I quite enjoyed the story, cliche filled as it was, but it did have a lot of conveniences and I’m guessing a lot has been lost in the adaption from book to screen including seemingly minor, but essential, pieces which connected the various dots of the narrative.

Well I hope that was enjoyable. I will try to do it for the rest of the series too. Next is The Silkworm so that will be up in a fortnight unless they mess around with the scheduling again as they did by having episodes one and two on consecutive nights then left about a week until showing episode three which concluded this case.


The Living and the Dead: Episode 4

Episode 4: “When a woman goes missing, Nathan must put his spiritual troubles aside to lead the rescue party. As he races to solve the mystery, Charlotte struggles with a secret of her own.”

Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Martha Enderby: Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Jack Langtree: Joel Gilman
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Isiah Cobb: Adam Ewan
Alice Wharton: Gina Bramhill
William Payne: David Oakes
Maud Hare: Elizabeth Berrington
Lizzie Merrifield: Sarah Counsell
Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Writer: Robert Murphy
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Sam Donovan

Victim of the episode:
Martha for being ‘different’. Jack for being a lovesick fool and because the creators believe the audience want karmic retribution making him pay for the previous episode. Alice the ghost girl who fell to her death or committed suicide while hysterical.

Autumn 1894 – A woman in a red dress moves through a forest as if being chased. Nathan, in his office, uses a Ouija board to call on Clarity Winlove as he still wants to know if she blessed or cursed Charlotte’s womb. The red dress woman calls out asking if someone is there. Scene duality for the win yo. Nathan is getting no results himself though. The woman gets captured suddenly. Charlotte is back from her apple foraging calls on him. Once he is gone the Ouiji board begins to move. and ‘Daddy’ is written on the mirror. DUN DUN DURR.

The hay wagon has been tampered with leaving the sacks spilt on the ground. Reverend Denning came to check on Nathan and notes the Ouija board on his desk. They discuss the fashion for spiritualism which he sees as a malaise and covering the grief of bereavement. Nathan asks him his view as his reverend. Transgressing against man and nature. Jack Langtree is suspected of being the saboteur.

Miss Martha Enderby, the red dressed woman, appears and is the school marm we are told. If you have been watching can you honestly say you say the actress in any of the community gathering scenes in the past episodes? I can’t personally. She is clearly in shock so Nathan offers her a stiff drink and Denning asks her if she remembered anything. She remembers nothing of course as she is still in shock. She speculates maybe if she got back there… then remembers Jack Langtree attacked her… but it also wasn’t him at the same time. Almost as if he were possessed.

Later Nathan speculates she is blocking out something traumatic and wants to take her back into the forest in order to go after Jack. Charlotte protests but Martha agrees as ‘Jack Langtree is dangerous’.

Nathan asks if Jack forced himself on her which seems a logical enquiry considering her behaviour. They then look for where Jack attacked her.

Charlotte goes looking around the silent house and hears a baby’s cry. She then vomits in a bowl as Gwen turns up. Pregnant marm? Pregnant marm… Let Gwen hold your hair there marm while you chunder marm…

Nathan asks Martha to recall things and Martha speaks of a girl Alice she was educating. ( For those who remember the song: all together now! ‘Alice? Alice? Who the F*** is Alice?’) Jack was living and poaching there. Alice was going to elope with him so Martha was hoping to warn her off. (she has split personality and the grabbing at the start was of lovers i bet). she challenges him saying people think Nathan is raising the dead but she thinks he is a good man. They see smoke coming from nearby.

Gwen makes a drink to stop Charlotte vomiting. Chalotte wonders whats in it and Gwen says ‘what you don’t know wont hurt you’. HEDGE WITCH COMING TO THE RESCUE. Charlotte reflects on matters again and ‘hope is better than no hope’. She asks Gwen about he sound of the baby asking if maybe a worker brough a baby in. Gwen says she doesn’t know. ITS FORESHADOWING. NATHAN ISN’T THE ONLY ONE GETTING GHOST ENCOUNTERS… but later in the series she refuses to believe him which in hindsight makes it seem like a severe plot contrivance considering what happened here.

Nathan and Martha find a still smouldering camp site by the mouth of a cave. Nathan calls for Jack but there is no response so he goes to investigate. Martha sees it as Alice’s room and asks what he’s done to her? She runs for air looking around the upper levels of the trees when a pale, blonde, ghost girl appears nearby whom she identifies as Alice. Nathan goes to approach her but Martha shouts ‘No!’. (She’s a ghost then I guess.) Martha wants to leave this place. Nathan points her in the direction of his house and tells her to inform his wife. Martha says Alice isn’t the secret flower of the forest. No because that’s an unsubtle metaphor for the vagina… because you know… lesbianism symbolism. Nathan tells her he will bring her home safely.

Charlotte rides a horse to Mr Payne’s stately looking home. He is handsome. He has llamas. You know at some point he is going to be involved in some sort of temptation storyline with Charlotte as the, at the moment, happily married woman. They have banter but she is here to ask a favour. She needs his wagons. He agrees to it. (I bet he sabotaged them).

Nathan is still chasing Alice though the woods. He comes to a narrow path between tall rocks and finds Alice collapsed there… turning her over he sees she is a corpse. DUN DUN DURR!

Charlotte arrives home on her horse but seems weary of something. She enters and calls for Gwen. (Gwen’s been hiding a baby unless DUN DUN DURR its foreshadowing about the modern-day matters being hinted at heavily). Martha is sat in front of the fire. She considers it ‘all her fault’. Alice was going to elope with Jack and she lost her temper and went too far. When she went back to apologise Alice was gone. Believes she would have overcome her infatuation with Jack if she hadn’t intervened. Nathan checks the corpse and sees blood on the nearby moss. As Martha tells Charlotte more of Alice Nathan brings the corpse back through the forest.

Jack is wandering through the forest himself looking remorseful for how things have turned out.

Charlotte believes people wouldn’t accept a friendship between a school teacher and a simple lady. she views the area as backwards, even medieval, then apologises for saying such. MORE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS BIGOTTRY. LETS HOPE THERE ARE NO EPISODES ON THE HORIZON WHERE WE ARE MEANT TO BE SYMPATHETIC. In reality, is such a small community, they would have. Oh except maybe this was the creator’s attempt at using ‘friendship’ as a euphemism for lesbianism – in which case I think you would find even modern urban societies would also at that time not look favourably towards their ‘friendship’. This is some bad writing.

Mr Payne arrives so Charlotte goes to greet him. Nathan arrives with the corpse of Alice. Like a cat that’s gone hunting. Alice was one of Mr Payne’s workers. Nathan asks for his help to apprehend Jack Langtree to which he agrees. Martha uncovers the body and sees the corpse of her friend. She and Nathan look at each other and he has Gwen take Martha back in the house. Charlotte questions him but Nathan asks she do as he asks. Be a good wife – love, honour and obey – just like you were so sycophantically willing to do in the first two episodes.

He inspects Alice’s corpse in a candle lit room while making written notes playing at being a proto-forensic investigator. Martha is staying with them and is shocked by the appearance of Alice’s ghost in the window.
Nathan later that evening declares to Martha and Charlotte he believes Alice was murdered that morning and discusses seeing her spirit. Martha denies seeing the ghost of Alice earlier suggesting he imagined it when he was there with her. He grabs her arm aggressively and asks what she is playing at then begins to shout at her claiming she is lying. Charlotte gets between them and apologizes for his behaviour. HIS FAITH IN SCIENCE IS BEING SHAKEN AND IT ONLY TOOK 4 SEPERATE GHOST ENCOUNTERS.

Nathan and Charlotte go into the corridor and she believes he has been in his study too long. Then the title of the series comes up as he is focused on the dead and she wants him to focus on the living. DRAMATIC DENOUEMENT – PLAY THE THEME TUNE!!! He then tells her about seeing the healer Miss Winlove’s ghost and needing to know if it was a blessing or a curse placed on Charlotte. She says she has given him everything she has but he has abandoned her.

He hears tinny voices and goes rushing to his study. He sees an electronic tablet speaking but it disappears and he doesn’t know what to make of it. I should note now they clearly indicate it is an iPad in a later episode by name in case you thought the BBC never do product placement. That is a hell of a strong back light on it considering how it lights things up.

The next morning he rushes outside to his horse as Charlotte comes outside to see him riding into the distance. Martha, inside, hears noises coming from an adjoining room to her’s. The door handle rattles. She opens the door and see the silhouette of Alice which then comes screaming towards her in a very goofy way. FORESHADOWING.

Cut to reverend Denning giving a sermon and children placing harvest festival offerings in a pile at the altar. TRAILER SHOT.

Jack is hiding under a tree from the mob hunting him down with rifles in hand. TRAILER SHOT. They find him and he runs away from them. Payne and a few of his workers arrive brandishing rifles. Payne spots Jack running in the distance and raises his weapon. However Nathan catches Payne just in time and calls him out on his conduct. Payne claims he wasn’t going to kill him and Nathan says he wants Jack alive. OH IS PAYNE BEING HEAVYHANDEDLY MARKED OUT AS AN ANTAGONIST? I THINK SO!

Gwen lock and loads a rifle saying if Jack Langtree comes their way he’ll have her to deal with. She also locked Martha’s door when Charlotte asks where Miss Enderby is.

Nathan chases Jack. Others appear with rifles. Nathan catches up to him. Jack thinks its Nathan causing the curse and persecuting him for all his ills. He considered Alice his angel who was going to save him. Nathan tells Jack he wants him to return for a fair hearing. Jack just wants him to bring her back. He’s seen him raise the dead and asked him to do it again. Nathan says he is ‘just a man, no more, no more’. So Jack throws himself off those same high stones that Alice did and dies.

Charlotte wants entry to Martha’s room but she just wants to be alone.

Payne asks if he wasnt guilty of murder why did he run? Nathan finds a book on Jack.

Charlotte moves a table from barricading the door. Chalotte tells her she believes Nathan saw something and asks why Martha lied and denied seeing it.

Nathan reads the book and Martha also recites the lines. ‘my love is like a red red rose… until the seas run dry. To my secret flower of the forest, love Martha’.


Jack loved Alice as did Martha. Martha always felt alone until she realised she loved Alice with all her heart. Then she sees the ghost of Alice saying if she loved her she wouldn’t have done this to her.

Nathan runs home as Martha monologues about how she was ignored because she was different. She then begins to choke Charlotte claiming to love her (Alice) challenging her why she laughed at her. She is delusional. Charlotte is choking. Nathan arrives and runs up the stairs. Gwen has already shot Martha dead and remains stood over the corpse pointing the rifle at it. Where was she earlier? We always see her literally at Charlotte’s right hand so it seems a plot contrivance she was absent without reason in order for Charlotte to get in trouble.

Field workers carry Jack’s body out for burial as the others ask where it will end as another of them is dead and he replies he doesn’t know.

Denning, in the church, approaches the altar and sees all the harvest offerings have gone mouldy and rotten. DUN DUN DURR (Actually this is a good bit of foreshadowing for the next episode in fairness).

Police take Martha away in a horse and carriage. How genteel for an attempted murder. Payne also departs after being thanked for playing his part. Nathan goes back inside to Charlotte. Martha murdered Alice with no possession or demon. It was because of passion and folly he claims. Human weakness. Charlotte says she can not remain here. She tried to kill her. He says he will protect her. He Loves her. But can he protect their child she asks. He is happy she is pregnant. It was everything they wanted and why they came here so nothing else matters but this. ‘the past is dead and the dead are dead. there is only us three’. and they embrace smiling. But we see him look pensively when she is unable to see his face.

STINGER CLIFFHANGER TIME. A modern car with the red coated woman pulls up to the house and she takes a baby asking ‘do you want to go inside?’ GET IT? THAT’S WHERE THE BABY  NOISE CHARLOTTE HEARD WAS COMING FROM.


A bit awkward of an episode. A modern audience is meant to take it as Martha was a lesbian but the problem is that women of that era had far more intimate friendships than nowadays. If you look at the story Carmilla by Sheridan Le Farnu nothing in it was lesbian in tone for the era but in contrast to today it certainly seems overly intimate but was normal at the time especially for middle or upper class young women.

Mr Payne just seems to be suddenly introduced here. I appreciate we don’t have to be shown every aspect of the Applebys’ arrival in the town in episode 1 but considering what we are shown you would think some reference to him would be made prior to the very sudden ‘we need help from someone (but someone who is equal to us not the workers who are portrayed as a sheep like rabble)’ moment in this episode.

Alice has little character development so her death seems little more than a weak narrative device. An object acted upon. What made her so appealing to Martha and Jack we never really get explained. She was inquisitive and wanted to learn. That is the motivation for protecting a youth not eloping with a lover.

So did Jack vandalise the wagons? I’m not sure if that little mystery is resolved or not.

When did Jack, or others, see Nathan raise the dead? It is mentioned a few times during the series and the only people you could argue he did that to was Peter and there were very few people present.

Really the time frame of this series seems to be about one episode per 2 months of them living there due to the passage from harvest to raining winter time imagery by the end of the series.

The image of Gwen as loyal servant is fine. People ‘knew their place’ as part of the class system. I take issue with the image of Gwen stood over Matha’s corpse though. It implies we are meant to see Gwen as badass or a strong woman in comparison to the other women this episode. What I see though is a clear glorification of violence. When did Gwen, a house based servant, learn how to use a rifle? We are never told and it neither came up before or after yet she seems to handle it like an expert. Was shooting Martha a reasonable response to seeing Charlotte being choked? Couldn’t she had instead struck her at the back of the head to knock her out (which still might seem severe but at least would leave Martha alive). No. No can’t be having any of that. Lesbians are degenerate. Might infect the other women folk. Death to her it is. So add hints of homophobia to the anti-intellectualism before. ‘Oh but that’s how people were back then’…. No. This series is presenting a very stereotyped view of the era and it seems minimal research was done concerning the issues of each episode. They are showing the worst of society each time and it makes the entire matter disagreeable in tone and execution.

The sudden turn of Charlotte from being loving , doting, wife to critical skeptic is too sharp. If they had done a better job of indicating her increasing disquiet I could accept it but it seems that the denouement before the ‘real’ story of the series begins is presented in a very heavyhanded manner making it seem forced rather than a gradual creeping development in the series. This goes even more so for how easily the workers leave the town. Many of them would have lived and worked in this community since birth so would know nothing of the next community over let alone have the drive or savings to abandon their homestead.

It’s a very heavy handedly written episode and it does a severe disservice to the story regarding Martha, Jack and Alice’s love triangle. There was potential there, especially in addressing the view of lesbianism in that era, but it is discarding in one of the most blunt ‘DRAMABOMB’ style sudden shifts in dramatic tone between its leads I have seen in recent history without it intended to be a shock. To me this is the turning point in the series where it tries to be far more clever than it is and its only downhill from here. What at first seemed like it would be an interesting series about science versus superstition – in regards to whether the ghosts are real or unclassified psychological issues – but decided melodrama is more important than consistency. If anything I feel this series is a veiled contempt for people who are not ‘normal’ under the guise of ‘oh but its set in the past and its that generations view of it’ when it often wouldn’t have been in reality. I will cover each episodes ‘people of hate’ in a round-up review in a few weeks hence why I explicitly note the ‘victims of the week’ with each entry. The series seems to want to deal with social issues but if so a lot of it’s topics are at least a decade too late.

The BBC seem to be uploading promotional images and such to the official site a few weeks behind airing the episodes on BBC1 which is annoying as I cannot post images of the episode I am reviewing in each post. Obviously they are preparing for the international market and are behind schedule. Fortunately I can return and add the appropriate image later but it is a shame for anyone who wants immediate reviews in the days following the episodes broadcast.

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Elena [2011 Russian Film a.k.a Елена]

The BBC’s description on iPlayer: “Drama in which a Moscow housewife and former nurse must take desperate measures to save an inheritance and solve all her family’s money worries.”

That is quite misleading and influences your perception of the film. Suffice to say I took quite a different reading of the narrative.

Elena (Russian: Елена) is a 2011 Russian drama film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize.

At the core of the film is the interaction, or lack thereof, between Elena, a former nurse, and Vladimir her husband who can afford to live in a ‘good’ apartment area due to his earnings but refuses to subsidise his in-laws despite Elena’s pleading. he has a daughter, Katya, from a previous marriage/relationship, who he hasn’t seen in a while, is unemployed, ‘turned out like her mother only interested in life’s pleasures. A goddamn hedonist’ and yet whom he dotes on so, its implied, she has a good standard of living with few if any responsibilities.

In contrast Elena,from a previous marriage or at least relationship, has a grown son named Sergei who lives in a much poorer area where there are gangs of young men and graffiti on the interior walls of the apartment building’s stairwells. His wife is named Tanya and the couple have two children. Sasha who is of school leaver’s age and faces the choice between the statutory armed forces enlistment (which is common in a few countries) or going to university which the family cannot afford. Elena often tells Vladimir that Sasha has health concerns and wants him to provide the money for the boy’s tuition costs. The is the central concern of the film as Vladimir refuses seeing the army as a good option. There is also a baby who I missed the name of but only seems to exit to reinforce the idea Sergei cannot afford to provide for his family as its yet another mouth to feed.

Here follow the notes I made while watching the film with a few additions. The important bits I will highlight. If you want the overall review just scroll further down. Nothing particularly humourous but, if like me, you want to know what happens in some films you will rarely find any reasonable synopsis on Wikipedia. So while this may seem cumbersome it’s probably one of the rare times you will see any significant account of the movie’s events. Go see the film for yourself as reading this doesn’t do the narrative justice and is just here in case you feel you missed something after viewing it.

The film begins by holding on a static image of outside the couple’s apartment for what seems like an eternity and a crow flies onto a branch. This holds far too long.
Elena dresses older than she seems. She is a grandmother though. This is how women in the mid twentieth century dressed not modern times.

Sergei’s son, Sasha, looks far older than he probably is. Hard life asking for money from your mother. (I’m not sure it’s ever mentioned he has a job throughout the film).
Sparse use of music throughout. This makes it more effective compared to the never-ending dirge you usually get in film scores. I’m reminded of the previews of Batman and Robin where they bragged about how there was only 5 minutes in the entire film where there wasn’t music.

(When someone points something like that out to you it becomes all-encompassing to the point other aspects get ignored. I don’t remember if the 5 minutes was during an important scene. I would assume so.)

Money concerns – will Sasha, the grandson, go to university or into the army? No one seems particularly bothered either way as they don’t mention making an effort to get the money for themselves or that they barely have enough money for basic amenities.

Elena and Vladimir sleep in separate bedrooms. he watches tv, she listens to another while doing small household tasks. Theme seems to be that everyone is living separate lives though everyone is in the same family. Here and at the end we over hear the television programme and perhaps its meant to offer a meta-narrative discussing the desire for self-improvement. Perhaps its being hinted Elena got involved with Vladimir because she thought it meant she would have a better life but, just like this aspiration programme, its empty promises and the reality is far more harsh.

She and Vladimir even use different mirrors. She uses a vanity table at the start when preparing for the day and he uses a bathroom one 24 minutes into the film.

Vladimir is the patriarch though doesn’t spend time with his in-laws i.e. Elena’s family. He calls Sergei her son so obviously never connected with them. Vladimir doesn’t want to pay for Sasha’s education and considers the army ‘the best school there is’. He sees Sergei as lazy for not being able, or perhaps willing, to provide for his own family. Nor does Vladimir care for Sasha’s health. He isn’t by blood their grandfather. He has a daughter and clearly doesn’t deny her anything. (We never even get the impression he has met Sergei or his family at all).

Vlad and Elena chat. She says she needs the money by the 20th. He says will give his answer in a week. There is a clear power divide between the two. Also as he uses the term ‘hedonist’ and she doesn’t understand the word so he is also implied to be far better educated than her. she does house cleaning. he will go to the gym. there is tension between them. is a blunt kind of person. no romance just grabs her wrist and says ‘come with me’ in order to initiate intimacy in the bedroom. Everything has its place. She giggles so it’s not against her will but certainly he clearly isn’t someone who takes no as an answer. Their home is a very sparse coldly designed apartment of stark edges etc very art deco but with pine and khaki tones. In contrast Sergei’s apartment is cramped and ‘make do’.

When leaving she gives Vladimir his bag but there is no thanks, good-bye or kiss. He just leaves and gets into his quite expensive looking German AUDI car. This is not a man lacking money. She is not so much a wife as an indentured slave it seems. He listens to classic music as he leaves the multi-story car park. Then changes it to soft rock. A moment later and he has to wait as a line of overall wearing workmen cross the road before him. A car honks behind him… then another long drawn out scene looking at him as he drives to what looks like a docklands area. Soft classical music in the background. It’s the afternoon already. He is at the gym. It seems very exclusive as it provides him with towels before he goes on a track machine. H checks out a young woman on another machine then goes to the water cooler and checks her out again before heading to the swimming pool. He is very isolated as the only person swimming. Yet another drawn out sequence of his swimming a length or two in silence. No one else is around to speak to. Suddenly he has a heart attack and is face down floating in the pool but the lifeguard is reading a magazine and doesn’t immediately notice.

Elena is giving money to someone for a delivery of groceries. she accesses the desk safe and puts documents in it before sorting out the groceries. The phone rings. She is told Vladimir is in hospital. We see a nurse having just finished attending to him as Elena enters. He coughs. He recounts it’s exactly how they met 10 years ago when she was a nurse and he had appendicitis. He wishes he could wake up back then. He jokingly says the girls at the hospital don’t look bad. The doctor and nurse arrive so Elena leaves. He asks her to call his daughter Katya. she does immediately. she tells her Vladimir wants to see her. Katya says not today, tomorrow. Elena wants to meet first though and so in the next scene they meet for coffee.

They meet in a cafe. Katya has a padded coat with her hood up and sunglasses on. She is clearly more well off that Elena or her family.

Elena addresses her as Katya while Katya greets her with ‘hello Elena Analtoievna which immediately shows the animosity she has towards Elena veiled as respect. It is the ‘proper’ way to address older people and was the common mode of address if you ever read the classics of Russian literature where everyone is addressed by their given and patronymic names except those who are close and use diminutives. Katya is indicating they are not familiar in her use of language while, by insisting on calling her Katya is trying to force familiarity. (It might not come across as blatantly obvious this is the situation but I thought the subtitles did a good job of indicating the relationship between them without deviating from the spoken dialogue). Elena tells her of the heart attack and that Vladimir is weak. Katya says dryly he has probably felt his way through all the nurses already. She seems unconcerned by her father’s ailment as it’s probably something that has occurred before. Elena asks her ro go easy on him. Katya begins to smoke after refusing the offer of anything to drink. She is not her for pleasure.

Elena says he needs love and asks Katya to show him that. Katya and Vladimir see each other rarely apparently though Elena doesn’t understand why but says it’s not her business. Katya agrees – its not her business.

Katya never calls him but Elena thinks she should. Katya feels Elena is blaming her, the prodigal daughter, for the lack of contact. Heart attack. Vladimir obviously was as intense with her as he has been with Elena. Katya accuses her of playing the worried wife and congratulates her on it sarcastically. Elena tells her she loves Vladimir. Katya doesn’t deny the relationship is no doubt ‘until death do they part’ but Elena is trying to cure him and by extension Katya. Katya says she doesn’t need Elena’s treatment ‘I am what I am’. She is like her father – unfailingly stubborn and self-assured. Elena asks if she is not sorry for her father, not at all? Though it maybe rhetorical Katya answers. ‘I dont give a flying fuck’. Elena thinks maybe it’s not such a good idea Katya see him today. She says maybe its best only when he is better. In spite Katya comments ‘then why not tell me only when he is better?’ then asks which room ‘papa’ is in.

Elena, in a sudden cut is at a church and the receptionist asks her to cover her head in the house of the lord. This is common practise in Eastern Orthodox churches of course so it is perhaps notable that Elena doesn’t do this automatically. Elena asks which saint she should light a candle in prayer to for her husband. A prayer for health she is told which the priest will pray for during the service and place a candle before saint Nicholas and the mother of God. she asks where those icons are. so clearly she is not a very religious person but is going through the motions… she goes to do it and prays making a sign of the cross. Is this truly out of desperation or is she playing the role of the good wife?

Back at the hospital what to me seems a pivotal scene occurs. If this scene was omitted then Elena would be unquestionably a protagonist but with this scene we question the morality we have seen her so earnestly ‘acting as the good wife’ Katya mocked her as.

Vlad is still in the bed with Katya having poured herself a drink and drained the glass. She has on a long white coat draped over her shoulders in the Mediterranean style like a catalogue model. She stands at the window seeming as though she is only here out of obligation.

Vlad says ‘[he] doesn’t see [her] much these days. She mocks that ‘[he] only saying this because [she] is stood by the window’. ‘Not in that sense’ he retorts. ‘There is no sense’ she rebutted. He mocks when he looks at her ‘maybe that is true’ and she replies ‘maybe then its a good thing [he] doesn’t see [her] so much then’. She goes to his bedside and tells him that she was ‘never his reason to live’. ‘And thank God as they say’ she adds sarcastically.

He tells her she is wrong but she adds that ‘money has always been [his] only reason for living’. He asks if she is ‘tallying up [his] life’ telling her ‘[money] is important to [her] too’. Though she denies it. He says ‘probably because [she] has never had to earn it [her]self’. ‘Maybe because [he] spoilt [her] she retorts giving her everything on a plate which he takes a s a compliment.

‘You know I love you, keep it coming’ she replies smiling/smirking. This is how they interact so it seems confrontational but is normal for them.

He ‘doesn’t know what [she] is making him pay for’. She mocks ‘[he] is priceless’. He ‘doesn’t know why [she] plays these word games’. “Games help children come to terms with the cruel laws of reality’ she says. Children is the word he picks up on. She says she isn’t pregnant. ‘Too bad’ he answers as it would ‘sort her out’. she says she is sorted – ‘alcohol and drugs only on the weekend. It’s clean living now’ although, she adds, she is ‘still getting sex and drugs under control… but im working on it, trust me’.

she unshoulders one side of the coat onto the chair she is sat on. he asks if she is smoking in the hospital. she asks ‘why, [he] paid for a big suite (private room) and does what [he] likes. he asks if she is serious so she takes the coat off and declares she will go to smoke where she is allowed. he asks her to hold on and asks where she got this [attitude] from?
“Genes, Dad, Heritage, A rotten seed. We’re all bad seeds. Subhuman.” he tells her to go have some babies as maybe they will turn out differently. She informs him ‘there is no such thing as different nor do[es she] feel like experimenting. its painful, expensive and pointless’. he tells her ‘everything with [her] is pointless’, and that, ‘those are stupid points to avoid that responsibility’. she tells him ‘it’s irresponsible to produce offspring who will be sick and doomed when the parents themselves are too. Doing it because everyone else does, because there is ‘some higher meaning’ to it all which is not ours to comprehend since we are just its executors. She indicates that by that logic ‘shit must be tasty as millions of flies can’t be wrong’. ‘And’, she adds, ‘in case [he] hadn’t heard the world might end soon’ mockingly.

he laughs and says ‘its strange but [he] feels better listening to her’. she tells him ‘that’s exactly why you breed – to suck the life from your children by asking questions like ‘where does this all come from”. he laughs. saying ‘[she] is a twit sometimes’. she smiles laughing and thanks him embarrassed slightly.

He tells her he loves her very much and offers her his hand which she asks if ‘we can do without’ but he insists. she mocks ‘what one won’t do for money’ they tease each other and he has her kiss him. they both smile embrace to kiss and are happy.

Critically here Katya has declared one of the aspects of Vladimir’s morality which he must have held in his earlier years but has set aside in old age. it feels as if she is mockingly quoting back to him his own sagely advice from her childhood. Why have children when the parents themselves are wretched? Could we not consider Sergei’s family to be such people? An adult son who cannot take care of his own family and seems to be relying on his mother to get him funds so his son, who he cannot provide for, can avoid the responsibility of being enlisted as he is clearly not fit to enter higher academia under his own steam? During the conversation they mention money but it never a case of her asking for it or what amount. It could be interpreted that they use money as a substitute for love but her it seems more plausible that although Vladimir clearly does give her money and she has a dry sense of humour they do care for each other but prefer to maintain a distance emotionally because ‘its easier’. Although during the film Vladimir notes he doesn’t see Katya often it is not said with any negative context and he doesn’t express a wish to see her more often. Physical distance allows they to have their own space but in direct contrast we have Elena who gets on a bus, regularly it seems, and visits Sergei’s family in their cramped apartment. This is not a case of ‘the haves’ versus the ‘have nots’ but rather two lifestyles which contrast so immensely we end up asking how things ever worked between Vladimir and Elena since they have such differing views on life. Just because Vladimir hasn’t seen Katya recently it doesn’t mean neither party cares any less for the other but as we view the majority of the film from Elena’s perspective and she ascribed to the socially dominant view if not narrative tradition that a ‘good’ family member should provide freely for another and be in regular contact with the others then a more passive viewer will immediately see this entire exchange as Katya’s empty gesturing in order to ensure her money provisions are secured.

However look at how she dresses as it tells us more about Katya’s perspective than anyone else’s clothing. Meeting Elena she has a heavy dark coloured padded coat, sunglasses (which a more negative interpretation might take as her hiding her real intent or having a hangover hence why she couldn’t go the previous day to see Vladimir), smokes in Elena’s face without acknowledgement and refuses the offer of a drink. Everything screams ‘closed body language’ and a desire to not engage with Elena even before she speaks. With her father she wears light colours, her jacket is draped over her shoulders and later removed, she drinks an entire glass of water, smokes at a distance moving to leave the room and even when offering mild protest and resistant she complies with her father’s requests and feels at ease talking and joking. You could argue that everything with Katya is a facade I suppose but the funeral scene later seems to weigh the perception to a more positive, if not slightly tragic, view of her.

A baby on a bed with a mobile phone. Elena is caring for her son’s baby while everyone is out working presumably. She jokes about it phoning its mama. she picks it up and they go to the kitchen to watch sparrows out the window. This scene is mirrored at the end.
Next Elena is collecting Vlad who is leaving the hospital and is told to observe his medication schedule carefully, that diet is critical and to do nothing stressful. the doctor recommends hiring a qualified carer but Elena says she worked in a hospital for years caring for people and the doctor says ‘perfect’.

We then have an extended scene of the young nurse from earlier changing the duvet covers and such on Vlad’s former bed, tidying the room and opening the window. Was there a point? Maybe to prepare us for what Elena will be doing as Vlad’s carer and what she had been doing throughout the time she has known him.

Vlad watchs the tv sports in silence. She watches tv in a separate room. She goes to check on him, puts the television off and closes the curtains as he is asleep.
The next morning she serves him breakfast in bed. There is silence. He has something to tell her but she reminds him to take his pills first. He has decided to write a will. She admits it makes her uncomfortable. He says its important and the right thing to do as everyone wonders what will happen when he is gone.

He says ‘the only people [he] has in the world are her and his daughter’. His daughter will inherit almost everything and she as his spouse (so they are married!) will receive a life-annuity. he comments he built it up so long and shot it out in ten seconds once he got to it. He asks if there is something she wanted to say. She hesitates and says yes but not concerning what he was talking about as it seems the right time. It’s about Sasha.

He says her son, Sergei, should be taking care of his own son. she is disappointed. He asks what were they thinking when having him. (So we see what Katya said earlier is either influencing his own mind now or he is only now expressing why he will not pay for the boy’s education). ‘Something happened. An accident. Twice!’ Vlad mocks. She scolds him it’s no laughing matter. He challenges that both children were accidents and now he is expected to feed them.

He says it’s not the money that bothers him and she says ‘of course not… you give it all to your thoughtless daughter’. Apparently this is a conversation they have had many times about the inheritance/money. He says not all of it and that she is sensible but Elena doesn’t know her. Its clear the two sides of the family never integrated well. Elena considers her ‘thoughtless and derailed’ but he doesnt want to hear it. She adds ‘and apparently infertile’. (cultural / generational values dissonance). he says that’s foolish, it’s just she isn’t like he and Elena. She says ‘of course’ sarcastically. She is nothing like her son and his family. (a class barrier between his upper middle class life and her working class family). He agrees and she is exaggerates saying ‘oh God’ yet again. (she seems to call on God often but as seen earlier is not a regular attendee of church so it is just a phrase to her with no meaning).

She asks him what gives him the right to think he is special – because he has more money, more things – it can all change. How he asks. ” the last shall be the first” she quotes which he comments are biblical fairy tales ‘…for the poor and foolish’. ‘Quality and fraternity are only to be found in your Heavenly Kingdom, Elena’.

He dismisses her saying she probably has a lot to do. She agrees and asks if he wants anything. Only that she understood him he says. She says she does but obviously there is friction again. He asks they discuss it like adults. He wants a pen and paper as the lawyer is coming tomorrow so he can sketch out a draft of the will.

An extended sequence of her in the kitchen sorting things and getting the paper.
She is then on the phone to Sergei. He asks how Vlad is. She tells him she mentioned Sasha and that ‘we’ll have to deal with this ourselves… He says it’s your job, as a father, to deal with the problem’. Apparently Vladimir is the only option for the money in her mind.
She says she is upset herself but thinks there is some truth to what Vlad said. ‘We’ll figure it out ourselves. We’ll think of something’. Sergei, having put the phone down, calls Vlad a tight arse. He then goes to the fridge and calls out to Tanya, his wife, asking where his beers are. She asks if he got to baby formula but he is more concerned there was a beer in the fridge before. Sasha enters and is asked if he did his homework. Yes. Silence. Tanya enters and also sits at the kitchen table. Silence as they eat crisps. She asks him the same question.

We see again a contrast between Vladimir and Katya’s relationship with that of Elena’s family who though physically close are emotionally unavailable to each other. Most importantly we have Sergei finally in focus. He considers Vladimir a tight arse for not giving over his earnings to his in-laws. He feels they have some right to claim the money. We get no impression Sergei has done anything to contribute towards Sasha’s university fees himself to at least in part provide for his own son. It almost begins to give validity to Vlad’s expectation that Sergei should be, or at least trying to, provide for his own son.

When asks if the essential baby formulae is there he is more focused on his pleasurable drinking of a beer. The implication being we see he is someone who, like his mother, puts on the front of being hard done by but expects easy answers and external influences to aid them not to do things for themselves. Perhaps this is all a statement on the failure of the old commune mentality where the state provides for you versus the contemporary capitalist society where you get what you earn (however you go about earning it).

Elena therefore goes through a transition at this point where she takes the initiative to claim the money instead of expecting a handout in the last part of the film. She seeks to ‘earn’ the money by taking it by force rather than expect a handout charity Vladimir who can provide it but refuses because Sergei doesn’t match the expectations of him.

Elena is sat in silence at her vanity table and looks at herself in the mirror. She goes to look at the bookcase and takes a thick book to read in the kitchen. A medical encyclopedia. She is looking at medication types and goes to look at Vlad’s prescription. Then she is in the kitchen making a vegetable smoothie to serve him with his pills. She even serves those in a small plastic tumbler like a hospital nurse would. Playing the role of the nursemaid. His room, she comments, is a mess because of the balled up rejected drafts. He says it’s all coming out wrong and he can’t focus/concentrate. She tells him to take his medicine first before anything else. She returns to the kitchen waiting tensely. He calls to her to take the bed table away so he can nap. As she is clearing she takes away his bedside phone so he can not call the emergency services.

She walks past a large collection of family photos on the wall and the camera zooms in on one of her stood alone on a forest path smiling. I assume its her. We haven’t seen this wall before so the photos are hard to focus on in their brief moment we see them and it could easily influence our perception of the characters’ relationships. Maybe there are photos of Vladimir or Katya with Elena’s family which would be a massive indicator of their relationships. It is definitely out of keeping with the sterile environment of the apartment we have been presented so far in the film. Silence. We cut to her frowning and waiting pensively. Silence. She moves about and finally goes to check. she puts her head against the door to his room before opening the sliding door. and sees he is dead. She crumples to the floor before going to check his pulse. She tidies the room removing all evidence of his drafted will before checking it and burning the crumpled pages in a glass bowl. She watchs the flames before then dousing them and putting the extractor fan on. She is flustered. She places the box of medication next to his nightstand.

Next we see her sat with a doctor who is incredulous that no one told her to abstain [from sex though they don’t say it]. ‘It is strictly prohibited after a heart attack’. Like little kids, i swear. Dumb teenagers have more sense’ he laments. She says he could be a bit more tactful. She is playing the bereaved wife just as she played the nurse and the concerned wife.

Katya arrives at her father’s funeral with a handful of long stem roses dressed exactly as she was at the cafe. Coincidence or is this to subtly indicate that she is not as frivolous with the money she received as Elena no doubt assumed? Does it symbolise she has shut herself off emotionally again? We see from Katya’s face that she is having a hard time to hold herself in and not break down. We see her sit down and everyone grieves in silence… except Elena who, as Katya had commented earlier, plays her role well as the grieving widow. She is comforted by someone in a military uniform. Who is he? We do not know. We see none of Elena’s family there so must assume it is only Vladimir’s associates. Maybe this man is who inspires Vlad to believe the military to be a valid option for Sasha. Perhaps it was not out of spite he commented that it was the best school but having seen how well this man turned out? We cannot know but again are given options on how to see the events of the film. People stood outside are called in for the final farewells segment of the ceremony.

Next we see Elena lying in her own bed in the apartment running her hand against the wall. Her family haven’t appeared to console her after the death it seems. she gets up and sits at her vanity table brushing her hair as she did at the start of the film and pinning her hair up. Vladimir is gone but nothing has changed. This is her routine. It becomes more apparent that perhaps he was the burden to her rather, as she presented it, that he resented her. She is the one who created the distance between them not him possibly.
We cut to Katya lying on a sofa as bells chime. The camera remains as she slides down and the church bells continue. No trousers on. She is exposed both physically and emotionally. The world moves on but her world has become static. (I forgot to note down what her apartment looks like but there is a lot of natural light and stylish, if utilitarian but definitely not flamboyant, furniture).

Then a cut to Elena with her face lit in profile but otherwise a scene of pure black and silence. She opens the window on Vlad’s now empty but tidied room. We hear the sounds of traffic outside. She is in the kitchen listening to a cooking show eating porridge. We see the screen of the TV reflected on one of the cabinets of the kitchen. The people are comparing various sausages and their worth/quality. What was her relationship with Vladimir worth that she so easily killed him? What quality of a person is she, and by extension her family, to benefit from his death so easily?

Elena, in a later scene, opens the desk and is removing things and putting them into a parcel she puts in her handbag. She checks herself in the mirror and leaves. It was dark here but the windows are all open and sunlight pouring in as she sits down in the living room area. Classical music plays. The phone rings. She goes down to the taxi she ordered. She is putting on her facade again.

We see her look listlessly out of the window of the yellow cab which mirrors Vladimir’s car drive earlier in the film.

In a long shot down a corridor we see a waitress prepare tea. actually its the lawyer’s office which is all pastel creams and window allowing natural light to flood in. The lawyer had visited Vladimir at the hospital but hadn’t documented his wishes, as required by law, in order for them to be binding. He states he is forced therefore, due to a lack of a will, that the principle of legal succession will enter into force. He left no debts otherwise she would be liable to creditors. (So his affairs were in order so as not to burden her it seems). We see Katya sat intensely listening to him with her hair down. She has a blazer, its sleeves crumpled up to the upper arm, and a water effect, wave patterned, blue and white top on under it which seems to denote transition from a spoilt daughter to an adult woman in her own right. No make up of note. Casual smart. As he died Elena is entitled to a portion of the property acquired during marriage i.e. their share of the common property. Katya draws her cigarettes from her pocket. Elena also inherits an equal portion of the inheritance on an equal basis as the other heirs in regards to his personal property.

However, in this case as they were married only just over 2 years, (so during the 8 years of the relationship they were common law partners or having an affair – it is hard to tell as we never hear anything about Katya’s mother) and no common property was acquired. So there can be no talk of a spousal share. Elena looks tense wearing a simple button up cardigan top and her hair pinned back. Elena is in control of herself but, with her hair down, Katya is not its implied in the visuals of the costume design. Elena will only inherit on an equal basis with Katya his common law and personal property. As, to his knowledge, there are no other heirs it will be divided between the two of them.

Katya mentions her father kept a sizeable amount of money in his home safe. (How would she know? Obviously he told her or we have been misled and she has been to visit him just not as often as Elena visit’s her son’s family). Elena claims there was nothing. Katya challenges this. Elena asks she believe her.

He asks if they would like a break as Katya gets up to smoke but she says continue ‘Right, Elena Anatolievna?’ she says and Elena agrees. Katya knows something happened but her hands are tied. She can only suspect and speculate as Elena was thorough in removing any evidence of her actions. It’s the words of a grieving widow against a grown daughter who still received money from her father.

We see Katya smoke often – which is common in Russia so perhaps not something of note but we could take it as her coping mechanism for stress. Meeting Elena is stressful as this is a woman who has ‘intruded’ into her father’s life without bringing anything Katya would consider a benefit to him. When in the hospital she is with her father who just had a heart attack and this too is stressful. We do not see Katya smoke at the funeral (I might be wrong about that) and her apartment – why? Is smoking only something to be done in the presence of others? Is it a social thing? Or, in her grief, she abstains from it. But the habit returns and she needs a cigarette to calm down when she knows Elena has taken the money but cannot prove it. But to reiterate smoking is not as taboo as it is here so maybe it is foolish to interpret it as anything other than what it is at face value.

Next Elena is on a train platform. She is sat alone and overhears conversations. (Unsubtitled sadly as they would probably act as a Greek chorus as the television shows do in this film). The train stops. A muffled voice calls out over the tannoy. People move through the cabin and the door squeakyly opens and closes. The train moves as she looks out the window. A dead white horse lies at a level crossing being inspected by a group of men stood over it. Symbolic – of what I haven’t a clue. Loss of innocence, death of the breadwinner, come to your own conclusions.

Smoke billows out of some cooling towers near Sergei’s apartment. Elena goes up and gives Sergei the money from the safe. Thick bundles of cash. How much? More than they could ever need. He says this is something they should drink to. Elena is beaming with joy at seeing how elated her family are. he asks if there is anything to drink and Tanya says there is something in the fridge. The baby is on Elena’s lap but Sasha is nowhere to be seen. Tanya pulls out a bottle of wine hidden above the kitchen’s upper cabinets. Was this her secret stash? It’s the only bit of characterisation for her we would get in the film if so. Sergei says ‘let’s drink to Vladimir. He did one decent thing in his life, at least’. Ungrateful parasite. Elena suggest they drink to Sasha. #she doesn’t even want to acknowledge Vladimir now she has her ill-gotten gains. Sergei calls to his son and gets a ‘what’ shouted back disrespectfully. He comes into the living room. Sergei calls him ‘college boy’. Sasha asks about the money and Sergei teases that Sasha has never seen so much in his life. As if Sergei has?

Tanya suggests toasting to a new life. Sergei tells his mother they have another surprised for her. Tanya and he are having another baby. She thinks this is wonderful. Sergei says if he has a boy he will call it Vladimir. Tanya hopes it’s a girl. Elena says ‘Yeah, a girl would be better! To a girl!” they drink to the toast. Tanya tells Sergei to go easy on the wine to which Sergei challenges ‘dont rain on my parade woman’. So they will have another child they couldn’t provide for and now have a windfall which they will likely waste having had no experience of dealing with such an amount of money.

The electricity to the apartment cuts out suddenly leaving them sat in the dark. Sasha mocks ‘Game over’. He had been playing games earlier and it seems this is the one note of his character. He speaks not as someone with his own mind but parroting the words of others from his limited experience.

Sergei says it’s probably just the circuit breaker. Elena grips at his arm so tight Sergei says she is going to break his arm. Is she scared of what might happen to him knowing that anything could happen? Anything like a wife killing you with prescribed medicine? Is she becoming a bit like Lady Macbeth? No. But it’s nice to think there would be consequences to her actions. Sergei goes to check and notes ‘looks like the whole building’s out.’ A neighbour calls back to him ‘the whole world!’ “Arseholes” he mutters as laughter is heard down the corridor from the gang of young men.

Someone calles ‘Hey Aleksei” as they check the circuit breaker box but no one knows whats going on. The whole blocks been cut off. ‘Arseholes’, Sergei reiterates, ‘they cut and we pay’ but Aleksei tells him to forget it. Sergei takes no responsibility for his own circumstances choosing to project it onto others. Now we really are challenged to see Elena’s earlier portrayal of the family in a positive light. There is an old saying regarding ‘who you are in the dark’ and we are being exposed to how there was some truth to the dim view Vladimir and Katya held of Elena’s family. The gang of youths walk past Sergei and Aleksei with Sasha leaving to go ‘on a walk’ so Sergei tells him to be back by 11.
Sergei asks Tanya if they’ve any candles. ‘why would we?’ she asks. The family doesn’t make plans for the future they live in the moment and so their circumstances are their own fault. They would prefer to buy beer and computer games rather than invest in their future. It becomes more apparent Vladimir was the back up plan for his money not a valid relative who was part of their family.

We, as an audience, begin to wonder if the division between Vladimir/Katya and Elena/Sergei et al was, as suggested earlier, due to the supposedly elitist father and daughter, a mutual disinterest/disdain or in fact spurred by some resentment by the less well-off family who were jealous of the others circumstances?

Sasha whistles calling out to Vitya and Lesha, his friends unseen until now unless they were part of the young gang Elena passed during her first visit to the building, he runs out to where the youths are. They ask what took him so long. He says his grandmother was on his case. She wasn’t and had actually brought him good news but he is ungrateful. Again we are shown that Elena’s family are undeserving of anything Vladimir would have given to them. They thought he chickened out and almost went without him. He gets offended and they tell him to calm down and offer him a drink which he downs so they tell him to leave some for them as he guzzles it. Clearly the sense of entitlement to others property isn’t just a characteristic of Elena and Sergei. He asks if ‘they’ are there. they all leave together. ‘They’ are an unnamed other and in the morality of Sergei’s family ‘others’ are to be hated without challenge or question. Vladimir and Katya are also other so its easy to see how in fact the animosity seems to come from the family Elena views with rose-tinted glasses and not the more privileged pair.

The gang walks down the road and across the dual carriageway telling a driver to fuck off when he honks at them. They go into the overgrowth by the cooling towers where a long tracking one-shot of them approaching the camp fire and they attack the people around it. One shouts ‘kill him’. It’s a gang fight with sticks and rocks being hurled. Sasha runs away as he is chased. He pulls a knife but Dima, of the ‘other’ gang, singlehandedly beats him and runs off with his friend. Sasha lies still. He is dead it seems but coughs and rolls over. A long-held shot as he rises. Elena’s family are easy to judge others but incapable of dealing with the consequences. If Vladimir had not died what would the consequences have been? We can only speculate but it goes without question this is not someone who deserves to be rewarded for his ill-considered actions. Just like his grandmother he resorts to excess violence to resolve matters when he feels he has lost control of them.

Elena is tidying up Vladimir’s flat with the baby crying on the vacant bed with Tanya eventually attending to it. They have moved in there. Sergei asks why they need sliding doors – he could put a wall in and Sasha could have his own room. Already they seek to change their surrounding to suit them rather than adapt. Elena says they can’t decide anything without Katya. Sergei says ‘We’ll figure something out’ echoing her words tellingly from earlier. She doubts it but he is sure. Sasha, as he did at the start spits off the edge of the balcony. A crow caws in the distance and he looks up and as he looks over his shoulder to the interior we see he has a black eye and a scar over his eyebrow.

Sergei asks his mother if they have any beer. She says look in the fridge. So he has moved into Vladimir’s apartment and now drinks his beer assuring the audience of his parasitic attitude. We hear the TV as he walks out on the balcony with his beer.

As the camera pans across the apartment we hear a contestant on a dating show (similar to blind date) saying ‘I don’t think it matters whose prize you are’
Another ‘he’s got qualities i like. he leads an interesting life, he’s got kind eyes’.

Walking past his son Sergei tussles Sasha’s hair. There seem no consequences to Sasha’s gang fight – if anything this seems to imply that Sergei approves of his son or, like his mother does with him, views his son’s actions through rose-tinted glasses.

Back in the room we hear the presenter ask ‘Choose Katya or Dasha, there’s no difference… whichever one takes your fancy.
You’ll be a trophy!’ other people on the TV say ‘that was so cool, you were better than all of them. Don’t listen to anyone’.

Elena, Tanya and Sergei are sat watching the TV. His arms are outstretched as though he already owns this place. His mother at his right arm but Tanya sat over on another seat. Elena asks if the baby is asleep which Tanya confirms. Tanya remarks ‘Elena Anatolievna, this is amazing!’ and Elena asks if anyone wants tea. Tanya offers to help and Sergei asks Tanya for nuts while watching the pretty women on tv as Tanya tidies the table mirroring the behaviour of Vladimir earlier. He has usurped Vladimir’s lace but is an ill replacement morally as he expects others to provide for him.

We hear the dialogue on TV again: ‘I feel like I am 90 years old, and I want to grumble because you are all younger than me, except Leonid. I think you are all empty-headed bimbos.’
‘Keep it in perspective or you’ll be sitting here until your pension’
The audience on television applaud.
‘She wants a lot, but she doesn’t know what she’s going to give yet’
‘Zhenya what did you think of Lena?’
‘I don’t know what to tell you. Basically… there’s nothing I can say.’

Could we not take the same view of the characters we have seen during this film?

Sasha is still looking out over the balcony and hears young men shouting as they play football. There is a long shot watching the players – some in black t-shirts and the others in orange tabards. Aspiration – this is what Sergei’s family are about but having now gained a better housing situation they are still dissatisfied and desire more. Sasha here still seeks to belong as he looks at the football players but it is aspiration not achievement. Talking of what could be but never making the effort to achieve it for themselves but instead rely on the work of others and if it is not given to them they resort to violence due to their self-assured sense of entitlement.

The baby sleeps turned to the side, just as Vladimir had done earlier, on his vacated bed. Music creeps up as the baby awakens and sits up.

We get the same shot as the start of the film of the window outside Vladimir’s apartment but this time with the family around the table instead of darkness. It’s a bittersweet ending. This image on its own is joyous but what was done to achieve it and if it is sustainable are questions they would rather ignore.

The cycles of behaviour continue unchecked. Elena is unpunished. The insertion of the scene between Vladimir and Katya if removed would have completely shifted the tone of this film. Selfishness won out. There is no justice. Vladimir provided for both Katya and Elena because, after sacrificing everything to achieve what he has, they are all he truly has. For all Elena knew he may have been giving her a greater share in his will but we will never know and she doesn’t care as she has got what she needs albeit through needless evil. If anything its interesting to see how one added scene can make you sympathetic to characters who in another film we would, as an audience, judge as the outright antagonists.

The BBC’s synopsis suggests to me no one actually watched this film but just lifted the description from elsewhere. There was no ‘saving an inheritance’ here but making sure Elena got as much as she could.

If I had to make a comparison in terms of what kind of narrative this is I immediately recall Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Here similar thematics play out as if Vladimir is holding back Elena’s family from living just as Gregor Samsa did his through invalidity. Both were the breadwinner in their mutual situations. Does Elena have any right to expect Vladimir to provide for her family? It is presented as if this is a given initially and if only he would provide the financing then all her families’ worries would be solved. Were they all resolved at the end? It seemed so although they expect to be able to alter their surroundings to suit themselves, Sergei wanting to put in a wall, and their behaviour isn’t fitting for their surrounds with Sergei being loud and Sasha spitting off the balcony.
They aspired to a better quality of life, have got it from their provider’s efforts, but don’t seem able to adapt to it. Metaphorically Gregor’s transformation is indicative of an incapability to change when his family move on and so he is left behind. In that story after Gregor’s death the family are seen to improve in their situation and so we question the ‘reality’ of the presented scenario. It is well note Kafka stated to never depict Gregor as a ‘ungeheures Ungeziefer’ (usually translated as ‘monstrous vermin’. Was Vladimir such a figure? Was his refusal to give all the money for Sasha to go to university truly monsterous? He at first wishes to consider it, then later gives reason for denying it and in later scenes we see that there was some validity to his assumptions (whether he knew it to be true of Sergei and his family or not is debatable). Certainly how Elena seems to serve him makes him come across, as Gregor did, as a burden to the family after his ability to provide is gone. As soon as he is gone, and Sergei’s family have moved in, Vladimir and by extension Katya are no longer a serious consideration in the family’s affairs though they benefitted from them.

Vladimir worked for his money, or at least we are never told how he gained his money so perhaps it wasn’t indicated well in the subtitles if it was by immoral behaviour during the 1990s. We can only speculate. Certainly he is a man used to getting his way as seen by how he initiates intimacy with Elena and it goes unchallenged he checks out younger women. Is this a sign of villainous behaviour, as Elena presents it, or merely the wandering eye of an alpha male as Katya teases him. We could speculate that he did have Katya’s mother around when he met Elena and thus Katya’s distance and disdain for Elena and her family could easily be explained but it is mere speculation. The more we learn the more we stop seeing Elena as the protagonist of the film and just as its focal point which is an important distinction to make. With the opening scenes we sympathise for her Cinderella like lifestyle of servitude but the more we learn and see the more we question until she crosses the moral line and the truth is slowly unveiled about how worthy of charity her family really are.

We as an audience should interpret the film for ourselves and I feel the BBC’s description of Elena ‘saving’ an inheritance is very leading and almost approving of the villainous behaviour of Elena.

‘but she had good reason to’ someone might declare. She needed to provide for her family and Katya would just waste it. But, in contrast Elena did not earn that money, as we see in the lawyer’s office very few if any assets have been bought since she and Vladimir began their relationship so everything we have seen was purchased by Vladimir’s money alone and as his spouse she has a right to half of it and, taking an Elena sympathising view, we are meant to feel she is ‘cheated’ of the rest of his property because Katya is also a rightful inheritor even though Elena stole the money from the safe rather than declare it. it is a point of argument and that is the point. There is no one universal correct answer here. Elena wants to provide for her family and they need the money. Katya is presented as being hedonistic but we only have the comments of other characters to confirm this. We, as an audience, only have what is presented in frame to interpret and it goes without saying that each of the characters has a bias.

Vladimir: Is he an emotionally cold man used to being in absolute control over people or a man putting up a facade to deceive himself that he is not as isolated as he is presented in all his scenes? He shows love towards Katya and speaks frankly with Elena about why he can’t provide the money. So is his love selfish, as he ensures Katya is okay but ignores others or is he a moral man who comes across cold because he must make such choices so he doesn’t allow himself to be manipulated by charity cases?

Elena: Is she more a live in carer than a lover? Katya is his stubborn daughter who he deeply cares for and despite putting up a front does sincerely reciprocate his love. Sergei’s family we never see him interact with but who Elena expects him to provide for. Is she truly a loving and doting wife or did she aspire to a better lifestyle and only later regretted leaping at the first and easiest opportunity for this? At what point did Vladimir’s fortune become the priority in Elena’s assessment of things – from their first meeting, as she aspired to a better standard of life, or only when he refused to subsidise Sasha’s draft dodge and she had an opportunity to ensure she got her desired result? Vladimir is an emotionally cold person towards her but one who guarantees, due solely to his money, a good standard of life. One which she wishes to share with her son’s family by ‘buying’ Sasha’s way into university so he can avoid the obligatory military service many young men of his age have to. Katya is the daughter from another marriage and things are cold between them. We never see Elena take Katya into consideration only consulting her in order to influence Vladimir when he becomes stubborn and to ‘play the good wife’. There is no love lost between the two. Sergei’s family she sees through rose-tinted glasses doting on them and travelling to see them.

Katya: Is she living off her father’s money or does he, as Elena does, provide to his child without question having never really cut ties as a parent? Does she see him very little because of some issue in the past like his meeting Elena which makes her uneasy? Did she and Elena ever get on at all? Elena calls her by her diminutive but is that sincere or an act as Katya doesn’t return it? Was Katya’s hospital visit all an act to ensure continued financial support? Does she just play the good, if emotionally reticent, daughter to him or does she truly care but has learned from him to keep her emotions guarded behind a facade of dry humour? What we know of her is generally given by other characters but we see her take responsibility by attending the funeral and the lawyer’s office and challenge, as best she could give the lack of evidence, the missing money from the safe. She is a character who practises restraint even at a funeral but at times shows her true personality which are positive characteristics like standing up for herself, mourning her father’s passing and calling out inconsistencies (the missing money). Sasha in contrast to her is easily controlled and does act out in ungrateful rebellion towards his parents despite being clearly spoiled by them.Is it just teenage rebellion or signs of him growing into an immoral adult who sees aggression as an effective tool to resolve conflict and get what he wants?

Just like Vladimir she puts on a front of being cold but it is a facade that is easily broken between the mutually loving father and daughter. Or maybe you think they, either one or both, are lying when no one else, except the audience, is watching which is a possible perception of the scene. Elena is an unwelcome figure to Katya. We must ask is Katya unaccepting, believing her mother (who I think is never actually mentioned) should be the only woman in Vladimir’s life and Elena therefore is an unwelcome interloper? Or does she know Elena to have never been a loving person and clearly only there for the inheritance? Katya I don’t recall mentioning Sergei’s family except when Elena mentions them and expresses the same view as her father: Sergei is a grown man and should provide for his own family not expect handouts.

Do we as an audience view Vladimir’s money support as being obligatory due to familial ties or as an act of charity Elena expects of him without compensation? ‘But she has put up with him for years!’ someone cries. And? There were other things Elena could do to support her family but she expects Vladimir’s money, which we later learn was all but completely earned before his meeting her, to be her money also. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too.

Certainly we don’t see Sergei or his family make any express effort towards keeping Sasha out of the army themselves. If anything it seems like an inevitability and something that would draw him away from the gang lifestyle he seems to be aspiring too. Of course in the 90s the people who profited the most were unscrupulous business men or criminals and Vladimir must have been one or the other we assume but both required risk and effort. Sasha wants the easy route, the criminal route, but in contrast we have Vladimir who worked for his lifestyle and who is resistant to giving someone he isn’t responsible for an easy life though he spoils Katya as a doting father. you could argue he is making up for past indiscretions but it is, like many things regarding his past, speculation on our part.

We can take the procession of events as either Sergei’s family fully expecting Elena to get the money for them or that, unspoken, there is a belief that Sasha would benefit from the army – after all when we focus on Sasha he is either involved with the gang of youths (and later is beaten up because of it) or playing computer games (which is quite lazy ‘older generation’ imagery for wasting time just as for their generation watching television would have been the equivalent though it’s now presented in a less judgemental way).

Sasha is the one character in the film we have focus on (Tanya plays the generic background wife and has no impact on the narrative whatsoever) where we do not have the option of interpreting his character. At the start he was heading out to be with the gang, then denied this he sits playing computer games and his father tries to bond with him while doing so to explain why he can’t, and then later Sasha, having defied his parent’s choice, is involved in a gang fight with the final scene of him being one where he is spitting off the balcony the family has moved into.

If this was an American film there would be a direct-to-video sequel where Elena tries to kill Katya too so she can get all the inheritance or thriller where Katya gets revenge for her father’s murder. Instead we are left with the image of a family given more than they deserve and wanting to change it to suit them rather than adjust and ‘improve’ themselves. Parasites. Parasites who leave us questioning if Elena began her relationship with Vladimir because of the prospect that his money would improve her family’s life. A selfless individual to those who sympathise but a parasite to those who see her behaviour for what it is: a lazy answer to universal struggle and one where she speeds the desired result up and steals the money from the safe getting half of his lifetime’s accrued assets for a few years of a passionless relationship having, as Katya puts it, played the role of the good wife.

Summary review: Elena is a divisive character and one who raises interesting questions about morality and society. The film is one I definitely recommend as long as you understand it is a slow-paced drama and it is all about characters’ interactions and coming to your own understanding of who is or is not sympathetic. Nadezhda Markina and Elena Lyadova are both fantastic in their roles and I hope to see them in more though all around the cast is tremendously strong. It is a film which is better reflected on, shared and discussed with others as there is enough space here to raise questions of morality and society’s expectations of individuals. There is no justice in the world – just your survival and ensuring the survival of those you love.


Elena – Nadezhda Markina
Vladimir – Andrey Smirnov
Katerina – Elena Lyadova
Sergey – Aleksey Rozin
Tatyana – Evgeniya Konushkina
Aleksandr – Igor Ogurtsov

Director – Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cinematography – Mikhail Krichman
Producer – Aleksandr Rodnyansky
Writers – Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev
Music – Phillip Glass

Quite a rambling review but the points are made. You could also take other readings of the narrative I didn’t touch upon such as how it reflects the failure of the social values of the Communist era where the emphasis isn’t placed on the individual to provide for society but of how much society can provide for the individual. Questions of how this reflects the inherent corruption of the Soviet system which has been internalized by those who needed to cheat the system just to survive and now expect to be provided for. It could be seen as a ‘morganatic marriage nearly a century after the October Revolution’ as someone said. You could even go as far as to argue it represents the conflicts of the early twentieth century in which the Tsar, having failed to successfully provide for his people, was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. It would be a bit of a stretch but it could be done.

Yet again I have an issue with WordPress’ layout system so everything has to be sectioned off so it isn’t a massive block of text…

Comment, Like, Follow – All are welcome. What was your view of the film if you have seen it?


Only The Brave – Musical [First Impressions and Story Synopsis]

Following is my initial impression of the new musical ‘Only the Brave’ premiering at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. I will write a more thorough review later this week.

First let me give you a few videos and information in case you are not already familiar with it:

Donald Gordon Theatre

Created by Wales Millennium Centre with Soho Theatre, Daniel Sparrow Productions & Birdsong Productions
Only The Brave
A New Musical

28 Mar – 02 Apr 2016

Previews: Mon – Wed £11 – £25* Premium Packages*** £35*
Thu – Sat £14 – £29* Premium Packages*** £39*

Age Guidance: 11+ (No under 2s)

Only the Brave is an epic new musical about love, friendship and, above all, hope.

Starring Emilie Fleming (Les Misérables, Oliver!), Neil McDermott (EastEnders, Shrek The Musical), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins, Les Misérables) and David Thaxton (Les Misérables, Love Never Dies), this moving new musical delves into the lives of the men and women who made the most astonishing sacrifices in order to protect their country and provide a better future for those they loved.

Based on the true events leading up to the D-Day landings, Only the Brave follows a group of men embarking on the ultimate mission, the friendship of two women united by love and loss, and the bravery of a young French girl determined to play her part.

In collaboration with the team behind the stunning UK tour of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong and with an original score by Cardiff born composer Matthew Brind, Wales Millennium Centre is proud to create and première this home-grown musical that will send your heart soaring.

Book by Rachel Wagstaff
Music by Matthew Brind
Directed by Steve Marmion
Original concept by Steve Coleman, Matthew Brind & Rachel Wagstaff
Lyrics by Steve Marmion

Synopsis and Review

I typed this on my phone during the intermission and after the show so some events may be out of order and it is a very scrappy account of the proceedings. As this is the first time this musical has been performed it is natural that you will not pick up the names of all the characters initially but, to the productions credit,  I found that they were all very distinct and I would suggest that any criticisms in this regard only be challenged by asking if the same critic can name all the individual protesting students, who each have a distinct characteristic, during Marius’ scenes of Les Miserables even all these years later after its international success and social osmosis.


The first few scenes had ‘muddy’ sound quality at the start and also something I will often come back to in the proper review: the use of simultaneous scenes occurring on stage leading the audience to miss events. The very first scene is of an old man, John Howard, in a care home lying on a bed who gets up and faces his younger self. We are introduced to Captain (later Major) John Howard and Lieutenant Denham Brotheridge courting their respective wives prior to enlistment. During this people run back and forth on stage to show the build up to war and it all seems very confusing.

There is a mix of song quality and nothing feels memorable but perhaps in time would be. Certainly the initial sound quality spoiled the opening pieces. The first few bits with moving stairs is overkill pre-enlistment as they never seem to stop moving them in order to impress up on the audience how much activity there was occurring. The lightweight staircases are used throughout the performance to emulate military locations, the small housing of the nurse’s office, at the start of the second half the aeroplane being flown and at the end the bridge they have their mission at.

As they are back projected a shiloette of one onto the ‘safety curtain’ I suppose at some point the production decided, of all the things in this musical, this scenery prop is what they want to be the iconic image. Phantom of the Opera has the mask, Les Mis has the illustration of Cosette as a child with the tricolor, Oklahoma has the map of the state, various musicals have the title done in a stylised way… and Only The Brave has a stage prop. It seemed an odd choice that this be the audience’s first image of the performance.

After the initial ‘we are real men’ macho events of John knocking out all his group during some boxing training (and he becomes regional champion possibly? I wasn’t clear what was happening as this part moved so quickly) to assert he is the alpha male and lead. Also at this point someone introduces Tony ‘Darky’ Baines. I think it is the ‘Jesus’ lieutenant saying “but everyone calls him that” but not John. There is no racism in his unit which feels like quite an anachronistic, politically correct, view. It may be true historically, as this is based on real events, but when we have Prince Harry referring to one of his colleagues by the nickname Raghead a few years ago, and such nicknames are common place in the armed forces as a demonstration of mental toughness and brotherhood, it seemed a bit too forced to suggest this would have been challenged in the 1940s. Hopefully I am wrong but it felt too forced a moment during the performance.

There is also a Welsh character who keeps turning up late to practise. I wonder, should the musical tour, if this role will be changed to which ever region they perform at or the character will always be Welsh thus presenting us as as dim witted, late to everything and as a potential liability on the mission. In the second half he somehow disappears after the plane crash only to reappear to deliver the same running ‘Sorry I’m late’ joke for the final time during a skirmish where other team members have died.

 John’s first, comedy relief, lieutenant is introduced saying ” I’m Jesus”. John looks at him blankly. “Jesus Christ College, Cambridge. You?” The boy, in officer’s uniform, assumes John is of the educated social elite, not working class, due to being in a commanding role. A few minutes later this lieutenant is joking to one side with another ‘elite’ about some one shooting a hose thinking it was a snake. John is not impressed and makes it clear to the general requesting a replacement. The general, whenever he pops up, makes french jokes such as “Whats the difference between a Frenchman and toast? You can make soldiers out of toast”. He does this a few more times throughout until the intel in the final act proves to have been useful and he says he always believed in the French. Another ‘upper class twit’ character.

We finally reach what would be the start point of any other production i.e. John’s first encounter with Denham and their immediate camaraderie. They bond over the fact they both like football, played a bit of it too, they both have, or will by the end, have pregnant wives. Good, honest, salt of the Earth, blokey, Working Class, subjects of conversation. Good old fashioned caricatures of what it is to be real men.

John’s group, unit B, is for good, hard working, salt of the earth, Working Class Lads not toffs. Really the start of the musical hammers this in. I have to wonder if this was to appease the Welsh audience who they no doubt believe hold similar views? John wants Denham as his lieutenant but Denham is dedicated to being part of Company D who he already belongs to. He insists and gets his way. Later on Unit D are mentioned again in a moment of appraisal from the general and sound like they were doing well while John seems to struggle between being a stiff upper lipped leader and ‘one of the lads’ at Denham’s insistence because “They will be more willing to die for you then”.

We get some training scenes, which are very well choreographed,  and the Captain becomes ‘one of the lads’ after buying them a crate of beers and getting dragged into going to a dance hall with them. His Lieutenant and he bond over their pregnancy wives.

So far I haven’t really mentioned the scenes ‘back home’ featuring the women. To be honest they seem an ill fit with the military side of the story. Its too awkward a juxtaposition and I think that, for me, it was more about how they segwayed between the two scenes or used the stairwells, with seating, to elevate the women chatting on sofa’s about ‘women’s troubles during the war’. The dialogue seems to do little except convey an oddly archiac stereotype of the mentality of women during the time. These are not women ‘doing their bit but preoccupied with being pregnant and recounting hearing from their significant others as if that is their lot in life. It almost feels as if these scenes are tacked on as if a producer, or someone else with clout, said at a late stage production announced ‘this needs more women’ and they had to accommodate at short notice.

However there is one female role , or two though the nurse’s significance doesnt become apparent until the end, which is well conceived. A French waitress offers to aid the resistance in France as she can speak perfect German and therefore would be a key asset in getting information to aid the cause. The nurse, who informs the resistance, refuses telling her she is only a girl. The girl, Isabelle, insists and the nurse relents. Thus Isabelle goes on to spy on the German officers who discuss their orders openly in the cafe under the mistaken belief she cannot understand them. There is a running side story explaining her motivation and I felt this was if anything underplayed considering the message of the musical. Her mother said the Germans did not belong in France and for this was tied to a tree, shot and Isabelle was told not to bury the body for 24 hours. During this time she held her dead mother’s hand and her hatred of the German’s festered. This backstory is played out low lit in the background of some of Isabelle’s scenes (performed by the other ensemble actresses) and at first felt jarring as it is in such stark contrast to other events in the first act which almost come across as an homage to the ‘jolly old war’ sanitised unreal tone of films from the 1950s depicting the events of war time squadrons.

In contrast to Isabelle, who is on the front lines risking her life, the wives back home become typists for the war effort and discuss a bit more how pregnant they are and if it will be a boy or girl and how they want their significant other to see the child (in case they die out on the front). Honestly the more I think about it the more it rings true that this has the tone of a 1950s film. Perhaps that was the intention though nowhere in the press releases etc did it imply this.

So the dance hall events come to an end and John is told that due to weight issues he should leave one of his men behind. He goes to ask them and says there is no shame in wanting to go home (well except the massive amount of ‘what did you do in the war daddy?’ style social pressure propaganda and living the rest of your life with that shame –  no none at all). No one volunteers. He is proud of them. Eventually he has the youngest, who is 16 not 19, and hasn’t even kissed a girl until tonight, not go on the mission and gives the crying boy a fatherly hug. He is a father to his men in case it was too subtle. We are men with gusto. No intellectuals here. Just good honest Working Class blokes. Wear our hearts on our sleeves. Do what needs to be done no matter the cost. Each has a purpose e.g the medic (Welsh as his mother was a nurse), the pilot, the munitions guy, etc. Also the General casually informs John he is now a Major in rank prior to the mission. At some point the ‘best marksman’ on the team shoots Denham in the leg during a training exercise but John doesn’t report him and Denham forgives him. (which later leads into the moral of ‘choosing forgiveness over vengeance is the braver act’ the musical wishes to display).

Throughout the musical the humour feels weakly implemented although I could chalk it up to the audience not knowing when to laugh (which is an annoying import from American sit-coms which have laughter tracks to tell you when something is funny and you should laugh like a trained seal) so the General is laughed with, not at, for his anti-French comments at the moment despite him being a caricature of the ‘stiff upper lip’ upper class twit you usually see in war films. The audience hasn’t ‘learned’ when it is appropriate to laugh during this performance yet… as much as I hate to suggest such a cue for audience reaction exists.

The German General and Officer realise that Isabelle understands what they are saying and reporting it to the resistance. The general leaves and the Officer beats Isabelle up. He then hands a gun to his teenage subordinate, who for no real reason mentions his father shot himself during the Great War, to kill Isabelle. He can’t bring himself to do it.  Last song before end act 1 is very good obviously as they want you to come back for the second half, and the stage fades to black with Unit B preparing to take flight in the plane, the German youth stood over Isabelle holding the gun and John’s wife holding their child stood on one of the stairwells as a symbol of the women left behind.

They over do it with the moveable stairwells. Technically good but story is naff patriotic material from an old movie.


A muddled start again as they simultaneously play out the flight and its difficulties, the wives in the typist pool and the young Germany demanding Isabelle give him some scrap of information to take back to his superiors in exchange for letting her go. The plane, represented by 4 of the stairwells being used in conjunction (rotating on stage with a back projected front of place window) crashes, the German youth holds the gun to Isabelle but ultimately let’s her go as he cannot bring himself to kill someone and the typing pool… types out letters of condolence. Sorry but the women’s scenes really are not gelling well with the other aspects. It may be the bright colours or the tone of their songs. It comes across as ‘well sucks to be you risking life and limb in the battle zone’ unintentionally. You are torn between focusing on the flight of Unit B or Isabelle’s impending death so the typists is an extra layer on top but clashes with the tone of the other parts.

Also there is a recurring mention of John having some form of issue with flying and we are finally told what it is as he lies shivering on the floor of the plane. He passes out at the start of flights due to nerves… or something. If this happened to the man in real life I understand its inclusion but it feels awkwardly included in this musical. I would prefer that when it is first mentioned by the General in the first half they just state it all then not have what amounts to exposition as they are flying into enemy territory. If it was omitted it wouldn’t affect the narrative.

There are a lot of pyrotechnics at the start of the second half so bear that in mind if you are of a weak disposition… or just don’t want to be caught unaware. It explains where much of the budget went and why back projection and the stairwells are the major props for most of the run time of the musical.

We then have the aftermath of the crashed flight. The stairwells are overturned and the soldiers are scattered across the stage. The audience hardly had time to take everything in. Personally I was focused on the conflict of Isabelle slowly walking across the front of stage with her back to the German youth who is begging her for some crumb of information so he can return without risk of execution (implied rather than explicitly stated) or otherwise he will have to shoot her. Isabelle doesn’t care for her own life only vengeance. He doesnt shoot her and breaks down.

A call is made to the General, via the damaged wireless, and due to poor reception it is reported John, now a Major in rank, has a ‘mortal’ not a ‘mortar’ wound but reported due to misheard think it’s mortal.

We then have a dedicated scene of the typing pool (actually the song here might occur later in a mirrored scene for Denham’s wife) who sing the generic ‘with sincere regret and apologies’ standard message they type in synchronicity ‘notices of the deceased’ letters to be sent to the families of dead soldiers and the General marches in to inform John’s wife of the erroneous news.

Then we have the most jarring scene of the entire musical. One of John’s men has bad nerves and is shaking severely. One soldier suggests having  a cup of tea to John’s disbelief. Suddenly the shivering soldier, miraculously recovered, shows he brought everything to make tea including a tin mug. John admonishes him saying that only what was absolutely necessary was to be brought. “But tea is essential” the soldier chimes back. What about everyone else then? asks John, at which point all of them produce their own tin cups and an extra one for their leader. A bit of humour during a tense moment. Personally I just found it jarring enough already but then…

In the middle of a stand off battle on the bridge where a tank is heading towards them the  soldiers sing about tea! What the hell? Then to one side the typing pool ladies also sing about having a cup of tea. We are British therefore we worship tea obviously. In the American version they would sing about coffee, the German version beer and the Russian version vodka it goes without saying. It is so out of place in tone it is almost surreal. I have to assume this happened in real life as this would otherwise be such a demonstration of inept understanding of narrative tone as to be insulting. It is the tone of the song more so than its subject matter though. Having a small comfort; be it tea, a keepsake of a loved one, talking of happier things, etc could be so much better implemented. in such odds it would be understandable a solider wanted some such catharsis but it could have been far better dealt with than a big fun music hall like jaunty tune of ‘tea is great, tea is the best, we love tea, its better than the rest’ song in the middle of a battle field. Reality is stranger than fiction.

Back to bridge n explosives guy does a solo while telling us his life story. He is a goner you think but no the damaged rocket device doesn’t blow him up. We then get a back projected tank image burst into flames while some more pyrotechnics go off. They notice someone was inside and one soldier runs off, against John’s orders, to save the boy. It turns out he saved the German  youth from earlier and so he is taken prisoner.

Isabelle and the nurse are both prisoners tied to a bed after being captured by the German General. The German Officer wants to shoot them but he is denied as the German General tells him that they are like birds protecting their nest and cannot be hated for this so he intends to keep them here until after the nearby battle. He begins the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’ and this is echoed by John during one of this musical’s simultaneous scenes. This is an immensely powerful piece and that it is the German General, not a member of the Allied Forces, makes it all the more powerful.

Although the musical plays up much to the patriotism of its influences at least in this regard it does the right thing. The German General and youth represent conscious human beings swept up in the globally genocidal machinations of their high command. The General brings to mind the respect that Rommel, the Desert Fox, gained from Allied Forces for being a humane and professional officer who ignored orders to kill indiscriminately. Whether this is more myth than fact is disputable but certainly it seems this post-war image of a noble enemy is present in the General’s depiction here. He and the youth (and by extension possibly it could be inferred the youth’s father) are still able to see the human beings they are fighting, and who have a right to oppose them, rather than an target that is to be destroyed under the justification they are just following orders from their authority figures.

However Isabelle cannot forgive. She intends to kill the German officer.For some could completely ruin the moment as it happens far too quickly after the previous song and we as an audience have not had time to process the proceeding moment. She is meant to be the contrast to John, Denham, the enlisted German youth (arguably) and the German General – they can forgive but she cannot. Not because she is a woman, as seems implied by the depiction of the British women, but because she does not have the perspective the soldiers have. They are men fighting in a foreign country and when they go home the barren, ash covered, landscape of the battlefield will be far behind them. They can look to their homelands while she is here, in the battle zone. This land which was once her home is now a burning hell of mortar fire, soldiers and death. She is as the German General describes a bird protecting its nest from invaders and should not be thought any less of for doing so. Another aspect of the forgiveness aspect I feel it quickly glanced over at the end is that we are seeing the recollections of John as a hospitalised old man and he met the German General in his later years so this is a reflection on his experiences not an unbiased presentation, even if glamourised and patriotic, of events. At the time he probably wasn’t as forgiving as depicted in the show but in time gained perspective.

The German officer seems to serve the role of ‘evil’ German as he is given no real character beyond following the party line and his orders – however this is as much as any of the other secondary characters so arguably he is in line with the caricatures we are otherwise presented with.

 Before the fly over the English General says he always thought the French were good people because of the useful intel he received which aids the war effort and saved men’s lives. So this character is redeemed I suppose. He seemed more of a mockable figure than anything.

Isabelle and Madame Vion tell each other their names as they had never done so before. This is a major turning point in Isabelle’s narrative as it is the first time she has shown confidence in another albeit someone who already knew her tragic history.

Hold onto your hats because the last sequence is so chaotic you will only be focusing on one thing. Isabelle intends to escape by grabbing the German Officers gun. During this struggle we simultaneously have this event, the Unit B soldiers at bridge in a fire fight,, John’s wife wanders about with baby. Stuff happens. Isabelle is shot and the German Officer runs off stage never to be seen again. Denham dies of his mortar neck wound and John throws the German youth to the ground wanting to execute him in revenge but cannot allow himself to do it no matter how torn apart he is by his friend’s death and let’s the boy go.  Then the wives in the typing pool know the operation was a success. John’s wife finds out he survived but Denham’s wife knows hers didn’t. They seemed to want to mirror the female characters but… it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.

Then immediately we are given a post log saying what happened to the real life people and the Old John comes back on as a bookend closing the narrative. ‘Welshy and Baines I don’t think are mentioned… so both of them were fictional then. The window washer/heavy arms guy just kind of snuck up in the second act as a notable character in Unit B…

The actors all take their bows. They come on a second time and the old man with no lines and on stage for all of 4 minutes gets a bigger applause than the actors who have been doing very physical work throughout. One of the women wanted to come out and take one more round of bows but the others wouldn’t come back out. That’s sad. This is the first night and its at Wales’ major theatrical venue… they got less of a response than a poorly received and performed middle of the road safe humour play with an actor decades out of relevance (Yes I am thinking of a particular play so don’t take this as my general view on showing appreciation to seasoned performers but the cast and production staff for Only The Brave deserved far more of a recognition considering the mammoth task they took on)

So… Welsh guys always late in training and the operation compared to the Englishmen so he is a mockable caricature. Lots of the moving staircases to the point it feels like they spent more time on choreographing that than refining the pacing of the story. The transitions and simultaneous acting out of differing scenes means the audience hasn’t a chance to absorb anything. Personally I focused on the Isabelle parts as this feels like where the production if further refined should  focus itself more. Show us the work of the French resistance and how they are not the mockable ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ that so often get depicted in American and British films.

Summary Review

Despite everything critical I have said this is a production worth seeing. It is in its infancy and WMC’s first home produced musical. I feel the setting of a World War 2 military operation was perhaps a bit too ‘safe’ a subject matter to adapt but if this is what is needed for them to gain their footing and move onto more daring matter in future I welcome it. The music is hit or miss for the most part barring the end of the first half, the ‘We Regret to inform you’ song and the title song ‘Only The Brave Forgive’. Nothing is perfect on opening night and I think with time with a few adjustments to pacing and considerations  towards how to meld it into a single coherent narrative rather than 3 which simultaneously occur this production has the potential to be a long runner. Remember Les Miserables and many other classics were damned when they first came out but in time found their groove, made the necessary adjustments to pacing and even removing or replacing songs before hitting their stride. This was a big undertaking and everyone involved should be credited for taking what is a historic moment in Wales’ Arts history. I am glad I saw it and hope to see it again years from now when they have had time and perspective to reflect what works and what needs adjusting. And now to end of some trite line like professional journalists…. ‘Only the brave forgive’ but there is no need to with this excellent, if currently flawed, production.

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