The true story of the assassination of leading Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942 by the Czech resistance has been told several times now, most famously - for Western audiences, at least - with 1975's Operation Daybreak. It gets a further cinematic outing here with Anthropoid, a nail biting and effective tribute to those brave Czech exiles, trained by the British army and parachuted back into their home country to successfully assassinate the architect of the Holocaust; the most high-ranking Nazi to ever be murdered by the Allies throughout the whole war.
This atmospheric and tense recreation boasts some fine performances from Ireland's Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, two brave men who would go on to become national heroes for their actions, and is altogether much more historically accurate and authentic than the 1975 production. If you're familiar with the story, you'll know what to expect in the final reel and, whilst doesn't make it any easier to watch, there's something poignantly beautiful and deeply affecting about how producer, director and co-writer Sean Ellis chooses to depict it.
I know some people had issues with Anthropoid, citing both its slow build up to any action and the accented English on display as problematic. Granted, I'm no fan of the 'Allo, 'Allo approach to denote the fact that a character is actually foreign, and I did find myself struggling to make out some dialogue at times, but this is a minor complaint. As for the pacing, I had no issue here and felt that, in doing this, the film captured something of the life of the resistance in occupied Czechoslovakia, as well as the character of those willing to risk all for the cause. I also felt that the groundwork put in in the film's early stages meant that the aftermath of the mission and the subsequent fates of those on the sidelines had a greater impact as a result. It's fitting that the full story is told, however uncompromising that may be.
Later this year we'll see another dramatisation of Gabčík and Kubiš' remarkable exploits, with an adaptation of Laurent Binet's stunning novel HHhH(albeit entitled The Man With The Iron Heart for the screen), starring Jack O'Connell and Jack Reynor. This may please those who felt disappointed by Anthropoid but personally, despite my love for O'Connell, I think it may struggle to surpass this offering, and I feel making Heydrich a central character rather than an ominous presence foreshadowing the action (as he is here) is something of a mistake.
Finally, the BBC's governing body has found what we've all known for some time; that the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg is politically biased and happy to misrepresent and inaccurately report on Labour and Jeremy Corbyn.
The ruling was based on a report Kuenssberg gave for the News at 6 following the terrorist attacks in Bataclan, Paris in November 2015 which inaccurately presented Corbyn's views on shoot-to-kill when Kuenssberg made it look as if Corbyn was answering a specific question she did not actually put to him. Ironically, this comes just a day after the BBC's flagship magazine programme The One Show advised viewers on how to spot 'Fake News' When the show's guest Sanjeev Bhaskar asked who you could trust in the media these days, the reporter rather smugly replied 'Well I think we can trust the BBC' Um, no. We really cannot.
Like all Mike Leigh films, Nuts In May is about relationships. Not just the relationship of the central protagonists and the relationships of (and their relationships with) the supporting characters , but also the relationship his characters have with the environment around them.
Keith and Candice-Marie Pratt are a couple whom you could actually describe as being ahead of their time. In 1976 their preoccupation with organic food was seen as eccentric, faddish and unnecessary - now, it's a valid, healthy alternative that is widely promoted. However, despite this progressiveness, they remain Pratt by name, prats by nature. And nature is of course very key to Nuts in May.
Keith for example is a very specific and all too familiar kind of man. Everyone knows a Keith Pratt - indeed I think he's there amongst the swimmers of Clevedon in the painfully naff 'on message' new BBC idents - y'know the one I mean; bearded, striking a pose that suggests he sees himself as the leader despite not quite being able to pull said pose off. In his natural habitat, Keith's a social worker and in all likelihood the pub bore (that's if Keith would ever actually venture into a pub) who lives his life via a series of tabulated systems and order. His character is largely derived from an understanding he has of the role of man in society and relationships, and a desire to be at one with nature and the countryside, but it is a role that - if he were to be honest with himself - he is not fully equipped to undertake. For Keith, the sense of enjoyment he takes from his holiday relies solely on everything going to plan - the plan he no doubt laboured over on his kitchen table at home - and the chance to tutor Candice-Marie in the way things ought to be. Spontaneity is not on Keith's radar and so, to arrive in a countryside of non-accredited herds, blase and unconcerned farmers and campsite proprietors, battery farmed hens, an authoritative policeman, and a quarryman after a quick buck from the tourists like him, it is as much of a crushing disappointment to Keith as finding himself sharing the same patch of grass with the likes of Ray and Honky and Finger - the 'tenement' class. Life is always going to be a disappointment to Keith Pratt and no matter how alternative he considers himself to be, he will always be confronted with the sobering notion that he is in fact as repressed, fascistic and deeply vulnerable as his father in all likelihood was before him.
Candice-Marie is, on the surface, an almost child-like spiritual cross between a diligent Girl Guide and a Joni Mitchell-esque hippy. She's tooth achingly sweet, and seemingly happy to play the student to Keith's tutor in their marital relationship, but scratch the veneer and it becomes clear that she's actually placing Keith up on the foot rest of the pedestal, rather than on the pedestal itself. There's an unhealthy degree of passive aggressiveness in meek, cute little Candice-Marie as she goads Keith into action; first in telling Ray to switch off his radio, and later into confrontation with Honky and Finger, all the time using their elusive holiday happiness as something that is precariously at risk because of the behaviour of these others. She knows that Keith will rise to the bait, to prove himself the authoritarian he presumes to be in their relationship, and she plays on it in a way that is satisfyingly left unexplored by Leigh. It's fair to say that of all the characters Leigh has given us, Keith and Candice-Marie are perhaps the two we'd have liked to have seen more of and could have certainly stood up to the sequel treatment.
In stark contrast, the freewheeling Brummie couple Honky and Finger are capable of spontaneous, unadulterated enjoyment in a way that will always remain elusive to Keith and Candice-Marie who remain tightly encased in their separate sleeping bags whilst they roll and frolic on the grass beneath their ramshackle, ill equipped tent. Their unabashed sense of fun is akin to that of a child's experience of a holiday, whilst Keith and Candice-Marie opt to play the disapproving adults. This invariably means that Honky and Finger fail to understand or comply with the rules, as excitable kids are oft to do (and how joyously ironic is it that the next scene sees the rules and regulations loving Keith as the one to have a brush with the law?) yet when arriving at the confrontation over them making a fire, it is Keith whose mask of maturity slips to reveal all his frailty and vulnerabilities in the face of such disobedience and it is Honky who instinctively understands on a mature, emotional level, the embarrassing consequences of such a lapse, whilst Finger appears both to gloat and be bemused by Keith's tears. In one telling scene that occurs before this (on the morning after their initial exchange of words) Keith pointedly ignores Ray's greeting of good morning, simply because Ray is standing next to (and therefore, in Keith's eyes, has pledged his allegiance to Finger, thereby showing the true colours Keith has clearly long suspected, despite Candice-Marie having warmed to the Welshman) whereas Candice-Marie and Honky share a moment of almost sisterly solidarity in the camp's toilet block. Again, the real adults in each relationship are clearly signposted.
The odd man out of course is the solitary camper, Ray. The young Welshman, training to become a PE teacher, is clearly a personable young man given his interactions with both Honky and Finger, as well as those with Candice-Marie away from Keith's suffocating hold and desire to appear superior, but there's a strong suggestion of loneliness in the man - a backstory that is satisfyingly left unexplored by Leigh - that makes his coercion into singing with the overbearing Keith and Candice-Marie all the more painful and noteworthy. The comic tragedy of Ray is that he's taken himself off to the wilds of the countryside, only to find himself in the stiflingly awkward company he in all likelihood has to endure or tries to avoid at home. Again, like with Keith, the countryside offers something that Ray did not expect or desire.
Beautifully shot and devised, as well as superbly acted by Roger Sloman, Alison Steadman, Anthony O'Donnell, Sheila Kelley and Stephen Bill, Nuts In May quite rightly takes its place as a comic masterpiece of British television. Just look at that final shot of Keith, carrying loo roll and spade, struggling to climb over a barbed-wire fence to go off for a shit amongst the dangerous free range pigs. The vulnerability on display in that moment is both hilarious and utterly honest - and that's essentially everything Mike Leigh ever sets out to do. Nuts In May has been released many times to VHS and DVD and has received several repeats down the years too. Some other Play for Today's are not as fortunate alas and so, to get the BBC to consider repeating some of these classic plays, please sign the petition I started here
The 1970 film The McKenzie Break remains one of the most neglected and subversive entries in the war film genre; the latter because the film takes the original approach of taking the point of view of Nazis attempting to escape from a Scottish POW camp and their British captors, and it is that distinctive, bold move that perhaps makes it neglected too.
The film is based on a novel by Sidney Shelley and is clearly influenced by the German escape plan Operation Kiebitz from Bowmanville in Ontario, Canada, and the exploits of Luftwaffe pilot Oberleutnant Franz von Werra,who made good his escape en route to a Canadian POW camp and whose story was immortalised in the 1957 war film The One That Got Away starring Hardy Krüger, a film which this stands comparison too.
However, where (if my memory serves me correctly) much is made of von Werra being a professional serviceman rather than a Nazi, our central German protagonist here, Helmut Griem's naval officer, Schlueter, is unmistakably a loyal and true believer of the Third Reich's cause and an utterly ruthless, unlikeable bastard who doesn't hesitate to kill his own men to secure his own bid for freedom.
The key to The McKenzie Break is the personality clash between Schlueter and Brian Keith's Captain Jack Connor, a maverick ans bullheaded Irish officer assigned to intelligence who has been brought to Camp McKenzie to 'advise' how best to reinstate order and compliance when the POW's actions prove too much for the ineffectual commandant, Major Perry played by Ian Hendry. Both Schlueter and Connor are arrogant, hubristic tough guys who, despite an outwardly cordial and respectful relationship, each emphatically and secretly believe they will best the other. As such, The McKenzie Break offers us no heroes to root for, just anti-heroes to observe - making it an interesting character study. As Connor, Keith manages to depict the bullish, insolent nature of the man whilst maintaining a level of charm. Unfortunately he has less of an assured grasp on his 'Oirish' accent which wanders across the Atlantic and back during any given sentence. Helmut Griem matches him perfectly, possessing considerable screen presence which makes his actions, however controversial and damning, deeply watchable.
Directed by Lamont Johnson, The McKenzie Break boasts some great location shooting (Ireland standing in for the Scottish Highlands) and a level of intelligent competence that makes it an absorbing watch, even if it does leave the viewer in the strange position of being unsure who, if anyone, to actually root for. It's a refreshing and distinctive film that impresses on both characterisation and ultimately in excitement and tension in the final reel as the escape plan springs into action and the film becomes concerned with the battle of wits between the hunter (Connor) and the hunted (Schlueter and his fellow escapee submariners) Worth a watch.
With its '60s period detail, its associated jukebox soundtrack and its great romance, ITV are clearly hoping for another hit like Cilla or Mrs Briggs with Tina and Bobby, the story of the great love between England's World Cup winning skipper Bobby Moore and his wife, Tina. However, they've neglected to include the one key ingredient that made those two previous productions so acclaimed; Sheridan Smith.
As Tina, Michelle Keegan is no Sheridan Smith. She served her time on the cobbles of Coronation Street, where I believe she was extremely popular, but since then she has muddled her way through a high profile starring role in BBC's Our Girl (where she appeared to give a performance akin to a Suranne Jones tribute act in mumblecore mode) and now this, with a London accent that goes all over the place.
As Bobby, Lorne MacFadyen fares much better and he keeps his own native (Scottish) accent in check, but he's hampered by the fact that Bobby's just a starry sideshow in former EastEnders scriptwriter Lauren Klee's hands. Because this is Tina's story, the ambitions of the production lie squarely on her shoulders as portrayed by Keegan, and they're just to slender to carry it, whilst Klee's corny, soapy dialogue further scuppered any admirable intentions.
It also didn't help that the production is so obviously cheap too. Mixing black and white footage of the action on the pitch with the reactions of the cast in the stands was a bad idea, but far worse was to come when Tina and Bobby jetted off to Spain for their honeymoon - including a risible studio shoot against a blue sky backdrop that reminded me of '80s sitcom Duty Free.
Ultimately, Tina and Bobby may be about one of our fondly remembered golden couples, but in depicting their love it has all the emotional depth and resonance of a soppy photo story from a '60s teenager's magazine. I'll give part two a try but right now the feeling is 'they think it's all over...'
From a script by Chris Green, director David Blair's 2012 film Best Laid Plans throws knowing glances towards John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in both its title and in its central partnership of small time hustler Danny, played by Stephen Graham, and his gentle giant friend Joseph played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. But to call it a contemporary British remake of that classic would actually be erroneous. The central conceit is that Danny, mired in debt to local gangster Curtis (David O'Hara), must persuade Joseph, a person with learning difficulties and stupendous strength, to enter the violent world of underground, illegal cage fighting, broadcast to the world via the web, in an effort to dissuade Curtis from exacting his revenge over the unpaid debts.
I must admit as the film commenced, with Stephen Graham breathlessly running down the snow covered Nottingham streets, pursued by a car carrying O'Hara and his goons to the soundtrack of The Enemy's 'We'll Live and Die In These Towns', I was immediately up for this ride. However, the criminal and cage fighting aspects of Green's screenplay not only provide unwelcome interruptions into the lives of Danny and Joseph, they also ended up providing the same reaction to me too, because Best Laid Plans actually finds something far more interesting in not only the unlikely caring relationship between our two leads, but also in Joseph's hesitant courtship with Maxine Peake's character, Isabel who - like him - also has learning difficulties. Once Peake enters the film, accompanied by her parents who are encouraging in the romance she has with Joseph, I found my interest being piqued far more at the potential for a narrative based solely on this unusual, but working domestic/caring setup that Danny and Joseph exist in, essentially being family for one another. When Isabel's mother points out Danny could apply for carers allowance for all that he does to aid Joseph, I found myself hoping the film would go down this route instead - especially when Danny finds love with Emma Stansfield's sex worker, Lisa, extending the 'family'. It does do this to a certain extent, but this isn't Ken Loach alas, and we're quickly brought back to yet another, deeply formulaic moment of bareknuckle brutality that will keep the bargain bin DVD crowd who enjoy the bloody British gangland genre happy and who the DVD cover and press for the film are clearly (though wrongly) targeting.
Outside of the This is England films, Stephen Graham has made some disappointing movies, but he is an actor who seems positively incapable of turning in a disappointing performance and he has seemingly found his niche in films and roles that take us from the brutally uncompromising to the heartbreakingly tender, often in the same scene. Maxine Peake is another performer I have the upmost admiration for - in fact she's one of my all time favourite actresses - and, whilst she has yet to find a cinematic vehicle to stand shoulder to shoulder with her achievements on the small screen or stage, praise is most certainly due to her subtly effective and sympathetic performance as Isabel, matched nicely with Akinnuoye-Agbaje performance as Danny, who moves from childlike wonder to extreme violence without ever losing the viewer.
Blair's direction is very good and the film looks brilliant, but there's something missing here that I think lies with the screenplay. Ultimately the distracting criminal aspect, as represented by O'Hara (maybe this is my fault though as he's an actor I must admit to not being keen on; he's a one note performer, and that note is Glaswegian menace, with a voice that is thick and gravelly to the point of incomprehensible) and his slippery associate Lee Ingleby, becomes too much of a chore, sapping the strengths of the character studies that make up the rest of the narrative, though without them I'm not sure how the film would actually work. A further draft and a tighter, more cohesive approach to the film may have made this something a little bit more special than it is, but it more or less manages to remain a watchable and emotionally engaging affair nonetheless.
"Oh yeah, anyone can do it. That's why he's up on the stage with all the coloured spotlights on him and we're down on the dancefloor, dancin' thru the dark with all the other no marks"
Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell adapts his own 1978 play Stags and Hens for the big screen with Dancin' Thru the Dark, expanding it significantly. As a theatre piece, Stags and Hens was set mainly in the ladies and gents loo's of a trashy Liverpool disco where both Linda and Dave have elected to hold their hen and stag parties ahead of their wedding the following day. The bride however, is experiencing some doubts made worse by the arrival of old flame, the musician Peter, and each party is determined to have their say about this turn of events.
As a film, Dancin' Thru the Dark allows the action to open out more which benefits the characters somewhat, giving them a greater backstory. It also helps that the film is shot in authentic Liverpool locations too, allowing for a great flavour of the city Russell writes about, and boasts a fine cast including Con O'Neill as Peter, returning to his roots with a band on the brink of stardom, and Claire Hackett as Linda, the bride who wonders if she's about to make a big mistake. Skelmersdale born O'Neill, pretty much an adopted son of Liverpool (and I was fortunate enough to see him play Frank at Liverpool Playhouse's revival of Russell's Educating Rita about eighteen months back) thanks to starting his career with the Everyman Youth Theatre, is brilliant as Peter, looking the part of the late '80s pop star and singing Russell's catchy compositions (think Deacon Blue or Wet Wet Wet) himself, whilst Hackett is suitably affecting as Linda, a girl who dares to dream of a life outside of domestic drudgery at just 21 and a world beyond the River Mersey. The rest of the cast is made up of several familiar faces to anyone who has enjoyed a soap opera or Northern based drama in the last thirty years, with Julia Deakin perhaps being the only performer whose career has taken a somewhat unexpected ascent since this was filmed thanks to her association with the likes of Simon Pegg and Ben Wheatley.
Like Russell's other, more famous stage-to-screen transitions the aforementioned Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, Dancin' Thru the Dark explores the same themes of a narrow-minded, small town mentality suffocating dreams and potential. Liverpool is rightly depicted as a disenfranchised, post industrial Northern town, and the character of its people is depicted, equally corrected, as cynical in nature. Success is something that happens elsewhere ('that London' for example) and in Liverpool there's more kudos to never having really tried to break out from the norm. This is best exemplified by the character of Eddy (Mark Womack) and his attitude towards anything remotely different or talented. Eddy is the traditional small town bully who, through sheer aggression and pigheaded ignorance, has made his way to the leader of the pack, bending his fellow stags to his will. According to Eddy he could have been in a band, just like Peter, but what's the point in that? The message is simple, don't get ideas above your station and don't stand out from the crowd. Doing so will only see you labelled 'a poof' or some kind of show off. It's no mistake that Russell opens his film with a cameo for himself as 'Sourface' a dour, pessimistic barfly who demands Peter's band play something in exchange for the directions to their gig, only to be embarrassed when the band smash it with their impromptu performance - it's clear that Eddy will become 'Sourface' in a couple of decades time. It's Russell at his best and it always bemuses me that, as a writer, he's accused of a certain sentimentality towards his hometown when he is so easily critical of much of its nature. For me, or indeed anyone who is familiar with, or calls Liverpool home, this is an insightful, unabashed and accurate portrait of the city.
Equally accurate is the depiction of clubbing in the late '80s and early '90s, with the all-too familiar Bransky's run by a delightfully cameoing Colin Welland. It's a real trip down memory lane for me this, not that I was old enough to be clubbing in 1990, but because it just looks and feels like it was watching my sister and her mates getting ready for a night out; the girls in their clippy-cloppy high heels and the boys in their Burton's suits. Let me tell you I was rather disappointed that, when I reached an age to go out drinking, no one wore suits any more. This really captures the fashions and attitudes of that period in a way that surely only old episodes of The Hitman and Her would provide now. Overall, Dancin' Thru the Dark is a little lighter on laughs than you might expect, but it nails the voice of Liverpool really well and offers up a romantic narrative sure to please anyone who likes a good soppy '80s or '90s teen(ish) celluloid love story.
A couple of appearances of note; look out for a very early appearance from This Is England's Stephen Graham as one of the kids playing football in the park as the stags make their way to Bransky's nightclub. And look out for the graffiti on the gents wall that bears the legend 'Fuck me! Fuck me 'til I fart!' too. These now infamous words were said to have been spoken by a TV celebrity of the day, captured in a delicate position with a crewmember thanks to a mic having been left on. (Google it!) Lastly, look out for Strictly's Bruno Tonioli's credit as the film's choreographer.
The Red Cross have announced that there is a humanitarian crisis in the UK because our NHS is so chronically underfunded and at breaking point. This is ridiculous. We are a rich, civilised Western country and we cannot care for our sick and vulnerable. We cannot because the Tories do not wish too. There's nothing in it for them, so they want to run the NHS into the ground and then wheel out a new privatised health care system, making them money. Something current Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (the right old cunt) wrote about some years ago as his ultimate aim. This Tory government have made cuts of £20 billion, with a further £22 billion in their sights. Is it any wonder the single greatest achievement made by this country in the last sixty years is now at crisis point? We need to act now. We need to demand more funding to save lives and save the NHS for future generations. Sign this petition now.
One of the most popular and enduring shows of all time, Friends ran for ten years from 1994 to 2004 and starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer as Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross.
An immediate success, Friends appeared in the UK on Channel 4 in 1995 and was repeated ad infinitum on there and its sister station E4 until 2011 when the station Comedy Central took the rights and continue broadcasting episodes to this day, virtually every day. Its likely that at any given moment of the day an episode of Friends is being broadcast somewhere in the world - so just imagine the royalties The Rembrandts must get for their theme tune!
I came very very late to Friends. In the '90s I was a bit snobby about US sitcoms that weren't Cheers, The Phil Silvers Show or The Larry Sanders Show. Friends seemed to fall into that category of lessons learned, everyone hugs that Seinfeld (a show I had yet to discover) worked so hard at eradicating. Friends just seemed too glossy, too perfect and I preferred homegrown British sitcoms and shows anyway. Friends was so big, it felt like more than a sitcom, it was an aspiration, a lifestyle choice - especially when Jennifer Aniston's hair became the most desired hairstyle amongst women. I struggled to see Aniston as anything other than a haircut at the time, preferring instead Cox and Kudrow's looks. That has come to change of course, thanks to Aniston's seemingly secret pact with Eternal Youth.
It wasn't until the year Friends came to an end (2004) that I actually started to watch it - Channel 4, on Sunday mornings, used to broadcast a strand called T4 that seemed to centre on the teen to twentysomething audience with Friends, Futurama and the Hollyoaks omnibus. It was a canny move from 4 as it was the perfect breakfast TV for anyone with a hangover who wanted to spend the morning in bed, which certainly included me and my then girlfriend in her dorm in Liverpool. I come to appreciate Friends, its humour and its brilliant characterisation through this repeats and have probably caught up with a great majority of each series in the intervening years. Now if you'll excuse me, there's an episode on Comedy Central right now that I want to watch...
The great Om Puri, veteran actor of both Bollywood, British and Hollywood productions, has sadly died at the age of 66 following a heart attack.
Puri featured in some 300 films and earned a BAFTA nomination for his star turn as George Khan, the stern head of a British Asian family in 1999's East is East, a role he would revisit in the 2011 sequel West is West.
His career began with his film debut in 1976's Ghashiram Kotwal and he quickly followed this up with roles in Hindi art films such as Bhavni Bhavai, Sadgati, Aakrosh, and Ardh Satya, for which he won the National Film Award for Best Actor,and cult classics like Jaane Bhi Do Yaroo, Disco Dancer and Maqbool, a unique and modern-day Hindi take on Macbeth in which Puri played one of the witches.
International recognition came calling in 1982 with a memorable cameo in Richard Attenborough's epic masterpiece Gandhi. From there, Puri successfully straddled the film industry in both his native India and in Hollywood and the UK, and the roles came thick and fast; he cornered the market playing tough Indian cops in productions such as Gupt and AK 47, there was a role in ITV's The Jewel in the Crown, sharing the screen with Patrick Swayze and Pauline Collins in Roland Joffe's compelling look of Indian slum life in 1992's City of Joy, playing opposite Jack Nicholson in Wolf in 1994, and Michael Douglas in 1996's The Ghost and the Darkness, the big screen adaptation of Hanif Kureishi's short story My Son, The Fanatic in 1997, the aforementioned East Is East, Steve Coogan's The Parole Officer in 2001, the TV adaptation of Zadie Smith's bestselling WhiteTeeth and playing Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in Charlie Wilson's War. His most recent, celebrated film role was alongside Helen Mirren in 2014's The Hundred Foot Journey. A truly great actor, he will be greatly missed.