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The League of Gentlemen -- Christmas Special [DVD] [1999]
The League of Gentlemen -- Christmas Special [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Mark Gatiss
Price: £3.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Silent Night, Sleepless Night, 5 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
For those expecting a nice light Christmas Special to watch before you go to bed on Christmas Eve...try elsewhere. Not that there isn't humour here but it's dark, very dark- in particular the ending. It was the Christmas Special that shifted the comedy towards something much darker and bleaker, without any catchphrases to comfort you (well, apart from two catchphrases that would send shivers down anyone's spine).

Irreverent Reverend Bernice suffers yet another miserable Christmas; Christmas being a time associated with an awful event from her past. She is visited by three characters, each with their own story: Charlie suspects Stella of meeting with a sinister group of ladies who dabble in voodoo; an elderly man tells of his time as a foreign exchange student visiting Duisburg and encountering Herr Lipp, who may well be a vampire; and finally Dr Chinnery tells of how his family line has become cursed.

The Christmas Special is a portmanteau film (well, a double-length episode to be precise); basically three separate stories within a larger story. Series 3, if watched in one sitting, has a similar effect. The style does work well as it gives structure, although many would probably have been happy enough with a run of sketches with a Christmassy theme, seeing as we all switch our brains off around that time of year. The plus point of doing it this way though is that the special doubles nicely as a Halloween special, as it is the most overtly horror-inspired.

I'm not a big fan of horror so I can't pick out the various allusions in the way that others would be able to. However this doesn't impair the enjoyment; it merely makes things creepily uncomfortable. The first story is the least 'scary' but the most 'funny', as Stella is at her bitchiest and most emasculating. There is of course an underlying sadness in Charlie and Stella's marriage which makes them compelling characters; recognisable in a more sombre sense. It's the perfect blend of League pathos with comedy, pushing their grotesquerie ever closer to something quite bleak.

The second story is full-out black comedy but those with a sensitive disposition might want to check out at this point. Herr Lipp is at his most malapropic- unless the Fruedian slips are intentional of course. Whilst he is a sinister character, his feebleness makes him 'safe', and Matthew, the 'boy' he is persuing, is Reece Shearsmith in a blond wig. The moment where he watches Matthew undress through a peep hole is grusomely funny and yet also quite sad. This story is full of brilliantly quotable lines and a moment akin to Uncle Monty paying 'I' a night visit in Withnail and I. Hilarious.

The third story is a spoof of Victorian horror tales and is refreshingly unbleak in an episode that's bleaker than a desolate snowy landscape.

The ending is horrific, complicating the League's genre even more. Is it a comic horror or a horrific comedy? The continuity is kept in Series 3, strengthening my view that The League of Gentlemen developed and evolved in a way that no other comedy series has or will.

The League Of Gentlemen - Series 3 (2002) [DVD]
The League Of Gentlemen - Series 3 (2002) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mark Gatiss
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A not unpleasant surprise, 3 July 2014
Perhaps Series 3 might have fared better if it was under a different name. People expected the laugh-out-loud humour of the crazy local folk that we got in Series 1 and 2, whereas Series 3 is a separate beast- more like a dark comedy drama than a sitcom/sketch show.

There are six episodes, each focusing on one character- or one 'set'. By far the worst of the episodes is the second one, centred around Lance The Joke Shop Man trying to find an extra limb. It's not funny or moving. Oddly enough, half of the episodes are love stories and sentimentality is frequent; there must have been something in the water. Yes, Series 3 is pretty dark- if people dying in an autoerotic asphyxiation game doesn't raise a wry smile then you'd do well to stay clear, as 'perversion' is the dish of the day. The end of Series 2 didn't feel right, with the 'normal' triumphing over the bizarre or unconventional- whereas the underlying theme of the show was about celebrating the unconventional.

Maybe the distance of ten years makes me give it four stars; I can certainly see why people might have been disappointed. But it is tightly made and well-constructed and in the light of what Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton would write subsequently, it makes perfect sense. The League were clearly at a crossroads; in the commentary for Episode 1 Jeremy Dyson says that Shearsmith and Pemberton were responsible for that episode and he and Mark Gatiss wrote Episode 2. I don't know how the writing mix worked for the previous series but if we're to take Episode 1 as being Shearsmith and Pemberton's 'style', that style dominates. Again, this is why Series 3 might have worked better as a new show.

Saying that though, unlike other shows, there's a lot of character pay-off here. The twisted power struggle between Pauline and Ross pays off in an episode that feels like a play in its focus on character interaction. Alvin and Sunny, two characters which don't work in Series 2, actually have a good story, with Alvin having a Brief Encounter-type romance with a woman at the local garden centre. The odd thing about The League of Gentlemen is that the drag is not really referenced; we see the characters rather than a man in a dress (apart from cab driver Barbara of course). All three men, maybe Shearsmith in particular, are eerily accurate in their portrayal of the female characters. The fact that there are three love stories means that the kinkiness of the drag is up to the max. Sexuality, gender and well, everything, is completely fluid; fascinating to some viewers but perhaps too unsettling for others (saying that though, the series' most loved characters are a pair of murderous inbred shopkeepers- hardly lightness and sunshine).

The 'local' feel is missing, with less emphasis on Royston Vasey and 'Northerness', but there is an amusing nod to this in the third episode, where Geoff ventures to London and finds himself a little lost. I do miss that but then we have two series which to savour localness.

Series 3 is an optional adventure but if you loved the pathos, darkness and gender-bending, I recommend this. And to be fair, you get some good 'jokes' as well, such as the man rehearsing his funeral.

The Product:
Two discs again but there's more special features, including an interesting thirty-minute featurette that looks at the writing process, plus the usual commentaries and deleted scenes. The commentaries are a little chaotic but there is unintentional humour in Shearsmith thinking that the audience won't get a joke or won't be able to read a bit of writing. Also, Jeremy Dyson is quite chatty.

League of Gentlemen Series 2 (2 disc set) [DVD] [1999]
League of Gentlemen Series 2 (2 disc set) [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Steve Pemberton
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars The saga continues..., 2 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In Series 2, we see The League become much darker. There is still a laughter track but the laughs are sporadic. This does have the effect of making the show seem less 'funny' whereas it is wickedly funny- albeit darkly so. People seem surprised at why Series 3 changes in tone but the seeds are all here, as well as character development.

Because character has always been The League's strong point, the existing character sketches are even more enjoyable, as we 'know' the characters. The Dentons gaslight Benjamin, the tension between Pauline and Ross is stronger than ever, and Edward and Tubbs are on the hunt for a bride for their son David. The most notable of the new characters is Papa Lazarou, who brings his travelling circus and kidnaps local women- "You're my wife now!". By sparingly using him, the League make him a shadowy figure so he remains dark. Tubbs and Edward, formerly the darkest characters, are now strangely endearing, even if their inbred status is confirmed. Another new character who features heavily in the Christmas Special is frustrated 'Queen of Dreisburg' Herr Lipp, whose mangled English results in accidental innuendo- or really Freudian slips. Like many of the League's characters, he has a great deal of pathos- even though he preys on teenage boys. The fact that he is a pathetic predator (similar to Uncle Monty in Withnail and I) means that his character is darkly funny and we are all right to laugh (even if we feel a little guilty afterwards).

There are more characters in this series and so it doesn't feel as tight as the first series does. However the amount of characters does contribute to the claustrophobic feel of Royston Vasey, which is ever freakier. The ongoing 'storyline' this series is the nosebleed epidemic spreading throughout Royston Vasey; a lot surrealer than the building of the New Road in Series 1.

Even if the inhabitants of Royston Vasey are allergic to change, change works for Series 2. With other comedy shows, it is simply about which series has better jokes; either Series 2 trumps Series 1 or Series 2 feels repetitive. Because The League of Gentlemen is a different breed of show, even if some jokes fall a bit flat (Alvin and Sunny's kinky B and B for example, which lacks the identifiable quality of the other characters- too off-the-wall), the characters triumph.

The Product:
It's a 2-disc set this time, with all six episodes on the first disc and all the extras on the second disc. As there are the same type of extras as Series 1 (character biographies, commentaries, deleted scenes and a photo gallery), it does seem a bit redundant. Even a bit irritating if you are a lazy-bones like me.

There's a sing-a-long version of Voodoo Lady and The Denton's Cleaning Song, plus deleted scenes. I haven't looked at these yet but Series 1 deleted scenes were presented nicely, with little introductions giving the reasons as to why the scene was cut, where it fits in and any little things to look out for. I imagine Series 2 is much of the same. As with Series 1, the special features (or Special Stuff) all have odd names. The commentaries are 'Local Gossip' for example; I've only watched episode 3 with commentary but they're interesting and light-hearted, unlike the Fawlty Towers commentary where John Cleese nitpicks and doubts almost every joke. It's nice to have the whole League (including writer Jeremy Dyson) on every episode but they sometimes talk over each other. For me, DVD commentary works best with one or two people, and as The League wrote in pairs (Mark and Jeremy, Reece and Steve), it would have been fun to mix it up a little.

Anyhow, most BBC series get barely any extras so feel grateful to have such a generous amount.

The League of Gentlemen - Series 1 [DVD] [1999]
The League of Gentlemen - Series 1 [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Mark Gatiss
Price: £4.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Small Town Psychos, 14 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Anyone who comes from a small town, be it Northern or otherwise, will recognise some of the characters and their attitudes- such as snub-nosed Edward and Tubbs, owners of the local shop (for local people), who mistrust any outsiders. These are probably the darkest characters in this series (Papa Lazarou doesn't appear until Series 2) and yet they're strangely endearing, even if they are darkly psychotic.

The League of Gentlemen is a mix between a sketch show and a comedy series. All the characters live in the fictional town of Royston Vasey, storylines (of sorts) develop, and the characters often interconnect- but quite naturally so. This series has a humorously undramatic storyline- though it is very dramatic for the characters. A new road is being built, meaning that outsiders can travel to Royston Vasey and undo their community. The sense of a community, however bizarre, is something that other comedy shows have lacked. For all its darkness and grotesqueness (such as the Aunt and Uncle who trap their nephew in their insanely immaculate house and are obsessed with bodily functions such as masturbation), there's a degree of heart here that makes the show very watchable.

There's many great characters, one of my favourites being Job Centre worker Pauline and her 'dole scum'. Little Britain pinched this set-up of supposed supporter belittling and humiliating her charges to create Weight Watcher Marjorie (who is admittedly terribly funny).

The League of Gentlemen is also the name of the comedy troupe behind the show: Jeremy Dyson (who doesn't actually appear on screen), Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith (the latter three play all the main characters). I do enjoy some drag and there is plenty of drag here, whether it's the obvious drag of Barbara (Steve Pemberton), the taxi driver who loves to talk about her forthcoming sex operation and the procedure that this entails, or rich woman Judee Levinson (Reece Shearsmith, looking strangely comfortable in drag).

The show has good re-watch value and although you can YouTube the classic bits (as I do with The Fast Show to filter out the boring stuff), it works quite nicely watching the episodes as they are. Bear in mind that the series get progressively darker; this is the most 'accessible'.

Welcome to Royston Vasey- you'll never want to leave!

EDIT: It has brillant re-watch value. On the second watch you appreciate the tragic aspects. There's many moments in which the laughter track is completely silent because the pathos isn't simply played for laughs. Sketches such as Tubbs and Edward's marriage are dangerously close to drama, as over the course of this series we see Tubbs' optimism and her conflicted desire to explore the outside world. I can't think of any other comedy series that achieves this emotional level.

The Deep Blue Sea [2011] [DVD]
The Deep Blue Sea [2011] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Rachel Weisz
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £7.90

3.0 out of 5 stars In love and war, 13 Jun 2014
In a time in which British theatre was crushed and stifled by censorship, Terence Rattigan wrote this play, which shot straight to the heart about love, passion and society. Whilst fellow Terrence- the director Terrence Davies- brings out many of the plays undertones that I feel are lost in the 1955 film version and the 1994 BBC one, he also loses some threads and too heavily insists on the comparisons with Brief Encounter (even though the source play doesn't bear much resemblance).

Davies clearly has a festishistic love for post-war 1950s Britain; the drab and the gloom is lovingly shot. The dinginess means that Davies can pull Brief-Encounter moments, where the adulterous couple Hester (Rachel Weisz) and Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) illicitly steal kisses on the street. I enjoyed the pub songs; in particular a scene that cuts from a pub singing along to a romantic song from that era to Freddie and Hester dancing to a lush record of it. The daze and excitement of the affair is captured nicely.

The sense of a society still recovering from the war and still living off ration books is integral to the play so in that respect Davies is well-suited. However it's the story that gets a bit lost; as does the viewer. In order to escape its stage origins (the play takes place over the course of a night with the action set solely in the living room), Davies uses lots of flashbacks. So whilst in the play, we only find out that Freddie is not Hester's husband, as she has been pretending, but her lover, in the film it's clear from the start. They later include a dramatisation of a scene mentioned in the play, in which their landlady discovers the deception, but it seemed a bit pointless.

This also confuses the thrust of the narrative, which is the charting and comparisons between Hester's relationship with Freddie and with her judge husband, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale). In the play we know that Hester's affair with Freddie is dead from the start and was probably never alive to begin with (when Collyer asks if Freddie's feelings for her had changed, Hester tellingly replies "They couldn't have. Zero minus zero is still zero"). However the film makes the flashbacks and the present blurred, so we only see a little bit of the end of the affair- even though the story is about how people rebuild their lives after a loss. Beale gets this across most effectively, as Collyer struggles to comprehend Hester's affair but resigns himself to the fact that he has lost her. The problem of the marriage- its sexlessness- is emphasised as being an unsurmountable obstacle by casting Beale as Collyer (in the play Collyer is 45 and Hester is in her mid 30s- not a massive age gap). She loves him and her respectable life but without the intimacy of physical contact, it was never going to work.

Freddie, an ex-fighter pilot, provides the physical side but not the emotional one. Hiddlestone conveys Freddie's love for the good old days of the war and its camaraderie effectively, and also conveys his childishness though not to the extent that he could have. The play suggests that Hester uses Freddie to fill the role of son as well as lover and that the strain of having to be all these things to her is what pushes Freddie to leave. The balance of the film means that the dynamic most frequently shown between them is of Freddie being in charge, whereas Hester is actually dominant, even if her control is slipping away. Though Kenneth More in the 1955 film is a lot less attractive, his character is more nuanced. Like Anna Karenina, Hester's tragedy is the inequality of love; a concept which Freddie doesn't fully comprehend. In some ways Freddie and Collyer are very alike in that they feel Hester wants too much.

Rachel Weisz is well-cast as Hester, though she lacks some of Hester's desparate ruthlessness. In the play Hester is trying to gain her independence; she paints and sells her paintings and refuses to go back to Collyer despite things being essentially over with Freddie. Weisz is too often called to play the weepy lover and takes too readily to it; Hester is not naturally weepy. Her feeling of self-loathing over how she has lost herself over Freddie is clear in the play but not so clear here. There's also a distinct lack of sexual predatoriness here, whereas Hester constantly pesters Freddie in the play and is almost embarrassing. Though the film has every right to differ from the play, losing these nuances in the character means that the play becomes just another love triangle.

Though I love the characters in the play, I think Davies made the right decision to cut nosy neighbours Ann and Phillip, as they are very much theatrical characters. It was odd of him to half leave in the mysterious Dr Miller (Karl Johnson). It is stated that the doctor isn't really a doctor but nothing is ever made of that. Either have the doctor be a generic doctor figure or leave in his intriguing backstory (the doctor proves to be an outcast just like Hester).

I think the film is worth a watch for fans of the play but I don't know if enough of the nuances are captured here for other viewers to appreciate it- even though many of Rattigan's gorgeous lines are left in.

True Dare Kiss : Complete BBC Series 1 [2007] [DVD]
True Dare Kiss : Complete BBC Series 1 [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Pooky Quesney
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £6.82

2.0 out of 5 stars True Dare Trash, 20 May 2014
*There will be some spoilers*

Whilst there is some entertainment factor in how the odiousness of each character is revealed and how some become slightly less odious whilst others become more odious, none of the characters are likeable enough to care what really happens to them. The show shies away from any real darkness or unexpectedness, apart from one humorous, if cheap and odious, twist at the end. I say 'humorous', the show doesn't have the wit to be a black comedy.

The premise is that in Manchester four sisters and their weird brother are reunited by their father's death. There's Nita (Pooky Quesnel), the MILF/obsessive perfectionist; Beth (Lorraine Ashbourne), the lager lout; Alice (Esther Hall), the dopey but nice one; and Phil (Dervla Kirwan), who has been in London for the past twenty years. Dennis (Paul Hilton) is the agoraphobic, literally closeted son who is forced to live with their creepy abusive dad (David Bradley).

Some will struggle to get past the first episode as the characters are so odiously self-centred. Nita and Beth are particularly irritating and very much drawn as characatures. Dennis is the biggest and most irritating characture, with his fabulous dress sense, host of dogs and 'witty' one-liners. Alice and Phil are relatively likeable, with Phil being the most interesting in her mysteriousness- even though a plot twist at the end renders her as odious as the other siblings.

Kaz (Brendan Coyle), the blind partner of Beth, is a decent bloke and I would like to have seen more of him. Nash (Paul McGann), Nita's builder husband/Phil's former love, really bugged me as a character. He's bedded three of the sisters and we're meant to like him? I love McGann as an actor and think he did an excellent job of portraying a sleazeball but it makes the sisters come across as more stupid than the resident idiot Alice. The programme is 'open' about the unlikeable elements of each sister but it tries to make us feel sorry for them. They're certainly the most messed-up family in Britain.

Adding to the sleaze factor, we have the 'psychic' Bryce (Ciarin McMenamin) who uses some 'experimental techniques' on Alice. Well, we all know where THAT's going- a phrase you may find yourself repeating as the series goes on. You could even create a drinking game around it, it's that predictable.

The finale is disappointing, removing all the tension and going for a light ending. True Dare Kiss went out at 9pm but from the content and style you'd think it was intended for teatime audiences. There's a potential goldmine of reasons why the children could have resented their father but it seems to come down to him just being a bit grouchy and having a creepy sense of humour.

This is the sort of trash TV you'd expect from ITV, not the BBC. If you like trash TV, you'll love this.

Gypo [DVD]
Gypo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Pauline McLynn
Price: £7.51

3.0 out of 5 stars A three(ish) sided story, 17 May 2014
This review is from: Gypo [DVD] (DVD)
Gypo is most notable for being the first official British Dogme film. Dogme 95 was a charter of filmmaking drawn up by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, intended to strip film of all artificial effects: no costumes, no artificial lighting, no added sound. Films set in the here and now about the lives of ordinary people and all action limited to the believable (no Hollywood-style murders).

An ordinary (hopefully not typical) Margate family's lives get mixed up with a Czech refugee girl and her mother. The story is told from the perspective of downtrodden mother Helen (Pauline McLynn), bigoted father Paul (Paul McGann) and the girl Tasha (Chole Sirene). The events are the same but the perspectives change and we get added information because each character is limited to what they can see in front of them. The downside to this is that the three sides are very similar; we do get a fuller picture as the film progresses but you could easily take the last half, possibly the first half, and understand enough.

The second segment is a little odder. It had potential to be the most interesting; we see events through the bigot's eyes. McGann does a good job; he barely talks, except to complain. Paul (the character that is!) is one of those people who believe that everybody wants something from them or everybody's taking something from them, when in reality he does nothing but take. The cinematographer does a good job (with his shaky handheld camera- but you get used to that) in showing how Paul feels alienated from his family. He doesn't love his wife and he can't make money.

I do worry though that the fact that this is a female-dominated film means that his character is forced to be unnecessarily scummy, with no apparant redeeming qualities- even in his own segment. The male characters are all macho bigots; it could have been interesting to switch genders, with a bigoted wife and a husband drained by the demands placed on him. To be fair, Paul does look drained but I think if it was the wife who was openly racist, her segment would have had more of a sympathetic treatment.

McLynn gets a lot more to do. She's the centre of the film and her character is very familiar from everyday life. Helen is taken for granted (even casually raped by her husband) but she looks for ways in which to brighten her life, in between the depressing ASDA night shift. We discover later in the film that her friendship with Tasha takes on a romantic dimension but I think from what we see of how Helen's life is, it is believable that she would cling onto any opportunity of love. As Tasha cannily points out, Helen is the most vulnerable person she has ever met.

Tasha's segment, the final third of the film, is where the drama happens because she is the catalyst for the events around her. It becomes a bit more 'movie-ish' then but I suppose with repeating storylines, they had to add a bit of action.

The idea of a tryptich of perspectives, taken very literally, is interesting, showing not simply each character's view of the events but their whole outlook on life. Interestingly the refugee's segment is the 'happiest' and most loving. However the odds are stacked against the husband. I don't think the film does this out of preachiness- any film dealing with sensitive political issues is either going to be deemed preachy or offensive- but a lack of concern.

Jamaica Inn [DVD]
Jamaica Inn [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jessica Brown Findlay
Price: £8.60

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not worth a stay, 26 April 2014
This review is from: Jamaica Inn [DVD] (DVD)
I don't suppose you've heard (ha ha!) but a lot of people had issues with the sound. And the mumbling. As the DVD is not out yet, I couldn't comment on whether the sound levels have been improved, though unless there's such a thing as a demumbler, the mumbling will not change. I am assuming there will be subtitles on this DVD and as I always stick subtitles on, it's not a major annoyance for me.

But really the key element that the creators want you to focus on is the look. It doesn't seem like they're particularly bothered about dialogue and story because really it's an exercise in style. Like the 2011 film of Wuthering Heights, they are trying to create a new style of period drama: a gritty realistic one. Whilst that's all very well for a story including war, a revisionist take on the love story sucks all the appeal out of it. It is interesting that they chose a story focusing on the lower echelons; no aristocrats here- not even a comedy Charles Laughton type. So yes, I can see why the idea of a 'new' aesthetic might appeal.

However the story is an adventure story/gothic yarn: pirates, romance and crime against the background of a drizzly landscape and gloomy architecture. In early nineteenth century Cornwall, orphan farm girl Mary Yellan (Jessica Brown Findlay) goes to live with her gloomy Aunt Patience (Joanna Whalley) and her brutish Uncle Joss (Sean Harris) at Jamaica Inn. Nobody ever comes to the inn because, as it transpires, it's a meeting place for a smuggling ring, led by Joss. But there's something even more sinister than smuggling afoot and Mary learns that there's someone above Joss- and Joss is terrified of him.

In the novel, Patience is a complete wreck, silly and delusional. But of course modern drama has to portray every woman as a feminist so in this version Patience is admirably loyal- which undermines Mary's strength. Comparisons and contrasts are drawn throughout the novel; Mary's fear of falling in love with Joss's petty criminal brother Jem Merylin (Matthew McNulty) is that he will break her as Joss has broken Patience. McNulty is one of the highlights of the production, a suitably dashing costume drama stereotype- undermining the production's insistence that realism is the way forward. However there's so completely no resemblance to his brother that the question of whether Mary will befall the same fate as Patience is a non-issue. One of the big tensions of the novel is that Joss and Jem have similar features but with great differences, and this confuses Mary.

Audiences have been most critical of Sean Harris' portrayal of Joss. I don't think it's a question of acting ability- as a weaselly cowardly villain killing off the little brain cells he has with drink, Harris does a good job. He is loyal to Mary in the way that a dog is loyal to his master; Joss seems oddly subservient to her. This is not true of the novel, in which he is a seven foot hairy brute who would be charismatic apart from all his murdering and his weakness for drink. Joss is meant to appear to be strong and in control and then after some drinks he falls into the type of man that Harris is playing. Why scriptwriter Emma Frost would want to remove story is beyond me. She adds bits of story such as Mary's father being killed by smugglers but she's afraid to give those additions any weight. The 1983 adaptation made the same choice yet it played a much bigger part in Mary's character. It's a story addition that could have been interesting but perhaps fear of a backlash stopped Frost making any more of it.

The Joss/Mary dynamic started off well enough- a bit kinky when she bites his hand- but because there's only a second of mastery before he turns into a wimp, it falls apart. Perhaps they didn't want the sexual undertones to distract from Mary's attraction to Jem and removing some of the weight from Joss's far more interesting character helps us invest more in the Mary/Jem relationship. Again, the irony is that the production works best when it goes for the standard costume drama tropes, including a hypocritical vicar (Ben Daniels), whose smooth enunciation will be a relief against all those West Country accents.

My problem with the accents is not authenticity- it's hard to do a strong Cornish accent without making it sound comically piratical- but with consistency. Jessica Brown Findlay adopts a Mummerset Thomas Hardy accent; acceptable enough in a Hardy production but this isn't a Hardy story. Sean Harris goes for an accent so strong that no one can understand a word he's saying, even those from Cornwall. McNulty's compromise of a light Cornish(ish) twang works best. The director of the production boasts that they hired a dialogue coach so that characters would have the authentic Cornish accent but so much effort is spent on trying to do the accent that it was distracting. I'd almost rather that they didn't attempt accents at all.

It's not simply the accent that's distracting; it's the whole sense that the production is deemed more important than the story and characters. Many jokes have been made about Mary's muddy skirt and the endless shots of the moors (ironically Yorkshire moors, though the finale is pleasingly set at Cheesewring). Had the story been better, I would have minded less, but the arrogance of insisting that an authentically muddy gloomy landscape is the most important thing means that these elements were always going to be mocked. It's as if the makers were trying to go for the BAFTA for art direction and cinematography by fetishising grim poverty. It's all very artful, that gloom and mud, and the artifice outweighs the attempt at authenticity.

Jamaica Inn is ultimately a cautionary tale of what happens when you place style above substance.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 27, 2014 4:16 PM BST

Smash - Season 2 [DVD] [2013]
Smash - Season 2 [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Debra Messing
Price: £11.50

2.0 out of 5 stars A mess, 19 April 2014
I really enjoyed Season 1 of Smash. Yes, there were problems but there was a good balance of show-making plotlines and personal plotlines. Melodramatic and superficial as the personal issues were, they were entertaining- really just existing as a contrast to the creation of Bombshell, a fictional musical based on the life and love of Marilyn Monroe. I think they could have played around a lot more subtly with the idea that the characters' lives reflect Marilyn's- rather than simply comparing every character to Marilyn- as for me the enigma of Marilyn was the big pull.

Obviously there's only so much you can say about Marilyn though and it's only natural that the writers would want to move on. However they don't really, which in a way is lucky because at least we got some decent songs, such as a gorgeous duet between Marilyn and JFK, 'Our Little Secret' (sung devilishly seductively by Julian Ovenden, who is wasted by giving him such a miniscule amount of screen time). What this season needed, if they were set on continuing with Bombshell, is a character a bit like Michael Swift's role in the last one; a strong, non-camp male character. There is endless in-joking and loviness; I was a Drama student and am a big theatre geek but even I found the loviness and rambling on about the biz tiresome.

What they really should have done is moved away from the 'putting on a show' idea; there's only so many ideas you can exhaust. Seeing as everything established in Season 1 is either completely brushed under the carpet or soon chucked out, it's strange that they didn't make a more drastic change. After some fumbling around with Jennifer Hudson, who impresses as a Broadway diva and actually gets a decent catchy original song, the show finally decides on the show-within-a-show, the new underdog that will challenge Bombshell, which is going through some stormy patches having been funded by dodgy money. The show is Hit List, though it might be more aptly titled if one was to add an extra letter at the start. Hit List is a poor Rent-style musical, the creation of irritating whiny 'genius' Jimmy Collins (Jeremy Jordan) and his gay best mate Kyle (Andy Mientus), whose only contribution to the musical seems to be the story idea, so he is left to simply wallow in the glory of his bad boy partner. Later, he will become the sacrificial lamb, simply to remind us that he even exists and to try to get us to care what happens to any one of the characters.

Whilst I liked the idea that Hit List was a musical completely at the other end of the spectrum from Bombshell, it was simply appalling. It was supposedly edgy and yet was completely vacuous and unrelatable, as if it was the creation of a sixty year old man rather than the young upstarts that are its fictional creators. Rent is good but it's of its time- we don't need another Rent-style musical, certainly not one with as unmemorable bland pop-rock tunes as this one. The astronomic rise of Hit List was completely implausible. It would have been a stretch to believe it with a good musical, let alone one as bad as this. We are constantly told it's good when it's not; a bit like Season One's promotion of Karen as the next big Broadway star. The writers seem to have such abysmal judgement on what the audience want that it's laughable.

Talking of, let's look at the Ivy/Karen/Derek love triangle. The opening of Season Two picks up on that as Derek refers to Karen as his 'muse'. Finally we have some chemistry and a dramatic plotline but this is bizarrely abandoned. In Season One, Derek is played as a sexy cad whose dedication and talent are an irresistable combination. In Season Two, he becomes a pathetic lechy uncle figure whose career has gone back to square one. Though Karen (well, Katherine MacPhee) remains irritating, she is more understandable in the context of Derek. Her gaucheness, wide-eyedness and principles worked. However her decision not to sleep with Derek- supposedly one of principles- is completely undermined by her romantic feelings towards insufferable Jimmy. By the end of the season, Derek is a completely emasculated luvvie, a gay best friend (and yet not gay). Davenport is only about forty and yet the writers are treating his character as if forty is late middle-age. It was a poor attempt to try to pander to the youth audience, going against the whole appeal of the show in that it was a grown-up version of Glee. Glee actually met the same fate; initially it was a grown-up version of High School Musical and then it descended back to HSM pre-teenery.

The whole season just felt like a load of people throwing out random ideas. Season One felt like that at times but this was what the whole of Season Two consisted of. Paradoxially there was so many storylines and yet no real story, nothing to get your teeth stuck into. In hindsight, they should either have left the show at Season One or halved the amount of episodes so that we'd avoid all the filler and ideas-overload of this season.

Sail Away
Sail Away
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £14.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice relaxing music, 23 Mar 2014
This review is from: Sail Away (Audio CD)
I remember this from years ago, when it was more vogueish (although saying that, you have songs like Let Her Go now). Gray falls into that sort of Dido category of easy listening and his songs work best on soundtracks; not sure I could take a whole album of this. But Sail Away and Babylon (the other famous one but a bit overplayed) are good chilling tracks.

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