James Norton

McMafia S1 E1-5 (BBC One)

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After the overload of confectionery sweetness of light entertainment and festive specials over Christmas, the television networks have decided to serve up something more substantial for the New Year with a veritable glut of prestige drama series on offer. ITV has old favourites Vera and Endeavour back on our screens, together with the new offering Girlfriends from the prolific and ever-reliable Kay Mellor.

Yesterday we looked at the high concept offering Hard Sun. Meanwhile, over on Sunday nights BBC One has inserted a bold, uncompromisingly gritty drama about international crime rings. Based on a novel by Misha Glenny and adapted by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, McMafia is the story of successful banker Alex Godman. Read the rest of this entry »

War and Peace E1 (BBC One) (2016)

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peace-0I’ve never been one of those people who have been remotely tempted to ‘tackle’ any of the great classics – those 19th century works of literature that come in inch-thick doorstopper editions capable of causing subsidence to the average bedside table. It’s true that many people do see this activity as some sort of lifetime milestone that has to be undertaken at some point, the sedentary equivalent of running a marathon or climbing Everest; they grit their teeth, put their head down and plan their campaign as if going off to battle.

I am not one of those people. Frankly if a book doesn’t appeal to me intrinsically as something that I actually want to read and would enjoy doing so then nothing and no one is going to persuade me otherwise, and I shall be moving quickly on. After all there are a lot of excellent modern books out there that do appeal to me that I also have yet to get around to, so I’m simply not going to squander my short time on this planet on something that people tell me that I should read just so that I can boast about the alleged achievement. I’m perfectly happy to leave that to others who really do enjoy doing such things.

The idea of a 1,225-page tome about the lives and loves of the old Russian aristocracy with unpronounceable names in 1805 simply holds no such inherent appeal. Accordingly the task of reading Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is so far down my to-do list that I would need two or three lifetimes for it to make it to the top of the pile. While watching a TV adaptation of the novel is a distinctly less challenging prospect – the latest BBC adaptation only requires one’s attention for a relatively scant six hours in total – I’m afraid that my ambivalence toward the novel quickly spilled over to a firm resistance toward embarking upon the small screen version as well. Only the slightest nagging sense of intellectual obligation – that I really should at least give something a chance before completely dismissing it – made me think that I had to sample a few minutes of the first episode to see how far I could actually get before gratefully throwing in the towel and moving on. Read the rest of this entry »

QuickTakes: BBC: The Secret Files, My Life in Squares, Taskmaster, All Aboard! The Canal Trip

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I’ve been tidying my desk ahead of the August summer recess (more of which later) and thought I’d use the opportunity to add some very brief reviews of some programmes that aired this week – BBC: The Secret Files, My Life in Squares, Taskmaster, and All Aboard! The Canal Trip – that I ordinarily wouldn’t have got around to covering but which I think and hope may prove to be worth a moment or two of your time. Read the rest of this entry »

Grantchester S1 E1-2 (ITV)

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It’s hard to imagine a TV drama series that could be any less ambitious than Grantchester, in which a 1950s local Cambridgeshire vicar cycles around his parish solving some rural mysteries. You could have made this show 30 years ago with perhaps a cameo from Joan Hickson and it would have looked and felt exactly the same as it does now, here in 2014. Normally these days when a TV company makes a period-set drama you get that oh-so-knowing post-modern ironic edge to the proceedings, a nod and a wink to the audience to say “Yes, we know it’s a bit twee, but actually we’re really rather cool and smart hipsters once you get to know us,” but not here: Grantchester is as painfully earnest and uncomplicated as its lead character Sidney Chambers.

Not that this is a necessarily negative observation, however. There’s a time and a place for something warm and simple that you can wrap around you on a dark autumnal evening while you’re sitting there getting ready for bed, drinking a hot chocolate with the cat sleeping snuggly in your lap while the rain lashes against the window. But you do wonder why no one at ITV noticed that they already made something very similar in terms of a period crime drama set in a university city (Endeavour, not to mention the BBC’s Father Brown daytime adaptations) and also wondered if there really needed to be any more undemanding cosiness in a schedule that already boasts Downtown Abbey on Sunday nights. Read the rest of this entry »