BBC ‘The Hour’ series 2, episode 1

(Dominic West as Hector Madden, Romola Garai as Bel Rowley and Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon.)

The Hour is back! We’re in 1957, so what’s changed?

Frazzled producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is trying to keep ‘The Hour’ afloat in Freddie Lyon’s (Ben Whishaw) absence. There is a new Head of News, Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi) who so happens to be an old flame of Lix’s. That could be awkward.

(Peter Capaldi as Randall Brown.)

Hector Madden (Dominic West) is enjoying the perks of being a celebrity. You know what they say: “The brightest stars burn out the fastest.” Hector whiles many an hour away in El Paradis Club in Soho. There, he meets a young cabaret girl and prostitute, Kiki Delaine (Hannah Tointon). The poor girl end up badly beaten, and it seems from the trailer for the next episode, that Hector will be blamed. There are two poignant scenes featuring Kiki: 1) Kiki sits crying on her bath tub in a dank bathroom, tentatively inspecting her cuts and bruises. 2) Having covered up the worst of her injuries with makeup and a strategically placed hairstyle, Kiki performs on the club stage, watched by an audience of men, one of whom is her assaulter. There are three suspects: Hector (unlikely IMO), Kiki’s manager (looks shifty) and also an executive from ITV who shows an interest in Bel, despite being married. (What is it with Bel and married men?!)

(Hannah Tointon as Kiki Delaine.)

Not everyone is a fan of Hector’s new lifestyle, in particular Bel, Randall and Marnie (Oona Chaplin). Hector continually shows up on set seconds before the show goes on air, with such a blasé attitude that Randall eventually gives him an ultimatum: either he clears up his act or he clears out. Hector seems to be keeping his options open, as he is (figuratively) seduced by executives from ITV’s new rival news show, ‘Uncovered’. Will Hector abandon ‘The Hour’? Meanwhile, his poor wife, Marnie, is left at home, trying to be a model housewife which proves difficult as her husband is noticeably absent most of the time.

(Oona Chaplin as Marnie Madden and Dominic West as Hector Madden.)

In true irreverent, Freddie-style, Freddie Lyon makes a breezy reappearance in the middle of a staff meeting. Apparently he’s been travelling the world and has come back with 1) a dubious beard 2) a French wife. Bel is less than pleased about both, and is exceedingly shocked upon discovering the latter. I predict that Freddie’s new wife, Camille, will either be murdered before the series is out, or bog off back to her native country, leaving Freddie (temporarily) heartbroken. It’s pretty obvious that he still harbours feelings for Bel, but how does she feel about him? Is the revelation that Freddie is now married enough for her to realise that she loves him or is she just shocked that her best friend got hitched without telling her? A bit of both, I think. There is a fair bit of sexual tension between Bel and Freddie. I just wonder if this will ever be realised. Freddie seems calmer and more self-assured this time around, and I also love that he still calls Bel “Moneypenny”. Cute!

(Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon and Romola Garai as Bel Rowley.)

Randall is thrilled that Freddie is back on the scene, and immediately crowns him as co-host with Hector. Freddie is pleased, Hector is not. Freddie is eager to address real issues in Britain, such as the crime rate in Soho. I sense another conspiracy coming to light very soon… …

All in all, a great episode and a fantastic start to the new series. I can’t wait for Wednesday evening now!

(All photos ©BBC 2012.)

BBC ‘The Paradise’ episode 1

Last night, the first episode of the new eight-part series The Paradise aired on BBC1. Word is that the BBC wanted to squeeze in the series before ITV got a chance to air their own shop-related drama, Mr Selfridge, due to be shown in the new year. Anyway, The Paradise is (probably rather loosely) based on the novel Au Bonheur des Dames by the French novelist Emile Zola. One may assume the novel has rather more substance than the BBC adaptation, and The Paradise is undoubtably fluff, but enjoyable fluff nonetheless.

(Joanna Vanderham as Denise Lovett.)

It tells the story of a young, innocent country girl, Denise Lovett (Joanna Vanderham) who comes to work as a salesgirl at England’s very first department store The Paradise (located in some unspecified Northern town in 1875), which has stolen business from her uncle’s haberdashery shop across the street. In the ladieswear department, Denise is under the supervision of stern matriarch, Miss Audrey (Sarah Lancashire) who demands that the young ladies in her care behave with the utmost decorum at all times. Denise soon clashes with a colleague, embittered shopgirl Clara, and catches the eyes of both Sam (who works on the drapery counter) and the owner of the shop himself, charming Moray (Emun Elliott).

(Sarah Lancashire as Miss Audrey.)

(Emun Elliott as Moray.)

If Moray had much common sense at all, he’d steer clear of a dalliance with a shopgirl, especially as he is relying on a hefty loan from businessman, Lord Glendenning (Patrick Malahide), the condition of which being that her marries Glendenning’s daughter, Katherine (Elaine Cassidy). Obviously, various romantic entanglements will soon ensue… And Moray has more than just romance on his mind: he is a modern man who intends for The Paradise to take over the world (almost). He plans a lavish sale to entice more customers and to persuade Lord Glendenning to approve his expansion plan. He is full of big dreams, and often chooses to ignore the more rational advice of his colleague and friend, Dudley (Matthew McNulty). I predict that Moray brushing away his friend’s words of caution may spell trouble later on…

(Elaine Cassidy as Katherine Glendenning.)

(Matthew McNulty as Dudley.)

The Paradise is nicely shot, with lots of pretty shots of the grand store and featuring several gorgeous costumes (lucky Elaine Cassidy!). The drama may not be ground-breaking stuff, but made good light evening entertainment. Will spiteful, and occasional drunk, Clara reveal the apparent secret of Moray’s wife’s death? Probably. Will Moray make advances towards Denise within the next couple of episodes? Most definitely. I look forward to next week’s episode.

(All photos ©BBC 2012.)

‘Smash’ Pilot review

(The cast of ‘Smash’.)

NBC’s new show Smash is being billed as ‘the anti-Glee‘, ‘Glee for grown-ups’. It is all about the makings of a Broadway show, and in particular the search for the perfect leading lady, in this case, a girl to play Marilyn Monroe.

Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee) is a ‘green’ young actress, longing to pursue her dreams of stardom. She catches the attention of the director, Derek (Jack Davenport) for being the only girl to turn up to the audition not dressed as Marilyn. However, the favourite of the music writer Tom Levitt (Christian Borle) is seasoned Broadway actress, Ivy Lynn, played by the super-talented Megan Hilty. Thus, I believe that most of Smash‘s first season will be centred around the battle between Cartwright and Lynn for the role of Marilyn. I liked the characters of writers Tom and Julia (Debra Messing) and I’m intrigued by how producer Eileen Rand’s (Anjelica Huston) divorce will affect the future of the budding musical – will she have sufficient funds to put the show on at all?

(Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn.) 

I have to say that although I really enjoyed the pilot, I already have one major problem with this show. I feel that the audience is meant to be backing Karen, the naïve dreamer with the ‘light’ résumé, as the underdog – Karen is clearly supposed to be the star in the making. However, I found my sympathies lying instead with Ivy: the experienced chorus girl who wants her big break more than anything. Whilst not involved in the professional theatre world myself, I understand that many, many talented actors struggle for years to get decent roles, and many never succeed. I find myself hoping that Ivy will get the lead in ‘Marilyn, The Musical’: I think she deserves it more than Karen, as she’s spent years forging her career. Megan Hilty’s voice is superior to Katharine McPhee’s: although McPhee’s voice is nice enough, she sounds ‘pop-ish’ and I’m not sure her pipes are really cut out for Broadway (even in the context of a TV show). Also, I struggle to picture Karen playing Marilyn as she looks and sounds nothing like her, compared with Ivy who was oozing buxom blonde sex appeal. The only ‘Marilyn-esque’ glimpse I saw in Karen was in her performance of ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’, dressed only in the director’s shirt – I like the way that she let Derek get within inches of seducing her, before saying, “it’s never going to happen” and walking away. I’d like to see more of Karen’s confident attitude, which she definitely have to display a lot of if she’s going to hold her own in the many rounds of the callbacks.

(Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright.)

I look forward to seeing how this show plays out: I just hope it doesn’t fall into clichéd, predictable Glee-like realms, as I think this show has a great premise, and has been pretty well executed so far… though of course it is very early days let…

On a final note, I loved the final song of the episode, ‘Let Me Be Your Star’, sung by Hilty and McPhee. It’s stuck in my head right now, and so I think it should be stuck in yours too. Listen to it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpAWvD1-J4g

(All photos ©NBC.)

Triumphant Return of Downton Abbey

Last night ITV’s drama series Downton Abbey returned to grace our screens. Series 1 ended last year with the announcement of WWI at Downton’s summer garden party. Series 2 begins two years later, at the Somme with gentle hero, and heir to Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley in the trenches, longing for home.

Back at Downton, there had been many changes: poor old Carson had been left short-staffed, there was no Thomas to made snide remarks with Miss O’Brien, and a new housemaid, Ethel, had ideas above her station. It looked as if Anna and Batesy were going to get their happy ending when he proposed (sort of) and she accepted. But wait! Poor Bates and Anna may have to wait a while before they get to say ‘I do’ because here’s why: Bates’s estranged wife, Vera, showed up and blackmailed him – he could either return to her, abandoning Anna and Downton or she would go to the press with the Pamuk story and cause a scandal. Yep, the sleazy Turkish git has come back to haunt us all again. Excellent. Bates, being the noble martyr he is, agreed, leaving Anna in tears and Lord Grantham practically the same.

(Maria Doyle as Vera Bates)

Meanwhile, change had also come to the upstairs folk. Sybil decided to become a nurse, and so took cooking lessons with Mrs Patmore and Daisy so that she could learn to fend for herself. Chauffeur Branson declared his feelings for her when he dropped her off at the hospital. Sybil said she was flattered, but Branson replied, “flattered is the word posh people use when they’re about to say no.” So Branson left with his tail between his legs.

(Lady Sybil (right) at her cooking lesson)

It was inevitable, of course, that Mary and Matthew would meet again, and at a charity concert held at the Big House, they did. Matthew arrived with a fiancée, Lavinia, in tow. Ouch. It was clear that Mary still harboured strong feelings for him and there was an emotional railway station scene between them, as Mary tearfully sent him off to war with a lucky mascot (a small toy dog from her childhood) to keep him safe. I really hope it works out between them in the end. Lavinia, though nice enough, is rather bland and there’s really no spark between her and Matthew. But with Mary and Matthew? Well that’s another story completely: so much was unsaid in their conversations and it seemed that both of them longed to break the invisible barrier between them.

(Dan Stevens and Zoe Boyle as Matthew Crawley and Lavinia Swire)

Maggie Smith’s character, Violet, was much the same, although she and Isobel Crawley seemed to be on marginally better terms, as Violet now referred to her as ‘Cousin Isobel’, rather than ‘Mrs. Crawley’.

Back at the Front, we saw Thomas struggling as a stretcher bearer in the Medical Corps. Eventually, at the end of the episode, he cracked and held up his cigarette lighter above the trench so that his hand got shot. Although I loathed Thomas with a passion in the last series, I couldn’t help sympathising with his desperation to get away from the Front by any means. No doubt his plan is to get shipped home and either invalided out of the war, or transferred to a hospital in England to continue working in the Medical Corps. I think I could hazard a guess at his preferred option. I fully expect Thomas and Miss O’Brien to be partners in crime again soon…

General observations and predictions:

  • The costumes, once again, were gorgeous and I look forward to seeing how the fashions evolve over the series.
  • Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) seemed ‘softer’ so far this series – no doubt heartbreak Matthew-related knocked off some of her edges.
  • I sincerely doubt that all of the Downton men will survive the war, so the subject of who will die is open to much speculation. I hope it isn’t Matthew or William – especially now William and Daisy are finally an item (aww!) Still, I don’t think it’ll be Matthew, as Dan Stevens let it slip that he’s in the Christmas Special which is set in 1919. Go figure.
  • The trailer for next week’s episode shows Edith kissing a man who looks rather like a farm-hand, while a blonde woman looks on. I have a feeling that the man could possibly be the man whom Mrs. Crawley helped to cure from dropsy in series 1, as the woman watching looked like the man’s wife. If so, naughty Edith for getting involved with a married man!
  • I liked the juxtaposition of the frantic, violent trench scenes with the relative calm at the Big House, showing the massive contrast between the lives of the soldiers at the Front and those back home.

I thought the episode was an excellent start to the new series and I will be waiting on tenterhooks for each new episode over the course of the autumn.