It’s never been a better time for British television and film fans in the US. With expanded live TV, DVD and streaming platform access to TV series and movies from the UK, we are truly “spoilt for choice”.

It’s a delicate balance, getting the mix of shows you’re watching just right. For example, I avoid having too many gritty dramas going on at once. I find it can lead to paranoia and despair, not to mention getting the plot lines of crime thrillers confused with one another. For me, one or two detective shows, a sitcom and a comedy panel program or episode of The Great British Bake Off can be handled without too much kerfuffle. Throw in a film a week and I’m pretty satisfied that I’m consuming a respectable amount of British entertainment, for a telly addict that is.

Also with this variety comes the dilemma of selecting the specific programs or films that will occupy hours of my precious time. Today I’ve decided to let you in on how I make my viewing choices. Sure, sometimes it’s the hot show that’s just started trending on Netflix or the return of a favorite series that I can’t wait to dive back into.

The brilliant and versatile Josh O’Connor (credit: BAFTA)

When I actually started to analyze it, I realized it’s often a process of one thing I’ve enjoyed leading to another.  And in that circumstance, I’d  have to say I frequently choose what to watch based on actors who stood out to me personally in a particular role.

Such was the case with Josh O’Connor. I first noticed him in the partly biographical dramedy series The Durrells in Corfu (known in the UK as  simply, The Durrells). O’Connor portrays Lawrence, eldest child of Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) and an aspiring author and Bohemian. By all accounts, Larry is a talented writer who, unfortunately suffers frequent bouts of writer’s block. yet never seems at a loss for words.

With a tendency towards narcissism, sarcasm and brutal honesty, Larry can come across as a less than sympathetic character. But just as you’ve written him off, Larry shows himself to be vulnerable, a young man in the midst of an inner struggle. He’s trying to gain some independence from his family, to go his own way and make mistakes in the process. At the same time he must acknowledge the pull of his family and the very special bond he shares with his widowed mother as her confidant. It’s all very complicated and O’Connor walks the tightrope between arrogance and tenderness beautifully. His mother/son scenes with Keeley Hawes became some of my favorites and their poignancy always brought me to tears.

So with my interest securely captured by young O’Connor I wasn’t surprised when I saw his name included on this years’ list of BAFTA Rising Star nominees. In the past five years, he’d made quite a few guest appearances on well-known shows such as Doctor Who and Peaky Blinders and earned supporting roles in the TV movie The Wipers Times and in the third series of Ripper Street.

But the big fuss about Josh in 2017 appeared to be his performance in a British indie film called God’s Own Country. So as one thing leads to another, I promptly put a reserve on the DVD from my library and watched it the day it came in.

Josh plays Johnny Saxby, a sullen, hard-living young farmer from Yorkshire who feels trapped and isolated working on his ailing father’s farm. His life is joyless as he works long hours, drinks heavily and partakes in anonymous casual sex with other men.  That is until he meets Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) a Romanian migrant worker hired by Johnny’s dad to help with the lambing season. Gheroghe teaches Johnny how to open up emotionally, communicate verbally and see his life differently.

The film has drawn obvious comparisons to Brokeback Mountain (and they do have some elements in common) but neither Johnny nor Gheorghe is fighting his sexual orientation. It is fundamentally the story of Johnny’s transformation from a self-destructive, detached young man to a more mature, responsible adult capable of tenderness and self-respect. It’s a hopeful story in the end, that a life can be turned around by love.

I wouldn’t recommend this film to viewers looking to see more of the same humorous and endearing family dilemmas that the Durrells face. The setting is equally beautiful and there are lots of animals, but that’s where the similarities stop. God’s Own Country is a bleaker look at family life and a far more adult examination of sex and love.

If, however, you enjoy seeing actors stretching their talents to play vastly different characters, you will be impressed with O’Connor in God’s Own Country. Johnny’s accent, the way he carries himself and his conspicuous silences are a total contrast to the more intellectual Larry Durrell who seems to enjoy the sound of his own voice and wouldn’t even contemplate delivering lambs or repairing stone walls.

I look forward to seeing what Josh O’Connor will do in the future including his upcoming appearance as Marius in the BBC non-musical adaption of Les Miserables. He also is reported to have a film project in the works with Bill Nighy and Annette Bening entitled Hope Gap.

Keep a look out for more of these posts.  If response is favorable, they may just become a recurring feature.


Tough Telly Mums

This week has been about recognition of strong women – Thursday was International Women’s Day and today is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

Make no mistake, motherhood is definitely not for sissies; especially for those women who are raising the children (and sometimes, grandchildren) all on their own due to divorce or widowhood. Their grit, persistence and fierce love is inspiring.

Here are just a few examples of tough telly mums:

Louisa Durrell (Keeley Hawes) – The Durrells in Corfu

A widow and mother of four, Louisa takes a leap of faith to start a new life for her family in Greece. It’s a daily struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, never mind maintaining the animal sanctuary her youngest child has established.

Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) – Happy Valley

A 47 year old police officer, Catherine is divorced, lives with her sister who’s a recovering heroin addict, has two grown up children; one dead and one who doesn’t speak to her, and a grandson.

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Polly Gray (Helen McCrory) – Peaky Blinders

When she became a widow, Polly had her children removed from her care. She’s recently been reunited with her son Michael who made the choice, contrary to his mother’s wishes, to join of her crime syndicate family.

bbc two peaky6 GIF by BBC

DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman)- Broadchurch

Ellie is divorced and a working mother of two. First she had to come to grips with the fact that her husband was a murderer. Then her teenage son starts peddling porn. This mum is not a happy camper.

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Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) – Downton Abbey

The no-nonsense matriarch of an aristocratic family, the Dowager’s main concern is keeping her family’s reputation and fortunes intact. She expresses her love in blunt, but constructive terms.

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Being a telly addict, I often have several series on the go at once. So understandably I get characters, plots or other details confused from time to time.  Especially when the genre of the shows are similar.

However, over this post-holiday week my goal was to finish not only Game of Thrones season 7, but also series 4 of Peaky Blinders. Who knew a medieval fantasy epic and a post WWI crime drama would have so much in common? I started to get a bit muddled going back and forth between the two programs and put it down to binge fatigue.  However, when I stopped to examine the situation more closely, I found it wasn’t just a middle-aged brain with too little sleep to blame. The two shows actually have more in common that you might expect.

What follows are just a few examples. (BEWARE! OODLES OF SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!)

1. Family Vendettas

Game of Thrones – Multiple blood feuds including Arya Stark avenging her family by poisoning the Freys


Peaky Blinders-The Changrettas ambush the Shelbys for a start


2. Characters who have second (or more) sight

Game of Thrones – Bran Stark- the Three-Eyed Raven


Peaky Blinders – Aunt Polly, especially since her brush with the noose


3. Fist Fights where the little guy wins

GOT- Theon Greyjoy finally grows a pair (figuratively, of course) and stands up for his kidnapped sister


Peaky Blinders- Tommy’s fighter Bonnie Gold faces an aptly named Goliath


4. Unexpected Resurrections

Game of Thrones – Dead Viserion = sad! Viserion reanimated by the Night King = bad!!!


Peaky Blinders – Arthur became the second Shelby fatality of the vendetta, or did he?


5. Aidan Gillen played a killer

Game of Thrones- The Irish actor gave his swan song as slimy manipulator Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish


Peaky Blinders- New character introduced this series, Romany hitman, Aberama Gold


They say there are only seven basic plots in storytelling, right? Additional comparisons are welcome as I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the list.








Over the past few years The Big Fat Quiz has become customary holiday fare round my place, mainly because I force my loved ones to watch it with me. In fact, it’s very much like a family gathering if your relatives include an angry uncle who habitually rants about the state of the world and a constantly snacking, eccentric brother who wears flamboyant capes to Christmas dinner.

Certain aspects of this broadcast have become traditions in and of themselves.  For example, what could be cozier than Charles Dance seated next to a blazing fire reading from a reality star’s tell-all biography? Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow is always a festive addition when he delivers song lyrics as a news story and then dances like no one is watching…but we all are. And it isn’t The Big Fat Quiz until those adorable Mitchell Brook Primary School Players reenact an event of note from the year gone by.

This, of course, is coordinated by a man with all the dominance of an overwhelmed substitute teacher with a really implausible laugh.


But in the end it’s the the celebrity competitors who determine how entertaining a given quiz will turn out to be. Let’s look at how well our trio of teams performed.

The Tinsel Sisters (David Mitchell and Roisin Conaty)


Famed curmudgeon David Mitchell is the winning-est panelist in the history of the BFQ. He has made twelve appearances and won eight times (whereas chat show host Jonathan Ross needed sixteen tries to achieve the same number of victories). This year David was paired with a newcomer to the year-end quiz, creator and star of the very excellent sitcom GameFace, Roisin Conaty. In terms of an end result, this team worked well seeing as (SPOILERS!) they won the trophy with a total of 35 points. However, it was Mr. Mitchell who stood out in the comedy department with his diatribe about the substandard quality of a sign that was displayed behind Prime Minister Theresa May , a lesson about the specific vitamin deficiencies responsible for rickets and scurvy and finally, his insistence upon the importance of proper chronology and punctuation. It’s not that Ms. Conaty isn’t funny; their interactions just weren’t very dynamic.

Team Pain (Big Narstie and Katherine Ryan)

Now this was a more interesting pairing. If you aren’t familiar with either of these entertainers, Ms. Ryan is a Canadian comedian based in the UK and Mr. Narstie is an English grime MC? Yeah, I’m not sure what that is, but he turned out to be quite impish and entertaining. He had a problem with names, identifying most of the panelists by their CVs. Mitchell was continually referred to as Peep Show guy, Richard Ayoade as IT guy and rather insulting to Noel Fielding was that Narstie clocked him as Nigel Planer who played Neil the hippie from The Young Ones. Just a clarification to Mr. Fielding, Nigel’s age is 64, not 90 as you asserted. To Jimmy Carr’s chagrin, Mr. Narstie repeatedly made a heart shape with his hands and insisted on calling it the “Mo Farah sign” after the gesture made by the British distance runner to celebrate a win. The thing that worked well with this team was that Katherine acted as something of a cultural interpreter without being condescending. She was also very familiar with viral trends and other pop culture references which significantly contributed to their more than respectable second place finish of 33 points.

Cakes in the Maze (Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding)

This twosome are the most experienced of the BFQ teams on the program.  With twenty-four appearances between them, they have won twice as a team and three more quiz titles separately. Admittedly their win/loss ratio isn’t as impressive as David Mitchell’s,  but it’s not as if they aren’t as smart or culturally aware. David Mitchell and Richard Ayoade were students at Cambridge University together; Noel Fielding has a background in art, a wildly creative mind and a mildly concerning obsession with satsumas. These two are obviously invited to this gig to be, as Jimmy Carr has described them, toddlers at a wedding. Don’t let their contrasting sense of fashion – Gandalf and the Professor – fool you. These two are in cahoots to undermine authority and infuse the proceedings with a bit of whimsy. Whether it’s Noel luring us into a surreal world of sharks with no knees or Richard making an appeal for their responses based on sub-text , several facts are clear. Jimmy Carr loses control of the quiz from time to time and this duo are major instigators of all that lovely chaos. It matters not a jot that Cakes in the Maze came in third place with 19 points. The Big Fat Quiz is at it’s best when Ayoade and Fielding are on the same team.




Fun and Games: Taskmaster

According to the internet, this week marked National Relaxation Day (Aug 15) and National Tell A Joke Day (Aug 16). The juxtaposition of these days is rather fitting since I find a laugh is what’s needed when I want to relax. Whether I’m immersed in the intensity of gritty British TV dramas or just trying to survive the pressure of being a library worker in the midst of solar eclipse glasses mania, in my experience making the conscious decision to laugh is always the right one. And my genre of choice in these situations is usually a comedy panel show.

This week I happened upon series four a show called Taskmaster so I thought it the perfect time to share my feelings about this entertaining and stress-busting program with you. Heaven knows we’ve all got anxieties now more than ever.

Greg Davies, extremely tall stand-up comedian and star of Man Down, Cuckoo and The Inbetweeners, performs the titular role of the Taskmaster. His purpose is to issue simple, if not a bit bizarre, tasks to five comedians who are asked to complete them in the most efficient and out-of-the-box manner possible. His assistant (and also creator of the show) Alex Horne umpires the challenges and plays the part of Davies’ willing minion for laughs. At the end of each task, Davies ranks the performances of the competitors according to his whims and his penchant for mockery and assigns points accordingly.

Joining Greg and Alex on the show this season were Outnumbered dad Hugh Dennis; former GBBO presenter Mel Giedroyc; Mighty Boosh troupester and new GBBO presenter Noel Fielding and two young comedians previously unknown to me Lolly Adefope and Joe Lycett.

What kind of assignments must the comedians complete? Well, each episode starts with the Prize Task, in which Davies sets a theme and each contestant donates a prize to offer up. The motifs have included most unusual autograph on the most unusual vegetable, the most surprising picture of themselves and in this clip their best membership/subscription. At the end of episode, all the prizes are awarded to the comedian who earned the most points in that week’s show.

Other nefarious tasks set over the course of the eight week run of Taskmaster involved:

Identifying the objects in a sleeping bag without taking the objects out of the bag.

Hugh Dennis sleeping bag

Hugh Dennis feeling up a sleeping bag


Destroy a cake. Most beautiful destruction wins.

Destroy cake

Mel Giedroyc decides how to best obliterate a cake


And my favorite task of the series – as a team, get a wheelie bin across an obstacle course, while one person is in the bin, the rest of team move the bin blindfolded, and everyone cannot speak English.

Wheelie bin race

Lolly Adefope, Noel Fielding and Joe Lycett prepare for the foreign language wheelie bin navigation task

At the end of the final episode, the comedians’ points are totaled and the one who has accumulated the most over the course of the series wins this:

Greg's head

Gold Noggin

Indeed I think it’s rather fortuitous that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Mr. Fielding was the victor because no one else would want these spoils, right? Noel really had the right set of skills for this type of competition. With his keen sense of the surreal and an art school background, he had the proper mix of creativity and reckless abandon. He also ended up being more athletic than some might expect from a self-professed goth. Sometimes his devil may care attitude missed the mark as when he was disqualified for putting a wet suit atop his head instead of on his body during the small talk with Fred the Swede challenge, but overall his risks and unique perspective paid off. Perhaps Noel can use this big gold replica of Greg Davies’ head in one of his future art installations or stand-up routines. I’ve seen his live show so I know whereof I speak.

That being said (and those who know anything about me know I’m an avid Fielding fanatic), my favorite contestant had to be Mel Giedroyc. She was so genuine, enthusiastic and supportive during the course of the show that they compiled a montage of her all her authentic positiveness that is guaranteed to make you grin. Then in true Taskmaster style turned around and presented poor Mel with a super frustrating special task that involved hiding a gigantic beach ball from Alex in a wide-open football stadium. (Apparently her favorite swear word is bollocks.)

So if you find yourself in need of a tension-relieving chortle, may I suggest an episode or two of  Taskmaster?  In the US I found series four on Daily Motion. I apologize in advance for the all the repetitive advert breaks. In addition, series five is on its way to UK audiences very soon – September 13th to be exact.

All photo images are courtesy of Dave UKTV except the one of Greg’s head which was posted on Twitter by Alex Horne.


(C) BBC – Photographer: Des Willie

I’ve been aware of Sean Bean for a long time. He does action adventure-y, fantasy type things (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Equilibrium, Troy, Patriot Games, etc.) The fact that so many of the characters he plays die and quite violently is something of a cultural phenomenon. There are hashtags out there to prove it.

I also know he was an object of affection in the Vicar of Dibley…

That’s why I was so impressed to see Bean  in Broken, the Jimmy McGovern-penned BBC drama about a Catholic priest in a Northern English parish trying to serve his soul weary, poverty-stricken flock while wrestling with his own demons. If you’re not familiar with McGovern, he is the king of working class despair and I admire his ability to depict humanity and compassion in even the most desperate circumstances.

Sean was exquisite as Father Michael Kerrigan. Michael is a good man. He’s selfless, empathetic, fun-loving and approachable. He also notices when people are hurting and yearns to help them.

His dedication to God is strong and his desire to emulate Jesus is obvious in the rebellious incitement of his parishioners to smash up the local betting machines that have ruined so many lives.

And he is honest to a fault. When his mentor and friend Father Flaherty (Adrian Dunbar) advises him not to reveal a hurtful but irrelevant fact at an inquest, Michael feels compelled to admit to a brief slight of his duties to set the record straight.

But he’s not perfect. Sometimes he’s unsure what to say to make things better or how to ease his parishioners’ burdens. And no one is harder on Michael than he is on himself. He has flashbacks of his misdeeds and poor judgement. He also struggles to forgive the serious offenses committed against him in his youth.

While I watched Bean’s  performance I didn’t think of Ned Stark or Boromir or Richard Sharpe. I felt I was witnessing the authentic heart-felt efforts of a man of faith – to care for his dying mother, to comfort a mother who has lost her son, to counsel a police officer trying to do the right thing and to guide a desperate woman to take responsibility for a profane act.

Most compelling were his conversations with Roz (Paula Malcolmson), a woman shamed by what her gambling addiction led her to do and resigned to committing suicide over it.  She challenged Michael to show her a light at the end of the tunnel and also to confront the darkest episodes of his own past.


We travel with Sean’s character through a wealth of emotions from impotence and grief to empowerment and grace. The end of that final episode made all the misery and striving worth every emotional second. I sat there with tears streaming down as the people who Michael thought he had disappointed, let him know otherwise. I’m not a religious person, but I think I would feel completely comfortable confiding in Father Kerrigan. Sean Bean’s portrayal combined an essence of benevolence and social justice tempered with very human self-doubt. It gave me a glimmer of hope in a time when people judge with haste and hate too easily.

I watched this six part series on the video sharing site, Dailymotion. Not ideal, but I hope Broken will eventually come to a reputable US streaming service or perhaps even PBS. More people should be aware of this inspiring journey and Bean’s must-see (and perhaps BAFTA-worthy) performance.

At lunchtime today I decided, after a bit of deliberation, to watch the debut episode of Harlots. I’d been bombarded by this raunchy stylized trailer on Hulu for weeks and it didn’t look promising…


The one thing about the preview that intrigued me though was that I caught glimpses of actresses with very respectable CVs.  I put a lot of faith in the cast when it comes to investing time or money in watching a film or TV series. In the case of Harlots we’re talking about Samantha Morton of In America, Sweet and Lowdown and Minority Report fame; Leslie Manville with appearances in just about every Mike Leigh film as well as North & South and River and finally Jessica Brown Findlay – she was Downton Abbey‘s Lady Sybil Crawley for heaven’s sake! If this period drama was just a hyped up piece of exploitative titillation, what were they doing in it?

Consequently when I noticed Harlots mentioned yesterday in The Radio Times, the British magazine for radio and telly listings as well as entertainment news, I realized this must be one of those rare occasions when a UK series airs simultaneously in the US. I figured I had 45 minutes of my life to spare to see what this was all about.

Set in 1763 London and inspired by stories of real women involved in one of the few commercial activities available to them, I give you without further ado my impressions of Harlots.

First, who knew there was such a thing as a concise guide to prostitutes for hire, namely “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies”? A must-read for London men of all stations, from nobility to your average hard working pleb.

Samantha Morton didn’t disappoint as Margaret Wells, a Covent Garden brothel madame (or bawd) who aspires to run a more prestigious establishment. Still she visibly struggles to reconcile her roles as mother and entrepreneur as it requires her to pimp out her daughters Charlotte (Brown Findlay) and Lucy (Eloise Smyth) to rich men whom she hopes will take them on as mistresses. (You gotta dream the dream, I suppose.) Slightly reminiscent of Peaky Blinders with the criminal family enterprise element, but not nearly so violent.

Class distinctions are definitely a focus of this series. The wealthy men who put in monetary bids to take young Lucy’s virginity are, quite frankly, pigs. Most are married and make no attempt to hide their extra-marital escapades. It is sport for the affluent and connected who cruelly use or blithely ignore the poor.

I’m looking forward to the  reveal of how Morton’s character and the ruthless Lydia Quigley, played by Leslie Manville, became such bitter rivals considering Margaret was once one of Lydia’s girls. And yeah, I’m already tired of hearing how Margaret’s mother sold her to Lydia for a pair of shoes when she was ten.

Finally, there are quite a few pale men’s arses and rather large bosoms on display and the some of the language is fairly crude. Nevertheless, at its heart, Harlots seems to be about family, rivalry and, in an an against all odds sort of way, female empowerment. The fact that both the writers and the team of three directors are all women should come as no surprise.

I plan to continue tuning in as long as the story has substance and the quality of the acting holds. You can judge Harlots for yourself – in the US on Hulu or in the UK on ITV Encore.