Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Typecasting makes me sad. For example why must Liam Neeson always play an aging action hero bent on revenge or up against the clock to save a member of his family? He used to be Schindler, Rob Roy, Michael Collins and the widowed stepdad in Love Actually for God’s sake!

That’s what Hollywood will do to you I suppose. Which is why I’m happy to find that in the UK a fair number of actors seem to be given the opportunity to flex their acting muscles and explore human conditions of all sorts.

Case in point…

 

Could the besotted young man above possibly be the played by the same actor who portrays a nobleman’s bastard infamous for sadistic deeds such as hunting down a fair maiden for sport?

 

 

It’s not a doppelganger situation. Welsh actor Iwan Rheon’s repertoire ranges from timid, almost invisible characters such as Simon from Misfits…

Rheon plays Simon, a shy troubled young man who gains a superpower in a freak storm image credit Clerkenwell Films

Rheon plays Simon, a shy troubled young man who gains a superpower in a freak storm
image credit Clerkenwell Films

 

To a soldier with an excess of bravado but with his heart in the right place.

In Our Girl, Iwan plays Dylan "Smurf" Smith image credit BBC Drama

In Our Girl, Iwan plays Dylan “Smurf” Smith
image credit BBC Drama

 

Here’s hoping Iwan doesn’t start getting typecast as well.  We’ve already seen he can depict more than psychos. It’d be a shame if he were pinned down to recreating versions of the abhorrent Ramsey Bolton from here on out, no matter how frighteningly good he is at playing him.

Just an aside, who agrees there’s an unsettling similarity between Rheon and the young Marc Warren?

 

 

 

 

Bye Bye, BBC America!

BBC America logo

It’s official. I have cancelled my cable subscription to BBC America! No more Kitchen Nightmares, Top Gear or Star Trek: the Next Generation marathons. No longer must I roll my eyes when the featured movies have little or no connection to the UK. The Terminator, Weird Science, and Escape from New York, really?

I will not feel nostalgic about the abundance of commercials; blocks of adverts so long that by the time the show comes back you’ve already started to forget what just happened. I was bombarded so often during Broadchurch that I usually drifted off to sleep from the boredom.

The BBC original programming was rarely ever engaging for me. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to watch a Canadian sci-fi series or an American post Civil War police drama on any other cable network so I certainly wouldn’t seek it out on BBC America. Orphan Black held my attention for awhile, but Copper was never something I was going to get interested in. Even Intruders which starred John Simm, one of my favorite British TV actors, failed to impress. None of it was British enough for my expectations.

Cast of Intruders

Cast of Intruders image credit BBC America

 

When they did acquire actual British shows, BBC programmers rarely found anything in my genre wheelhouse. Fantasy like Merlin and Atlantis; paranormal tales such as In the Flesh and Bedlam; or espionage “thrillers” like Spies of Warsaw left me cold. I’m sort of ashamed to admit I’m not a fan of nature programs either so Earth Night Tuesdays were no good to me.

Reading this may make you wonder if I really like British television at all. (I really do by the way.)  For example, I will miss watching Doctor Who episodes only hours after they air in the UK which is the main reason I got the channel in the first place. But for $40 less a month on my cable bill I can live with the wait for Netflix or whatever streaming service has rights at the moment. Or perhaps I can find some “timey wimey” method of watching it sooner…

 

Some other fine dramas have made it to BBC America – The Hour, the aforementioned Broadchurch and currently they are airing Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. But these series are few and far between.

I’m sure from time to time I will pine for The Graham Norton Show, but I’ll get over it, especially since the couch has about a three Americans to one Brit guest ratio these days. Graham grovels at the feet of stars like Meryl Streep and George Clooney and the obligatory British comedians are ignored until a joke is required. The fact that BBC America seemed to abandon any dedicated comedy programming (once called The Ministry of Laughs) and felt Graham Norton was enough was a very grave miscalculation in my opinion.

Besides, there’s barely time for classic Red Chair stories anymore!

 

I wish BBC America well and if you are a satisfied customer, more power to you! It just wasn’t a good fit for me. I am at peace with my decision to break-up with this channel. It didn’t fulfill my British TV needs and so it had to go. I look it as more money for my trip to the UK where the truly good telly is!!!

A Day Just for Snogging

 

Any Gary and Miranda kiss is heartwarming. image credit BBC

image credit BBC

The internet tells me it’s National Kissing Day. This senselessly manufactured day of swapping spit prompted me to devise a list of cheer worthy TV smooches. You know, the kind that take forever to actually happen and warm your heart when you finally witness them. For example, any kiss that ever transpired between the constantly on again off again Miranda and Gary.

 

So without further ado, here are a few more telly kisses you might remember fondly…

Caroline and Mac proposal kiss – Green Wing

 

 

2.  Mark and Sophie first kiss at a wake – Peep Show

 

 

3. Tim and Dawn Christmas party soulmate kiss – The Office

 

 

4. The Doctor and River Song first and last kiss – Doctor Who

 

Which kiss will you try out on your loved one today?

 

Peter Kay's Car Share  image credit BBC and Goodnight Vienna Productions

Peter Kay’s Car Share
image credit BBC and Goodnight Vienna Productions

Car sharing (or carpooling as we’re more likely to say in the States) is not something with which I’ve had a great deal of experience. I’ve never lived or worked in an area where rush hour traffic is a real thing so the practice isn’t actively discussed or encouraged.

A few of my library coworkers live nearby and one day a week our schedules align so that we can ride together. If it works out that is, meaning none of us have committee meetings at other branches, doctor’s appointments after work or any other number of events that could prevent the carpool from being convenient. When it works, we have a lovely time chatting and it’s a nice change from my usual drive time companion, NPR. But no one’s saving a lot of money on gas (or if you prefer, petrol) nor are we impacting anyone’s carbon footprint in any discernible way.

However, if my commute included congestion charges or my workplace offered significant incentives for riding with colleagues, I would definitely want Peter Kay as my car share comrade.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kay, he is a comedian, actor and writer from the Greater Manchester area. He’s famous for his phenomenally successful stand-up tours which feature spot on observational humor. He is also known for the TV sitcoms Phoenix Nights about a Northern working mans club and its spin-off of sorts, Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere. 

His newest triumph is Peter Kay’s Car Share and the concept is simplistically brilliant – a thirty minute sitcom wherein two people share the ride to work; roughly fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes home again. Basically two people in a car listening to the radio and talking.

Peter plays John Redmond, a sensible assistant manager at a grocery store which has launched a car share scheme. His assigned partner is Kayleigh Kitson (Sian Gibson) a more free-spirited type who does the grocery’s in-store promotions (offering cheese samples, wearing fruit costumes around the store for jam week, etc.).

Granted, their inaugural trip is a rocky one…

 

Nevertheless, over the following weeks and months, John and Kayleigh fall into a comfortable friendship and perhaps a bit more.

SPOILER ALERT!!!! Alas at the end of series one,  it appears as though the pair’s joy riding must come to an end. Kaleigh can no longer afford her mortgage and has to move in with her sister who doesn’t live anywhere near John’s route to work.

So why do I want a chance to take a ride in the cute red Fiat? (Don’t tell anyone, but before I started checking a few details for this post, I really thought it was a Mini-Cooper!) Aside from the novelty of driving on the left side of the road obviously?

First of all, I want to experience the nostalgic brilliance that is Forever FM. Peter “commissioned the production of six breakfast and drive time shows with real presenters, items, news bulletins, weather and commercials.” You can even access the playlists from each episode here. And who doesn’t love a bit of a sing-a-long with the timeless hits, now and forever.

 

A desirable quality in a car share buddy is good listening skills. It’s rare to find someone willing to tolerate your interests, buck up your insecurities and remember what you’ve told them about your various family members. John does all three, in a low key sort of way of course.

 

And finally, considering my keen interest in British culture, slang and, well let’s just say, eccentricities, I can tell John/Peter is the perfect person to set me straight. Ever since I’ve been studying British telly, I’ve heard the term “dogging” but it was always mentioned as an innuendo. No one ever came out and explained exactly what it was…until now.

 

Thank you for that. I now feel fully enlightened.

So anyway, call me Peter Kay if you need a temporary replacement to fill Kayleigh’s passenger seat until such time as you can plot out a reason for her to return in series two. I’ll even sit in the backseat. Just don’t make me out to be smelly and rude like Reece Shearsmith’s fishmonger character. I realize carpooling with someone living in the American Midwest makes even less sense then driving to a neighboring town but I’d be willing to relocate for the experience alone.

 

Tonight Britain’s TV  industry will honor its own at the House of Fraser BAFTA Television Awards. Seeing as telly is my bag, I’ve decided to offer my picks on the categories – at least the ones where I’ve been able to watch the programs and have an opinion. My choices are based on my personal taste and not on who should or probably will win so don’t place any bets based on this post please!

So without further ado, the envelopes please!

Mini-Series

Cilla

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries

Our World War

Prey

I only had the opportunity to watch Cilla and Prey. I tried to find a way to see the Christopher Jeffries biopic, but to no avail so. I enjoyed learning about Cilla Black and if Aneurin Barnard had been nominated for supporting actor I probably would have given him the nod.

However, Prey stood out as a Fugitive-esque thriller about a policeman framed for the murder of this family and on the run while trying to prove his innocence. The twists were well-placed and the betrayal was surprising but not from out of nowhere. John Simm delivers as usual especially when playing the maligned man with a wrong to make right.

John Simm in Prey image credit Red Production Company, ITV

John Simm in Prey
image credit Red Production Company, ITV

 

Drama

Happy Valley

Line of Duty

The Missing

Peaky Blinders

I saw all four of these nominees and enjoyed each one except Peaky Blinders. They all deal with crime and they all had great writing. Happy Valley and The Missing had the most masterful performances. In the end, I chose The Missing because of its plot twists, back and forth storytelling and James Nesbitt’s portrayal of a guilt and grief-stricken father.

James Nesbitt in The Missing image credit New Pictures, Two Brothers Pictures, BBC

James Nesbitt in The Missing
image credit New Pictures, Two Brothers Pictures, BBC

 

Scripted Comedy

Detectorists

Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos

Moone Boy

The Wrong Mans

I’m not even sure what H & P’s Story of Twos is, but I have seen the other three contenders. Being such a huge fan of Chris O’Dowd (I traveled to NYC to see him on Broadway last summer if you’ll recall) you might expect me to choose Moone Boy. But I had to follow my heart and go with the gentle, quirky comedy about two friends who happen to be metal detecting hobbyists. It’s hard to explain, but the characters and stories stuck with me long after the jokes faded.

Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones image credit Channel X and BBC

Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones
image credit Channel X and BBC

 

Female Performance in a Comedy

Olivia Colman -Rev.

Tamsin Greig – Episodes

Jessica Hynes – W1A

Catherine Tate – Catherine Tate’s Nan

All these ladies are talented comediennes, but I’m going to cast my vote for Olivia Colman every time, even if she was just doing a advert voiceover.

Olivia Colman in Rev. image credit Big Talk Productions, Ingenious, BBC

Olivia Colman in Rev.
image credit Big Talk Productions, Ingenious, BBC

 

Leading Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock

Toby Jones – Marvellous

James Nesbitt- The Missing

Jason Watkins – The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries

I respect and enjoy watching every one of these actors in whatever roles they undertake. It might be wishful thinking to believe Nesbitt could beat the red hot Cumberbatch, but Sherlock is no longer the new buzz worthy show so I’d like to think the luck of the Irish could be with him tonight.

James Nesbitt in The Missing  image credit New Pictures Ltd.

James Nesbitt in The Missing
image credit New Pictures Ltd.

 

Leading Actress

Georgina Campbell –Murdered by My Boyfriend

Keeley Hawes – Line of Duty

Sarah Lancashire – Happy Valley

Sheridan Smith – Cilla

Sarah wins this one hands down in my book. Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood was the heart and soul of Happy Valley and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to in the next series. There is going to a next series, right?

 

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley image credit Red Production Co. and BBC

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley
image credit Red Production Co. and BBC

 

Male  Performance in a Comedy

Matt Berry – Toast of London

Hugh Bonneville – W1A

Tom Hollander – Rev.

Brendan O’Carroll – Mrs. Brown’s Boys – Christmas Special

This one was a toss up between Bonneville and Hollander since I actively dislike Mrs. Brown’s Boys. And while Matt Berry makes me laugh, I prefer him as a supporting character. I leaned in favor of Bonneville because his Ian Fletcher who works at the BBC is even better than Ian Fletcher who worked on the Olympic Deliverance committee in Twenty Twelve.

Hugh Bonneville from W1A image credit BBC

Hugh Bonneville from W1A
image credit BBC

 

Supporting Actor 

Adeel Akhtar – Utopia

James Norton – Happy Valley

Stephen Rea – The Honourable Woman

Ken Stott –The Missing

Another tough category filled with some very convincing baddies, but Stephen Rea’s complex portrayal of a soon-to-retire MI-6 agent had nuance and sensitivity that the others lacked.

Stephen Rea from The Honourable Woman credit image Drama Republic

Stephen Rea from The Honourable Woman
credit image Drama Republic

 

Supporting Actress

Gemma Jones – Marvellous

 Vicky McClure -Line of Duty

Amanda Redman – Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This

Charlotte Spencer –Glue

On this one I wavered between Gemma Jones as a dying mother trying to ready her son to care for himself and Vicky McClure’s undercover cop on the corruption squad. In the end I went for McClure since Line of Duty is an ongoing series and Marvellous was limited to the length of a TV movie.

Vicky McClure from Line of Duty image credit BBC Drama and World Productions

Vicky McClure from Line of Duty
image credit BBC Drama and World Productions

 

Fellowship 

Just wanted the opportunity to say – “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

News presenter Jon Snow image credit Channel 4

News presenter Jon Snow
image credit Channel 4

 

Special Award 

Thanks to writer Jeff Pope for teaching me about serial murderers, train robbers, pop singers and just about any other British person of note through his compelling biopics. You make my British Celebrities I Still Don’t Know list much shorter.

Screenwriter Jeff Pope Image credit The Guardian

Screenwriter Jeff Pope
Image credit The Guardian

As I write this, the British public are voting for their new government. I hear it could possibly be the closest election in UK history and another coalition will probably have to be created.

I have watched this election cycle with some interest. While today’s polling outcome will not affect me directly which I admit is part of the attraction, I believe it has held my attention mainly because the campaigning hasn’t gone on so long that I’ve become numb to the main players and their party messages. It may not feel like it to UK citizens but your democratic process is a sprint compared to our grueling marathon of a system.

I mean in the US, our next presidential election is eighteen months off and already we have half a dozen Republican candidates who’ve thrown their hats in the ring with who knows how many more on the horizon. Forgive us if our eyes glaze over because the American public will soon be enduring infuriatingly negative TV ads, incessant campaign phone calls (for those still possessing a land line) and a whole lot of mud-raking, fact twisting and pseudo-patriotic rhetoric being thrown about for the next year and a half. Not to mention the caucuses, primaries and conventions that predict, eliminate and finally anoint the official candidates for the actual general election. The UK’s twenty-five day campaign period sounds like an impossible dream that could never be achieved matter how desperately we wish it to be so.

So how have I been following this more imminent election, you may ask? Well, I did watch a portion of the Leaders’ Debate on YouTube.

Seven party leaders on one stage - debate or game show image credit ITV

Seven party leaders on one stage – debate or game show
image credit ITV

It was a bit overwhelming, but I got the gist of it. Farage is a xenophobe. Cameron, as you would expect, is defensive. Miliband is being mistaken for Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is still in the doghouse for breaking his no-tuition fees promise from the last election.

I realize I have no right to suggest what’s best for another country’s people, but based on that debate performance perhaps your best option is to allow the ladies to form a coalition and let them get on with running things. Though with the SNP and Plaid Cymru as two-thirds of equation, you might not have much of United Kingdom left in the end.

Apart from the aforementioned debate the rest of my political research comes from my telly viewing (of course). I have the background of shows like Yes, Minister, The Thick of It and House of Cards. That’s not to insinuate that any of the current leaders would go to the cold-blooded extremes of Francis Urquhart.

I also watched the TV movie Coalition for more understanding on how the current government was negotiated.

 

I was taken with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg’s dilemma between joining the Tories or Labour and his idealistic desire to finally put his party in a position to make a difference in government. Alas I didn’t know about Tuition-gate nor the fact that Clegg had the option to pull out of the coalition when it was obvious the Tories weren’t going to play nice. I understand this would have forced another election, but he apparently chose to go with the status quo which turned him into an ineffectual deputy prime minister instead.

There has been one series, however, that has really given me the clearest picture of this highly-contested national campaign and that is the satirical sitcom, Ballot Monkeys. In it we follow the campaign teams of the four major parties as they travel up and down the country trying to inspire the British public to vote for them. There is nothing more revealing than seeing things from the point of view of a politician’s staff.

Conservatives

Desperate for the women’s vote and trying hard not to come across as posh toffs, the Tories seem to be sending a mixed message about who their leader really is – David or Boris.

 

Labour

Ed Miliband has the loyalty and trust of his party staff. Nevertheless, their campaign strategy is to focus on the team rather than their leader who they perceive as having some public appeal issues.

 

Lib Dems

Having your leader be seen as a failure has put a lot of pressure on Lib Dem coordinator Kevin Sturridge (Ben Miller) in particular. He carries on his shoulders the stress of supporter apathy and the virtual shunning of his entire party in the media. It’s bound to take a toll on such a committed supporter.

 

UKIP

And finally we come to UKIP. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Farage’s Army are portrayed as ultra-nationalistic, anti-immigrant and homophobic as well as violent. Poor Gerry Stagg (Andy Nyman) seems to be the only level head in the entire party, but he’s wasted by constantly having to stamp out fires created by supporters, candidates and the party leader himself.

 

I realize Ballot Monkeys is deliberately exaggerating the foibles of the candidates and the character of their voter base. That being said, no party gets preferential treatment and everyone gets roasted equally. Another aspect of this show is that they waited until the last minute to film each episode so national events and the inevitable campaign trail gaffes could be included in a timely fashion. If that’s not a commitment to accuracy, I don’t know what is.

Since I’m not a UK citizen (and under a UKIP government, I never will be), I obviously don’t have a vote. Nor do I have the perspective of one who lives under the unique conditions and problems of that country. However, I did take a 25 question on-line quiz which identified the party with which I most agree philosophically. Let’s just say my coalition’s color would be orange…

As my British readers go to the polls today  I bid you to vote your conscience whatever your political views might be. It’s the way democracy works and if you don’t like the outcome you only have to wait five years at the most to change it!

In this blog I have often referred to British people, both celebrated and notorious, who I have learned about solely through my telly viewing. From Mrs. Mills and Tommy Cooper to Fred West and the Cambridge spies, telly biopics and mini-series have taught me about the real people behind some faintly familiar names. This week I got to know two such people- a beloved entertainer and a convicted wife murderer.

Cilla Black

The real Cilla Black

Cilla Black in 2014

I’d heard of Cilla Black but knew virtually nothing of her story. I decided to watch Cilla purely based on the casting of lead actress Sheridan Smith. I saw her prior BAFTA-award winning performance in another biographical series, Mrs. Biggs wherein she portrayed train robber Ronnie Biggs’s wife. I also read that she did all her own singing for the Cilla Black role.

I found Cilla’s story fascinating – a Liverpool girl with big dreams and a big voice who found herself in the right place at the right time. A teenager when the Beatles were first becoming a sensation in their hometown, Cilla already knew Ringo Starr and was a sought after “girl singer” with many of the Merseybeat bands of the day. According to the show, she was given two chances to audition for the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein; during the first one she choked but the second time Epstein showed up unannounced and Cilla impressed him enough to offer her a contract.

The one who made me sit up and take notice in this series was Aneurin Barnard who played Bobby Willis, Cilla’s manager and love interest. Bobby was loyal, hardworking, supportive and apparently musically talented as a songwriter and singer in his own right.

 

He also tolerated being strung along for what appeared to be years since Cilla had to put on the facade of availability for her fans.

One can never be sure of the accuracy of series such as this, but at one point Brian Epstein offered Bobby his own recording contract. Upon consulting Cilla, she reportedly told Bobby in no uncertain terms that he was forbidden from accepting the offer. She was adamant he not become a competitor for attention from Epstein. Bobby appeared to be stung more by her total lack of happiness for him than her demand that he not accept the contract.  I can’t say I agreed with his devotion to Cilla in putting her career first; however, in hindsight, Epstein died not long after this incident so Willis’ performing career might have ended as quickly as it began.

I probably don’t have to tell you Cilla transitioned from a chart topping singer in the 60’s to a television presenter and actress in the 70’s and beyond. Bobby and Cilla married and remained together until his death in 1999, very rare in show business especially these days. Watching Cilla just left me hoping Bobby got the respect and attention he gave so freely to Miss Black all those years before their marriage.

Malcolm Webster

Malcolm Webster jailed in 2011 for killing his wife

Malcolm Webster jailed in 2011 for killing his wife

The other mini-series I watched recently was a true crime drama called The Widower. It told the story of Malcolm Webster played by Reece Shearsmith. This was a murder case I hadn’t heard of, but if Shearsmith was involved it was sure to be creepy. Indeed I found the actor’s appearance more unsettling without all the customary prostheses, make-up and costumes I was used to seeing from his work on The League of Gentlemen, etc.

According to the story, Malcolm Webster married Claire Morris (coincidentally portrayed by Sheridan Smith) in Scotland. Shortly after the wedding, he began to drug her tea and drinking water with the sleep-inducing drug temazepam when she starting nagging him about his extravagant spending habits. As a nurse, he had ready access to such medications and for a while was able to convince his wife that she had a virus and therefore had no reason to go see a doctor. When he found out she had consulted a physician who wanted to run some toxicology tests, Malcolm knew he had to prevent them from finding the drug in her system.

He took a nearly comatose Claire out in the car, faked an accident he claimed was caused by a motorcycle driving on the wrong side of the road and then, after splashing petrol under the hood of the car, set the engine alight with Claire inside. Predictably the car blew up and Malcolm played the devastated spouse who was too dazed from the accident to rescue his wife.

In the course of the series, Malcolm married a second wife, Felicity, in Australia, embezzled her money, set up insurance policies and drugged her as well. He didn’t succeed in killing #2 before her family got suspicious so he had to make a run for it back to the UK leaving his baby son behind in the process.

Mr. Webster’s downfall was falling for Simone Banerjee (Archie Panjabi) who worked in the same Scottish hospital as Malcolm. To earn her sympathy and attention, he pretended to have leukemia even resorting to shaving his head and eyebrows to simulate the symptoms of chemotherapy. After gaining her affection and trust, Simone undergoes IVF in hopes of giving Malcolm a child to carry on his name assuming he will succumb to the cancer sooner rather than later. Thankfully the procedure is unsuccessful.

As far as we know, he never drugged Simone but later she discovers Malcolm tampered with the life vest in her sailboat so he may have planned on pushing her overboard at some point. By now the police have caught onto Webster’s spree of fires, cons and murder and warn Simone that she may be in danger. His lies finally catch up with him and even Malcolm can’t charm, wiggle or run his way out of it.

It’s difficult to know if Malcolm Webster intended to harm these women when he first got involved with them. It may have been financial circumstances and his great aversion to being told what to do which prompted the drugging and plans to do away with these women he claimed to love. Regardless he remains in prison today despite several appeals and the women who survived their involvement with him can count themselves, if not fortunate, at least wiser.

 

Oddly enough both these mini-series were penned by the same writer, Jeff Pope. He seems to have a knack for true stories as he’s also written the screenplays for Philomena, Appropriate Adult,  Lucan and the aforementioned Mrs. Biggs. I’m glad someone adapts these compelling lives for the screen and makes them entertaining in the bargain. They boost my awareness of British public personalities and,even better ,they increase my chances if winning if I ever enter find myself competing in a pub quiz in the UK. You wait, it is gonna happen one of these days.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,191 other followers