Thank you so much for your responses to my blog of last week – ‘Script Highlights of 2013’.. Looks like I’ve got some enjoyable viewing to catch up on…
Here are your contributions with a few interspersed comments from me in italics.
As a dedicated Morse-head I am obviously biased, but I thought the first full series of ENDEAVOUR – four feature-length stories, all written by Russell Lewis – was very, very good. It got utterly overshadowed by the Broadchurch behemoth, but successfuly emerged its origins as a Young Morse prequel to find its own style and tone. Having a single writer is crucial to that, I believe.
Happy new year
I continue to enjoy your newsletters so thank you – keep up the good work!
Agree with most of your highlights, I’d add The Fall which I thought was really well written (although it felt like the ending was hurried – perhaps rewritten quickly when it was recommissioned). You’ve talked about Homeland before, but worth a mention. Such great conflicted characters. (Yes I should have mentioned THE FALL. Very powerful, very good story-telling)
On big screen I loved Saving Mr Banks, brilliant central performance from E T and managed to tread the tough line of sentiment vs sentimentality.
On stage I enjoyed In The Republic of Happiness at the Court by Martin Crimp for its audaciousness and sheer bonkers ballsyness, I also thought The Machine by Matt Charman at the Manchester Int Fest was excellent (about the chess match between IBM computer and Kasparov) and The Night Alive a beautiful and brutal realisation of the existence of lonely men in Ireland. Very well written by (Conor) MacPherson and Ciaran Hinds was just SUPERB.
I know it’s this year but just caught up with The 7.39 – David Nicholls does relationships brilliantly doesn’t he? I thought David Morrisey was worth the entrance fee alone! What a cracking performance.
Anyway I’ll stop there
but thanks again for your newsletter they really light up the week for me
‘…was a late starter to THE GOOD WIFE here in the UK, but am glad to say that thanks to the box sets I’ve now seen every episode, and am impressed at the consistently high standard it has set and maintained in all departments, not only in its dialogue but the performances, design and editing. (I’ve only watch TGW ep 1 so far – it’s definitely on my 2014 list) I’d continue to place MAD MEN in the same category. BORGEN, the Danish series -albeit largely sub-titled – is up there for me too, though sadly it has now come to an end. We have had our own successes, although I don’t consider the scripts of the mega-popular DOWNTON ABBEY to be a leader in the field – despite a smattering of witty one-liners and good performances. Oh to see those people in something more worthy of their talents – remember the days of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (Yes Brideshead still stands up today) or the original THE FORSYTE SAGA! But we look forward to another series of BROADCHURCH – far edgier and more relevant.’
By Raymond Langford Jones (aka: Ned Hopkins)
Since you asked for people’s highlights of 2013 in your last blog, I thought I’d take the opportunity to review the year and some of the stuff I watched. I think it was something I really needed to do – was good to dissect in writing why I liked what I liked. So thanks for prompting me to do it and here are my theatre, film and TV highlights. Please don’t feel obliged to read it, but since I wrote it all down for myself, I thought I may as well share!
Mission Drift at The Shed
Devised by a Brooklyn based company, it was an exciting piece of experimental theatre which mixed fiction, reality, myth, music and cabaret. It had it’s flaws and felt a bit like a work in progress, but it had heart and intelligence in abundance. Most of all it was bold and arresting and was one of the best new pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen and one I will remember for a long time. Set the bar for what new work should be about.
Routes – at The Royal Court
Really interesting probe into immigration and identity in the UK. Fresh and funny dialogue.
Theatre Uncut – at The Young Vic
Not all of the short plays were perfect but I thought the standard was very high considering they were all written super quickly and that the actors only had a day or something to rehearse. All the plays asked pertinent questions about various problematic elements our current society, mostly without being overly preachy or didactic. I’d never heard of the Theatre Uncut initiative before, but after seeing the plays and listening to the Q&A afterwards it really seems like a brave, necessary and exciting initiative.
Daytona at the Park Theatre – solid writing but it was mainly all about Maureen Lipman’s sublime performance in the second act for me.
Merrily We Roll Along – can’t remember where it was on
An example of a musical that’s much more of a play – the lyrics to every song are brilliant and there’s as much witty talking as there is singing. Moving and funny meditation on friendship, nostalgia and regret. (I saw this – I’m a big Sondheim fan – but I’ve seen better productions of this show. Some of the sings are wonderful – he’s a great exponent of story-telling in song form, and has written so many beautiful tunes)
Circle Mirror Transformation – Royal Court
I didn’t love the play but it was an hour of perfect dialogue and great performances. (yes agreed – this play was full of great moments and performances – Imelda Staunton, Toby Jones, Fenella Woolgar – who was even better in Moira Buffini’s HANDBAGGED- were all excellent)
Really enjoyed Short Term 12 and Mud. Both small films that were quietly moving and entertaining. Also nice to watch films about people who are totally messed up but who are essentially loveable and decent. A little tired of so many films and TV series featuring awful, narcissistic main characters. Even if the writing is amazing, if I don’t care about the character I get bored pretty quickly. I slightly lost interest in Breaking Bad mainly for the reason, I wanted to see Walt die in about Series 3. But as I think you said in one of your blogs, it was surprising how Hank emerged as the person you cared about the most. Well I did anyway. And it was clever how you really regained sympathy for Jessie in the final series and were rooting for him.
Was massively let down by the script in Gravity. Such a shame, as if the writing had been as good as the effects it would genuinely have been one of the best films ever made but instead it’s just 2 x 2D characters floating around in space (in truly mesmerising style) largely saying very stupid lines. There should have been minimal dialogue in my view, especially since they were running out of oxygen!
Aside from a lot of the stuff you’ve already mentioned in your blog (Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, Broadchurch),
I thought The Americans on ITV was excellent. It was really entertaining and tense (even though often totally unbelievable) but for me it was the central relationship between spy husband and wife that made it so good. The way they “find eachother” over the course of the series is really interesting and surprisingly touching. The couple had been forced together for work purposes and had to create a facade of a happy american family, marry and have kids together, without knowing or even liking each other much at all. Over the course of the series, in between committing various beastly acts of espionage, they start to fall in love for the first time (after being married 15 years or something). I thought it was great TV.
Late 2013-early 2014 is when I discovered Nurse Jackie for the first time. Brilliant writing and one of the best examples of a seriously conflicted main character who does consistently terrible things – she cheats on her loving husband and is a pathological liar and a drug addict. But at the same time she is also the goodest of the good and when you’re not repulsed by her you’re totally in awe of her. It’s also just really funny and the ensemble cast is brilliant. My one criticism is that conflicts are often resolved too easily and quickly (in the first 3 seasons at least-that’s as far as I’ve got).
The Fall – Really horrific but excellent. Writing that drips with tension.’
‘Yes to Utopia and Black Mirror, but the main storyline of Broadchurch disappointed, with an unrewarding resolution and no real clues. Southcliffe had a good premise – but poorly realised. My favourites have to be The Good Wife for complex plotting and sheer verve with witty character interactions – both the side shows and the main storyline deliver. And last year’s Top of the Lake – more engaging than The Returned – which made a good start but lost its way.
Reflecting on differences with the homegrown output, this seems to lie in the complexity of characterisation, the back stories and personal stories of the cop or the lawyer, not just one idiosyncrasy shown when they’re at work. Doc Martin does this too, as did Ripper Street… …
Are UK viewers of quality drama too small in number to support the development of complex, longer series?’
Thanks for the newsletter as always,
I loved Broadchurch, but the other drama highlight for me was The Fall. I loved the way it took us not only into the world of the victim and the police, but into the killer’s life. It showed us how even murderers can seemingly be living normal lives and, by placing such a twisted evil man in the heart of a family with young children, we were worried not just for his victims but for them. Then of course you have the great characterisation with the lead police woman also a cold, calculating individual who is not all that dissimilar to our killer only she happens to be on the right side of the law. I thought this was tightly written and kept the audience engaged throughout. Looking forward to the next series.
Thanks Gwyn G-B’
Happy New Year!
I always keep a list of my favourite British TV I watch every year, as a useful record of what I like and thought as you’re a fellow TV lover (don’t deny it!) you might like a quick skim at my probably arrogant but fun 2013 list.
Definitely the first half of the year was stronger. My four drama events of the year were The Village (like an art-house film – a rare risk to be broadcast on BBC1 Sunday primetime!), Dancing on the Edge (the weirdly maligned Poliakoff makes me think more than any other TV writer) and Broadchurch/Top of the Lake (two supremely original crime dramas).
Peaky Blinders was a disappointment (style over substance). Forgive lack of Sky stuff (I don’t have a subscription).
Still think I should probably watch less TV this year though.
Thank you so much to all of you – have a great week,
All the best
Jan 17th 2014