Tag Archives: BFI Southbank

BFI & Radio Times Television Festival – BFI Southbank

Radio Times Festival - Tom Hiddleston

Television is still (rather unfairly) seen as the poor cousin of most other creative arts. If you say you go to the theatre all the time or spend every weekend in art galleries it’s seen as a respectable past-time, but admitting to watching a lot of TV – regardless of what you’re actually viewing – is still met with derision, especially from those who claim they don’t own a TV at all. Yet, the last few years has felt like a golden age for drama in particular, and despite radical changes in the way we view and consume programmes, appointment-to-view television still exists building communities of people all sharing the same experience at once.

The Radio Times has long celebrated the art of television and the skills of the actors, writers, producers, directors and technical teams that make the programmes listed in its pages. In its articles, features and interviews, The Radio Times champions the intellectual and cultural value of television, making a strong case each week for its acceptance as a recognised and dignified art form. Yes the schedules are awash with repeats and mindless content but for every reality show there’s a Broadchurch, for every soap or tired sporting event, there’s a Night Manager, Planet Earth or Inside Number 9. All art forms have their churned-out nonsense, but like theatre and art there’s also bold new writing and innovative approaches.

After a very talks-based inaugural Festival in 2015 in various marquees in a field near Hampton Court, it makes sense that The Radio Times’s second weekend outing should decamp to the more suitable surroundings of the BFI – itself no stranger to holding exceptional festivals. And as you would expect from a magazine that loves telly, the schedule was packed over three days with something for pretty much everyone – from Call the Midwife, Dr Who and Line of Duty to interviews with Michael Palin and Maggie Smith, from Strictly Come Dancing to Sherlock, Poldark, Victoria and becoming a Youtube star there was much to see and learn. But I restricted myself to four key events.

One of the headline sessions, announced long before the rest of the programme, was a 90-minute tribute to Victoria Wood, who died last year, comprising a panel interview with some of the people that knew her well, clips from her many shows and songs, as well as an opportunity for the audience to share favourite lines and memories. Piers Wenger from BBC Drama sat on the panel alongside Maxine Peake and Julie Walters with a slightly too abrupt Paddy O’Connell as compere who cut people off and interrupted as though he were interviewing lying politicians instead of much loved actors discussing a missed national treasure.

Although slightly marred by the rather haphazard questioning, the warmth and affection for Wood, as well as her genuinely unique observational comedy shone through. Again and again the same words associated with her writing were repeated – “authentic”, “real”, “truthful” and “genuine” – as her friends and colleagues discussed her generosity in sharing great lines, as well as a style of writing that Peake and Walters described as musical, with each sentence honed and word carefully chosen to create the proper effect. Mixed with clips that bare endless re-watching, it was a celebratory as well as an emotional event as Peake wanted to give thanks for a role that launched her career while Walters poignantly remarked that she is constantly surprised at her loss, frequently wondering “where are you”. But it was an event, they all agreed, Wood would have been delighted to be part of having loved telly so much.

With programme-making now so diverse, the RT Festival also made time for one of the biggest success-stories of the past year broadcast entirely online – The Crown produced by Netflix. The astonishing series which covers the accession and early reign of Elizabeth II was discussed by Director Philip Martin, producer Suzanne Mackie and lead actor Claire Foy, in an excellent and insightful panel discussion overseen by ITN’s Tom Bradby who spent a brief period as royal correspondent.

While there was some talk about the mechanics of filming and the role of platforms like Netflix, much of the discussion actually took on a more philosophical consideration of our engagement with the monarchy, as Foy considered the way in which we project a picture of what they ought to be, that they then respond to as times change. The sense of responsibility to create something human and true to itself was clear, which, Martin explained would have been muddied by appropriateness of broadcast slots and their particular expectation had it been aired on terrestrial TV, while Foy spoke with real insight on the process and wider impact of playing such a well-known figure. And for audience members looking for series gossip, they did find out that the current cast will be replaced after Season 2 as the characters age, writer Peter Morgan has mapped out as far as Season 4, but intends six and we will meet Camilla Parker-Bowles in Season 3.

Returning on Sunday, the first session was an interview with Mark Gatiss discussing his career from The League of Gentlemen to Sherlock as well as his engagement with TV growing up.  Interviewed by the marvellous Alison Graham, TV Editor for Radio Times, Gatiss explained that meeting Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson was “love at first sight” and it was a shared discovery that in entirely different locations they’d all missed bonfire night to watch Carry On Screaming that drew them together. Graham was unaware that the League are to reform next year for an already commissioned show to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Royston Vase, and while nothing has yet been written, Gatiss hopes it will revisit old favourites as well as introduce new material, before shocking everyone with the idea that Pauline would now be almost 70.

Much of the Sherlock discussion hinged around the idea of a ‘backlash’ with criticism of more recent episodes, but Gatiss neatly battered this away, suggesting instead that the British like to have a lull so they can then describe things as being “back on form”. He also confirmed that Sherlock’s future is open but scheduling Series 3 was so difficult given the success it brought to everyone that there are no immediate plans to write another.

Finally, thoughts turned to TV influences, and like Victoria Wood in the previous day’s discussion, Gatiss admitted to having watched huge amounts of television as a child being particularly influenced by horror writers like MR James and EF Benson. It was clear from Gatiss’s stories that well-made TV can leave a life-long impression, which led nicely into a final session on arguably the finest drama the BBC has made this century – The Night Manager.

Not many actors would have the power to necessitate a change of venue at a TV Festival but the late announcement that Tom Hiddleston would join a panel on adapting John le Carre for the screen meant swapping the 100 seater NFT2 for the 450 seat Imax which promptly sold out – and such is the appeal of Hiddleston that even a BFI mouse scampered down the stairs mid-session to get a closer view.

Last year The Night Manager proved that TV could be every bit as lavish, beautifully crafted and artistic as film, while keeping the nation home every Sunday night for 6 weeks. Led by journalist Samira Ahmed, this fascinating panel emphasised how completely the visual style and the raft of complex and troubled characters came largely from le Carre’s pages, and although it was modernised and relocated, it was the original novel to which they turned again and again for inspiration and insight.

Hiddleston quoted from memory a passage that described the character of Jonathan Pine with all the personas and contradictions that formed the basis of his interpretation, and le Carre’s exact words were something he returned to several times in discussion, giving an insight into his process as an actor and his ability to recall it in such detail a couple of years later. And Hiddleston spoke with energy about the “malleability of character” which attracted him to the role, particularly the soldiery in Jonathan’s past that is broken open and tested by the events of the story.

As expected some secrets were revealed – particularly by Alistair Petrie who played Sandy –  including the numerous work-arounds that the technical crew accomplished to make things look considerably more expensive than they were by moving lightbulbs to mimic the sun and fashioning a private jet from cardboard, while le Carre himself who appeared as a disgruntled diner enjoyed improvising his annoyance so fervently that Hiddleston wasn’t sure he could placate him. Although a joke about Tom Hollander unexpectedly “manhandling” him during that scene got the biggest laugh and clearly made it into the final edit. And on the rumoured Series Two, Executive Producer Simon Cornwall wasn’t giving much away – it is being discussed but nothing has been decided and it will only happen if the proposed idea can live up to the extraordinary quality of the first he insisted.

Teaming-up with the BFI meant this second Radio Times event felt considerably more at home on the Southbank. What was clear from all the sessions is that the people who make TV really love it and have spent a lifetime watching it, are able to chart the influence of particular shows and genres on the type of performer or creator they became. This event celebrated the dedication, enthusiasm and pure craft that goes into making programmes, and made a strong case for recognising television as a proper art form. More than anything, the Radio Times is there to reassure you that if you watch 5 hours a day or one a week, there’s nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of.

The Radio Times Festival was at the BFI Southbank from 7-9 April. Look out for other TV-related events at BFI including episode previews and Q&As throughout the year.


Film Review: Anthropoid – BFI Southbank

Jamie Dornan & Cillian Murphy in Anthropoid

History is still too often the story of “great men” and Sean Ellis’s new film Anthropoid, which had its UK premier at BFI Southbank last week, considers whether the removal of a key individual can really change the course of events. It’s an idea we tend to take for granted, certainly in public history, and it’s one that’s used to propel any kind of historical fiction, asking us where we would have been without the Winston Churchills, Henry VIIIs and Nelsons of the world. And of course, as Anthropoid demonstrates, the inverse is true, there are also a series of “bad men” of history whose removal it is supposed would prevent all kinds of disasters, wars and genocides.

As a society, we like to tell stories that suggest progress and these are often driven by quite black and white versions of who the heroes and villains are. But real life is far more complicated than that, and key individuals, whether good or bad, are often at the heart of a large network of activities which will continue to exist without them. At the crux of Anthropoid is a debate about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Nazi final solution, with a reputation so fearsome he earned the soubriquet ‘the butcher of Prague’ and whether removing him would release or further enslave the citizens of Czechoslovakia.

Two soldiers, played by Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan, are parachuted into a forest on the outskirts of Prague at the start of the film with orders from the exiled Czech government in London to kill Heydrich. They are met and welcomed into the local underground resistance led by the wonderful Toby Jones, who are initially unaware of their secret mission, but help the men to integrate into Czech society, giving them a family to lodge with, jobs and even fake girlfriends as part of their cover.

There have been a number of poor reviews which largely hinge on the slightly misconceived notion that this a straightforward thriller in the style of Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie, which took a more ‘Mission Impossible’ approach to a botched assassination attempt of Hitler. But while the content and setting of Anthropoid draws obvious comparisons, Sean Ellis – who wrote, directed and acted as cinematographer – is aiming at something slightly different, with the big action scenes serving only to punctuate a taut exploration of a much wider organisation. While the assassination attempt is the film’s core driver, its purpose is to understand the context in which such a plan came about and the emotional and physical costs to the extended network of men and women it affected.

The first hour is entirely concerned with these preparations as Jan (Dornan) and Josef (Murphy) scout locations, secretly photograph Heydrich’s route to work and spy on his daily routine. It is pure character study as the two men begin to come to terms with the task they have to perform. For interest, Ellis has given them contrasting personalities, and during the Q&A that followed last week’s showing, explained that while his background research was extensive, such aspects of character are hard to know which gives the actors plenty of artistic licence.

Murphy’s Josef is the more serious and soldierly of the two, given a direct order that he doesn’t question and leads the scientific process of deciding how and when to strike. He is acutely aware at all times of the dangerous position they’re in, trying to blend into a tightly-wound society while keeping his emotions in check. But there’s also a paternal element to his character which Murphy brings out quite subtly in the protection of the weaker Jan from the full horror of their exposed position and maintain motivation despite objections from other resistance fighters. One point of ambiguity however is the relationship he forms with Lenka (Anna Geislerová) which he initially resists and sees only in terms of fulfilling his cover story. You’re supposed to believe he then falls for her, so as Ellis explained as the film plays out the two leads almost swap character traits, with Josef becoming softer. Some ambiguity is fine, but the idea that he suddenly melts was not entirely convincing, as Murphy’s performance is so restrained it seemed more likely that he respects Lenka for the danger she puts herself in for his sake and sees someone matching his level of sacrifice, but doesn’t actually fall in love with her.

Dornan on the other hand plays a character whose emotions are much closer to the surface and falls quickly in love with Marie (Charlotte Le Bon). Without any back-story, it’s hard to know what previous role Jan had that got him selected for this mission because he responds quite badly to combat pressure, certainly in the first half of the film as his hands shake when he tries to fire, and Josef has to calm him during panic attacks. Dornan does all of this pretty well and audiences will find his warmer character engaging, but it’s a bit hard to believe he would have been chosen for such a specialist and highly significant mission. What is interesting, however, is seeing his confidence grow in the second half of the film as the fall-out from the assassination leads to a siege that separates the two leads, and here Jan demonstrates more considerable military poise, strategy and bravery under pressure than expected.

Ellis is wearing a lot of hats in this production and some fit a little better than others. Given his photography background understandably the cinematography is very striking. Using Super 16mm film it has both a period and punchy feel which adds to the drama of the action scenes while underscoring the more introspective moments. At the Q&A, Ellis talked about recreating shots of Prague from wartime photographs and, because the city has changed, using digital effects to subsequently recreate some of their atmosphere. The linking shots are some of the best seen in a war film with noticeably beautiful images of Prague enveloped in haze and cloud standing out.

It’s clear how much research Ellis has done and this project has taken several years to come to fruition, so the balance of introspective and high action moments actually work quite well. If you don’t go to this expecting a thriller as several critics appear to have, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the intricacies of the wider story. However, while the writing is largely pretty good, it feels overlong because the central assassination takes a while to occur and although the groundwork for that is interesting, it’s in the audiences mind as the main event, so some of the subsidiary stories around the romance and resistance in-fighting feel like distractions.

Most of the other characters are also too thinly drawn to add much to the plot or to create much investment in their cause, with the excellent Toby Jones essentially wasted in a small role as the group leader. There is clearly a huge amount of politics between the on-the-ground resistance and that directed from the relative safety of London, so more suspicion of the two parachutists and their motives for doing this would have added texture, particularly in the first hour rather than focusing on the somewhat dreary love interests.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is actually seeing the consequences of their actions play out, which links back to this crucial underlying question of whether removing one key person from history really changes anything. The rapid escalation of violence after the assassination, the brutal torture and efficient round-up of the extended network and how this act was utilised to justify further bloody incursions into Czechoslovakia implies that the costs and consequences were far higher than the resistance had prepared for. Try watching this in a double bill with the excellent Conspiracy a BBC film from 2001 with Kenneth Branagh as a chilling Heydrich at the Wannsee Conference and this may alter your perspective. Anthropoid leaves you to decide whether the removal of “bad men” would significantly change the course of history, but it undoubtedly highlights the real bravery and heroism of the small group of people who tried.

Anthropoid was premiered at the BFI Southbank with Q&A. It opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday 9 September. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


TV Preview: The Hollow Crown: Henry VI Parts I and II –BFI Southbank

The Hollow Crown Season 2

‘…let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of Kings’, so speaks Shakespeare’s Richard II on his return from Ireland to find his kingdom carried away in his absence. And this is arguably one of the major themes of the BBC’s Hollow Crown season which opened with Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V back in 2012 and returns to TV with a two part Henry VI and Richard III this month. Previewed at the BFI Southbank last week with some of the cast and crew in attendance, the new season opens with a two part digest of Shakespeare’s Henry VI which we watched back to back in a 4 hour marathon with Q&A, and seen in the context of the four earlier productions, emphasises how volatile this period of history was with innumerable deaths, lunges for power and cutting betrayals culminating in, as Richard II described, a series of ‘sad stories of the death of Kings.’

Henry VI becomes King at 9 months old when his father Henry V dies not long after his famous Agincourt victory, and the realm is governed for the next two decades by the Duke of Gloucester as protector. But the adult Henry is too weak to relinquish his Lord Protector and continues to defer decision-making, much to the chagrin of the warring houses of Lancaster and York. In the meantime, Richard Plantagenet, a senior statesman in the House of York decides to press his suit for the monarchy and what ensues across the two plays is a complex and intricate web of political and family intrigue as the young King is unable to hold back civil war – exacerbated by Henry’s loss of the French territories his father fought so hard for – which threatens to consume his entire kingdom.

I’ve never seen a stage version of these plays and the first thing Google tells you is that Henry VI is considered one of Shakespeare’s least successful works and there is considerable doubt that he wrote all of it. In the Q&A held alongside this screening, adaptor Ben Power and director Dominic Cooke discussed the ‘kaleidoscopic’ nature of the original text which they have reshaped and slimmed. The result is a gripping and engaging two part story that helps the first-time audience keep all the key figures straight without too much erroneous sub-plotting. Both parts bristle with danger as powerful men jockey for position as their King stands helplessly by.

Ton Sturridge, in his first Shakespeare role, gives Henry just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence and, interestingly, a fear of trusting his own judgement. He is easily influenced by anyone who offers him counsel, and we see his opinions change with the breeze as different poisons are poured into his ear. Sturridge’s Henry is timid and trusting of anyone who appears to have more political strength than him, and on the few occasions when he seems to be flexing his monarchical muscles his determination is short-lived.  For a character with almost no monologues (in this adaptation anyway) it’s difficult to completely understand his reticence but Sturridge is affecting, not least in Part II when his wish to be an ordinary man is granted but after enduring a grim life in the Tower the chance to be King again brings a moving flicker of hope – the echoes of Richard II are startling. Visually too Henry is shown to be an onlooker always, sitting back as more knowledgeable men debate the issues at court, and also hiding among the trees watching as his own troops fight for him as he has never fought for himself.

There are great supporting performances, not least from Hugh Bonneville as perhaps the only decent man at court, the innocent Duke of Gloucester, loathed only because he has the ear of the King – proof that at this time innocence couldn’t save you from the malice of others. Ben Miles is absolutely superb as the loathsome Somerset, a Lancastrian who intrigues to marry Henry to a French princess only to take her as his own lover and between them manipulate the King to forward the Lancastrian cause – Miles of course was recently a much praised Thomas Cromwell in the stage versions of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, a worthy rival to Mark Rylance’s TV incarnation. Sophie Okonedo is equally fantastic as the scheming Queen Margaret, strong, vicious and revelling in the chance to crush her enemies, even actually fighting in the final battle scenes.

Not everything about this works perfectly and while the political scenes are tense and engaging, the numerous battles are somewhat lacklustre and hampered by budget constraints. It’s pretty clear in every single fight scene that there are only about 20 extras which fail to sufficiently convey the thousands engaged in these civil war battles and the notion of a nation in crisis. There’s also some dubious CGI suggesting ships on their way to fight with France, and even worse ‘epic’ music that’s straight out of Hollywood-battle-scenes-by-numbers, and is completely at odds with what the Henry VI plays are actually about. Strip away the sword fighting and all of Shakespeare’s history plays are intimate in scale, about extended branches of the same family rowing about who should be King and this music implies a level of heroism in the battles which didn’t exist in this tawdry and sullied world of political double crossing. As much as these events are nationally affecting, the epic sweep approach seems inappropriate and these adaptations are at their best in these domestic scenes among a tiny elite which just happens to have wider dynastic consequences.

It’s also clear, at times, that these were made before Justin Kurzel’s movie of Macbeth was released, about which I was unapologetically gushing. A game-changer for the way Shakespeare can be filmed (and also on a reasonably small budget), these Henry VI adaptations are being aired in a new context. The problematic battle scenes mentioned above, feel less successful because Macbeth showed how a small cast produced something that is both horribly brutal and still somehow visually poetic. And even away from the battlefields, very occasionally these long adaptations want for dynamism – how many more times do we want to see a group of middle aged men shouting at each other in a variety of grand medieval halls? Is there a more exciting way to present some of this material?

One of the highlights for many will be Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Richard III which follows this two part Henry VI, but Richard actually appears for the first time in Henry VI Part II so we got to see a little of the background to the character to come. The physical traits of damaged arm and twisted leg are present and Cumberbatch will clearly be a desperately evil Richard with the early signs of his bloodlust and coveting of the crown very much in evidence. Initially it’s a little bit panto villain but by the time he delivers the only lengthy monologue at the end of the 4 hours it’s clear his Richard will chills us – ‘he plays a good psycho’ as Cooke and Power joked during the Q&A where most of the talk was about Richard III, much too Sturridge’s irritation who, quite rightly, wanted to focus on Henry. But it’s going to be an interesting season finale when it finally airs.

The Hollow Crown season has been a big success for the BBC and these long-anticipated new adaptations won’t disappoint. Playing these stories concurrently has offered the viewer something you rarely get in the theatre, a chance to see an entire sweep of history and the recurring themes that punctuate these plays – the relationship of fathers and their sons be they monarchs or nobility, the price of wanting and obtaining power, as well its fickle nature as you see prime movers in one play unceremoniously dispatched in the next and a new generation of players assume the political stage. This preview at the BFI certainly got me thinking again about Richard II and all those sad stories about Kings that followed. In the Hollow Crown we find that the old adage is true, power corrupts and whether it be mere soldiers or mighty monarchs nothing will stand in its way.

The Hollow Crown: Henry VI Parts I and II will be shown on the BBC in April to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This event took place at the BFI Southbank – visit their website for more TV previews. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1


Film Review: Legend

Something has shifted in the making of biopics in the last few years, and while most of them still ascribe to the ‘great men of history’ approach whereby the individual (almost certainly male) creates significant change almost single-handedly, more often film-makers are looking to the women in their lives as a new way ‘in’ to the story. Last year the incredible success of The Theory of Everything did just that, showing us the achievements of Stephen Hawking through the eyes of his first wife Jane, casting fresh light on the personal and family struggles that have been obscured by his scientific achievement and fame.

In Legend writer and director Brian Helgeland gives the Krays the same treatment, examining their motivation using Reggie’s relationship with wife Frances to explain not just the apparent glamour of their empire but also how her suicide signalled its downfall. The central conceit of course is that Tom Hardy plays both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twins both alike and simultaneously demarcated by their different personalities and approaches. It’s an interesting film but perhaps not the one many people would expect to see on hearing the name Kray; the violence is there but without the Tarantino-esque brutality it’s not particularly graphic, instead you get lots and lots of style as Helgeland portrays the clubs, the music and the mixture of people from all classes – it’s like Mad Men with guns.

The humanity of it is perhaps the most interesting aspect. Last week’s preview screening at the BFI was followed by a Q&A with the director who explained his research process, discussions with some of the people who knew them from gang members to their mother’s hairdresser by way of Barbara Windsor (who gets a name check in the film). Often with characters that loom so large on the historic and cultural landscape the stories about them become the truth making it far harder to wade through the myths and nonsense to get a sense of who they were. Belying the title then, Helgeland attempts to do this and he’s partially successful in delivering some insight into the community around them and into Reggie in particular.

Tom Hardy’s performance is a mixed one and I have to agree with most of the reviewers, enjoying his very nuanced and appealing Reggie but disconcerted by the almost entirely comic depiction of the less featured Ron that somehow felt as though it sat outside the rest of the film. As Helgeland revealed during the Q&A, Hardy had to play both roles on the same day and constantly switching between the two is a considerable achievement, so understandably one characterisation feels much cruder. And, in playing both roles, Hardy has no counterpoint to act with, having to decide in advance and teach a stunt double the relevant ‘Ron’ mannerisms even before he’d filmed that side of the conversation, giving him much less freedom to ‘play’ with the character in the scene. And sadly that does come across – it is very funny at times but a cartoonish gangster character that feels rather stilted.

Reggie by contrast is Hardy at his best, filling the character with contradictions and charisma. He starts off quite tenderly pursuing Frances, against the wishes of her mother, and wowing her with the glamour of his lifestyle. There is an edge of danger but one which he seems to be in control of, meting out punishments only when necessary and keeping elements of his club business ‘legit’ to avoid investigation. As the film progresses Hardy is very good at showing the conflict of having to protect his increasingly unstable brother from his own delusions while keeping the businesses ticking over. Later in the film too there’s a chance to question how alike they really are as Reggie’s violence explodes in one of the film’s climactic moments.

The film is two thirds narrated by Frances, played by Emily Browning, so you get both her perspective from within the story and from the outside summing it up. Yet she’s a character that never properly unfolds which Helgeland excused by saying he didn’t want to invent things about her that he couldn’t find out from the research – and it seems there was little proper recollection of her among the people he spoke to. Browning makes Frances sweet and fragile but the lack of character on the page never really explains why her marriage declines and within moments Frances has gone from blissfully happy wife to deep depression and heavy dependency on pills. Her existence in the film and the angle onto the Krays that she provides is an interesting one though, and again Helgeland made the point that after her death, all the things Reggie used to do to protect the community (bribes, checking in on police visits etc) just stopped and that’s when the empire fell apart. That change comes across well in the film and we see Frances’s suicide as a pivotal moment in Reggie’s own decline – just a shame that the only major female character feels so fleeting.

In true Helgeland-style the police are also portrayed as a mixed bag of decent crusaders looking for justice like Detective Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read played here by an under-used Christopher Ecclestone, very much in LA Confidential’s Ed Exley mode, and the pockets of corruption where we hear of policeman taking bribes and see a thuggish guard mercilessly beat Reggie on his first day in prison (again like Stensland from LA Confidential). This again isn’t explored in much depth but does give a hint at why and how the Krays were able to survive for so long. Although the violence is somewhat muted, it does still punctuate the film, used as milestones on their road to destruction. First the character of Jack McVitie is seen repeatedly stepping out of line for which he receives punishment from Reggie and only later do we realise the common thread binding those two together. We are also given increasing tension between the brothers induced by Frances’s push for Reggie to ‘go straight’, which finally erupts in a punch-up between them at the Esmeralda Club, signalling the beginning of the end. And finally there is a beautifully shot scene after Reggie’s climatic outburst as he walks through the darkened streets of the East End, emerging into the lamplight from under a shadowy railway arch, covered in blood – a public declaration that he’s gone too far.

It’s no coincidence that I began this review with a comparison to The Theory of Everything because it actually has a lot in common with Legend (besides the shared producers). Both use a marital relationship as a way to see well known men in a new light and to unpick the surrounding layers of fame and folklore, but more than that, the style of both films, their sparkly look and feel are similar. Maybe the violence is held back, maybe the story is too sanitised and maybe it glorifies their regime too much, but you do get a sense of the rest of that world and why so many people, from working class gang members to peers, Ministers and celebrities of the day were drawn to their flame. Legend may not be the film you expect but it reinforces our continued fascination with one of Britain’s most famous criminal families, the Krays.

Legend is on general release from Wednesday 9 September in the UK and 2 October in the US. This preview screening took place at the BFI Southbank so visit their website for similar events.


Inside No 9 – TV Preview, BFI

The BFI Southbank is one of my favourite places in London which has been churning out showings of classic films for decades. Always wanted to see that great Humphrey Bogart film noir or Bette Davis melodrama on the big screen, well the BFI has long been the main place to do that in one of their amazing seasons, and see an impressive array of international and art house films while you’re there. In the last few years, it feels as though its range has diversified as well, opening up their lovely building to mainstream film seasons like Bond (possibly the best summer ever!), Gothic Horror and Hitchcock whilst running an increasingly reputable film festival every October to showcase new work.

Added to this long list are their previews of BFI-funded films which recently including pre-release peaks at The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. Increasingly deals with the BBC and ITV have given advanced access to TV shows, so audiences have enjoyed earl bird viewings of anything from Poirot to Wolf Hall all with a Q&A session for that sense of occasion. The BFI’s latest event screened two episodes from the second series of the anthology comedy Inside No 9, written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. For those not familiar with series 1, the central premise is that each of the six 30 minute episodes takes you behind a different No 9 door each week and tells the story of the people within.

Shearsmith and Pemberton will be known to most as half of the League of Gentleman whose wonderfully weird and incredibly dark comedy set in the fictional town of Royston Vasey started the best part of 15 years ago and ended after 3 brilliant series and an ok film. Since then the League members have become established writers and actors both together and apart on shows as diverse as Sherlock, Dr Who, Psychoville and Mapp & Lucia. Series one of Inside No 9 first aired last February starting with a ton of people hiding in a wardrobe during a party and ending with a Carry on Screaming style creepy house and bed-ridden patient needing a teenage carer. The best and most stylish episode however had no talking whatsoever involving a burglary in a fancy modern home while the owners were in – absolute genius!

Series 2 opens with ‘La Couchette’, set aboard the compartment 9 sleeper berth on a French night train. It opens with Dr Maxwell carefully preparing for bed, and as he settles his eye-mask in place, his much needed rest is disturbed at intervals by the arrival of 5 other passengers all with bunks in the same room – a very drunk and flatulent German man, a middle-aged couple en route to their daughter’s wedding and a young Australian traveller with the man she met on the train. During the night this assorted group of passengers must decide whether their conscience or the completion of their journey is most important.

It’s a great premise for an episode – a group of strangers in an intimately confined space – and despite being only 30 minutes has the feel of an intricately plotted film. We get to know just enough about the individuals to believe in their circumstances but not so much that we are too drawn to any of them, they are still strangers after all. As usual with Shearsmith and Pemberton their work is packed with elegantly integrated references to everything from film noir to Hammer Horror to Hitchcock and spotting these is as much fun as watching these murky vignettes play out. Did I even see a reference to Carry on Camping in this one (Charles Hawtrey, Terry Scott and Betty Marsden trying to change into their pyjamas in a tiny tent) or just coincidence? I also love the seamless integration of sophisticated humour with some real gross-out moments while still maintaining the overall feel of that particular scenario.

Next up was a preview of episode 3 ‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ set in Barn No 9, where two seventeenth-century witch-finders come to the town of Little Happens (snigger) to investigate the eponymous Mrs Gadge, accused by her daughter and son-in-law of witchcraft. Fans of the writers will recognise their fascination with this period of history and its superstitious practices, which previously popped up in the League of Gentleman film – in fact even David Warner reappears here as a local authority figure, having played an evil conspirator in the movie. This one is more or less a classic courtroom drama with various witness testimony and no little tension between the famous witch-finders the sinister Mr Warren and more kindly Mr Clarke- yes a tidy reference to the actor Warren Clarke who died last year. It’s the period detail that’s so impressive here and the odd modern reference aside a lot of research has clearly gone into creating the setting, language and knowledge of local concerns all used effectively to comically ridicule these events. Plenty of laugh out loud references here too from selfies to the The Crucible – all the married women have the title Goodie followed by their surname and with the local cobbler called Mr Twoshoes, you can see where this is going!

The great thing about an event such as this at the BFI is you also get a Q&A so you can learn a bit more about the process of writing and filming a series. On the panel were Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, as well as Producer Adam Tandy and there were plenty of fascinating insights on offer. The 6 episodes took around 2 months to write before filming began in December and surprisingly each one took only 3-6 days to film which is an incredibly tight schedule for some of the technical challenges – particular filming the cramped environment of ‘La Couchette’ – and Shearsmith and Pemberton have also directed a couple of episodes this time around. We also learned that the series will contain episodes focused around a séance, a grandmother’s party and the number 9 booth in a call centre filmed from one CCTV camera, so there’s plenty of interesting stories and techniques to look forward to.

These BFI events are offered to members first so there may be little ticket availability when it comes to public sale, and you may think I’ll just wait and watch it on TV for free, but for a reasonable £9-£12 you get to enjoy the cinematic scale of some TV shows in a way smaller screens just can’t offer and learn more about what you’re seeing from the writers, actors and producers. It is this kind of event cinema for which the BFI has become a leader and why it remains one of my favourite places in London.

Inside No 9 begins its 6 week run on BBC2 on Thursday 26 March. For more information on BFI previews and TV screenings, please visit their website. Ticket prices vary but a reasonable and a variety  of concessions are available.


%d bloggers like this: