Saturday, December 29, 2012

Colonel Moseley reviews "Loving Miss Hatto"

TV over Christmas was mixed. There were the usual films and compilations but few highlights.

As it had done for the preceding season, the final of Strictly Come Dancing blew the tired and predictable X Factor out of the water. This was despite problems of its own, including hosting and format issues which it overcame to be compulsive Saturday night entertainment.

The Snowman and the Snowdog was a delight as were the seasonal offerings of Call the Midwife and Miranda, each featuring the festive Miranda Hart. Despite an implausible universal coating of frost on each exterior shot, Call the Midwife recreated the spirit if a 1950’s Christmas and managed to be both funny and touching. Despite what the cynics might say, it was a triumph.

Although I am a long-time fan of The Royle Family and often dip into the boxed set of DVDs, this year’s special barely passed muster. I enjoyed Joe’s dinner date with Philomena but found it often verged on parody and lacked its old magic.

For me the highlight of the Christmas schedule was “Loving Miss Hatto” on BBC 1, written and produced by Victoria Wood.

The film recreated the troubled life of Joyce Hatto, a concert pianist who, through nerves or the intervention of malign fate, never found success in her musical career.

Early on we see Joyce, delicately performed by Maimie McCoy wooed by young William “Barrie” Barrington-Cope. Played by the brilliant Rory Kinnear, Barrie purports to be a successful manager of classical artistes with a conventional commercial office. He is soon shown to be nothing of the sort and rather a wide-boy, but Joyce is won over by both his ambitions for her and an affection as strong as it was sincere.

We see Barrie woo Joyce despite the resistance of her sour battleaxe of a mother. There is no doubt that the young couple’s love is genuine and predictably life is not smooth with traumas ranging from Joyce’s concert fiasco at the Festival Hall to Barrie’s imprisonment for improprieties involving purchase tax on imported electrical goods.

After this we fast-forward to Royston in Hertfordshire decades later. Joyce who had been ill with cancer is now played by Francesca Annis and a balding and bespectacled Barrie by Alfred Molina. Both are superb.

In their actual and metaphorical suburban cul-de-sac, the couple lead a quiet life, with Joyce teaching piano and Barrie still her devoted cavalier serviente, constantly striving to make her a “Happy Hatto.”

Superficially content, they reflect the past with archaic humour. Barrie still calls her “ducky” and they often joke that “there’s a war on,” inhabiting a world that recalls “Much Binding” and the Home Service. Their isolated life is punctuated by favourite programmes about monkeys on daytime TV, which barely mask the perpetual elephant in the room of unspoken bitterness over decades of mutual failure - Joyce’s failure as a performer and Barrie’s failure to make her a star. In the process, the fragile and brittle Joyce has been embittered and angered by her cancerous disappointment, echoing her spiteful mother.

Spurred on by his wife’s generally unspoken resentment and his unending need to please her, Barrie releases a series of recordings in Joyce’s name which are hailed by critics as the work of a great lost virtuoso. Joyce  relished her late flowering acclaim and Barrie enjoyed her pleasure in this until her death. Subsequently, after technical analysis, the editor of Gramaphone magazine alleged that the recordings were the work of other identifiable artists and the couple became what one critic referred to as “Hertfordshire’s Bonnie and Clyde.”

After Joyce's death, we are presented with Barrie, unable to grasp his loss, still buying chocolate mousses for two and pouring an extra glass of orange squash. This was typically Hatto: supermarket puddings and cordial, prosaic to the end.

It is apparent that Barrie did what he did out of love and the desire to please his wife. It seems Joyce knew and did not dissent. Their story depicts human weakness, the price of failure and the bitter consequences of delusion. We see their sincere but doomed efforts by bizarre means to overcome the thwarted ambitions that were consuming them, Joyce for failing to become a star and Barrie for failing to make her one. This moving story of  artless failure and frustration was well told and ultimately touching.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Secret Pleasures

Thinking about my unfashionable liking for Christmas albums prompted me to list twelve other of my secret pleasures:
  • "Strictly Come Dancing"
  • North-eastern Ibiza
  • Chilled rose
  • "Bargain Hunt" at lunchtime
  • Painting in water colours
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Rib-eye steak with bernaise sauce
  • Dressage to music
  • Miranda Hart
  • Large Maryland cookies
  • "Big Bang Theory"
  • Monica Galetti from "Masterchef the Professionals"


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Favourite Christmas Albums

I have a weakness for festive Yuletide compilations. Here are my top ten:
  • Brian Wilson: What I Really Want for Christmas
  • Kate and Anna McGarrigle: The McGarrigle Christmas Hour
  • Judith Durham: For Christmas With Love
  • Various Artists : The Ultimate White Christmas
  • James Brown: Funky Christmas
  • Wichita Line Band: Christmas Line Dance Party
  • Various Artist: That's Christmas, the Ultimate Christmas Collection
  • Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails
  • Various Artists : Cool Christmas
  • Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra etc: Christmas Crooners


Friday, December 14, 2012

Colonel Moseley's Favourite Hotels

I thought it would be fun to list my ten all-time favourite hotels anywhere:
  • Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon
  • The Henley Park, Washington
  • The Shangri La, Bangkok
  • The Regent/Four Seasons, Melbourne
  • The Dorchester, London
  • Wyndhams, New York
  • Claridges, London
  • The Shangri La, Hong Kong
  • The Hacienda, Na Xamena, Ibiza
  • The New York Palace


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Colonel Moseley reviews "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story"

I meant to post some thoughts regarding "Best Possible Taste: The Kenny Everett Story," which aired on BBC4  several weeks ago, but forgot, so - hopefully better late than never - here goes.

This ninety minute biopic, written by Tim Whitnall and directed by James Strong, charted the life of Liverpudlian Maurice Cole who became Kenny Everett, arguably the most inventive and amusing radio DJ and TV comedian of his generation. His most popular comic creations included Cupid Stunt, Sid Snot and Angry of Mayfair.

As with most such biographies on BBC4, this sympathetic elegy told the story of an outsider, rather a lost soul bathed from childhood in Catholic guilt and tormented by self-loathing. Basically gay, he was doomed to a lifelong battle between chastity and arguably baser instincts. In addition to an inconvenient preference for straight men, this nervous and frightened man-child had an aptitude for zany humour and predilection for hedonism and iconoclasm that inevitably led to trouble.

Impersonated with uncanny accuracy by Oliver Lansley, Kenny entered a passionate yet platonic relationship with an almost maternal Lee Middleton, convincingly played by Katherine Kelly, to whom he declared," I love you but I fancy Burt Reynolds." Their often touching relationship formed the absolute centre of the story in an authentic recreation of the period. The interiors, clothes and music were particularly well presented.

Some key scenes in Everett's life were staged less successfully, such as his lunch with an interestingly cast Simon Callow as Dickie Attenborough, Chairman of Capital Radio.  Freddie Mercury was persuasively presented as the sympathetic friend and mentor in his struggle with his sexuality. The dramatic scene when Kenny announced to a scrum of press on his doorstep that he was gay was deftly and convincingly  handled, topped with the typically memorable quip confirming his unorthodox menage,"Take it from cuddly Ken: if one husband is good, two is better." 

We also see a bravura recreation of his appearance at the Conservative Party Conference in 1983 when, wearing huge hands, he  urged "Let's bomb Russia. Let's kick Michael Foot's stick away" and  bizarely instead of coming out as gay, exposed himself  as a closet Tory.  In the light of this the paradox is never  fully explained as to how he was later dismissed for joking on air that "When England was a kingdom we had a king. When we were an empire we had an emperor. Now we are a country we have Margaret Thatcher." Sometimes perhaps a joke is just a joke with no deeper subtext?

As with all biopics, this one stood or fell by its ending. Referring to his appearance in Desert Island Discs in 1993 Kenny is seen walking calmly and seemingly happily past his comic creations on the beach and  towards the sea with his beloved transistor radio held in the crook of his arm. As the beautiful "Preludio Sinfonico" swells, Kenny declares "Puccini is God with knobs on. " It's all rather "Death in Venice" swapping Puccini for Mahler and perhaps Southport for Venice and seems to point to acceptance in the face of a greater scheme of things. Perhaps the frightened and lost little boy had at last found peace?

Captions at the end  disclose Kenny's diagnosis with AIDS in 1994, weeks after he had received the Sony Gold Award for outstanding contribution to radio and his death on April 4 1995. Given the complexities which must have prevailed in entering into and sustaining his last personal relationships and the traumas involved in his final illness from diagnosis onwards, it is difficult to see how the viewer could obtain a truly meaningful understanding of the life in its entirety without any coverage of those dark and difficult days. This story was well crafted and brilliantly performed, but only so far as it went: it tells the story of Kenny and Lee but perhaps not the whole story of Kenny himself.