Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

An Update On Work/Life

The last time I mentioned my PhD on here was when I discussed my grandmother problems and how they're affecting my ability to study. Sad to say, things are still getting steadily worse in that department. Last week we recorded a very nice 36 calls and 23 messages in one day because she was confused - apparently, we're not too sure really. I escaped to the library for an hour but you have to get a security guard to let you into the toilets. For whatever reason, I can't bring myself to do that so the library's out as a place of refuge. Anyhow, my grandmother's in Blackpool for the week with my aunt so I'm taking the opportunity to get as much work done as I can before it all kicks off again.

So, yes, where am I at with my PhD? Well, I've now got a rough schedule for completion which is...well, scary as hell. Every month is full until next May when, hopefully, my thesis will be in roughly the right shape with all the right bits in and it might even look pretty, though I think that's pushing it a bit. The list of things I have to do is panic-inducing but the main thing for the next five months is to pull chapters three and four together (I'm on with three, haven't the foggiest about four). After that it's a case of revising, fine-tuning, introducing, concluding and going mad - if I can find the time for it.

Writing is allegedly having to take a back seat to all of this. It doesn't feel much like it from what I've been doing. Using that handy list I compiled a while ago about the novels I've been working on, I completed the fifth draft of 'Lily' a few months ago and am waiting for feedback on that. I was quite pleased with the development so I'm ready to be knocked flat on my backside and told I've made it worse. I've also thrown myself into a nuts-and-bolts revision of 'Danni', which is currently standing at around 50,000 words. The worst part of that is the fact that I'm planning ahead for the sixth draft if the fundamental plot changes work as well as I hope they will. No point throwing myself into the nitty-gritty of the novel until I know whether the structure's staying like this - this is attempt number two at changing the background fundamentally.

What else? Well, I started a structural revision of 'Lauren' but I got drawn back into other things after only a few thousand words. I've earmarked that for later in the year. However, I also did what I wasn't supposed to be doing this year and started a new novel ('Izzy'). After a burst of inspiration I'm well into this but I had to break off to do PhD-stuff and so the first draft is sitting there about a third finished, waiting for me to return to it. I'm seeing that as happening when I've finished the 'Danni' redraft.

Of course, what doesn't help is that I was struck with another novel idea last week. I've got the bare bones of it in my head and I want to write it at some point soon. Will it end up being my NaNoWriMo novel? Well, I kind of want to get the draft on paper before that. Which means, in theory, I could end up with three new novel drafts in a year I promised was going to be spent on novel revision. That would be amusing, wouldn't it?

Last week when I had a uni meeting I was asked whether there were any impediments to me finishing my PhD within the time I'd suggested. I said no. I think I lied, don't you? But I've tried to stop writing in the past and that doesn't work. What's a girl to do apart from forego sleep and get the hell on with it all?

At this point I think some wise words from Donald O'Connor are in order...

'It's the smile you smile that counts,
Happy thoughts in large amounts,
Any problem you can trounce,
You can bounce right back...'

Monday, 29 April 2013

Book Review: Mrs Robinson's Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

The subtitle of this book is 'The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady', which is the tool Summerscale uses to analyse one of the most interesting divorce cases heard in mid-Victorian period. Isabella Robinson met Edward Lane in 1850 and quickly began writing about him in her secret diary. She alternates between believing he feels the same way and thinking him cold-hearted until something irreversible seems to happen between. Then Isabella falls ill and her diary is read by her husband, Henry...

If it sounds like the plot of a sensation novel that's because it most likely inspired some. The details of the case were devoured by the press and, although they are less shocking to a modern reader, the type of information Isabella trusted to her diary is still surprising. Aside from her love for Edward, they also document her feelings for two other men and her distaste for her husband. Part of her defence rested upon the fact that to commit these thoughts - they contended they were fantasy - to paper was the sign of a deranged woman.

Summerscale approaches her subject with subtlety, utilising the diary entries to build up a picture of what happened before the trial. This is made especially difficult by the fact that the original diary and copies were destroyed. All she has to work with are the sections reported in the press and in the law digest which summarised the case in greater detail than the newspaper reports. With this in mind, the depth of Summerscale's analysis into Isabella and Edward's relationship is incredible. Equally, her writing style suits the subject, as it did The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (review here).

This is an enjoyable work of non-fiction and I won't give away the details for anyone unfamiliar with the trial. I will say that the Robinson and Lane families are interesting beyond the divorce trial and alleged affair. What Summerscale has created here, with the help of Isabella's diary, is a snapshot of a set of Victorian lives. The asides may seem irrelevant on occasion but they serve to build up an engrossing picture. When I'd finished reading I felt I was losing touch with a collection of friends.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Classic Film Review: Genevieve (1953)

Genevieve stars John Gregson as Alan McKim, the owner of the classic car of the title. He and his wife, Wendy (Dinah Sheridan), travel in Genevieve from London to Brighton for the antique car rally every year. This year she really doesn't want to go but relents to make him happy. Also going to the rally is Ambrose Claverhouse (Kenneth More), their brash friend and a man Wendy dated briefly before she married Alan. Ambrose brings along trumpet-playing Rosalind Peters (Kay Kendall) for company. Once they get to Brighton, though, relations turn sour and the trip back to London becomes a race where anything goes...

This is an enjoyable little British film that doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't rely on stunts to enhance the race aspect. The situations that the two drivers get themselves into on the way back from Brighton stem from character and a desire to win. It's a gentle film but an amusing one. Although John Gregson plays the lead, I found him to be a little overshadowed by the other characters. Kenneth More's larger-than-life persona takes up a lot of screen time but the surprise of the film is Kay Kendall (I was shocked to learn she died six years after this film was made aged only 33). As Rosalind she's an excellent foil to Ambrose - along with her dog, that is. Dinah Sheridan also outshines Gregson in a quiet, undemanding way.

There are a couple of things to look out for with this one. Firstly, there's a small appearance by Joyce Grenfell as a hotel owner. Secondly, watch out for the band scene where Kay Kendall's character suddenly takes centre-stage. Finally, listen out for the incidental music which was played by the wonderful Larry Adler and fits the mood of the film perfectly.

Genevieve does meander a bit but it's not supposed to be a rip-roaring comedy. It's a nice and gentle film which had me vocally rooting for Alan and Wendy by the final ten minutes. Having said that, the ending's also a bit of a surprise. This is a perfect film for a lazy Saturday afternoon and worth it for the hotel scenes alone.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Thoughts on Broadchurch

This would've been a review. Actually, it would've been a fairly positive one. I enjoyed seven out of the eight episodes of Broadchurch, with the finale a little too long and meandering for my liking. There were some truly memorable scenes in the series, particularly those with David Bradley as Jack Marshall and Pauline Quirke as Susan Wright. Those are two characters that will live on in my mind long after the final episode. Some of the cast were less successful but being in the shadow of performances like that isn't really their fault.

But, like I said, this isn't a review. This is a rant.

I have in my hands the TV Choice for this week. Quoting the creator, it says: 'And when the curtain comes down, it really will be the end. 'There won't be a second series,' confirms Chris. 'It was an eight-part show. And anyway, perhaps I've ended up ruining that whole world!'' I was happy with that. I wanted complete closure from the series, I wanted a decent ending with closure for the characters.

Lo and behold, this is announced a few minutes after the series ends: the recommission!

I'm actually furious with this. Don't make a big deal out of ending something if you have no intention of ending it. That's just plain rude and disrespectful to your audience. That audience who expected complete closure from an episode because it had been touted as the last episode.

Oh, I know that the viewing figures were good, phenomenal by recent standards. And I know it was talked about all over the country, bets were taken on it, it really gripped the imagination. But there's nothing to stop you creating another show with the same writers! This is lazy, both on the part of the production team and ITV.

You might think I'm being a bit harsh. If I've enjoyed most of a series why wouldn't I be delighted that there's going to be another one? Well, if it uses the same setting or the same characters it's just the sign of an arrogant team who want to milk the British public's attention as much as they can. It's nothing to do with storytelling and THAT is the thing that bothers me.

Classic Film Review: The First of the Few (1942)

Also known as Spitfire, The First of the Few tells the story of R.J. Mitchell, the engineer best known for his development of the famous plane. It is half-fact and half-fiction, with some characters being amalgamated into one and some personal details changed. Released at the height of the war and approved by Winston Churchill, it was obviously a prime piece of British propaganda - but that doesn't stop it being a powerful film.

Leslie Howard, in his final film role, portrays R.J. Mitchell as a quintessentially British engineer, congenial but fiercely intelligent. He is joined by his friend and test-pilot Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven), who is a fictional character created from several real-life people. The film covers Mitchell's initial attempts to get a new competition plane off the ground then, after an encounter with Nazis in Germany, he devotes his life to creating a new type of war plane than will be effective enough to beat them in battle. The frame story is told by Crisp, meaning that an air battle can be shown at the end of the film - the natural result of Mitchell's work.

Because the story was so fresh, I'd imagine it was difficult for producers to delve completely into Mitchell's life. More to the point, they wouldn't have wanted to. That leaves the story a little light on motive and I think (I don't know) that the Germany scenes were included or enhanced to reflect this. There is more leeway with Crisp, who is a combination of people, and his frequent womanising provides some of the humour in what is essentially a dramatic film. His interactions with Mitchell's secretary, Miss Harper (Anne Firth), are very amusing. Rounding out the main cast as Diana Mitchell is Rosamund John and she fulfils the role of supportive wife very well.

The film jumps through time, as most biopics do, but it works as well as any of them. As a piece of wartime propaganda it is probably one of the best; as a dramatic film seen by a modern viewer it works almost as well. Niven is superb and this, as Howard's swansong, is a fitting remembrance.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Classic Film Review: Macbeth (1948)

This adaptation of Macbeth stars Orson Welles as the title character with support from Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, Dan O'Herlihy as Macduff and Roddy McDowall as Malcolm. Welles also directed and apparently altered some things, assigning speeches to other characters etc. I must admit that it's been a good ten years since I read or saw Macbeth so I can't be sure what he changed but it doesn't make a difference to the plot and sequence of events.

By use of a sparse set, the film is very stagey and claustrophobic. There is also an intelligent use of light and shadow, though it becomes too shadowy at times. The entire film is a bleak spectacle, just the way Macbeth should be. The use of a stone staircase as the centrepiece was exceptionally useful, offering background for pivotal scenes such as Lady Macbeth waiting for her husband to return from Duncan's room and, later, her own sleepwalking being observed by onlookers.

As far as performances go, Orson Welles is very good as Macbeth, specifically in the scene after the murder and Banquo's ghost scene. But I was entranced by Jeanette Nolan as Lady Macbeth, particularly in her extended scene while Macbeth is away in Duncan's room but, really, throughout the piece. She doesn't overplay the character at pivotal points and therefore comes across as a little more nuanced than other interpretations I've seen. Dan O'Herlihy was an excellent Macduff, especially in his family news scene, but I had difficulty with Roddy McDowall's Macolm - I can't work out whether it was the character or the portrayal I had a problem with.

Naturally, the story is cut a little to make the transition from stage to film. The transition also means that passages of time which would have seemed more 'real' on stage are lost by the camera focusing on a point until the actors come back on stage. I suspect, too, that some of the scenes cut or trimmed would've helped solve this problem.

Overall, a very good adaptation with two excellent leads. A static film but no worse for it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Classic Film Review: The House on 92nd Street (1945)

The House on 92nd Street is based on a true story of a Nazi spy ring smashed by the FBI in the early 1940s. How loosely based the story is, I'm not sure, but the film presents itself as fact in an almost-documentary style. Adding to this illusion, many of the smaller roles were played by real-life FBI operatives. The case is this: graduate Bill Dietrich (William Eythe) is recruited by the Nazis but instead becomes a double agent for the FBI. He is assigned to be the go-between for Hamburg and a spy ring stealing secrets of a process involved in the atomic bomb. However, his identity is always under question and his attempts to locate the mysterious 'Mr Christopher' are crucial to his survival. Amongst the cast are Lloyd Nolan as Agent George Briggs, Signe Hasso as Elsa Gebhardt and Gene Lockhart as Charles Roper.

The voice-over narration takes a while to set up the story. For the first fifteen minutes the scene is set and, while it's necessary, it does feel too long. In addition, the adoration of the FBI throughout the film is fitting for the era but difficult to stomach as a modern viewer, although it is interesting to see the processes involved in 1940s detection. Once Dietrich is back in the US and working as a duplicitous agent, the pace picks up somewhat. His adventures are interesting but none of the characters - because they're based on real-life individuals - are really three-dimensional. Dietrich's motivations are never made clear, nor are the Nazi spys depicted as anything more than Nazi spies.

There are some moments of high tension, and the central mystery of 'Mr Christopher' is actually intriguing, but while this film is interesting on first viewing because of the propaganda, FBI representation and real-life subject matter, I don't think it would hold interest on a second viewing. It is a fascinating snapshot of American intelligence, though, and for that reason alone it is worth a try.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Classic Film Review: The Virgin Queen (1955)

The Virgin Queen stars Bette Davis in her second outing as Queen Elizabeth I. The story revolves around her relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd) from his arrival at court to gain financing for exploration to his imprisonment for marrying a woman the queen disapproves of. The plot utilises some of the key hallmarks of Raleigh's life but not completely in the right order. As with most films of this type, there is a certain amount of artistic licence taken but it adds up to a coherent film, when I suspect the true story would've been far more complicated.

Let's deal with Richard Todd first. He portrays the fierce, proud Raleigh very well, although his relationship with his eventual wife, played by Joan Colllins, was a little underdeveloped. Raleigh's consistently seen as a step ahead of most other people, able to guess the queen's reactions and work out what will happen next - until the end of the film, that is. However, as hard as Todd tries, he becomes part of the wallpaper when Bette Davis appears on screen. Endowing the queen with the aura of magnificence, her rule is believable and yet painful to watch on occasion. She is witty, bossy, strong-willed to the point of stubborn and almost prouder than Raleigh.

There are two lengthy fight scenes involving Raleigh but, really, all the memorable scenes involve Davis. There is her 'knighting' scene with Todd in her bedroom, which is also the location of her memorable argument with Collins but the final scene as she tends to her business in her office is stunning. After watching Raleigh go up the Thames on his new ship, the queen is left alone and continues working. When the door closes, however, she breaks down as the camera pulls away for the final credits. It's such a short interlude but it brings the film to a bitter-sweet conclusion that lingers in the mind. This is truly Davis's film and from accent to delivery to mannerisms she is flawless.

A note on costumes, locations and décor - all reminiscent of the period if not entirely accurate (I don't profess to be an expert). There are also some splendid supporting performances from Herbert Marshall as Lord Leicester, Dan O'Herlihy as Lord Derry and Romney Brent as the French ambassador. This is an entertaining, sometimes poignant, interpretation of history and I enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tea, Tea, Tea

Did anyone else watch Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea over two nights last week? I found it very entertaining, particularly the last fifteen minutes or so when Wood was discussing the future of tea - if it has one. The focus group with young people, and deciding whether Lady Gaga was a good advertising technique, got me thinking about when I first started drinking tea and enjoying it.

The two most formative years of my life were between 16 and 18, while I was at college. That was the time I began writing (it might've been only fan fiction but it certainly helped me with things like plotting, dialogue and characterisation so I'm not arguing), it was the time when my passing appreciation of musical film and theatre grew into a love that would prove to be my favourite way of working through...anything. It was also the time I started drinking tea.

Picture it (I suddenly feel like Sophie Petrillo): I would leave home or college (sometimes not actually bothering to attend when I was meant to be) and walk the few miles to my grandparents house. All I had on me besides the essentials was a battered tiny bag containing the A5 spiral-backed notebooks I accumulated full of fan fiction, a pen and possibly my latest 40s era CD. It was quite a walk over there, the final quarter being uphill, stretching past Pinderfields Hospital. That was the moment when I used to deliberately check there was no one behind me and start singing along to whatever track I was listening to at that moment. Frequently, I made sure it was this one:

When I got to the bungalow my grandmother put the kettle on straight away. If I was lucky my grandfather was away on his mobility scooter watching lawn bowls. The perk of this was that we'd be able to watch Murder, She Wrote in the living room instead of sitting on the floor in the bedroom. If I was early I'd have my first cup of tea in my gorgeous koala mug (still my cup of choice when visiting her) at the kitchen table with my notebook open but as soon as this theme music started I was into the living room like a shot, my grandmother already having put the kettle on for a fresh cuppa (with plenty of biscuits) as we watched Angela Lansbury:

Afterwards I retired to the kitchen, with another cuppa, to write and write and write until the time came for me to leave their bungalow and walk the mile or so to my other grandmother's where most of my evenings ended. The amount of writing I got done in those hours, though, was prolific. And you know the funny thing? I never drank tea anywhere else at this point. Not at home, not at my maternal grandmother's, not out in town. It was my special drink for there, made just right.

I started drinking it again at university to get that home feeling. These days I need a drip installed to manage my intake. Years ago I cut out the sugar but I have it quite weak and with a big dribble of milk. There's also an obsession with fruit and herbal teas but that's a post for another day. In the meantime, say hello to Sophia!

(In this post I managed to talk about Victoria Wood, Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls - all things that kept me going through those tricky college years!)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Classic Film Review: Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)

Once Upon a Honeymoon stars Ginger Rogers as an American ex-burlesque dancer and social climber who is engaged to be married to Baron Von Luber (Walter Slezak) in Vienna. She currently goes by the name of Katherine Butt-Smith, though her real name is Kathie O'Hara. Fellow American Patrick O'Toole is a journalist interested in the baron's political ties to Hitler. He follows the couple, who marry shortly after leaving Vienna, across Europe and, finally, Kathie realises that her husband is a close ally of the Nazis and seeks refuge with O'Toole. They fake her death but continue to follow him, ending up in Paris where an undercover American spy has a task for Kathie that neither she nor O'Toole is going to like.

This is an odd film, blending tragedy with comedy and not always getting it right. The main plot of a love triangle often feels at odds with the serious nature of the war going on around them. Two really dark moments stick out in my mind: the moment when Kathie gives her passport to her Jewish maid to allow her to flee the country with her two children and puts them on the back of a van to travel to safety then when she and O'Toole are taken by the Nazis and read a notice on a door about forced sterilisation procedures. Moments like this are hard-hitting but do feel out of place in a film that begins with Cary Grant playing with a tape measure as he impersonates Kathie's dress-fitter.

The relationship between Kathie and O'Toole is well-developed enough not to feel rushed and Rogers and Grant play it well. I was less certain about Baron Von Luber's relationship with Kathie - while it was evident why she wanted to marry him, he was underdeveloped in that respect. Not to say that Slezak's performance as the duplicitous baron isn't excellent, it's just that the character isn't as developed as I would've liked. Again, this probably comes from the film being a cross between a comedy and a drama, where the requirements for the third character in a love triangle are somewhat different.

I really enjoyed this one, despite the irregularities in genre and pace. It does descend into propaganda at times but Rogers treats this lightly enough for it not to be too blatant. Her final scenes with Grant on the ship bring the film back to comedy when something incredibly dark has just happened - again, I'm not sure about the tone but I can't fault Rogers and Grant for playing the scene as it was written.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Classic Film Review: The Little Minister (1934)

The Little Minister stars John Beal as the title character in this film based on a story by J.M. Barrie. In the 1840s Gavin (Beal) arrives at Thrums to take up his new post. He proves to be able minister until he encounters a gypsy girl who cons him into starting a riot by accident. Babbie (Katharine Hepburn) is a gypsy by descent but is also betrothed to the local lord so, essentially, she's living two lives. After inciting the riot she needs to escape the village by posing as Gavin's wife, invoking feelings in them both. But if they get over the hurdle of Babbie's engagement to someone else and the mistrust of the villagers, they still have to face Gavin's mother (Beryl Mercer), who he has devoted his life to as she devoted hers to him.

This starts off slowly with Beal and his mother arriving in the village and, to be honest, it feels a little dull up until the moment Katharine Hepburn literally frolics onto the screen. Her haphazard, bouncy character is an early version of Susan in Bringing Up Baby (1938, reviewed here) and she livens up what has the potential to be a difficult story to enjoy. I had difficulty warming to John Beal as Gavin, though his character becomes more pronounced once he has Hepburn to bounce off. His confused and bemused stance is much more enjoyable to watch than his almost self-righteous preaching of the first few scenes.

After an amusing middle third, though, the film drops towards in pace towards the end as Gavin is faced with mortal danger - which I doubt was the intended effect. I think the problem is that, for me, the film had been carried by Hepburn's exuberance and once that was forced out there was little for me to focus on. Another niggle was that Babbie's relationship with Lord Rintoul (Frank Conroy) is shown far too little considering its place in the story. Their final scene was woefully short, more an afterthought than a resolution of a plot point.

There were, however, some gems in the supporting cast. Primary amongst these has to be Andy Clyde as the weary policeman who is upset because the villagers won't speak to him any more and gets himself into trouble trying to do his job. Donald Crisp is enjoyable in the complimentary role of Dr. McQueen and Mary Gordon as Nanny, who has a subplot of eviction of her own, is the other stand-out performance.

This is an average film carried by Hepburn in one of her stranger film roles. The Scottish accents are mostly passable and the sets are reasonable for the time. There are no exceptional scenes but quite a few good moments - all involving Hepburn.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Classic Film Review: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

Based on Ernest Hemingway's novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the story of American Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) who has joined the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and has been tasked to blow up a bridge at a crucial moment in time. He is sent into the mountains to hide in a cave with some allies until the correct moment. These allies are led by Pablo (Akim Tamiroff), a self-serving man whose interest in blowing the bridge for the Republicans is only piqued by the idea of it having some benefit to himself. However, the real leader in this place is Pilar (Katina Paxinou), a formidable woman who is far more intelligent and brave than Pablo. Also in the cave is Maria (Ingrid Bergman), taken in by Pilar after she was rescued from a train. Jordan is instantly taken by the short-haired Maria but tries to keep his mind on the task ahead as obstacles are thrown in his way.

While Cooper and Bergman are excellent in their roles, I was captivated by Katina Paxinou as Pilar. From her first scenes she is intriguing and fascinating to watch, stealing the limelight from the two leads. It's no wonder that she won the film's only Oscar for her role, as well as scooping the Golden Globe for best supporting actress. She is phenomenal and, actually, the character I cared most about as the film progressed. Not to say that Jordan and Maria are weak characters. Jordan is shadowy, almost unfathomable, and Maria's past has shaped her, both physically and mentally. There are some excellent moments between them, although I wasn't as taken with their final scene as I perhaps should have been.

This film is eventful, yes, but it trades as much on the potential duplicity of Pablo as it does the objective of blowing up the bridge. This undercurrent, along with Pilar's attitude, is the main strength of the film for me. While there are a few dramatic scenes - the gunfight on the hill, the bridge attempt - most of the tension comes within the cave and the difficult relationships enclosed within it.

Jordan as a hero is credible and Cooper plays his part perfectly. Equally, Bergman's performance is extremely good, especially when she relates what happened to her when her town was captured. Ultimately, Cooper, Bergman and the rest of the cast are thoroughly believable. I never get the sense of acting from any of them and that's due to a combination of an excellent script, empathetic direction and the skill of the actors themselves. It leaves you thinking about war, yes, but primarily about human beings - a profound topic for any film to tackle.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Death in Paradise Casting News

I can't be the only one to be disappointed by the announcement that Ben Miller's leaving his role as DI Richard Poole sometime during the third series of Death in Paradise. He'll be replaced by Kris Marshall of My Family fame. While the article doesn't make clear whether the decision to leave was Miller's, I suspect it was from things I've read in the past. However, I can't say with certainty that I'll still watch the show after he leaves.

For starters, what is Kris Marshall's character going to be? If he's a carbon copy of Poole then what's the point? Poole works as a character simply because of Miller. I don't think he would be as amusing in the hands of other actors. And if the new character isn't a carbon copy of Poole then the fish-out-of-water scenario disintegrates completely. There may be a middle ground in there somewhere but I'm struggling to see it.

Another irritating aspect of this decision is the fact that the slow-burning love story between Poole and DS Camille Bordey (Sara Martins) hasn't been resolved and now, if it is, it'll only be as a precursor to Miller's leaving. I feel a bit cheated actually - as a viewer I wanted the pay-off of awkward romance. This is television, not film. You don't have to end with the 'happy' ending, you should run with it sometimes.

I would've preferred that if Miller wanted to leave them to end the show completely instead. As things stand, this announcement makes it sound like they're clinging onto something that got a hefty chunk of the viewing figures but disregarding a couple of the vital components that got it those figures. I'm not saying the gorgeous location and escapism didn't add to the appeal, but the hackneyed Agatha Christie style of detection wouldn't have worked for anyone but Miller.

I'll probably watch up until Miller leaves then cross it off my list. I may, of course, be proven wrong.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Classic Film Review: Lucky Partners (1940)

Lucky Partners stars Ginger Rogers as Jean Newton, a woman who gets given a free dress minutes after a stranger wishes her 'good luck' in the street. Seeing him again, she has an idea: since he's already brought her luck, maybe he could do it again by going halves with her on a sweepstake ticket. When the stranger, David Grant (Ronald Colman), questions her motives, she explains she wants to win the money so that she can be an independent woman even after she marries her fiancé, Freddie Harper (Jack Carson). Grant agrees to go in on the scheme but only if they - Jean and David - go on a honeymoon together before she marries Freddie. By some trickery, Grant persuades Freddie to accept this plan and when they gain some money Jean and David are off, without exactly telling Freddie about it first.

Rogers is sublime in this, even if the plot is downright silly, particularly when Grant's true identity is revealed in the final third. But Rogers adds her own personal charm to the role, frequently reacting to events and comments with the precise expression required. Her performance in this is very similar to Judy Garland's in my favourite film The Harvey Girls (1946), with the same level of intimacy with the audience and personal insecurity that Garland offers so well. In addition, Rogers's comic talents are on top form from the moment she wanders down the street into the view of Colman's character to her final turn in the courtroom. Do I think she works well opposite Colman? Well, yes, surprisingly. Their verbal styles ricochet off each other and there are some delightful little moments between them.

Jack Carson deserves a mention for his portrayal of a suspicious and jealous fiancé whose only claim to fame is being in insurance. Spring Byington is excellent as Aunt Lucy, having a few amusing moments throughout. However, a special mention has to go out to Harry Davenport as the judge who unravels the mess at the end of the film. His kindly demeanour matches Rogers's contrite and polite persona perfectly - well, until it doesn't!

This is a gorgeous little film, a bit crazy plot-wise but easily balanced out with charm and humour.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A Somewhat Odd Appreciation Post - Nicola Walker

You know how it is - suddenly everything an actor has filmed in the last months hits the screen at the same time. We've had David Bradley in both Broadchurch and Prisoners Wives for the last few weeks and Olivia Colman, currently in Broadchurch, will also be appearing in the new episode of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, which has been heavily trailed. But I think Nicola Walker deserves her own accolade for appearing in three different programmes over three nights last week. That was quite impressive.

To be honest, since I never watched Spooks the first time she really appeared on my radar was late last year in Last Tango in Halifax (I never wrote a blog post about that and it really really deserved one). But suddenly it seems everything I watch (and I actually watch little television) has her in it. Unfortunately, last week was the culmination of two of her programmes but that was a delightful week while it lasted and showed her versatility over three nights.

On Tuesday she was in Heading Out as Justine, the nice-but-very-dim friend of Sue Perkins's protagonist in the new sitcom. I really hope that gets renewed (but, again, that's for another post). As Justine, she made eating custard a fascinating experience, though this episode wasn't my favourite. On Thursday she was in Prisoners Wives as DCI Fontaine, a rather smug police officer trying to imprison one of the main characters. However, I saved her Wednesday appearance in Scott & Bailey for last because...well, wow.

She played Helen Bartlett, a woman strangely unruffled by the news of her estranged mother's murder to the point where she becomes a viable suspect. As the episode goes on the disturbing details of her relationship with her parents trickles out in an extended scene that is as gut-wrenching as it is captivating. Probably has to be seen to be appreciated but, damn, it was good.

So airhead to murder suspect to DCI in the space of three days - and all of them believable in their own different ways. If I hadn't already been converted to her fan club in December I would definitely be signing up now. Looking forward to the rest of the series of Scott & Bailey and I'll then be counting down the days till Last Tango returns.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Two Odd Encounters

I started thinking last night - no idea why - about two encounters that have become linked in my mind. It's funny the connections you make: A leads to B because of C and, suddenly, you can't think of one without the other. Both these encounters coincided with a 'big day' in my life and both of them involved creatures not normally associated with warm, fuzzy cuddles.

Firstly, there was the night before I went off to Lincoln for my first year at university. I was on edge, especially having just said goodbye to my grandmother (a farewell that would trigger, unfortunately, a rather bad stream of events culminating in her death but that's for another day), and I was sat at my laptop dawdling and putting off going to sleep. I had a high bed in those days, with a desk underneath and a 'bedside' table next to the desk with a purple lamp on it.

Then, suddenly, the lamp started buzzing. I was a little slow off the mark but quickly came to my senses when the wasp buzzed out of the lamp and headed in my general direction. I jumped up, knocking over my can of Coke onto the lampshade and bedside table, and panicked. My inclination was to run away but there was nowhere to run. My dad was asleep and I sort of had to stay in that room. My only option was to catch it and put it out. I think it got killed in the process but that was by accident, not design. When I woke up the next morning I thought I'd dreamed it but, nope, there were the Coke stains on my lamp to prove it. Incidentally, I didn't have time to clean up before I left so there they stayed for two weeks until I came home for a spontaneous weekend.

The second incident happened three years later on the morning of my first day at a company in the North East which shall remain nameless. It's enough to know that they were based in Stockton and I was living in Darlington. I set off ridiculously early to make sure I got an earlier train and just as I was walking down from the town centre towards the railway station something glistened in the dawning light ahead of me. Almost hidden on the bridge on my right there was something scurrying above the water line. A big something. It was the size of an overfed cat but, having had rats as pets, I knew exactly what it was. It looked particularly menacing bathed in orange light. I'll be honest, I didn't want to pass that spot for a few moments and I lingered until I finally realised I'd miss my train if I didn't get on.

These encounters aren't linked apart from the fact they were chance meetings with unexpected creatures and they happened prior to big events in my life. But, with hindsight, it's difficult not to see them as omens of some kind. My first year of uni was...tricky and I made some daft decisions and wrote some dafter essays. That job proved to be a blessing and a curse - it gave me friendship (like my old pet rat Norman did) but it was the place my shyness became an acute problem.

The trouble with us human beings is that we seek meaning in everything. That's probably increased tenfold in writers and avid readers. Everything has to mean something, otherwise what's the point of anything? Unfortunately, that's a question I return to time and again.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Classic Film Review: The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947)

The Ghosts of Berkeley Square is a rather odd little film about, you guessed it, two ghosts in the London square. Starring Robert Morley as General "Jumbo" Burlap and Felix Aylmer as Colonel "Bulldog" Kelsoe, it tells the story of two men who died in 1708 after a stunt gone wrong and cannot leave their house in Berkeley Square until reigning royalty visits. Through the years they have many close shaves but it's the unexpected that always wins the day.

With a supporting cast including Marie Lohr (who I liked in Went the Day Well? (1942), review here),Yvonne Arnaud and Wilfrid Hyde-White, this film manages to be eccentric and humorous utilising the fairly limited special effects of the time. However, that said, it is a little choppy, as over 200 years pass before the soldiers are finally allowed to leave the house. As a consequence, characters come and go quite rapidly and the fun mostly stems from wondering how they'll accidentally sabotage their latest efforts to be set free. My favourite of these was the Great Exhibition period where they become a spectacle so convincing that a scientific expert believes in them enough to recommend that Prince Albert does not visit the show - for fear of looking like a fool to his own society.

The Ghosts of Berkeley Square takes a liberal approach to haunting. The soldiers can materialise, blend into their surroundings, get into trouble with humans and make mischief throughout. Plus, a great number of the people they come into contact with are surprisingly unperturbed at the idea of ghosts. The film necessarily relies on the charisma and interplay between the two ghosts themselves and Morley and Aylmer bounce off each other fairly neatly throughout, even during the scene where it's revealed they haven't spoken for over half a century because of an argument. 

This isn't a spectacular film but it's amusing and very of its time with some flippant racist comments which make make the contemporary viewer cringe. Still worth a watch if it's on though. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Book Review: Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

This was my third foray into Hardy's fiction following Tess of the d'Urbervilles (read for A-Levels) and The Mayor of Casterbridge (review here). Far from the Madding Crowd tells the story of Gabriel Oak, a shepherd, and the young woman he admires, Bathsheba Everdene. While at the beginning of the novel Oak is fairly prosperous and Bathsheba forced to live with her aunt, in a reversal typical of Hardy, Oak soon finds himself reduced in status and ends up working for Bathsheba who has inherited her uncle's farm in Weatherby. He still carries a torch for her but recognises she's far above him and uninterested. They become friends and, meanwhile, another farmer, Boldwood, falls deeply in love with Bathsheba. As she's contemplating her answer to his proposal, she encounters a dashing soldier, Sergeant Troy, who she's immediately attracted to. Troy has previously been involved with one of Bathsheba's maids who fled the town but only Boldwood and Oak know this.

I have to say, Hardy's descriptions of nature (and man against nature) are almost unsurpassed. There are a few scenes of particular merit which linger in my mind. Firstly, the scene where Oak stops to help when he sees a fire in the distance and, ultimately, proves his merit to all around. Secondly, the thunderstorm where Oak and Bathsheba battle to save the crops is remarkably written. Evocative and subtle, developing the relationship between the two alongside the more urgent task. Finally, the moment where a grave is almost washed away is beautiful, although I won't say more about that in case I ruin the plot for anyone. However, while I enjoyed much of Hardy's descriptions of place and activity throughout the novel, I must admit that the random conversations between Bathsheba's farm hands became a little tedious. Probably designed for a little light relief, some of them provided it but some meandered off in odd directions and never quite make it back. The moment Oak gets irritated with them for their digressions mirrored how I'd been feeling throughout the book!

Although I read the first half of this one slowly, I whizzed through the second half. A combination of unexpected character developments pushed me onto the end. I will say, though, that once these developments take place, there is only one real possibility for the final pages. Still, knowing that didn't make me enjoy the book less.

Gabriel Oak is an excellent character. Whilst loyal, he also has pride and a stubborn streak to match Bathsheba's. His quiet devotion to her throughout the novel, alongside all the wonderful descriptions, is probably why I enjoyed this one as much as I did. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Classic Film Review: The Las Vegas Story (1952)

The Las Vegas Story stars Jane Russell as ex-singer Linda Rollins who is hoping to pass through Las Vegas without stopping. Her husband, Lloyd Rollins (Vincent Price), insists on stopping off for a little gambling. Linda is apprehensive about facing her past, particularly the Last Chance, a casino she used to work in as a singer alongside pianist Happy (Hoagy Carmichael). That was where she was watched night after night by Dave Andrews (Victor Mature), now a lieutenant in the local police force. At the centre of the film is an expensive necklace given to Linda by her husband. Since he's in financial trouble, the insurance company has sent an agent, Tom Hubler (Brad Dexter), to make sure Rollins doesn't dispose of it. When a man turns up dead Lloyd Rollins is implicated and the necklace is missing.

If the plot sounds complex that's because it is, although it's much easier to watch than to explain. While Price and Russell seem like an odd pairing, as soon as it becomes clear that there's far more to enjoy in the Russell/Mature dynamic this becomes almost irrelevant. Hoagy Carmichael's supporting role is a rather bizarre one, particularly when he launches into 'The Monkey Song', a piece that has to be seen to be believed. The other two songs are performed with typical sultriness by Russell and I have no complaints on that score. There was an obvious decision to focus the camera on her as much as possible throughout and, for me, that's what made it enjoyable. 

The middle of the film sags a little. By the time the murder has actually happened, I was a little tired of waiting for it but there was a lot to set up beforehand. There are a few notable scenes, the best by far being the helicopter/car chase towards the end of the film. I don't know how that was managed in 1952 but it was excellent to watch. However, as an ardent Jane Russell fan, I have to include a scene of hers in this review (and not the shower scene) so I'd have to go with the scene where she walks into the Last Chance again for the first time and is hit with her memories. Wonderfully played by Russell. 

This isn't a fantastic film by any stretch but it's a good one. Victor Mature is ideal as Lt. Dave Andrews and Jane Russell doesn't take herself too seriously. A nice film of its time. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Classic Film Review: My Favourite Wife (1940)

My Favourite Wife stars Cary Grant as Nick Arden, a man who has just declared his wife legally missing seven years after she was presumed dead in a shipwreck and married a second wife. The only problem is that on the very day he declares her dead, Ellen (Irene Dunne) manages to make it home. She pursues Nick and new 'wife' Bianca (Gail Patrick) to their honeymoon hotel and reveals herself to Nick. He's over the moon at her return but has difficulty telling Bianca. Just as he's about made up his mind to, he discovers that Ellen wasn't shipwrecked alone - there was a man, Stephen Burkett (Randolph Scott), on the island too and they called each other 'Adam' and 'Eve'. Hilarity and shenanigans ensue.

I loved this one. Grant is at his personable best as Nick, a man rightly disturbed by the idea of his wife spending seven years secluded with another man. Meanwhile, Dunne just lights up the screen from the moment she appears. Surprisingly, as the film went on, I found myself warming to Gail Patrick as her confusion at her 'husband's' bizarre behaviour grows. There is one sequence where she brings a doctor to the house that is downright hilarious. But, really, this film belongs to Grant and Dunne. Nearly all of their scenes are funny, though the laughs tail off a little towards the end as outside forces cease to be relevant.

One thing I really liked was the way the two children were utilised. Instead of breaking the news to them off-screen, Ellen tells them who she really in during a sweet little scene where they already knew. Whilst this is a comedy there are moments of poignancy scattered throughout. My favourite scene, though, has to be when Ellen has accosted a salesman and persuaded him to be Stephen Burkett for a few minutes, just to allay any fears Nick may have about him being an attractive man. Of course, what she doesn't know is that Nick's already scoped out the competition!

If you're looking for a nice, light comedy with some excellent lead performances as well as some amusing secondary players then this might just do the trick. Watch out for Granville Bates as the judge forced to unravel the case and Donald MacBride as the hotel clerk forced to get tough on the man with two wives in suites opposite each other.