Friday, 3 June 2016
Matt on the Box: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Disappearance, Versailles, Love Island and Britain's Got Talent
After three very good instalments of the latest series of The Hollow Crown you would think that the BBC would hold off on the Shakespeare adaptations for a while. But that doesn't seem to be the case and a week after Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely excelled in the title role of Richard III, BBC One is airing a new interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.This latest adaptation comes from the mind of Queer as Folk and Cucumber creator Russell T Davies so I knew going in that I was in for something a little bit different. The fact that Davies is going to go off the beaten track is established in the first frame when we discover he has turned Theseus of Athens (John Hannah) into a fascist dictator. Furthermore his marriage to Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Eleanor Matsuura) is portrayed as a completely one-sided affair as Theuses' intended is wheeled out wearing a strait jacket and a Hannibal Lecter-style mask. The bold style of the adaptation is also laid out in this opening scene as Theuses' palace is decked out in banners whilst the duke himself brandishes an iPad throughout the play. But it's when we enter the forest that A Midsummer Night's Dream truly comes alive as Davies and his design team make it a much darker place than in previous adaptations. The fairies themselves are a scary bunch with Oberon (Nonso Anozie) being presented as particularly imposing whilst Titania (Maxine Peake) arrives on the scene with the attitude and style of an old-school punk rocker. I do feel that Davies has attempted to make this version of the play as accessible as possible for those who have a distinct aversion to Shakespeare.This is certainly true in the way he presented the quartet or lovers particularly Lysander (Matthew Tenyson) who was painted as a poetic geek and the misunderstood Helena (Kate Kennedy) just wanted someone to love her. I feel the fact that this adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream is presented will appeal to a wider audience as its usual three hour running time has been slashed in half. This means that this is an all-action piece which is incredibly stylish even though those who have certain image of how the play should be presented may not be that happy. The sections of Davies' version which feel the most traditional feature the mechanics, the group of players performing at Theuses and Hippolyta's wedding ceremony, who are led by Mistress Snug (Elaine Paige). Obviously the mechanics are simply there to set up the introduction of Bottom (Matt Lucas) but their scenes both at the beginning and end of the show bring a sense of familiarity which is lacking elsewhere.
I have to say I wasn't expecting much from A Midsummer Night's Dream and thought it would be just another Shakespeare adaptation. But what Davies and his team have done is create a world which will entice both fans of the play and Shakespeare novices in equal measure. Part of the reason for this is the superb visuals and especially the CGI which is created by the same team that Davies worked with on Doctor Who. The way the fairies, and particularly Puck, move about during the piece is spectacular with the effects coming into their own during the memorable final scene. Another of Davies' former Doctor Who cohorts, composer Murray Gold, brings the visuals to life with a fantastic score which combines the traditional nature of the story with the updated feel of the visuals. But at the heart of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a love for the story itself and you can see how much Davies relishes telling a tale that he's waiting decades to adapt. I was personally won over about midway through the piece and found myself laughing at the scenes involving the lovers even though I've seen the play acted out several times before. I applaud BBC One for scheduling this on prime time on Bank Holiday Monday rather than putting it a less prominent position just like BBC Two did with The Hollow Crown. It would be amiss of me not to credit some of the fantastic cast, all of whom do their best to make Davies' adaptation as memorable as possible. As always Maxine Peake makes an impression and here is able to utilise both her dramatic presence and her comedic talents. Her Titania is feisty but also has a softer side and I feel Peake particularly excelled in the scenes in which her character is tricked into falling in love with Bottom. I didn't think Peake would work in an on-screen couple with Matt Lucas but their partnership works and provides some of the programme's biggest laughs. Of the newcomers playing the four lovers I found Katie Kennedy to give the best turn as the lanky but loveable Helena. Also worthy of mention are Hiran Abeysekera as a fantastically animated Puck and Eleanor Matsuura who, as Hippolyta, is able to convey a lot of emotion while not be able to move the majority of her body. Overall I feel that Davies has created something of a Shakespearian treat with his adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream which for me made more of an impression than either series of The Hollow Crown. Combining a great visual flair with a fantastic cast, Davies has made the story come alive in a way which will appeal to a mass audience most of whom I'm sure will find a new appreciation for Shakespeare after watching this brilliant adaptation.
Moving to BBC Four we have the latest addition to the channel's roster of Saturday night European series with French thriller The Disappearance. A hit in its native country, The Disappearance tells the story of Lea Morel (Camille Razat) who goes missing after celebrating her seventeenth birthday at a local music festival in Lyon. The opening ten or so minutes of the drama introduces us to Lea and more importantly we see her relationship with her parents, her siblings and her cousin who also happens to be her best friend. Although this opening chapter of the series does give us some insight into the character of Lea it also demonstrates the amount of subtlety that is employed throughout The Disappearance as we see the teenager leave meetings with both of her parents in slow-motion. Where I think The Disappearance shone the most was during the scenes in which Lea's parents were desperately waiting for her to call home and trying to ascertain her whereabouts from the night before. I thought that both the writers and the actors involved in these scenes accurately portrayed the uncertain nature of that initial feeling that something isn't right. However soon enough the plot started to kick in and secrets about Lea started to be revealed from the fact she has a secret boyfriend to the fact that she regularly did drugs. The oddest secret of all was revealed in the second episode when we learnt that, alongside secret boyfriend Romain, Lea was a budding race car driver but didn't want her parents to know. As you would expect the police soon got involved in the action and they were headed up by the new Police Commander Bertrand Molina (François-Xavier Demaison). Molina is a character that I just couldn't warm to be partly because of his cocky nature and partly because he didn't seem to be particularly good at his job. The writers have also tried to make a link between Molina and Lea's family by introducing his own teenage daughter who is forced to take care of after her mother has had enough of her. The second episode also saw Lea's father Julien come under the spotlight as his account of the night in question didn't tally up with a witness statement. He were learnt that he had had an affair and was trying to ward off his former mistress at the time he said he'd left the cafe that he owns. After being released by the police, Julien went a little bit stir crazy and by the end of the second instalment had started to conduct his own rogue investigation which was quickly shut down by Molina.
Due to its popularity in its home nation, some of the press promoting The Disappearance described it as the French Broadchurch. Indeed while it shares themes with both the first series of Broadchurch and the Danish version of The Killing it isn't on the same level as quality as either. Whilst both Broadchurch and The Killing did come alive when dealing with the parents of murdered children it was the series' respective police detectives who were the real stars of the show. In my opinion that's where the problem lies with The Disappearance as Molina is possibly the least likeable of any of the characters and the police investigation so far has been the drama's weakest aspect. It doesn't help that none of the actors are really convincing as police detectives especially Demaison, a popular French comic actor who here makes his dramatic debut. In fact most of the police in Lyon seem like they have stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine especially Molina's deputy Camille who has a fantastic figure despite her character flaw being that she can't stop eating. Although the writers have tried to beef up the Molina character by giving him a complicated relationship with his utterly awful teenage daughter it doesn't make me care about him anymore. All of the most successful European crime dramas that BBC Four have aired have worked because we cared about their central investigator whether it be Sarah Lund, Saga Noren or more recently Trapped's Andre. Here the only sympathetic characters are Lea's family but I feel we will care less and less about them as more secrets start to spill out due to the investigation. Of the cast, the only performance that I really enjoyed came from Alix Poisson as Lea's mother Florence as she was excellent at portraying her character's grief. From the moment that Florence realised something was wrong I felt that Poisson delivered a flawless performance which continued into the second episode and in particular the scene in which she confronted her husband's former mistress. In summation I would say that there isn't anything particularly wrong with The Disappearance as I found it to be an entirely competent drama but there wasn't anything special about it either. Furthermore everything that happened in The Disappearance had been done better elsewhere whether it be in The Killing or Broadchurch or in BBC One's fantastic The Missing. Ultimately my expectations may have been a little high for The Disappearance based on the timeslot it was being put in and I think my overall disappointment lies in the fact that I expect a little more from BBC Four's European dramas than I was given here.
Staying in France but travelling back several decades we have Versailles; which tells the story of the early part of the reign of King Louis XIV. Although Versailles initially aired on France's Canal Plus, everyone here speaks in the English language I suppose so it could be sold to as many countries as possible. The main plot of this first episode centred around the moving of Louis' court from Paris to his father's old hunting lodge in Versailles. This also meant that we got to witness what I'm sure was historically accurate scenes involving Louis' instructions to the architect about how he wanted the Palace of Versailles to look. When it wasn't trying to be the 17th century equivalent to Grand Designs, Versailles essentially tried to cram in as much sex and violence as feasibly possible. Indeed Versailles has already made headlines for its rather graphic content with MPs and family rights groups complaining that the show is porn dressed up in cravat and tights. Whilst I don't think the sex scenes are anything we haven't seen before in the likes of The Tudors, which also aired on BBC Two, I did think while watching Versailles that they'd possibly hired the script writers of an adult film. That's because the dialogue is absolutely atrocious with characters speaking in long bouts of exposition as it seems the scriptwriters are torn between trying to get us much history in as possible and trying to keep the audience entertained at the same time. I was surprised then to learn that Versailles had been co-created by David Wolstencroft who is most famous for being the man who created Spooks. I'm not sure what's happened to Wolstencroft since his last TV outing, the forgettable but well-paced The Escape Artist, but Versailles does seem like a step down. I do feel the sexy history genre which included the aforementioned Tudors as well as The Borgias and Da Vinci's Demons is almost a thing of the past now. That's mainly because gratuitous sex and violence combined with political plotting and shock twists is done much better on Game of Thrones. Because of this Versailles feels awfully old-fashioned and despite the graphic nature of some of the saucier scenes there's nothing about the programme that feels awfully memorable. Additionally not one of the characters made an impression on me and I didn't care one iota what happened to Louis, his camp brother and the rest of this sorry lot. Suffice to say I'm not going to make it through another nine episodes of Versailles and I could easily see BBC Two banishing it to some late night timeslot before its run has concluded.
If you hadn't had your fill of flesh from Versailles then ITV2 had you covered with the return of the annual meat market that is Love Island. After proving to be a complete flop as an X-Factor host Caroline Flack returns to get a free holiday by pairing up a bunch of young singles who don't seem to mind flaunting their almost naked bodies on camera. Indeed this year the producers of Love Island seem to have convinced the contestants to wear as little as possible meaning that the likes of Welsh muscle-man Tom wears just enough fabric to cover up his nether regions. The contestants include the current Miss Great Britain, an ex-girlfriend of some rugby player and the brother of a couple of soap stars. The first twenty minutes or so of the first episode felt like something that would take place in the playground of any secondary school as a group of girls were lined up and had to step forward when a boy they liked walked past. Although there did seem to be genuine attraction between some of the couples it all felt a little seedy especially when couples started to get split up with the inclusion of new hunks. Meanwhile Flack seemed to be phoning in her performance here, asking fairly mundane questions that she didn't necessarily want the answers to. Imagine my surprise then when this matchmaking actually proved to be the high point of what that descended into a mediocre episode of Big Brother. The majority of what we were delivered were scenes that could be delivered from any of the constructed reality shows from Towie to Geordie Shore where the cast talked about who they fancied and whether they'd be having sex in the house. As far as I could gather the big talking point was whether Javi would steal Olivia away from new boy Daniel with both men forgetting to ask her what she really wanted. Other than these scintillating scenes, Love Island seemed to be obsessed with getting me to download the official app so I could be in charge of deciding which new girl or boy would go into the villa. But as you can imagine I had no interest in who went in or who went out as everybody in this year's Love Island seems like someone you'd try to avoid if you ever came into contact with them in a social situation. The first episode opened with Flack informing me that this would be the start of an unforgettable summer whilst this may be the case for me that will be a summer which doesn't involve watching any more instalments of the dreadful Love Island.
Finally after completely slating this current series in my last article, Britain's Got Talent came to an end with a rather mediocre final. Going in I was convinced that one of the singing acts was going to triumph with Wayne Woodward, 100 Voices of Gospel or Beau Dermott set to be the favourites. Meanwhile I was backing magician Richard Jones to win the show as out of the twelve finalists he was the only one that really captivated me. Going into the final some acts played it safe and did the same thing they did in the audition with Beau and impressionist Craig Ball being two examples of this. Meanwhile I was generally unimpressed by what some of the other acts had to offer especially sword-swallowing Alex Magala who I've never been a particular fan off. Even Richard's trick wasn't as good as his previous two offerings as he instead told a story with a pack of cards before revealing a ninety-something year old war veteran on the stage. This patriotic trick was obviously done to lure in voters as traditionally magicians don't win the show performing outlandish illusions for example Darcy Oake set himself on fire two years ago and nobody seemed to care. One thing I had to wonder was who the hell was voting for Boogie Storm, a mediocre dance act whose USP was that they were dressed as Storm Troopers. If it weren't for the costumes I don't think this act would've got through and instead would've fallen at the semi-final hurdle like so many other dance troupes. However the most impressive act on the night was performed by a group of former finalists and winners who were celebrating the shows tenth year and NOT its tenth anniversary. This eight-or-so minute performance featuring the likes of Diversity, George Sampson, Collabro, Stavros Flatley, Attraction and Ashleigh and Pudsey was the only thing that truly grabbed me throughout the two-and-half hour show. Choreographed by Diversity's Ashley Banjo the performance was preceded by a montage of all the former series which I found to be an interesting watch if only to see how much Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden's faces have changed throughout the last nine years. But even though the right act won out in the end I still ascertain that this has been a rather lacklustre series as a whole and this wek of finals has showcased that. Although I now we're already set for another three years of BGT I feel that the judging panel and the structure of the show as a whole needs a shake up as it is a shadow of its former self.
That's your lot for now remember to follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I'll see you next time.
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