And Happy New Year! This early in the New Year I’ve already enjoyed some brilliant screenwriting on TV (mainly Netflix!) – the pilot episodes of THE GOOD WIFE and IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, as well as the last 7 or 8 episodes of BREAKING BAD (I thought the series ended really strongly and I may have to eat some of the negative words from my last blog on the relative merits of BREAKING BAD and ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK!)
And on regular TV, there have already been a couple of highlights – the compelling first two episodes of THE BRIDGE series 2 – what a wonderfully written pair of central characters Saga Noren and Martin Rohde are!), and David Nicholls’ excellent BBC1 two-parter THE 7.39.
But before I get 2014 sensory overload, I thought this week I’d take a look back at the best scripts \ shows from 2013 – whether in TV, film or theatre.
THE RETURNED – as strange and hard to categorise as it was spooky and compelling. This was refreshingly imaginative and ambitious.
BROADCHURCH – the best mainstream broadcaster series of the year in my book. Chris Chibnall’s series was a master-class in crime drama. The show was just great story-telling, keeping me hooked over 8 episodes that reminded you just how satisfying weekly serial drama can be. And I’m glad to see that THE 7.39, like BROADCHURCH, did away with the dreaded end-of-episode teaser – which in my view seriously damages your enjoyment of the subsequent episode by giving too much away. BROADCHURCH (by doing without them) brought home to me just how damaging these ‘teasers’ are.
SOUTHCLIFFE – grim but brilliant. So many great characters, a complex, striking narrative structure. And some hugely powerful, emotional and visually arresting moments.
COMPLICIT – a highly topical and morally challenging look at torture and government complicity in torture. Great script by Guy Hibbert and gripping performances by Arsher Ali and David Oyelowo
UTOPIA – another hard-to-categorise series (by DENNIS KELLY) that tackled big themes darkly, comically and hugely imaginatively. Packed with memorable characters and moments. Highly colourful both visually and narratively.
RUN – 4 linked, urban stories by first time TV writers MARLON SMITH and DANIEL FAJEMISIN-DUNCAN. It’s great that new writers can get their break on a big, ‘signature’ serial like this.
TOP BOY – series 2 lived up to the high standards set by series 1. Compellingly hard-hitting – writer RONAN BENNETT has a real gift for dramatic story-telling.
All the above were part of a succession of hugely impressive Channel 4 drama projects that (in my biased opinion) put C4 way ahead of the other broadcasters in terms of the range, originality and ambition of their output.
BLACK MIRROR series 2 – particularly the opening episode BE RIGHT BACK by CHARLIE BROOKER that was just sublime – moving, chilling and thought-provoking dramatic story-telling with wonderful performances by Hayley Atwell and Domnhall Gleason – speaking of whom, another of my favourite scripts last year was –
ABOUT TIME – the RICHARD CURTIS time-travel rom-com. If that reductive description brings out your inner cynic, then I’m with you. I went to this film with low-ish expectations but I was very successfully emotionally manipulated. I admire RC’s courage in going for the shamefully emotional in a very un-English way, and I was reduced to tears by the father \ son relationship that emerged as the emotional core of the story.
Continuing with the TV \ feature film connections, some of the best laughs were produced by the two very different Steve Coogan \ Alan Partridge projects – the brilliantly small-scale ‘Mid-Morning Matters’ which is a demonstration of how, if you have as vivid a characterization as AP, and some great writing to serve the character, then you can keep an audience royally entertained for a whole series without leaving the confines of one poky North Norfolk Digital radio studio; and on the other hand there was the wonderful, much larger-scale ALPHA PAPA – a hilarious DOG DAY AFTERNOON spoof that had me embarrassing my son by cackling loudly and continuously in an empty cinema for 90 minutes. Both Partridge projects were written by brothers NEIL & ROB GIBBONS, PETER BAYNHAM and (of course) STEVE COOGAN.
STEVE COOGAN also had a co-writing credit with JEFF POPE on the Pathe UK feature, PHILOMENA, adapted from the Martin Sixsmith book. This was another cracking script, with great performances from COOGAN and JUDI DENCH. The contrast between Alan Partridge and Martin Sixsmith (as played and written by Steve Coogan) is a testament to his talents.
OTHER FEATURE FILM HIGHLIGHTS
A.C.O.D. (‘Adult Children Of Divorce’) – written and directed by STU ZICHERMAN. A brilliant comedy that I saw at Sundance London, yet to be released in the UK – I recommend you look out for this. It’s smart and very funny.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE – Alex Gibney’s documentary about the extraordinary, duplicitous life and times of Lance Armstrong. An absolutely compelling character study.
But my favourite film of the year was probably the US indie THE WAY WAY BACK. A charming, touching, very funny coming-of-age story with a great cast (Steve Carrell, Toni Collette). With apologies to amazon \ spotify – if you liked JUNO and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, you’ll enjoy this.
I saw so many excellent new plays last year – I think this is a golden age for new theatre writing in and around London (I can’t speak for the rest of the UK)
FLEABAG – written and performed by the very talented PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE, this was hugely original, very funny and absolutely filthy.
Also at the Soho Theatre, DOLLY MIXTURES by brilliant, subversive ventriloquist NINA CONTI.
At the Royal Court, there was the excellent THE RITUAL SLAUGHTER OF GORGE MASTROMAS by the prolific DENNIS KELLY (look out for UTOPIA series 2 as well!) and MINT, part of the weekly rep season, which was a study of one man’s prison sentence and its impact on his family. Written by director and first-time playwright CLARE LIZZIEMORE, this was a really engaging, thought-provoking and very impressive play.
THE HERD at the Bush Theatre by actor RORY KINNEAR was an intense domestic drama centred around family tensions and the impact on their lives of caring for a disabled child.
Finally in December I went to see Channel 4 screenwriting course alumnus ALI TAYLOR’s new play FAULTLINES at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs. This was another great piece of writing – funny and about something really topical and relevant – set at Christmas-time in a London disaster relief charity relief agency’s office, the play deserves to become a seasonal staple!
I’d love to hear about your SCRIPT highlights from 2013 – the shows (in whatever medium) you most enjoyed and why.
Until next week,
All the best
Jan 10th 2014