Eddie Marsan

Ray Donovan S1 (Amazon Prime)

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ray-donovan-1Ever since Showtime aired the first episode of this series back in 2013, Ray Donovan has irritated me. Not the show itself, you understand, but more because I’ve never been able to watch it, or really get a proper grip on whether it’s even the type of show that might interest me if I could. In the UK, it’s aired on a channel that isn’t carried by my cable provider; since it clearly doesn’t fit into a neat genre it’s usually unhelpfully classified simply as ‘drama’, and the series description tends to be just as broad and sparse. As a result it’s a show that’s appeared on the television listings tantalisingly out of my reach, while the DVD boxsets that started coming out a year later were too expensive to buy sight unseen when there was a real risk that I’d watch the first ten minutes and hate it.

Three and a half years later I’ve finally been granted a way in, after finding that the first three seasons of the show are available free to Amazon Prime subscribers. That has allowed me to dip a toe into the world of Ray Donovan and finally work out what the show is actually all about, and whether I like it or not. Read the rest of this entry »

River S1E1 (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the first episode

River-1One of the problems of watching a lot of international television is that by the time some new British production shows up and is hailed as strikingly original and different, I’ve usually already watched something quite similar to it from some far-flung part of the world.

That’s especially the case for River, the new BBC-Netflix co-production written by Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady, The Hour) that started this week. Simply the presence of leading Swedish acting talent Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mamma Mia, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Thor) immediately signals that this is the latest attempt by a British drama to move into the newly discovered territory of Nordic Noir and in just about every important respect the lead character Detective Inspector John River comes across as very much a super-morose version of Kurt Wallander. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke (2004)

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Contains spoilers for the TV show and for the novel

This is not a repeat! I say again, this is not a repeat.

200px-Jonathan_strange_and_mr_norrell_coverYou may recall that a couple of months ago I handed out my somewhat less than enamoured views on the first two episodes of BBC One’s big new Sunday night drama adaptation Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and confessed that it simply hadn’t really been to my liking. The period tale of magical fantasy had been just a little too way out and weird not to mention somewhat over the top and florid for my liking, and my views didn’t really change over the course of the remainder of the seven-part series – although at least on the upside I did just about stick with it to the end. The final episode was the most difficult when everything was turned up to eleventy-stupid as far as I was concerned, but at the same time it also contained the single best scene of the entire series in the form of a quiet moment of simple honesty and reconciliation between the two titular characters just before everything went to Hell or thereabouts.

I admitted at the time of my original review that I hadn’t read the original novel by Susannah Clarke from which the television serial was adapted, and moreover added that I had no real desire to. That comment was picked up by a couple of friends of mine, who both insisted that I absolutely must do so. I was very resistant to the idea – why read a book when the TV version had not been to my taste in the first place? Plus I rarely read a book after having seen the film or TV version since I find that re-covering such recently trodden familiar ground is so tedious that I invariably lose interest and stop reading part-way through. However the friends in question are smart and frighteningly well-informed, and when I also found that the eBook was on special offer to coincide with the TV broadcast I realised I didn’t even have a financial leg to stand on to help me put it off. As a result I duly did as I was told and bought the book and gave it a go, wondering just how many chapters I had to plough through before I could in all honesty stop and say in good faith that I’d given it the good old college try and that my initial prejudices had been confirmed and that enough was enough and could I read something else now? Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell E1-2 (BBC One)

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I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of heightened magical fantasy/adult fairytales. Even when Doctor Who veers into this sort of thing, I struggle – as my reviews of some of the more recent episodes of that show under Steven Moffat can attest. The mix has to be spot-on to keep me engaged, and if it all gets too weird or fantastical then I’m afraid I’m usually to be found heading to the check-out desk forthwith.

strange-norrellUnfortunately, admirable and impressive though many parts of this TV adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel undoubtedly are, the BBC’s new seven-part drama Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is teetering at the very outside edge of the sort of thing I’ll hang around for. And I stress again, this is very much to do with my personal preferences and attitudes, not a criticism of the work of director Toby Haynes or writer Peter Harness in bringing the book to the screen. Set in an alternative 19th century during the Napoleonic Wars, the period detail is top-notch and the CGI realisation of the magical spells as impressive as anything you’ll see on television or indeed many a feature film. Read the rest of this entry »