Line of Duty

April 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Reviews

Line of Duty - Daniel Mays as Sgt Waldron

Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty is one of the best dramas produced by the BBC in recent years and its welcome third season has proven to be as cold and complex as its predecessors.

Last week’s opener focused on the complicity, and coercion into a lie, of a team of police firearms officers after their bullying sergeant, Danny Waldron (Daniel Mays), executes a suspect on a suburban street in broad daylight.

As the officers of AC12, the police anti corruption unit, probe the circumstances of the killing, they meet with a wall of silence from the firearms team and political pressure from administrators to avoid tarnishing the reputation of the force.

Even the undercover posting of Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) to Waldron’s squad fails to shed any light on the killing or crack the contrived alibis of PCs Kennedy (Will Mellor), Bains (Arsher Ali) and Brickord (Leanne Best). With no option other than to return the officers to active service, suspicion and enmity within the team leads to another deadly confrontation – and the troubled, divisive character of Waldron meets his bloody end on the bedroom floor of a squat during a raid.

DS Cotton in Line of Duty - Craig Parkinson

The stand out quality of Line of Duty has been its ability to present multi-layered storylines and a blurring of the boundaries between good and bad. A recurring theme within previous seasons has been the ambiguity around the integrity of the officers of the anti-corruption unit – we know who watches the police, but who watches the watcher? Cottan (Craig Parkinson), especially, falls into this category. While outwardly supportive of Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and the work of AC12, Cottan dances to the beat of another’s drum and his brass neck and chameleon-like ability to blend into the background makes his screen presence toe-curlingly uncomfortable. He’s a wrong ‘un and with bodies stacking up it remains to be seen whether he will be able to snake his way out of the morass.

Martin Compston as DS Arnott in Line of Duty

As DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) picks away at the scab of Waldron’s background, he discovers the headless corpse of the shooting victim’s brother and evidence of child sex abuse suffered by the officer as a child. However, his path forward is obscured when Cottan pockets and destroys a key piece of evidence containing the names of others involved.

The case is further complicated when Kennedy (Mellor) is found hanged in a disused industrial unit and the two surviving members of the team play the safest card in the deck and pin the blame on the dead guy for the death of Waldron.

Lindsay Denton, the uber manipulator of season two, played with aplomb by Keeley Hawes, returns in a courtroom subplot that threatens to undermine Arnott’s position within AC12. Seeking to exploit technicalities in the case against her, the former detective uses sex as her tool of choice to call into question the credibility of Arnott’s damaging evidence.

This intriguing pot boiler is bubbling along nicely and the introduction of a shady puppet master, pulling the strings of the reluctant Bains, adds further confusion to proceedings.

Line of Duty airs Thursdays 9pm on BBC1. Episodes are available on BBC iPlayer for 28 days after initial broadcast.

The Night Manager – episode 6

March 29, 2016 by  
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Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in The Night Manager

The Night Manager reached its thrilling denouement on Sunday night as the iniquitous business empire of illegal arms trader Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) came tumbling down.

And yet, the episode started off so well for him. Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) is carpeted in front of a committee and has her operation shut down in the fallout of the failed arms swoop – much to the glee of the odious spook Geoffrey Dromgoole and his lackey Jonathan Aris. It appears all the obstacles in the path of Trade Pass and its supply of arms to despots around the world have been dismantled.

After eluding the attentions of the joint US/UK intelligence operation to intercept smuggled munitions into Syria, Roper shows what a repulsive character he really is with some callously misogynistic and manipulative scenes, which ultimately hasten his demise. Caroline Langbourne (Natasha Little), the humiliated wife of the au pair-bedding, Lord Sandy Langbourne (Alistair Petrie), is summoned to Cairo by Roper under threat of losing her children unless she becomes agrees to spy on his spouse, Ged (Elizabeth Debicki).

Mr Kouyami played by Bijan Dineshmand

Roper knows he has a wrong’un in his organisation and Pine and Ged are the ones under the spotlight. However, there is a multi-million-pound deal to be concluded and as with all things in Tricky Dicky’s world – money talks loudest. So, while the plastic smile of the consummate salesman is on show for his middle eastern client Mr Kouyami (Bijan Daneshmand), the conniving, ruthless schemer plots the end of his wife and her lover.

Last week’s instalment had the feeling of the quiet before the storm and was used as a scene setter for this thoroughly engrossing nail-biter of a conclusion. Pine (Tom Hiddleston) faces a race against time to save his own skin and that of Ged – who Roper admits he “isn’t feeling particularly sentimental towards at the moment” after gifting her to Frisky to indulge his sadistic fixation with water boarding.

Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) in The Night Manager

Unbeknown to Roper, Pine has managed to get word to his handler (Burr) that the Trade Pass entourage is in Cairo on business and has plans of his own to ensure an uncomfortable surprise for the unscrupulous weapons trafficker. Using old contacts in the Egyptian capital, Pine plots the sabotage of the shipment and the financial ruin of Roper.

Yet, even in defeat, having been detained by Burr, Steadman (David Harewood) and Singhal (Adeel Akhtar), Roper remains convinced that his money and Whitehall contacts will save him and “he’ll see them all again in a few days”. Pity then, that his disdain and insults for Kouyami come home to roost when he finds his client has equally powerful friends in Egyptian authority and that he will never enjoy the security of the inside of a prison cell as he is driven away to his fate.

The Night Manager is available on iPlayer until 26 April 2016.

The Night Manager – episode 5

March 23, 2016 by  
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Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) in The Night Mangaer

Many’s the slip twixt the cup and the lip is the moral we can take from this week’s gripping episode of The Night Manager.

Poor old Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) thinks she has finally nailed slippery arms dealer Richard Roper, after her man on the inside, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddlestone), is able to leak details of a weapons cache heading for Syria. Unfortunately, for Burr, Whitehall mandarin Mayhew (Douglas Hodge) and CIA man Steadman (David Harewood), the Teflon-coated Roper, who has built his wealth on deception and subterfuge, is one-step ahead of them again.

Roper (Hugh Laurie) has been all charm in previous episodes, revealing only a glimpse of the sociopathic tyrant that he hides behind a mask. The revelation of a mole within the operation, though, brings ‘Tricky Dicky’s’ paranoia to the fore and brings down scrutiny of biblical proportions on all those within his inner sanctum.

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) in The Night Manager

Nobody is above suspicion, nobody is indispensible – not even Jed (Elizabeth Debicki). So what do you do when you are a multi billionaire arms dealer keen to root out a traitor and equally determined to mete out swift, merciless justice? The answer; you decamp to southern Turkey to your very own private military base, garrisoned by multinational collection of mercenaries who are on call for anything from weapons training to political assassination and coup d’etat. And, once there, you set about identifying the mole.

Such is the situation for Pine, Lord Sandy Langbourne, Jed and Corcoran, as Roper hosts them among his coterie of hired killers.

I was disappointed with the demise of Corky (Tom Hollander); he promised much as a consummate mischief-maker with caustic humour and a thinly veiled sadistic streak. He began the series as a smooth operator with a finger in every intelligence pie, but five weeks in – he is easily out manoeuvred by Pine and meets his end in a very clumsy and unconvincing bit of fisticuffs after discovering he has slipped out under the wire – of the heavily guarded, top secret mercenary base!

With Corky bereft of life, Pine wastes no time in exposing him as the traitor. “So Corky was my Judas,” says Roper as he rues the inconvenience of having to hide another body.

Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) in The Night Manager

There was much to satisfy with the further exploration of the Roper character in this episode. He’s been cleverly realised and played by Laurie as a master tactician and manipulator, who seems to operate at a higher level to all those around him. Only Roper seems to be in possession of the full picture and he assiduously curates whom he shares information with and scrutinises to the nth degree the slightest weakness or discrepancy in the activities of those in his fiefdom.

Pine thinks he covered his tracks with the killing of Corchoran. But, don’t for one moment think that Roper’s suspicions have been assuaged. As the episode closes, Roper further ensnares Pine as his entourage travel to Cairo – bringing Pine full circle to the Nefertiti Hotel and a meeting the brutal Hamid family.

The Night Manager concludes on BBC1 on Sunday 27 March.

Heston’s Dinner in Space

March 23, 2016 by  
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Heston's Food in Space

When British astronaut Tim Peake was being shot into space, someone thought that it’d be nice for him to take some fancy food. That way, when floating above earth, he can think of home, even though it’ll literally be right outside his window. Creating these meals is gastronaut Heston Blumenthal, who learns about the restrictions placed on space food and the limitations that come with zero gravity, all while trying to keep it fancy – and making the other astronauts jealous.

Space is exclusive and rather expensive, much like Heston’s restaurants, while this documentary is absolutely text book documentary making. The formula for which being – our main character has a problem to solve, he learns about the problem, tries and fails, learns some more, succeeds and happy ending. Whilst space is cool, watching someone prepare food for someone else is becoming a real drawl, much like those cooking competition shows.

Here’s an idea for Heston; diners at his restaurants should have a TV set on their tables, as they watch their meals being prepared in the kitchen, a voiceover guy would commentate on the progress of the meal, while a live band play either inspirational or dramatic music. Then diners will get to eat the food that they’ve become so invested in.

I’m being rather harsh, this program if anything gives a good behind the scenes look at space travel and what astronauts go through. I’ve never been to space (surprisingly), but I imagine having a nice meal to look forward to makes a big difference. Particularly when you’re sharing rooms with numerous other people, loud equipment and some Russians. Watching this program though, I kept thinking – Heston must really like space, it explains those massive glasses he’s always wearing.

P.S. I strenuously avoided a pun about Michelin stars, out of good taste.

The Art of Scandinavia: Dark Night of the Soul

March 16, 2016 by  
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Art of Scandinavia 1

Often overlooked in the annals of European art, Scandinavia has a wealth of hidden riches, which are revealed in this major new 3-part series, looking at Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Andrew Graham-Dixon presents, and brings a real storyteller’s ear to the narrative, picking disparate works of art, from paintings to novels, scattered with snatches of philosophy and historical background from across the centuries to create a vivid picture of the region.

The first episode focuses on Norway. From the intense, austere and god-fearing art of early Viking societies, we journey through the ages, seeing how Christianity, in both its growth and later decline, and the shock of the industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th century affected this once simple and agrarian land.

Graham-Dixon neatly weaves the art into its historical context. The 19th century Romantic Nationalists, who depicted Norway as a land of untamed wilderness, of simple farmers and fishermen living out a grand, noble life against the elements, belied the truth of the period, which in fact saw rural areas decline in population by up to 50%, as thousands flocked to the cities to find work, or indeed left Norway altogether. Adolf Tidemand’s The Grandfather’s Blessing is a more realistic picture, a scene of separation, as a young woman prepares to leave her grandparents and simple country life behind, her husband impatiently carrying their things out the door.

Meanwhile, an examination of Olauf Magnus History of the Northern Peoples gives a clear image of the Scandinavia’s position throughout much of history as a distant bastion of savage, otherworldly remoteness.

Scandinavian art is enjoying a small moment in the sun, what with last year’s exhibition at the National Gallery of Peder Balke’s black and white depictions of the brutality of the landscape, and Dulwich Picture Gallery’s current exhibition (the very first outside of Norway) of Nikolai Astrup’s magical, fairytale imaginings of his homeland of Jølster.

This series, then, has come along at the perfect time, and is the ideal vehicle to familarise oneself with the wonderfully varied work of Scandinavia’s innumerous forgotten masters. Andrew Graham-Dixon’s programme is a fantastic overview and introduction for the initiate.

Next week’s programme explores the elegant and deceptively European art of Denmark, before the final episode looks to the surrealist, romantic works of Sweden.

The Art of Scandinavia is on BBC Four on Monday nights at 21.00.

The Night Manager – episode 4

March 15, 2016 by  
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JonathanPine_TomHiddleston

The Night Manager is fast becoming compulsive viewing for Sunday evening’s with Tom Hiddlestone’s suave, charming and principled Jonathan Pine enchanting many within the Roper crime operation as well as a fair proportion of the UK’s female population.

Hiddlestone’s female fan club excitedly tweets along in tandem with his on-screen exploits and went into near meltdown on Sunday night when he indulged in a stand-up quickie with Ged – the troubled wife of the ruthless arms dealer, Richard Roper. If Pine’s position was not complicated enough, his illicit affair with Mrs Roper could be his undoing, especially so after Corky (Tom Hollander) witnesses one of their meetings. Talk about swimming with the sharks!

Episode four of this thrilling Le Carre adaptation continues apace with Pine, under the guise of Thomas Quince finding favour within the Roper organisation as the ideal man to front their latest illegal arms transaction. Complete with a fresh identity – courtesy of Roper, Pine/Quince now Andrew Birch is shuttled to Istanbul with a briefcase full of cash, a Swiss banker and armed minders – all under the suspicious gaze of ‘Tricky Dicky’.

Richard Roper played by Hugh Laurie

Trust is the theme of this chapter of the story with Roper weighing the value of the loose-tongued, impolitic, drunk Major Corkoran; the loyalty of the Spanish lawyer Apostol (which ends badly for Apos); all the while running a bead rule over the character of Pine.

“What your tipple,” Roper queries. “You don’t drink, you don’t screw. I’m not sure I can trust a man who has no appetites.” To which Pine, on a high after concluding a tricky arms trade in Istanbul, retorts; “Well, you’ll have to trust this one.”

“I don’t have to. I choose to.” Roper declares pointedly.

It’s riveting stuff. Hugh Laurie has been on our screens for years and had brought us buffoonish, harmless characters such as Bertie Wooster alongside Steven Fry in Jeeves and Wooster and Lieutenant George Colthurst St Barleigh, the simpleton infantry officer in Blackadder Goes Forth, but never has he displayed the menace he carries through the eyes of Richard Roper.

His gaze is piercing, and behind the familiar smile we know so well, he shows that the cogs in the criminal mastermind’s brain are scheming away to find a chink in the armour of an opponent or an angle for his next play.

As it turns out, his next play is in Whitehall as he searches for the mole within his organisation who leaked details of illegal dealings. Hapless civil servant Rex Mayhew (Douglas Hodge) unwittingly exposes Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) as the source of his intel and sets in motion bloody wheels of retribution that Roper reserves for those indiscreet enough to talk or incur his displeasure.

Tobias Menzies, Jonathan Aris and Neil Morrissey

The weasel-like MI5 spook Geoffrey Dromgoole (Tobias Menzies) and his venal lackey Raymond Galt (Jonathan Aris) reveal themselves to be part of Roper’s arsenal of high level influencers and begin using the organs of State to discredit Burr and muddy the waters between Roper, Trade Pass and the weapons.

Pine is no fool though, he has seen that his only exit from this deadly game is to see it through to its end and foregoes the opportunity of escape offered by Burr. Shaking off handlers from the International Enforcement Agency, Pine dives deeper into the black waters of illegal arms trading with his cover intact and his position cemented within the upper echelon of Roper’s organisation.

With four episodes of this six-parter down, there is a heavy cloud of impending doom hanging over the assembled players. Pine’s high stakes charade is certain to have bloody consequences. But who, when and where? Well, that remains to be seen.

The Night Manager continues on Sunday at 9pm.

Images: BBC/The Ink Factory/Des Willie.

Stag: Episode 3

March 12, 2016 by  
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Stag 5

As we reach the bloody conclusion of the stag party from Hell, it is probably safe to say that no-one will guess who the killer is.

Last week we were left with just four members of the party still alive: geography teacher Ian (Jim Howick), groom Johnners (Stephen Campbell Moore), best man Ledge (JJ Field) and the secretly gay Mexican (Amit Shah). They have since encountered the heavily disguised killer, dressed head-to-toe in forest camouflage, tooled up, and riding a quadbike.

An attempt to trap the killer just results in Johnners getting a non-fatal gunshot wound. Later Ian decides to direct the party in the direction of some pylons, which takes them to a hydroelectric dam, but this results in even more death, and even more typical stag embarrassment. It is eventually decided that Ian should leave the party as the killer seems to be after the rest of the party, due to their involvement in the shady “Guernsey scheme”. With Ian away, he manages to discover the killer’s hideout, and we seem to finally discover the killer’s identity.

The identity of the killer is someone that probably no-one was expecting. I have been talking to a few people about the killer, but I don’t recall anyone figuring the right answer out. This is especially true when you witness the final twist at the end of the episode.

Stag has been a wonderful mix of comedy and action. Probably the action has been the better of the two elements, but both have been interwoven wonderfully to create a brilliant, if short-lived series. It certainly has picked up the respect of the critics, and hopefully creator Jim Field Smith will bring the same creativity to his next project.

At the very least, we can enjoy some Elton John… “I’m still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

Stag will be released on DVD by the BBC on 21st March.

Royal Marines: Fighting in the Freezer

March 8, 2016 by  
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Royal Marines: Fighting in the FreezerThere is little doubt that relations between Russia and western Europe have become strained since the oil and gas rich federation militarily supported expansionism by ethnic Russians in Ukraine and began making territorial claims over the arctic.

This BBC Newsbeat documentary follows the Royal Marines Mountain Leader Training Cadre as they school members of the US Marines in survival techniques and mountain and arctic warfare.

Filmed in freezing Porsangermoen, Norway, this short film offers an interesting window into the psychology of soldiering in a harsh climate. As one of the instructors says, “just surviving and fighting in that weather is really difficult. Surviving the conditions is 95 percent of the job, if you can then fire something and your equipment works then you are pretty much there.”

The film illustrates the increasingly specialist nature of a reduced-size British military but also raises more disturbing questions over whether a conventional engagement between NATO forces and Russia would take place? The grim spectre of the alternative to a conventional war is unthinkable.

 

Royal Marines: Fighting in the Freezer is available on iPlayer until Monday 4 April 2016

The Night Manager – episode 3

March 7, 2016 by  
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Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager

Oh, Mr Pine, you are getting in deep now.  Having convalesced at the island estate of arms tycoon Richard Roper, the British intelligence mole Thomas Quince aka Jonathan Pine (played by Tom Hiddleston) begins the job of being the cuckoo in the nest as he builds the trust of his host.

The opening episodes of The Night Manager delivered the entree and a waft of the main. Episode 3 is the main dish … with the gravy. Each of the peripheral figures within the organisation is given life and his/her flaws exposed while the ever-present Pine sees everything and says nothing.

The enigmatic rattlesnake, Roper, reveals something of his lowly background and his reason for being the man he is, and seems to revel in the knowledge that he has found a way to cheat the system.

“I’m a free man,” he says. “Children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered and fit for purpose. But that’s crap!”

“Becoming a man and realising it’s all rotten and realising how to celebrate that rottenness,” he asserts. “Now that’s freedom.”

Roper breezes around as the genial host, the flawed but faithful husband and the doting but oft absent father, all the while emitting a menace that will spell the end of anyone who crosses him.

Tom Hollander as Major 'Corky' Corcoran in The Night Manager

Meanwhile, fortune favours Pine’s handler Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) when a suicide offers her the opportunity to turn one of Roper’s intermediaries and bulwark her asset’s position with a bit of mischief at the expense of Major ‘Corky’ Corcoran (Tom Hollander).

As Pine finds out more about the people within Roper’s organisation, he builds himself more room to manoeuvre and discovers that Trade Pass, a shell company within the business magnate’s empire, applies a thin veneer of legitimacy to shipments of UK and US armaments bound for Beirut – all under the guise of agricultural equipment.

With Burr and Steadman (David Harewood) piecing together the details of a forthcoming arms deal they surface on the radar of both the CIA and MI6 and it becomes clear that Roper’s influence is far reaching and extends to the highest levels of government and law enforcement agencies.

If Pine had any doubts over the perilous nature of his prospects in this den of vipers. He can have no doubts now!

The Night Manager continues on Sunday at 9pm.

Images: BBC/The Ink Factory/Des Willie.

Stag: Episode 2

March 5, 2016 by  
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Stag 3

The murderous comedy drama continues, as the stag party from Hell continues to lose members.

When the first episode ended, the party who were meant to be hunting a stag in the Scottish Highlands, have found themselves being held hostage by the gamekeeper (James Cosmo) who was supposed to help them. Only five members of the party are still alive: nice geography teacher Ian (Jim Howick), groom Johnners (Stephen Campbell Moore), best man Ledge (JJ Field), the secretly gay Mexican (Amit Shah), and TV exec Cosmo (Rufus Jones).

The gamekeeper is angry because his dog is missing, and orders the party to remain in the house while he tries to find her. Cosmo decides to make a run for it, while the rest of the party barricade themselves in the house for protection and help themselves to the gamekeeper’s whisky, while still carrying out childish stag forfeits for not drinking while sticking their little fingers out. Things take an unexpected turn however when the party is gate-crashed by new character Christoph (Christiaan Van Vuuren), an Australian that Ledge cannot stand and thus didn’t invite to the party. Quickly the balance of power changes, with loyalties between Ledge and Christoph split between the rest of the party. As the party attempt to flee for their lives after finding a map, Ian starts to worry that Christoph might be the killer.

As with the last episode, the best thing about this episode is the characters, who are at first are mostly unlikable, but as their crisis grows you understand that each has their own problems. One of the best scenes is between the Ledge and the Mexican, in which Ledge contemplates suicide and believes he has done the least among everyone in the party, while the Mexican finally manages to come out. The scene is still able to deliver some comedy when they try to flee down a steep slope, by tying a rope around themselves and catching a tree on the way down.

There is also the introduction of the character of Christoph, a character that the viewer, as well as Ian, is designed to be suspicious of, but as the story moves along you begin to realise that things are a lot more complicated than you think. The end of the episode moves along at a dramatic pace with even more deaths from the mysterious killer. It is all shaping up to a thrilling conclusion.

Stag is on BBC Two at 21.00 on Saturday nights.

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