For better or worse, this is serious, thinky telly where the serpents are metaphorical
By Ed Power
With Game of Thrones on the way back with a dragon-enriched prequel series, many of us will suddenly be in the mood once more for stirring tales of long-necked beasts losing their tempers in a variety of destructive ways. Being unfamiliar with Sarah Perry’s 2016 bestseller The Essex Serpent, I therefore went into Apple’s adaptation (Apple TV +, Friday) foolishly expecting at least one CGI monster before the end of the first episode.
But this, for better or worse, is serious, thinky telly where the serpents are metaphorical and the biggest special effect is the stubble dappling Tom Hiddleston’s A-lister chin.
He plays a worldly rector aghast when his flock starts to pay heed to rumours of a long-necked monster prowling his parish of Aldwinter in coastal Essex in 1893. Hiddleston is best known as charming anti-hero Loki in the Marvel films. Here, however, he is rigorously buttoned down as a man of reason opposite Claire Danes, who portrays Cora Seaborne, a well-to-do widow who has taken up amateur palaeontology following the death from throat cancer of her abusive husband.
With Netflix having gone all in on reality TV and Shonda Rhimes capers, Apple is one of the few remaining repositories of what used to be called “prestige television”. This, as we all know, means slow-moving fare featuring big names grappling with big ideas – and typically adapted from a middle-brow novel.
All those boxes are ticked with The Essex Serpent. Now, obviously, this sort of thing isn’t for everyone. As one of those who likes their serpents very much nonfigurative and given to biting people’s heads off, I find myself constantly yelling “get on with it” while hoping that Hiddleston would suddenly transform into Loki, the whole fandango revealed to be a secret Marvel spin-off.
Yet it is solidly assembled. Danes’s English accent is impeccable – even better than Joe Alwyn’s in Conversations with Friends – and Hiddleston gives good “hunky vicar” as he casts meaningful gazes as Cora (despite being married to Clémence Poésy’s Stella). In other words, it has everything apart from the actual serpent – and, as reminder why prestige television is important and we should continue to watch it, adds up to a gripping gothic slow-burner.
Benediction, 2022. Directed by Terence Davies. Starring Jack Lowden, Peter Capaldi, Jeremy Irvine, Kate Phillips, Gemma Jones, Simon Russell Beale, and Ben Daniels. SYNOPSIS: The story of English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon.
By Chris Connor
Terence Davies has left an indelible mark on the landscape of British cinema over the past four decades with numerous acclaimed films including Deep Blue Sea, Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. Davies’ films are noted for being semi-biographical and often referencing cinema with a focus on post-war Britain. His latest is Benediction, a biopic of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon chronicling his years in the First World War and his life and social circle post-war with a younger Sassoon played by Jack Lowden and an aging Siegfried played by Peter Capaldi .
One of the challenges facing Benediction is perhaps that there is greater awareness around his war exploits and friendship with the renowned war poet Wilfred Owen. The friendship of the pair is touched upon but perhaps doesn’t play as much of a part as one might expect although it is responsible for some of the film’s most hard hitting moments revolving around Owen’s poem Disabled. Continue reading →
Film review: Impressive debut blurs line between friction, bipolar disorder and the supernatural
By Tara Brady
Kate Dolan’s promising debut feature opens with an indelible sequence in which a baby in a buggy is parked in the middle of a suburban Dublin street. A woman walks from her house and pushes the infant into nearby woods only to assemble and light a strange, ritualistic fire around the crying child.
Thus begins an unholy marriage of Irish folklore and familial dysfunction. At its best, You Are Not My Mother’s intergenerational portrait of women and strange goings-on recalls the slow-burning Alzheimer’s horror of Natalie Erika James’s Relic.
Hazel Doupe (Float like a Butterfly) stars as a reticent, bullied teenager named Char, who lives with her depressed mum Angela (Carolyn Bracken) and increasingly odd grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie). As the film opens, Angela, a mere husk of a woman, is scarcely able to perform such basic maternal responsibilities as grocery shopping, driving her daughter to school, or getting out of bed.
When Angela’s car is found abandoned, with the doors flung wide open, Char and her uncle Aaron (Paul Reid) are inclined to assume the worst, even if it is indicated that this is not an isolated incident.
Angela returns, however, in weirdly irrepressible form, cooking and performing unhinged dancing around the kitchen. Granny keeps pace with her daughter’s strangeness, muttering and fashioning strange amulets.
For much of its impressive duration, Dolan’s film blurs the line between family friction, bipolar disorder and the supernatural. Mother’s lithium dose doubles as a magical sleeping elixir and as a poison. Mysterious mutterings among neighbours mark the family out as outsiders without any particular substance.
Meanwhile, away from Char’s drab home, malevolent peers await. As Halloween approaches, their tricks turn nastier. Thin spaces may await. Die Hexen’s score adds to the post-Carpenter seasonal menace, as does Narayan Van Maele’s lurking camera.
Dolan skilfully escalates her heroine’s predicament even if the final muddled mythological explanation concerning doppelgangers and changelings and fire punctures the effect during the final act. There’s enough here, however, to mark Dolan out as a film-maker.
Savile’s survivors recently visited the set of The Reckoning.
By Adam Miller
The victims of Jimmy Savile will be appearing in the upcoming BBC drama The Reckoning, starring Steve Coogan as the monster paedophile.
Savile died in 2011, aged, 84, having never been brought to justice for his crimes while he’s now thought to be one Britain’s most prolific sex offenders.
The Reckoning will explore the children’s TV presenter’s horrific acts against young women, written by Neil McKay who recently received huge praise for his drama Four Lives, which followed the victims of ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port.
According to the Sun, Savile’s victims will feature in the BBC drama after it was confirmed some of his survivors met with Coogan while he was dressed as the monster on set.
Writer McKay said: ‘The victims requested to attend filming since we are telling their stories.
‘Safeguarding measures were put in place to facilitate this.
‘We are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect.’
The BBC has defended The Reckoning from critics, with organisations for sex abuse victims blasting the broadcaster.The Survivors’ Network said: ‘It should not be used as entertainment.’
Savile’s nephew also criticised the Beeb and claimed none of the disgraced presenter’s family had been consulted.
The BBC released a statement saying: ‘The team are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect, and the drama will also draw on extensive and wide-ranging research sources.
‘It will examine the impact his appalling crimes had on his victims and the powerlessness many felt when they tried to raise the alarm.’
Speaking of landing the controversial role, Coogan said: ‘To play Jimmy Savile was not a decision I took lightly.
‘Neil McKay has written an intelligent script tackling sensitively a horrific story which, however harrowing, needs to be told.’
The BBC declined to comment on this story.
The Reckoning is expected to be released on BBC later this year.
The Hobbledehoy recently caught-up with the latest installment of Michael Apted’s “Up” series. Heartbreaking, yet life-affirming and brilliant throughout. Below, a review by Ella Taylor
Michael Apted’s latest installment of his extended documentary/social experiment — revisiting a brace of British children every seven years — finds them ruminating on life, death and Brexit.
By Ella Taylor
For better and worse, class pride has always run a deep vein through British society, upstairs and down. Not so the United States, where the mere mention of social class often triggers strenuous manifestos about meritocracy and equal opportunity. Which may be why attempts to reproduce Michael Apted’s long-running Up anthology — inquiring into the persistence of social hierarchy in post-World War II Britain — have so far failed this side of the Atlantic. For those who think Downton Abbey is pretty much a documentary, the Up series is the perfect antidote.
Beginning in 1964 with 7 Up, directed for British television by Paul Almond with Apted initially on board as a researcher, the series tracked a cross-section of 14 children from England’s famously rigid class system, with Apted checking in every seven years thereafter to document what and how they were doing. I’m roughly the same age and grew up lower middle class in London, so I’ve followed the series obsessively from soup to nuts. But you don’t have to have been as hooked as I on the anthology (now available as a boxed set) to find your way around the latest, 63 Up, which is studded with flashbacks to catch you up on how the group has fared since we first met them, mingling to frolic and brawl in a grim-looking adventure playground.
Inevitably a quiet tempo has settled on the hopes and dreams of these sexagenarians as they answer questions from Apted or go about their business with varying degrees of discomfort under cameras that have dogged them for decades. Some have retired; others contemplate their own mortality as they tell of parents passing away. One is seriously ill; another has died since 56 Up. Most seem content with what they have and express few regrets about what might have been. Luck, love, and loss, triumph and defeat, have beveled the edges of even the most pugnacious and intrepid.
Through every installment, Apted has peppered (some say, resentfully, pestered) the group with questions about whether England’s class divisions have grown more permeable. For some the short answer has become versions of “for the love of mike, Michael, quit asking, we are so much more than our station in life.” Apted deserves credit for including their protests.
The long answer to his probing is: It’s complicated. Take Tony, the charming, infuriating Cockney child of London’s East End, and the only Upper who frankly enjoys the limelight. As a teenager Tony predicted some of his future with astonishing accuracy, becoming first a jockey and then (“If I’m not good enough”) a cab-driver. Both jobs came to pass, but what Tony couldn’t dream of was that he would one day buy a handsome holiday home in Spain for his growing family and plan to build a resort there. What followed had more to do with the global economy than with his business chops, but today Tony, a proud husband, father, and grandfather who moonlights as a cabbie in TV crime shows, has switched his working-class-Tory affiliation for fear of Brexit, and may cast in his lot with the Green Party.
At the other end of the social spectrum we revisit John, at 7 and 14 a snobby, upper-crust brat and easily the least likable of the Up children. Now tweedy and balding, a considerable mellowed John (who also guessed right that he would become a barrister) is happily retiring to devoting himself to charity work in the Balkans with his wife. Our early assumptions about John’s wealth and blue blood turn out to be mistaken, though there’s no doubt that his pricey education has given him more financial security than most of the Uppers.
Certainly John hasn’t had to struggle like Symon, the group’s only mixed-race member, who grew up in a children’s home with his friend Paul. At 7 Symon wanted to be a movie star; at 21 he worked a sausage factory assembly line. Without functioning parents, Symon has had a checkered life. What he and Paul (now settled in Australia) have achieved with the support of two good women is by any measure remarkable, as is the fact that they’ve stayed friends. And after some difficult years as a divorced single parent, the congenitally cheerful Sue — one of three East End women who, at 21, gave Apted a brisk mouthful for asking them only family-oriented questions — heads a career counseling unit at London University.
And what of Neil, at 7 a bonny lad in a duffel coat skipping down a suburban Liverpool street and by any measure the most beloved of viewers? At 28 we saw him homeless and roaming the British countryside. All I will say is that after a lifetime battling his biology and a less than idyllic childhood, at 63 Neil is not without faith, friends or resources.
Every chapter of the Up series has seen its dropouts, and with the exception of Tony, those who remain express reservations with varying degrees of vehemence. For John, whose early arrogance so antagonized viewers, each new episode has brought “a little pill of poison.” Over time Apted’s questions have grown more personal, but he still queries them about whether they still believe Britain to be a class society. All agree that inequality persists, but they worry less for themselves than for their children, who face cuts to the country’s generous welfare state services, further concentration of wealth in the top tier, the decline of full-time jobs, and most of all the potential ravages of a looming Brexit deal.
Like Nick, the farm boy who became a professor in the United States, and Apted, who attended Cambridge University but now lives in America, I found far more career opportunities in the United States than I would have enjoyed in England despite a fancy education. Yet I’ve been struck by the nervousness that any discussion of social stratification inspires among students I’ve taught down the years in American universities. And I miss the stout class solidarity that, however diluted by upward mobility, remains strong among the English working class.
British cinema has always had a far more robust tradition than U.S. of narrative films about the relations between the classes. Documentary offers the same satisfactions of family drama, the common hurts and losses endured and surmounted in movies by Mike Leigh or Ken Loach or the classic post-War Angry Young Men films, while permitting no facile class stereotypes. No one in 63 Up sounds like anybody above or below the salt in Downton Abbey. We don’t see them gulping endless cups of industrial-strength tea or spending every waking hour down the pub or at the private club.
As Apted narrows his focus to the personal more than the overtly political, he has also learned from the Uppers that there is no such thing as an ordinary life; that money and education may carry you far, but that accent and income bracket have little to do with intelligence, wit, or goodness of heart. What’s striking is not just the sturdy durability of family and community, but (camera or no camera) the fundamental decency of just about every participant in this long cultural experiment. Rich or poor, all have ended up devoting themselves to helping others. So ‘bye for now, dear Uppers, and with luck and longevity, see you at 70 Up.