Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Please sir, must we REALLY have some more?

So we have yet another Oliver Twist coming to our screens this Winter. The BBC is set to broadcast a new version of Charles Dickens's well-loved tale starring newcomer William Millar as Oliver, Timothy Spall as Fagin and Tom Hardy as the pyschopathic Sykes with Sophie Okonedo as poor Nancy. The five-part series has been penned by Sarah Phelps, who is best-known for her work on Eastenders, while Coky Giedroyc, who directed Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen, takes the helm.

But do we really need more Oliver Twist? There are plentiful other 'classic' novels to adapt to screen ... so why the paltry lack of imagination?

Clearly this is seen as wholesome, on-message family viewing with a heart of gold; a re-working of a familiar, well-loved tale. However, a truly searing, realistic version of Oliver Twist , which offered an unflinching portrayal of the despicable cruelties and craven hypocrisies of the Victorian era, would probably prove to be wholly unpalatable to the family audiences TV broadcasters hope to entice. Dickens certainly intended Oliver Twist to expose the crass indecencies and misfortunes inflicted on children at the heart of his society. Sure, he over-sentimentalised his subject (as was his wont), but this was nothing compared to the sanitised saccharine-sweetness which has sugar-coated almost every televisual/filmic outing of the novel ever since. Let's hope the BBC's promises (as stipulatd in the corporation's press release) for a 'darkly thrilling' production with a 'modern edge', lives up to its hype.

Confession ...

... I am absolutely loving The Tudors, the Showtime import currently airing on BBC2. OK, I know it's high-blown, ridiculous nonsense, riddled with historical inaccuracies and dogged by some egregious acting, most particularly from the otherwise insanely delectable Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing King Henry VIII. But what a hoot!

I can't help loving it, even though in Episode Four, we have just had the nonsensical re-casting of Henry's sister 'Mary Rose' as 'Margaret' (ensuring an amalgamation of both Henry's sisters, including the historically vital Princess Margaret who wed James IV of Scotland) who is dispatched to marry the decrepit and infirm King of Portugal, when in reality, she married the King of France. And then, at the close of the episode, Princess 'Margaret' proceeds to suffocate the ailing king with a pillow! In truth, 'Mary Rose' was reputed to have danced her old king to death, wearing him out with her youth and vitality ... but a murderer?? It's an absurdly crazy notion, but completely in keeping with the high-blown silliness we have come to expect from this TV series.

Of course, I am unabashedly tuning in for the eye candy. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is extremely easy on the eye, and luckily the producers have managed to get him 'out' of his shirt as much as possible. Similarly eye-catching is young Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, who steals Princess 'Margaret's' heart, while escorting her to her political marriage in Portugal. Brandon did indeed fall for Princess 'Mary Rose', and they (eventually) made for a happily handsome married couple, once her first husband had been danced to his grave.

I'm not sure of Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn. She's a little too chocolate-box and less arch and witty than how I envisage the real Anne. But I love Maria Doyle Kennedy as poor, downtrodden Katherine of Aragon. Sam Neill is good value as always as Cardinal Wolsey, and it was good to see James Frain, a terrific actor, entering the fray in Episode Four as Thomas Cromwell.

I'm rather hoping The Tudors can continue for a fair few series to come. There's an awful lot of mileage in that particular dynasty ... the reign of Henry VIII alone is enormously eventful.

Michael Hirst is the creator/writer of this series. He is well-known for penning Shekhar Kapur's exotically sumptuous Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett resplendent in the title role and Geoffrey Rush excellent as her conniving adviser Walsingham. Elizabeth was recently aired on Channel Four and was definitely worth a (re)-watch, if only for the extremely moving final 20 minutes, when the young queen realises her fate - the political need to forgo her personal desires and humanity in favour of becoming a hallowed virginal icon instead; effectively a PR hologram, to be marketed as the divine, omniscient and quick-witted ruler, almost a self-parody, rather than a real-life flesh and blood woman.

Sure enough, the scripting and the direction in Elizabeth are clearly targeting a fun-seeking postmodern audience, hoping to accrue maximum cultural capital at minimum cost to the old grey matter and/or personal comfort, and history has been reshaped accordingly. But as with The Tudors, Elizabeth is not trying to push itself as a historically accurate tele-document - farcical as such a notion could ever be. The aim is to entertain foremost, and this is definitely achieved.

The success of The Tudors has led me to believe that a cracking TV series could be formed out of yet another formidably exciting period of England's history - The War of the Roses, which encompasses numerous personal rivalries, wars, battles and love affairs stemming from Edward III's reign through to Henry VIII's own father and the final de facto 'victor', Henry VII. Indeed, I'm of a mind to plot out a script myself!

A Room With A View to air on ITV on Nov 4th

ITV's adaptation of EM Forster's A Room With A View is set to air November 4th, on ITV1 at 9.00pm. The trailer looks promising enough - lots of high drama and high octane kissing action, but definitely darker than the famous 1985 Merchant Ivory version, which launched Helena Bonham-Carter's acting career. I loved the earlier film, despite its being a piece of frothy, nostalgic whimsy, set in sun-soaked Edwardian England and a gloriously luminous Italy, and even with an abysmal Julian Sands as Lucy Honeychurch's young love interest, George Emerson - the eponymous Merchant Ivory 'heritage' film. Almost defining a genre unto itself.

I'm looking forward to Elaine Cassidy in the main role. She is a very fine actress, if a little older than I would have hoped for the youthful Lucy. I especially loved her work in the BBC adaptation of Sarah Walter's Fingersmith. Rafe Spall should make for an interesting George Emerson, and I look forward to seeing his real-life father Timothy Spall playing his fictional father too. I particularly welcome Sophie Thompson, a splendid actress, in the role of Aunt Charlotte. (Although she has a lot to do to face off the wonderful Maggie Smith).

In truth, this version really needs to give it some welly to face off the 1985 version, which never fails to delight.

The ITV production has Andrew Davies as the screenwriter (no surprises there) and Nicholas Renton directing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hello again ...

Long, long time no write - but I do have a valid excuse, as I have had a baby and been a little preoccupied, to say the least!

Anyway, I now have lots of little news items to catch up on, as it looks like a heavyweight viewing season is coming our way this Autumn.