Friday, August 31, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #8

Lately the following have featured regularly on the old Victrola:
  • Pipedream ~ Alan Hull
  • Wishfulness Waltz ~ Fairport Convention
  • Truelove's Gutter ~ Richard Hawley
  • Rendezvous ~ Sandy Denny
  • Spring Again ~ Harvey Andrews
  • All Days are Nights : Songs For Lulu ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • 25 Years Reunion Celebration, Live In Concert at the Melbourne Concert Hall, Australia ~ Judith Durham, The Seekers
  • For a Lifetime ~ Dave Mallett
  • Disco 2 ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Home Before Dark ~ Neil Diamond


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #7

This week I have been mainly listening to:
  • Gladys' Leap and Expletive Deleted ~ Fairport Convention
  • Poses ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ~ Richard and Linda Thompson
  • The Suburbs ~ Arcade Fire
  • Rubber Soul ~ The Beatles
  • Winter Spring ~ Pete Atkin
  • Friends of Mine ~ Harvey Andrews
  • Please ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • David Mallett ~ David Mallett
  • After the Goldrush ~ Neil Young


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #6

Lately, I have been listening to:
  • Tom Lehrer in Concert
  • Rosie  ~ Fairport Convention
  • Want Two ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • Like an Old Fashioned Waltz ~ Sandy Denny
  • Orange, Past Present & Future and Modern Times ~ Al Stewart
  • Introspective ~ The Pet Shop Boys
  • It, Wit, don't give a S**t Girls ~ Fascinating Aida
  • The Very Best of The Jam
  • Double Fantasy ~ John Lennon and Yoko Ono
  • Open Doors and Windows ~ David Mallett


Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012 #3

From recent reading, I flag up:
  • The Fishing Fleet, Husband Hunting in the Raj ~ Anne de Courcey
  • Wojtek, the Bear: Polish War Hero ~ Aileen Orr
  • Devoted Ladies ~ Mollie Keane
  • The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922 ~ Agatha Christie, Matthew Pritchard
  • Shadow of the Titanic: the Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived ~ Andrew Wilson
  • For the Sake of the School ~ Angela Brazil
  • Look I made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Anecdotes and Miscellany ~ Stephen Sondheim
  • The Girl from Hockley, Growing up in Working Class Birmingham ~ Kathleen Dayus
  • No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny ~ Clinton Haylin
  • The Woman Behind William: A Life of Richmal Crompton ~ Mary Cadogan 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #5

Recently I have been listening to:
  • Over the Next Hill ~ Fairport Convention
  • Clive James and Pete Atkin ~ Live in Australia
  • Larkin's Jazz ~ Various artists
  • The Fable True, Stories from Thoreau's The Maine Woods ~ David Mallett
  • Leaders of the Free World ~ Elbow
  • Mythical Kings and Iguanas/Reflections in a Mud Puddle ~ Dory Previn
  • Want One ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • Where the Time Goes ~ Sandy Denny
  • Heaven Only Knows ~ 1995 Australian Cast Album
  • Ric Sanders Group in Lincoln Cathedral


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Accused"

With credits such as “Cracker”, “Hillsborough” and “The Street,” Jimmy McGovern is the doyen of realistic contemporary drama. I watched the opening episode of his new four-parter, “Accused” on BBC 1 expecting another master-class in taut and bleak grittiness. This episode was co-written with Shaun Duggan.

Here, the central character, or rather characters, is/are played by alpha male Sean Bean, who in real life is openly a confirmed fan of Sheffield United. By day, he is a teacher of English called Simon, a very grey man prone to walk around his classroom declaiming “The Lady of Shallot” to stereotypical bored students who couldn’t even bother to pretend to listen to any of the florid words flying literally over their boorish little heads.

By night, Martin painstakingly summoned up his alter ego, Tracie by means of a ritual involving lengthy baths, shaving, and make-up with much gazing purposefully into his mirror. This is followed by a virtually sacramental vestment in stockings, jewellery, various rather tarty wrap-around frocks and a blonde wig. Tottering on size twelve stilettos, she would then stub out her last Silk Cut and board a cab for the city centre.

Tracie seemed to relish the journey into town with immediately attendant shouting matches with taxi drivers and potentially dangerous altercations with drunks in the street. Whilst the viewer feels her nightmarish vulnerability dressed to the nines and manifestly male in the pub, Tracie is insouciant. The barman exclaims “Jesus!” and Bean replies dryly, “It’s Tracie actually.”

Tracie is feisty and combative. She stands up to the drunken homophobe on the stag night and eventually, when confronted with a real danger of attack, accepts the offer of sanctuary in a taxi home. Her white knight that evening was Tony a TV satellite installer and “happily married man.”

Tony and Tracie soon begin an affair. His visits to Tracie often take place when Tony is drunk. Initially hesitant and somewhat bashful, bearing a bottle of wine, Tony increasingly turned up worse for drink, latterly falling over, eating a fish supper and swigging from a can of lager. We do not know whether this was the result of nervous tension, complacency or his real personality emerging.

Tony lied that his wife was dead, but is ultimately found out when Tracie – unnoticed as ever in Simon mode – passes him in the street and follows him to the salon where his wife – who is very much alive – works. When Tracie daringly visited her in the salon for a makeover, she explained to her husband that “He wanted to look like Cheryl Cole. I think I managed Myra Hindley”

The story reaches one climax when the wife also discovers the existence of Tracie and is then murdered by Tony with the glib explanation that “I killed her because I couldn’t hurt her.”

The climactic trial is therefore of Tony as murderer and Tracie as accomplice after innocently running away to the Lakes with his lover whose wife’s corpse lay wrapped up in the boot. Her discovery of the murder lead to a dramatic chase with Tracie tottering about Cumbria in expensive Italian courts and losing her wig before the police turned up.

Tracie faces trial because Tony is fearful for his own reception in jail if his relationship with Tracie is known and is quite prepared to see his innocent lover punished to improve his own position. The trial climaxed with a tour de force appeal direct to the jury by Tracie – which had echoes of Quentin Crisp in the dock - in which she patiently explained the realities and practicalities of being a transvestite and convinces them of the sheer improbability of anyone who had actually conspired to murder dressing up so conspicuously and hoping to evade recognition and capture.

This story is in many ways magnificent. As ever with McGovern, current attitudes and prejudices are authentically reflected. It is tautly constructed and features haunting performances by Sean Bean and Stephen Graham, which are totally convincing. It is grippingly told, socially realistic and sustains the interest and sympathy of the audience throughout.

My only concern is that the dénouement felt somewhat rushed and the extreme personalities and lifestyles of the central characters were not sufficiently explained. The physical transformation of Tracie the “breathy trannie” from boring grey Simon was repeatedly depicted but in the hour available we did not have a truly convincing explanation for this spectacular evolution.

Similarly, we never really learned how Tony the married man became a seasoned adulterer. Was he deeply troubled or just a randy TV engineer on the make? Was his oft repeated mantra of “you only live once” desperation or daring?

Perhaps because of the depth and quality of acting performances, our sympathies were stimulated so strongly that we were prompted to ask these questions regarding character and motivation and found that the script did not contain all the answers. This might be regarded as a “high class problem”; most dramas certainly do not engage and involve viewers to this extent. These concerns do not imply that this first programme was not first rate. 98% rather than 100% is still Grade A* and no kind of failure.

The second film in the series starred Anne Marie Duff as Mo, the hairdresser mother of a gang member on a sink estate who was ordered by his adult gang leader, Cormack (Joe Dempsie) to shoot the teenage son of his mother’s best friend, Sue (Olivia Colman). Mo had upset the local thugs by stubbornly refusing to close her salon as a mark of respect following the death of another gang member.

The life depicted on the estate was a living hell of grubby houses, windswept precincts with threatening yobs anonymous in hoodies circling on BMX bikes like vultures. Bored youths play violent computer games and no-one makes the connection with the prevailing gun crime and moral vacuum.

This is a world where no husbands or fathers take any responsibility whatsoever or indeed are in evidence at all. The women manage the household and their lives alone; they have to be strong and try to organise, but are sadly overwhelmed by the odds. The police file chillingly labels the murder “SOS” meaning “Scum on Scum.” The lowlifes kill each other and the Law isn’t really that fussed.

This dark world was a peculiar mixture of Dickensian or Hogarthian squalor meets Orwell with a touch of “High Plains Drifter.” It is one destroyed by poverty, contempt for education and criminal drug and gang culture, all engineered by sinister men manipulating the lives of those who are little more than children for their own profit and who always escape unscathed.

As ever, the writing of Jimmy McGovern, this time with Carol Cullington, is apt and  realistic and the central performances are impeccable. The key scenes of grief and confrontation are superb. Rarely have I seen so much convincing anguish, guilt, anger and despair compressed into an hour’s drama. Awards must surely follow such moving performances.

Despite the brilliant writing and acting, my personal problem was that the piece left me just feeling desolate. It flagged up the myriad of problems precisely. It was a lucid essay on the ills of drug crime, gang culture, exploitation, guilt, fear, loyalty and anger, but came no-where near postulating any solution.

A week or so after the end of the feel-good London Olympics, we were given a vision of the downtrodden in which everyone suffered and lost, apart form the evil gang leader who profited from the misery of others.

There was no glimmer of hope for salvation. Our post-Olympic bubble of optimism was well and truly pricked with a picture of hell and a world about to end with both a bang and a whimper. I guess that to remedy problems you first have to identify them clearly, but would suggest that some small hint of the possibility of a solution might have helped the viewer cope better with the suffering so skilfully depicted.

The third film in the series was written by Jimmy McGovern with Danny Brocklehurst. It starred stand-up comedian John Bishop as Peter Cartwright, the husband of a terminally-ill wife and father of sons, Stephen (Robert Sheehan) and Dom. The father falls for his wife’s palliative care nurse, Charlotte, played by Sheridan Smith and the story focuses on the struggle of seventeen year old Stephen to cope with his dad's new relationship, so soon after his mother’s death.

It is soon apparent that Stephen has mental health issues, although we are not given much idea of his history. He is in a dead-end job in a bowling alley and had not fulfilled his educational potential.

We see his faltering attempts at forming a relationship with girlfriend Olivia, in which he is presented in a somewhat threatening light.  At home, Stephen does not co-operate in carrying out household chores when Charlotte moves in and becomes increasingly morose and uncommunicative. His increasing paranoia is graphically presented when he hallucinates that Alistair Campbell on television specifically reinforces his suspicions about Charlotte.

Stephen accuses Charlotte of killing the family dog. He complains of stomach pains, alleges that he is being poisoned by Charlotte and wrecks the house trying to prove this. Ultimately his father and Charlotte marry and, after yet another row, Stephen is asked to leave.

When his brother Dom falls ill, Stephen believes he too has been poisoned by his stepmother and, after another confrontation, wounds her with a knife. It is for this attack that Stephen is in the dock. After refusing defence counsel and medical review, he is sentenced to six years.

The story is melodramatic and strangely dispassionate. It treads familiar delicate ground in the death of one parent and remarriage of the survivor, trampled over repeatedly in drama from “Hamlet” onwards. Surprisingly for Jimmy McGovern, the characters created evoke little sympathy – apart perhaps for younger brother Dom, played with great restraint by Josh Bolt.

Some reviewers have described John Bishop’s performance as “wooden.” I’m not sure that this is fair, since I can’t think how else he could have performed the part as written. He portrayed a straightforward decent working man trying to make the best of his life. Lengthy terminal illness often induces in the surviving partner a numb fatalism that can appear as torpor which, in reality is simply the frozen carapace or veneer produced by cumulative empathy for an other's pain and the effect of loss.

Stephen is mentally ill, possibly paranoid. He leers at Charlotte’s cleavage and legs and is prone to outbursts. His eventual attack on Charlotte comes as no surprise.

Charlotte herself varies from the capable and compassionate nurse to the vamp with one button too many undone and a “come hither” expression. She has a tendency to make unwise remarks, likely to be misinterpreted by an unstable adolescent with rampant hormones. At the end we are left with the news that both Stephen’s father and brother are unwell, which more than hints that Stephen might have been correct in his suspicions regarding his poisonous stepmother. Perhaps Charlotte rather than Stephen should have been in prison by the end of the story.

As ever with Jimmy McGovern, this story is absorbing and reflects the realities of life. It is always intriguing to explore whether the madman is actually the only one who sees things as they are: the underdog who, if the world were just, would be proven right all along.

Unfortunately, I found this story less than convincing because it failed to develop the characters sufficiently to engage one’s sympathy or concern. In particular, the lack of clarity whether Charlotte was a wicked stepmother ultimately proved irritating rather than interesting.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #4

Other CDs playing just now include:
  • Gather in the Mushrooms, The British Folk Underground 1968-1974 ~ various artists
  • Lady's Bridge ~ Richard Hawley
  • Old, New, Borrowed, Blue ~ Fairport Convention Accoustic
  • Neon Bible ~ Arcade Fire
  • Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg ~ Billy Bragg
  • Ashes and Roses ~ Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • The Charisma Years 1970-1973 - Their First Five Albums ~ Lindisfarne
  • Artist in Me ~ David Mallett
  • Med Sud i Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalanst ~ Sigur Ros
  • Gold Dust - Live at the Royalty ~ Sandy Denny


Friday, August 17, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #3

I have also recently been listening to:
  • Funeral  ~ Arcade Fire
  • The Performance ~ Dame Shirley Bassey
  • Standing at the Sky's Edge ~ Richard Hawley
  • Takk ~ Sigur Ros
  • Yes ~ Pet Shop Boys
  • Leaders of the Free World ~ Elbow
  • Heartland ~ Owen Pallett
  • Festival Bell ~ Fairport Convention
  • For Emma, Forever Ago ~ Bon Iver
  • Year of the Cat ~ Al Stewart


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012 #2

In recent months I have enjoyed:
  • One Day ~ David Nicholls
  • Hons and Rebels ~ Jessica Mitford
  • Maurice Bowra, A Life ~ Leslie Mitchell
  • Abdication, A Novel ~ Juliet Nicolson
  • Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, The Titanic's First class Passengers and Their World ~  Hugh Brewster
  • The Life of E.F.Benson ~ Brian Masters
  • Michael Tolliver Lives, A Novel ~ Armistead Maupin
  • A Very Irregular Head: the Life of Syd Barrett ~ Rob Chapman
  • The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising ~ Kenneth Roman
  • How to Survive the Titanic: the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay ~ Francis Wilson


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012 #2

I have recently enjoyed:
  • Alright Now ~ David Mallet
  • The Seldom Seen Kid ~ Elbow
  • A Pocketful of Starlight ~ the Best of Bridget St John
  • All Our Own Work ~ Sandy Denny and the Strawbs
  • Fleet Foxes ~ Fleet Foxes
  • At Her Very Best ~ Dusty Springfield
  • Out of the Game ~ Rufus Wainwright
  • XXXV The 35th Anniversary Album  ~ Fairport Convention
  • Dont Stop Singing ~ Music - Thea Gilmore, Words -Sandy Denny
  • Coles Corner ~ Richard Hawley


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Booklist 2012

I have recently enjoyed reading:
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, A Novel ~  Rachel Joyce
  • As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil, The Impossible Life of Mary Benson  ~ Rodney Bolt
  • Titanic Lives : Migrants and Millionaires, Conmen and Crew  ~ Richard Davenport-Hines
  • Toast, The Story of a Boy's Hunger ~ Nigel Slater
  • Now All Roads Lead to France ~ Matthew Hollis
  • Irrepressible, The Life of Jessica Mitford ~ Leslie Brody
  • The Cat's Table ~ Michael Ondaatji
  • What the Grown-ups were doing, An Odyssey through 1950's Suburbia ~ Michelle Hanson
  • Mad World,  Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead ~ Paula Byrne
  • The Horror of Love, Nancy Mitford and  Gaston Palewski  ~ Lisa Hilton


Monday, August 13, 2012

Playlist: Colonel Moseley's Playlist 2012

Recently, I have enjoyed listening to:
  • From Cropredy to Portmerion ~ Fairport Convention
  • Build A Rocket Boys ~ Elbow
  • 19 Rupert Street ~ Sandy Denny
  • Bon Iver ~ Bon Iver
  • Kate and Anna McGarrigle ~ Kate and Anna McGarrigle
  • Helplessness Blues ~ Fleet Foxes
  • Telstar, The Hits of Joe Meek ~ various artists
  • Let No Man Steal Your Thyme ~ Shelagh Mc Donald
  • Early Morning Hush, Notes from the UK Folk Underground 1969-1976 ~ various artists
  • Piano Moods, The Definitive Oscar Peterson ~ Oscar Peterson


Booklist: Colonel Moseley's Best Holiday Books 2012

This year, I have enjoyed reading the following books on holiday:
  • Lucia on Holiday - Guy Fraser-Sampson
  • Relish -My Life on a Plate - Pru Leith
  • Dear Lupin : Letters to a Wayward Son - Roger Mortimer
  • Ladder of Years - Anne Tyler
  • A Card fron Angela Carter - Susannah Clapp
  • Outsider - Brian Sewell
  • The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry
  • Mary Ann in Autumn - Armistead Maupin
  • Wait For Me: Memoirs - Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire
  • Rifling Through my Drawers - Clarissa Dickson Wright


Sunday, August 12, 2012

TV List: Colonel Moseley's Top Ten American Sitcoms

Many of my favourite situation comedies are American. My top ten are:
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Everyone Loves Raymond
  • Will and Grace
  • Golden Girls
  • Cheers
  • Friends
  • Frasier
  • Roseanne
  • Third Rock from the Sun
  • MASH


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Christopher and His Kind" from 22.3.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011
As with authors, certain periods intrigue and strike a lasting chord. Alongside Waugh, W.H.Auden and Virginia Woolf, my bookshelves feature most of the works of Christopher Isherwood. They start with 1928's "All the Conspirators", "Mr Norris Changes Trains" of 1935 and "Goodbye to Berlin" from 1939 and conclude with "Christopher and his Kind" from the late 1970's and the recent volumes of diaries.

My history books feature much on the Weimar Republic and plays and theatre programmes include Martin Sherman's "Bent." Art books and exhibition catalogues touch on the fascinatingly sleazy world of George Grosz whilst amongst the DVD's and CDs are several productions of Kander and Ebb's master work "Cabaret" and the canon of Kurt Weill.

Rather like the Titanic, Berlin between the wars has the power to fascinate. Since the 1960s popular imagination has been captivated by the bohemian demi-monde of Weimar, a seedy cauldron of decadence that spawned some striking sounds and images that the straight majority has come to consider glamorous and appealing: naughty Teutons awaiting a shocking come-uppance. For the last fifty years there has been a huge mainstream market for the combination of Weimar decadence and hubris: it sells.

I was interested to see how Isherwood's overview in "Christopher and His Kind" would translate to television eight decades on. The adaptation, shown on BBC 2, was fittingly undertaken by Kevin Elyot whose "My Night with Reg" is a significant landmark in the "age of Aids" towards the end of the last century.

The cast was impressively stellar with Matt Smith effete with floppy fringe, tweed suits and strange, possibly authentically tortured vowels and inflections. He was after sex and put the record straight regarding his intentions with admirable honesty from the outset: "I could say I went because of what was happening politically. But in fact I went because of the boys."

We are left with no illusion as to his priorities. Once he had been met by his chum Wystan Auden (Pip Carter) and dumped his battered suitcase, Isherwood was straight off to the smoky subterranean Cosy Corner club, a louche box of tricks frequented by rent boys, ready to oblige - but as Auden explained, "all rampant hetters."

Unleashed in this sexual sweetie shop, Christopher immediately copped off with the hunky pro Caspar and had a divinely rampant time far far away from his upper middle class background. He inhabited a hedonistic club scene replete with chancers,whores and exhibitionists. This formed the prototype for countless clubs all over the world for decades to come with varying degrees of authenticity and dilution from the truly hard core to the "decadence lite" of London's Blitz and New York's, Studio 54.

Isherwood's Berlin is conveyed with reasonable authenticity and a fair eye for detail. We can't quite smell the ersatz coffee and cheap cigarettes that seem to waft from the pages of "Goodbye to Berlin" but get a fairly comprehensive view of the range of experiences on offer to Christopher, in "permanent foreigner" mode.

This impression is expanded by exceptionally fine portrayals of his contemporary Berliners. Shady businessman and voyeur, Gerald Hamilton - the model for Mr Norris - is convincingly recreated by Toby Jones from the moment of their encounter on the train. He epitomises Berlin at that time - as fake as his poorly fitting toupet, as fraudulent as his business dealings and as tragically seedy as his penchant for a flabby brand of sado-masochism. Naturally after a little bother, Gerald disappears..Del Boy in a gimp mask.

So iconic has the character of Sally Bowles become - as created on film by Liza Minnelli - we almost expected her to appear in this piece. We were in fact presented with the real model or inspiration for Sally, Jean Ross enticingly played by Imogen Potts.

Another lost soul, her Jean is fragile, mannered and full of attitude: "Oh, mummy would nearly die if she knew what an old whore I am." Her convincing performances as a nightclub chanteuse were perfectly pitched, demonstrating what she was selling to her punters but also why she had not the necessary star quality to succeed as an artist. Jean was destined to be exploited by her American lover but never get her big break in Hollywood. Just like Gerald, Jean exemplified the weak and deluded that inhabited this pitifully self-indulgent subculture until it was swept away by the infinitely vile new broom of Nazism.

We see Auden and Isherwood pottering about in this mire. Slumming, they take their pleasures and observe the indigenous wildlife go about their business with the rather superior detachment of the writer observing at the zoo. Each was able to analyse and order what they had noted and build up a portfolio of experience and apercus, as with Auden's supercilious: "I do loathe the sea. It's so wet and sloppy." He then shuffled back home for running repairs.

We also see the well-heeled middle (if not upper) class background which Christopher rejected for the initially divine decadence of Berlin. It was chiefly represented by his formidable mother Kathleen, intelligently played by Lindsay Duncan. A few minutes in her controlling presence explains why her son took refuge amidst the demi-monde. Her uncompromising views chilled rather. She was unmerciful in reminding her son of the pain involved in both in bringing him into the world and in losing his father in the war. Even-handedly, she dispensed her manipulative malice equally to her son's German lover as much as her sons.

One came close to understanding how suffocated Christopher must have felt by the remorseless imposition of maternal views but felt sorriest of all for his brother Richard, condemned to stay at home under her rigid rule. In fact Christopher was presented as joining in with his mother in paying no heed to his sibling's views and feelings. This came across as a form of unthinking betrayal and diminished the viewer's respect for him.

Christopher's apparent detachment from the repression of his brother mirrored his attitude towards his German lovers. In fairness, we can absolve him entirely for the loss of his early affair Casper to the Nazis and observe that he tried to protect his subsequent lover, street sweeper and muscled cherub, Heinz Neddermayer (Douglas Booth) even when both had to leave Berlin, but in the end failed to ensure his long-term safety.

When years later they met, Heinz, now married with a child, seemed intent to use the connection to bring his new family out of East Germany to join his old lover, which Christopher did not exactly rush to agree. We are left questioning whether this amounted to betrayal. The phrase repeated by Isherwood's well-heeled Jewish language student of years before again sprang to mind: ""We must stand by our kind Christopher, whatever the cost." Clearly not everyone was willing or able to adopt this approach - certainly not Christopher, who ultimately seemed to have failed to protect those he may have once loved.

This suspicion is compounded by Auden's harsh remark "The only cause you really care about Christopher is yourself. But you've turned it into an art form." One might also add, "and made a living from it."

Despite a capacity for adventurous sex and romantic attachment, Isherwood's main role in life does appear to be an onlooker and reporter. As an artist, his function was to observe often ghastly goings on and present his take on them.

This beautifully shot film recreates his visit to Berlin with flair and ingenuity. Unfortunately, since Weimar became"fashionable", it has become somewhat cliched and certain scenes, such as the book burning, pogrom and even nightclub lack a degree of impact and are perhaps "tired." Any glamour in the decadence has long-since worn off.

This occasional lack of dramatic impact is compounded by a flatness in Isherwood's character. Although he dared to dive into this hedonistic world, he was presented as essentially selfish and uninvolved and in consequence inevitably failed to carry with him the sympathy of the viewer. In some ways the title "Christopher and his Kind" is perfectly apt: the rent boys of Berlin were equally as exploitative and detached as their customers. Maybe they deserved each other, if not their ultimate fates.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Eric and Ernie and "Hattie" from 26.1.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011
The last month has been marked by two biographical films about three icons of British entertainment - or two if a double act counts as only one: Morecambe and Wise and Hattie Jacques.

On BBC 2 "Eric and Ernie," written by Pete Bowker, covered part of the lengthy careers of the nation's favourite double act Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

It began with their separate early years with Ernie enjoying considerable success and fast outstripping his father Harry, poignantly played by Reece Shearsmith, destined to be outshone in show business by his talented son.

Eric, initially Bartholomew, experienced less acclaim as a boy performer and did not enjoy the same early recognition as his eventual partner. He did however have the priceless advantage of a driven but level-headed mother, Sadie who seemed to provide just the right amount of encouragement and advice without becoming a monstrous stage mother out of "Gypsy" or a song by Noel Coward.

Played with great sensitivity by Victoria Wood, Sadie Bartholemew comes across as undoubtedly pushy, but principally as unselfish and fundamantally grounded and sane. Both the writing and her understated performance prevent the part turning into caricature.

Eric's father, George Bartholomew, was also portrayed with great restraint and good taste by Jim Moir/Vic Reeves. Less demonstrative than his energetic and dedicated wife, George was another pillar in Eric's life, never complaining when his wife disappeared on tour with his son and devoted most of her waking hours and thoughts to promoting his career.

The film was well written and depicted the pre and post war years authentically with excellent costumes and sets. The young and adult Eric and Ernie were recaptured with great accuracy and their life, ranging from digs on tour to middling theatres and even a circus tent was convincingly recreated.

Daniel Rigby as Eric and Brian Dick as Ernie portrayed the talent, drive and humour of their characters perfectly and the sheer decency of both men. Their early solo years were followed by the unforgettable double act based upon the premise: "You'll be short and bad tempered and I'll be tall and lazy - but we'll both be idiots". The film followed the progress of their career up to their TV break and focused on the inevitable process of growing up.

The key scenes showing the rehearsal and performance of their ill-fated television debut also worked well and the story telling was effective. The basic thrust of the narrative was two fold in showing first the sad inevitability that as their careers developed, the pair would increasingly make their own decisions, leaving Sadie behind, just as Ernie had moved on from his father.

Secondly, the failure of their first TV series demonstrated the need to be true to their own ideas and talents. When Eric and Ernie were later themselves, aided and abetted by excellent writers, such as Sid Green and Dick Hills and Eddie Braben, they would achieve lasting stellar success.

So, "Eric and Ernie" worked well. A lucid and evocative story featuring well-written characters perfectly performed. My only reservation is what perhaps we did not see. The drama might have been even more credible and rounded if a fuller indication was given of the effect on Ernie's father of the relative failure of his own stage career.

Similarly, Sadie Bartholomew takes her disappointment at being sidelined so nobly and in such an understated way. We do not really get to see the full impact of this upon her or indeed the the reality of her life with her husband when fully absorbed in Eric's career and later when excluded from it. At one point he remarks "Ooh, you know me. I don't go much on thinking". This ironic remark makes one want to know all the more how he really felt.

The film presents the duo's rise and early TV set back and shows an honest and talented pair without a darker side. I am not suggesting that Eric and Ernie were anything else, but one wonders if the film steers clear of some of the pressures experienced on a long and no doubt arduous show biz trail. We saw only the story of the career of a famous double act, but do not learn much of their relationship: they were nice chaps who got on well and that was that. It was almost as though the obtaining of the necessary clearances to undertake the project meant that the version reaching the screen had to assume some of the anaemic quality of an American biopic.

On the positive side, even without any hint of a subtext of the stresses often found in the lengthiest of professional partnerships, the film was an engaging reflection of the lives of a pair whose best work was more often than not the highlight of the nation's TV year.

Later in January, BBC 4 showed "Hattie," Stephen Russell's bittersweet bio-drama covering a period in the life of Junoesque film and television actress Hattie Jacques, played by the clever and charismatic Ruth Jones.

The film covered five years beginning in 1966, when Hattie was making "Carry On Cabbie" and ending with a dramatic parting in a hotel room in Rome. The story concerned sex which was in some ways "of its time", being three years after the invention of sex itself in 1963 - as intimated by Philip Larkin.

The viewer is presented with a film and TV actress at the height of her powers and already a national institution as battle-axe matron and foil of Sid James and Kenneth Williams in numerous "Carry On's", whilst on TV she was long suffering sister of Eric Sykes.

As well as sustaining a massively successful career on large and small screen, Hattie was married to leading actor John Le Mesurier and had two healthy young sons. Their London home was a convivial bohemian place full of friends and laughter with Hattie cooking and husband John extemporising on the piano or pottering round with a bottle of Chateau Talbot or gin, asking amiably if "anyone needed a top-up."

This personal and professional paradise was soon to be turned upside down by the advent of a viper in the form of randy second-hand car dealer John Schofeld (Aidan Turner), a decade her junior who turned her head in record time and moved into the family home. I suppose that makes him a cuckoo rather than a viper, but you get my drift...

The effect the handsome Schofield had on Hattie was positively convulsive. Some of the initial attraction seems to have stemmed from caring Hattie's sympathy for his loss of a child. This was compounded by his effortless charm, laid on with a trowel. The charisma worked on her sons as well as their mother for John could amuse them with football in the garden and silly invented games with a carrot, which appeared outside the capabilites of their middle-aged father who tended to be happier with a drink and a book.

The key to Schofied's appeal appears to have been his capacity to override Hattie's continuous self disparagement as someone always cast as "a silly frigid fat girl" - albeit "the nation's favourite silly frigid fat girl." Schofield made Hattie forget her insecurities and revel in her sensuous and passionate nature as "Call Me Irresponsible" played in the background. Hattie so enjoyed being desired, she lost all inhibition and admitted "everything else is irrelevant."

After a short period, their frantic lovemaking nearly rocked her shabby little caravan on the "Carry on Cabby" set off its rusty axle. Their very physical relationship was consummated regularly in the family home to Hattie's great satisfaction. She remarked proudly over drinks in the garden whilst admiring his glistening stripped torso: "He's unstoppable in bed."

All this might have been very well in the self indulgence had not involved victims. The greatest one was naturally the cuckolded husband John, played with requisite langour and diffidence by Robert Bathhurst.

Le Mesurier's tolerance and loyal devotion to his errant wife were spectacular. When coming upon the adulterers in flagrante delicto he is embarrassed and comments "I'm terribly sorry. I forgot my book" - just as though it were a line from the laconic Sergeant Wilson in "Dad's Army."

The scenes of Le Mesurier consigned to the grim attic bedroom - which looked more like 10 Rillington Place than part of a well-heeled actor's London residence - forced to listen to the energetic fornication below, were disturbing and moving.

Even more harrowing, was the pained expression on the face of the older son, overhearing the unmistakable sounds of enthusiastic copulation: an unhealthy and unkind imposition on a child.

Le Mesurier's saintly forbearance was manifested in the set piece appearance on "This Is your Life" which was toe-curlingly embarrassing for all concerned and a triumph of illusion and hypocrisy throughout.

He went on to top it all by volunteering to be named the guilty party in the inevitable divorce proceedings. This was ostensively to save his wife's career given the truism that the "British never forgive people who like a lot of sex." (Note: apart from Queen Victoria, I suppose..) With the advantage of hindsight, we know that history was to repeat itself after a fashion when John's new partner Joan subsequently left him for his best friend Tony Hancock.

This film seeks to tell the story of Hattie's affair which came to an explosive end in the hotel room in Rome when Schofield left. Ruth Jones evocation of Hattie was considered and affecting. Hattie was clearly a remarkable woman capable of instilling in her husband the hugest tolerance, forbearance and acts of kindness.

Clearly Hattie was riven by the most agonising of insecurities about her size and desirability, compounded by apparently strong sexual appetites. Be that as it may, however, the sequence of events as presented in this film and the trail of pain and havoc wrought by the adulterers simply does not compute.

Infidelity is one thing, but cruel humiliation another. One can conceive that Le Mesurier's adoration of his wife was strong enough for him to sacrifice his own pride in the way he did. From what we saw of Hattie though - given her manifest decency and kind, loving nature - it is very difficult to imagine how she could have inflicted such suffering upon those closest to her.

Can physical insecurity and a pronounced sex drive so entirely out weigh a caring nature? The viewer was left with no truly credible explanation as to how and why Hattie could have done this to her husband and children or indeed herself.

Despite exceptional performances by the central characters and excellent production values, it was this failure to offer a plausible solution to this fundamental conundrum on which the film ultimately foundered.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Toast" from 23.1.2011

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2011. For some reason, unlike any of the other reviews, it received over 240 hits. I still don't know why...
The BBC's Christmas offerings included an adaptation of Nigel Slater's autobiography "Toast." Subtitled "the story of a boy's hunger", I had previously found "Toast" a compelling read - of which the whole amounted to so much more than the sum of its apparent parts: gastro-porn, misery memoir and nostalgia-fest.

I was also absorbed by the film. It featured captivating performances by the brilliant Ken Stott (fresh, if that's the word for it, from his excellent portrayal of Tony Hancock, reviewed earlier on this blog) as the father and Helena Bonham-Carter - also already reviewed as a formidably unattractive Enid Blyton - as the wicked stepmother.

Written by Lee Hall, "Toast" turned out to be rather more than an entertaining Billy Elliott-discovers-Arctic-Roll-and-Angel-Delight-in-deepest-Wolverhampton sort of story.

Marcel Proust has a lot to answer for. He has set innumerable autobiographers off on the now well-trodden and remunerated path of recherching temps perdu from a sensory angle. In recent years moving beyond the original and reasonably classy, if somewhat crumby, madeleines, the tastes, smells and sights of all sorts of junk, epitomising the minutiae of childhood and adolescence in the second half of the last century, have been used to flog mega-units of autobiographical product through W.H.Smith and Amazon.

From Peter Kay and other well-known media faces, we now have a comprehensive schedule and total recall of the food, confectionery and clothing and most low-brow television programmes through the entire 1960 and 1970's. The thick seam of recollected trivia of those decades had been exhaustively mined and every memory extracted, sieved, brought to the surface and sold on to satisfy public demand.

Thus we can recall all that we ever used to know about Angel Delight, Cadbury Smash, Fray Bentos tinned pies, Spangles, Jubblys, refreshers and Birds Custard. Just as Peter Kay brings back to life deservedly forgotten "Bulls Eye" on commercial TV on Sunday afternoons, Nigel Slater reminds us of "The Persuaders" and "The Avengers."

Although the motif of both the book and its TV version was stuff in tins and packets we might otherwise have forgotten, the real point of both lies in its subtitle: the story of a boy's hunger. Only the boy himself has certain knowledge of the precise nature of the hunger at issue. To this viewer there seem to be several other than the obvious preoccupation with food. One might guess at love, understanding, acceptance, liberation, self-expression, fulfilment and simple sensation - or any combination of them.

We are presented with the perspective of quite a strange little boy subtly played by the 11 year old Oscar Kennedy and as a teenager by the clever and confident Freddie Highmore. He lives in a middle class home with a mother seriously ill with asthma to whom in many ways he is extremely close. The child is not exactly spoiled, but is often self-centred and lacking in obvious sympathy for others. He is not entirely appealing. He has the perspective of a loner and has his own interests and view of the world. He is greedy for particular experiences, sensations and tastes and is frequently frightened of his father's disapproval and disappointed by his mother's failures - as he perceives them.

The key scene in the first part of the film concerns his mother's noble attempt, as death approached, to keep her promise to teach him to make mince pies. Given her total incompetence in a daunting kitchen, that included a huge Kenwood mixer that emerged menacingly from beneath a work surface on a spring, this did not go well and turned into complete disaster when she realised she had forgotten to buy the mince pie filling- leaving the half-made pastry pie cases symbolically empty. This prompted a telling outburst from her charming son, "I hate you. I hate you. I hope you die," which unfortunately before long she does.

The quirky relationship between Nigel and his mother, delicately played with a tired fragility by Victoria Hamilton, lies at the heart of the book and film and is very real. They clearly drove each other mad at times, but were utterly devoted.

The support Nigel received from his mother when his father was being particularly macho and bullying spoke volumes, as did the magical scene of dancing together whilst on holiday. The boy's aching loss and sense of desertion after her death, when left alone in the house and taking comfort in the lingering smell of her scent on old evening dresses were convincing and poignant. To understand the depth of this is to understand and forgive Nigel's subsequent behaviour towards his mother's successor in his father's bed and affections.

The Slater residence in Wolverhampton seemed to echo with loneliness, even during his mother's lifetime. One senses Nigel's isolation and status as a disappointment to his very conventional father, who did not seem to bond with a rather frail son, prone to faddiness over food and to play at grocers in the garden rather than conventionally butch boy's games.

Unsurprisingly and perhaps justifiably. Mr Slater did not take well to his young son's relationship with Josh the gardener with its occasional nudity and close physical contact.

Many things Nigel did seemed somehow wrong in his father's eyes - particularly in his mother's difficult final illness. It was almost as though subconsciously his father was looking for someone to blame for the impending loss and his unbending and very different youngest son proved a defenceless target. The house seemed grim enough during mother's lifetime, but this was as nothing compared to the emotional desert it became following her death.

Ken Stott captured the grief-stricken, angry and frustrated father impressively. He often vented frustrations at the cruel hand dealt to him on the young son who did not meet his expectations.

In all this warfare of a family life, food seemed to become a weapon on both sides. Young Slater used it to despise his hidebound provincial parents and they punished him for his extreme fussiness and inconvenient unwillingness to cope with sundry dairy products. Milk terrified Nigel at school and eggs at home, giving rise to tense and messy confrontations, each a metaphor for the ongoing key conflicts in the Slater household.

After the death of his mother, Nigel's world was further disrupted by the advent of Joan Potter played with huge elan and divine 1960's hair, dresses and cigarettes by Helena Bonham-Carter. Whilst Slater pere is amusingly seen to lust after the curvaceous domestic goddess, Slater fils loathed her more than words can say.

The viewer has some mixed feelings over his viciously snobbish dismissal of "only a cleaner" who compares most unfavourably to his refined and genteel mother. On the other hand, we see that Joan seems to have set her sights on Mr Slater in a calculating way and ultimately takes over the household leaving no space for the memory of Nigel's mother.

The film does however set out to tell the story from Nigel's perspective and we are allowed to share some of his feelings of loss and betrayal as Nigel's father falls further under the spell of what the son regards as an upwardly mobile char.

As ever in this story, food is the key metaphor. Nigel's increasing obsession with cookery and Joan's pride in her housekeeping and wizard-like cooking skills leads to a culinary arms race, partly to win the affection of Mr Slater, in which no quarter is given.

We see set piece conflicts over Joan's secret recipe for lemon meringue pie . Ultimately, Joan's excesses in the kitchen seem to play a part in bringing about her new husband's early death from a heart attack. Confronted with the appalling prospect of continuing to live with his hated step-mother, Nigel then heads off like Dick Whittington to London and takes a job in the kitchens of the Savoy: the rest is history.

It is difficult to comment on this film in isolation. As might be expected, the book "Toast" covers more ground and gives a fuller version of events - including some idea of Joan's family, why the move was made to the house in the country and Nigel's jobs in catering before moving to London.

The more condensed format on TV simplifies somewhat. In this process one suspects the depiction of Joan has broadened and hardened with a slightly cartoonish quality, magnified by Helena Bonham-Carter's larger-than-life performance.

This suspicion is compounded by recent press comment from Joan's family casting doubt upon the harshness of her depiction, stressing that she was not a cleaning lady motivated by greed and even casting doubt upon the place of the legendary lemon meringue pie in her culinary repertoire.

Even allowing for this dissent, I must praise the production and accept its entitlement to reflect the perspective of its central character. Beautifully photographed and performed and reflecting its period perfectly, including the songs of Dusty Springfield, "Toast" captures the very individual insight on the world of an unusual child, who is so different from his friends and family and who very early determines that his only course is to march according to his own drummer.

In recreating the young Nigel Slater's very personal view of the world - in terms of his perceptions, sensibility and sexuality - this film inevitably risks falling foul of the differences in perspective and opinion that normally bring about so many arguments in most families, which are made up of flawed human beings rather than saints or perfect stereotypes. "Toast" reflects the life of one awkward and imperfect family, but succeeds in doing so in an absorbing and often moving way.


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Passion" from 29.9.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
Legendary composer Stephen Sondheim's 80th. birthday has seen even greater focus on his work. "A Little Night Music" has been revived to acclaim on Broadway via the Menier Chocolate Factory, "Into the Woods" has been well received in Regents Park and a whole Prom was dedicated to his compositions. Cliche though it may be, despite innumerable accolades including the renaming of a Broadway theatre in his honour, Sondheim's work is like Marmite: you love or hate it; there seems to be no half measure.

Here I put my hand up and admit: I am a Sondheim aficionado. I have been eagerly looking forward to the new production of "Passion" at the Donmar Warehouse. I also admit to having flown to New York to see the piece premiered in 1994 at the Plymouth Theatre starring Donna Murphy, Jere Shea and Marin Mazzie. Later, I saw the production in London's Queen Theatre with Maria Friedman, Michael Ball and Helen Hobson. If the Donmar afforded its usual brilliant treatment to "Passion," we Sondheimistas were in for a treat.

With a book by James Lapine, "Passion" was based on the the brooding neo-Romantic film "Passion D'Amore" (1981) directed by Ettore Scola and the 1869 Italian novel "Fosca" by Igino Ugo Tarchetti.

As ever, the Donmar production ensures that less is more. The small stage with a simple backdrop of three arched windows and erotic frescoed walls creates a steamy, shuttered Milan bedroom, an officer's mess on a remote outpost and even a railway station - with the aid of artfully employed clouds of dry ice in the manner of "Brief Encounter." Excellent performances, simple costumes, perfect lighting and the audience's imagination combine to create effective theatrical illusions.

From the outset, "Passion" is founded on contrasts. Giorgio's lover Clara is healthy, conventionally pretty, has a child and a name that means "light" whereas Fosca is seriously ill, at best "plain", childless and with a name meaning "dark". The book and score juxtapose images and sentiment of light and dark throughout to conjure up and sustain what one authority has  called "a highly modulated sense of emotional chiaroscuro."

As with previous productions, this one stands or falls by the quality of performance of the three principals. It opens with the romantic abandon of the clandestine afternoon tryst of handsome officer Giorgio (David Thaxton) with Clara in a bedroom in Milan and their uninhibited enjoyment of "All this happiness/Merely from a glance/In the park."

Scarlet Strallen's Clara is beautiful and acts and sings superbly. The audience is ravished by this exquisite celebration of conventional passionate and romantic love. We have no reason not to conclude that their relationship is not the real thing. It is only as the plot develops and the exploration of the theme of love continues that this is brought into doubt.

"Passion" really takes flight after fifteen minutes or so when Fosca appears. Played by the brilliant Elena Roger fresh from recent triumphs as both Evita and Piaf, Fosca is a sallow-eyed invalid prone to melodramatic attacks of fainting and shocking wails of pain. We learn of her unhappy past conned into marriage by a fake Austrian count and resultant hysterical illness. Fosca is studious and shares Giorgio's keen interest in literature. She soon develops an overwhelming, even malignant obsession about Giorgio that makes him the laughing stock of his cynical brother officers.

Throughout the piece the feverish and claustrophobic atmosphere of Fosca's sickroom is contrasted and almost compounded by the intermittent militaristic blasts of drum and bugle on the remote army base on which the story unfolds. Giorgio's comrades are loud and boorish and their ribald commentary reinforces our sense that Giorgio is untypical and isolated in his genuine efforts to do the right thing by Clara his lover and Fosca his terrifyingly selfish and single-minded stalker.

As the story of the unhealthiest of obsessions unfolds, we were absorbed by the performances of the three principals. Elena Roger possesses that quality as a singer and actress that means one's eyes rarely leave her: utter conviction of performance and a radiant star.

Some critics have found "Passion" heavy going, complaining of a boring, joke free story of obsession with unhummable music. I admit it's not A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sanitorium, but then it didn't try to be.

True to its title, "Passion" is about exactly that. It is a comprehensive exploration - almost a meditation - on love. It might equally have been called "Aspects of Love" for it seeks to explain and contrast the range of elements involved in that most complex of emotions. Giorgio and Clara's passionate physicality and romanticism are gloriously explored but ultimately found wanting when compared to Fosca's unconditional devotion.

The process of explaining this is arduous since Fosca's hysterical pursuit of Giorgio is painful, pitiful and sometimes almost ridiculous to watch. The audience sympathises with the handsome and fair-minded officer taken advantage of by his genteel though manic stalker.

The depth and validity of Fosca's devotion become crystal clear in a moving scene in the railway station, when she sings: "Loving you/Is not a choice/It's who I am./Loving you/Is not a choice/And not much reason/To rejoice,/ But it gives me purpose/Gives me voice/To say to the world/This is why I live/You are why I live./Loving you/Is why I do /The things I do/Loving you/Is not in my control./But loving you,/I have a goal/For what's left of my life../I will live/And I would die for you."

Elena Roger sang "Loving you" with so much still conviction and simplicity. The audience held its breath and what had been an implausible and possibly irritating tale about a bunny boiler became a lesson about the strength and beauty of an unconditional love, impossible to resist.

To complete the picture and underline the message, Giorgio rejects what might normally have been a plausible and reasonable offer by the married Clara to leave her husband for him when her son is older and at school. Rejecting the proposed logical and sensible, practical arrangement Giorgio sings: "You think that this is love?/Love isn't so convenient./Love isn't something/Scheduled in advance,/Not something guaranteed/You need/For fear it may pass you by./You have to take a chance,/You can't just try it out./What's love unless it's/Unconditional?"

So "Passion" is a serious and ambitious piece, set in shadows. It is melodramatic and oppressive and lacks a conventionally happy ending. It explores the deepest of human emotions in an absorbing way with a moving candour. The libretto handles demanding themes with elegance and brevity and the score reaches rhapsodic heights of lyricism: eminently hummable heights. I regard it as Sondheim's "pocket masterpiece" to which this production did full justice. 


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "The Road the Coronation Street" from 23.9.2010

This piece is taken fom my reviewblog in 2010
Strangely, the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Britain's favourite soap opera - the cornerstone of commercial TV - was marked not on ITV but on BBC Four with the seventy-five minute play "The Road to 'Coronation Street.'"

The piece was written by Daran Little in entertaining style, with the surest of touches and a complete grasp of his material. This was only to be expected from a Corriephile once employed by Granada TV as an archivist who went on to become a successful writer on the soap and whose watch saw the introduction of its first gay character, Todd Grimshaw.

Directed by Charles Sturridge, the film charts the gestation and birth of "Coronation Street" - originally intended to be "Florizel Street," but dropped for sounding too like a disinfectant - transmitted in December 1960.

The opening of the 1960's also saw Shelagh Delaney's "A Taste of Honey" and Alan Sillitoe's "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning." Although the management at Granada were initially reluctant to grasp it, the wind was set fair for presentations of true to life, gritty northern-ness, grime, accents and all.

The format of the play was a slightly camp Magnificent Seven with the central character, the writer Tony Warren setting about assembling a team able to embody the occupants of the soon to be legendary street.

Brilliantly played by David Dawson, Tony Warren looked a little like a knitwear model in the 1960 Littlewoods catalogue: very well turned out and extremely driven. His groundbreaking vision was to present a true-to-life drama set in the North with "dirt under its finger nails."

Warren was confronted by initially intransigent bosses at Granada with old fashioned views on the unacceptability of things northern, which they appeared to feel equated to squalor and utter incomprehensibility.

Paradoxically, studio head Sidney Bernstein (Steven Berkoff) prided himself in possessing the true spirit of showmanship of his hero P T Barnum whose likeness adorned office walls at Granada to inspire excellence and innovation. Ultimately, prompted by this brother Cecil Bernstein (Henry Goodman) and far-sighted and energetic Canadian producer Harry Elton played by Christian McKay, Bernstein and his board of doubting Thomases grudgingly consented to film a trial episode, which led on to the first series.

We see the evolution of Warren from struggling actor to staff writer doing shoddy work he despised on the series "Biggles" to the committed creative force behind "Coronation Street."

The bulk of the play is taken up with casting, starting with Doris Speed, played with a cheeky charm and wit by Celia Imrie. Doris was flattered and cajoled into taking the part of Annie Walker, the chatelaine of the Rovers Return, by former child actor Warren "a little boy who never stopped talking."

Doris Speed seemed immediately to recognise the quality of the part offered, as did Pat Pheonix jauntily played by Jessie Wallace - ecumenically formerly of "East Enders" - who instinctively understood her character was "mutton dressed as lamb" and stormed through a brilliant audition to get the part. The scene played between Pat Pheonix and Tony Warren as Dennis Tanner was simply electric.

We see Pat Pheonix and Warren as soul mates capering about the back streets of Salford in a very Taste of Honey spirit when researching the reality on which the programme was to be based. In perhaps the most telling personal moment in the film, Pat makes it clear that she is at ease with Tony as he really is and is happy to join him and his friends at what is no doubt a gay pub. What this comfort level must have meant to Warren in provincial Manchester in 1960 should not be underestimated.

The element in the casting that remained unresolved for most of the piece was that of the "uncastable" Ena Sharples. The first potential Ena was manifestly unsatisfactory and the arrival of the formidable Violet Carson was a sort of elephant in the room until it took place late on in the drama. When she eventually made her belated entrance, Lynda Barron was little short of sensational.

Initially, Violet took direction and moderated her performance as Ena to the disappointment of all present. She then did it her own way and blew them all away. Violet Carson was correct in asserting that, "You can save your breath. I know all about Ena Sharples. This is a woman who has buried children, watched her husband beg for work and still gets down on her knees to pray. There's no powder or rouge touching this face." With the casting of Ena, the array of battle axes was complete and the success of the series was assured.

The difference in the Warren's dedicated attitude towards The Street and the earlier "Biggles" is forcibly presented. The contrast is only too plain between the careless technophobic campery of the description of Biggles' joystick thingy with the clear and decisive explanation of where china ducks needed to fly across particular living room walls and how many milk bottles should stand outside each doorstep. The Street recreated a world that Warren had inhabited. He knew its ways and mores, its thoughts and its speech patterns, learned from hours of listening to the talk of women in his family.

As well as these principal elements, the play contained much interesting and entertaining detail. The performance of Jane Horrocks as the hard-pressed head of casting Margaret Norris was convincing as was John Thompson as script editor Harry Kershaw, about whom one felt much was left unsaid. Ironic humour was found at the expense in the character of Ken Barlow played by William Roache's son James, only looking for a stop-gap, but still there half a century later.

I enjoyed the realistic sense of period and its knitwear, when offices had tea ladies and Adler typewriters. For me the play was particularly effective because it evoked an enviable time of rare possibilities. 1960 was a year of opportunity when chances were about to open up for the young, irreverent, talented, gay and even provincial to become successful. "The Road to Coronation Street" was a charming story of an underdog seizing just the right moment to put forward an idea whose time had come and achieving a huge success. It showed the process faithfully and presented the beginning of a spectacular decade authentically. I found it uplifting and entertaining. 


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Lennon Naked" from 3.7.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
The series on Fatherhood on BBC 4 featured "Lennon Naked," a biopic dealing with the life of John Lennon up to 1971. Coherently written by Robert Jones, the film was produced and directed by Edmund Coultard and starred Christopher Ecclestone in the title role.

At 46, Ecclestone could be argued to be too old to play Lennon in his twenties and thirties. For me however his age did not impact upon a brilliant, mesmerising and unforgettable performance. He captured the essence of a charismatic and tortured star and addressed every nuance of a complex character, from a contradictory personality combining acute cynicism with high-minded idealism to his accent, inflection, movement and manner: he simply was John Winston Lennon to the core.

The film was interestingly constructed with black and white contrasted with colour and filmed drama set against contemporary newsreel. Music was judiciously used to reinforce a point, but no attempt was made to cram in as many landmark tunes as Lennon fans in the square states might have preferred. We Will Rock You, it wasn't. Production values were strong, with costumes, locations from Surrey mansions to London basement flats and props such as John's psychodelic Rolls accurate and authentic.

The supporting company was excellent with Naoko Mori, fragile and understated as Yoko and Rory Kinnear exceptional as Brian Epstein, terrified that his cover will be blown with that wide-eyed, rabbit stuck in the headlights expression. Michael Colgan as a louche Derek Taylor and Claudie Blakley as an entirely reasonable but ultimately disposable Cynthia Lennon were also superbly portrayed and utterly convincing. The other Beatles were well and laconically played, capturing the relaxed banter, wit and camaraderie of the band, although Andrew Scott's drawling inflection as Paul was occasionally questionable.

In many ways, the key role other than Lennon was played by Chris Fairbank as Freddie Lennon, his Liverpudlian gobshite father. Perfectly cast, Fairbank conveyed the feckless ex-merchant seaman with unerring accuracy. His face was lined by a million Woodbines and endless Scotches and his feral eyes darted hither and thither like a spiv or petty criminal. He could have been selling watches from the back of his Cortina or a suitcase on the market or serving behind the bar on a ferry out of Birkenhead. He was Jack the lad on the make and entirely without guilt or appreciation of the profound effect of his actions upon his son.

Roles were reversed at one point when Freddie took up with a younger woman and they had a child during the very period when Yoko has miscarried. John was even partly amused by his father's rakishness so late in life. At no point however did we see Freddie come anywhere near understanding the consequences of his actions, let alone taking responsibility for them and trying to undo the harm done.

Reduced to one word, this film is about abandonment. We focus on Lennon's rage and confusion and his struggle to come to terms with one huge watershed in his life recreated evocatively by shaky amateur cine film. To his credit he tried to address his demons and later even underwent primal therapy.

We saw a bright sunny day on the sea front and learned that six year old Lennon was cruelly forced to choose between his father and his mother Julia, accompanied by her new boyfriend. First, he chose his father, but unable to go through with it, ran back to his mother. He returned to Liverpool and was handed over to his Aunt Mimi who effectively brought him up. By his own choice, he managed to lose both mother and father in a single hot afternoon at the seaside and was effectively been abandoned.

The point of this film is that Lennon spent a good part of the rest of his life living with the consequences of this desertion. This was compounded by his bitter disillusionment with the Beatles and the loss in 1967 of Brian Epstein to whom Lennon was so very close and with whom he appeared to have had a special bond. These blows certainly shaped him as a mass of contradictions, as a person and an artist. In consequence, we see a sometimes arrogant and cruel man who could flaunt his infidelities before Cynthia and ruthlessly desert Julian. In contrast, we also observe a vulnerable man capable of great tenderness, as when Yoko is pregnant.

We watch him go on to inflict his own series of abandonments and desertions, dishing out the same treatment to some of his loyal friends from Liverpool, his wife and son, The Beatles themselves and even his country when he left for a self-imposed exile in New York at the end of the film in 1971.

The main visual motif of the film - in addition to John and Yoko's open and vulnerable nudity in their Two Virgins photo shoot - is a child losing grip of his balloon so that it floats away lost into a big blue sky. Echoing this, John and Yoko later symbolically released balloons into the air to open an exhibition together. His childhood bewilderment and loss never really abated. We see Lennon, damaged by his abandonment at six, replicate the behaviour in his own adult life. As is often the case with childhood abuse, the abused becomes the abuser and the painful cycle continues.

This film seems to try to complete only this one part of the Lennon jigsaw. It explains how his childhood abandonment affected him up to 1971. Other parts of the Lennon biographical film canon focus on other elements and relationships: "Nowhere Boy" with mother Julia and Aunt Mimi, "Backbeat" with Stuart Sutcliffe, "The Hours and Times" with Brian Epstein and The Two of Us, Paul McCartney. None of the films including "Lennon Naked" attempts to put together all the parts and complete the puzzle and thus none tells the whole story.

All these perspectives put together might create a picture of the man John came to be. We now know some of what transpired in New York after 1971, the phase of hedonism, rapprochement with Yoko and withdrawal into a happier domestic life which led to a creative renaissance followed by the waste of his tragic early death.

By the end, it appears that many of the specific demons explored in this film may have been conquered and bridges rebuilt with some of those affected along the way. "Lennon Naked" makes an absorbing attempt to explain a significant part of the evolution of a complex man who was so very important to many of us. For that it should be applauded. 


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Worried About the Boy" from 25.5.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
As part of its Eighties series, BBC 2 recently showed "Worried About the Boy," an absorbing ninety minute biopic written by Tony Basgallop. The film told the story of the early years of George O'Dowd who, as a teenager, left a stifling home in suburbia with a naked mannequin under his arm and went to live in a squat on the outskirts of New Romantic bohemia. We follow his louche existence as a flamboyant androgynous trendsetter in and around the Blitz Club in Soho in the immediately post-punk early 1980s.

As a recreation of an era and a group of like-minded outsiders, the film worked well. The setting was authentic. The costumes and make-up were spot-on and the sound track included the obvious New Romantic anthems of the period plus what must have been seminal influences, such as the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs."

We were treated to a wonderfully lounge-lizardy Steve Strange (Marc Warren) and Spandau Ballet replicated their costumes, poses and pouts of the period. A gloriously over-the-top Mark Gatiss as Malcolm McClaren played at managing Bow Wow Wow from his gothic Highgate lair and came across somewhere between a deranged medieval pope and Colonel Parker. Freddie Fox succeeded completely as a Kay Kendall-ish Marilyn - and also contrived to appear more intelligent and attractive than the original.

George's life once he had moved to the wicked city was colourful. Douglas Booth gave a stunning performance. He did not make the mistake of presenting himself as a camp stereotype; he was openly gay and outre in his appearance and manner but, like the real Boy George, carried himself in a uniquely individual and contradictory way.

He was vulnerable and delicate, yet manly and brave, mischievous, rebellious, witty and eccentric in an appealing, very British manner.

Douglas Booth conveyed this most complex of characters with a subtle and nuanced performance, interspersed with some funny one liners -as when, wearing a nun's habit he has just enjoyed himself enormously with a man in a phone box. The man says, "I'm not really gay," and George replies "That's OK. I'm not really a nun."

The star-struck panic that engulfed the Blitz Club when every posturing wannabee's god, David Bowie visited was pointedly accurate and hilarious.

With no pun intended, George's character did have a chameleon-like quality, one moment bravely invading a suburban lounge in the middle of the night to confront a lover who has let him down and the next stealing from coats in the cloakroom of the Blitz and being sacked - whilst dressed in a Korean peasant's hat. High or low, good or bad, it has to be admitted that George was never dull or ordinary: he carried off each drama rather magnificently.

Mathew Horne also convinced as Jon Moss, the drummer of Culture Club. We see something of his insight into the music business and his hesitant relationship with George. For me however the stormy passage of their relationship and the progress of the band's career was conveyed in superficial terms and deserved sharper focus. It speaks volumes for the quality of performances of Booth and Horne that, despite the occasionally impressionistic script, they succeeded in giving such emotional depth to their characters.

The film culminates in contrasting two crises in George's life: first in 1982 when he had to be persuaded out of the back of a limo to perform Culture Club's first number one on Top of the Pops, when his relationship with Jon Moss had run its course, and secondly in 1986 when disclosure of his heroin addiction led to him being besieged in his Hampstead home by paparazzi.

This twin dramatic climax demonstrated the cruel pressures and ultimate destructiveness of fame and fortune in sobering contrast to the starstruck individualist that had set off for the squat with the dummy under his arm years before.

As a sketch of a fascinating character "Worried About the Boy" works well with arresting performances, a sound sense of period and excellent production values. Unfortunately it only adds up to a workmanlike story well-told: in a series of episodes a fragile outsider goes out into the big bad world, has lots of ups and downs and eventually reaches the top, but at a terrible cost.

If Boy George had gone to live quietly in Australia in 1986, this might have been a satisfactory biopic leaving no loose ends. The reality is however that he has continued to live a full and colourful life including brushes with the law and periodic reinvention in his career. This film chooses only to show some aspects of how our hero made it by 1982 and his trouble in 1986. Knowing what we do about George's life so far, however, the story up to 1982 or 1986 alone isn't enough: what we need to know is how he made it through the eighties, nineties and noughties to 2010.

Basically "Worried About the Boy" doesn't answer enough of our most significant questions about what made such a compelling and fascinating character tick. This is because it doesn't ask many of them. Despite its brilliant performances and accomplished sense of period, it is frustratingly incomplete. 


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "Canoe Man" from 21.5.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
Before I forget, I wanted to note my impressions of a recent BBC 4 drama based on real-life events that turned out to be much stranger than fiction. Well written and directed by Norman Hull, "Canoe Man" stylishly tells the story of John Darwin (Bernard Hill) who in 2002 faked his death by abandoning his canoe to wash ashore to give the impression that he had perished at sea. After a few uncomfortable weeks on a campsite, Darwin returned home unnoticed and hid, taking refuge next door through a hole in the wall whenever visitors appeared.

By this means Darwin was able to avoid the bankruptcy that confronted him if he continued to live "officially" and to obtain a hefty life insurance payout with which to fund a new life in Panama. He was aided-and-abetted in the scam by his compliant wife Anne, brilliantly played by Saskia Reeves.

This was not a victimless crime as both the insurance company, rooked out of a large sum of money, and the Darwin's two sons who were mercilessly told their father had died, will attest.

Darwin as played by Bernard Hill was not a warm and likable chap. He comes across as a charmless, egotistical man, as signalled when in the pub he irritably orders a large scotch and "a little more subservience."

For most of the drama, he had what could be described as a funny look in his eye: the unattractive squint of the grumpy schemer rather than the appealing twinkle of the dreamer.

Darwin was not presented as a hero in the mould of Reginald Perrin. He was a fantasist with delusions of grandeur that he could bend the world to his will. His money-making schemes had not succeeded and he worked as a prison warder, a position one imagines he felt beneath him.

His several years of concealment at home in Redcar mix farce and fairy tale. He rushes off when the doorbell rings, as in a Carry On, and conceals himself via the back of a wardrobe as if fleeing to Narnia.

The farce reaches its climax with the extraordinary mistake of allowing himself to be photographed in Panama for the website, which led to his discovery. He was also portrayed as rather half-soaked and incompetent in not grasping the Panamanian residency requirements before committing to the move: all in all, a shambles.

Although well-performed by Bernard Hill, the Darwin we see is rather a one-dimensional villain ranging from the tragic to the absurd. He appears to have been loved by the sons he so cruelly betrayed and yet this contradiction and their feelings are not explored or explained.

Rather than the world as seen by John Darwin, we view events through the eyes of his wife. The emotional toll of the collapse of the ill-conceived fraud is convincingly presented, as demonstrated by a heart-wrenching scene in which a distraught Anne kneels exhausted under the shower. We learn how Anne was pressured into going along with the scheme and becoming an effective accomplice. Her onerous duties extended to reporting her husband as missing, dealing with the authorities and insurers as well as telling her sons that their father was dead and later -somewhat implausibly- that she was moving to Panama alone.

Anne's feelings of guilt are repeatedly signalled with much counting of rosaries. Her only explanation for her involvement was that she loved him, as though that was sufficient answer. Her taste for the far-flung was however hinted at by some exotic prints in the kitchen and the impressive ease with which she settled in her new Panamanian home - both of which might be taken to signal a taste for adventure unlikely in an entirely downtrodden cipher.

Ultimately, we do not know from this film if John Darwin was more than a fantasist and unprincipled manipulator of his closest family. At his trial, to his credit, he belatedly sought to take the whole blame by saying his wife had acted under extreme duress. This seems not to have been believed since her sentence was marginally longer than his.

Similarly, we do not know whether Anne played her part just because her husband asked her to and she was simply not strong enough to stand up for herself or her sons.

Whatever their actual motives, the celebrated case of the canoe man does not reflect well upon our times. On every Saturday night TV talent show we see people who believe they are destined for fame and fortune. The absence of intelligent thought, hard work or discernible talent does not dissuade them from this delusion and consequent - possibly humiliating - public rejection.

Celebrity culture and the huge wealth easily acquired for a few highly publicised individuals has misled many to think not only "Why not me?" but sometimes aggressively, "It should be me and I deserve it!" I wonder if such an unreal and deluded view of self-worth and the absence of any workable moral compass might come somewhere near explaining the canoe man's actions and why he ended up so far from home without a paddle? Also, might it not give a lesson to us all? 


Review: Colonel Moseley reviews "On Expenses" from 24.2.2010

This piece is taken from my reviewblog in 2010
"This film is based on real characters and events. Some scenes have been imagined, some dates have been compressed. But mostly, you couldn't make it up"

BBC 4's hot streak of wry-yet-punchy dramas recapturing the recent political past continued last night with "On Expenses."

A stellar writing, directing and acting team - of Manchester City or Chelsea proportions - was assembled to very good effect.

Written by Tony Saint and directed by Simon Cellan-Jones, the film dramatised the struggle of Heather Brookes, an American journalist, to secure full public disclosure of MP's expenses under the Freedom of Information Act.

Heather's American perspective was a key to the drama. She demonstrated horror and indeed shock that so many at the heart of power in this country could be so rapacious in feathering their nests and yet so smug and self-righteous in doing so.

As a woman and an American Ms Brookes was the ultimate outsider, but she also represented all of us standing outside the glib luxurious world of the British Establishment.

Anna Maxwell Martin played Heather Brookes with verve and energy. The last time I saw her was as Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" a few years ago. She mesmerised now as then and was the focus of attention whenever on screen.

Her character was driven and pushy. She was a bundle of nervous energy which she just-about kept under control. Channeling this potentially explosive inner turmoil seemed to be crucial to her well-being and she found outlets in campaigning, journalism and even creative dance.

She was ambitious in a competitive American way and sometimes almost exhibitionist in her iconoclasm. One is never entirely sure how much this need to puncture the pompous balloon of petty officialdom was pure activism or bloody-mindedness or her sense of humour. To be sure, she was amused by the lunacy demonstrated by the jobsworths with whom she crossed swords.

Whatever the precise motivation, she was feisty, combative and effective - as demonstrated by her lengthy but ultimately successful campaign to improve lighting in subways in her neighbourhood which had become a haven for muggers.

Heather's drive and work ethic saw her decide upon and complete her book upon the Freedom of Information Act and apply the same commitment and organisation in the subsequent battle before the Tribunal and in the High Court to defeat her parliamentary opponents - just as she had overcome her local council.

On one occasion she literally stood in front of the Speaker's procession in a vaulted hall in Westminster before shuffling stubbornly out of its way like a sulky teenager being difficult, just to show she could.

Many of Tony Saint's trademarks in "The Long Road to Finchley" were evident: you may recall the almost schoolboy jokes with the Thatcher twins and droll references to the jungle and desert.

Here, with topical and not very subtle jokiness, an MP leafs through a magazine - "The Mortgage Guide" and Speaker Martin drinks his Irn Bru and tells his wife on the telephone to be sure to get receipts. In truth however there was no need to devise such humour, however artfully. The truth was far too grotesquely comic.

Fairly or not, most of the ills of this rottenest of parliaments is reflected in the characterisation of Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, played with uncanny accuracy and considerable insight by Brian Cox.
Speaker Martin is presented in some depth with occasional lapses into caricature, as with the Celtic scarf over the back of his chair and bagpipe playing in moments of stress.

We see an ambitious politico scheming to achieve the office, using his connections to get the job "out of turn" and winking conspiratorially at his cronies when emerging from the key meeting when he has swung it with the all-important party whips. Contrary to established protocol, he is shown to set out expressly to make his selection "tribal."

We see the emphasis upon his lowly origins when it suited, as when an upper class civil servant inquired about his tailor. This contrasts with a self-important insistence to a lowly member of staff on being accorded his full title.

The split in his personality is reflected in sniffyness over wearing the full Speaker's regalia yet wanting the best that money can buy and apparent extravagance over the Pugin wallpaper for the Speaker's lodgings.

Speaker Martin and his MP cronies are presented in an unflattering light. Tim Pigott-Smith's sweaty characterisation of Labour MP Alan Keen is particularly telling.

Almost more shocking than the crude materialism, is the complacent failure of men in public life to grasp the way the tide of public opinion was turning and the manner in which they underestimated the challenge that was brewing.

The proceedings in the Tribunal and High Court are lucidly presented with a lightness of touch, helped by excellent performances by Neal Pearson as Hugh Tomkinson QC and Alex Jennings as the hapless head of the Fees Office, Andrew Walker.

The end of "On Expenses" has some of the quality of Shakespearean tragedy: hubris abounds.

There is to be no Pullitzer Prize for Heather Brookes. Much of her thunder is stolen by the detailed expose in the "Daily Telegraph" leading her to wail poignantly, "It just pisses me off that they've gone and done it so....brilliantly."

For Speaker Martin it is arguably worse. Immediately after quoting Burns in his resignation, he was shunned and ignored by those he protested he sought to protect and to whom, in the 'elfnsafetyspeak beloved of New Labour, he had "a duty of care." Alone, in an empty corridor in the palace of Westminster, he railed at "the bastards" who have deserted him like Richard III bewailing his fate on Bosworth Field.

At that moment and at other times, the brilliant subtlety of the performance by Brian Cox tempted one to feel some sympathy for this fallen Icarus that had dared to fly too high. He had been deserted by a privileged clique to whose interests he had dedicated himself.

In reality however he could look forward to retirement on a substantial index-linked pension and the honour of elevation to a peerage. In 2010 it is hard to see the tragedy in that.

The real tragedy occurred for the citizens of this country who obey the law, listen to the posturing of the politicians about ethics and all that public life entails and in good faith elect their MPs.

The so-called "expenses scandal" demonstrated that many of our representatives do not have the personal qualities of integrity and judgement making them fit for office. Some compound the irony by lecturing the rest us of us loftily about standards in public life. The real victims in this tragic story are the British people. Depressingly, it seems that our rulers still don't get it. You really couldn't make it up....