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ShakespeaRe-Told: The Taming of the Shrew (2005)
Season 1, Episode 3
It's what Shakespeare would have wanted!
24 January 2007
Great pairing of two wayward psychoses in this TAMING. How can you not fancy a man who'll not only turn up to his wedding wearing high heeled boots, eye shadow and nail polish but but who then has the chutzpah to take on the resultant triplets? No wonder Kate is so smug at the end.

Shirley Henderson is a fabulous fruitcake, bolting on to her THE WAY WE LIVE NOW characterization even more aggression, plus much fruitful searing and wonderful body language. She'd be at home in Sicily if she didn't get knocked off first.

Rufus Sewell crosses every obstacle in presenting Petruchio as a remotely possible twentieth century human being and even makes you think you'd invite him to a dinner party (possibly a major mistake).

The rest of the casting was equally choice (my heart was especially taken by Twiggy) and the wit was sharper than a serpent's tooth!
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Not Only But Always (2004 TV Movie)
Peter Cook was really Withnail?
4 December 2006
Looking extraordinarily like Withnail at his most dissolute, Rhys Ifans gives a pretty good shot at Peter Cook. And the others do their own impressions of the fab four - Miller, Bennett, Moore & Cook - convincingly as well. Miller is very much hand and arm movements, Bennett is a genuine look-alike and the Dudley Moore is remarkable.

Two queries: Why didn't they give him blue contact lenses when one of Cook's most striking features was his very beautiful blue eyes.

Secondly, why didn't they mention the film he made after Bedazzled? It wasn't a popular success which may have contributed to his sense of malaise as Dudley rose to the top.

And a possible goof: Wendy claims she wasn't invited to the funeral (seen off by the fierce wife #3). But there she is in the church. Just a bit of dramatic telescoping or insufficient research?
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The granddaddy of all TV series
8 September 2006
All right - it was in black and white and probably on 2" tape - which means the BBC wiped it, right? But it stays in my mind from all those years ago (1960??) as a perfect slice of history enlivened by the most innovative editing and wonderful actors full of youth and bravado.

I WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN! Are you reading this, BBC? Find your original 2" tapes or the 35mm film, deal with the actors and directors for the rights, and re-issue! I know, I know, some of them are dead, some of them are missing in action.

Where else will I be able to see Mary Morris as the 'serpent's heart wrapped in a tiger's hide'? Where else will I be able to see Paul Daneman do 'Now is the winter of discontent....'? Or Robert Hardy deliver his speech about 'that idol ceremony'?
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Local Hero (1983)
The perfect feel-good movie
10 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film about magic, the conjunction of the stars, love, loss, life, happiness and nature, not necessarily in that order.

In my eyes the local hero is Mac, who saves the locality. Like lots of heroes he doesn't get any thanks or reward. But he has been touched by a special magic of place, a ghostly reminder of which he carries with him for evermore.

There are mermaids masquerading as beautiful young women, there's Prospero masquerading as a beachcomber and there's a businessman who finds himself as a stargazer.

Combined with the mysticism is the wonderful hard-handed pragmatism of Scotland and its inhabitants.

Scottish whimsy isn't as sentimental as Irish, but it's extraordinarily compelling and beautiful.

See this and then read Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown, then emigrate to Scotland.
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Blood Strangers (2002 TV Movie)
So why do I feel "so what!"?
21 January 2003
Drama that seemingly having everything going for it, ie, a strong story, a good cast, interesting locations and adequate direction, falls into that "so what" territory.

The relationship between the mother and the liaison copper sent to help her is the guts of the story but this is where it seems to lose impetus. Although nearly losing his job and his family over the emotional tsunami caused by Caroline Quentin the Liaison Officer stays calm and reasonable throughout where one is longing for him to give her a knuckle sandwich or at least a very strong sedative.

Maybe McGann was tired or maybe it's the way it was written but he plays just a shade too detachedn my opinion. Whatever, the clash between her tsunami and his immovable object doesn't make for rivetting television. And the big revelation at the end (who killed the daughter) seems strangely muffled and very rushed in the context of the entire plot.

I kept wishing Caroline Quentin's part was being played by Julie Walters; then you'd have had sparks flying.
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The One That Got Away (1996 TV Movie)
Eerily detached and distanced from Chris Ryan's POV of an SAS operation that went horribly wrong
8 October 2002
This is an extraordinary vision of war as an out-of-body experience, predating Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan by some years.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, the film has an extraordinarily surreal feel, especially in the night scenes.

The POV is Chris Ryan's, who is obviously an extreme outsider and a determined survivor.

The cast is excellent, Paul McGann getting right under Ryan's skin.

This film fits into the Lawrence of Arabia tradition being visually sumptuous, thematically expansive and musically (Barrington Pheloung) stirring.
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Sweet Revenge (2001– )
Masquerading as a noirish thriller this is a redemption story Graham Greene would be proud of.
7 November 2001
Sandy Welch's concise and poetic script captures London in a blaze of glory enhanced by David Morrissey's masterly direction, the set design, the camerawork, the music and perfect casting.

All in all the most enjoyable program I've seen from the BBC in years.

The characters circle round Patrick Vine (Paul McGann) like moths round a flame, drawn by his chilly charm, his intellect and his uncanny ability to enact the dark revenge fantasies of our basest moments. The script, at first light and funny, darkens as fun turns to murder and in the end it is Patrick who has to change, magically seduced back to life by Ellen, one of his clients, and London itself.

Patrick - flawed, pedantic, selfish, arrogant, dangerous to know, charismatic and charming - is played by Paul McGann in his most subtle and wily manner.

Sophie Okinedo as Ellen is a fantastic foil - like a child's, her great drooping face can turn from tragedy to comedy in a split second.

Susan Lynch does a gorgeous turn as the murderous vamp to end all vamps and Steven Mackintosh as Patrick's friend Sebastian gives a beautifully wry reading to his lines. Pam Ferris as Denise, a revengeful secretary, provides a solid comic foil to Patrick.

If you enjoyed the book Hawksmoor by Peter Akroyd (1987) or Stephen Poliakoff's TV two-parter Shooting the Past (1999) then you'll know what flavour to expect - a combination of wry sumptuousness and appreciation of human folly.

So thank you Catherine Wearing and everyone who worked on it!
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The Hanging Gale (1995– )
emotionally scarifying and embedded in real history, this is an intelligent attempt to capture how and why the "Hunger" happened.
7 May 2001
Great ensemble piece not only for the McGanns but for a group of strong Irish actors (plus the estimable Michael Kitchen) this is an unflinchingly close up view of the effects of the pan-European potato famine in one tiny portion of the north of Ireland.

The script wisely avoids casting the English as "the villains" - rather it is the system of absentee English landlords and local grasping profiteers who break the community up. The crossfire of politics, starvation and government indifference creates enormous suffering, graphically portrayed and stunningly contrasted with the wild and romantic scenery.

Every descendent of the Irish diaspora should have a copy of this at home. But I'd recommend it to everyone.
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Nice Town (1992– )
Suburbia subverted
8 March 2001
Perhaps in another, parallel universe where television is valued people are still enjoying the humour of Guy Hibbert's Nice Town and celebrating the original, the bold and the subversive.

Possibly Paul McGann's greatest comedic performance to date, and played absolutely straight, even wearing a pinnie, this series gives him a chance to trot out his particular talent for demureness, previously hinted at in Withnail and I. The series plays on the themes of role reversal, androgyny and suburban suffocation.

McGann plays Joe Thompson, the "ideal" husband, who cooks, cleans and looks after his child while his high-powered wife (Josette Simon, fantastic) goes out to work, a man who craves to be kept barefoot and pregnant, chained to the kitchen stove. He's clucky. His wife isn't. What's a man to do?

With a nod to Dennis Potter and Guy Hibbert's fantastic verbal riffs, this series should not be missed.
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always topical political thriller
30 January 2001
Dealing in the same emotional territory of personal/political betrayal as The Third Man but in the topical setting of Israel and Berlin this film from 1989 holds up well. Strong performances, good direction and an interesting use of varied locations make for a well-above-average thriller marred slightly by the flashback structure and a slightly muffled ending.

The tensions that destroy relations between Palestinians and Israelis and the forces that drive both sides to acts of political terrorism and personal betrayal underpin the movie.

It won't change minds (nor should it) but it confronts the issues clearly and without prejudice to either side. Probably therefore it will be deeply unpopular with both sides of the political spectrum - which is a measure of its success.
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Fish (2000– )
Ultimately enjoyable if slightly patchy series
18 July 2000
Strong performances from an excellent cast and an interesting concept help this quirky six part series build into entertaining viewing, transcending its somewhat clunky opening episode. Interesting locations and a diverse range of characters keep Fish floating above its occasional plot absurdities but this is one series I would definitely pay to see more of. There's charm aplenty mixed with the thought-provoking personal and legal situations in which Vishnevski (Paul McGann) finds himself. To say nothing of a fresh take on a community that doesn't always get a straight airing - you won't find Lesley Joseph here, folks!
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Forgotten (1999– )
Who dunnit or Why dunnit?
27 October 1999
Tight script, good direction, excellent performances, strong cast, effective use of locations....

Paul McGann gives a detailed, subtle performance as the man in the centre of a new murder investigation who may just have committed a similar murder previously.

There is an interesting moral & emotional journey happening with his character (Ben Turner) and it intersects with the journey undertaken by Amanda Burton. Inevitably they cross over... Who has done what?

The examination of WHY, both in the past and in the present, rather than WHO might have yielded a more interesting, Dostoyevskian story, but hey, who's complaining?
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Downtime (1997)
Die Hard for snags
27 October 1999
This is a script which must have appealed on paper to the actors - there's lots and lots of snappy dialogue - BUT the pacing, structure and action sequences are woeful and in the end it leaves Paul McGann, Susan Lynch and Tom Georgeson, to name but three, in limbo, mouthing silly platitudes at the end and embarrassing themselves and us in the process.

So who's to blame - the writer or the director? And how come those producers from Channel 4 etc got involved? Couldn't they suss out this dog beforehand?

The photography (from Tony Imi) is dark and gloomy, appropriately enough, as most of the film is set in a filthy tenement lift shaft, but it makes for an unrelievedly gloomy look.

There's little attempt to show lives and characters other than during the action .

The film is mainly a real-time story, with a prequel where the two protagonists "meet cute" - she's hanging off a balcony & he's sort of trying to rescue her. Then we go to real-time lift shaft fun, followed by some truly mawkish stuff in the hospital at the end. Poor Tom Georgeson is given no real motivation for his actions.

Paul McGann does what he can with the script but he's playing such a ditz that one feels he'd be better off in some nursing home for the terminally frightened. He's also called upon to do illogical and stupid things (what a surprise, in this film). Susan Lynch plays with energy but again, it's a cardboard character with no reality, derived from memories of Hollywood films & television sitcoms. Again, she has to crawl up & down steel cables (as one so frequently does) whilst dressed in a slip of a dress and a cardigan....
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