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Friday, 26 February 2016

Matt on the Box: The Night Manager, Dickensian, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway and The Brit Awards

It's that time once again as we look back at a very diverse week in TV which takes in a mixture of drama, entertainment and plenty of music industry backslapping.


Firstly we turn our attention to BBC One's latest dose of Pure Drama which comes to us in the form of an updated adaptation of John Le CarrĂ©'s The Night Manager. Le CarrĂ©'s 1993 novel has been modernised by former Spooks writer David Farr who has changed some of the locations of the original story as well as altering the gender of one of the characters. One character who has changed very little is the eponymous hero of the title Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) who we first see strolling to his job as night manager of a hotel in Cairo whilst the Arab spring is going on around him. Despite looking relaxed in that opening scene things soon change for Pine when he encounters Sophie (Aure Atika) the mistress of a wealthy hotelier who shows him some documents that link her lover to the 'the worst man in the world' Arms Dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). These documents soon get back to MI6 agent Angela Burr (Olivia Colman) who is has been trying to bring Roper down for years. Unfortunately for Sophie the decision to pass these documents on cost her her life and also change things for Pine who subsequently moves on from Cairo. The final third of the episode takes place five years later on form the events in Cairo and finds Pine now working as the night manager in a hotel in Switzerland. It's here that Pine finally encounters Roper who arrives one night accompanied by his cohorts and his much younger girlfriend (Elizabeth Debicki). During Roper's brief stay at the hotel, Pine is able to obtain several pieces of information that may be vital to MI6 and passes them on to Angela Burr at the end of the episode. I personally feel that it was the exchanges between Pine and Roper where The Night Manager really came to life and the final conversation between our protagonist and Burr finally spelt out where the series would go in future episodes. 


The problem with adapting a book for the TV rather than for film is deciding where to end each episode and how much information to include in each instalment. For me this was a problem that Farr didn't wholly solve and a large part of this episode felt like a prologue to the series rather than an opening instalment. Indeed I found the majority of the Cairo-based part of the story quite dull especially as I didn't find the character of Sophie to be that intriguing as she came off as a bit of a plot device. Although Farr and director Susanne Bier tried their best to make the relationship between Pine and Sophie quite an intense one, it never quite worked for me and I didn't really feel anything when she died. Thankfully I really started to get invested in the episode when the action moved to the snowier climes of Switzerland and we got our first look at Richard Roper. Roper was a well-realised villain who was accompanied by a great henchman in Tom Hollander's Major Corkoran as well as by a glamorous younger love interest. It's a testament to Hugh Laurie's performance that he improved The Night Manager drastically and the chemistry between he and Tom Hiddleston was electric. Laurie seemed to relish playing the villain of the piece whilst Hiddleston was perfectly cast as the conflicted suave hero of the piece who is still haunted by images of the girl he couldn't save. Tying both of these stories together is Olivia Colman's Angela Burr who has gone from being the rather ordinary man of the novel to a pregnant jumper-wearing Northern woman in the TV series. I did feel that Burr's initial segments felt rather removed from the rest of the action in Cairo and her knitwear brigade seemed to be hiding away in a rather cold dingy office somewhere in London. However Colman did finally get to demonstrate what she's made of in the final scene in which she and Hiddleston really set the ball rolling for the rest of the series. One element of the episode that I can't fault is the direction with Bier making the most of some fantastic locations which she utilises perfectly to form the backdrop of this intense tale. Ultimately, after a shaky start, The Night Manager did start to work its magic on me and by that final scene I was hooked. So now I'm just hoping that things get better from here and that both Farr and Bier are able to create a truly great espionage series for the small screen. 


On the same night a glitzy big budget BBC One drama debuted another finished as Dickensian aired its twentieth instalment earlier in the evening. Tony Jordan's tribute to Charles Dickens first started in the Christmas and hasn't been treated at all well by BBC One who initially shovelled it around the schedules in early 2016. Eventually it found its place on Thursday and Friday nights were its aired alongside Eastenders essentially telling viewers that what Dickensian was trying to be was a Victorian soap opera. There were definitely soapy elements in all of Dickensian's thirty minute chapters as they focused on love, revenge, murder and comedy in equal measure. But it was clear to me that Jordan really was interested in telling three stories all of which were precursors to what happened in Dickens' book. The first told the story of how Honoria Barbery (Sophie Rundle) became Lady Dedlock primarily through her illegitimate pregnancy and the supposed loss of her baby daughter. The second was the murder mystery that was the series' original hook as Bleak House's Inspector Bucket (Stephen Rea) tried to find out who it was that finished off Jacob Marley (Peter Firth). This story finally came to a head a couple of episodes ago when it was revealed that Mrs Cratchitt (Jennifer Hennessy) finished off her husband's boss after he was far too forward with her. Marley made one more appearance here tonight appearing at the window of his business partner Scrooge (Ned Dennehy) as young Oliver Twist watched from below. However this final episode concerned itself primarily with the wedding of Amelia Havisham (Tuppence Middleton) and con artist Meriwether Compeyson (Tom Weston-Jones). Oddly, I was warned against spoiling the ending of a story that anybody who has read Great Expectations knows namely that Compeyson leaves Miss Havisham on their wedding day in a house which will forever remind her of the ceremony. The fact we knew exactly where Miss Havisham's story would end almost spoiled things a bit for me although Jordan did turn things on their head slightly by having Compeyson reveal his true feelings for Amelia.


As I said when I reviewed the first couple of episodes of Dickensian, the show works in different ways depending if you've read the relevant books that the characters come from. If you haven't then the storylines will seem fresh to you and you'll be anticipating what the final outcomes will be for the likes of Honoria and Amelia. On the other hand if you're a Dickens scholar then you'll know the inevitable conclusion of the main storylines and will be willing for them to hurry up. I was somewhere in the middle as I'd not read Bleak House before but was aware of Great Expectations so was genuinely interested in the fate of Honoria but thought that Jordan was stringing out the Compeyson/Havisham storyline too much. One thing I do know is that Dickensian shouldn't have gone on for ten hours as it was far too long to string out a show which only really had three major storylines. There were also a lot of characters along for the ride who really did nothing for me especially in the case of the bumbling Bumbles (Richard Ridings and Caroline Quentin) whose social climbing subplot took up far too much time in the series. The fact that all the hours of preparation were simply to build up to that one line from Oliver Twist seemed like a waste although I did enjoy the touching moment between the pair during the final scene at the Three Cripples. Additionally several characters just seemed to exist purely for comic relief such as drunk wet nurse Mrs Gamp (Pauline Collins) and Inspector Bucket's right hand man Mr Venus (Omid Djalili). But there was also lots to like about Dickensian firstly its ensemble cast especially Tuppence Middleton who was absolutely fantastic in the final episode when Amelia finally transforms into the Miss Havisham we all know. The brilliantly constructed set deserves a similar amount of praise as it completely transported me back to the world of Charles Dickens every time the programme was on air. Ultimately I do have to commend Tony Jordan and the BBC for trying something a little bit daring and in my opinion Dickensian was a risk that just about paid off however I do wish they'd scheduled it a little bit better.


Meanwhile ITV's week seem to revolve around the nation's favourite Geordie duo who were back fronting two prominent programmes for their channel. Firstly we turn our attention to Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, the show that ITV's most loved duo seem to enjoy doing the most. Part of the show's charm is the energy that Ant and Dec exude over a programme which has a longer running time than most weekend entertainment formats but feels much shorter. One element that makes Saturday Night Takeaway such a joy is the way that it's paced so every segment is allotted the perfect amount of time and the audience always knows what's coming up. The boys managed to pack in a lot into this first episode including a young woman receiving a proposal within the first fifteen minutes after learning her parents had gone on holiday with her. The majority of the show included old favourites such as Ant Vs Dec in which the two boys competed against each other in a life-size Pac Man game. Additionally, in one of their best Undercover sketches for a while, the guys took to the States to prank James Corden on his late night talk show and convinced him that one of his guests might be dead. The boys' joyful enthusiasm didn't die out at all and in fact their energy levels seem to increase as we reached the end of the show show where The Vamps were accompanied by a multitude of amateur musicians. I feel the most crucial difference between Takeaway and ITV's failed entertainment shows such as Get Your Act Together and You're Back in the Room as the audience at home never feel excluded. Indeed we're invited to join in with Singalong Live and this week several communities throughout the country were to journey to a sofa near them for a chance to be on the show next week. The only negative element for me was the inclusion of Stephen Mulhern who replaced the still present Ashley Roberts as the host of Ant Vs Dec. The channel's continued obsession with Mulhern is baffling as I feel the presenter has very little charm and isn't particularly talented. However that is a minor quibble of a programme that provides a very old-fashioned formula presented in a modern way with two hosts who want to entertain the audience both in the studio and at home as much as they can.


After entertaining the nation for ninety minutes on Saturday night, Ant and Dec were back again on Wednesday this time hosting The Brit Awards. From Jarvis Cocker crashing Michael Jackson's performance to Madonna tripping up the stairs last year The Brit Awards have always provided at least one classic TV moment. So I was a bit upset when this year provided not one classic moment worthy of a mention even the sight of Adele swearing isn't shocking any more after we saw it four years ago. Adele was the star of the evening after being awarded with four statuettes including the coveted Best Album and the randomly awarded Global Success prize which was presented from space by Tim Peake. It was Peake's appearance that seemed to evoke the most emotion in Adele and, in what was one of my favourite moments of the evening, told him to make sure he was eating well. The performances were genuinely entertaining with the spectacle being laid on by Justin Beiber and Rhianna who outshone homegrown talents such as Little Mix and Coldplay who tried their best to put on a good show. The awards went to the usual suspects with the likes of James Bay, Bieber and Coldplay all waltzing off with funky Brits statues with the only surprise for me being the inclusion of Bjork amongst the list of winners. One Direction predictably won a fan voted awarded for Best Video but only two of the four turned up proving that Harry Styles and the Irish one have better things to do these days now the band are on their hiatus. In what will be their last time hosting The Brits, Ant and Dec were fine and inoffensive but struggled to do anything particularly memorable. In fact the best moment came in a comedy skit in which Ant cross-dressed for about five minutes and looked like he was going to burst out laughing the entire time. I just don't think The Brit Awards are the right arena for Ant and Dec whose madcap style of humour is often lost in a room packed full of self-important record exec types. The evening will actually probably be best remembered for a rather touching eulogy to David Bowie performed by Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman. The musical tribute that followed, featuring Bowie's backing band and Lorde, was possibly the best performance of the evening but maybe that's because it had more emotion attached to it than anything else I saw at The Brit Awards. I'm just hoping that the producers of the ceremony spice up the awards a little next year as they feel too safe these days and they lack the unpredictability that once upon a time made The Brits one of the must-see TV events of the year.

That's your lot for now remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you next week.

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