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

Young.

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.

Advertisements

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter

The performance I attended was held on Saturday 3 September 2016 at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

No Man’s Land is an absurdist play by Harold Pinter written in 1974 and first produced and published in 1975. Its original production was at the Old Vic Theatre in London by the National Theatre on 23 April 1975, and it later transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1975 – January 1976, the Lyttelton Theatre April– – May 1976, and New York October – –December, returning to the Lyttelton, January – –February 1977.

Setting

“A large room in a house in North West London” on a summer night and the following morning.”
Hirst is an alcoholic upper-class literature who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner, a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.

Cast

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, a man in his sixties
Ian McKellen as Spooner, a man in his sixties
Damien Molony as Foster, a man in his thirties
Owen Teale as Briggs, a man in his forties
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter.

DSC_0052zzzzzzz

Plot
“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

Act 1

A man in his sixties named Hirst begins a night of heavy drinking (mainly Scotch) in his drawing room with an anonymous peer who he only just met at a pub. Hirst’s overly talkative guest, calling himself a poet, long-windedly explains how he is penetratingly perceptive, until he finally introduces himself as “Spooner”. As the men are becoming more intoxicated, Hirst suddenly rises and throws his glass, while Spooner abruptly taunts Hirst about his masculinity and wife. Hirst merely comments “No man’s land…does Not move…or Change…or Grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent”, Before collapsing twice and finally crawling out of the room.

A young man enters and suspiciously questions Spooner, who now becomes relatively silent, about his identity. The younger man introduces himself as John “Jack” Foster before the entrance of a fourth man, Briggs, who is in his forties and who also unsuccessfully questions Spooner and then bickers with Foster.

At last, Hirst re-enters, having slept, and struggles to remember a recent dream. Foster and Briggs have also started drinking, and they refill the older men’s glasses. Hirst mentions an album of photographs he keeps, commenting on the appearances of the people in the album. He does not appear to fully remember Spooner’s identity, insisting that his true friends are kept safely in the album. He begins drinking straight from the bottle, mutters incoherent statements, and continues to ponder his dream—involving someone drowning—when Spooner abruptly says that he was the one drowning in Hirst’s dream. Hirst drunkenly collapses and Spooner now rushes in to Hirst’s aid, brushing away the two younger men and claiming to be Hirst’s true friend. The younger pair becomes defensive and accusatory, asserting their obligation to protect Hirst against “men of evil”. Foster openly criticises his own past, as well as Hirst’s impulsiveness and alcoholism. It gradually becomes apparent that Foster is Hirst’s apprentice and housekeeper, and Briggs is Hirst’s personal servant. All exit except for Spooner and Foster, the latter of who says, “Listen. You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this”. He flicks off the lights, causing a blackout.

Act 2

The next morning, Spooner, alone, stands from his chair and attempts to leave, but the door is locked. Briggs soon enters to deliver Spooner food and champagne, rambling on about how he met Foster and ignoring Spooner’s desire to know why the door was locked. Spooner thinks of a quick excuse to leave; however, when Briggs mentions that both Foster and Hirst are poets, Spooner show vague recognition of this fact.

Hirst himself bursts in and is delighted to see Spooner, whom he oddly mistakes for (or pretends) is an old friend. He speaks as though the two were Oxbridge classmates in the 1930s, which Spooner finally plays along with. Hirst and Spooner then bizarrely discuss scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of increasingly questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. All the while, Hirst refers to Briggs by a variety of inconsistent names and then launches into a rant about once-known faces in his photo album.

Spooner says that Foster, who now reappears, should have pursued his dream of being a poet, instead of working for Hirst. Spooner shows great interest in seeing Hirst’s photo album, but both Briggs and Foster discourage this. All four are now drinking champagne, and Foster, for his own pride and dignity’s sake, abruptly asserts that he desired to work in this house of his own choice, where he feels privileged to serve as famous a writer as Hirst. Suddenly, Spooner asks desperately that Hirst consider hiring him as well, verbosely praising his own work ethic and other virtues. After all this, Hirst merely replies “Let’s change the subject for the last time”. And after a pause worriedly asks “What have I said?” Foster explains definitively that Hirst’s statement means that he (Hirst) will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake. Spooner now comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.

20160903_192314

Production Design and Costume:

The safety curtain (well not the safety one but the scene setting one I’ve forgotten the name of) had imagery reminiscent of a dark, foreboding, forest and tattered edging so it didn’t meet the stage floor uniformally. Somehow due to the 2 or maybe three thin layers of gauze it had a 3D like effect.

no mans land stage layout.png

The single room setting of the performance has a semi-circular design, as if we were in the keep of a castle except the walls have a square glass brick effect (which seemed to be popular a few years ago or at least my local cinema and bingo hall use a similar effect) due tinged a dark turquoise. The floor has pale pine wooden slats following the semi circular design and a mat/rug with fleur de leis on it coloured deep turquoise and paler turquoise respectively. This carpeting is slightly off centre from the circular pattern of the floorboards as if to non-verbally indicate to the audience that things are not quite as simple and straight forward as they initially appear. To the rear, of centre to the left, is a window hidden behind heavy, dusty it seems, curtains obscuring any natural light entering the room despite the possibility of Hirst going out for his daily walk (which he refuses as it isn’t very light outside when he looks).

On the right is the single door on and off stage. A plain, varnished, wooden door. To the rear a well stocked bar with a cupboard in the bench hiding even more bottles. A few glasses are used during the performance as Hirst always needs another drink and often so do the others.

The room is sparsely furnitured. To either side are free standing lamps, the right of which has a small table with it. Three chairs populate the room. Two are simple wooden ones but the third, off centre to the left, is the most important. It is Hirst’s green Chesterfield chair which only he ever sits in as the master of the house. Next to it is a small side table which he places his whiskey glass upon. A trolley, with fold out wings and covered in a white sheet to make it a table, is used for Spooner’s breakfast at the start of the second half. It is wheeled in and abruptly out by Briggs.

Costume wise Hirst wears a navy three piece suit but for most of the first half this is replaced by a striped night gown. Spooner wears a dull great suit and in the second half for a brief time has on his Mac in readiness to leave. Foster and Briggs wear clothes in the style of the 1970s i.e. brown boots, leather jackets and bellbottom trousers. In the second half, with their roles as house staff revealed, Briggs wears a blue three piece suit, later discarding the jacket with his sleeves rolled up, and Foster reappears in the last few scenes in a pastel suit. In contrast to the Americanised version I have to immediately note Stewart didn’t have a wig during the performance I saw and I don’t think McKellen had a ponytail (and obviously the roles of Foster and Briggs were different actors).

Review:
The venue was sold out and it was the final night. As is often the case here when its sold out there was barely any room to move at the entrance as they put the programme selling stall at the bottom of the stairs which start right by the left side of the entrance doors. Across the small entrance way is the box office with one, maybe two, people able to serve through the small windows. Of course people queue here too and I haven’t accounted for the people standing around chatting idly having gotten themselves drinks from the bar. Saying that once you got up stairs there was more room, not much seating but that is to be expected due to the limited space.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the boxes were used for their original purpose of ‘being seen to be seen at the theatre’ thought they are renowned for their poor view of the stage. As it is they probably worked out cheaper than some of the stall seats for tonight’s performance.

The New Theatre used to be the premier location for stage plays in Cardiff but after the establishment of the Wales Millennium Centre it was quickly usurped and although still respectable it never regained this position. It’s heyday, during my life time, was probably around 1996 when Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, directed his stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya transposing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to a turn-of-the-century Welsh setting, emphasising the hardships of Welsh industrial life in the slate quarries and Welsh-English turmoil. Aside from the New Theatre and WMC Chapter Arts Centre, the Sherman Theatre and recently the Gates Art Centre have grown in prominence as venues for the arts in Cardiff.

The play itself I enjoyed but I think there is an important caveat to this: I knew what the meta-narrative of the play was regarding Pinter’s mindset when he wrote it and what it represented to him. What we see portrayed on the stage is not literal. Metaphor is heavily used in this play and the audience are hinted towards this reading when Spooner proclaims his joy at its use by Hirst in the first act.

Hirst is an old man at the end of his life consumed by memories which he cannot recollect with any accuracy. He often talks of a photo album he has and the faces in it yet he himself doesn’t recognise Spooner at the start and indeed we as an audience must ask if, when he does acknowledge him as a friend from his youth, if the conversation they are having is actually between old acquaintances or if Spooner is playing along and making up stuff which Hirst, being a braggard, pretends to remember but doesn’t. In fact we could ask if any of the characters, apart from Hirst, even do exist at all or perhaps speculate that they represent different aspects of himself – Foster as his young brash self who sees opportunities in the future and is very cocky; Briggs as his masculine side aggressive, objective and arrogant; Spooner as his poetic aspect and view of old age reflecting how, now at the end of his days, he thinks back to his youth but cannot recall it with accuracy and wants to ignore, if not outright dismiss, his old age from himself and instead ‘remembers’ someone drowning but can’t recall their face. Perhaps we take this as it is him seeing himself drowning metaphorically in life unable to escape from himself.

Of course there are many ways to read this play and that is, for the most part, intentional. It is however also its weakness as you must have some knowledge of Pinter, or at least writers of his generation, and how the use of language is multilayered with more than a single understanding. Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, (premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris) is perhaps the greatest example of this use of dialogue. Symbolism and metaphor are replete throughout the work and for an audience not prepared for this they may declare it pretentious as they are unprepared. If you have not watched a work like this before I think it wise to watch the film version of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (first staged in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) to see if this sort of play is to your liking. In fact it would be hard to deny the influence Beckett and Stoppard must have had on Pinter when you make comparisons.

It would be easy to see this play as a response to Waiting For Godot. There are parallels between Vladimir and Hirst contrasting that of Estragon and Spooner but in both pairs certain aspects are exchanged. Beckett, in a correspondence reflects that “Estragon is inert and Vladimir restless.” In a twist we see Hirst, who of the pair is the slightly better off as Vladimir is, is mostly sitting for much of the first act despite how spry he is in the second, and in contrast Spooner, a poet (just as Estragon should have been Vladimir comments) is very spry unlike Estragon who is mostly seen to be sitting or reclining. In Waitng For Godot it is Vladimir who is constantly reminding Estragon but here Spooner reminds Hirst. In the first stage production of Waiting For Godot, which Beckett oversaw, both are “more shabby-genteel than ragged…Vladimir At least is capable of being scandalised…on A matter of etiquette when Estragon begs for chicken bones or money.” In No Man’s Land Hirst is scandalised by Spooner’s accusations of youthful infidelity and, while eating his breakfast, Spooner uses the serviette as a bib instead of placing it on his lap (and indeed when putting his coat on forgets to remove it). There are many facets which could be explored in analysing the intertextuality of the pieces but that should be left for another time and place.

This is not a play of events but of moods. It is a dialogue about themes which often haunted Pinter throughout his career – most obviously those of memory and death. I highly recommend it but this is one of those occasions where you are better off knowing what happens so you can focus on the nuances of the actor’s performances. If I had a criticism of the one I attended it was the audience not knowing the tone. Some laughed at any point that might be potentially comedic, for example when Hirst collapses and then crawls out of the room, but these scenes could also be played very seriously (which I believe was the intent this night) so it seemed there was a dissonance between performance and audience on the night. Of course we must reflect that the line between a tragedy and comedy is a fine line. In tragedy we identify with them and their inability to prevent the course of events but in comedy we anticipate it and take joy in their suffering. I feel the play could easily be played to either extreme. Certainly McKellen was playing to the comedic angle while Stewart played a very serious figure and somehow, as hard as it might be to believe, they did not gel on stage although this may have been intentional due to the characters’ contrasting natures. As for Molony as Foster he played his role with much energy and easily interacted with McKellen who he has directed in other plays a number of times now. Teale as Briggs was suitably intimidating and stern. He did however remind me of Danny Dyer and, unsurprisingly, I discovered that Dyer had performed this role a few years ago in another production which lead me to question if Teale was imitating Dyer or if Dyer, by some fluke of nature, had discovered a role all but made for him he fit it so perfectly.

It was an excellent performance in every respect but the audience seemed to be at odds with the intended tone at times.

Outside the stage doors I didn’t see the autograph hunters who are always present at these things. There was an A4 printed sign in the stage door saying the cast would only be signing things to do with the production (i.e. Don’t you dare come here with things relating to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Stella, etc). After the show the theatre manager, who for some reason was wearing a full white tie dinner suit, said no one could take selfies and you probably wouldn’t even get an autograph. Ian McKellen to his credit tried to sign as many autographs as possible as did Damien Molony and Owen Teale. Unfortunately Patrick Stewart had to rush off as he was about to miss his train though he did try to sign some brochures before leaving.

In summary: Go and see it as it is a classic of modern theatre but know what you are getting into regarding Pinter’s intent. Don’t just go because there are recognisable names otherwise you will be lost when you realise it isn’t going to be as straight forward as something you watch on television or in the cinema.



Москва слезам не верит / Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)

Москва слезам не верит a.k.a Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears
Russian Cinema Council Collection

Quoting the DVD case blurb [sic]: “An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. This is a melodrama about life stories of three girls. Three friends Antonina, Liudmila and Yekaterina, come to Moscow in search of their dreams. Sharing a hostel room, the work and have fun together. Antonina soon marries a good man and settles down to raise a family. For Liudmila, Moscow is a sort of lottery, in which you have to pick a lucky ticket. She attempts to conquer this big city, but ends up a loser. The life of the third girl, Yekatrerina, is a contemporary Cinderella story. She had her share of disappointments, but did not despair. In twenty years she built up a career and became director of a big enterprise. A single parent of a daughter, she finally meets the right man and, after long and bitter years of loneliness, finds true happiness…”

So, in case you missed the awkward grammar, I am watching the official international release of the film from Russia and has subtitled done by a native Russian but English as second language speaker. There are one or two times during my copy where the subtitles are awkward. For example there’s one moment where a character remarks ‘We are like personages in a drama’ where the word ‘character’ would be more correct.I will use the translation provided by the DVD so some names like Lyudmila will be appear as Liudmila instead. Also although I refer to Katerina as Yekatrina this is apparently only present on the DVD case. All the signs suggest there seems to have been no proof reading or quality control during the DVD’s production sadly and I am sure it was rectified for later editions.

The film is set in two time periods: 1958, in the middle of the Khrushchev thaw,and 1979, in the middle of the era of stagnation. My DVD copy had two separate disks separating these time periods into two parts. I don’t know why but assume it is because it is a 1999 edition and dual layered discs were not yet commonly used at that point. It is a good breaking point but I don’t think the film had an intermission between these two parts originally.

The three main women represent the 3 stereotypes of women in Soviet Russia.

Antonina is the traditional girl – she marries early on into a secure home life to a husband who is deemed ‘nice by boring’ and has 3 sons.

Liudmila the ‘tart with a heart’ – she dates multiple men gambling on there being better prospects as long as you are willing to take a risk. Liudmila initially seems to have ‘won’ by marrying a sportsman but it is short lived as he is soon retired and borrowing money from her 7 years after their divorce – presumably with no children produced and her working in a dry cleaners looking for the next ‘win’.

Yekaterina is what society would like to believe in – A self sufficient, hard working and educated person who is a productive, successful, citizen overcoming her circumstances. A single mother who overcame difficulties through focusing on her studies in youth, worked hard for a very senior position in her company and was rewarded by the universe with a man who fulfils her. Arguably she is the most recognisable to western audiences as she represents the viewer’s wish fulfilment, common in films worldwide, though it should be noted the film, as part of this wish fulfilment, glosses over the day to day hardships she faced in those intervening 20 years during the time skip which were necessary for her to arrive at the position she is in during the second part.

Perhaps it is interesting to compare them with the men they end up with.

Antonina marries Nikolai early on and settles into a successful, if dull, marriage producing three sons. As Tolstoy said ‘All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. They play little influence in events save to be a safe haven for Lyudmila, who has no one else reliable in her life, and Katerina who has been so career focused she has forsaken all else it seems initially.

Liudmila, ever the hegemonist flirt, marries Sergei Gurin who is a rising sports star believing, at the end of the first part, herself to have hit the jackpot she so often speaks of. However in the second half we find her living alone and he comes begging her to loan him more money – even going as far as becoming physical with her out of desperation. When he is at bars he is recognised and never has to buy his own drink but is left unfulfilled with the hope of becoming a coach now his own career is over. Liudmila continues to flirt with any prospective men – even becoming jealous of a general’s wife who she believes has ‘won the lottery’. She otherwise seems to live vicariously through Antonina, who has succeeded in building a family, and Katerina who has a successful career. This leaves her in the role of acting as a sort of eccentric ‘larger than life’ aunt to the children or at worst a warning to Alexandra of what she will become if she doesn’t begin to learn from her mother’s example of taking responsibility and working hard but continues to rely on others and luck.

Katerina has a relationship with Rodion, a TV camera man (often to be found reiterating his view that TV will replace cinema, theatre, books and newspapers) who after a brief tryst abandons her to raise their daughter by herself. He even has his mother go visit Katerina to tell her to stop harassing him to take responsibility (although it was Liudmila calling to help her friend who had resigned herself to fate). Years later he is sent to interview a senior executive and doesn’t recognise Katerina initially. He then meets with her wanting to see Alexandra but Katerina refuses telling him she has done well enough without him in her life. Towards the end he arrives, unannounced, to Katerina’s apartment and, in anger, she tells Alexandra he is her father. I actually found this story thread didn’t get resolved by the end so, with how Alexandra interacts with Gosha, it is no doubt implied she rejects Rodion. At the start of the second half she is also involved with a married man who is cowardly and so she abandons him soon after we rejoin her. The most important of her partners though is Gosha who she meets by chance on a train going home after visiting Antonina’s dacha. He is a staunchly traditional man but, unaware of Katerina’s successful career, begins a relationship with her often expounding how it is a man’s place to be head of the household. Needless to say he finds out he will not be the highest earner in the house and immediately takes flight, more so over having been lied to than a bruised ego (although it is easy to argue either way considering cultural differences). There is certainly a middle aged Cinderella aspect to her storyline during the second half of the film and how she serendipitously encounters him on the train home after the arranged meetings club fails to find her a match suiting her expectations.

In fact Alexandra could be said to serve as a sort of epilogue to the accumulated experiences of the central female characters. Initially when introduced she seems all but a copy of Liudmila by being self indulgent spending her time listening to music and being no where near as active as the older women were at her age. Instead she seems to be relying on others for her pleasures as did Liudmila by dating various young men and using the dorm’s telephone as her number. However we see her develop once Gosha is introduced. She recognises the earnest morality of Gosha who, unlike her mother, engages with her involving her in cooking and other household tasks. When she admits she doesn’t know how to cook, which is very likely with her career orientated mother, he offers to teach her. Thus she is willing to better herself – not relying on improving her prospects by marriage or fortunate but through doing things herself. When he, without a second thought, goes to aid her boyfriend who has been ganged up on by her former paramour she wants her mother to know but he insists there is no need as this is just what a man should do. She begins acknowledging the value in others – he proves he is who he has presented himself as even though some doubt might have been thrown by how many superlative plaudits his friends bestow on him at his birthday (which he invites the unaware Katerina and Alexandra to thinking it no big thing). He is good for her mother and she recognises this in him even if it means she will now be expected to contribute to the home. When Rodion is revealed as her father, having forced his way into her life and upset her mother, we don’t see her reaction in any significance but considering the final scene it may be implied that she sees Gosha as more of a father figure in that he, without want of compensation, does what he can to fulfil the role acting altruistically towards anyone who needs his help. She has learned the value of hard work but, as evidence by her having a boyfriend, society has moved on but some things remain the same through the generations. So the future seems bright – she is still learning but has a strong community of support around her.

Conclusion
It was very good but definitely is a film of its period. The subtitles, done by a Russian had one or two awkward translations – e.g. someone saying ‘we are like personages in a drama’ where we would say ‘characters in a drama’. The way it was filmed was very 70s and films made in Britain had a very similar look from that period. US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”. I doubt he did as its such a hard concept to depict but certainly he would have seen its heart and that the world over people have similar hopes and dreams despite differences in language and culture.

I guess I have become used to older films being ‘remastered’ as my copy seemed a bit low quality despite being an official DVD from the Russian Cinema Council… But then it was a 1999 edition so maybe someone has improved the quality, in later released editions, since then as HD quality wasn’t a concern at the time.

What really stands out with the edition I have is the extras. Many of the main actors, the director, the scriptwriter and the composer are interviewed. There is a documentary about Moscow and photo galleries. The film comes with the original Russian dub but also a French and an English one. The subtitles come in Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Ironically though the back of the DVD states [sic] ‘Not for sale on the territory of the former USSR’ so it obviously is meant for the international not domestic market!

Aleksey Batalov (Алексей Владимирович Баталов) pretty much stole the show in the second half as Gosha. To put it in context his role is a Soviet version of the ‘manic pixie [boyfriend]’ trope as he seems all too perfect in his portrayal although he does have traditional views about being the man of the house. Such views were falling out of favour in their depiction in the west during the time of the film’s release but it has always been an element of wish fulfilment in romantic films that the female protagonist finds a man who can provide for her both emotionally and financially – so traditional values have never really gone out of fashion. The other characters I can easily imagine being in western films with little if any alteration so look out for that Hollywood remake (if one hasn’t already been made)!

This is one of the keystones of Russian cinema and an essential viewing experience for anyone interested in Russia, Soviet cinema or indeed world cinema. (Albeit I will add that this was filmed during more lenient times so those looking for a Stalinist era depiction, as is the common shorthand imagery used in western cinematic depictions *cough*Child44*cough* need to look elsewhere). The story is easy to follow and compelling. There are one or two moments of very brief nudity but it is very naive and a few moments of physical violence but nothing that wouldn’t be shown before the watershed (i.e. it is safe for all to watch). I highly recommend it.

Cast

Vera Alentova – Katerina Tikhomirova
Irina Muravyova – Lyudmila
Aleksey Batalov – Gosha
Raisa Ryazanova – Antonina
Aleksandr Fatyushin – Sergei Gurin
Boris Smorchkov – Nikolai
Viktor Uralsky – Nikolai’s Father
Valentina Ushakova – Nikolai’s Mother
Yuri Vasilyev – Rodion Rachkov
Yevgeniya Khanayeva – Rachkov’s Mother
Liya Akhedzhakova – Olga Pavlovna, Club’s Director
Zoya Fyodorova – Hostel’s Security
Natalya Vavilova – Alexandra
Oleg Tabakov – Vladimir, Katerina’s lover
Vladimir Basov – Anton Kruglov
Cameo appearances:
Andrei Voznesensky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Georgi Yumatov
Leonid Kharitonov
Tatyana Konyukhova
Pavel Rudakov and Veniamin Nechaev
Just as in Hollywood you might have someone like Bill Murray play a bit part in one scene as a cameo so you have the same here. I cannot say with authority in which scenes they appear but its safe to say many do so in the sequence where Katerina visits the ‘friendship agency’ in the second half where there is some humour about much older men wanting to be placed in the groups with women far too young for them.

Songs from the film

Bésame mucho


By Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina:
Александра (Alexandra)

Диалог у новогодней елки (A dialogue by the New Year’s tree)

By Klavdiya Shulzhenko:
Давай закурим (Davai zakurim / “Lets take a smoke”)


Usually when I review films I go into some depth but I am trying to self edit a bit more nowadays. Hopefully this post is compelling enough though I feel I have left so much out.

I found Star Media on YouTube and it has many interesting Russia films and series on there so I may be watching quite a few of them. Any recommendations of good older films, which they will be more likely to have, are more than welcome 🙂

The Living and the Dead Episode 6 and Overall Series Review

BBC Description for Episode 6: “After the events of recent weeks, Nathan and Charlotte’s marriage faces its greatest test yet.”



Credits:

Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Sylvia: Diana Quick
William Payne: David Oakes
Gabriel: Arthur Bateman
Dr Kahn: Sudha Bhuchar
Ben: Royce Pierreson
Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
Mary Denning: Marianne Oldham
Masked Man: Jacob Fortune-Lloyd
Writer: Simon Tyrrell
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Sam Donovan
Psychiatric Nurse: Syrus Lowe


… I copy/paste these credits from the BBC’s website. Why is the actor Syrus Lowe credited after the major production staff roles? Either someone was lazy adding it to the end instead of in correct order next to Sudha Bhuchar who he shares scenes with …or maybe its time to play the [play the racism card] due to an unintended slip up.


Victim of the Week: Nathan by his nearest and dearest (dead and alive and, unintentionally, not even born yet). Charlotte I guess due to her husbands mental instability (I don’t side with such aggressive behaviour towards the mentally ill which is excused due to the person being ‘frustrated’). The town as a whole really as the landowner has gone downhill rapidly.



Synopsis:
Nathan is stood at the edge of the lake mirrored on its surface. He demands Gabriel show himself. He will do whatever it takes to see him.

We see a modern interior and someone asleep in bed. Rock-a-by-baby is being sung by a boy walking down the corridor towards the woman in her bed. ITs red coat. She always looks cross-eyed. She asks what Gabriel wants. ‘Help me’ he says. The boy’s a bad actor. This episode is going to be fun…

Red coat is being served breakfast in bed by a man. It seems she is a mental hospital patient. I wish I could say I’m surprised but this series really comes across as an ardent skeptic told to write fantasy and so goes about it in the most half-hearted derogatory way possible. She is given her pills to take. She has a visitor so she can go down to the day room and he will take care of the baby. It’s going to be an inanimate doll isn’t it? She spits the pills out.

Red Coat’s name is Lara. Ben told granny Lara had admitted herself for seeing things. It’s her granny who has visited her. Asks how the baby is. Lara saw the boy. So did Lara apparently. It was blamed on post-natal depression. postpartum psychosis in Lara’s case. Granny brings an attaché case out and has Lara open it. Nathan is her great-great grandfather. RIGHT WELL THERE WE GO END OF SERIES – LETS ALL LEAVE NOW. WE KNOW THE UNBORN BABY THUS SURVIVES AND DOOPDY DOOPDY DOO WE GET HERE AND THE FAMILY HAS VAGUE TELEPATHIC ABILITIES CASE CLOSED. Gran calls him a handsome devil. Lara also see the boy’s photo. Granny recounts that Gabriel drowned. And then they look at Nathan’s work book from 1894 the year her mother was conceived. Lara photo’s them with her tablet. The Appleby house, Shepzoy, was sold when Lara was a baby and all of this was hidden from Lara’s mother (who at this point is the missing link of this family) but Granny reflects she should have let her know.

Granny hopes seeing this doesn’t make it worse. Lara replies maybe that’s what she needs – to get worse. to get better. (Movie logic which in real life would never be beneficial). The staff members, and Asian doctor and a black attendant (from earlier) discuss Lara’s request to leave. She claims the hallucinations have stopped though only last week she was reporting suicidal ideation. ‘And the family history’ she adds at the end. Lara’s mother killed herself when Lara was three months old. The doctor decides they must keep her in – under section if necessary.

Lara’s baby (who is real) is cradled by its daddy. He is mixed race. Why am I mentioning people’s’ ethnicities? Well recently the BBC have really taken to their equal representation policy seriously by having casts for as many shows as possible to have multiple ethnicities. If you saw the recent War and Peace production it definitely has a more varied cast than the 1970s version. In shows of fantasy or family orientated programming, such as Merlin, they always ensure this. My point? They had an all white cast in this series until this episode and seem to feel the need to include as many non-white actors now they can during the modern parts and its a bit of an overkill. They’ve had black actors in Charles Dickens productions before so they could have had some of the itinerant field workers be non-white without breaking the quasi-realism of the series. It almost feels like they believe there were only Western European Caucasians in Britain in 1894. Admittedly other ethnicities were much rarer but for their mandate I think everyone would have excused it. Is that why this series was premiered online as a box set? Because someone thought it wasn’t representative enough? That is an awkward situation if so. I would rather they just get the best actors for the roles than give the impression that they are being forced to follow a mandate when needed.

They say its a shame that she has to say but they’re the professionals and know best. She sends her partner to get a toy left in the day room while she steals the car keys and escapes with her child. They head to the Appleby house. You would think it is being lived in but apparently not. Partner leaves her a voice message noting his missing keys and child, named Lottie, and is concerned but just wants to know they are alright.

They arrive at the house and we see her enter as she did at the end of one of the other episodes. In the window we see Gabriel looking down.

Back in 1894 Gwen tells Charlotte that Mr Payne is waiting for her. so that’s his role in the story is it? To swoop in and save Charlotte? Charlotte doesn’t want to see him and asks if Gwen has seen her husband. NO. Unfortunately Mr PAyne has turned up and they have an awkward exchange similar to Hugh Grant in a rom-com. He has a proposition for her. Nathan appears dishevelled. Mr Payne hopes they do not miss the workers who hae abandoned their farm ‘a lack of faith’ he offers as reason. Charlotte says ‘we do not lack faith’ to which Nathan laughs disjointedly.

Mr Payne wishes to purchase the two acres of marshy land that border his estate. ‘By the lane? It’s worthless’ Nathan replies. Mr Payne intends to drain the field on his side and pump it. Charlotte says it is ambitious and takes a shine to him. Nathan stalks towards him commenting on him ‘advancing with your speculator’s fortune, step by step, parading you innovation and determination (So Nathan is no longer the man he was at the start, a man of science and modernity, but obsessed by the supernatural). Qualities he notes his wife admires. So he is also paranoid now. He says he was joking when Charlotte gets this impression too. ‘The bog is yours if my wife is willing’ he says as he exits.

She excuses him saying ‘he has been working late. Writing.’ Mr Payne politely says he is a gifted man. She excuses herself. She goes to Nathan and says she has suffered through hell with him and his madness. She asks if they can at least appear competent. Author on board condemning of mental illness rather than demonstrating how societal norms have changed. If the intention was otherwise this dialogue was a bit clumsy.

He notes she is being cold with him after she asked him to be more animated and that he had lost the spring in his step. She says she is going with mr Payne to look ast the land because they need more money to pay wages. ‘to keep going’ he mocks as he has clearly given up on life since the revelations regarding his son’s spirit still being around. He comments ‘A good man, an ideal husband.’ as she walks away.

In the field Charlotte and Mr Payne discuss matters but her dress gets caught on a rusty piece of metal protruding from the land. Is Payne a killer who has hidden his wife’s corpse? It seems like they want to hint this, or some other hidden agenda, but don’t dedicate to it.

Back in the house Nathan appears at the door to the kitchen surprising Gwen. He mocks that she took him ‘for a ghost of my former self’. She offers him breakfast but he says his appetite seems to have waned. He asks about her hedge witch cures. She is a witch (albeit actually quite a fair depiction of the ‘wise/cunning man/woman’ who used to actually exsist providing folk remedies and such to thier local community. I wish they had made more of this not just toy with the idea to explain why she had poison – in an era where posions in all homes were even more commonplace than they are now). He wants to see those. She shows him them in her locked case. He looks through the bottles. He finds a bottle of psilocybin mushrooms – hallucinogenics which Gwen claims are ‘to help explore a difficulty, to see it, to feel it differently. To be used with caution’. He says he saw them being used on two melancholy patients. One, a woman, broke through her malaise emerging shaken but much better but the other, a man, saw more tha his doctor bargained for before taking his own life. ‘kill or cure’. He finds a bottle containing deadly nightshade. She says she has only used a trace as ‘more could be the death of you’. He sees why she locks it, thanks her and leaves. Quickly she locks it again looking concerned.

Charlotte returns with Mr Payne and speaks to Gideon the foreman. They are short-handed but he has a merge collection of turnips. She commiserates the effect it has had on him being one of the few left.’Thems that left got fainter hearts’ he assures her ‘maybe we don’t need them’… but he is an old man and the signs of the strain show on him. She says he saw her with mr Payne. She asks if Gideon can help dig up the abandoned machinery there. Gideon wonders if that’s what he is after. Charlotte laughs about it being buried treasure. She thanks him and invites him to the kitchen for some warm cider brandy when he is done. He continues his work having thanked her.

Charlotte returns to see Nathan trying to see Gabriel in a mirror but she distracts him by appearing in it instead.

The reverend Denning is walking down the road as more people leave declaring to him the place to be cursed. He hopes may the lord watch over them and is returned the courtesy. Charlotte is walking behind them. The Reverend invites her into the Wheatsheaf to sit by the fire. In the now empty pub he gives her warm sugar-water and a dash of brandy. He asks how her husband is. ‘Somewhat remote. More so every day’ she answers. Then she begins to tear up saying that their baby is growing inside her and she doesn’t know what to do. The reverend offers to talk to him. There is a lot of people thanking each other in this episode.

Denning finds Nathan in the forest wandering. ‘Lost you flock’ Nathan mocks. ‘Always hoping to find one gone astray’ the Reverend answers back. Nathan apologises for mishandling him and for what he did to Harriet, Denning’s Daughter, but he is best left alone now. Denning says Charlotte fears for Nathan’s happiness. ‘What is happiness? A man needs peace of mind. you have your faith. You should be in a monastery. If I had it I would be. I’d sit in a cell. I would watch the light move from wall to wall. I would contemplate eternity.‘ Denning challenges him that he would not miss the world, his wife or the child that is coming? Nathan speaks of Gabriel which Denning believes is causing Nathan to fear that he will lose this child as well. But maybe tis not fear but guilt but the pregnancy is a gift. ‘A gift of God‘, Nathan mocks, ‘so it was God who took my son away, sending down this angel with her book of light to lead him to his doom, she who appeared to you daughter and to me? I fear… I fear she hasn’t Denning. His soul is living. His soul, which you believe, is not at peace. He’s isolated, he’s tormented.

‘Its YOU you are describing!‘ shouts Denning. ‘You in purgatory unable to move on. And its you pulling others into your unhappiness. My daughter. The village. It’s you Nathan!

Me. The lost soul? I must find a way out.‘ he replies.

Denning tells him to be with his wife not the dead. Nathan mocks that its sensible advice.

Back in modern times Lara’s partner has left another voice mail asking if she is okay as she checks the house. She breathes heavily… just to make it more creepy. The house is unlit and she is using a torch. She goes up the creaking stairs leaving the baby alone. Gabriel appears near the baby and looks down on it making it cry. Lara appears with the torch under he face. She has Nathan’s snowglobe and has found the cot. She makes the fire and they sit in that room. She listens to her partner’s voice mail saying he needs her to pick up the phone. Apparently he had also texted her. She texts back ‘Sorry I left like that, I just need a few days we’re fine’. It is 22.00 and she looks at old photos on her tablet. Hell of a battery life on that thing then. She looks at photos of Charlie, Martha, Jack and Nathan’s book. She notes references to a book of light and sees the stick figure drawing and finally pieces together its her it’s referring to. Apparently its an iPad specifically. How she can tell the brand of the item I have no idea but then this is part funded by American money so who knows. She hears a door bang and goes to investigate.

In the corridor, only lit by her iPad, she tells Gabriel she knows who he is. She wants to help him but doesn’t know how. Gabriel says ‘he wants a new baby’ and before she can explain he has disappeared.

Bak in 1894 Nathan is writing. He criticises Charlotte for not knocking and disrupting his privacy while he tries to find privacy. She says he doesn’t want the new baby. She asks if he wants her to fall down the stair and give him his miscarriage. ‘No, of course not.’ She says it’s what he wants – she can ‘feel it like ice’. He asks why would he want her to miscarry? ‘Because you cannot bear to be a father again’ she answers disdainfully then leaves saying she is going away from his cold eyes. ‘What do you think I’ll do, freeze the baby in your womb? And you look at me as if I’m the mad one. But it’s you. You’re afraid of giving birth, of motherhood, and so you project this infanticidal urge onto me, making me the thing you fear, which is not only unfair… but stupid!‘ She answers back ‘And you’re so clever because you found a profession where you could feel less damaged because everyone else is damaged more… and now down here you have to face it. There’s something wrong with your mind… and your heart… and your soul!‘ He attacks saying he can’t recall what he liked about her. She leaves holding back tears. He apologises after she leaves.

She walks across the fields with a hat on looking lost inside.

He is in his study taking baby shoes and other items out fo a box. He says ‘just us now just you and me’ looking at a photo of Gabriel.

The next morning Gwen apologises for arriving late and asks if Charlotte is there. Nathan tells her to take a few days off. He says Charlotte is gone and the sooner Gwen follows the better. So Gwen leaves confused.

In modern-day Lara is filming a walk through the dilapidated house going towards the kitchen. She is filming it for her grandmother. How does she know where this place is if it was sold shortly after her birth and no one spoke of it? Presumably the granny told her but it was off-screen. There are modern fixtures in the house so it wasn’t empty too long ago. Theres graffiti tags on the wall and Lottie, the baby, begins to cry again. She sets up a baby monitor so she can go explore the house. Quite prepared for someone who fled a mental ward and headed straight to the house. Of course Gabriel is lurking in the background.

Lara reads Nathan’s note-book recounting how Gabriel’s guardian angel was otherwise. ‘Who is the woman with the book of light? Gabriel saw her too. he drew her, thinking she was a guardian angel when she was the opposite… come to take him away. Did you lure him to the lake that day and let him drown?

She speculates, to thin air, that Gabriel wants someone to blame. ‘Well that’s not me‘ she states defiantly. ‘I am not here to be punished‘.

Gabriel is looking at the baby.

She is sat outside smoking wondering to herself what she is doing.

Then back inside she has a voice message from granny saying Ben, her partner, is worried and maybe Granny should have told her as it was ‘playing with fire’. Really? You told your grand-daughter in a mental ward about where she might find answers to her ghost delusions and you thought it was okay? Granny can guess where she is and is sure Lara doesn’t want her to say where she is but if she doesn’t come back soon she’ll have to. She says not to stay there to long.

…um yeah just do it now. She has a baby with her. Seriously. If you were that concerned you would. Don’t do this just for narrative conventions as it’ll still take them long enough to get over to the house so there is plenty of time.

Lara hears Gabriel singing rock-a-by-baby to the baby. She rushes over and sees him stood across the room from the baby. She begins explaining that Gabriel’s daddy wished he never lost him as she’s seen his notebook and that her would ‘give anything, ANYTHING, to have [him] back’

‘He didn’t save me’ Gabriel replies.

That’s not his fault, it’s no ones fault‘ Lara replies. Yes it is. Gabriel fell in instead of being cautious and he wasn’t supervised by someone who could save him. Hell I kind of hope it’ll turn out to reference the witch drowning thing as a sudden twist so it’s the townsfolk who are at fault hence why they kept on about how cursed the place was. Lara says Nathan is so desperate to see Gabriel. Does she think Gabriel will pass on just because she said that or he can time travel then? She tells him to go to him and tell him he forgives him. Tell him your alright. Well obviously Gabriel doesn’t. He’s one of those sorts of ghosts’ The sort to hold an everlasting grudge that can’t be resolved. Face it this is a horror film setting. Gabriel part 5: Ring-Around-The-Corpses.

Back in 1894 Nathan breaks into Gwen’s stash of poultices. Well actually he just turns the key. That isn’t very secure then. Did he get the key off her at some point? I know you don’t have to show everything of screen, in fact some director’s make it part of their style, but when you mention how a character locks something away and the other accesses it so easily you have to indicate why. ‘Plot convenience’ isn’t enough. So he heats something deadly. Swallows it. The camera pans back slowly and we cut to Mr Payne stood by the fireplace of the vicarage as he heard Charlotte. He heard she was there and was just passing. He has a pineapple. She notes how odd it is to just be walking about with a pineapple.He says he heard it was good for expectant mothers although it maybe hogwash. WOAH SLOW DOWN 1) She’s still married you lotharo and 2) that’s quite needy 3) we get it, you’re the more balanced guy and the better option for her with you indulging in hearsay but also happy to dismiss it.

She thanks him saying she has kind neighbours as Mrs Denning lent her a dress, which he says becomes her, just as Harriet walks in the room. He excuses himself saying he must leave her rest. Harriet calls him Charlotte’s guardian angel. ‘ wouldn’t call him that’. Harriet suggests ‘A saviour, perhaps?’

We cut to Nathan swaying back and forth before the fire in the study. the ‘do not cross the hayfield’ song from a previous episode plays. He is delusional and calling himself ‘one of them, a lost soul’. He hears Gabriel’s voice beckon him saying he is going to sail his boat.

Nathan goes down to the lake and relives the day Gabriel drowned. Gabriel was poking the boat further on using a long stick and leaning out over the pond/lake. (It might be missing the point of his costume in this episode but as Nathan is in an undershirt and suspenders he looks like he is from a tribute band for Mumord and Sons.) Of course he doesn’t save him and we see Gabriel’s ghost looking up at him from the pond’s jetty.

He returns to the house distraught and does a ‘I’m in distress/deep remorse’ pose of agony. Then he hears Lara’s voice speaking to Lottie. He chases her up the stairs and she keeps turning corners so we narrowly miss her. He gets to the end room and sees Gabriel stood there. Nathan is glad to see him and beckons the boy to him. Gabriel doesn’t move. Nathan asks if ‘she’ is here but Gabriel says he is on his own. (Was the actor told to speak in a monotone or does that come naturally – it’s not good and its unbelievably distracting in this pivotal scene. Also his ‘ghost status’ seems to be informed by having some wet/recently dried hair). He tells the boy he has been looking for him. ‘I’ve been hiding’ the boy replies. Nathan asks if he didn’t want to see him to which his son replies ‘you didn’t want to see me’. Well that’s realistic kid dialogue so well done on that.

Again Nathan, now in front of his son, says he would give anything. Gabriel tells him ‘stay with me, Daddy. Look after me.’ ‘How’ asks Nathan. ‘You know how’ answers the boy…. oh my goodness this is far too realistic children’s dialogue. Nathan blinks and the ghost is gone.

In the modern-day Lara is stood at the lake. then the camera cuts back suddenly to the same shot and she leaves to go to the house. What was the point of that edit? It was like some attempt at a subtle jump scare.

Inside we see from her perspective filming bits of the interior lit by her torch. So I’m guessing we are going to get a jump scare. She calls out to Nathan by name asking if he wants to know who she is. She explains she is his great-great-grand daughter and isn’t trying to haunt him or his son. she just wants to get on with her life. She just wants to go home she sobs. she just needs prove she’s not mad.

Is the baby going to die ironically in a mirroring of his circumstances. If it does they’ve really telegraphed it.

She wants to see Nathan and he has seen her. She sees… Harriet?… in a bloody dress. SO yes there was a jumpscare… Oh also shaky cam. So the last 20 minutes of this series has shifted drastically from drama to horror I guess.

Back to third person and she slams a door behind her sniffling. She checks her recording but the girl wasn’t caught on it. She phones Ben and in tears explains she had to come here to stop it from haunting her and Lottie. He says the police are involved. She realises they know where she is and that Sylvia, a.k.a. granny, told him. She puts the phone off and packs everything up in order to run. She loads the car and drives away with Lottie.

We see Nathan stood in the road shielding his eyes. – Remember a few episodes ago? Yes it’s coming full circle seeing it from her perspective. It looks like we are going to be checking the list off of all their crossover moments. She sways off the road.

Next we see her lying down and Gabriel stood over her says ‘Daddy’s coming’ – Is she dead? Probably. She asks what Gabriel means. Well its obvious but he repeats himself. (You know I just realised who she reminds me of. She has the exact same face as the actor Kevin Sussman who plays Stuart Bloom, the eternally down on his luck comic book shop owner, from The Big Bang Theory).

Nathan dresses and sits writing. He has an Ernest Hemingway look today. He recalls things Charlotte said about being alive and there’s just her and him. He scrunches up the start of a letter to her. It seems days are passing by and he doesn’t know how to word this suicide letter to her.

Charlotte is speaking to Mr Payne about photography and how timing is essential and the amount of light you admit. GET IT ITS ABOUT NATHAN CLOSING HIMSELF OFF AND EVERYTHING. ‘Like the moment you capture between the taker and the taken’ GET IT HE’S MAKING A MOVE ON HER and she is smiling. She brushes a strand of loose hair aside and Mr Payne reaches for it. She excuses herself and says she must go home to her husband. BIT LATE NOW.

Nathan takes bottles from Gwen’s stock. Lara is walking down a corridor. She can see him through the interior door and its lace netting. He is using a pestle and mortar. She rushes in shouting ‘No Nathan, stop!’ REMEMBER THAT SCENE WHEN HE DROPPED THE PIG’S BLOOD – it’s that except she saw him making a deadly substance while from his side she appeared when he was going to wash the bucket out. Obviously the rooms empty when she gets inside but Gabriel appears.

‘He’s killing himself’ she declares, ‘what about his wife and baby?’ – Um… you’re in the future so you know how it turns out. Why are you speaking in the present tense as if you can change history? Anyway Gabriel, the littlest grim reaper, declares they can come too. No they can’t otherwise there’s a time paradox where Lara’s great-grandmother isn’t both. She shouts No, no at him and leaves as he stares blankly at her. I swear the boy’s related to someone on the crew since he seems to just be serving as a place holder.

Back in 1894 and Charlotte is heading down the road while Mr Payne calls after her. She’s on foot and he’s in his trap and pony. That seems more effort than it’s worth to be honest considering the time to get it all ready would cause.

He fears for them both, her condition and Nathan’s desperate state, he implores her to stop. He understands she loves Nathan but sometimes a man needs to be left alone to lick his own wounds. He asks she give him one more day alone and return tomorrow. Considering how confusing the editing has been regarding Nathan putting his clothes on multiple times I don’t know if one more day makes any real difference. Really it might be revealed this too is a bit non-chronological too and Nathan’s events occurred a week or two before Charlotte’s thus she will find a bloated rotting corpse either way.

Mr Payne asks to drive her back to the vicarage but she hears Lara call out to her from the nearby boundary. ‘He’s going to kill himself’ she shouts and Charlotte hears her.

…Wait so it’s not just Nathan’s bloodline, the local bloodline, which has ‘ghost/time travelling communication’ skills? Maybe because of the baby she has them temporarily? I’m joking obviously but it makes sense in context.

Mr Payne asks what the matter then grabs Charlotte’s arm saying ‘Must I force you, like a lunatic, for your own good?’ Oh So he’s an antagonist with false positive traits revealed in the final act then… which was kind of obvious. *cough*Hans*cough*Frozen* (okay he had the ‘almost shot a man running away’ thing too but that probably happened more in reality than anyone likes to admit). She tells him to unhand her and he does. Then he does puppy dog eyes which is hilarious. It is Gif bait if I ever saw any.

Rotting fruit and the empty swing then we see Nathan preparing his poultice. Charlotte walks in the y say its good to see each other. Nathan says he is sorry he has to do this. she asks how they got there when they were going to be so happy. ‘My fault’ he says ‘you were damaged when you met me. Deeper than I knew’. She replies saying ‘your secret ingredient. You insoluble grief… I believed that one day I;d find a solution, I might be the solution and just by being with you I would erode it’.
Which is a classic mistake of those who are around depressed people. Of course what does she do? Blame him some more. Which is realistic sadly. No wonder he is going to kill himself with support like that.

He says she made him so happy but he has seen ‘him’ out there and spoken to him etc. She says ‘if you believe it, I will believe it… I think I’ve known for some time. Maybe even from the beginning. you want to join him?’
[Okay on a side note, though it’s never properly mentioned, I am assuming that Gabriel is his son from an earlier union. If it was mentioned I completely missed it. Seriously at this moment you could see some underlying aspect of her being a woman wanting ‘good prospects’ and latching onto Nathan due to his weakness. It’s an extreme reading of her character but she seems a bit too obsessed with ‘making him happy’ when he wasn’t morbid but demeaned him and ran once he became difficult to deal with.]

‘You want to leave me?’ she asks.
‘No’, he replies, ‘but I have to’.
She says ‘No you don’t. Let’s go together. Let me drink first. Trust me’.
She cradles his face in her hand as she holds the drink.
‘Is it strong enough for both of us?’

He says she doesn’t have to do this but she insists she does because she can’t live without him. As she raises the glass to her lips he slaps it out of her hand shouting ‘no’! They embrace and cry and he sees Gabriel. He shouts ‘I’m sorry I wasnt there. I’m sorry I failed you.’ Is he saying it to Gabriel or Charlotte? You decide. Then he adds ‘…I let you die’ as Gabriel stands there staring at him. ‘I love you’ Nathan says smiling. Gabriel was apparently smiling but stops doing so and goes into a neutral face.

Charlotte says he’s gone. We see he is gone at the kitchen door. Nathan says he’s gone. Yes he is gone. Part of me wishes every other character, the dead and the living, came in saying ‘he’s gone’ too. Such a hammy over wrought moment… The music swells, Nathan smiles, Charlotte’s face… is non-committal but maybe concerned? They say they love each other.

Gideon, the foreman, is walking through the fields towards the house and the doors open. he is surprised to see her there and says it’s a tonic to see them both. They both thank him. Good dog, lie down, roll over, now play dead.

He tells them they’ve been digging the old machine out od the east marsh and thinks they should see it.

SEQUEL HOOK TWIST TIME!!!!!!!!
It’s Lara’s car being pulled up by tethered horses. The yellow modern one. So she went off the road. She is dead. More importantly these country bumpkin’s need to get off to the patent’s office and get this stuff registered. It would kick British industry ahead of the world by about a century! No loss of empire or any of that! Old Blighty would remain old Blighty evermore!

Denning and everyone left is present and don’t know what to make of it.

Gwen says ‘maybe this is what’s troubling the land?’ Denning says ‘if it was it’s all over now’. Everyone moves to get a closer look but Nathan. We get a quick camera zoom up on Lara at the lake as she is seeing these events unfold.

She begins to relive the car crash. The snowglobe flying through the air. Did you see the film ‘Dredd’ about 2000AD’s Judge Dredd? It’s like the slo-mo scenes from that with the same sort of music. We see her head hit the windscreen and she shouts ‘no’ and in the distance people are huddled together.

Gabriel takes her hand. She wonders what happened to Lottie. Gabriel says her father came and took her home. She wasn’t hurt and she’s safe. (He knows she is the mother so why not call Lottie her… oh maybe Lottie wasn’t her daughter just she was in a relationship with a single father?)

Gabriel says Lottie is his mummy now. (I got 9th Doctor Who vibes from him earlier on… you know the episode I mean. The one with the gas mask ghost virus). It makes her her own adoptive Great-Great Aunt too logically then. She looks down at him and smiles as the music swells.

Nathan turns around from the crowd and sees Gabriel and Lara hand in hand and walking away into the forest. He looks sad but smiles acceptingly. Or has gas. One or the other.

Summer 1895 we see standing stones and the house. They baby has been born and Nathan cradles it in his arms by the fire as Charlotte strokes its head. Then a short moment of the couple walking across the fields as the sun sets. The director must have realised they got the shot and didn’t want to waste it though it is a bit jarring. Maybe they could have used this at the standing stone bit a few seconds earlier?
As he lay away at night, Charlotte asleep next to him, Nathan hears a man’s voice calls out to him asking if he is there. A woman giggles. SEANCE SEANCE SEANCE He puts on his evening gown and goes to look. Lights are on downstairs. It’s a modern lamp. The woman is continually giggling for a good 15 seconds so the joke must have been hilarious. Nathan asks if anyone is there. The man asks if anyone is with us. They all look up from the table. They are dressed in 1920s cocktail dresses and tuxedos. The man says that the ‘notorious Nathan Appleby’ is with them when Nathan reaches the foot of the stairs. He welcomes him to the land of the living and wants to ask a question.

“Why did you kill your wife?”

DUN DUN DURR ZOOM IN ON HIS FACE
Blatant sequel baiting stinger/hook…



Review:
Do I want to see more? Personally I felt it wasn’t focused enough and the final scene on its own would have been an excellent twist. The Lara stuff was pointless. If they omitted her sequences to maintain the mystery (although she is a modern-day person obviously) this would be a far better series as the question of ‘is it ghosts or just mental illness and bad luck’ would have been more than strong enough. The car appearing in 1894 is completely out-of-place and some effort to create an unexplainable mystery to make people want answers. There will be time travel or more likely a return to the ‘its purgatory’ twist used in the writer’s previous work. I feel like there must have been some outside interference here insisting it be more like Life On Mars and so the modern era stuff was forced into it. Also I think the cinematography is very similar to Poldark so that either has the same team or they were told to replicate it as trailer fodder.

It felt uneven and I think it’s because they didn’t make clear certain things:

Charlotte’s relation to Gabriel (his biological mother or just the second wife of his father?)

Why did he return? Did his parents die? Did he leave after Gabriel’s death? Was there a first wife? (Well the ending implies this and maybe I just wasn’t paying attention when a first wife was mentioned – thus Charlotte is safe and it’s not going to be a case of ‘why did he kill Charlotte’ if there is a second series.)

Gwen’s sex scenes, except to make clear she isn’t a prim and proper Victorian woman (and imply paganism as ‘sex = pagan’ in some writer’s minds), provide nothing extra to the narrative. She is a hedge witch but these scenes feel forced in for no good reason and otherwise she is nothing but a sycophantic servant saying ‘yes sir/ma’m’ in most of her scenes.

Charlotte’s whole character development is a very jaded character. Initially she is a progressive woman in the early episodes, aping Bathsheba Everdene from the novel ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, only to later give way to becoming a opportunisitic critic of her husband, abandoning him but then suddenly deciding in the end to love him once he seeks death. It paints a quite sexist image of women throughout the series as the only women not to be helpless or hysterical are those not focused on in any great detail (e.g. Mrs Denning, Charlie’s mother, field workers). Even more so than an intentionally sexist depiction it suggests Charlotte chose to break her vow, both marital and personal, to always support him which in those days was a very serious breach of decorum (and probably why novels like Moll Flanders and Anna Karenina were so popular of course).

Charlotte’s character seems to have taken a very sudden and severe shift. The progression from loving wife to hard-hearted mistress in this single episode has neither been developed over the series nor justified save that Nathan has given into his grief over his dead son. I have to wonder if there was a member of the production staff supervising the continuity of the series as we have a scene early on where Charlotte notes the dark side of Nathan’s personality and vows to be there for him to keep it from consuming him but when that time comes… she condemns him and moves into the Reverend’s house. Of course there was. This is no accident but an intentional development in her character and it is very bitter. Again the writers are showing a very pessimistic view of their character’s humanity towards each other under the guise of a Victorian ghost story series. When times are good she is loving. When they are bad she ascribes to the depiction of married women as harridens sniping at their suffering husband when given the opportunity. The recovery at the end is forced and far too quick. Would a woman who had fled the home because of her husbands mental instability really be so quick to return to him? She saw a ghost and that is all that is needed to recover the relationship? Convenient.

I cannot in the final scene feel any connection or sympathy with the main characters due to how throughout the series little effort, beyond heavyhanded moments, is made to endear them to the audience. They try but there is no energy in the interaction when you contrast it with something like Poldark. Maybe the actors didn’t have chemistry? But if that was the case edit around it, do things to create for the audience the atmosphere at least – not just a smile, giggle and kiss. This is a married couple not school children. Saying that maybe, in the event of there being a second season, we will be presented by people who knew Nathan before his son’s death and it be explained he has always been a bit detached. They tried at the start of the series with Charlotte saying how he had been stoic but… it all just rings so hollow in the end result.

Overall the series is well done on the technical side. The cinematography, lighting and sound are all to be commended. However all this is for naught in a multi episode drama if the script is weak and sadly I find fault in it time and time again. At the start of the series the near parodically unblemishable ‘goodness’ of the protagonists is almost a caricature. They come in and improve society taking up the reigns of the previous generation and try to improve it but, as whould be expected in a better drama, their challenges seem to have little effect on them. After the farming machinery fails it goes unmentioned until the last episode. People dying in the community seems to have little effect on their estate and day to day lives if they don’t get involved. They’re just drifting through the events of the series and only get truly affected once Gabriel becomes involved.

Perhaps the writers meant to show us how they are not so perfect with Charlotte’s efforts to be farm manager and to modernise the processes failing? But that conflict is a reasonable narrative drive for a storyline not a narrative device to be used so flippantly. Are we to accept that Charlotte, having purchased a very expensive piece of equipment, would leave it to rust after its initial breakdown? Even for that era the Applebys would have sought the aid of an engineer to repair the machine and ensure workers know how to maintain it correctly. But no its just gone after the first episode or so, and ignored until the last, to be a red herring for the reveal of the modern car. However it fails if that was the intention.

There is no consistent logic to the diegesis as we are meant to accept one thing at one point then expected to shift our opinion on the basis of a single scene. Charlotte the loving supportive wife becomes the damning wife over the course of one opening scene in episode 5 but after the attempted suicide at the denouemount of episode 6 we are to believe they made up so quickly? You can argue that between the suicide scene and the ‘twist’ in the series final scene that quite an extensive period of time has occurred. Enough that their daughter has been born and they have settled back into a routine but as the transition is so sudden the average audience will be caught unaware by the off-screen re-establishment of their relationship. Due to her quick assumption of the role as farm manager and her behaviour during Nathan’s mental breakdown she ultimately comes across more as a character concerned about control than a sympathetic figure who we are meant to vie for.

Nathan is a bland lead. We are told he is a practitioner of the new science of psychology thus a young, handsome, well off male protagonist who is also intelligent. However when do we see his skills used and not just suggested in passing? Admittedly they can only use the level of psychology that was available at the time which was pre-Freud/Jung. So what Nathan uses is an even more basic version than those now surpassed, yet well established in the public consciousness, landmark works. So how do they present it in the series? He hypnotises Harriet Denning twice during the series. You could argue he applies his skills when dealing with others during the series but really could we not argue that his words could have come from any other character in the positions he finds himself in? His major arc is seeing ghosts which he initially dismisses but eventually is driven to a state of high agitation by.

We see him in turn either be the authoritarian landowner ordering his workers about or in scenes where he sympathises with distraught characters – except he is at these points patronising them as he himself hasn’t seen Gabriel’s ghost yet which causes him to act in the exact same way as them. The change in his character is too sharp a turn. The fall from ‘man of science’ early on debating Denning to ‘occult dabbler’ hoping for reunion with his deceased son is done in the space of, the space of about 4 scenes bridging episodes 5 and 6.

The other characters are a mixed bag. Some have greater potential than they are allowed (Denning, Harriet and Charlie’s family), others serve their purpose well as supporting characters (Gideon, Maud Hare and her son) while others feel underdeveloped (Gwen, the old man of episode 2) and some poorly implemented (the deceased whose backstories serve as the crux of each episode specific story).

Each episode has a good concept for a standalone story but overall the narrative across the series doesn’t flow smoothly and feels more like we reach checkpoints where the next major development must occur. There is a way to do this but I feel that somewhere in the process, perhaps the episode editing, the developments occur so jarringly that we as an audience are given little time to accept developments and so with each episode the overarching storyline regarding Nathan and Gabriel, supported somewhat at odds with the modern-day narrative which itself ultimately serves little point other than to create plot teasing conveniences for the 1894 storyline, leaves the series feeling poorly paced and somewhat aimless unintentionally.

They seemed to have a theme to each episode but it was always handled clumsily. Episode one we had farming practises and possession. The end result was people were stuck in their old way and potentially lethal methods (baptism of an unconscious person which likely would result in drowning). Episode two was child labour. The end result was… inconclusive really. The story wrapped itself up but this episode does seem out of keeping with the tone or the rest of the series. Episode three we had anti-intellectualism with the character missing from the rest of the series. Episode four was elopement and homosexuality where, through a sequence of convoluted situations, the lovers are both dead and the lesbian is shot dead at point-blank range by the character depicted having heterosexual promiscuous encounters with itinerant-workers. Episode five Nathan has a mental breakdown due to seeing Gabriel’s ghost and Charlotte abandons him. Episode six Lara escapes a mental ward in a hospital with her baby runs away to the house and gets in a car crash having seen Nathan as a ghost.

Lovely life affirming messages and social commentary here. It doesn’t know if it wants to be. A drama discussing social issues, a supernatural horror or commentary of an isolated community. It wants to be something to everyone but ends up being a less than pleasing sequence of events featuring predominantly unlikable characters. The Dennings, Hares, Charlie’s and Gideon’s families are the backbone of the series and I wish it had focused on them with the Applebys being far less in focus as there was much more potential for the series as an ensemble piece than what we got.

I would however be happy to see a second series as there is great potential here and the technical side of the series is very strong if somewhat behind its contemporaries, in a period where many BBC dramas are almost nearing instant classics through both talent and the budget they receive allowing more freedom, but the writing and pacing here needs to be seriously focused on next time and anything like the modern-day teasers needs to be reviewed and potentially excised if it doesn’t serve the main storyline where it was little than a distraction and made the final episode a damp squib of a resolution.

Good idea, good technical side and good acting but something about the execution of the end result was off. Thus making this more in line with the Merlin, Musketeers, Atlantis level of BBC dramas and not anywhere near the level of Sherlock, War and Peace or the period dramas the BBC is famous for producing – nor indeed anywhere near the standard of writing we saw in Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes.


Comment, like or follow if you want. Or don’t. It seems like no one watched this in the end as seems the case with their adaptions of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent…