The Essex Serpent: Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in gripping, gothic TV

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.

Source: The Essex Serpent: Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston in gripping, gothic TV

Nora Brown “The Very Day I’m Gone” – take those trains no more

Nora Brown

Want that authentic folk sound?  Then record your new album in mono, live to tape in a large 19th century vaulted stone cellar, below the streets of Brooklyn.  It’ll give you that raw and immediate quality of a folkloric field recording. If at the same time you can play banjo and sing, whilst arranging a well-known song into a haunting new shape then so much the better. That’s what Nora Brown has done.  Oh, and she’s only fifteen – and already has a lot of appearances under her belt – including NPR Tiny Desk, Washington Square Park Folk Festival, Brooklyn Folk Festival, as well as month-long residencies at Barbès in Brooklyn NY.  Got a feeling we’ll be hearing more from Nora Brown.

Her album ‘Sidetrack My Engine‘ is out on Friday 24th September.

Source: Nora Brown “The Very Day I’m Gone” – take those trains no more

‘Holler’ Review: Escaping a Life of Scraps

In Nicole Riegel’s feature debut, Jessica Barden stars as an Ohio teenager who strips buildings of metal to earn cash.

Holler begins with Ruth (Jessica Barden), its protagonist, running. She’s racing to drop trash bags into the flatbed of a truck, where her brother, Blaze (Gus Halper), is waiting. They high-tail it from the scene and sell discarded cans to Hark (Austin Amelio), who pays them chump change for metal. Soon, they will graduate to higher-stakes scrap work: stripping deserted buildings of wiring for larger payoffs, with even bigger risks.

The central question of the movie is whether Ruth will summon the courage to run again, to flee her hometown. The director, Nicole Riegel, making her feature debut, shot the film in the section of southern Ohio where she’s from. Riegel has said that Ruth’s story was inspired by her own challenges leaving the area. Even the medium — Super 16-millimeter film, in the era of digital — adds to the ambience of rusting, abandoned machinery.

Ruth has little overt incentive to stick around. She hides an eviction notice under a flower pot. Her mother (Pamela Adlon) is a drug addict in a county jail. But Ruth gets an unexpected — and, to a condescending teacher at her high school, impractical — offer of college admission: Although she had prepared the application, she never submitted it. Blaze did that for her.

The film strikes an unanticipated false note with its ending, which initially seems too easy — a way to avoid resolving conflicts. But despite a parting smile, and the music of Phoebe Bridgers over the credits, the final moments become bleaker upon reflection. The only way to end this story is to abandon it.

 

Source: ‘Holler’ Review: Escaping a Life of Scraps

Record Review: Jon Wilks “Up the Cut”

By Billy Rough

With something of the spirit of Nic Jones, and dare I say it even a smidgeon of Johnny Flynn in there, Jon Wilks new album Up The Cut is a refreshingly stripped-back and intimate affair.

As a researcher and performer of folk songs, especially those of his native Black Country, Jon Wilks has a keen eye for history and Up The Cut is a fine selection of traditional folk songs, all from the collection of Child and Roud. Several of the songs, ‘unheard in 180 years’, come from Birmingham and the Midlands and provide a fascinating introduction to the rich musical legacy of the area along with, as all good folks songs do, a telling insight into the lives and loves of the time.

Up The Cut is Wilks second release of such material following his debut Midlife in late 2018. In contrast to the larger sound of Midlife though, here is a much snugger and more immediate album. No keyboards here, only Wilks and his guitar. And effective it is too.

Wilks’ confidence as a tunesmith is well demonstrated throughout. ‘Pretty Girls of Brummagem’ came to Wilks from the notes of Roy Palmer, but no tune existed. For the track, Wilks creates a sweet little tune, which feels thoroughly authentic. The lyrics too provide valuable historic insight into the Birmingham of the 1830s, with tales of the dandy ‘up New Street he struts so gay, smokes his Havannah on the way’ alongside other characters such as the chimney sweep, the shopman and the ‘old gentlemen of sixty-four’.

The Stowaway’ is hard to resist. It’s an old music hall song, but Wilks’ guitar plays loose with its the mawkish elements of the song and provides it with a simple, yet melancholic attraction.

John Riley’ is a beautiful track. Wilks version comes from Palmer’s recording of Staffordshire singer George Dunn back in 1971. In his notes, Wilks says he’d love to hear a great singer tackle this song; they’ll have some way to go to better Wilks’ version, however.

The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove’ has an echo of the Halliards for me, with Wilks’ pleasing guitar reminiscent of the nimble finger work of Nic Jones. Probably more familiar as ‘Bold Sir Rylas’ the song has quite a legacy, yet Wilks provide a refreshing new interpretation.

How Five And Twenty Shillings Were Expended In A Week’ almost tells you all you need to know about the song in its title. Brummie words are a joy here, with talk of a ‘bonny cock of wax’, ‘swipes’, and ‘strings’. None of these meaning what you initially think they do! For illumination, you’ll need to buy the album! ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ on the other hand is a fetching bit of folklore, a lament dripping in mood and foreboding. It’s a dark song with a strikingly haunting melody.

The album is filled with songs of work, class, joy, and pain, hopes, dreams and fears. They are universal songs with the timeless concerns of us all. The unused subtitle to the release “hawkers and ballad singers – sworn foes to dull sobriety and care’ (title for the third album there I say Jon!) taken from a comment by the poet George Davis in 1790, gives an idea of the history at play here. Wilks’ sleeve notes on each song’s background and the Birmingham of the 18th and early 19th centuries is extensive, with some nice personal comments on how he worked on each song too. Eight of the ten songs on the album came to Wilks via the research of Roy Palmer and there is certainly an echo of Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd here too.

Up The Cut is a beautiful album. Affecting, simple guitar, exquisitely accompanied by Wilks’ authentic, honest voice. A raw, but entirely seductive, performance. One for all lovers of traditional songs delivered with minimal frills. More please Jon! Up The Cut is released on 12 February 2021.