Category: Drama

Matt Lowe, on location in Brum

April has been an incredibly busy month for me. In addition to my day-to-day work at a library, a production company and a theatre (yes, I currently have three jobs and rarely know if I’m coming or going!) I’ve also been involved with a storyline for Season 5 of PERSONA, the world’s first ongoing soap opera for smartphones.

PERSONA is free to download on both iTunes and the Android market, with a three-minute ‘appisode’ coming direct to your smartphone every day. As well as being an innovative concept that provides a great nugget of free daily entertainment, PERSONA offers aspiring writers and directors a chance to try their hand at creating some of the storylines in each season. My friend Matt applied to do this and a few short weeks later, Adam and Sarah’s Story was born.

Matt and I met at University several years ago and both studied the same Film and TV Masters course after completing our undergraduate degrees in History. When he asked me if I wanted to be involved in PERSONA, I immediately said yes. My main role has been to promote Adam and Sarah’s Story through social media and I was also a Production Assistant on the first day of the shoot last weekend. It’s been a brilliant experience, not only to work with Matt and other friends from the MA again, but also to work with a lovely cast and to delve briefly into the world of drama. Post-production is now underway and I can’t wait to see the ten completed scenes.

The purpose of today’s post is, I’ll admit, to ask you nicely to check out the Adam and Sarah’s Story blog I set up to chart our progress with the project. There’s information about the cast and crew, plenty of photos and even some hints of what’s in store for Adam and Sarah when their story hits smartphone screens later this year. If you’re looking for something new to fill a few minutes of your day, at no cost, PERSONA could be the answer.

Call the Midwife

It’s Sunday, so in addition to gearing up for the week ahead, I’m also looking forward to the next instalment of Call the Midwife on BBC1 this evening. Set in London’s East End in the 1950s, it follows the lives of young midwife Jenny Lee and her colleagues in nursing convent Nonnatus House.

There are some high-profile names in Call the Midwife, with Pam Ferris and Jenny Agutter playing two of the Sisters and Vanessa Redgrave narrating the series as Jenny Lee in later life. Miranda Hart appears as Nurse Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, otherwise known as Chummy, and I have to say I actually prefer her in this role to her more slapstick character Miranda. She plays Chummy with the perfect blend of warmth, humour and vulnerability and her budding relationship with a local police officer is charming to watch.

Call the Midwife successfully balances amusing and heart-warming moments with incidents of sheer tragedy, without ever seeming far-fetched or melodramatic. This is possibly due to the fact that it’s based on the best-selling memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the real Jenny Lee, who died last year aged 75. The joy of becoming parents is tempered by the very real issues of poverty, sickness and death and the series touches upon issues that are still pertinent in today’s society, such as the importance of good nursing care and the horrors of forced prostitution.

In spite of these hard-hitting doses of reality, it’s an enjoyable hour of television viewing and has, for me, sparked a genuine interest in reading Jennifer Worth’s original memoirs of the same title. After tonight there’s only one episode left, but a second series has been commissioned so I’ll look forward to plenty more smiles and tears in 2013.

The Lure of Wisteria Lane

Susan, Lynette, Bree and Gabrielle: the Desperate Housewives

I saw the first episode of Desperate Housewives completely by accident.  It was a Wednesday evening in January 2005 and there was nothing else decent on TV, so my Mum and I decided to watch the new ‘darkly comedic’ suburban drama on Channel 4.  My 16 year-old self was instantly hooked and shameful as it may be to admit, I’ve not missed a single episode.  The final season started last Sunday on E4 and although I’ve come to expect the ridiculous over these last seven years (has it really been that long?), I must admit that a twist in the episode’s last minute has restored some of my faith that season eight will be action-packed with intrigue, if not with realistic drama.

The Fairview ladies really have seen it all: suicide, a tornado, cancer, divorce, a plane crash, more divorce…there have been some gripping cliff-hangers despite the unlikelihood of these multiple calamities.  It surprises me how genuinely upset I feel that Lynette and Tom, who were the only original couple to still be happily married, are now separating, which is testament to the on-screen chemistry of the cast.  In fact, if the previews are anything to go by, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for any of the relationships I’ve watched develop for so long.  The body of Gaby’s abusive step-father is buried in the woods and weighing heavily over everyone, particularly Susan, who is not even attending Wisteria Lane’s weekly poker game.  Could a desperate need for absolution actually spell the end of the Housewives’ friendship?

I’m not generally one to make predictions, but I have a feeling a few familiar faces might return in this final season.  Could Orson or Zach be responsible for the anonymous note left in Bree’s mailbox?  And did Felicia Tilman definitely die in that car crash we saw coming at the end of season seven?  Hard to say, but as Mary Alice guides us through the ruthless suburban streets one last time, I’m sure secrets will surface that even my years of loyalty to Desperate Housewives haven’t prepared me for.  There aren’t many shows that manage to keep characters human and storylines enticing in spite of what is, to be brutally honest, sheer farce.  So, as long as the doom and gloom are tempered with a few humorous moments along the way and there are at least a couple of happy resolutions, I’ll stay on board for the last stage of the ride.

Top 10 TV Detectives

John Thaw as Morse

Although many detectives have their origins in the pages of crime novels, everyone loves a good murder mystery on the telly. The intricate plots and the satisfaction gained from the rare instances when you work out ‘whodunnit’ make for a thoroughly engaging viewing experience. I actually put this list together two or three years ago when I was writing articles for the TV section of Redbrick, the student newspaper at Uni. Reviewing it now, I’m still pretty happy with my Top 10 sleuths to track down on the box, so here they are again with some extra case notes…

  1. 1. Inspector Morse

An opera-loving Oxford bachelor, Morse is undoubtedly one of the best-loved detectives ever to grace our screens.  Superbly played by the late John Thaw, even his first name was a mystery before finally being revealed as Endeavour.  With its iconic location and high drama, I firmly believe that Morse is one of the best programmes ever to air on ITV.

  1. Jonathan Creek

Alan Davies starred as magician’s assistant Jonathan Creek, who used his inside knowledge of illusion to tackle cases that baffled others.  I particularly enjoyed the New Year’s special a couple of years ago, although it put me off ever taking a bath in a locked room again.

  1. Poirot

Agatha Christie’s dapper Belgian detective, the one and only Hercule Poirot, cracks crime in the Art Deco world of the 1920s.  David Suchet has ‘been’ Poirot since 1989 and this Christmas will see him complete the case catalogue with five final episodes.  Magnifique.

  1. Lewis

Previously the great man at number one’s sidekick, in the spin-off series Robbie Lewis has been promoted to Chief Inspector himself.  Morse may be gone, but his legacy continues as Lewis deciphers more eccentricities of academic Oxford with his new sergeant, James Hathaway.  I particularly admire the dynamic in Lewis and Hathaway’s relationship and the manner in which previous Morse cases have been incorporated into new mysteries.

  1. Tom Barnaby

    Inspector Barnaby in Midsomer

Midsomer’s favourite policeman always got to the bottom of things and was sure to finish every case with a twinkle in his eye.  With so many murders, it’s a wonder there’s anyone left in Midsomer, but despite John Nettles stepping down from his much-loved role, a new Inspector Barnaby (his ‘cousin’!) has stepped in to keep the villagers in check.

  1. Sherlock Holmes

Portrayed by many actors over the years, from Basil Rathbone to Richard Roxburgh, Holmes is the archetypal Victorian detective, deerstalker hat, pipe and all.  The contemporary BBC adaptation Sherlock aired to great acclaim in August 2010 and a second series will be broadcast early next year.

  1. Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)

A 2000 remake of the original 1960s series starred Bob Mortimer and Vic Reeves in the title roles.  It’s often said that two brains are better than one when it comes to detective work, so when Marty Hopkirk is killed, he does the logical thing and returns as a ghost to help old work partner Jeff Randall solve new cases.

  1. Miss Marple

Another Agatha Christie creation; nobody would suspect a little old lady to be unravelling mysteries as well as her knitting wool.  It’s always the quiet ones…

9.  Henry Crabbe

Whoever said cooking and sleuthing don’t mix?  Richard Griffiths played the Pie in the Sky chef who also worked as a policeman, despite his wish to retire and focus on his restaurant.  His superiors wouldn’t let the best brain on the force leave, so the mid 1990s were spent cracking crime as well as eggs. A solid ITV3 favourite.

10.  Rosemary & Thyme

Poisonous plants, convenient shrubs to hide behind, all those dangerous tools lying around…gardens can be crime-ridden.  But luckily, Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme were always on hand to help. I occasionally felt that the acting was below par, considering the renown of the two lead actresses, but it was gentle entertainment and not too gory, so I’m sure it reached a wide audience all the same.

What with one thing and another – finishing my MA, job hunting and numerous family events – it’s been rather a long time since I blogged.  September was a pretty good month for me telly-wise though, with the BBC kindly broadcasting the Strictly Come Dancing launch show on my 23rd Birthday and Series Two of Downton Abbey starting a week later.  Who Do You Think You Are? returned as my staple 9pm Wednesday night fare in August and I made a couple of new discoveries that completed a very satisfactory weekly TV menu, keeping me entertained as the evenings drew in this month. So, without further metaphors (I really should stop with the food analogies!) here’s a breakdown of my Top Five summer-into-autumn shows…

My Own Route 66 Adventure: Pops

5.     Billy Connolly’s Route 66 

I was drawn to this four-part ITV series for two reasons.  Firstly; it was made by Maverick, where I was lucky enough to have a placement earlier this year.  Secondly; I travelled halfway across America in May, including a short stint on Route 66, so I was fascinated to see what else this iconic road has to offer.  Although Connolly didn’t visit Pops, the only landmark on Route 66 that I went to, the series did provide an insight into both the physical and cultural breadth of the USA.  It’s hard to imagine somebody doing a better job presenting this sort of travelogue than Connolly, hitting the highways on his trike and telling stories about people and places with honesty and humour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now following the programme that’s taken over its Thursday evening slot: Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey.

4.     Who Do You Think  You Are?  

This is one that divides my housemates, some of whom claim  that who your great-great-grandparents were really has no bearing on you.  Whilst there is a degree of logic in this, I  have always seen WDYTYA as a fascinating avenue into history first, a genealogy programme second.  You never know what  era of history might be encountered as the celebrities trace their ancestors.  Larry Lamb’s episode was one of my favourites in this latest series: his mother’s family were travelling showmen, famous for their menagerie of exotic animals, and he actually tracked  down a previously unknown relative in America.   J.K. Rowling’s journey took her to France and Germany, giving an insight into the impact of the Franco-Prussian war on ordinary families.  No two episodes of WDYTYA are ever the same, historically or in the reactions of the celebrity participants.  It may be a little bit of sentimentality that draws me in as well as the history, but regardless of my friends’ opinions I’ll  certainly watch the next series when it reaches our screens. 

The Formidable Grandmother: Maggie Smith

3.     Downton Abbey

It’s all happening at Downton Abbey and the twists and turns this series have seldom brought happy news for the Crawley family.  It’s hardly surprising, given that the Great  War has been dominating the bulk of the storylines, but it would be nice to have some small glimmer of hope for Lady Mary and Matthew or for Mr Bates and Anna in previews of the next week’s episode.  Intriguing as all the relationships are at Downton, whether they’re platonic,  amorous, or crossing class boundaries, the heightened drama seems to be prohibiting even one match between two characters being satisfactorily cemented.  The costumes and setting are exquisite and Maggie Smith is still delivering superb lines as the Dowager Countess, but I’m hoping for more resolutions and less mini cliff-hangers over the coming weeks.

2.     Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat is a  new Channel 4 comedy that follows the escapades of six university students  forced to share a house after missing out on their places in Halls.  The characters and situations are often exaggerated for effect, but nevertheless strike a surprisingly realistic chord about the  ups and downs of moving to a new city and living with strangers.  Its appeal lies in the subtle but astute observations about how Freshers deal with the strains of University life,  creating new identities (who can forget the Pussy Man?) and desperately trying to please and impress new acquaintances, even if it does lead to one night stands with housemates.  The main characters represent a bunch of stereotypes who aren’t actually as stereotypical as they initially seem; from posh lad JP to alternative, don’t- care Vod.   We’ve all got mates who remind us of at least one person in Fresh Meat, or can personally identify with some of the scenarios – even if we wouldn’t admit it!  Each episode leaves me chuckling and it’s no surprise that a second  series has already been commissioned.

Russell and Flavia's Foxtrot, Week 3

 1.      Strictly Come Dancing

Admittedly something of a guilty pleasure, but I’m an avid Strictly fan, including tuning in for It Takes Two most week nights.  Sometimes I think it would be worth becoming famous just for the slight chance that I could be asked to take part in Strictly.  Not for the hair and make-up, but just for the opportunity to learn to dance with a professional like James (hint hint!) or Vincent, who’s certainly the best match for me height-wise…Dreaming aside though, I love watching Strictly because it’s solid entertainment: a visual spectacle, that ‘journey’ element, and plenty of amusing moments.  Yes, it’s sad when somebody leaves undeservedly, like Rory Bremner last weekend, and occasionally the judges go a little OTT, but nobody’s livelihoods are at stake in this competition; it’s really a very positive process.  Indeed, the ballroom bug seems to infect all who take part.  Russell Grant may not be the best dancer to grace the floor, but is truly a joy to behold as he learns each new routine.  I’m slightly apprehensive about seeing what Nancy Dell’Olio and Anton present this Saturday in the Halloween Special, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Besides, it wouldn’t be so fun to watch if I couldn’t voice my own criticisms about dresses and routines.  My favourite to win? It’s early days yet, so perhaps I’ll save that for my next blog…