Archives for May 2020

Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal”

A Very Eng­lish Scandal.

There’s a won­der­ful­ly seduc­tive and dark­ly com­ic dra­ma avail­able on the BBC and RTE at the moment which delves into sex­u­al mores and pol­i­tics in a refresh­ing­ly mature man­ner. A Very Eng­lish Scan­dal is a drama­ti­za­tion of the non-fic­tion book of the same name by John Pre­ston, chart­ing the Jere­my Thor­pe affair of the 1970s. 

Very much of the you-couldn’t‑make-it-up vari­ety, and, with­out giv­ing any­thing away, it’s the sto­ry of the leader of the Lib­er­al Par­ty in Britain at a time when there was a real pos­si­bil­i­ty that they might have end­ed up in gov­ern­ment there. 

Incon­ve­nient­ly though, one of his for­mer male, ahem, friends refus­es to leave him in peace, and so he decides to take defin­i­tive and decid­ed­ly dras­tic action.

Ben Whishaw, left, as Nor­man Scott, right.

I have to con­fess, the idea of watch­ing a dra­ma revolv­ing around a for­got­ten leader of a defunct British polit­i­cal par­ty from the 1970s, and star­ring Hugh Grant, was about as appeal­ing as, well, watch­ing a dra­ma about a for­got­ten British politi­cian from the 1970s. And I gave it a wide berth first time around. So I’m real­ly pleased to have caught it this time round as it is, as one of its char­ac­ters might have put it, an absolute hoot.

There are all sorts of rea­sons as to why it all works so well. For starters, and very sur­pris­ing­ly, Grant gives a career-defin­ing per­for­mance as the bril­liant, dri­ven if flawed Thor­pe. Then there’s the tone it strikes. Pret­ty much every­one involved seems to have been some class of an eccen­tric. But instead of play­ing this for laughs, showrun­ner Rus­sell T. Davies and direc­tor Stephen Frears play it large­ly straight. Which, of course, makes it all the more comedic.

Then there are the var­i­ous sub­plots which com­pli­cate the cen­tral plot, broad­en the story’s hori­zons and add lay­ers of envelop­ing irony. Thorpe’s search for a wife, and then for her replace­ment. His sup­port, as a staunch Lib­er­al, for the bill to have homo­sex­u­al­i­ty decrim­i­nalised. And his rise through the Lib­er­al Par­ty and up the greasy pole of British pol­i­tics, and the pol­i­tics of par­ty pol­i­tics that that creates.

Nor­mal Peo­ple, love­ly view.

The con­trast with Nor­mal Peo­ple couldn’t be stark­er. The lat­ter takes a two han­der, bereft of sub­plots, and tries for­lorn­ly to stretch it out over a nev­er-end­ing six hours. So it’s forced to paper over the dearth of plot with an over-reliance on famil­iar and exot­ic locations.

A Very Eng­lish Scan­dal also makes won­der­ful use of its loca­tions, but they are nev­er any­thing more than the back­drop to a won­der­ful­ly dynam­ic sto­ry that’s con­stant­ly build­ing in momen­tum. And the fact that its events are both true and accu­rate­ly recount­ed only makes the series all the more remarkable.

You can see the trail­er for A Very Eng­lish Scan­dal here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!

A Small Present, Just for You

Good news! This blog is mov­ing into phase 2 of its life. Phase 1 was the slow and method­i­cal build­ing up of the blog from scratch. Phase 2 revolves around my book, which I’m going to be self-pub­lish­ing this Novem­ber.

Before I can do that though, I need to move the blog to a new email sub­scrip­tion service. 

But don’t wor­ry, you’ll still get your month­ly mis­sives, plus the occa­sion­al extra bonus mate­r­i­al and all the excit­ing news about the soon to be pub­lished book. 

All you have to do is to send me your email address so that I can add your name to the new list.

Send your email address to:

That’s all! Just one, incred­i­bly brief email, and you’re done.

And once you do, and the list is up and run­ning, I’ll send you this month’s post PLUS an Exclu­sive Bonus Chap­ter from the book. 

Your bonus chap­ter, The Death of Socrates describes how he end­ed up on tri­al in the first place, and what the likes of Pla­to and Niet­zsche made of his con­trary behav­iour over the course of that trial.

The impor­tant thing is: send me on your email address!

Oth­er­wise, this could be the last that you hear from me. And just imag­ine what an unmit­i­gat­ed dis­as­ter that would be.

So send your address to and, as ever I shall keep you post­ed every month, and more!

And thanks for your con­tin­ued support!

Annihilation” and the demise of British film criticism


Aside from the abort­ed first attempt at an Irish Film Board in the 1980s, for most of the 20thcen­tu­ry there was no indige­nous film indus­try in Ire­land. So when the Film Board was re-estab­lished in 1992, and the econ­o­my final­ly began to take off, the few films that start­ed to get made here were greet­ed by every­one as mirac­u­lous events akin to the mov­ing stat­ues that had pre­ced­ed them the decade before. 

This was as true of Irish audi­ences as it was of the film crit­ics who served them. Which was per­fect­ly under­stand­able. But that didn’t make it any less dis­ap­point­ing. Films like Words Upon the Win­dow­pane, 1994, Cir­cle of Friends, ‘95, The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, ‘96, The Last of the High Kings ’96, The Nephew, ’98 and Ordi­nary Decent Crim­i­nal, 2000, were all joy­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed and applaud­ed when they should have been qui­et­ly lament­ed and apol­o­gised for.

A poster as metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed as the script they used.

For one thing, it’s hope­less­ly patro­n­is­ing to the film mak­ers. We don’t laud Dublin­ers, the Pogues or Bri­an Friel because they’re Irish, but because they’re good. To encour­age audi­ences to see a film or watch a tele­vi­sion series just because it’s Irish is mor­ti­fy­ing. It’s crit­i­cism sunk by a sense of infe­ri­or­i­ty, anchored by a crip­pling­ly chipped shoul­der. It is, in short, unfor­giv­ably parochial.

Which was why, in days gone by, we turned to Britain when we want­ed any serous cul­tur­al crit­i­cism. When The Guardian, The Tele­graph, The Inde­pen­dent, The Times or The Sun­day Times reviewed a British film they judged it on its own merit. 

That con­trast in innate cul­tur­al con­fi­dence was all the more strik­ing in the decade that saw Trainspot­ting and Four Wed­dings at the cin­e­ma, Brit­pop on the air­ways and the YBAs take the glob­al art mar­ket by storm.

Trainspot­ting: the British were coming.

But since the turn of the cen­tu­ry, the view from across the Irish Sea is of a very dif­fer­ent Britain. It’s sud­den­ly become unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly provin­cial and insu­lar. Small­er and less interesting. 

That loss of con­fi­dence has recent­ly become vis­i­ble in its film crit­i­cism. Dispir­it­ing­ly, British films have of late been han­dled by the film crit­ics over there with the same kind of kid gloves that we used to han­dle our own films with. Anni­hi­la­tion being a case in point.

Anni­hi­la­tion (2018) is Alex Gar­land’s fol­low up to Ex Machi­na, his well–received 2014 screen debut. In the tri­umphant­ly pos­i­tive review that he gave it in The Tele­graph here, Tim Robey descried Anni­hi­la­tion as being “exhil­a­rat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing in equal mea­sure”. Whilst Ben­jamin Lee, in the 4 star review he gave it in the Guardian here, praised it for being “admirably uncom­pro­mis­ing… and won­der­ful­ly unknow­able.”

Ex Machi­na.

Real­ly. Imag­ine a group of first year film stu­dents after one too many joints on a pic­nic in Cen­tral Park. And they sud­den­ly decide, inevitably, that what they absolute­ly have to do is to shoot a film on one of their phones, right now! So they stitch togeth­er a script for what they think will be an hilar­i­ous B movie pas­tiche, a sort of Ghost­busters meets Alien but with 5, all female pro­tag­o­nists, who are all, get this, scientists!! 

But once they get back to their dorm to edit what they’ve shot, they com­plete­ly for­get that the whole thing was meant to have been a joke, and they all start tak­ing the whole thing ter­ri­bly seri­ous­ly. This, alas, is the result.

Natal­ie Port­man in V for Vendet­ta; hap­pi­er times. c/o

Apart from any­thing else, it all looks and sounds so unremit­ting­ly cheap. What on earth can they have spent the $55m bud­get on? The effects look like they were done on an ear­li­er ver­sion of the phone you replaced your cur­rent one with. And the, ahem, sci­ence that the mis­for­tu­nate actress­es are asked to spout is of the sort that would once have been found on the back of a matchbox. 

It’s hard to know what’s more dis­ap­point­ing, the film itself or the reviews that it received. Still, no need to write Gar­land com­plete­ly off quite yet. Six episodes into Devs, his BBC/Hulu TV series sug­gest some­thing of a return to form. He just needs to stick to con­ven­tion­al thrillers, and leave the big sci­ence to actu­al scientists. 

You can see the trail­er for Anni­hi­la­tion here

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very Best and Worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!