Burns

I am risen, Lazarus-like – if Lazarus had abandoned his blog for over a year and then suddenly returned to it to write about Robert Burns. Yes, looking back I’m sure that’s what he did. Anyway, our village has a biannual Burns Night in the village hall and this year it was my fear and privilege to give the Reply From the Lassies. So here it is what I said:

“In preparation for tonight, I have entered a stage of intense research. A throwback to those days of being a student. And several destroyed drafts of this speech later, I can now research.jpegreveal that Robert Burns is not to be confused with Robert Burns. Robert Burns was an eighteenth-century US Representative during the time of President Andrew Jackson: a President who’s wife was accused of being a prostitute, who had Native Americans forcibly removed from their land, and who was nearly assassinated less than two years into his presidency. Those were the days! Robert Burns was also an art nouveau painter and designer. And a biologist best known for his work on sexual differentiation. He was also an English footballer, an Australian cyclist, and the uncle of Robert Burns. Robert Burns was, in short, a busy guy. Yep, that’s what ten minutes on Wikipedia can contribute to any undergraduate essay. Money well spent, parents!

Before I really get started I’d just like to say that, despite my accent, my Scottish surname suggests that I have pipesgenerations of Scottish relatives to disappoint with this speech, and who have celebrated January 25th for many years. And a Scottish surname – Mac or Mc – can be a great thing to have, whether choosing baby names, or never being first in the register. Even when everyone tells you that it sounds more Irish. Although with Brexit on the horizon, I’ll be using my surname to silently defect to the Irish side and claiming my passport there from now on.

It’s a great honour to have been asked to do this tonight, especially following on from the fabulous ‘Toast to the Lassies’ which was done so marvelously. But – and I hate to cite inequality in the work place – but he did have a simpler job. He had to find nice things to say about women: something that I’m sure everyone here can agree is easy. I have the inevitable task of finding something nice to say about men. But, in this post-truth world, womens-marchanything is possible. Even alternative facts. So for some inspiration I turned to our bard for the night.

Robert Burns, came to fame at the age of 27… which gives me about nine months to discover what I’ going to be famous for. But he was certainly a man who knew how to appreciate a woman. This is attested to by the fact that he has over 900 descendants. And in 1792 he wrote the following verse, which sadly wouldn’t look out of place on a placard today:

While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

Although, as is so often the problem with poetry, it might be a tad wordy and therefore too heavy to carry up and down Washington DC’s Mall all day.

Speaking of the women in his life, Burns married Jean Armour at the age of 29, with only five illegitimate children to his name. And, as my peers and I approach this milestone, I asked them (and the internet) what qualities make for the best husband, to see how Robert Burns compared. Ladies in the audience, take notes. Jean Armour should probably have done so.

Number 1. Commitment
Burns was a great believer in the phrase ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. In total he had 12 children by 4 different women, including the first with his mother’s servant. He seemed to seduce women everywhere he went: at school, at church, through befriending their brothers, and of course during visits to collect lime. Ah yes, that old chestnut!

robert-burnsNumber 2. Confidence
I think, see above…

Number 3. Emotional Stability
A man who writes a poem to a mouse is not emotionally stable.

Number 4. Good-looking
Yes, something shallow had to make the list. And the fellow adorning the front of the, might I say, exquisitely made leaflets on the tables (hats off to whoever made those), is certainly dark, even-featured, and handsome. I find it, however, slightly troubling that Burns himself was extremely pleased with this portrait and sent it to a friend, saying (in rhyme, of course):

I send you a trifle, a head of a Bard
A trifle not worthy your care;
But accept it, good sir, as a mark of regard
Sincere as a Saint’s dying prayer.

I think it might have been more pleasing to find that he was trying to erase this picture from the face of the earth. As though it was an insult to the real thing. Rather than lauding it about like the eighteenth-century answer to Photoshop and filters.

Number 5. Communication
I think this is where Robert Burns comes into his own. Perhaps the reason that Jean Armour, and countless others, fell under his spell was his way with words. After all, Mary Campbell was willing to emigrate to Jamaica with him after an exchange of passionate letters! And who wouldn’t follow a man who promised to love you until the seas gang dry, who eternalised his love for you in verse for the rest of the world to see, and who would walk ten thousand miles to see you again. The Proclaimers could barely manage a tenth of that.

haggiaSo it turns out that it really is easy to win a few female hearts: get your face printed on the Royal Mail stamp (and the USSR stamp, for that matter), get your face printed on the £5 note for 38 years (which is longer than his entire lifetime), have over sixty statues built to you all over the world – including in Estonia, where it stands opposite a statue of Sean Connery – and find the time to scribble down about 700 poems. Oh, and of course have people throughout the world get together on your birthday to eat haggis and celebrate your life and works. Easy. Get to it.

And any man who can achieve this deserves a toast tonight.
So please raise your glasses to Robert Burns.”

 

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Brooklyn

Brooklyn hexhamThe season of inviting most of a German forest to dwell in your sitting-room is upon us; so prickle yourself with holly, fall off a step-ladder hanging mistletoe, and spend the next eleven months trying to get pine-needles out from between your sofa cushions. Yes, Advent is here! And to celebrate, I trundled off to the Forum Cinema in Hexham – where the trees now dangle with pearly white lights (and Christmassy flood-water) – to watch Brooklyn.

Brooklyn was a novel by Colm Tóibín (no, I don’t know how either, but he’s definitely Irish), before it was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (who wrote the screenplay for the Carey-Mulligan-bejewelled glory that is An Education, and isn’t Irish) and directed by John Crowley (who is Irish, but in a more subtle way). Brooklyn posterThe film was shrouded in ghostly mystery. All I knew about Brooklyn was the bridge, the Beckhams, and some faint notion that the girls in Girls are girls there. It was my mother’s idea to go and see it and she laid out strict, if slightly peculiar, guidelines: that because it includes “talking to dead people and Julie Walters” my father was on no account to be invited. Meanwhile, I had seen the aforementioned Walters J. on The Graham Norton Show, alongside the unlikely motley crew of Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, 50 Cent and Ellie Goulding. I had therefore seen clips of Steve JobsThe Dressmaker, the music video for 9 Shots, and Brooklyn: the last of which consisted of five Irish girls in brightly-coloured dresses, eating dinner, rapping about being shot, inventing Apple products, and being reprimanded by Mrs W. – bedecked by an unconvincing wig – for their flippant attitude towards Jesus. Although, now I look back, I may have got slightly muddled. Anyway, it seemed pleasing, ineffectual, and faintly reminiscent of school; so I trotted along.

Beware: I am about to spoil this ripping yarn forever by revealing most of the plot for no reason whatsoever. You have been warned, and proceed – much like eating mutton-stew on a ship shortly before a great storm, but without a comforting Eva Brooklyn Eilis and TonyBirthistle to give you fashion advice – at your own peril.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) lives in Ireland, surrounded by hideous wallpaper, with her perpetually tearful mother (Jane Brennan) and unfeasibly older sister (Fiona Glascott). With the exception of underlying heart conditions, which are an essential secret for the good of the plot, no one can so much as say the word ‘begorrah’ or nibble a dainty shamrock without the entire community knowing about it. After helping her best friend Nancy (Eileen O’Higgins) secure the man of her dreams through the well-known romantic gesture of swaying, Eilis abandons her job in a bakery and sets sail for New York to begin a new life. And so the American dream begins: working in a department store and living in a boarding-house for Catholic girls, run by Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters). Miserable and homesick, she soon meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen): Brooklyn mothera young New York plumber from an Italian family (Antonio Fiorello – call me Sherlock!), whose initial appearance as a sort of Joey-Tribbiani-Danny-Zuko-Don-Corleone figure is hastily eschewed when he transpires to be the world’s biggest sweetheart. Like a puppy who knows about U-bends. He only has two major flaws: one, that Eilis will need to learn to eat spaghetti to impress his family, and two, that they are the same height. After an exceptionally nosey priest (Jim Broadbent – because all films sign a clause saying that he can never be out of work) enrols Eilis in night-classes, she finally learns all those vital skills that a good Catholic girl ought to learn: putting on a swimwear under your clothes, making small-talk with strangers about the weather, and sneaking boys into your bedroom at night without detection. Life in Brooklyn is looking brighter, and to rather literally demonstrate this all the colours get brighter. Then, quite selfishly and without warning, her terminally pale sister dies from an unexpected narrative-twist. Eilis – pausing to do the only sensible thing when maddened with grief: secretly marry your boyfriend – makes the bumpy voyage back to Ireland. Brooklyn yellow at the beachUnfortunately, Ireland has undergone some changes since Eilis’s departure and is now festooned with job security, weddings, – but without the hair-tearing stress of a real wedding, and only the dressing-up and girlish squeals – and of course the charming Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson). Jim seems to be knitted by nuns in the perfect boyfriend factory: he’s tall, he’s inheriting his parents’ country estate, and – as if all of that wasn’t reason enough to eschew your secret marriage to a distant plumber – he’s lovely. Like a puppy who knows about Ireland. But *drum roll of epic proportions to sustain romantic suspense while you think mournfully about Tony and then feel terrible for Jim* which life will Eilis choose? Dun dun daah!

I loved everything about this film. It is sweet and sticky, without inducing toothache; romantic, exquisitely performed throughout, and perfectly under-scripted. The cinematography is utterly delectable, making me truly believe that the 1950s is the most desirable time in all of history. It is such a rare treat and privilege to see Saoirse Ronan – the little girl from Atonement who grew up so that everyone feels ancient – blossom into a sublime and subtle actress with even more greatness ahead. She is dazzling.  In fact, the cast really doesn’t contain a wrong note. Brooklyn the girlsEmory Cohen is flawless as Tony. He is natural, believable and adorable! There doesn’t exist a film in which I can’t imagine him being an asset. This is his first major role, and with a few awards under his belt already, cinema audiences across the lands are praying to Father Christmas to see more of him in the future. The whole film is warmly and gently funny, mostly created by the girls in the boarding-house (Mary O’Driscoll, Eve Macklin, Jenn Murray, Nora-Jane Noone, Emily Bett Rickards) and their guardian. Julie Walters, be-wigged and be-accented, is marvellous as Mrs Kehoe, and each one of the girls glorious in their own eccentricity: whether bitchy or simply deranged. Much of their conversation is set around the dinner table, giving a comical glimpse into that constant struggle between manners and mischief. Finally, a quick shout out to James DiGiacomo: who knew eight-year-olds could be sweet and not nauseating?

It turns out, I want to live in 1950s Ireland. Deserted white sand beaches, emerald green countryside, idyllic town houses with brightly-coloured front doors (for which I am a sucker), snow, formal dances, really pretty girls’ names, wealthy young men, red hair, and an endless succession of paying jobs skidding your way. And the dresses. Oh, the dresses, the coats, the shoes… Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen film scenes for movie 'Brooklyn' at Coney IslandEvery item of clothing and every scrap of fabric is fabulous, in a delicious array of colour palettes. Hats – trousers, skirts and blazers – off to costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux (real, and might I add superb, name)! Even Eilis’s swimming-costume is flattering and envy-making, thanks to a lovely scene with her boss, Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré), who recommends just the right shade of green. Whilst the terrible sunglasses have the ghastly quality of an elderly cross-dresser, Saoirse Ronan manages to rock a bow tie, pink and white candy stripes, and a little hat that looks like a dying piece of sea life. Meanwhile, every woman in the cinema is growing increasingly jealous of her ability to wear yellow without looking jaundiced, mentally unstable, or like a banana in a television series entitled ‘Yellow is the New Black’.

Emory Cohen as "Tony" and Saoirse Ronan as "Eilis" in BROOKLYN. Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
he must be standing on a box

I hope Colm Tóibín’s novel is going firmly on letters to Santa, and that right now you’re booking tickets: don your wellingtons, galoshes, hat, umbrella, and life-jacket, swim down to your local cinema, and bask in this film’s understated and delightful triumph.

Hamlet

It would be impossible to blame so many problems on just one individual. There are numerous things wrong with this production and far fewer things right with it; for, as someone wisely observed, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”. This is yet another magnificent play ruined by the creative vision – or possibly hallucinations – of its set designer, director, costume designer and composer. Strap in.

hamlet - children posterThe Barbican stage measures over 2,100 square feet. That’s about the actual size of Elsinore, and if rented out in the City of London, it could comfortably house the disgraced ruins of British rugby. Since we last met, I have traded in my wursts for scones, my bier gartens for huddling indoors with the heating on clutching a mug of tea, and moved back to blighty… the chief advantage being that I went to see the live streaming of that frightfully unusual Shakespearean treat from the Barbican: Hamlet. And who better to sculpt this behemoth space into a theatrical masterpiece than a woman who was awarded an OBE for just these masterpiece sculpting skill-sets. All hail set designer Es Devlin!

Perhaps if the OBE powers-that-be see what she did to Hamlet, they will retrospectively remove it. Curtain up on the Hamlets’: the most over-thought, over-stuffed, over-elaborate hallway in Denmark. In amongst a piano, a banqueting table, an entirely arbitrary rocking-horse, and more stuffed partridges than you can shake a stick at, there are at least four sets of floor to ceiling double-doors. No wonder everyone in Elsinore is in such a palava. hamlet - setThey never get a moment’s peace. Devlin has all the nuanced light touch of a man pretending to be mad by dressing up as a toy soldier and marching an imagined parade over his father-in-law’s desk. It looks like an episode of Grand Designs where Kevin McCloud just crumpled resigned in a corner, rocking gently to and fro. I do not need real rain to believe that it’s raining on stage. In fact, I deeply resent being treated like the sort of idiot who cannot suspend their disbelief for a single second. However, it is surprisingly hard to believe ‘here we are having a jolly on the battlements’ when you are clearly huddled on a landing: twelve feet up in the air, replete with twiddly balustrades and flock wallpaper. And it was all painted a colour know in my family as ‘suicide blue’.

The director’s name is Lyndsey Turner. What follows is a list detailing just the most notable of her… shall we call them, Brave Decisions?

  1. She modernised the language. You know, for all those illiterate plebs who fork out sixty quid a ticket (or stand in a queue for seventeen hours) and then struggle to cope with words like “porpentine” or the phrase “wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. Even Hamlet gave the audience a look of abject sheepishness when clunking “with which I will catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet - castleI’m surprised she didn’t change Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s names to Tim and Steve to make it easier on our fragile little brains.
  2. She moved the soliloquies around. “To be or not to be” came so quickly that it made even less sense than usual. Clearly Shakespeare knew nothing. Fool.
  3. Strobe lighting.
  4. There was a chase scene which, without the assistance of Bruce Willis and a high-powered engine, looked – as far as one could make out amidst the green-tinged strobe lighting – like a particularly worthy GCSE performance.
  5. Ssssll-loooooow-www moooo-ttttiii-ooooonnn aaaacctt-ttiiinnnngg.
  6. Even Rosencrantz (Matthew Steer) and Guildenstern (Rudi Dharmalingam) couldn’t help but look a little surprised upon finding their old friend dressed as a toy soldier sitting in a miniature castle. Their faces belied a sense that they were missing the long-lost art of acting.

As I have had cause to comment on before, Hamlet boils down to a conflict about the floor. For the first half, the flooring was as it should be: unnoticed and under foot. Not a talking point nor a hindrance. But during the interval someone (perhaps well-meaningly) had come on and festooned it with rubble. Much to the merriment and laughter of the audience, this left women in high heels tottering about on top of slag heaps, and everybody walking very slowly and deliberately. It also explains why, during the first half (pre Operation Inexplicable Ash-Cloud) any object that was moved was accompanied by a little shower of dirt. Any hurricane survivors in the audience probably started having flashbacks.

My prayers go out to costume designer Katrina Lindsay. The poor woman had clearly suffered some species of mental breakdown whilst searching through a thrift shop, no doubt inspired by Macklemore. Fair dos. She was probably haunted by the poignancy of his lyrics: “Velour jumpsuit and some house slippers, Dookie brown leather jacket that I found diggin’, They had a broken keyboard, I bought a broken keyboard, I bought a ski blanket, then I bought a kneeboard”. This manic impulsiveness was apparent in the production’s peculiar and vast selection of clothes. Gertrude flitted about in Elizabethan gowns, Ophelia looked like a noughties’ tween in an Ikea ad or a deranged bride; all the while Hamlet was whipping through an abundance of outfits with no thought to the Danish laundry bills. There was nothing wrong with his plain grey t-shirt. hamlet - fencingOr his plain black t-shirt. Or the black jumper. Or black jacket. The female portion of the audience (and a fair few of the men) enjoyed the white vest… fleeting though it was. The black waterproof was a good look. As was the slightly different black anorak. There was a lot wrong with the monkey t-shirt. The soldier outfit, ditto. And I can’t help but feel like the Snape cloak, with the word ‘King’ tip-exed on the back, was a mistake. The white fencing garb at the end was redundant. And the Native American headdress was nothing sort of lunacy. Speaking of which, what was the Player Queen wearing on her head? She looked like something rejected from the wedding-feast hors d’oeuvres platter.

hamlet - sittingThe continuity lacking in the costume department was made up for by the music. It happened without fail at the end of every scene and was so loud that it drowned out all the final lines. It sounded like your own eardrums bursting and, for any of you lucky enough to know the Just William story ‘The Great Actor’, was irresistibly reminiscent of William creating thunder.

Up until now I have placed the blame squarely at the feet of the creative team. But the cast did their fair share in sending this production down the river to its execution in England. The real Shakespearean tragedy was that ninety percent of the acting talent were substantially lacking either acting or talent. A sea of Laerteses (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), players (Ruairi Conaghan), Horatioes (Leo Bill), Voltemands (Morag Siller), Marcelluses (Dwane Walcott), and Barnardoes (Dan Parr) were interchangeable in their dullness. Yorick’s skull brought more dynamics to the proceedings. And Osric didn’t even bother to show up. Nor did the Ambassador. Fortinbras, (Sergo Vares) on the other hand, didn’t seem to speak much English. He sounded like he was reading off an auto-cue, and he’d never done it before. By ‘it’ I mean reading.

Playing Ophelia is a thankless task. If everyone leaves expostulating on how fabulous Ophelia was, then it was a terrible waste of an evening. Poor Siân Brooke, (who I once saw sparkle opposite the lovely Matthew Rhys in Romeo and Juliet) saddled with a pointless camera, twitched and fiddled in an array of outfits nearly rivalling Hamlet’s, Acting (with a capital letter). hamlet - opheliaOphelia is hardly a feminist icon and drips about in constant semi-tears, whimpering about how adorable she is, before ending it all in a convenient river. As Gertrude recounts how she watched Ophelia drown, it struck me for the first time how easy it would have been for Gertrude to save her. But, having known a few Ophelias in my time, I totally understand Gertrude’s apathy. No court in the land would convict her if she pushed the miserable girl in herself. Although I did really envy one of her jumpers – and shall go to the grave, hopefully less damply than Ophelia, with my great curse being that I cannot and should not wear yellow – it remains an unrewarding part and this is a fittingly un-nuanced performance.

King Hamlet’s Ghost (Karl Johnson) was a fascinating new spin on the spectre: a sort of uncle figure from a 1920s comedy about young wastrels in London begging for their allowances. He was brash, rude and instantly dislikeable; speaking in a sharp, clipped tone, as though his son was being the total moron and utter disappointment he had always suspected. Hamlet - and GertrudeCertainly not the sort of ghost who went woohing about the stage with a bed-sheet over his head, he made you feel that Hamlet’s plethora of problems could have been prevented by a father who gave him the occasional hug. Doubling as the grave-digger, Johnson was able to shine: dry, witty and charming. The sort of man anyone would want rooting through their grave, heaving skulls left right and centre. Polonius is such a great part, providing pomposity and comic relief in equal measure. Jim Norton should have been well up to the task after so much Father Ted, but he was such a disappointment, garbling his lines and failing to elicit a single laugh from either the live or the cinema audience.

Claudius (Ciarán Hinds) and Gertrude (Anastasia Hille) do everything in their respective kingly and queenly power to snatch this production from the jaws of defeat. And they almost succeed. Almost. Hinds – whose crowning achievement must surely be that he voiced the Troll King in Frozen – is forced into either a daft wig or a daft haircut to resemble a poorly coiffured badger; but he is dazzling and intelligent and only occasionally Irish. hamlet - claudiusHe has the hallmarks of a great leader for Denmark, until Hamlet starts sticking his elbow and rapier in. Hille, for her part, makes a wonderful, smothering Gertrude. Like Lady M in the Scottish play she is far more accountable for the murder of her first husband, her son’s breakdown, and the disintegration of the kingdom Denmark than the audience have suspected. She is as culpable as Claudius. Unfortunately, together they have absolutely no chemistry. Considering that a mere fourteen days prior to the action, Claudius murdered his brother to marry his wife, he seems to have reconsidered. Perhaps she’s moaning about the laundry bills. I’ve seen actual blood relations be more rambunctious. He barely seemed to notice when she died, and if the wedding-feast’s courtly peck on the cheek was any indication of their ‘incestuous sheets’, then Hamlet had nothing to worry about. The flock wallpaper had turned their passions cold.

And now, at last, I come to the star of the show: Hamlet himself. I was lucky enough to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein many moons ago, when he was unlucky enough to have pneumonia. He was scintillating then and his performances in Cabin Pressure, SherlockHawkingThe Fifth Estate and The Imitation Game, to name but a handful of his achievements, are breath-taking in their skill and diversity. hamlet - stabHe has proven himself time and time again to be a fine actor. However, I would not consider myself a fan, blinded by obsession, and I was quite prepared to find his Hamlet disappointing. I don’t believe that every actor has a Hamlet in them; but Cumberbatch does. He most definitely deserves every accolade that wings his way. If you can see past the monkey – and at moments I even forgot about its existence – then his performance is a triumph and as good as any I’ve ever seen (no, that was not a euphemism). He is cruelly let down by a floundering surrounding cast and reined in by a creative team who are not content to let Shakespeare speak for itself. But his sublime creation of this character allows the production’s multitude of faults to melt away, and all is almost forgiven in the wake of his magnificent performance. It is a must-see.

PS. In recent years, I have seen a few Hamlets where the ending is trimmed into virtual obliteration to make way for messing about with lighting, costume and unnecessary gimmicks earlier on. At Stratford my best friend (an ardent Stoppard fan) had to be wrestled back into her seat, when after hour after tedious hour no Ambassador bothered to blow in to utter the phrase, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’. It didn’t happen at the Barbican either and, although somewhat relieved that the evening’s ordeal was over, I felt her pain.

While We’re Young

Berlin is a vibrant and busy city filled with opportunities for culture, history and mischief: posing for cheesy selfies in front of the Wall, posing for cheesy selfies in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and occasionally slinking past a museum in pursuit of a riverside beer. It is also home to a mightily fancy cinema where, far from the lukewarm tap-water in polystyrene cups I am so accustomed to in Britain, the charming and heart-While We're Young berlinbreakingly-bilingual girl in charge handed me glass bottles of ice-cold water, which she opened with a bottle opener. It projected a clear message: keep your lids at home, uncultured proletariat! If they stooped so low as to sell something as vulgar and cliché as popcorn, each kernel was probably wearing a little bow tie. Even better, my little party quadrupled the crowd at the 15:50 screening of While We’re Young… to eight people. For those of you who have not clambered over several states of foreign clime to watch a Ben Stiller movie, your life is not in need of dire re-evaluation. And it is for you lucky winners that here follows a plot synopsis: the spoilers are as unsubtle as the film, which is about as subtle as building a ninety-seven mile wall bam-smack through the middle of your city.

Let us begin with the characters. Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife, who goes by the hideously unlikely name of Cornelia (Naomi Watts), are the most ancient couple conceivable on this earth. Stumbling towards the relief of the grave, they are as old as time itself – being at least thirty-five – and have consequently lost any ability to have fun. They have also so far failed in life’s only mission: to procreate. Whereas their more conformist friends are now incredibly boring baby-people. While We're Young stiller and wattsLike cat-people, but with fewer baby-faces on coffee mugs and more passion about soft-play areas.
Josh is a puritanical documentary-maker, Cornelia is a documentary-producer, and her father is a famous documentary-maker. It’s a theme. A subtle theme. As decrepit and crawling to death as they are, the couple meet Jamie (Adam Driver), an aspiring documentary-maker (shocking), and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Being in their early twenties, they have cool unisex names, and are so alternative that their screen-time may induce toothache. They make ice cream, they have a vinyl collection, they have a pet chicken, she goes to hip-hop lessons, they take drugs – in a cool hallucinatory vomiting demon-emitting way, not a messy intravenous weight-loss way – he wears a fedora, they ride bicycles, they pop each other’s spots… The list goes on. We get it. They’re edgy and probably never get a proper night’s sleep.

The plot wins no awards for sophistication. Mr and Mrs Ancient and Haggard befriend Mr and Mrs Young and Trendy, idolise them, take drugs with them, and eventually lose all of their nice normal baby-booming friends, whose only crime is enjoying a sensible bedtime and the occasional use of Google.While We're Young watts Over the course of various arcs of the most cliché-riddled montages in cinematic history, it becomes apparent that the McOlds are the hapless victims of a plot. Jamie and Darby’s motivation in befriending Josh was not to hippily make ice cream together at all. It was to get to his famous father-in-law and exploit his connections to enhance Jamie’s career. Rude! After a huge argument at an awards ceremony, a moral message shoved down our throats like home-made ice cream through a funnel, and an awkward time jump, Jamie becomes (wait for it) a famous documentary-maker, and Josh and Cornelia buy a baby online. The end.

Noah Baumbach is not a man to willingly share responsibilities. Not content with writing this film (one charitably presumes during a boring train ride to a nearby location), he also produced it, and then went the whole Wagnerian hog and directed it too. Presumably, only strongly-armed factions of the US marines could Ben Stiller and Adam Driver in While We're Youngtalk him out of starring in it. He is no Kenneth Branagh. During my third year of undergraduate bliss, I took a woefully mismanaged creative writing class, over the course of which I learned two things. The first was, never allow creative types to organise so much as a digestive biscuit. The second was this simple mantra about writing: ‘show, don’t tell’. Alas, Baumbach did not attend these seminars, and his motto is quite different: ‘why artfully give a glimpse of something understated for the audience to pick up on, when you can show it, highlight it, talk about it, zoom in on it, and play dun-dun-daah music at it?’ He evidently believes that film-goers are idiots. The film contains all the cringing subtlety of being beaten about the face with a yellow fedora. Oh, and he was also under the misapprehension that it would be amusing, charming or risqué if the couples unaccountably wife swapped momentarily halfway through. It was not.

Despite this being a Ben Stiller movie, it was not the acting that will haunt me as I thumb through my LP collection and trim the guest list for one of my nightly ayahuasca ceremonies. Here are my wise words about Mr Stiller. I’m sure there are people who really enjoy eating wasps. However, it would leave me sick, swollen and near death. They are fascinating individuals, these wasp-eaters, as they can go out for a hearty brunch moments after achieving a thing that would very definitely be my undoing. In short, I admire the moxie of the wasp-eaters of this world, but do not wish to join their ranks. The same can be said of Ben Stiller. while we're young carWhilst many watched Zoolander with tears of joy flooding into neighbouring streets, so that Noah began to regret so hastily disassembling the ark, for me each of those 89 minutes were a glimpse into the eternal flaming pits of hell. I’m not a fan. It seems proof enough of the non-existence of God that the powers-that-be are currently squirrelled away creating a sequel. However, I take it as a good sign that I didn’t really notice him in this film, in a fedora. He was in this film, in a fedora. But I didn’t feel as though I’d inhaled a single wasp, in a fedora. That’s good enough for me.

And everyone else was excellent enough to save this film. Almost… I am not alone in being unable to pronounce Amanda Seyfried’s surname. In fact, I can never remember what it is. Give me Ioan Gruffudd any day. She has such big eyes she resembles a cartoon gazelle who might unbalance at any moment. Strong female characters are not Mr Baumbach’s forte. Both the women are essentially accessories for the men of this film. Like blonde handbags. They add a little style, but almost no substance. But Sigfred… Sinfried… Seyfred… While We're Young seyfried and driverAmanda does a brilliant job in attempting to squeeze out what little there is to be squoze. If they ever make a film about Nicole Kidman and need an actress better than Nicole Kidman to play Nicole Kidman, they need look no further than Naomi Watts. She’s like something from a cloning laboratory. As a rather two-dimensional character, who I would imagine was called ‘wife’ until fairly late into rehearsals, she is less bland than the part demands, without being sappy or sentimental. Apparently, Adam Driver never watches himself on screen. All I’m going to say is that he’s missing out. Despite the fedora. Did I subtly mention the fedora? But maybe he should start with Girls. His abilities and range as a fine talent are beautifully executed here too, but Girls is – by a margin of several thousand popped zits – the better show.

And then the ending of the film… which suddenly gets very colonialist as Josh and ‘wife’ jet off to adopt a baby from a third-world country. Slightly distasteful and a bit Madonna for my complete comfort. And who could forget a clunkingly obvious quote slapped in to finish: ‘they’re not evil, they’re just young’. Which somehow manages to patronise millennials, the middle-aged, and the audience, whilst being as subtle as keeping a chicken in your apartment. Or, for that matter, a fedora.

Make-Up

I love days when the calendar is glowingly blank. That clear space is screaming that today is a leggings-baggy-jumper-wellies kind of a day with plenty of food, a duvet-hug, and a flat-screen. But, most gloriously, it signals a make-up free day! make-up to do listHowever, for all those other days, when showing one’s face in public is grotesquely necessary, I am a bit of a cosmetics junkie. Unfortunately, every way that I’ve ever done my make-up in the past twenty-four years has been wrong and embarrassing in more ways than can be conceived. And there’s no guarantee I’ve got it right now.

Face

My early teenage years were spent dyeing my face orange. As someone who goes from blue to white in the sun, I wasted an inordinate proportion of my allowance on various pastes with the texture of sand and molasses. They stained the collars of  shirts, the whites of fingernails, and could be chipped off at the end of the day with a chisel. make-up creosoteTowards the end of school I switched to the cheapest brand available at the time: a squeezy creosote which left a tidal mark around your jaw. This was hastily replaced by Max Factor’s Miracle Touch Liquid Illusion: possibly the most ostentatious name you’ll hear this year. I think the shade was called ‘funereal pale’ and, whilst it matched my skin tone beautifully, it was a very heavy unguent daubed on with a sponge, akin to decorating the spare bedroom every morning. Furthermore, in harsh flash photography, I was easily confused with a snowman in jeans. So a move to Europe, where the orange is less of a lifestyle choice and more of a delightful snack, meant a switch-up in routine. I’m currently using Garnier BB Cream which promises more than tinted moisturiser ever could. It’s light, it’s moisturing, it does my taxes, and it protects against all that good old European sunshine; keeping me eerily reminiscent of Wendell from make-up blush monkeyThe Simpsons in 35 degree heat. Of course, the battle is only half won. Abandoning Tippex as the perfect blusher, I’ve gone for another pretension by Max Factor; abandoning powders once and for all having caught sight of myself in a shop window and looked in vain for the Japanese macaque I didn’t know was following me.

Eyebrows

Children, heed this warning! Put down the tweezers. Step away from the scissors. And do not even give the razor so much as a sideways glance. Leave your brows to gambol, roam and shroud your lower-forehead with gay abandon, like a woodland creature at a hedgehog’s tea-party. Just so long as they don’t meet in the middle, your natural shape is your best. make-up browsNever will you fear your eyebrows smudging in the rain. I blame Rachel, Monica and Phoebe for my almost entire lack of eyebrows. I can only hope that Cara Delevigne, Keira Knightly and Anne Hathaway will serve as better role-models for a brighter, bushier future. But for all those girls of the 90s who now look like Frankenstein’s monster, what you are crying out for is an eyebrow pencil. Hours of those crucial endeavours – shading, shaping and trying to make them match – had left my Rimmel pencil a husk of its former glory: a little stump of blunt tragedy at the bottom of my cosmetics bag, ground down and embarrassed. So I’ve blown most of my wages on a Clinique Fine Liner. And for those of you who begin each day with an art lesson, drawing proportion onto your face, this is the accomplice you’ve been waiting for.

Lips

Kylie Jenner aside, my lips are on the fuller side of things. I could never wear lipstick without looking like a little girl who got into her mother’s make-up bag and created a messy masterpiece, and gloss left me sitting in the corner like a sad sticky clown. make-up watermelon lipsFor some time I festooned myself in Kate Moss lipsticks, mostly because they had my name on them. But then my best friend introduced me to Lime Crime and a little vegan magic entered my world. Although, a word to the wise, if you get it wrong and, in hapless unthinking irritation, smear it down your face, your skin will retain that beetroot glow until Christmas. It’s also very bright; people around you may don dark glasses or sink to their knees in fearful prayer. So for a simpler and subtler look, you can’t go wrong with Art Deco. Even though it claims to rely on personal pH – undermining science to its very core – it is smooth, natural and idiot-proof. And, for those of you with a neater mouth, never forget the words of my hero Kenneth Branagh: ‘it’s a lipless world for me, but a happy one’.

Feet

Okay, so this doesn’t qualify as make-up, but it’s my 2015 tip. The Body Shop foot scrub is incredible, and with the Pound to Euro conversion it’s almost cheaper than chocolate, although infinitely better for your skin. make-up foot scrubThere is nothing beautiful about feet (in my humble opinion) but having cracked heels in which snakes could lurk – in fact, which could support entire ecosystems of flora and fauna – does nothing for their desirability. This delectable concoction is more like an expensive drink from a London bar and makes my entire room reek of peppermint. Plus, the intended side-effect: just a single dollop makes your feet squeaky clean and so soft that I almost fell to my death on the wooden floor. Win win.

PS. The day is over and one final mammoth task confronts you: taking off your make-up thoroughly, effectively and painlessly. It’s a challenge worthy of a million pound prize. I’m a face-wash girl. There’s something about bubbles that says clean and something about oils and creams that says Nigella recipe. make-up WendellProducts from Clean and Clean, certainly in 2006, were like applying sandpaper dipped in 2 parts hydrochloric acid and 1 part lemon juice, for that burning sensation in the eyes and on the skin. I’m a sucker for Neutrogena, which was once recommended to me by a dermatologist, although my nightly encounter with their latest face-wash left me looking like a victim of domestic abuse. It seems to me unnecessarily effective of a product to remove skin as well as make-up. But Waitrose face-wash is gentle and heavenly, with not so many suds that you are in danger of drowning, so I can swiftly return to the pale me underneath.

Buzzfeed

buzzfeed calvin-on-creativity

Almost all Buzzfeed “hacks” don’t work. Whether it’s a previously undiscovered way of peeling an orange, a billion ways to re-purpose items found in Ikea, or attaining the perfect eyebrow using only a debit card and a squirrel, you will only start your day frustrated with a ruined and inedible orange, buzzfeed pinka house that looks as though it was decorated by Wombles, and eyebrows so on-point that it would be offensive to carry on as normal.

However, articles entitled ’21 Easy DIY Hacks in Five Minutes’ or ‘107 Helpful and Creative Things to do with Tin Foil’ ensnare me with their promise of a better, simpler future. It was probably how Eve got us into this mess in the first place. I for one adore tin foil and have copious amounts of five minutes in which to magically create objects from mere junk: a sorcery I have until now left to professionals. An umbrella perhaps, a hitherto unsuspected method of travel, the Hubble Space Telescope, or the plot for the next Scorsese film. And all in five easy steps, as the subheading promises. Buzzfeed has well and truly cornered the market. There we were, buying t-shirts with the pockets already attached, like idiots, when all this time we could have been adding them at home. I’ve even been using reed diffusers bought from a shop… like a cave-person.

It’s clever because it’s so simple. All you need are those everyday items. You know. The ones that are so constantly tripping you up and cluttering your pantry, artist’s studio and indoor arboretum. buzzfeed pandaThose necessities you just can’t stop well-meaning rels sending, that arrive in the post with every bank statement, and sneak into your supermarket trolley because – let’s face it – the planet is just experiencing a glut. And now, finally, you have an excuse to use up all that burlap, metallic duct tape, bamboo (note to self: stop mugging pandas) and those damned Mason jars that have been causing hassle for too long. Dig out your vintage button collection – as if you need to, it’s right there next to the okra – fetch your leather rivet kit from your bedside table, and whip out the needle nose pliers. Because in five minutes you are going to have lived.

And so, five minutes later… I have. Although frankly I wish that I’d ended it all at the bottom of the cellar stairs with Professor Plum several hours earlier. It’s the sort of fun that only blood-pressure medicine can erase. Everything I own is now glued to me, like I possess an unusually strong and sticky gravitational pull. I’m missing portions of several digits, Ibuzzfeed mess have what I’m fairly certain are permanently dyed patches of skin, my hair will need serious chemical attention and industrial tools to escape the liberal coatings of acrylic paint that have adhered to its surface – easier said than done, as the needle nose pliers are a great deal less needling, nosey or plying as they once were – I’ve swallowed more duct tape than is recommended for the standard adult female, the Mason jars are smashed into a fine paste, and the burlap is blazing contentedly in a corner. It’s going to take twenty minutes to dispel this particular circle of Hell, forty minutes soaking in a hot bath to remove the most colourful of my battle-scars, and a lifetime of stiff-upper-lippery to forget this most simple of wretched days. And, in due course, I shall fetch the plumber to repair the damage sustained when I ram bamboo down the waste-pipe.

buzzfeed miranda fruitYet again I have fallen victim to Buzzfeed’s hollow promises and been swayed by all of those calming photographs: thin Zen ladies, seductively placed pieces of fruit, stones in water, objects that are suspiciously colour-coordinated with their settings. When will I learn: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is…

PS. Meanwhile, the sidebar is trying to arrest my attention with new articles: pictures of the Kardashians, what Americans think about Marmite, and more blasted Minions than the mind can comfortably conceive. Although Buzzfeed’s agenda is not exactly clear, and its mission statement lost some several hundred thousand cat videos ago, it is probably signalling the downfall of humanity as we squirt orange juice into our eyes, suddenly discontented with a method that has worked since the dawn of time.

Television II

When it’s twenty degrees outside, and the birds are tweeting without the assistance of a laptop and a lawyer, the sun is beaming – complete with the inexplicable dark-glasses and the smug smile of children’s drawings – the smell of hot grass is all around, and a choir of ice cream vans make the city a veritable Greensleeves-Utopia (or the mating call of the paedophile, as Tim Minchin memorably describes it), only one creature fails to festoon themselves in too little sun cream, too few clothes, and fling themselves, snake-like, onto a sunny rock. Snakes would never have survived television calvinif the species were habitual binge-watchers. For somewhere, in the fuggy darkness of a bedroom – blissfully unaware of the paradise beyond the drawn curtains – we find the natural habitat of the television addict; contentedly re-watching a series they can move their lips with, and spending time with their better half. To have and to watch, from this day forward, for better (BBC dramas), for worse (Channel 5 documentaries), for richer (sound quality), for poorer (picture quality), in sickness and in health, until something larger, faster and cheaper parts us. And so, with these sacred vows in mind, I have returned to a topic I pondered once before, and bring you the memories of my fulfilling 2015 relationship.

Fargo

Rule one of television: everybody loves Martin Freeman. I love Martin Freeman. That is not to say that I have even a dwarf’s worth of patience when it comes to an all-consuming jewellery fixation and some sassy CGI ears. I couldn’t give a nazgûl! As they say in Middle-Earth… or wherever the hell they were. Freeman-fever hit me at a far earlier age – Love Actually sex-doubles and The Office *holds back tears*- long before he swine-flu-ed the nation with Sherlock. And so when the Coen brothers abandoned the big screen and, with a slice of inspired lunacy, created a TV series inspired by their own film, they looked no further than Martin Freeman when casting the role of Lester Nygaard. FargoAdding cement to their genius status there, one thinks. (Oh dear, I’ve said Martin Freeman too often and it’s gone weird on me). Martin Freeman’s American accent is on-point and, even though Lester’s choices are at best questionable – making Hannibal Lecter look like the neighbour you’d welcome into your book group – he’s strangely endearing to the bitter end and you really hope he’ll get away with it. Alongside the most chillingly villainous Billy Bob Thornton in the televisual pantheon, the instantly loveable Allison Tollman and Colin Hanks (like Tom, but put through a wringer), and oh-my-god-it’s-Eddie-from-Friends (Adam Goldberg), this series is the ultimate in slow-burn drama… but armed with automatic weapons. Add blood leaking from shower-heads, fish falling from the sky, and the occasional person being dropped into frozen lakes, and you won’t be rushing to book holidays in Minnesota any time soon! Predictably, the ending does not involve the entire cast linking hands to sing a quick round of kumbaya before skipping off into the sunset, but it still maintains some surprise elements. I shall now pour forth a veritable bleeding facet of adjectives to describe this series: dark, funny, sharp, intelligent, horrible, outrageous, hectic, bloody… and it’s coming back. Yes, it’s been renewed for a prequel series which is all the rage right now. Thanks Hobbit!

Veep

An American friend recommended that I watched Veep. I am eternally indebted to her. Not only does it present the perfect antidote to any election season, but for all of us captivated and entranced by The Thick Of It this is the same gun-show, transposed to the US. A sort of fly-on-the-wall drama, its abilities to make you cringe pick up where The Office left off. Armando Iannucci’s writing never shies away and will have you laughing whilst hiding behind the sofa in its portrayal of life in the Vice President’s office.Veep _1Sheet_v3.indd The entire cast is magical; every character so well constructed and completely realised that I would find it difficult not to smash a brick into Jonah’s (Timothy Simons) face if I ever met him. Which is deeply unfair – I’m sure in real life he’s charming. From Anna Chlumsky as the Head of Staff, Tony Hale as the personal aide – albeit his main responsibility is memorising the pockets of a valise, but he won an Emmy for his performance – Matt Walsh as the man with a fake dog (every office has one), and Reid Scott as the Iago of the series, to Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the VP herself, there is not a wrong note played. I was watching the latest episode today and, when only-Hugh-effing-Laurie got out of the lift as a potential running-mate, I went into a previously unknown subspecies of anaphylactic shock caused by sheer over-excitement. The only downside to this superb show is that the jokes come at such an unprecedented rate, I only get them to a ratio of one in four. Well, that and Sally Phillips… for you see rule two of television turns out to be that, if you’ve ever seen her in Miranda or Bridget Jones, she cannot be taken seriously as the Prime Minster of Finland, complete with accent. But you have to admire a show that so intricately strikes the balance between intelligent political satire and the kind of nicknames that echo around teenage boys’ changing-rooms.

Girls

I became obsessed with Girls relatively late in life… if you see what I mean. The show was already wrapping its third season when I stumbled upon the charming, articulate, and witty Lena Dunham on a late night chat show. I was oddly drawn to her, perhaps because of her tattoos of children’s book illustrations, her headband adorned with cat ears, and the more unusual green dip-dyed hair. Maybe it was simply that she’d never been clubbing (seal, or otherwise). As candid as Girls posterJennifer Lawrence, but outspoken about women’s rights, the comments underneath Dunham’s YouTube videos make Goebbels’ to-do-list look like what Squirrel Nutkin got up to in his holidays, as she compounds men not wanting to bang her with wilfully having short hair. Being the last guest to arrive at the Girls party did not stop me neglecting family, food, and hygiene to watch every episode in a number of days. This series invites everybody into the hidden world of the female twenty-something, and their relationships with other women, which are simultaneously the most important, the most loving and the most volatile. Although I have never bathed with my friends, which main character Hannah spends an inordinate amount of time doing – it’s a wonder her pals don’t transform into human prunes – Girls is astonishingly accurate. It’s liberal, it’s hilarious, it’s swimming with awkward turtles, and it’s a Republican white male’s nightmare. In fact Lena Dunham is yet another person who can join my enemies list as having stolen my life and made a fortune from it. Not only did I go to university with heaping tablespoons of foe-pretentious Jessas (Jemima Kirke), I also know an abundance of Hannahs (Lena Dunham), Shoshannas (Zosia Mamet), and even a few Marnies (Allison Williams): the most self-absorbed and yet totally self-unaware person in the history of television. Almost every line is an instant catchphrase; what my life is missing is quotes plastered across the land for motivation.

Looking

Any production that can use a pink glow-stick as a phallic symbol gets my vote. This series focuses on three gay men living in San Francisco: game-designer, hopeless romantic and naive-puppy Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is a WASP on the brink of turning thirty, who finds himself haplessly tangled in a love triangle. It’s nothing like Frozen. Patrick’s old college roommate is Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), a failing artist who couldn’t organise his way out of a doorway with clearly marked exit signs, and whose greatest artistic achievement is a unicorn collage made of naked men. There’s also glorified-waiter Dom (Murray Bartlett) on the brink of a mid-life crisis who dreams of owning a chicken restaurant and, at the age of forty, still lives with his ex-girlfriend Doris (Lauren Weedman). Weedman cannot be praised highly enough for her role; even as a secondary character her bluntness and sarcasm make me stagger about laughing and applauding. In a perverse way, I want to be her! Each episode is a tsunami of relationships and hook-ups, idealism versus reality, jobs and careers, and the importance of your friends while this stage of your life attempts to water-board you. It’s Girls… but for slightly old, slightly manlier people. Looking posterAndrew Haigh directs and paces this series as though it were an art-house film; shot entirely on location with whole plots given over to tiny details that allow you to absorb and wallow in the lives of the characters. An entire episode was filmed at Folsom Street Fair: a deeply misleading title which might result in you mistakenly taking your mother along for the antiques (go for the armoires, stay for the leather?!). It’s escapism, voyeurism, and very funny… a little like a highly lubricated adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. You will wish you could speak Spanish, develop a deeper understanding of facial hair, master Raul Castillo’s Deeply Significant Look, and become more au fait with gay slang than is strictly necessary (when being an au pair for a family of five in Munich). Oh, and never forget the third rule of television: you must cast a History Boy. This production picked Russell Tovey and it was totally worth it. It’s a rule that should be spread more widely. On this note, I love the American perception that the Brits – whilst constantly apologising – keep up an almost constant stream of swear words, with the result that the C-bomb is dropped twice in as many minutes. If you’re not at your ease watching men have sex with each other, then this show isn’t for you. Although it is not gratuitous sex for the sake of shock factor. However, I suspect that the occasional glimpse of butt-cheek (and all it represents) is why Looking has been cancelled after just two series.

Broadchurch

Some things get cancelled too soon. Often to my howling sobs and furious Twitter outbursts: although as my followers can barely form a sports team, I’m unlikely to start a revolution any time soon, and tweeting is more like bellowing into an empty, wet paper bag. However, other things don’t get cancelled soon enough, and are dragged back onto our screens like a murder victim on a beach. Don’t get me started on Episodes, but a third series of Broadchurch? BroadchurchSeriously? Don’t get me wrong, David Tennant and Olivia Colman are superb actors, although their star quality is tantamount to Stockholm syndrome, dragging your screaming brain through sixteen episodes. Even a second series made the first look like a well-thought-through piece of satirical drama. It takes ‘looking angry on a beach’ to a whole new level. Tennant’s *mysterious-violin-strings* medical condition gets more severe and more unexplained, whilst Colman was so constantly on the verge of tears it was as though she was flat-sharing with an onion. From motherhood to parking meters, she was perpetually flustered. However, the future series 3 can take note of the following: (1) Broadchurch is rapidly catching up with Midsomer to be featured in top towns beset by a constant stream of unparalleled tragedy, like a holiday resort for the Hamlets. (2) Ready for the fourth rule of television? When every viewer and character knows whodunit, the whodunit aspect is somewhat undermined. (3) This series was predominantly filmed at the University of Exeter… which is where I went, and seeing it on TV blew my tiny mind and drove a bulldozer through the third wall into my face. With every door DI Alec Hardy flung open, I became more and more convinced that he was about to stumble upon Professor Gagnier giving her lecture on global circulation and bananas. He would have been out of his depth.

Wolf Hall

It’s really unfair of me to critique Wolf Hall. I never read Hilary Mantel’s book as some sort of petty payback for everyone who droned on about it as though it was carved on the flip-side of those tablets Moses got. Plus, when it was adapted for television, I only watched the first episode, one eye wandering to my pasta. But I’m not going to let a minor inconvenience like that put me off. After all, nothing ruins a review like knowing what you’re talking about. Rule five when making a television programme is that everything perks up when the beaming redhead of Damien Lewis strolls onto the screen – Wolf Hallalthough he almost neglected to show up to the first episode of this. His auburn locks offer almost the only source of light in the entire episode. I take issue with this. If you’re going to use the original building, not a problem. Authentic music? Be my guest. Appropriate costume? Knock yourself out. But all natural light was a gimmick too far for this viewer. You’re using Damien Lewis. No one is going to think this is a documentary. He’s not really Henry VIII. And he’s surrounded by camera equipment. All you are achieving is that – as well as being beset by a substantial chunk of history I last studied in Junior School, and in a sea of people called Thomas – I can’t see what’s going on. I spent twenty minutes adjusting the brightness settings on my screen in order to make out a face and now I can’t Word Process any more. I think at some unlit moment in a palace my computer screen went to sleep… and I didn’t even notice. I interrupt this grievance to give you this word of warning: I would briefly Wikipedia the Tudors if you’re unfamiliar with it so you’re not reduced to tears, even though it rather takes the ‘will they/won’t they’ out of history. With reference to the cast, Mark Rylance falls into that category of deeply irritating human-beings who are really fine actors He will probably define a generation. He’s portraying Thomas Cromwell… but in the dark, so his presence barely irritated me at all. Not to toot my own horn (translation: toot toot) but I’ve seen him on stage twice – Richard III and La Bête – and he’s utterly compelling. I heard rumours that the delightful Jonathan Pryce – breaking away from playing a succession of controlling dads in Very Annie Mary and Pirates of the Caribbean – was playing a Cardinal in this. I didn’t spot him. And the delightful Tom Hollander was there too. In fact, there were reams of the acting elite lurking in the shadows. Wasn’t Homeland a stroke of staggering genius though… until it became everything that is wrong with television?

PS. On a stunningly accurate recommendation, I was also sucked into David Attenborough’s latest gem, Life Story. It’s mesmerising, heart-wrenching and a real feast… mostly of impala. But I can’t help thinking how unsuited animals are to their natural habitats: Life Story“Here we see this tiny rodent which can only live on the world’s rarest seaweed. But curiously it has chosen to live fifty feet up a perilous boulder, with no seaweed in sight. And at the base of the boulder, a troupe of rodent-hungry bears and lions. This little animal will make the longest and most perilous journey on the planet, tumbling down the rock-face, dodging the lions and bears, and eventually finding the seaweed. Unfortunately, due to its poor eyesight, this seaweed is to it indistinguishable from another deadly variety. It’s nearing 60 degrees centigrade in the sun, so with every step the creatures also begin to cook, stalked by ravenous predators. But this cunning little rodent, reaching the pinnacle of evolution, has a hitherto unsuspected weapon up his sleeve: a machine gun.” And that, in Attenborough’s dulcet tones, pretty much sums up nature.