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SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA REVIEWS

SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA

Of late I have been theming or focussing my viewing in certain directions. The last few months I decided to watch more ITV dramas. Historically ITV have arguably suffered in comparison to BBC dramas, and most certainly the big budget HBO, FOX and SHOWTIME programmes from the United States.

So, I thought I would check a few out and see if they are still the safe and formulaic ITV dramas I have seen in the past. Well, I would say, while adhering to certain genre conventions, notably in regard to cop stories and “true story” biopics, the writing, direction and acting is of an excellent standard. Here are some bitesize reviews.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

BROADCHURCH (2013 – 2015) Seasons 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

This terrific police procedural drama begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

CHASING SHADOWS (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Reece Shearsmith is one of my favourite actors and I have loved his work ever since the grotesque comedy genius of The League of Gentlemen. Here he shows his range as a socially awkward but exceptionally determined Detective searching for long-lost missing people. Like Broadchurch it’s another Dr Who cast reunion as Noel Clarke and Alex Kingston also co-star in a decent by-the-numbers cop show.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)  

 

CILLA (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

While there is an element of tragedy in regard to uber-manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death, this biopic of the early life of Priscilla White and her rise to stardom is pretty tame and fluffy. Still, Sheridan Smith is brilliant as the young songbird who would hit the top of charts with a series of late sixties ballads. The evocation of working class Liverpool and bands such as The Beatles is well played and the songs are belted out with a passion by the very likeable Smith. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

IN PLAIN SIGHT (2016) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

This is a very compelling 1950s set drama which tells the story of heinous Scottish serial-killer Peter Manuel. It benefits from an exceptionally good performance from Martin Compston as the devious killer; and also by Douglas Henshall as the Detective trying to catch him. Overall, a good drama which had me gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

JEKYLL & HYDE (2015) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

I really enjoyed this updating of the old Robert Louis Stevenson monster classic. Created by Charlie Higson it was over-the-top and frankly loopy at times with some occasional bad acting thrown in. In going for a 1930s-period-Bond-meets-Dr-Who-meets-Hammer-horror-mash-up it wasn’t always successful but overall it was fun entertainment.  The cast all seemed like they were having fun and Amelia Bullimore, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Richard E Grant were standouts while Tom Bateman was okay in the lead monster/man dual role. It’s just a damned shame the show got cancelled on a bloody suspenseful cliff-hanger. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

LUCAN (2013) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

ITV love a “true” story or crime stories based on real events and at the forefront of many of those are the excellent writer Jeff Pope. As Head of Factual Drama at ITV he has written and produced many fine TV programmes and this biopic of the infamous “Lucky” Lord Lucan case is also very good.  Rory Kinnear is an impressive brooding presence as Lucan and Catherine McCormack also excels as his abused wife. We may never know what happened to Lucan but this drama attempts to shed some light on the ill-fated events from 1970s British society. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MRS BIGGS (2012) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Another narrative based on true events focusses on the 1960s Great Train Robbery and its aftermath from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’ wife Charmian. Sheridan Smith is astounding as the long-suffering wife partner of Daniel Mays’ Ronnie. The acting all-round and writing are excellent as we find Charmian essentially falling big for the wrong guy. Her determination and commitment to Biggs was incredibly naïve yet admirable as she carried herself and her kids to Australia and Brazil in order to keep the family together. At no time does it glamorise the crimes as Smith and Mays prove an unlikely but testament to the power of love and the lengths one may go to because of it. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SAFE HOUSE (2012) Season 1 – NETFLIX

Christopher Eccleston, who is always reliable, stars as a retired cop who employs his Lake District property as a “safe house” for witness protection. The vistas are beautiful and the suspense is often palpable in this well written drama by Michael Crompton.  Paterson Joseph provides excellent support as Eccleston’s former boss but the highlight of the show is under-rated British actor Peter Ferdinando, who portrays an obsessive criminal with sinister verve and pathos. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SHETLAND (2013) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Another detective show starring the impressive Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This one feels old-fashioned but the stark contemporary Scottish settings work in its favour and interestingly enough it is an ITV produced show FOR the BBC.  The characters are believable and Henshall’s police team are down-to-earth and likeable. Overall, the writing is pretty good with some gripping storylines while the slower pace adds to the drama and atmosphere. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE WIDOWER (2014) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Reece Shearsmith stars again but as a weird sociopathic wife-murderer based on a real-life case. His modus operandi was to finagle himself deceitfully into women’s lives and then use their wealth to clear his debts. Sheridan Smith pops up in the first episode but Shearsmith’s Malcolm Webster later moves abroad to New Zealand to prey on other victims. Webster is an everyday monster and his actions defy belief that there would be someone so heinous; and Shearsmith gives a chilling performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

‘SIX OF THE BEST’ #5 – BRITISH ACTRESSES

‘SIX OF THE BEST’ #5 – BRITISH ACTRESSES!

In my occasional series called Six of the Best, I select six of something of the other which I like the best. So here goes with six of the best British actresses working today and who, of late, have put in some sterling performances which have very much impressed me.

There are some great actresses not on the list such as: Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Keeley Hawes, Rosamund Pike and Helen McCrory but while they are awesome the performers listed have stood out for me slightly more.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING

Rampling has had a wonderful career which began in the sixties and had continued powerfully ever since. Some of my favourite performances of hers include the films: The Verdict (1982), Angel Heart (1987), Lemming (2005) to name but a few. For someone so beautiful she owns a fragile vulnerability which she puts to great effect. Having impressed me in the second season of TV drama Broadchurch, I found her role in bittersweet drama 45 Years (2015) to be so compelling. She just owns this story of a woman “celebrating” forty-five years of marriage, shook up by revelations from her husband’s past.

EMILY BLUNT

Has Emily Blunt ever given a bad performance? I don’t recall one! She is funny, attractive and tough when she needs to be, but I think her greatest asset though is portraying sensitive vulnerability amidst steely determination. This is borne out in roles such as Looper (2012), Sicario (2015) and the movie potboiler Girl on the Train (2016). The latter had mixed reviews yet Blunt was terrific in a complex performance which really drew you into her characters’ plight. She’s funny too as seen in her scene-stealing role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

IMELDA STAUNTON

Imelda Staunton gave one of the greatest acting performances I have ever seen when I witnessed her live in the stage show Gypsy.  It was a barnstorming delivery of passion, energy, singing and pathos.  Staunton has been giving her all for many years now and was, in my view, the best Harry Potter villain ever as the venal Thatcherite matriarch Dolores Umbridge. Her stage and screen CV is second-to-none and in Vera Drake (2004) she gave one of the most subtle and emotional performances ever committed to celluloid.

OLIVIA COLMAN

The Night Manager (2016), Hot Fuzz (2007), Tyrannosaur (2011), Broadchurch (2013), The Lobster (2015), Rev (2010 – 2014)), Doctor Who (2010), Peep Show (2003 – 2015)  and much more film and television work confirms Olivia Colman as a doyenne of her field. She can play funny and sad and angry which is to be expected from such a talented actress but Colman does everything in such a memorable manner. No matter who she portrays they’re always believable and played with a warmth, toughness and humanity. Her character in Tyrannosaur (2011) was so heartfelt and empathetic you wanted to reach into the screen and rescue her.

 

SHERIDAN SMITH

Having seen Sheridan Smith in the stage musical Funny Girl I was left very impressed. As Fanny Brice she had big shoes to fill in a role previously owned by the incomparable Barbara Streisand, and fill them she did with aplomb. She was indeed funny and spirited and has a fantastic vocal range; a voice which was put to great use in the not-bad Cilla Black biopic called, surprisingly enough, Cilla (2014). Yet, her acting as Charmian Biggs in TV drama Mrs Biggs was exceptional as she gave her all as the long-suffering wife of train robber Ronnie Biggs. All-round she can do comedy, drama and sing brilliantly too.

THANDIE NEWTON

Thandie Newton has been working very successfully in all manner of film and televisual work for years now. I recall her debut appearance as the object of Noah Taylor’s desire in the film Flirting (1991) and showing spark in the crime noir Young Americans (1993). Subsequently Newton has worked regularly in Hollywood and was a standout performer in ensemble drama Crash (2004). However, her recent performance in HBO’s post-modern sci-fi-Western Westworld (2016), confirms Newton as one of the most compelling actresses around. Her character work as Maeve Millay is a masterclass of rage, pathos and devious delight.